OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
Meta: Writer-director Charlie Kaufmann ("Synecdoche, New York," right) watches David Bordwell (left) take a photo of the "Far-Flung Correspondents" panel (center, rear).
Roger Ebert introduces the " Far-Flung Correspondents" panel, moderated by Omer Mozaffer (Pakistan via Chicago, right).
Click above to REALLY enlarge...
UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...
Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.
In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)
View image The most famous phone box in the world.
After the screening of Bill Forsyth's long-unavailable masterpiece "Housekeeping" at Ebertfest (about which more later) somebody asked him why he used the word "moving" in a key piece of dialog rather than novelist Marilynne Robinson's word-of-choice, "drifting." Forsyth said he didn't remember for certain, but imagined it was because "drifting" was simply "too on-the-nose," too "poetic" sounding. Actress Christine Lahti, who played the character speaking the line in question, and who joined Forsyth on stage (neither of them having seen the movie, or each other, for 21 years) confirmed that "drifting" works beautifully on the page of a novel, but wouldn't have sounded right if spoken aloud on the screen. So much artistry is reflected in that simple explanation. What seemed at first like kind of a dumb, nit-picky question was justified by the answer.
Forsyth spun another tale of adaptation that mirrored the oblique and inevitable comic structure of one of his movies:
Seeing a series of exquisitely subtle films that includes Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories," Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit" and Bill Forsyth's "Housekeeping," you become sensitized to how clumsy most movies are about unloading their expository details. These Ebertfest films and filmmakers know how to reveal what needs to be revealed indirectly, without the audience necessarily even realizing that it's being let in on a wealth of information.
So: A real-life example of efficient, semi-oblique expository dialog overheard in a restaurant in Champaign-Urbana on a stormy Friday night. A young couple have just arrived and are about to be seated.
Hostess (smiling): "Oh, it's just the two of you tonight."
Man: "Yeah, we popped in a Disney movie and slipped out the side door."
See, that's a little movie right there. Filmmakers, take note: How much do we know about the lives of this man, this woman, and their history with this restaurant from these two short lines?
More about this subject (and others) in further catch-up Ebertfest posts...
View image David Bordwell and Bill Forsyth on an Ebertfest panel. (photy by Thompson McClellan)
My Ebertfest has already been made for me because I spoke to Bill Forsyth yesterday and, at one point, he said "Great." This is major -- particularly for a guy who, with his friends, went around saying "Great" in Gordon John Sinclair's Scottish accent from "Gregory's Girl" for years. It's a well-known fact. Bella, bella.
In honor of tomorrow's Ebertfest screening I went back and dug up my original 1987 review of Forsyth's "Housekeeping" -- which was the #1 film on my Ten Best list that year (along with such films as John Huston's "The Dead," Tim Hunter's "River's Edge," Alain Cavalier's "Therese" and John Boorman's "Hope and Glory"): Ruthie (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) are skating on thin ice. The orphaned sisters, now going through a gawky teen-age phase, spin silently in circles on the frozen surface of Fingerbone Lake. In the distance, a cluster of laughing children and barking dogs play rambunctiously, but Ruthie and Lucille keep to themselves. They don't like the noise.
My Ebertfest has already been made for me because I spoke to Bill Forsyth yesterday and, at one point, he said "Great." This is major — particularly for a guy who, with his friends, went around saying "Great" in Gordon John Sinclair's Scottish accent from "Gregory's Girl" for years. It's a well-known fact. Bella, bella
Chaz Ebert introduces Timothy Spall (Rosencrantz) and Rufus Sewell (Fortinbras), both in town with the opening night attraction, a full-length (238-minute) 70 mm print of Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." (photos by jim emerson)
What is Ebertfest without Ebert? Fest? Kicking off the 10th Anniversary edition of Roger Ebert's (formerly Overlooked) Film Festival, Chaz Ebert passed along her husband's sentiments that, today, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- that is, in a bed in Chicago instead of in at the Virginia Theatrer in Urbana-Champaign. But, she reported him saying, you could also say the same thing about the day he tripped on the carpet and fractured his hip. Nobody's giving up hope, though. Chaz said they were consulting with doctors day by day and that she wouldn't be surprised if Roger wound up making it here after all before the fest is through. [UPDATE: The next day Roger and his doctors decided that making the trip wasn't worth the health risk.}
L to R (I hope): Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories"), John Peterson ("The Real Dirt on Farmer John"), Eran Kolirin ("The Band's Visit"), Chaz Ebert, Timothy Spall and Rufus Sewell ("Hamlet"), Joan Cohl and Hannah Fisher ("Citizen Kohl"), William J. Erfuth and Joseph Greco and Adam Hammel ("Canvas").
Last year Ebertfest seemed to improve his rate of recovery exponentially, so we can only hope he'll make it to town. (For a sample of good wishes see the comments at his blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.)
So, the festival is just getting started tonight, but already I've learned some things just from talking to people and reading the program. For example:
The 10th Anniversary Ebertfest begins tonight in Urbana-Champaign. It is with some melancholy that I write these words on a legal pad in a hospital bed in Chicago. After consulting with my doctors, I have decided it may not be prudent to try to make the journey today with a fractured hip.
The Prince of Denmark, Yukio Mishima and the Incredible Hulk are planning to convene in Champaign-Urbana, IL, for Roger Ebert's Film Festival (April 23-27, 2008). Joining them (off-screen) for the Ebertfest No. 10 will be directors Paul Schrader, Bill Forsyth, Sally Potter and actors Christine Lahti, Aida Turturro, Joe Pantoliano, among others. The emphasis is still on the (re-)discovery of "overlooked" films (with that term defined however Ebert wants to define it), but the festival is now known simply as Ebertfest. The full schedule is here:
From the opening shot of "Cutter's Way" -- my favorite movie of the 1980s.
... and speaking of critical "best of" movie lists, here's a swell one called "50 Lost Movie Classics," from The Guardian. I might quibble with the terms "lost" (how "lost" can they be, when so many of them are available on DVD?) or "classics" (a "masterpiece" can be lost or overlooked, but can a "classic"?). But it is what it is. A group of British critics and filmmakers chose 50 movies (I have no quibbles with either of those terms) that... well, allow Philip French to explain: This isn't just another list of great movies. It's a rallying cry for films that for a variety of reasons -- fashion, perhaps, or the absence of an influential advocate, or just pure bad luck -- have been unduly neglected and should be more widely available. You know that feeling when someone hasn't heard of a film you've always loved and you want to show it to them? Or, in a different way, when you get annoyed because a picture hasn't been accorded the position you think it deserves in cultural history or the cinematic canon? That's the sort of film we have included on this list.And now, please permit me to add my own huzzahs for a few of the selections, several of which have also been featured on my personal "ten-best" lists over the years -- or would have been, in the event that I had made one that year. (And some were released before I was born, OK?) Several of these have already been discussed here at Scanners. Here are just a few of the choices I'd particularly like to second:
"Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968) -- use the link to read about the opening shot."The State of Things" (Wim Wenders, 1982) -- one of the best movies about movies ever. And "Stranger Than Paradise" was made using the leftover b&w stock."Newsfront" (Phillip Noyce, 1979) -- charming account of Aussie newsreelers."Fat City" (John Huston, 1972) -- best boxing movie ever (and, yes, I include "Raging Bull" and "Rocky")."Ace In the Hole" aka "The Big Carnival" (Billy Wilder, 1951) -- no excuse for this to still be unavailable on DVD."3 Women" (Robert Altman, 1977) -- just watched it again the night Altman's death was announced and was thrilled to find it as mesmerizing as ever..."Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" (David Lynch, 1992) -- although I think the series is by far the best work Lynch has ever done, I didn't "get" this one when it came out. Now I think it's genius (and should be double-billed with "Mulholland Drive")."Safe" (Todd Haynes, 1995) -- my choice for best movie of 1995."Housekeeping" (Bill Forsyth, 1987) -- my choice for best movie of 1987."The Parallax View" (Alan J. Pakula, 1974) -- NOT "Alan J. Parker" as The Guardian has it, fer cripes sake!!! Gripping paranoid thriller -- with a fight atop my beloved Space Needle!"Dreamchild" (Gavin Millar, 1985) -- nice double-bill with "Pan's Labyrinth," I think."The Ninth Configuration" (William Peter Blatty, 1980) -- I see a big moon risin'..."Cutter's Way" (Ivan Passer, 1981) -- my choice for the best movie of the 1980s."Wise Blood" (John Huston, 1979) -- I don't think I've ever fully recovered from the scars this one left on me."Two-Lane Blacktop" (Monte Hellman, 1971) -- this does qualify as a cult classic."'Round Midnight" (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986) -- Dexter Gordon as a version of Dexter Gordon, in gorgeous widescreen. One of the best evocations of cinema as jazz, and vice-versa."Grace of My Heart" (Allison Anders, 1996) -- pop music history mix-and-match (not unlike "Velvet Goldmine" in that respect) with terrific songs co-authored by Brill Building vets and contemporary artists. I watch this one over and over. Made me fall in love with Illeana Douglas.
Some of the choices I haven't seen: "Ride Lonesome," "Jeremy," "Under the Skin," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," "The Low Down," "Quiemada!," "The Hired Hand," "Le Petomane," "Bill Douglas Trilogy," "Babylon," "Day Night Day Night" (just missed it in Toronto!), "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," "The Mad Monkey," "Terence Davies Trilogy" (not sure what individual titles they mean to include, but "The Long Day Closes" was my best movie of 1992 -- or was it 1993 in the US?). And there are others the list reminds me to revisit (like Monte Hellman's "Cockfighter") because it's simply been too long.
Take a peek and let us know which ones you treasure (or don't) -- and maybe suggest some additional titles for such a list...
TORONTO You hurry between theaters, barely enough time between curtains, and one gift after another comes from the screen. Your only regret is that for every good film you see, the people next to you are describing three you missed. This is the payoff after a slow summer at the movies, when it sometimes seemed directors were no longer swinging for the fences, but just happy to get on base.
The 1999 Toronto Film Festival, 11 days and 319 films long, opens today with a quarter of a million moviegoers looking for next year's top Oscar winners - or maybe trying to avoid them. The films come from 52 countries, and 171 of them will be world or North American premieres. People plan their vacations around this festival; at a screening last year of a Vietnamese musical, I sat next to Barbara Strange, who planned to see 45 movies and "exist on bottled water, dried apricots and mixed nuts."