The ten greatest films of all time (according to me, and subject to change on a daily basis)
Having finally gotten around to reading the latest Sight and Sound, including the results of the once-a-decade “Greatest Film” poll, I started thinking about the ten films that I would nominate for such a list.
I generally prevaricate when asked what my favourite film is, because naturally it’s an impossible question. The basic problem is that there are no criteria. Do I go for very serious works of art that I massively admire but rarely view, in which case Bresson, Dreyer and Ozu would be high on the list? Can I justify movies that are regularly plucked from the DVD shelf but are, when you get down to it, a bit shoddy (think Star Wars or The PrincessBride).
The list I have come up with is less high-brow than most critics have gone for, although 3 of my selections also appear in the S&S Top Ten. I've tried to maintain some objectivity but, when in doubt, I've tended towards emotional rather than intellectual impact, with inevitable subjective consequences.
I would also like to record my regret at completely ignoring Westerns, Australia, silent film, the entirety of Asian cinema and Marlene Dietrich. Something had to give.
(The numbers in brackets give the film’s rating in the S&S poll).
In no particular order:
Citizen Kane Welles, 1941 (2)
Technically masterful on every level, so much so that the gripping plot and emotional heft feel like a bonus
Vertigo Hitchcock, 1958 (1)
Endlessly mysterious, it works on some subterranean psychological level that any number of plot absurdities cannot destroy
Young Girls of Rochefort Demy, 1967 (235)
The musical is the purest expression of emotion that cinema can offer, and while the keynote emotion here is joy there is no shying away from the darker sides of life. Also, Gene Kelly.
This Is Spinal Tap Reiner, 1984 (447)
No movie has given me more laughter, which alone justifies inclusion here, but this is also beautifully performed and extremely influential
Aguirre, Wrath of God Herzog, 1972 (90)
Herzog and Kinski stare unblinkingly into the face of madness
Shoah Lanzmann, 1985 (29)
The greatest work of art that I know of about the most devastating event in human history. (Incidentally, a documentary top10 would be far more weighed towards the recent past, with Senna, Man On Wire and Anvil: The Story of Anvil all up for contention)
White Heat Walsh, 1949 (894)
Jimmy Cagney has to get a mention from me, and this is his most extreme, almost primal, performance
The Philadelphia Story Cukor, 1940 (588)
Here representing Hollywood's genius for star-driven charm fuelled by sheer charisma, and allowing me to include three of the greats (Hepburn, Grant, Stewart) with one pick
La Ronde Ophuls, 1950 (894)
A little bit shaky this one, based as it is on a single viewing a number of years ago, but Ophuls' camerawork is sublime and the great Anton Walbrook was never better
A Matter of Life and Death Powell & Pressburger, 1946 (90)
My only British pick (for shame!), this features my favourite opening scene of all time which just about pushes it ahead of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp