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The 100 Most Acclaimed Movies of the 20th Century

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Antonioni's "L'Avventura" ranked in the top ten.

OK, as long as the simultaneous deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni have shaken the foundations of the pantheon and got us debating canons -- again: Near the end of the last millennium, I decided to do something difficult and convoluted and thoroughly silly. On this particular occasion I determined to figure out which 100 movies were the most highly regarded at the close of the century. I think this was in late 1998 or early 1999. But more recent films wouldn't have registered very high anyway, because I was using a larger historical sampling to compile the results.

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I came up with some complex point scale for rating the movies by the awards and honors they had received, using a mixture of domestic and international, popular and critical sources. I no longer have any recollection of the formula I used, but I'm sure it was at least as complicated as the one for Coca-Cola. I know (given my personal bent) that I weighted, for example, the "Sight & Sound" international critics' poll more highly than, say, the Oscars. And I tried to find a mathematical way to properly consider and weigh American with non-English-language films (given the restrictions and biases of some sources), and older films with newer ones. The sources I used were (in no particular order): Academy Awards, "Sight & Sound" polls (1952, '62, '72, '82, '92), the first AFI 100 list, the National Film Registry (American films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress -- which had to be at least 10 years old), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1975 - ), the New York Film Critics Circle (1935 - ), and the National Society of Film Critics (1966 - ).

Although it seems inconceivable to me now, I actually put together several charts (spreadsheets!), so you could view the lists and the movies' individual honors, not only by rank, but by director, title (alphabetically), year/decade, -- and a comprehensive list of the 400+ titles that came under consideration, given my sources.

I doubt -- and I hope -- I will never be that anal again. But what I liked about the results was that they reflected a mix of "art films" ("The Passion of Joan of Arc," "The Bicycle Thief"), silents ("Greed," "Intolerance," "The Gold Rush") and popular titles ("West Side Story," "Annie Hall," "Schindler's List"). I was also pleased with the distribution over the decades, a little more balanced than you usually see in polls: two films from the 1910s; six from the '20s; 19 from the '30s; 16 from the '40s; 29 from the '50s; 19 from the '60s; 21 from the '70s; 13 from the '80s; and 14 from the '90s (which weren't quite over yet).

Point of interest: Bergman had three films on the list: "Persona" (22), "Wild Strawberries" (66), and "Fanny and Alexander" (84). Antonioni had one: "L'Avventura" (8).

Welles and Chaplin each had two films in the top 25. Other directors represented in the upper quarter include: Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Sergei Eisenstein, Stanley Donen, Steven Spielberg, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Vittorio De Sica, Woody Allen, Erich von Stroheim, Elia Kazan, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Robert Wise, D.W. Griffith, Jean Vigo, and Michael Curtiz.

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The Big List begins like this:

1 "Citizen Kane" 2 "The Rules of the Game" 3 "Vertigo" 4 "8 1/2" "The Battleship Potemkin" 6 "Singin' in the Rain" 7 "The Gold Rush" 8 "City Lights" "L'Avventura" 10 "Schindler's List" 11 "The Searchers" 12 "2001: A Space Odyssey" 13 "The Bicycle Thief" (aka "Bicycle Thieves") 14 "Annie Hall" 15 "Greed" 16 "On the Waterfront" 17 "The Passion of Joan of Arc" 18 "All About Eve" 19 "The Magnificent Ambersons" 20 "The Best Years of Our Lives" 21 "West Side Story" 22 "Intolerance" "L'Atlante" "Persona" 25 "Casablanca"

Rest of list...

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