Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Top Ten Films for the 2012 Sight & Sound Poll

There are many approaches to such a list. I had two criteria: 1) which ten films would I recommend to a young person curious to know what the cinema is?, 2) which movies would best convey a rich experience of life with well-rounded characters, and a sense of society, history, love, and family or other relationships? A sense of humour would be favoured. This time I neglected classics of alienation (including Bresson, Antonioni, Godard, and Vertigo), experimental films and documentaries. My three favourite directors, Ford, Mizoguchi, and Tarkovsky are represented. They know how to combine the lyrical with the epic. When I started to see movies in the 1960s and the 1970s there were already prominent trends of minimalism: no plot, no action, long takes, and long shots in movies by Jancsó, Warhol, Straub & Huillet, Angelopoulos, and Akerman, and in many experimental films. Such films have become more prominent in film festivals in recent years, and since the late 1990s and the unfortunate Dogma syndrome bad visual quality has sometimes been one of their characteristics. I'm still digesting which ones would have the most lasting value. It is hard to decide. In the 2012 poll films that belong to a larger entity had to be voted singly. Otherwise I would have considered The Marseille Trilogy (Marcel Pagnol), The Godfather Trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola) and The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieslowski).

The following is my letter to the editor of Sight & Sound, Nick James:

1. City Lights (US 1931, Charles Chaplin)
2. La Règle du jeu / The Rules of the Game (FR 1939, Jean Renoir)
3. Citizen Kane (US 1941, Orson Welles)
4. My Darling Clementine (US 1946, John Ford)
5. Sansho dayu / Sansho the Bailiff (JP 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
6. Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries (SE 1957, Ingmar Bergman)
7. Jules et Jim (FR 1962, François Truffaut)
8. Kahdeksan surmanluotia / Eight Deadly Shots (FI 1972, Mikko Niskanen)
9. Zerkalo / The Mirror (SU 1975, Andrei Tarkovsky)
10. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi / Spirited Away (JP 2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

Mission: impossible. Ten best Biograph shorts by D.W. Griffith... ten best Hollywood animations from the 1940s... ten best experimental films from the 1960s... ten best Finnish films... ten best films of 1914 or 2012: justice would be possible in lists like them. I think there are on the average ten masterpieces per year in the history of the cinema. I wrote a book on the 1000 best feature films for the centenary of the cinema and a new edition of 1100 best films for the 110th anniversary. I could include any of them in your top ten list. And of short films many times more.

1. City Lights. Still maturing after the passing of the golden age of comedy Chaplin moves towards heartbreaking self-reflection.
2. La Règle du jeu. Mozartian depths beneath a superficial frivolity.
3. Citizen Kane. There are a dozen reasons to like this. One is an enormous joy of the cinema.
4. My Darling Clementine. A new gravity and dignity appears in Ford's Westerns after WWII.
5. Sansho dayu. Like Ford, Mizoguchi was a master of both the epic and the lyrical. In this story of injustice he is at his most ardent.
6. Smultronstället. A purely cinematic journey of self-discovery, worthy of Chekhov and Strindberg. Also the most beautiful hommage in the history of the cinema, in this case to Victor Sjöström and The Phantom Carriage, Bergman's personal favourite film.
7. Jules et Jim. Like Design for Living (Noël Coward / Ernst Lubitsch), an anti-triangle-drama: the saga of a friendship between two men and a woman. The title notwithstanding the central character is Catherine, immortalized by Jeanne Moreau. Also a rich period movie starting from la belle époque and reaching to the eve of WWII. Full of life and an irresistible love for the means of the cinema.
8. Kahdeksan surmanluotia / Eight Deadly Shots. Together with Loviisa (1946, Valentin Vaala) and Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1955, Edvin Laine) one of the best Finnish films by the classical directors, but only in its full version of 5 hours and 16 minutes.
9. Zerkalo / The Mirror. A space odyssey into the interior of the psyche, Tarkovsky's "In search of lost time". Epic dimensions of history emerge during this personal journey through the memories of childhood.
10. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi / Spirited Away. There is an affinity between animation and animism. Miyazaki, a master on the level of Lewis Carroll and Tove Jansson, creates a unique vision in which old spirits coexist with the modern world.

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