In the last three weeks, we ran a two-part article on the 10 best films of all time as polled by the Sight and Sound Magazine of the British Film Institute. The BFI actually held two polls: the first was conducted on 846 film experts which included critics, academics, distributors, writers and programmers; and the second involved 358 film directors from all over the world.
Here are the 10 best films of all time, from the point of view of the directors:
1. Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu and scripted by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu. (Number 3 in the critics’ list).
Geoff Andrew, senior film editor of Time Out London, writes about Tokyo Story:
“Isn’t life disappointing?” asks a teenage girl of her widowed sister-in-law at her mother’s funeral; “Yes,” comes the answer—with a smile. This brief exchange, near the close of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece Tokyo Story, typifies the unsentimental mood of becalmed acceptance that distinguishes his work. The performances, setting—the middle-class home the girl has shared with, until now, both of her elderly parents—and dialogue are wholly naturalistic in tone, and never for a moment seem as if they’ve been arranged as part of some grand climax, yet by the time the words are uttered, they carry enormous emotional and philosophical weight. Ozu’s films were marvelously understated, deceptively simple affairs, mostly depicting the everyday domestic and professional rituals of middle-class Japanese life with an idiosyncratic lack of emphasis (dramatic or stylistic) that might mislead the inattentive into believing them banal.”
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and scripted by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke from the story The Sentinel by Clarke. (Number 6 in the critics’ list)
Angela Errigo, film critic for the BBC Radio 2 Arts Programme, writes about 2001: A Space Odyssey:
“Influential but still unique, coolly detached, obsessional, pretentious, contentious, bewildering, forever fascinating—2001 is all these. Certainly it deviates from director Stanley Kubrick’s stated intention to make the “proverbial good science-fiction movie” from his co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke’s intriguing novella The Sentinel, as his film defies genre convention and is unlike any science-fiction movie before it. Visually, 2001 is undeniably awesome, Oscar-winning, ground-breaking special effects (designed by the fastidious Kubrick, supervised by pioneering Douglas Trumbull) are a dazzling mix of imagination and science. Meticulous mime work and 1960’s state-of-the-art prosthetics makeup in the first of the film’s four distinct acts create the best ape impersonations by humans ever seen at the time (and still highly effective, though arguably topped by John Chamber’s creations for 1968’s Planet of the Apes).
3. Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and scripted by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles (Number two in the critics’ list).
Mikel J. Koven, lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Wales, writes about Citizen Kane:
“The film tells a great story: Charles Foster Kane is born poor, but strikes it rich through a gold mine bequeathed to his mother. As a young man he begins to assemble a populist newspaper and radio empire, eventually marrying the niece of an American president and running for governor. But any ambition he has for real power is stymied. As Kane becomes alienated from his power, he becomes increasingly abusive to the women in his life, first his wife, then his mistress. He dies, almost alone in his reconstructed but unfinished castle, longing for the simplicity of his childhood. Firmly within the traditions of New Deal populism, Citizen Kane extols the very American perspective that money cannot buy happiness, but in a highly prosaic, almost Dickensian way.
“More significantly, Citizen Kane begins with Kane’s death, and the enigmatic final word he utters: “Rosebud.” A group of intrepid newsreel reporters try to discover the meaning of this last word and interview several of Kane’s acquaintances. Not only is the film told in flashback, but each character only knows the man from a certain perspective, which is presented in due course.”
4. 8 ½ by Federico Fellini and scripted by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Brunelio Rondi. (Number 10 in the critics’ list)
Jean-Michel Frodon, senior editor on cinema at the French daily Le Monde, writes about 8 ½ :
“Marcello Mastroianni with hat and cigar in a bathtub…immemorial white walls and the black line of a whip…impressive women and fantasies…The images of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ remain, and the sounds as well (pity for those who have never heard the film in its original, though so artificial, Italian).
“After his eight first features, Fellini had received all the recognition a director could possibly wish for (including, beyond the success, awards, and critical acclaim, scandal and even ex-communication for La Dolce Vita), paid tribute, and flew away from his masters (Rossellini, Visconti, De Sica, etc.). Somehow, though only 43 years old, he had managed to achieve a completeness in his work. 8 ½ stands as the bridge between this early period of fulfillment and a new adventure—one which, though probably his most original and creative, turns out to be only the second of three (there is also a third, and wonderful, period of Fellini’s late works).
“With its magnificent black and white look, its geometric and non-realistic framing, and its suggestive use of sounds and images, 8 ½ does not elaborate a thesis on the state of the art or engage in psychoanalytic investigation. Instead, it opens a window inside each and every one of us, artist or not, man or woman.”
5. Taxi Driver by Martin Scorcese and scripted by Paul Schrader.
Joshua Klein, columnist whose works have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post, writes about Taxi Driver:
“Portraits of urban malaise and anomie don’t come any darker, bleaker, or more claustrophobic than Taxi Driver. The film has some noirish elements—Bickle’s voiceover, Barnard Herrmann’s haunting, jazzy score—but veers sharply when it comes to storytelling. Taxi Driver proceeds like a film noir told from the perspective of an anonymous stranger standing at the corner of a murder scene, peering over the police tape at the shrouded body splayed out on the street. What’s going through that person’s head? How will he react when confronted with such a vivid display of violence?
“Scorcese, Schrader and De Niro seem to be asking that of us as well. For the film’s duration we’re stuck viewing the city from Bickle’s relentlessly isolated perspective, with few peripheral glimmers of hope taking us out of his deranged head. He’s Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man surfacing with a gun and a death wish, a vigilante anti-hero with a hands-on approach to cleaning up the city. “Here is a man who would not take it anymore,” he announces triumphantly. “A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”
(Continued next week)