Greatest Films of All Time ~ The Sight and Sound 2012 List Sucks!
Sight & Sound has just released its list of the Fifty Greatest Films of all time. Since 1952, it has been producing this list every ten years. For this year's list, "...more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films.
As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, 'We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.' "
Here is the 2012 list.
It sure isn't my list. I judge a movie's greatness by very different criteria than these critics, bloggers, and film industry professionals. Personally, I don't put as much weight on the historical period, camera angles used, lighting, etc. I value a film's originality, great imagery, and the ability to evoke emotion. Clever dialog is a bonus but not necessary. Also, I am a sucker for dark humor or a twisted plot. But I don't like gimmickry or convoluted stories like ones found in Memento and Inception. I like a good narrative. But it doesn't have to be linear.
Requiem for a Dream is a good example of a movie that contains all the components that make a film great, imo.
I just watched Vertigo the other day. The S&S has it as its top film. No way. It is a good film. But I felt nothing after seeing it. Yes the music is great, as is the acting--especially James Stewart. But I could care less about the characters. And I couldn't relate to anything they were experiencing. When I see a movie, I want to feel something--to be transported. I want to leave the theater as a changed person. I want to feel more alive as a result. I need to be moved, shown a new perspective--a new way of knowing. Vertigo, and all other Hitchcock movies are careful constructs--great angles, use of lighting, shadows, music that builds suspense. Its all technical--with no heart. I think Rear Window is a better film than Vertigo. James Stewart's character is actually likable rather than a creepy middle-aged man obsessed with an image.
This list was so obviously composed by a very niche group i.e. white, male, urban, North American/European, industry types. A woman's point of view is sorely lacking, as is an eastern perspective. Oh wait, there's Tokyo Story on the list--a very safe, approachable film made by a director using western technology with a predictable linear plot infused with traditional eastern themes.
A little math: 846 lists were submitted. Vertigo was on the top ten lists of 191 submissions. This means is was NOT on the top ten lists of 655 submissions. I would be one of the 655, I suppose. This actually puts me in the majority group. Also, 2,045 movies were among the top ten lists submitted. This is a huge variation and in no way demonstrates a universal consensus. Roger Ebert points out another flaw in this list, "To make the list, a director is punished if too many of his films are voted for. He needs an "official masterpiece. [otherwise]...the votes become scattered."
Also, there is something wrong when almost half the films on the list were made before 1960 and are in black and white. Seems like the old folks in the ivory tower along with their parroting film students are well represented. Film academia tend to value a film for its shot by shot brilliance. I agree that Vertigo and 8 1/2 are absolutely brilliant in this department. The stills can stand alone as photographs. Each is lit perfectly and suitable for framing. Don't believe me? Watch either on your PC using VLC player. Randomly stop the film and do a screenshot. Then do this again. No matter where the film stops, you are almost guaranteed to get a beautiful screenshot. But movies aren't meant to be watched shot by shot. It is about the work as a whole.
And, is a film's greatness only about sight and sound? I think that the combining of sight and sound does differentiate a film from a book or piece of music. But doesn't a film also need interesting characters, a story, and mood to make it a masterpiece? Isn't it all these things that make a film so transformative and unforgettable? If a film only toys with the eyes and ears but forgets the heart then it has missed the mark.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece. Not only is the movie brilliant in its use of sight and sound, it has a story, interesting characters--who can forget the computer Hal?, and creates a mood that is carried throughout the film. And it passes the shot by shot test for greatest, as previously discussed.
(my dream bedroom)
This film is in my top ten list. But I have not devised my own list yet. I will do so in my next blog entry.
The Sight & Sound list is pretentious and elitist. It does not represent the values and tastes of the movie going public. Hey S&S, your list sucks!
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