Monday 6 August 2012

100 Films That Changed What I Hesitate To Call My Life

I remember flicking through Sight & Sound's decennial "Greatest Films" survey ten years ago and wondering whether, in a decade's time, I might be asked to contribute to their 2012 poll. That, for whatever reason, didn't come about, but it hasn't stopped various friends and colleagues from asking me, these past few days, what I would have voted for, had I submitted a list of my own. So here's some idea: 100 films that affected me and continue to affect me, either by changing the way I thought about the cinema, or about the world, or about myself. (Or - good gosh - about all three simultaneously. The cinema has a funny way of doing that, sometimes.) 

Objective greatness is a tricky one to pin down, so I've wholeheartedly embraced the subjective here. Is That Thing You Do! a greater film than Mean Streets? Even in this age of Internet-fuelled contrarianism, hundreds, if not thousands, of sane, lucid, perfectly reasoned reviews would suggest not; yet the former somehow means more to me than the latter, in part because I always wanted to wear a suit in a turn-of-the-60s rock band and make out with Liv Tyler more than I ever wanted to be a gangster and end up bleeding to death in a gutter. Call me unambitious, but really, that just seems like too much effort.

So, yeah, this is all about me to some extent, I guess, and I apologise for that, but then - hey - it's my list, after all. What an exercise like this can reveal, however - and this is something that ties this list to the 860-odd lists submitted to Sight & Sound - is just how one's tastes are shaped, if not necessarily set in stone, during one's formative years. Twelve of my top twenty choices date from the 1990s, the period during which I began studying film; and I first saw The Fountainhead, the oldest film in that twenty, upon its re-release in 1998. At the risk of sounding like some rueful old crone sitting on a porch as the sun goes down, maybe I was more open to the world, and all its possibilities, back then - or maybe I was just sorting what I liked from what I didn't particularly, and laying down the foundations for the work to come. 

Either way, if we assume that the average age of the S&S contributors was somewhere around 50 (if not upwards of that), it would explain that list's marked resistance to post-1968 cinema: that top ten constitutes ten films that the poll's elder statesmen grew up with, went back to time and again (as I do with the films on my own list), and sought - seek - to pass on to the next generation, even if these pesky kids will insist on questioning why Citizen Kane is considered the Greatest Film Ever Made. There's nothing inherently wrong with this canonisation, but swapping Kane with Vertigo hardly constitutes the radical changing of the guard it's been proclaimed as in certain circles. The obsessions of one dead white male, before the camera as behind it, have merely been replaced by those of another, elevated as such by the obsessions of living, breathing white males. (And again, I suspect, the kids will ask "why?")

Obsession has always been central to lists such as these: you don't make them if you're not obsessed in some way. (See also: the lair of every other serial killer.) The danger is that such obsessions ossify over time and take priority over passion, new blood; that such lists become the exclusive domain of the head, rather than that of the heart or gut, or any other organ by which we might measure the success of any given movie. That way lies the worst kind of elitism. I don't much care for the apparent snobbishness of the S&S set towards The Shawshank Redemption, for example: oh, what, was the film not artsy enough for you? Did you feel out of place watching it wearing your super-cool fucking beret? Well, boo hoo. Here's a Straub/Huillet box set: go sit in the corner on your own until everybody else has finished.

The films at numbers 1 and 100 on my list (and yes, Kane did - just - sneak in there) date from over a half-century apart, yet they're united by the theme of control. Control is what we try to exert whenever we make lists - or attempt to find the words to describe and rate or rank those experiences that got away from us, which had the temerity to snap us out of our everyday concerns and make us feel something. The conclusions of both films strike me as cautionary, however: what they seek to communicate is that there are elements in life one cannot control, and that will, by their very nature, remain elusive or subject to change. Emotions, instincts, gut reactions - responses so often denied by the chinstroking brigade - would be among these elements.

Accordingly, I may return to this list in due course, whether to revise my choices, or elaborate upon them. (Even as I'm typing this introduction, I'm regretting not finding the room for Better Off Dead..., or The Butterfly Effect, or Simple Men, or L'Appartement - which is Vertigo with pop songs and Monica Bellucci, which may actually be an improvement - or any of the other apparently minor pop-cultural artefacts that continue to nag away at me more than a whole canon's worth of Great Works.) UPDATE: One sharp-eyed reader has pointed out the discrepancy in running times between the top two choices (188 and 175 minutes respectively), and the film at number three (which dashes to the line at a speedy 81 minutes). I guess this is the long and the short of it, then - the 100 films that changed what I hesitate to call my life:

1. Magnolia [above] (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
2. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
3. Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)
4. The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949)
5. The Three Colours trilogy (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993-4)
6. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)
7. Satantango (Béla Tarr, 1994)
8. In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, 2007)
9. Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)
10. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
11. Before Sunrise/Sunset (Richard Linklater, 1995/2004)
12. Rosetta (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, 1999)
13. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
14. Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)
15. The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)
16. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
17. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997)
18. The Corporation (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, 2003)
19. The Kingdom I and II (Morten Arnfred, Lars von Trier, 1994/97)
20. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
21. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)
22. Hamlet (Michael Almereyda, 2000)
23. Wayne’s World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992)
24. The Untouchables (Brian de Palma, 1987)
25. Être et avoir (Nicolas Philibert, 2002)
26. Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
27. Dimensions of Dialogue (Jan Svankmajer, 1983)
28. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
29. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
30. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
31. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
32. The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
33. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1946)
34. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
35. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
36. Reds (Warren Beatty, 1981)
37. Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
38. Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1997)
39. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
40. Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000)
41. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
42. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
43. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
44. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
45. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
46. Con Air (Simon West, 1997)
47. George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000)
48. Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997)
49. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
50. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
51. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
52. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952)
53. The Music Box (James Parrott, 1932)
54. Raining Stones (Ken Loach, 1993)
55. 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
56. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)
57. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
58. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
59. [safe] (Todd Haynes, 1995)
60. Last Night (Don McKellar, 1998)
61. Chung King Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994)
62. Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah, 1987)
63. Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2009)
64. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
65. Clean, Shaven (Lodge Kerrigan, 1993)
66. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1993)
67. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
68. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
69. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
70. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
71. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
72. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
73. Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001)
74. Funny People (Judd Apatow, 2009)
75. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid, 1943)
76. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His PastLives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
77. The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
78. Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
79. All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green, 2003)
80. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
81. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
82. Dr. Strangelove or… (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
83. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
84. Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989)
85. Reconstruction (Christoffer Boe, 2003)
86. Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962)
87. River’s Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986)
88. That Thing You Do! (Tom Hanks, 1996)
89. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990)
90. Everyone Says I Love You (Woody Allen, 1996)
91. Red River (Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson, 1949)
92. In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Ôshima, 1976)
93. North by North-West (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
94. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
95. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
96. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
97. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
98. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
99. Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
100. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

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