Sight & Sound Analysis, Part Two: The Films

Part one of this series  is available here.

After about a week of waiting, the September 2012 Sight & Sound issue, including its list of the 100 greatest films of all time, is now available for all to see. Previously, Sight & Sound published the top 50 on their website and massive debate and analysis ensued, but with the full list, reproduced below, it is time for further debate and analysis.

1.Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) – 191 votes
2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) – 157
3. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953) – 107
4. La Regle de Jeu [The Rules of the Game] (Jean Renoir, 1939) – 100
5. Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927) – 93
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) – 90
7. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) – 78
8. The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – 68
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928) – 65
10. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963) – 64
11. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) – 63
12. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) – 58
13. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960) – 57
14. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) – 53
15. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949) – 50
16. Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) – 49
17. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) – 48
17. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) – 48
19. Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) – 47
20. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, 1952) – 46
21. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) – 43
21. Le Mepris [Contempt] (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) – 43
21. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) – 43
24. Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955) – 42
24. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2001) – 42
26. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) – 41
26. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966) – 41
28. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001) – 40
29. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) – 39
29. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – 39
31. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) – 38
31. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) – 38
33. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) – 37
34. The General (Buster Keaton/Clyde Bruckman, 1926) – 35
35. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) – 34
35. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) – 34
35. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) – 34
35. Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994) – 34
39. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959) – 33
39. La dolce vita (Federico Fellini, 1960) – 33
41. Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1953) – 32
42. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955) – 31
42. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) – 31
42. Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964) – 31
42. Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965) – 31
42. Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967) – 31
42. Close-up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) – 31
48. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965) – 30
48. Histoire(s) du cinema (Jean-Luc Godard, 1998) – 30
50. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) – 29
50. Ugetsu monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) – 29
50. La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962) – 29

53. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) – 28
53. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) – 28
53. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980) – 28
56. M (Fritz Lang, 1931) – 26
56. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) – 26
56. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) – 26
59. Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924) – 25
59. Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954) – 25
59. La Maman et la putain [The Mother and the Whore] (Jean Eustache, 1973) – 25
59. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975) – 25
63. Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936) – 24
63. Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950) – 24
63. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) – 24
63. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) – 24
63. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) – 24
63. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959) – 24
69. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956) – 23
69. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) – 23
69. Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983) – 23
69. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) – 23
73. La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937) – 22
73. Les Enfants du Paradis [Children of Paradise] (Marcel Carne, 1945) – 22
73. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) – 22
73. L’eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962) – 22
73. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975) – 22
78. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968) – 21
78. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) – 21
78. Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1999) – 21
81. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) – 20
81. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) – 20
81. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) – 20
84. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) – 19
84. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) – 19
84. The Colour of Pomegranate (Sergei Parajanov, 1968) – 19
84. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) – 19
84. Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) – 19
84. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) – 19
90. Partie de Campagne [A Day in the Country] (Jean Renoir, 1936) – 18
90. A Matter of Life and Death [Stairway to Heaven] (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945) – 18
90. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) – 18
93. Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916) – 17
93. Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel, 1928) – 17
93. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943) – 17
93. Madame de… [The Earrings of Madame de…] (Max Ophuls, 1953) – 17
93. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1956) – 17
93. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959) – 17
93. Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambety, 1973) – 17
93. Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000) – 17

There will be a time to discuss directors, which directors had great showings, which ones were left off, but for now, let’s focus on the films themselves.

I suppose I must start with modernity, an issue I discussed at length when the top 50 was announced. With the top 100 rounded out, there are now five films from the 1990s (Beau Travail and A Brighter Summer Day join Satantango, Close-Up, and Histoire(s) du Cinema), three from the 2000s (Yi Yi joins In The Mood For Love and Mulholland Dr), and it is worth noting that The Tree of Life finished with 16 votes, one shy of joining the top 100. If we go back to the 1980s, there are six more films, meaning that 14/100 films come from the past three decades (excluding the far too-young current one), about half of the expected representation if each decade were to be represented equally.

Regarding the choices, I think voters did a great job with the new century; they all come from the very beginning of it, but they are also perhaps the most acclaimed films of the century. I have not seen Yi Yi, but surely both In The Mood For Love and Mulholland Dr, both a perfect fusion of content and mise-en-scene, the former among the most masterfully composed films ever made and the latter one that pushes the cinema to the dreamy and surreal as good as anything else, compete with Lynch’s most realized direction to date, will only grow more revered. Sight & Sound’s issue also includes a list of the most voted films from the 2000s. In addition to the three that made the list, the names that were most tossed around before the reveal all relatively had strong showings:

  1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
  2. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  3. Cache (Michael Haneke)
  4. Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
  5. West of the Tracks (Wang Bing), The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu), Wall-E (Andrew Stanton), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul), Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov), Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki), There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Unfortunately, we cannot see vote numbers for these films, but a couple of things are striking. First, the presence of two animated films—a form completely ignored on Sight & Sound thus far—is hopefully a sign of growing acceptance as animation as a valid form of cinematic art. If I had my own Sight & Sound ballot (keep your eyes open for my belated entry to that club), I would find it hard to exclude Spirited Away. Of the two, Wall-E is the more surprising, and whether or not this will start a trend in which it is regarded as the best Pixar film remains to be seen. Furthermore, we do not know if it outvoted Toy Story, but its tie with Spirited Away, which many cinephiles see as the definitive animated film is, at this point in time, quite significant.

Second, the strength of Bela Tarr is far beyond what I—and I suspect many others—expected of him. The Turin Horse was released less than a year prior to when voting began, and he Tarr has two of the most voted films of the 21st century in addition to Satantango, which placed at 35, above all films from the 1990s. Surely Tarr will now continue to be recognized, studied, and acclaimed, and Sight & Sound’s list has fulfilled one of what I believe to be its most important purposes—to bring attention to masterful directors who have not yet gotten their due. Tarr outperformed any director of the 1980s or later (with the possible exception of David Lynch, Wong Kar-Wai, and Edward Yang).

Third, the Romanian New Wave is on the map. Although I would prefer to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which surely received a few votes of its own, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is the older of the two films, which means that it may be looked at as the truly innovative and influential picture, while 4 Months was the one that pushed the movement into the spotlight with a Palme d’Or win. In 2022, it will be interesting to see how these two (and other Romanian New Wave films) fare. This writer sees the movement to be quite similar to the Italian Neorealist movement in terms of style and content (although De Sica and others began making such films years after the war, while The Death was over a decade after Ceausescu’s fall).

Fourth, Jia Zhang Ke is absent altogether, despite making three films that were often voted highly on “best of the decade polls.” It is likely that the vote between these three films (Platform, Still Life, and The World) was split too evenly for any of them to be voted among the best of the 2000s, and it is also possible that his long takes, understated actions, and difficult style alienated too many voters (I found Platform to be an admirable bore on my first watch, but The World was far more impressive).

On a more personal note, Michael Haneke is making his move, and although it is unsurprising to see Cache be the film leading him up the ladder, I find both The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon to be greater works. Cache is a reflexive critique of film, but I think we have plenty of such films up there on the list. Of the five newest films in the top 50, three of them (Mulholland Drive, Histoire(s) du Cinema, and Close-Up) fit that bill. But The Piano Teacher and especially The White Ribbon are his most meticulously crafted and thematically original film. One is an incredibly complex character study, the other an examination of guilt, doubt, and suspicion that I have not seen done better. Still, recent Cannes buzz surrounding Amour, including a Palme d’Or, suggest that we may not have seen his best work yet, and at least four great films in a 10 year span is surely going to translate into Sight & Sound recognition in the future, be it Cache or a different film.

If we step back to the 1990s, Histoire(s) of Cinema remains a curious, unexpected choice. First off, it was released in eight different installments over more than a decade. Does that not make it ineligible to be voted as one film? And does that not make it more of a miniseries than a film? Still, its inclusion, despite being made by a director with three other films in the top 50 and several other acclaimed films from the 1960s is remarkable.

Unfortunately, I have not seen either Beau Travail or A Brighter Summer Day, nor am I terribly familiar with them, so I cannot comment on either. Still, they were not the ‘90s films I expected most, especially when looking at vote-getting films that they beat out for entry, also provided in the newest issue:

1. Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieślowski)
2. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
3. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai)
4. Goodfellas  (Martin Scorsese)
5. Breaking the Waves (Lars Von Trier), The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)

I would have expected any of these films (not to mention Kieślowski’s Red or another Kiarostami film, such as Taste of Cherry) to make the list before Histoire(s), Beau, or Summer Day. Still, there are not too many surprises here, as Kieślowski is one of the most revered directors of the 1990s. That Blue received so many votes but Red or The Double Life of Veronique may be the beginning of a consensus, so he may begin to show more consistently in future lists. Pulp Fiction, although I find it to be an insubstantial triumph of style over substance, was bound to make the list, as its influence as reverence only seems to grow with every person that watches it. Chungking and Goodfellas were the two ‘90s films voted by Sight & Sound as “the best films of the past 25 years” in 2003. The Thin Red Line may be getting a bit of vote inflation because The Tree of Life has brought re-evaluation to Terrence Malick, but its stature has certainly continued to grow. All in all, the ‘90s films that just missed the list were, at least to me, more likely to make the list than most of those that did.

The most striking absence, to me, is Yimou Zhang’s Raise The Red Lantern (1991). I have never met anyone who did not absolutely love the film; I expected to make the Top 100, in fact. With Yimou Zhang and Jia Zhang Ke both ignored, it seemed like contemporary Asia did not get what many may have expected from it, with Wong Kar-Wai being the only face to have made an impact. Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-Liang also missed the cut.

Fargo also failed to make much of a dent. Critical opinion on the Coen Brothers is quite diverse, with Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, and even The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Big Lebowski likely to draw at least a few votes each. When the full data becomes available, one of my biggest concerns will be in seeing whether Fargo‘s acclaim has waned or the Coen Brothers support is currently too wide-ranging for it to be among the most listedfilms of the ’90s.

Looking back into the 1980s, the inclusion of Blue Velvet is not terribly shocking, though Mulholland Dr’s placement ahead of it and the fact that both of them were included is a bit less expected.  I find Blue Velvet to be an overacted, crude, and ridiculous satire of small-town America, and would rather see Eraserhead, a film that remains completely unique, baffling, and terrifying to this day, make the list, as fantastic use of sound and postmodern surrealism have proven themselves timeless. Blue Velvet, to many, is a source of quoting and bewilderment, but its sadomasochistic study of Isabella Rossellini’s character always struck me as incomplete, noted more for its presentation than its actual substance.

On the other hand, the absence of Do The Right Thing, also voted among the best of the top 25 years by Sight & Sound, absolutely baffles me. Its absence leaves Senegalese Djibril Diop Mambety as the only black filmmaker on the list. There is not a more honest or complex exploration of racial tensions in American Cinema than Spike Lee’s masterpiece, and it is complete with idiosyncratic, formally rich camerawork and color, and it is heralded as one of the greatest movies of the 1980s (certainly as much as Blade Runner or Blue Velvet). I expected Do The Right Thing to lead all post-Raging Bull films, but voters disagreed, as it tied for 8th among 1980s films (with Bresson’s L’Argent, behind A City Of Sadness).

What films ranked highly on the previous poll but did not appear here? Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim dropped off the list from 20th place, Mizoguchi’s Story of the Last Chrysanthemum fell off the list from 24th place, Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible failed to chart after previously placing at 31st (like The Godfather, it was previously counted as one film but now is counted as two; it tied with Meshes of the Afternoon for 10th among 1940s films), Theodoros Angelopoulos, who passed away earlier this year, is now absent from the list as The Travelling Players, previously 49th, was dropped from the list (perhaps it’s time for a Criterion release?), John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Max Ophuls’ Letters From An Unknown Woman were 51st and 52nd, respectively, and Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her previously poked in at 59th but is now missing.

This and more will be discussed in my next post, coming soon, where I’ll look at directors to see what’s in, what’s out, and hopefully find an explanation.

Does anything strike you about films that did or did not make it? Anything you notice about the 2000s, 1990s, or even 1980s films that did or did not appear? Feel free to comment, and I’ll let you know if I have anything to add.

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4 comments

  1. Alexander · · Reply

    Hsiao-Hsien and Ming-Liang are the director’s first names.

    Histoire(s) du Cinema is an episodic film ala Les Vampires.

    If you haven’t seen this, or Beau Travail or A Brighter Summers Day yet, please do, they are far greater than any Yimou film.

    1. I’m aware that those are the first names, I think in writing this so late at night I probably just got lazy and westernized the format, so apologies, and amended.

      But couldn’t the same be said of Dekalog? It’s an episodic film, but it came out over the course of years. Dekalog came out all at once but was not eligible with one vote because it’s considered 10 films.

  2. […] Part two, looking at the films that made the list, is here. […]

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