Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our Collective "Greatest Films of All Time" List (Currently Being Updated With Essays)

After the British Film Institute released their 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" list, some members of the Criterion Collection facebook fan page decided to give it a shot and create our own list, and this is the result of the collective choices of 84 film buffs all around the world:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick, 1968 (168 points) 
2001: The Ultimate Trip by Michael Herrington

Stanley Kubrick, widely regarded as not only one of the greatest filmmakers, but one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, made many terrific films and a handful of masterpieces, but perhaps none more lasting or monumental than 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was the film that made science-fiction a credible and powerful genre. There is the time before the film and the time after it. You may love it, you may hate it, but you simply must experience it.

No matter what he did, it seems Kubrick could never escape the criticism of being too cold and distant. He certainly made more emotional films (Paths of Glory), but as sterile as 2001’s characters may appear at first (in many cases, this is purposeful, as in the movie’s legendary villain HAL 9000), the film has always struck me as being one full of wonder and curiosity, two very human traits. Take the film’s opening 20 minutes, which would make a terrific short film on its own. It is prehistory, and the camera follows a group of humanity’s ape-like ancestors as they attempt to survive in a vicious, competitive world. We absolutely feel for these creatures, a testament to the performances of the actors playing them, primarily Daniel Richter as Moon-Watcher. Just when all hope seems lost to them, they are surprised to find an enormous, black rectangle outside their cave. They are alarmed and frightened at first, but eventually become entranced by its strange powers, touching the object, later referred to in the film as a monolith, and experiencing significant jumps in their intelligence. They begin to use tools, such as bones, to hunt down tapirs, and eventually to take back their watering hole, previously overtaken by a rival group. Following their victory, a bone is triumphantly thrown in the air, leading to one of the most mind-blowing jump-cuts in the history of cinema. In a flash, we go from bone to space shuttle, distant past to near future.

Kubrick’s talent is blaringly apparent from here on out, from his wonderful use of classic music (Once you’ve seen the film, is it possible to watch space footage and not think of The Blue Danube, or vice versa?), his use of groundbreaking, photorealistic special effects (which won him his only Oscar. The film’s climactic “Stargate” sequence remains one of the most hypnotic, terrifying, beautiful scenes in film history.), to his impeccable shot composition (The space shuttle stewardess, wearing “grip shoes”, slowly walking up the wall and onto the ceiling is something I’ll never forget seeing for the first time.).

So, from a purely technical standpoint, 2001 is beyond reproach. And as for the story? Well, this is undeniably the area in which 2001 fails most people. Admittedly, it’s difficult to imagine a film that asks for of its audience than this one. I won’t lie; it can be a rough first viewing. The film takes awhile to “get going”, and you may find yourself checking your watch or dozing off on several occasions.

I can’t stress “first viewing” enough.

2001 is a film that demands to not only be seen, but be seen multiple times over. Its beauty doesn’t become truly apparent at first, and the more you watch it, the easier it becomes to give yourself over to the magnificence of it all. It’s a story as grand as any that a movie has ever told. Man’s beginning, journey, death, and ultimately, rebirth. Surely this something worthy of more than just one viewing. This is the best and most valuable kind of film, one to discuss, argue about, and think about. Why does every mystery have to be solved? Why must every detail in art be carefully explained and analyzed? 2001 leaves many viewers completely bewildered. It’s not until later that they realize, as I did, just how beautiful such a feeling is. This is the kind of film I wish I hadn’t seen, just so I could see it again for the first time, experiencing that same frustration, excitement, and wonder, sometimes all at once. It may or may not be the greatest film of all time, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one more mentally stirring than this.

Film is a drug, and as long as people continue to do it, 2001: A Space Odyssey will remain, as its poster proclaims, the ultimate trip.

Citizen Kane
Orson Welles, 1941 (142 points)
Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (110 points)
When I first read the claim that Vertigo, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, was Hitchcock's masterpiece I thought “No way! Nothing will beat Psycho!”. Upon completion of the film, I knew I was wrong. From that day to now, Vertigo has remained my favourite film. Now the question is: why?

The film deals with the always interesting subject of obsession. At first it may feel like a mystery, Scottie quits the police force after his acrophobia (fear of heights) causes another officer to tragically die. He is only convinced to try detective work again when an old friend asks him to tail his wife, as she has been acting strangely. Scottie agrees after seeing her and follows Madeline through the Streets of San Francisco, but it soon turns to romance, and as it progresses, Scottie is truly obsessed with the wife of his friend.. She drives him mad. He needs her, and he will do anything to find her. The film even touches on strange sexuality and fetishism, as Scottie recreates his love through another woman, not caring at all for her well being, only for his need to have the one woman he cannot have. It is in this strange turn that the film becomes more than the thriller it initially sold you on. There is no mystery now, only his obsession. The film becomes quite dark, and you fear for the well being of this new woman, and not for our initial protagonist Scottie. The film plays off like a dream at first, and soon it becomes a nightmare.

As I mentioned before, his obsession can be seen as quite sexual. In the 50's, they could not have made a big deal about it, but I believe it is there. He is only attracted to this new woman when she becomes more and more like Madeline. He only ever even spoke to her because she reminded him of her. He aggressively picks out her hair styles and clothes, only so she can fit the image of the woman in his mind. This can be seen as truly fetishistic and it adds a very interesting layer to the film.

Stewart and Novak give us some of their greatest work in this film. Stewart begins his performance as though he is the worlds nicest guy. He wants to help his friends, but he is also very troubled by the death of the other officer and he is forced to deal with his acrophobia. All of this is conveyed in his face and his overall soft performance. Because of this precision, he is truly believable when he goes mad, and suddenly all softness is gone, he is the same character, but different. Novak is also very strong, she gives Madeline a dreamlike quality that fits the dreamlike qualities of the film, and she never comes off as your run of the mill melodramatic 50's woman. The dreaminess of the film comes from a combination of the films gorgeous cinematography, which has an overall soft look, and the breathtaking score by Bernard Herrman (one of the finest ever written).

Hithcock shows his masterful skill as a director in this film, showing he can make more than just thrillers that every audience will love. Vertigo is the masters art film, a dream of love, mystery, and obsession. Vertigo is a beautiful film, and it will stick with you for days after a viewing. While you watch it you may believe you are actually dreaming, and you will truly be touched by what you see. Why is it my favourite film? The truth is, I can't answer that question, but when I am asked, and I close my eyes to think of the many wonderful films I could answer with, the first images that appear in my mind are those of Vertigo.
-By Henry Colin

City Lights
Charles Chaplin, 1931 (93 points)

Federico Fellini, 1963 (84 points)

8½: Fellini’s Psychic Symphony by Jack Welch
I can’t imagine Federico Fellini on the job, giving instructions, setting up shots. If I ever envision him directing, I see him much as we see Guido in the final scene of 8½, megaphone in hand, leading his actors in a magic dance. It’s as if he dreams his visions directly onto the screen. And although it is impossible to consider this most personal of films apart from its director, the auteur theory was a new development in the U.S. at the time of its release, and the central assumptions of 8½ – that a film is born from the director’s imagination, that a director may suffer the same crisis of inspiration that a novelist does, that the artist’s desire for self-expression should supersede either financial or personal obligations – seemed to some merely the absurd pretentions of Fellini’s narcissism. Critics from Pauline Kael to David Thomson have judged the film affected and superficial, self-absorbed and devoid of social conscience, immodest and self-indulgent (all charges articulated in the movie itself by the critic Daumier, Guido’s omnipresent specter of self-doubt). But it remains, nearly fifty years later, the best and deepest portrait of an artist ever filmed, and the great rallying cry for the tradition of confessional, introspective cinema which was popularized by the European auteurs of the sixties, flourished with the work of young American directors in the seventies, and survives in such great recent films as Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

The story of the film is the story of its creation. Fellini has confessed that after the international success of his satirical epic La Dolce Vita, he felt abandoned by his muse. With a contract, a cast, and sets for his next film, but no script or plot, Fellini journeyed inward, and brought forth the story of director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), representing Fellini himself, who retreats from his own artistic and personal crises into his dreams, memories, and fantasies. The creation of 8½ must have been a profound spiritual process for Fellini, a simultaneous creative and introspective triumph which I can only think to call “self-surmounting.” La Dolce Vita had emancipated Fellini from his neorealist roots, unleashing a baroque visual style and symbolic cosmos of his own making. But it’s in 8½ that the “Felliniesque” achieves apotheosis. This is poetry of the soul, by a director working utterly without inhibitions. Multiple viewings reveal the immense intricacies of its construction, yet it feels spontaneous and unaffected no matter how many times I see it. It’s a film of controlled chaos, a swirl of fragmentary visions which should degenerate into cacophony, but instead maintains a fluidity and harmony that Fellini would never achieve again.

The more you meditate on 8½, the more the paradoxes seem to multiply. It is silly and profound, caustic and affectionate, truthful and fraudulent, sincere and ironic, solipsistic and universal, hilarious and tragic, an accessible entertainment and a bottomless mystery. If La Dolce Vita was an epic about superficiality, then 8½ is even more audacious in conjuring meaning from Fellini’s/Guido’s personal abyss. Why does Guido casually whistle the overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville? Why, simply because it’s stuck in his head, which is also why we hear it fully-orchestrated early in the film. Guido is unconsciously authoring the movie of his own inner life. Others have found such playful self-reflexivity to be facile or even smug, but Fellini uses his recursive structure to propose a theory of how meanings get started, where inspiration comes from: memories, longings, terrors, and regrets. Though 8½ overflows with ideas about the nature of creativity and criticism, the spirit of the film lives less in theory than in the poetry of Mastroianni’s gestures and looks, the lovely music of Nino Rota, the dazzling, kaleidoscopic mise-en-scène, the humor and the sadness and the heedless flights of fancy.

In a film in which literally every scene is memorable, I still must single out two episodes for special mention. The lengthy fantasy of a harem populated by all the women that Guido has ever been attracted to, simultaneously celebrating and deflating all of the absurdities of male egotism and libido, is such a graceful flow not only of sights and sounds but of moods, such a psychic symphony, that it invariably brings me near tears of joy and astonishment. A mosaic of hilarity, warmth, cruelty, and melancholy, it may be the summit of Fellini’s entire oeuvre. But it’s the final images which live most fiercely in my heart. For Bergman, a procession of figures linked hand-in-hand meant the Dance of Death; for Fellini, it’s the Dance of Life. This beautiful final metaphor for the imagination – and the people who populate it – is a vital and persuasive testament to the value of cinema and life, the miraculous gift of a man for whom they were one and the same.

Mulholland Dr.
David Lynch, 2001 (82 points)
Mulholland Drive is anything but conventional. The way to think about and comprehend the film is unlike almost any other, so the way to write about it shouldn’t be conventional either. I could talk about the themes of Hollywood being a dream factory and the identity crisis women go through in such a world, but these things out of context don’t do justice to the film. I could also talk about Naomi Watts’ performance and how good it is, but nothing I say could even hint at the depths to which her character goes through and the mastery Watts shows in portraying them. The best way to describe Mulholland Drive is to say that David Lynch accomplished what he ultimately always tries to do, he takes you into another world. He uses all there is in filmmaking to tell a story that wouldn’t work any other way than on the silver screen. The logic of the narrative is his own creation. The images and accompanying sound is always either mysterious, scary, or both. Lynch takes us into that blue box with Naomi Watts and shows us a world. Then he takes us out of that box to give us a greater perspective. It’s a perspective that may not show itself right away, but when it comes together, and boy does it all come together, it tells us there is a method to Lynch’s madness. Trying to figure out that method would defeat the purpose, but I can assure you it’s all there. Everything Lynch does in Mulholland Drive is purposeful and although so much of it seems weird and disorienting, it comes off quite natural. Whatever Lynch intended on saying about identity and Hollywood is amplified so much by his ability to put his fingerprint on every shot of this film. At the end of the day isn’t that the mark of a great film? One who’s voice is singular, distinct, and present throughout the story. Whether or not that voice speaks to you is personal but that distinctive voice, one David Lynch undoubtedly possesses, is not present in a lot of films. In his they are, and it has never sounded so good than in Mulholland Drive.
-By Jeff Berman

The Tree Of Life
Terrence Malick, 2011 (81 points)
Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa, 1954 (80 points)
Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese, 1976 (75 points)
Martin Scorsese, 1990 (56 points)
Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino, 1994 (50 points)
Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola, 1979 (49 points)
There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007 (47 points)
It was January 28th, 2008, when I went to see There Will Be Blood in theaters for the first time. I got there relatively early with my father, as to get a good seat. The small crowd shuffled in as the time neared closer to the starting point. As the lights dimmed down, and the film started, I was instantly sucked into the film. There was something about the film that made it mesmerizing, almost hypnotic, really. It was the first film that I had ever sat through the credits, not saying a word, really letting the film sink into me before even remotely trying to say anything about it.

To this day, after a total of 43 viewings of the film, I still can’t tell what’s so mesmerizing about the film. Is it Daniel Day Lewis’ performance? Is it the attention to details? Is it Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction? I doubt I will ever know. And that is what makes There Will Be Blood so astounding.

There Will Be Blood is a morbid tale of obsession, greed, betrayal, and alcoholism. It’s adorned by fantastic performances, masterful direction, and visually striking cinematography. The plot is rather simple; Daniel Plainview, an oil man, is greeted by a mysterious man named Paul, who informs him that there is oil at his family’s ranch, in California. So, Plainview visits the ranch, finds oil, and buys the land in order to drill for the oil. Things begin to go a little awry though, as Plainview meets Eli, the son of the owner (and twin brother of Paul) who is an ambitious evangelical preacher. Both Daniel’s ambitions and Eli’s ambitions clash into each other many times, starting a psychological warzone between the two that spans for years, all the way up to the deeply haunting finale of the film.

Cinema has witnessed and marveled at a large number of fantastic actors and actresses, who have entranced all of their viewers with their performances, but I dare say that none of their performances will ever be able to match Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Day Lewis incredibly gathers up all of his talent and creates one of the most terrifying film characters in movie history. Consumed by greed and hate, and fueled with alcohol, Plainview is an anti-hero. We like him, but we don’t like him at the same time. There are times when he seems like an empty shell of anger, then there are times where we see a more humane side to his emotions, telling us that deeper inside of him is a man who is sorry for his actions. I can’t think of any other actor who would be able to play such a commanding role.

Paul Thomas Anderson had already proved himself as a screen writer and a director, but packed a huge punch with this film. His previous films: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and Hard Eight, all were very, very great films, but this will always be his masterpiece. It incredibly succeeds to immerse a person into the characters and the story, because, after all, that’s what cinema does. It creates an escape portal for people. For just two hours you can sit and be somewhere else, with different and new people. You can escape from the real world and be immersed into a whole different world. That’s the magic of cinema, and that’s the magic of There Will Be Blood.
-By Tyler Harris

There Will be Blood: Film as Destruction by Henry Dykstal

There will be Blood is not a movie as much as it is a force. It is relentless, a runaway train, one of the few movies that made me completely lose all sense of time when watching it, so powerfully I was caught in its genius (Other films that have this effect: L.A. Confidential, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Ace in the Hole). It’s also, I would argue, the only one of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s films that has no aspirations to be seen as a part of the New Hollywood Cinema that he loves so dearly. This is the first work of his that is utterly, 100% him, which makes it that much better. Though everything in the film is essentially flawless, from the screenplay to the direction to Jonny Greenwood’s hauntingly beautiful score, without question the greatest triumph of the film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview, the film’s subject. As Plainview, Day Lewis is like a hellish combination of Charles Foster Kane and HAL 9000 (Hold on, let me explain why that makes sense). Like Kane, he is ruthless in his determination and misanthropic towards humanity, and, like HAL, he has no emotion, he regrets nothing, misses nothing, and is immune to pain and fear, concentrating only on his mission of the moment (when he breaks his leg early in the film, he immediately sets back to work). As the film progresses, Planview’s misanthropy is challenged in various ways, from his adoption of his son H.W., to meeting a man who calls himself his long lost-brother, and his affection for Mary, the youngest daughter of the Sunday family, whose son Eli (played by Paul Dano, who at 20 managed to stand his ground against Day-Lewis), is his main opponent in the film. All of these, however, fall to the film’s cynical world, and it reveals that if there is any message in this movie, it is not a condemnation of capitalism, or about the war between business of religion, but a denouncement of power in all forms, whether secular or religious. Anderson proves this throughout the film, from Eli’s Flannery O’Connor-esque church, to Plainview’s swindling of Eli, to their explosive final conforntation. After the whole thing, Anderson summarizes perfectly what Plainview’s actions have done to him, after he has destroyed everything good and bad in his life, and is left sitting on his own, like he has so many times before. “I’m Finished.”

Michael Curtiz, 1942 (46 points)
The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola, 1972 (46 points)
The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick, 1998 (46 points)
Fritz Lang, 1931 (43 points)
Summarizing Fritz Lang’s masterpiece “M” is a near impossible task. The film is just short of two hours (117 minutes, to be exact), and yet leapfrogs through so many genres and styles during that time that pinning down exactly what “M” is proves to be difficult.
The film opens with the sound of children playing a word game: One child stands encircled by other children and recites a poem, on each syllable of the poem she points at a different child in the circle and whichever child it is being pointed at when the poem is over loses. It’s normal kid stuff; used to do it all the time when I was little, and chances are so did you! But the poems and songs we used weren’t quite as sinister as the one these children are singing.
“Just you wait, it won’t be long. The man in black will soon be here. With his cleaver’s blade so true. He’ll make mincemeat out of YOU!”
One of the mother’s overhears the children’s game from a balcony and tells the children to stop singing that horrible song; a different mother tells her that as long as the children are singing they know they are safe.
The song is topical to these kids, you see, for a killer is on the loose who prays only on children; he finds children in the streets, lures them off someplace, and kills them. The murders never occur on screen, to be exact there is not a single drop of blood in the entire film; everything the murderer does occurs off-screen, and, ultimately, inside of our minds.
This is where the film starts; the mother who said that they’ll know the children are safe as long as they sing, begins to worry why her daughter Elsie is not home from school yet.
The poor mother moves through the apartment building calling her: “Elsie! Elsie!” But we already know what has happened to the poor child. While playing on the sidewalk with a ball she begins to bounce the ball up on a large column where a poster written about the murderer is hanging; then a shadow moves into the frame obscuring the poster. By the time the mother begins her desperate search it is already too late for little Elsie.
Now we move on to the Berlin police who are trying to find and capture the criminal. So one night the police raid a bar where criminals frequently gather together. This causes an issue for the crime syndicates: as long as the murderer is still on the streets, the police are going to continue raiding the locations the crime syndicates operate out of. So the leaders of the different syndicates gather together for a meeting to discuss what is to be done; their conclusion is that they must capture the murderer themselves!
They hatch an elaborate plan which involves the beggars in the city — the thought being that no one really pays attention to the beggars, so they are naturally the best option for trying to keep track of the murderer. The scene of the criminals discussing their plans is intercut with a scene of the police also formulating a plan of action. The scene crisscrosses and leaps back and forth between the two discussions masterfully.
Eventually the criminals chase the murderer (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) into an office building. At this point the film moves from being a crime film to being no less than a heist movie. The criminals carefully put together a plot to break into the office building, methodically search it room by room, find the criminal and then take him away all before the police arrive. After this the film switches gears again and turns into a sort of courtroom drama. Peter Lorre’s character, Hans Beckartt, is given a lawyer (sort of) and has to defend himself against the criminals, who are serving as the judges, witnesses, and prosecutors.
As I said before, “M” effortlessly leapfrogs through genres and movements as if it were a piece of music constructed to rise and fall in tempo and pace. The suspense builds to dramatic heights, and yet the quiet moments are softly spoken and carefully worded. Lorre gives what might be the finest performance of his entire career, being at once disgusting and terrifying; a rabid dog you feel the need to shoot to put out of his misery.
My favorite scene in the film comes at about the midway point; Peter Lorre’s character has picked his next victim, and he takes her inside of a candy store to buy her sweets. When the two of them return to the sidewalk, the little girl, only for a moment, turns her back to Lorre, who instantly pulls a switchblade which was hidden in the palm of his hand. The pay-off of the scene is terrifying.
I hope that I don’t sound as if I am gushing, but if I do it’s because I am; “M” is probably my favorite movie of all time.
-By Andrew Kyle Bacon (check Andrew's blog by clicking here)

Ingmar Bergman, 1966 (43 points)
Blade Runner
Ridley Scott, 1982 (42 points)

Eyeballs and Unicorns: My personal experience with Blade Runner by Dan Patterson

One of the biggest debates for film fans is which is the greatest science fiction film of all time: 2001 or Blade Runner? For me my answer will always be Blade Runner. It's funny how there are so many science fiction stories that are considered serious literature yet there are so few science fiction movies that people consider great works of art. Well over the years Blade Runner has grown to be an important piece of art in the same leauge as anything written by H.G. Welles or Ray Bradbury.

Despite having mixed feelings towards the film, Gene Siskel once said during the early 90's that Blade Runner would go down as one of the most influential films in terms of art direction and boy was he right. The list can go on and on detailing how many films were influenced by Blade Runner's art direction but the most notable example should go to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. While we're on the subject of art direction I should also point out that for me Blade Runner was the first film that really opened my eyes to the importance of the aesthetics of a film and the attention to detail that the director makes in order for the audience to interpret themselves what kind of universe these characters are living in.

As I get older I appreciate Blade Runner more and more. One reason for this is just how much more well versed I've become in film noir. Blade Runner perfectly mixes a dystopian future with noir elements. These noir elements include the central detective story, the music, and the fine line between what makes a person good or bad. Harrison Ford's performance in this even reminds me of Cary Grant's in Hitchcock's Notorious. Both Ford and Grant were actors were well known for playing likeable protagonists yet in both these performances they played cold characters, even to the ones they truly loved, and put their jobs above anything else.

Like many great films it didn't get huge praise when it was first released. A big part of that might have to do with this other science fiction film that everybody was going to called E.T. Thankfully over the years people have realized its genius and, like 2001, it was years ahead of its time. I like to cite Blade Runner as the film that got me into looking for symbolism and hidden meanings while watching movies. Basically Blade Runner was the film that made me realize that films could be much more than just simple entertainment. I've watched it in every version from the original theatrical release with Ford narrating, the director's cut with the added unicorn scene, and the blu ray final cut and it's all great stuff. And no matter what version it's in Blade Runner is a film I can watch again and again without growing tired of it.

Jean-Luc Godard, 1960 (41 points)

Breathless: An Appreciation by William Forrest

When it really all comes down to it, no film is really more important to the evolution of modern cinema than Breathless. Its influence can be felt in everything from Wes Anderson films to YouTube videos. It's style, non-linear plot, ordinary dialogue and sheer brilliance is still unlike anything else. Its cinematography changed how films were shot and edited. It was basically a film revolution.

First of all, Breathless is probably best known for being the quintessential French New Wave film, which it is. Jean-Luc Godard made a film using different elements he observed as being a film critic for Cahirs du cinema, a very important film magazine which helped popularize the auteur theory, the idea that the director is the man most responsible for the unique style of a film, and directors can be unique. In some ways, Jean Luc Godard was the first modern day auteur, the way he combined comedy with film noir and many other genres and styles he observed as a critic. Many modern directors just take little ideas and styles from many places to create their own style. But Godard was really the first to do this with Breathless.

The film's cinematography and camera work is just as important. The lengthy tracking shots and the jump cuts within shots were new and innovative for 1960. But there is something about this film that just screams... independent. The shaky handheld camera, the not fully thought out plot, the random and rambling dialogue... Doesn't it remind you of today's YouTube videos by amateur filmmakers? In some ways, Godard made the first modern independent film: by taking things he loved, and combining them into one singular idea.

The dialogue is very revolutionary too. There is a 20 minute scene in a hotel with Michael and Patricia talking about their relationship and really, about life. They talk about everything from military service to Romeo and Juliet to the beauty of a poster she puts on a wall. In cars they talk about how the lights of Paris look mysterious and Michael sings to himself. The idea that dialogue can wander and change topics and be ordinary in a film was a radical new idea, and nowadays this is a trademark of Quentin Tarantino movies. In this way, Breathless is very normal. The main characters are a small-time criminal on the run for killing a police officer and an American woman who writes for the New York Herald Tribune. The film follows their life together and their relationship. In this way, Breathless is almost a documentary.

One the most striking things about the film is the way Godard uses the surroundings of Paris. He shows a shot of a movie poster reading "Live dangerously til the end!" when the our protagonist is on the run and "Music While You Work" over the radio during a small sex scene. The way Godard uses everything to reference the plot creates a kind of self-referential humor and adds to the overall theme of the film. This is something I especially see in the work of Wes Anderson, who makes music and setting and odd details very centric to his plot. But Godard was the first person to use everything in this way.

But the most interesting way to think about Breathless is to think about it as the death of cinema. Godard himself said that he thinks of it as the death of cinema. The idea that it is nothing but a jumble of ideas with ordinary dialogue and cool cinematography makes you wonder if it is really that much of a standalone film on its own. Nowadays someone could make Breathless and not much would be thought of it. Because every amateur film nowadays is like it, one way or another. It's success could be merely a grand accident. Is Breathless the death or birth of cinema? That's for you to decide. But one thing cannot be ignored: Breathless is one of the most important and revolutionary films ever made, and our modern cinema owes more to Godard then we can imagine.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sergio Leone, 1966 (40 points)
Akira Kurosawa, 1985 (39 points)
In a very strange way, Ran is the Akira Kurosawa-counterpart to Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Both films deal with parents who are passed about by the children as if they are an unwanted nuisance.

But Ran is apocalyptic. It is about a man who puts his faith in the world around him only to discover that everything he knew was a façade, and façades are easily destroyed. Lord Hidetora is a man who has spent his entire life waging wars and conquering dominions, and in his old age has decided that he is through; he simply wants to spend his final years resting and dividing his time among his children. But is it possible to do this? Is it possible to simply walk away from the things you have done and there be no consequences for your past actions? It seems that Ran subscribes to concept of “you shall reap what you sow.”

Over the course of 162 minutes we see Lord Hidetora’s world crumble to pieces, and worse yet, we see his mind crumble to pieces. At the beginning of the film Lord Hidetora, while hosting a hunting party with his three sons and the clan heads, gives up his position as The Great Lord of the House of Ichimonji and essentially gives control of his kingdom to his oldest son, Taro. None of the three are very happy about this, but the youngest son Saburo, seems to go out of his way to make his displeasure known to everyone there. He not only calls into question his father’s mental health and stability, but also calls into question the loyalty of his older brothers.

Kurosawa paints us a picture of a man totally separated from the world around him; a man totally separated from everything good in the world. Lord Hidetora became the Great Lord through his own choices and actions, but now his choices are taking his position away from him, reducing him to little more than a fool wandering in the wilderness completely unaware of the world around him.

Throughout the film we meet characters who knew Hidetora from his past life, people whom the Great Lord had an impact on in some fashion. What we are shown is how the life of a single man has cause misfortune and misery in those around him; no one is better off for having known Hidetora.

In a particularly moving scene Hidetora has completely lost whatever connection he had to reality and his caretaker, a jester named Kyoami, delivers the best line in the film and one of the best lines ever written: “Man is born crying. When he has cried enough, he dies.”

Kyoami serves an important purpose in the film. Beyond serving the role of the much-needed comic relief (Kyoami laughs with a frown, you might say) in what is an otherwise very dark film, he serves the role of keeping the audience connected to Lord Hidetora. With Hidetora’s mind slipping away from him it would be very easy for us to stop caring what happens to him, but because we are able to sympathize with Kyoami, and because Kyoami is able to sympathize with Hidetora, we are able to stay emotionally connected to the very sad story of this man.

Now, it would wrong on many levels to talk about Ran and not mention two other important aspects of this film. The first is the impressive battle that marks the middle section of the film; it is of a scale that we do not see in movies anymore (at least, not without excessive digital effects), and it features one of my favorite shots in any movie. Lord Hidetora’s castle is being burned to the ground, smoke is pouring out of it, and out of the front door and down a very long staircase comes Lord Hidetora in a daze. The intention of the attack was to assassinate the former Great Lord, but the soldiers gathered around the castle seem to be in shock by what they are seeing: not an ounce of fear in Hidetora’s eyes, not even anger or confusion; his expression is emotionless, blank, and empty. It’s a glorious shot.

The other aspect that I have to mention is Lady Kaede as played by Mieko Harada. It is one of the finest performances I have ever seen in a film, and adds so many layers to the already complex plotting that director Akira Kurosawa offers with this film. I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling how beautiful the performance is, but I will say that the character of Kaede will take on an entirely different appearance on return viewings of the film. Not to mention the way Kurosawa brings her plotline to a finish.

Akira Kurosawa is my favorite director. His films offer images of such stunning beauty that I can’t help but be awestruck by them. This won’t be the last piece I ever write on a Kurosawa film. Heck, this probably won’t be the last piece I ever write on THIS Kurosawa film.
-By Andrew Kyle Bacon (check Andrew's blog by clicking here)

The Seventh Seal
Ingmar Bergman, 1957 (39 points)
Tokyo Story 
Yasujirō Ozu, 1953 (38 points)
Annie Hall
Woody Allen, 1977 (37 points)

In the beginning of Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Woody's character Alvy Singer tells two jokes. One of them tells the tale of two old ladies at a bad restaurant. Apparently, one says "The food here is so bad!". The other says "… and such small portions."Alvy comments that that is how he feels about life: bad but too short. That's how I thought of Annie Hall upon first viewing: bad and too short.

Upon second thought, though, Annie Hall is much more. It is to the screwball comedy as is Chinatown is to the film-noir: a modern masterpiece.

Beyond the first jokes and fourth walls is an opening, and a humorous one too. Alvy reminisces about his shaky childhood with his house under the roller coaster. Upon rewatching, I question if the roller-coaster was an exaggeration of Alvy's tale, and more of a dramatic decision.

...and from his rocky childhood, we see the neurotic and shaky Alvy in his adult years. Seemingly, he really only confides in his therapy sessions and his friend Rob. This is when Diane Keaton's Annie Hall enters the picture.

Annie Hall, like Alvy, is a goofy klutzy person who also confides in therapy, and can also seemingly rewatch The Sorrow and the Pity. Does each others company complete each other? I would say so. But the happiness doesn't last long, for it seems like their happy for only 20-30 minutes of the film.

Cracks start to befall the relationship, like a college professor named David, and Annie's addictive need for artificial stimulation for sex (use a large vibrating egg next time,). It's tragic, mainly for Alvy, to see the relationship fall apart.

And that's what makes Annie Hall so great. It sticks to the first joke, like with Alvy's life in the movie: bad, but so short.

But it doesn't end here. After the relationship ends, Alvy meets Annie in New York again after some years. They have a good time together. So even if the portions are small, there might be some good food amongst it, I guess.
Bicycle Thieves
Vittorio De Sica, 1948 (37 points)
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick, 1971 (37 points)
Fanny and Alexander
Ingmar Bergman, 1982 (37 points)
Fritz Lang, 1929 (36 points)
Blue Velvet
David Lynch, 1986 (35 points)
Alfred Hitchcock, 1960 (33 points)
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979 (33 points)
Barry Lyndon 
Stanley Kubrick, 1975 (31 points)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Stanley Kubrick, 1964 (31 points)
Paris, Texas
Wim Wenders, 1984 (31 points)
The Searchers
John Ford, 1956 (31 points)

There he comes, riding towards the camera on a horse just like in every other western you ever watched while growing up: John Wayne, the Duke himself; he comes riding up to a lone farming home, in the middle of what seems a wasteland, to visit his brother Aaron and his family on their Texas cattle farm. Truth be known, no cattle herd could survive in a wasteland that looks like this, but these western pictures are more mythical than they are realistic; the difference between Greek history and Greek mythology is a fair comparison. The landscape in John Ford's 1956 films "The Searchers" brings to mind the western paintings of Charles Marion Russell or Frederic Remington more so than it does the reality of what Texas actually looks like.

John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a man who swore his life to the confederacy and still swears his life to it. Even though the war has been over for many years Ethan still wears his uniform and still carries his confederate saber. Heck, that hat he's wearing might even be confederate issue.

There are little moments in this opening sequence that clue the audience into larger things going on behind closed doors. There are passing glances between Ethan and Aaron's wife, Martha that hint at the possibility of a past relationship; maybe if things had been different Ethan would be her husband and Aaron the long-awaited visitor. Then there is the matter of the gold Ethan has brought to the family as a gift of sorts.

Ethan throws a bag of gold to his brother, who inspects it and remarks: "Mint fresh... not a mark on 'em." Ethan's reply is a questionable look and a very curt "So?"

This is not the John Wayne I grew up with. There is something boiling under the surface of Ethan Edwards, a fire and energy; there is something troublesome about him. In an earlier scene we find out that the Edwards family has a young "Quarter-Cherokee. The rest is Welsh..." named Martin Paulie living with them, who is alive because Ethan saved his life when he was a baby; apparently Ethan found him "squallin' in a sage clump after [his] folks was massacred..." You know, come to think of it, "Edwards" is a Welsh name, and later on in the film Ethan recognizes a scalp being flaunted by an Indian chief named Scar as being the scalp of Martin's mother.

All of these details bubble beneath the surface of the film, which might make them seem unimportant yet these are the details that fuel the lives of these characters. "The Searchers" is a film full of unnecessary brush strokes, little details that are unneeded to see the work as a whole; yet it is these flourishes that breathe life into the film, that make it come alive and move. Even though the film is bookmarked by two glorious images looking out of a front door over the vast desert wasteland, we have the sense that the lives of these people had a history dating back before the beginning of reel one, and that they have a future stretching forward beyond the end of the final reel.

But shortly after these opening sequences the youngest of the Edward's girls is taken by a tribe of Nawyecka Comanche, and Ethan Edwards and Martin Paulie will set out to find her. To Ethan it's about saving her from a life of being "with the bucks", a fate that, to Ethan, seems worse than death; to Martin it's about saving the little girl who is like a sister to him. At this point it begins to become obvious what exactly is boiling beneath the surface of Ethan Edwards -- this is a man who does not like Indians. We almost wonder if he had been an Indian-fighter during the war. Ethan Edwards is a hateful man and John Wayne plays the role with a ferocity that is terrifying and inspiring all at once.

Ethan swears that he and Martin will find the girl though: "...we'll find them in the end, I promise you that... We'll find them just as sure as the turning of the Earth."

John Wayne plays a character of single-minded devotion, a force of nature. The question we should ask ourselves, however, is if we should admire the character of Ethan Edwards or pity him. I am undecided.
-By Andrew Kyle Bacon, 8/6/2012

Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone, 1968 (30 points)
It's A Wonderful Life
Frank Capra, 1946 (29 points)
Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999 (29 points)
The Mirror
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975 (24 points)
 The Night of the Hunter
Charles Laughton, 1955 (29 points)
Some films are just hard to shake. They stick in your mind and haunt your dreams. The Night of the Hunter is such a film. It is an eerie, thrilling, virtually perfect work, the only directorial credit for Charles Laughton, and like many great films, was met with little acclaim upon its original release. It’s shocking, ahead of its time, and absolutely one-of-a-kind.

In the Depression-era South, Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is a murderer of several widows, working his way into town after town under the guise of being a man of God. He is arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail for stealing a car. He is quickly joined by Ben Harper (a very young Peter Graves), sentenced to death for robbery and two murders. Ben has hidden the money he has stolen ($10,000) in his daughter’s doll, leaving her, Pearl, and her brother John the only ones who know the location of the loot. Ben, in his sleep, reveals his secret to Harry, and is later executed. Harry is released, and quickly makes his way to Ben’s wife Willa (Shelley Winters). Harry wastes no time, quickly marrying Willa and attempting to coerce the secret of the money from the very young Pearl. It is ultimately up to John to lead Pearl away from Harry and toward safety.

The Night of the Hunter is, in its subject matter, an incredibly dark film for its time. Harry is a disturbing character, and watching him psychologically torment the two children (played with uncanny naturalism by Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) can be very unsettling. This is why it’s so strange that a vein of humor runs through the film. Scenes such as Powell, his arms extended, running up the stairs, or slipping through the mud in pursuit of the children, seem straight out a Tom & Jerry short. Yet it all works so well. Why? Well, the aforementioned cast is excellent, but the real surprise is Lillian Gish, who appears later in the film. She comes to protect John and Pearl (now on the run from Harry), and projects a great deal of warmth and security. Stanley Cortez’ cinematography and Walter Schumann’s score succeed at setting a terrifically creepy mood.

The film’s biggest asset is, no doubt, Charles Laughton. Drawing on German Expressionist films of the 20s, he crafts an emotional, engaging film that moves fast and never fails to satisfy and mesmerize. What a shame that he never got the chance to direct again.

The Night of the Hunter is one of the all-time greats, a horror film of everlasting power and significance.
-By Michael Herrington

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
F.W. Murnau, 1927 (29 points)
Sunset Blvd.
Billy Wilder, 1950 (29 points)
Modern Times 
Charles Chaplin, 1936 (27 points)

In an episode of the popular American TV show, The Office, secretary Pam Beasley dresses up like the Little Tramp for Halloween. She makes a reference saying she can’t take off the iconic bowler cap, for she would look like Hitler. Watching that clip, I was curious if American audiences would understand her dress-up. I think they would.

The Little Tramp is debatably the greatest characters to grace the screen, surpassing the likes of Indiana Jones, and Hannibal Lecter. What defines this character, in my opinion, is not the hat, moustache, or the cane. It’s the smile, which is always shown. In all of the films that feature The Little Tramp, I do not recall a tear shed.

In all of the Little Tramp features, City Lights, The Circus, debatably The Gold Rush, and Modern Times, The Tramp is always smitten by a leading lady (usually a woman that Chaplin was smitten with off the screen), and tries to impress her. In the first three, those are really his main conflicts. In Modern Times, that conflict is secondary, compared to his struggle to live well.

Modern Times, as the titles states, is a film for the 99%. It is always relevant, and always will be. It, lightheartedly or not, depicts an economic era, where The Tramp gets and loses multiple jobs. Along the way comes a gamine girl, played by Paulette Godard. She’s trying to make ends meet like the Tramp. In one scene, she steals some bread, but is saved by the Tramp by saying he was the thief.

Throughout the film, I stated that the Tramp obtains and loses many jobs, always comically. In one sequence, the Tramp is hired to be the night watch at a department store. Instead, he invites the gamine, possibly to lighten the darkness in his tunnel of loneliness. When the store has a break in, the thieves are his former co-workers at a factory. Small world, I guess. The Tramp and the thieves talk about their lives and how the Great Depression has affected their lives. The Tramp gets drunk, and falls asleep on the job.

When I first saw Modern Times, I was 8 years old. I did not understand the economical layer of the film, but saw it more so as a comedy. It was my first silent film, and it’s still my favorite. I consider it has Chaplin’s best, and as the Tramp’s last hurrah.

I read on IMDb’s trivia page that all coherent vocal sound comes from electronic technology. Loudspeakers, TV’s, the new gadgets. Even though the Tramp SINGS at the end, it is not coherent. It is gibberish, comedic, but universal. Most of the words are from a TV which a factory boss says. He is testing new technology, and the Tramp is selected to try it. Chaos ensues.

Overall, Modern Times, is successfully conveys comedy, but its underlying tones of recession, great depression, and technological innovation are far too important to ignore.

I imagine seeing the film 50 years from now. Its age well over 100 at that time, I can imagine thinking to myself on how realistic this film is.

Raging Bull
Martin Scorsese, 1980 (27 points)
The Rules of the Game 
Jean Renoir, 1939 (27 points)
Au hasard Balthazar
Robert Bresson, 1966 (26 points)
Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955 (26 points)
Lawrence Of Arabia
David Lean, 1962 (25 points)
Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola, 2003 (25 points)
The Conformist
Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970 (24 points)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry, 2004 (23 points)
Vivre Sa Vie
Jean-Luc Godard, 1962 (23 points)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943 (22 points)
The Third Man
Carol Reed, 1949 (22 points)
The 400 Blows
François Truffaut, 1959 (21 points)
The General
Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton, 1926 (21 points)
Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki, 2001 (21 points)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001 (20 points)
The Battle of Algiers
Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966 (20 points)
Boogie Nights
Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997 (20 points)
The Human Condition
Masaki Kobayashi, 1959 - 1961 (20 points)
No Country for Old Men
The Coen Brothers, 2007 (20 points)
Stats and fun facts:
Directors with more than one mention:
Stanley Kubrick (4)
Paul Thomas Anderson (3)
Ingmar Bergman (3)
Martin Scorsese (3)
Charles Chaplin (2) 
Francis Ford Coppola (2)
Jean-Luc Godard (2)
Alfred Hitchcock (2)
Akira Kurosawa (2)
Fritz Lang (2)
Sergio Leone (2)
David Lynch (2)
Terrence Malick (2)
Andrei Tarkovsky (2)

Amount of mentions by decade: 
1960's (12)
1950's (10)
1970's (9)
2000's (7) 
1940's (6)
1980's (6)
1990's (5) 
1930's (4)
1920's (3) 
2010's (1)

Amount of mentions by country: 
USA (31)
France (6) 
Italy (6)
UK (6)
Japan (5)
Germany (3) 
Sweden (3)
 Russia (2)
Denmark (1)

Amount of films submitted: 363

Amount of films in color: 35

Amount of films in B/W: 28

Amount of films we share in common with the BFI's 2012 Sight and Sound List: 27

Amount of films available on The Criterion Collection: 20 (plus two OOP)

Note: I will  be updating this post constantly with essays for each film from everyone who contributed to the creation of this list, make sure to check out their personal websites.

1 comment:

  1. The essays are very interesting so far, great work, looking forward to see how the rest turn out :)

    What I find significantly impressive are your pictures. They're excellent covers of what I think represents each film wholeheartedly as a piece. Do you have more of these photos? Or if so could you do more projects using them in the future. Good luck with the work!