Oh, it’s on, people! Sight & Sound’s decennial list of the greatest 10 movies ever, as voted on by hordes of fancy-pants critics, has arrived, and Citizen Kane just got its ass handed to it by Vertigo. Alfred Hitchcock has been waiting in the wings for years, huddled in his cage, raw meat dangled before his hungry eyes, waiting for his chance to beat the almighty bejeebus out of that upstart punk Orson Welles. And I mean seriously–Orson? What the hell kind of a name is Orson? Now, Yossarian, there’s a nice normal name. Which I’m getting sidetracked here (although actually Orson was in the movie based on that book, that terrible, awful unfunny movie).
A fight to the death! Alfred and Orson! Mano y mano! And Orson goes down, all the way down to merely having directed the second greatest movie of all time. Oh, god, the shame, the indignity, the brutal head trauma. What will he tell his mother? He was always such a good boy! And now? Tossed into the bargain bin with Michael Bay and Menahem Golan, right there between Bad Boys II and Over The Top.
Let’s take a look at this list, why don’t we?
2. Citizen Kane
3. Tokyo Story
4. The Rules of The Game
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. The Searchers
8. Man With A Movie Camera
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc
10. 8 1/2
I know what you’re thinking: where the fuck is Evil Dead II? Nowhere to be found! Because apparently the age of great movies ended in 1968 with 2001. Not a single movie since then makes the cut. Why? Because movie critics have reps to uphold. And those reps require a certain amount of fancy-pantsing around, and nowhere do the fancy pants come out in shinier colors, covered in bigger golden stars, woven with pricier silken threads than every ten years when Sight & Sound comes knocking.
Because who wants to be the asshole who kicks Jean Renoir to the pavement? Which suicidal maniac wants to go on record admitting he’d rather watch Ghostbusters than curl up with Tokyo Story?
These people don’t even put Lawrence of Arabia in the top 50! Let alone something released, heaven forfend, since anyone reading the list was born.
Delving deeper into the list, into the top 50, we get a few more recent titles. Mulholland Dr.? Go figure. I’d say Blue Velvet takes Mulholland Dr. to the cleaners, but I like seeing David Lynch in there. And Coppola turns up three times, for The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. Scorsese gets in with Taxi Driver but not Raging Bull? Madness! It defeats its own purpose! It’s like a piece of charcoal! And not a single movie from the ’80s in the top 50 save one: Shoah. Lord help us.
Comedies? Sorry. Unless you’re Charlie Chaplin you don’t get anywhere near this list with a comedy. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian? Seems obvious, but no. Woody Allen? Sorry. Not even Dr. Strangelove gets a nod. Which frankly makes me want to down a tall glass of grain alcohol and rainwater to take the edge off my outrage.
The top ten hasn’t changed much, despite a considerable number of films having been made since the list was first published in ’52. Citizen Kane topped it in ’62 and hasn’t been dethroned until now. The ’72 list featured Bergman’s Persona, from ’66, only six years earlier! Stunning. Looks like in ’72 2001 was still just for LSD dropping hippies. In ’82 it tied for 11th. In ’82 Vertigo, in 7th place, released in ’58, was the newest movie in the top ten. And that’s in ’82, right at the end of what to me is the greatest fifteen years in movie history. Damn lunatic critics. In fact the only movie(s) released after 2001 in ’68 to crack the top ten were The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, but only because in ’02 they were considered as one movie. Not so in ’12.
I know, lists don’t matter, you say, and I say it too. But what else is there for humans to do than to list and classify things? It’s what we do best! It’s what we love most! Despite our best conscious efforts to convince ourselves otherwise, we will always take these things seriously enough to expend hours of sweat and grief wringing our hands over them.
And so, like zombie squirrels pouncing on a hapless macadamia nut, let us descend upon the list and feast upon its delicious innards…
10. 8 1/2, ’63, directed by Federico Fellini
8 1/2 is simply fucking awesome, folks, so get over yourselves and watch it. It’s all dreamy and funny and sexy and there’s that scene with the ladies and the tub and the whip and you’re thinking about attack ‘copters, and the whole damn thing exists not as a thing in itself, but as a description of a thing, which thing is what it is. Right? Who pulls off a movie like this anymore? Yeah. Nobody. Ever again. Now all we get are men in rubber tights and shit blowing up in 3D.
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc, ’27, directed by Carl Dreyer
You can’t even imagine how great this movie is. I mean it’s silent and French and still it will literally blow your fucking head up when you watch it, it will blow your head up and out of your head will pour a thousand zombie squirrels and all of their heads are blowing up too. I’m serious. Maria Falconetti as Joan gives what is actually the greatest performance by anyone in a movie ever, all with her eyes! Her eyes will haunt you for the rest of your life. Her eyes go so deep you end up in an alternate universe where sentient squirrels eight miles tall shoot lasers from their navels and fight giant robots for eternity. If you see what I mean. Just watch it. Put down that Will Ferrel movie and rent this instead.
8. The Man With A Movie Camera, ’29, directed by Dziga Vertov
This is a movie I heard about today when I read this list. No way is it better than Evil Dead II, but I’m going to watch it anyway, because I’m stubborn like that. You should also watch it, and then we can have a nice chat about it in the comments section. Say, check out this still from it. Now I’m intrigued.
7. The Searchers, ’56, directed by John Ford
In which we tell ourselves John Wayne can act, and that we’re not horribly embarassed by the white guys in brown-face pretending to be Indians. I don’t like old westerns, but yeah, fine, in the world of old westerns this one is the best. It’s on the list because of America and apple pie and John Ford and that shot through the doorway of the desert, and it’s all kind of sad and forlorn and what have you.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey, ’68, directed by Stanley Kubrick
This should be number 1. You must see it in a theater immediately. It is unlike any movie ever made. Have you seen it in a theater yet? What, do you hate movies? Do you hate art? Why not just start a terrorist organization and blow up every museum in the entire world, you hate art so much? You cruel, cold-hearted monster! This movie is so great it will replace your brain with itself. Soon it will take over humanity, the Earth, the universe. It is the universe. And also there’s that nice song Hal sings.
5. Sunrise, ’27, directed by F.W. Murnau
Three silents in here? And none of them with funny people falling down? That’s a lot to ask. This one won the first ever Academy Award for Best Picture, so you know it’s at least as good as Dances With Wolves. It stars Lillian Gish as the Sun, and tells the story of how she used to orbit the Earth, until Copernicus, played by a young Herbert Lom, elevates her to the center of everything, such that she ignores her former lover, who forever after orbits her in utter, empty loneliness, with only the moon for a friend. Or so I imagine. I’ve never seen it.
4. The Rules of The Game, ’39, directed by Jean Renoir
Renoir and I share the same birthday. Isn’t that interesting? Also, this movie is really good. I haven’t seen it for years, so I can’t tell you why it’s good, but a bunch of fancy pants critics like it better than 2001, for god’s sake, so surely there’s something to like. I remember this one part where a guy shoots ducks. I think. And there’s a mansion and people are charming and witty, but, you know, in a way that gets at the very beating heart of what it means to be human.
3. Tokyo Story, ’53, directed by Yasujiro Ozu
This movie is notable for having been in my Netflix queue for well over six years, generally hovering somewhere between 43 and 97. I promise to watch it before I grow old and die. It’s about people, and they’re in Japan, and they’re older, and they have grown children, and then some things happen. Maybe. Also, it’s supposed to be good. Better than The Seven Samurai? Better than Godzilla? I find it hard to believe, but when I was ten years old and first saw the trailer on TV for Raiders of The Lost Ark I didn’t think that looked very good either, so I could totally be wrong here.
2. Citizen “Vertigo just made me its bitch” Kane, ’41, directed by Orson Welles
What can I say except that Rosebud was a sled? Oh, sorry. You haven’t seen this ever? You might want to get on that. That great Simpson’s episode from season 5 with Burns’s teddy bear is going to make a lot more sense once you do. Anyhow, yeah, Orson Welles, first movie, work of genius, exploding zombie squirrel brains, etc., etc.
1. Vertigo, ’58, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Psychologically demented, and not in that obvious “my dead mother makes me knife pretty girls in showers” way that Psycho was. Much more in that “pretty women falling to their deaths from high places” way. Jimmy Stewart is creepy, Kim Novak is hot, that’s all you need to know. Best movie ever? No. In the world of Hitchcock? I’m partial to Notorious, but okay, fine, get off my back, this one’s probably his best.
Well then. Wasn’t that fun? What have we learned? We’ve learned that in a world where giant squirrels battle killer robots for universal dominance, we’d be watching far fewer movies. Also, lists are absurd, and we love them because of it.
To restore some semblance of hope and goodness to the world of movie criticism, go here for a look at every movie ever voted for in all of the Sight & Sound polls up through the ’92 list. Many will make you say “Damn right that should be in there!”, i.e. Dawn of The Dead, The Last Picture Show, Manhattan, while many will make you say, “And that is why people are morons and the human race is doomed”, i.e. Dune.
And for those of you living in San Francisco or its environs, check out the Castro Theatre schedule for the coming month. Vertigo, 2001, Sunrise and more greats are all playing. Don’t miss out.