My "Sight and Sound" List
600 8.8 8.31. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Dreyer captures the essence of the silent film medium, letting the images tell an intense and powerful story. Saw it again about a year ago and was left emotionally exhausted.
2362 8.2 8.42. Citizen Kane (1941)
Welles captures the essence of the sound film, marrying his radio experience with the cinema's most liberating visual style since Sunrise. Also - and this is too often forgotten - a really fun, funny film. Maybe Pauline Kale is right when she calls it a "shallow film," since there's a bit too much reverence for a film that need not be broken down shot-by-shot to be appreciated.
No longer #1 on the Sight and Sound list, but probably still "first among equals" for most film buffs.
1077 8.3 8.43. Rashomon (1950)
Another obvious choice, but better to be obvious and right than original and wrong. A lot could be said - and has been said - about this film, but I always go back, not to the film's structure or its study of the nature of truth and memory, but the rain . . . . and then its absence.
521 8.5 8.34. Tokyo Story (1953)
Ozu understood that limitations release creative energies - no doubt he was aware of the kinds of creativity the American Hays Code inspired. His films employ pretty much the same camera angle for every shot, the camera itself rarely moves (at least in his later films), and Ozu generally ignores Porter and Griffith's continuity conventions (and Ozu is right to point out that the audience doesn't consciously notice his film's weird geographies).
All of Ozu's (later) films tell some story involving a middle class family's romantic and inter-generational issues. What makes Tokyo Story unique among Ozu's work is his willingness to play up the melodrama just enough to provide the audience with an emotional release. This allows the audience to identify with a certain set of characters (I think we all identify with the same folks - curious if others agree about which people). Such identification was, in Ozu's mind, an indication of the film's failure. He was wrong.
3605 8 8.35. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Hopefully The Artist has reminded audiences that film was never really silent - not only was music a standard part of the filmgoer's experience throughout the silent era, but the audience themselves played a major role in the film, laughing, cheering, and booing, shouting subtitles out loud for the illiterate, giving the characters advice, etc.
2001 has both these qualities as well - much has been written about Kubrick's use of music, but the presence of an audience is just as significant; this film must be seen in a crowded theatre. In 1968, hippies dropped acid when watching 2001; today, we feel the audience's tension during the slow scenes (including the long overture), and we sense their wonder at the transformative moments.
2001 is an event.
280 7.8 7.76. Walkabout (1971)
Kurosawa's rain provides us with a knowingly cinematic form of nature; Walkabout's nature is also cinematic - many critics have pointed out the staged and 'unnatural' quality of Roeg's Outback - but staging makes our alienated being in the world all the more explicit than possible with a naturalistic approach.
The white kids in Walkabout are not only alienated from nature, but from their own humanity, as experience through their encounter with an aboriginal boy engaged in the quest that provides the film with its title. I've never seen truly mythic thought so well represented in the cinema, the rare moments of understanding and engagement are earned, not built up through cinematic conventions.
Walkabout is, like 2001, an event, only it points in the other direction. I'm not sure which is more profound.
5433 8.7 9.27. The Godfather (1972)
Sight and Sound banned voting for film series in the 2012 poll, so this film and it's first sequel probably both lost places due to split voting. I would not have put them together anyways; Godfather II is not one but 2 great films, and they don't quite mesh as well as Coppola had hoped. But The Godfather provides a perfect unity, from the moment Michael announces that he is not his family to his elevation to godfather.
The first words in The Godfather are "I believe in America," and this is the story of first and second generation Americans, to be picked up in Taxi Driver, where we see Americans alienated from the family, still powerful, for good and evil, in The Godfather.
4175 8.2 8.48. Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver is about American individualism and alienation; the quality of the American - all Americans - not of the isolated loner. It's well-known that Taxi Driver is essentially a remake of The Searchers, with the cab substituting for John Wayne's horse, and Scorsese makes this maybe a bit too clear by providing Travis in cowboy boots, the pimp in pseudo-Native American dress. This connection is important, since it tells us that Travis is not a unique figure of the 1970s but someone whose character was forged deep in American mythology.
A lot of folks like Raging Bull better than Taxi Driver, and indeed it is a better crafted film (and for that matter Barry Lyndon is a better crafted film than 2001). But Taxi Driver is a more important film, perhaps more relevant today as austerity moves Americans even deeper into a dangerous form of individualism unchecked by the family. Are we all destined by Ethans and Travises?
954 7 7.69. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Why do comedies get the short shrift when it comes to Sight and Sound's list? Probably because comedies do not translate well, not into another language or culture, nor into another time period. Sure, we appreciate Chaplin's slapstick, but except for some transcendently funny moments, we don't laugh out loud. If the point of comedy is to make us laugh, we need relatively recent films from own culture in our own language. And I've never laughed as much at a film as at Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, even on repeat viewings.
1258 6.9 710. I'm Not There (2007)
This Bob Dylan biopic is probably the most postmodern film ever made, with six different actors - one African-American, one a woman, one Richard Gere - playing the part of 'Bob Dylan," with "Dylan" and Allen Ginsberg asking Jesus to play his "early stuff," and, above all, with the giraffe. This is a ridiculous, and fun, film.
Todd Haynes found the only way to really capture Dylan's life. There is no Bob Dylan unifying all his different phases; the folky Dylan is not the 'real" Dylan, nor the rock and roll, none of them. The real Dylan is an empty space, to be filled by the mask of the moment.
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