This summer, movie-lovers everywhere were buzzing about the fact that Citizen Kane had been dethroned by Vertigo as “The Greatest Film of All Time,” at least according to The 2012 Greatest Films Poll at Sight & Sound magazine.
Starting in 1952, the publication has contacted the most influential artists and critical voices in film, and polled them, once per decade, for their personal top ten list of movies. This year, I am pleased to report on two critics – one at Middlebury College and one at NER – who were asked to contribute ballots.
Both of these writers discovered novel ways to make their individual lists stand out from the pack with fresh and relevant picks. Middlebury College Professor of Film and Media Culture Christian Keathley submitted his choices, as did writer J.M. Tyree, a member of NER’s Editorial Panel and a Middlebury alum.
Keathley rounded up many of the usual suspects in terms of directors, like Bresson, Renoir, and Hitchcock. However, when it came to specific movies, he zeroed in on some unconventional choices. For instance, he opted for Ford’s little-known They Were Expendable instead of what many consider his magnum opus, The Searchers. Rather than cast a vote for Godard’s Breathless or Contempt, Keathley’s list gave the nod to the director’s arguably more complex and far less bombastic Vivre Sa Vie.
While works of humor were scarce on the collective Sight & Sound top fifty, Keathley paid tribute to a few works with a lighter touch, like Powell and Pressburger’s sparkling romance I Know Where I’m Going! and Sturges’s uproarious The Lady Eve. Fortunately so, because with three Tarkovsky films on the final fifty, I was beginning to wonder if critics can still laugh.
Tyree injected playfulness and variety into his list by limiting himself to one film from each decade from the 1920s to the 2000s, from Flaherty’s landmark Nanook of the North to Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home. His list also puts a firm emphasis on documentary, a genre too often overlooked in these kinds of ranked lists. Tyree also recognized that his movie picks reflect a common theme: “journeys of various kinds that connect the personal and the historical, the national and the global, with an increasing lack of triumphalism.”
Tyree’s balanced list also offers up some of the most poignant films of all time, including David Lean’s splendidly ordinary Brief Encounter and Ozu’s Tokyo Story, while not neglecting a fast-paced comedy-thriller like The Lady Vanishes.
In closing, I’d like to congratulate these respected critics in our midst, not only for the honor of being chosen, but also for submitting fun, stimulating lists! In light of their creative ballots, I will forgive them both for the colossal oversight of Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise. They only had ten slots, after all…
Be sure to read the critics’ full lists at Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films Poll website.
Read Keathley’s Top 10 | Read Tyree’s Top 10
So, what movies are on your list? Leave a Comment with a few must-see titles…
Timothy Don says
Interesting to see Raging Bull left off this list–I’m accustomed to seeing it battered about on these things. Over-referenced, but it is a great one and I believe will be watched 200 years hence. Your criteria (one per decade, no triumphalism) shatters many of the nominations I would make: Lawrence of Arabia, for god’s sake, is Lean’s Machine (didn’t he invent his special camera for that?), not Brief Encounter. No Terrence Malick? Badlands. Thin Red Line. Tree of Life. For shame. No Herzog?! Aguirre? Fitzcarraldo? Du hast nicht! I have to watch McCabe and Mrs. Miller every January, or whenever the first snowstorm comes. To miss it is to die. Maybe it’s the fact that I get both Leonard Cohen and Julie Christie in one fell swoop, but that to me is a gorgeous and tragic film. Frankly, I would put one of the Bond films on that list: From Russia With Love. Or wrap up the cool quotient with Le Samurai. For good measure, I might add Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That’s right! And, not to be a jerk, but The Man With the Movie Camera deserves a place here too. Thanks for making me think about this, Mr Tyree. Great work.
Brilliant note, Timothy, thanks! I was surprised that Fitzcarraldo got only two votes and ranked 588th in the poll. I think that for certain directors – Herzog and Cassavetes, maybe Bresson as well – a lack of consensus about their “greatest” movie tends to disperse their supporters.
Colleen Fiore says
Late Spring and Brief Encounter are sublime movies and excellent choices for the top ten.
My top ten:
The Lady from Shanghai
Shadow of a Doubt
Trouble in Paradise 😉
The Lady Eve
The Third Man
Emily Mitchell says
Metropolis. Fitzcarraldo. The Gleaners & I. Harlan County USA.
Thanks, Nora! Trouble in Paradise – wonderful movie – got votes from 14 critics (including Michel Ciment) and 5 directors. Start building the campaign for 2022…
Trouble in Paradise Poll web page.