Video: An Editor’s Ballot for the Sight & Sound Greatest Films Poll

Video: An Editor’s Ballot for the Sight & Sound Greatest Films Poll

Press Play presents Sight & Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. 

For the Sight & Sound Critics Poll of the greatest films of all time, I picked ten films, each one from a different decade, as well as from a different country.

Les Vampires (1915) 
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Love and Duty (1931)
Under the Bridges (1946)
Mother India (1958)
The House Is Black (1962)
Killer of Sheep (1977)
City of Sadness (1989)
Outer Space (1999)
Bamako (2006)

Looking at this top ten, I see two films that resonate with each other, even though they were made 70 years apart. What do these films have in common? First, they are radical, groundbreaking approaches to genre moviemaking. I tend to prefer films that break the rules of genre instead of epitomizing them.

With Man with a Movie Camera, here’s a film that on one level is a documentary. Director Dziga Vertov captures an astounding array of life in the Soviet Union. But he breaks so many conventions of documentary, and of most movies for that matter. Narrative storytelling, characters, and even overt meaning: The film rejects all of these principles. It wants to break free from the world of theater and literature and speak in a language of pure cinema. This movie was generations ahead of its time, and I’d say it’s still ahead of ours as well.

Outer Space is my favorite horror movie of all time. It’s only 10 minutes long, but I think those ten minutes capture the essence of what movie horror is all about. The film is actually a kind of remake of a 1981 horror film The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey as a woman being attacked by an invisible, supernatural force. Director Peter Tscherkassky took a celluloid print of the movie and ran it through an untold number of experimental effects, creating something that’s 1,000 times more powerful and scary than the original.

I think both films are supreme examples of the art of film editing. I produce video essays, and half of what I do basically comes down to editing, so I might be biased. But I think editing is the most underappreciated component of a movie, compared to the acting, writing, cinematography, or even sound. Most times, you only notice editing when you notice something wrong with it.

Man with a Movie Camera: Don’t let the title mislead you. This movie is as much about the power of editing as it is about the movie camera. The film unleashes dozens of techniques: dissolves and multiple exposures, stop motion and time lapse, jump cuts and juxtapositions. The film is an essential handbook for every film and video editor, and it’s an eye-opener for anyone interested in how movies are put together, piece by piece.

With Outer Space, we see a movie being taken apart piece by piece, using some of the same techniques as Vertov, but mainly through a painstaking process. Tscherkassky used special laser beams and multiple exposures to manipulate the source footage, spending as much as an hour on each second of film. The images, as well as the amazing soundtrack, become highly unstable, heightening our sense of excitement and dread. It’s as if the celluloid film print itself were being assaulted. We find ourselves watching a film literally falling apart before our eyes.

That is perhaps the supreme achievement of Outer Space, as well as Man with a Movie Camera. Both films pull off an amazing double feat. They make us aware that what we are watching is just a movie. But that awareness doesn’t take us out of the film, instead it pushes us deeper into it. These films are celebrations of cinema’s most basic elements: light, dark, and motion. When I watch these two films, I see those basic elements opening into limitless possibilities.

Originally published on Fandor.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on How to Make a Random Top Ten List (and Why)

VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on How to Make a Random Top Ten List (and Why)

Press Play presents Sight & Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere regularly until the poll results are announced later this summer.

In speaking with critics voting in this year's Sight & Sound Film Poll, one detects an emerging theme of canonical distension, as participants attempt to distill their experience with 117-odd years of great cinema down to ten titles. More than a few have expressed the need to increase the ballot to twenty slots or more. Others complain that the proceedings seem certain to cement the placement of standard titles like Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game and Vertigo, with little chance for other titles, especially from more recent years, to enter the top ten. Are we at a point in film history where a top ten poll does more harm than good in reflecting the best that cinema has to offer? Whatever the case, as argued here earlier, the poll's significance – both in how it forms tastes in cinema, and how it is formed itself – can't be taken for granted. 

Here on Press Play we've been conducting an ongoing conversation on how to shake up the Sight and Sound Poll and its resulting canon. Along these lines, it was fascinating to learn how film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky produced his top ten list for the poll when faced with more titles than he could possibly narrow down – over 90 in fact. The video explains his method, which, as he says, "is as good as anyone's," and then explores one of its intriguing results, the inclusion of three films from 1981. This year is not commonly known as being one of the best in movie history, but it is reflected as such in Vishnevetsky's list with Brian De Palma's Blow Out, Albert Brooks' Modern Romance, and Andre Techine's Hotel des Ameriques. This sets up an excellent opportunity to make an argument for why cinema from this particular year should be considered among the best ever made. Vishnevetsky does so with an astute exploration of filmmaking following the creative surge of '60s and '70s European New Wave and post-New Hollywood filmmaking, and before the advent of '80s commercialism.

What I like about what I will henceforth dub the Vishnevetsky Method to listmaking (again, watch the video for his explanation) is how its initial sense of randomness actually opens bracing new perspectives on canons and cinemas with a charge of rediscovery. For example, I decided to try the Vishnevetsky Method (though using a paperless, salad bowl-less version which I'll describe below) with my own list of 122 films that I considered for my own top ten. My results were as follows:

1. Outer Space (1999, Peter Tscherkassky)*
2. Histoire(s) du Cinema (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Yesterday Girl (1966, Alexander Kluge)
4. Sansho the Baliff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
5. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972, Chor Yuen)
6. Days of Being Wild (1991, Wong Kar-Wai)
7. Love and Duty (1931, Bu Wancang)*
8. Pandora's Box (1929, G.W. Pabst)
9. Aparajito (1957, Satyajit Ray)
10. Bienvenido Mister Marshall! (1952, Luis Garcia Berlanga)

* indicates a title that I actually listed in my official Sight & Sound poll ballot.

Although I am passionate about Asian cinema and Chinese cinema in particular, I didn't expect this exercise to yield three Chinese titles; out of 122 possible titles that I listed for this exercise, 16 are Chinese language, a 1.5 of ten average (my actual top ten has two). But the presence of the three titles – Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, Days of Being Wild and Love and Duty stimulate intriguing connections and arguments on behalf of their greatness, not just as exceptional Chinese language films, but films that in their own way pushed the edges of what was possible, not just in Chinese cinema but all cinema. It's a topic certainly worth devoting a video essay in the future. 

For those who don't have access to a salad bowl or paper, here's the paperless, salad bowl-less version of the Vishnevetsky method that I devised through digital resources. Follow these steps to get your own randomized top ten list:

1) Make a numbered list of every film you would consider putting on your top ten list. Make sure each film has a number associated with it. 
2) Visit this link: http://www.random.org/integers/
3) In the first field "Generate 100 random integers" replace 100 with 10.
4) In the next field "Each integer should have a value between 1 and 100," replace the number 100 with the number of films you've listed. 
5) In the next field, select one column for format.
6) Move to Part 2 and select "Get Numbers" 
7) Ten numbers will automatically generate at random. Match those numbers with their corresponding title. List those films in the order of those numbers.
8) Congratulations, you have a randomized top ten list! See what canon-changing insights you can derive from it, and feel free to share in the comments.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is a film critic for Mubi Notebook and co-host of Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Nicole Brenez on THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES PART I: NOTES AND TESTIMONY ON NEOCOLONIALISM, VIOLENCE AND LIBERATION

VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Nicole Brenez on THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES PART I: NOTES AND TESTIMONY ON NEOCOLONIALISM, VIOLENCE AND LIBERATION

For optimal viewing, click on the fullscreen button on the bottom right of the player.

Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

The seventh video in this series is adapted (with the author's permission) from an essay by Nicole Brenez that appeared earlier this year in Sight & Sound, which was part of a series of articles proposing films for top ten consideration. Her selection of The Hour of the Furnaces by Argentina's Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino is one that, in my view, challenges a number of conventions that typify movie top ten lists. For starters, it may very well be the most important film to have ever been made in Latin America, a region that's long been neglected by the Sight & Sound Poll (unless you count Luis Buñuel as a Latin director).*

Brenez' endorsement also has a bit of intrigue in that it focuses exclusively on the 208 minute documentary's first part, Notes and Testimony on Neocolonialism, Violence and Liberation, ignoring the second part, which in Brenez' words "mainly consists of advocacy for the Argentinian politician Juan Péron and therefore does not concern us here." This year Sight & Sound instructed poll participants not to count multiple titles as a single work (i.e. The Godfather I and II, Dekalog); Brenez' essay provokes the question of whether half of a film can rank among the greatest (though unlike most films, in this instance there is a clear demarcation of parts forming a whole).  

But perhaps most importantly, Brenez's argument makes a compelling case for the poll's consideration of the political film – as well as the politics of filmmaking. It's fair to say that, particularly with regard to greatest films lists, overtly political filmmaking has long endured a stigma as being inferior to films that focus more exclusively on cinema as art. But it's a false dichotomy, as this video hopes to illustrate; The Hour of the Furnaces is a dense work that weaves several modes of cinema into a multifaceted polemical discourse. It plays like the apotheosis of a rich film lineage traced through the likes of Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens, Humphrey Jennings, Alain Resnais and many others.

Moreover, the film is driven by a revolutionary philosophy of filmmaking that, from today's perspective, seems ever more pertinent, if only because what it opposes seems ever more dominant. To my discredit, the video does not incorporate the passage in Brenez' essay specifically pertaining to the film's relationship to its filmmakers' seminal manifesto, "Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World." This landmark text lays a blueprint for cinema in the developing world, proposing an entirely new system for filmmaking and distribution that can truly serve the needs of a society seeking independence from external colonizing forces. It argues for a politically conscious, self-determining "Third Cinema" that can oppose the two prevailing cinemas that, Solanas and Getino argue, serve the forces of cultural and societal oppression: first, the Hollywood model of industrial filmmaking; and second, the auteur / arthouse cinema, which purports to provide an alternative to the first cinema, but amounts to a "safety valve," in Brenez' words.**

These days, it seems nearly impossible to conceive of movies beyond "mainstream" and "arthouse / alternative / independent", or to think of great cinema without summoning a rollcall of auteurs. Watching a film like Hour of the Furnaces – produced as a collective effort outside of a commercial or auteurist model, screened illegally within its home country, and made with a comprehensive, groundbreaking understanding of filmmaking's role in affecting the status quo – one starts to realize how so much of today's film culture has settled into a comfortable, marginalized space in relation to the rest of society. And yet, so much of the world described by Hour of the Furnaces still resembles ours. The film is a bracing reminder of how cinema can confront such a world head-on.

This is the second video I've produced with Nicole Brenez. Our first was on Boris Barnet's By the Bluest of Seas; as with that video, Nicole's words are voiced by another person. Here it is Nova Smith, doctoral candidate in cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago.

– Kevin B. Lee

*In the 2002 Sight & Sound Poll, only five Latin American films received more than one vote: Los Olvidados, The Exterminating Angel, and El by Buñuel (all from his Mexican period); and two films from Brazil, Black God White Devil by Glauber Rocha and Barren Lives by Nelson Pereira Dos Santos.

**Reading Solanas and Getino's essay, it occurred to me that auteurism and Facebook have something in common. Auteurism allows us to cozy up to a virtual, personalized experience of movies [movies as "personal visions"], as Facebook allows us to do so with the internet ["personal" interactions online]; in both instances, fantasies of personalization come at the risk of ignoring a more comprehensive, systemic view of the apparatus: its methods, aims, and outcomes in shaping our perceptions of reality and social order.

Nicole Brenez is professor of cinema studies at University of Paris 3/Sorbonne Nouvelle and a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is a film historian, curator, and leading specialist of avant-garde cinema. Her books include “Cinéma d’avant-garde” (2007), “Abel Ferrara” (2007), and “Chantal Akerman” (2011). Brenez has also been curating the Cinémathèque Française’s avant-garde film sessions since 1996.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Adrian Martin on Philippe Garrel’s L’ENFANT SECRET

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Adrian Martin on Philippe Garrel’s L’ENFANT SECRET

Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

When Adrian Martin visited Chicago last May, I made certain not to miss the opportunity to record him for this video series. Martin was one of the earliest enthusiasts of video essays when they started popping up online a few years ago, and I've wanted to collaborate with him since. At the tail end of a busy trip (a film criticism conference at Northwestern Univeristy and a master class on dance in cinema at the Univeristy of Chicago), we met to discuss his all-time favorite film, Philippe Garrel's L'Enfant Secret / Secret Child. The ease with which Martin delivers his testimony is remarkable (and made for a pleasant editing session); perhaps it's no surprise given that Martin has recorded 33 DVD commentaries and has regularly appeared on Australian TV and radio. I've long admired the range of his work: from mainstream broadcast media to teaching at Australia's Monash University; his writing appears in everything from books to international film journals to his own online journals, such as Lola (co-edited with Girish Shambu).

What distinguishes Martin's scholarship for me is his passion for all that is improbable or even impossible about the cinema; how cinema breathes life into things that can't exist or last in reality. This spirit of vital, celebratory defiance in cinema came through in his presentation on dance in film that I attended: instead of doting on the familiar instances of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, he showed breathtaking clips from Leos Carax's Mauvais sang, David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me and John Waters' A Dirty Shame that reconceive the meaning of cinematic dance as a gesture that somewhat defies meaning. That spirit of dancing at the fringe of our understanding can also be sensed in Martin's love of Philippe Garrel and especially L'Enfant Secret, a chronicle of a tortured, fragile existence that embodies those qualities in its material properties: a film that at times "threatens to disintegrate."

To some extent the delicate filmic qualities of L'Enfant Secret that are crucial to Martin's testimony can't be conveyed in an online video essay, due to the limitations of transposing the film between mediums.  One can only hope that this video will induce further efforts to present the film in its intended format, so that audiences might have the same visceral reaction that Martin relates in this video. In addition to this video, one should also read Martin's article on the film published in Transit magazine (in Spanish and English).

Adrian Martin is a film critic, scholar and co-editor of the online film journal Lola. He is winner of the Australian Film Institute's Byron Kennedy Award and the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing. 

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO: Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ekkehard Knörer and Michael Baute on UNDER THE BRIDGES

VIDEO: Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ekkehard Knörer and Michael Baute on UNDER THE BRIDGES

The fifth video in our ongoing series is the first to involve a film on my own top ten list for the Sight & Sound Film Poll. But I'm not one of the commentators on the video. Nor is the film on the top ten list of either of the commentators. But somehow the three of us form "an inclusive whole" (to use a phrase in the video) to make the case for why Helmut Käutner's Under the Bridges is one of the greatest films ever made.

I first watched the film three years ago as part of Shooting Down Pictures, where I started producing video essays. My viewing of the film came weeks before a trip to Berlin, where I discussed my video essays in public for the first time, as part of the series Kunst der Vermittlung (translated as "Cultural Education" according to Google) organized by Stefan Pethke, Michael Baute, Volker Pantenburg, Stefanie Schluter and Erik Stein. This was an extensive series of screenings and talks dedicated to showcasing film criticism and scholarship performed within the medium of film and video.

I was really taken by the project organizers' enthusiasm for this sub-genre of filmmaking and film criticism, and proposed to collaborate on a video essay on Under the Bridges. Michael Baute accepted the invitation and also enlisted the help of Ekkehard Knörer, editor of the film journal Cargo and one of Germany's leading film critics. We met at Michael's apartment in Kreuzberg, I with my recording equipment and Michael and Ekkehard with a voiceover script they prepared. We recorded the narration; later that day Michael accompanied me on a boat tour of Berlin's Spree River, where we filmed several bridges, thinking it might be a good visual element for the video. I concluded my visit happily and went back to the States with freshly recorded footage ready to edit.

Three years later, the video is finished. I'll refrain from listing extenuating circumstances for why it took three years to make this video essay. I've already apologized to my collaborators, and I am happy to report that they are satisfied with the results. This comes as a relief to me, because the quality of their commentary is such that it may have caused some trepidation on my part, contributing to the delay. Until that time, I had never been handed such an eloquent and extensively prepared narration with which to produce a video. In fact, this narration played no small part in opening my eyes to the splendor of this film.

Knörer and Baute talk about the film's attempt to create beauty in the most unlikely and unyielding circumstances: the end of the Nazi regime, with bombs falling all over Berlin and hardly any resources for filmmaking. They talk about a film whose style embodies a richness borne of poverty: finding the sublime in the most quotidian images and slightest of gestures. They talk about the alchemy of filmmaking, creating miraculous effects out of an improbable scenario bordering on a whimsical absurdity out of touch with the reality of its times – and yet strangely appropriate, even necessary. Necessary because of the small, delicate, and redemptive human touches that float across the screen from start to finish, and that culminate in a feeling of unassuming yet profound grace.

As modest in its brilliance as it is brilliant in its modesty, Under the Bridges is precisely the kind of film that deserves to benefit from an exercise like the Sight & Sound Critics Poll. While many come to the list curious about the new consensus over what the greatest films are, many others are craving to discover lesser-known titles that others passionately cherish. This is such a film. Please watch this video, and learn about one of the greatest films ever made. – Kevin B. Lee

Ekkehard Knörer is a film critic and editor and co-founder of Cargo Film/Medien/Kultur as well as the editor of Merkur Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken.

Michael Baute works as an author, critic and curator and in various media-related projects. Since 2001 he is a contributor to the weblog newfilmkritik. In 2006 he (together with Volker Pantenburg) published a book on Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Recently he’s been the artistic director of Kunst der vermittlung, a website and screening series exploring the art of video-form criticism.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

TRANSCRIPT

EK: "Under the bridges" is a film about Willy and Hendrik, two skippers on a cargo barge who, as a song sung by one of them makes explicitly clear, have led a skipper's promiscuous life. This, however, they have now decided, has to come to an end. They are, very literally, on the lookout for a woman to love. They both are, which brings up the issue of their friendship, their life together on this barge named Lotte. "Under the bridges" on the surface is not much more than a romantic comedy about these two men and their attempt to find a way of integrating a woman in their unsteady lives. But "Under the bridges" is far stranger than it seems. It was shot in wartime, from May to October 1944. You wouldn't know from the film. The Berlin you see is a city in peace. Its buildings are unscathed. Indeed, everything here, these industrial buildings, the landscapes and even these people and their relationships, seem made up from the scraps of better times. But they had no means at all, no money, when they did it, bombs were falling at the time, it really is an arte povera film.

MB: The question then becomes: Is this escapism? The devastations of real life in Germany at the time seem purposefully suppressed in every single image and montage. But at the same time something else makes itself felt underneath the peaceful floating of the barge and the joking and the erotic innuendo. "Under the bridges" is in every respect a film about having to make do, about never expecting too much, about confining yourself to what is near. This is true of Hendrik and Willy who are never es free and independent as they seem. There is even an explicit symbol for that in the film: their barge lacks an engine so they have to rely on other boats taking their barge upriver.

EK: Anna, the woman, with whose fate theirs will be connected, is in quite similar a position. She has very recently arrived in Berlin from an Eastern province and her first attempt to find a partner has disastrously failed. When Hendrik and Willy "meet" her she is standing on a bridge, at night, throwing money in the water. Hendrik and Willy suspect that she may jump and follow the money, with suicidal intent. They take her on board and they begin, in their unassuming ways, wooing her. It seems an impossible task this story has set for itself: Making one out out of these three on an allegorically floating thing like this barge.

MB: There is a kind of suspense in the film that has little to do with the question of how to succeed with that. (And it is obvious that success can only lie in all of them finally taking something like a back seat.) No, the real suspense of the film has much to do with a back and forth of little charges and discharges. This is one of the film's most intimate scenes. It is Anna's first night on the boat, she can't sleep, alone on a boat with two strangers, but also because of all the little noises. Hendrik, however, explains it to her. These natural sounds, made by the rope and the reed, are not noises, but in fact they are music. Natural life, the everyday, is in this way charged with the notion that in fact it is something more poetic. In this case: music. Listen to that.

EK: "Under the bridges" is a film about efforts, but in an almost paradoxical way: efforts are being made to make things seem effortless. It is a film where every feast is frugal, but frugality is made into a feast. And love, the feast of feasts, is effortlessly made into something on which not too many efforts, nor too many words or too many gestures or feelings should be spent. Modesty is what this film strives for, in the middle of a war it makes every effort to ignore. Efforts are visibly made, however, also on the aesthetic plane. "Under the bridges" is not simply a film in the vein of what very soon will be called neo-realism. The expressionist heritage makes itself felt in quite a few scenes playing with darkness and light. The camera moves in rather sophisticated ways, and also the actors are moving naturally and at the same time seem quite choreografed. The effortless flow Käutner achieves comes from his blending of these two seemingly contradictory movements.

MB: Let's concentrate on two emblematic scenes. In the first one Hendrik comes to surprisingly visit Anna at her place. She lives in one of those Berlin courtyards. All she can see of the city is a cigarette ad on the wall of a building and a rather small aperture between the walls of this yard. And now they are intimately together. It is, in its very own way, the film's major love scene. Nothing much happens but in this "nothing much" lies the core of this film's ideology. You have to make do. Käutner manages to charge the most frugal rapprochment with a lot. This is the film's most moving scene because it sums up what "Under the bridges" is all about: You have to be able to find the jubilatory in even the most everyday gesture. One later scene even plays out like a montage reminding of Walter Ruttmann's "Berlin, Symphony of a Big City". We see Anna and Willy on a small lake in a much smaller boat. They stop, under a bridge, in the dark. What we experience here is more than one denouement. This is the moment when Willy learns that all his hopes are dashed, that Anna will never love him, but has always only loved Hendrik. All Käutner needs and wants at the moment is another very small gesture: Willy is lowering his head. He takes this blow in the most modest and gentle way possible.

EK: This most definitely is not a typical scene for the film. But it is decisive and absolutely necessary because it delivers all the plot details whose postponement has kept this potentially melodramatic story so low key before. All the melodramatic potential that Käutner so purposefully never unfolds is compressed into this fast and technically rather elaborate montage. It's a film in the film, so to speak, that by absorbing most of the narrative as well as the emotional pressures makes possible the seeming effortlessness of the low key semi-comedic rest of the film. And, one could argue, the solution that will be found is only possible after this intricate denouement. This scene, I would say, is the film's hidden engine. It makes the rest of it flow so effortlessly. The happy ending is no longer a miracle after that.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight & Sound Film Poll – Vadim Rizov on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s THE ANTHEM

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight & Sound Film Poll – Vadim Rizov on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s THE ANTHEM

As discussed in part three of Press Play's preview of the Sight & Sound film poll, if you look at the results of the last poll, you would think that the last 40 years of cinema amounted to a dark age following the golden era of the 50s and 60s, with hardly any films from that period showing up in the top results. In contrast, each of the videos produced so far for Press Play's Sight and Sound Critics Picks series has featured one post-1970 film: Roger Ebert praised Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Jonathan Rosenbaum picked Satantango (1994), and Molly Haskell selected Claire's Knee (1970). But what films from the last decade are worth consideration? Is it "too soon to be sure" if these films truly rank among the greatest, as David Jenkins wondered in part two our discussion

Critic and Sight & Sound contributor Vadim Rizov submits his answer with his selection of a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, one of the pre-eminent directors to have emerged in the past decade; with his first feature Mysterious Object at Noon released in 2000, he can be considered one of the first true post-millennial filmmakers. Rizov takes his selection further by not choosing one of Apichatpong (aka Joe)'s most critically vaunted features, Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2007) or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In fact, Rizov doesn't select a feature film, but Joe's short film The Anthem, co-commissioned by Frieze Projects and LUX in 2005. The short, intended as a "cinematic purification ceremony" to be played in movie theaters at the start of a screening, takes its inspiration from two ceremonial fixtures in Thai culture: Buddhist purification rituals and the playing of the Thai royal anthem at the start of film screenings and other public events. Rizov explains his selection in the video: "If I had to choose one film to show someone who was completely unfamiliar with arthouse cinema of the last 10-15 years what they had been missing in five minutes, I would choose Joe's short film The Anthem."

The selection of a short as one of the all-time greatest films may be more significant than selecting a film that is only seven years old. Shorts are all too often overlooked; I've spoken with more than one poll participant who was surprised to learn that short films were even eligible for consideration. But the first Sight and Sound Poll in 1952 placed a short film in the top ten: Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct. Since then, no short film has come close to that ranking, though 1992 featured an especially strong showing of short films in the top 50: Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Humphrey Jennings' Listen to Britain, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog and Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. All of those shorts fell in the 2002 balloting, excet for Un Chien Andalou, the only short in the top 100, and along with Chris Marker's La Jetee, the only short to receive three votes or more. 

My own 2012 ballot features two shorts: Farough Farrokzad's The House is Black (1962) and Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space (1999). I don't expect either of these to place well in the aggregate results, but that doesn't stop them from being two of the most stunning films I've seen: Farrokhzad's is a supreme fusion of non-fiction, essay and poetry; Tscherkassky's is a horrifying, spellbinding eulogy to the end of 20th century celluloid cinema. They do more in ten minutes than most films can do in 100. 

Special thanks to Bill Georgaris of They Shoot PIctures, Don't They? for the Sight and Sound poll statistics cited in this entry.

Vadim Rizov is a freelance film writer based in Brooklyn. His work regularly appears in Sight & Sound, the L Magazine, the LA Weekly and the AV Club, among others. Follow him on Twitter.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Molly Haskell on CLAIRE’S KNEE

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Molly Haskell on CLAIRE’S KNEE

Press Play presents Sight & Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight & Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

I first met Molly Haskell and her husband Andrew Sarrris when they spoke at the 2008 Moving Image Institute, a weeklong program for emerging film critics organized by the Museum of the Moving Image. Ever since then I've wanted to collaborate with them on a video essay. Not so much because of their stature as two highly influential thinkers on cinema, but because of something they expressed at the Institute: their curiosity and slight puzzlement about film culture in the online era. For Haskell and Sarris, both of whom have resisted those hand-wringing "death of cinema" theories embraced by their contemporaries, the profusion of movie websites, blogs, videos, etc. over the past decade was something new, exciting and a little overwhelming. At the time, I felt qualified to help steer them through the flood of content; four years later, I feel just as inundated by all that is out there. But infusing their insights into the realm of online video is one thing I still feel capable of doing, and the Sight & Sound Film Poll video series provides the perfect opportunity to explore one of Haskell's favorite films, Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee.

nullListening to Haskell speak about the film conjures visions not only of the film, but also of an era that it reflects: a late '60s-early '70s generation in the throes of a massive cultural shift, discovering new ways to engage with cinema and with the opposite sex. Those impulses are still as present as ever, but perhaps one important distinction between then and now, which the film reflects, is an exquisite sophistication and delight in oral communication that may be endangered in the era of text messaging and tweeting. At the same time, there's something in the written traces of that era's film culture that distinguishes it from those of the present. This became apparent to me when, in the middle of our recording, Haskell brought out Sarris' original 1971 review of Claire's Knee published in the Village Voice and read passages from it. There is something both rigorous and relaxed in Sarris' prose that reflects a time when alternative print media was at its mightiest, when writers weren't pressed to mind wordcounts or angle for pullquote-worthy soundbites, and were freer to ruminate memorably on how a film, or even a knee that appears in a film, could reflect the essence of cinema. I write all this knowing that it may all amount to a nostalgic, Midnight in Paris-like projection of present disappointments upon an idealized past that may never have been as good as I make it out to be. But that doesn't stop those ideals from being worthy of aspiration.

I'm very pleased that I was able to incorporate Haskell's reading of Sarris' review, and also to visualize it with a shot of the review as first printed in the Voice. Juxtaposed with the distracting image of Claire's sensually sunlit knee, it was a fun way to visualize the relationship between a critical text and its subject, one surface expressing the essence of another surface, itself a beguiling decoy diverting the attention of both the film's protagonist and its audience from the film's true beauty.

For additional insights into the film, read Haskell's essay on Claire's Knee published in the Criterion Collection DVD release of the film. 

Molly Haskell is a film critic, author of many books, including From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, and former co-host of Turner Classic Movies's The Essentials.

Andrew Sarris is a film critic and author of many books, including The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Jonathan Rosenbaum on SATANTANGO

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Jonathan Rosenbaum on SATANTANGO

Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

From a personal standpoint, it is fitting that the second video of this series, following the opening tribute to Roger Ebert, features Jonathan Rosenbaum. It was through Ebert that I discovered Rosenbaum's writing 14 years ago, when his weekly reviews for The Chicago Reader made Ebert's list of "20 Essential Movie Websites." Since then, no writer has done more to expand my knowledge and develop my sensibilities on cinema. To explain why, let met me point to one of several possible examples: Rosenbaum's 1990 article "A Bluffer's Guide to Bela Tarr," one of the very first articles written in English on the Hungarian director. On a basic level, the article serves the essential function of film criticism: to introduce its readers to new and exciting work. But it goes a critical step further by identifying the inherent problems of encountering and understanding new films, especially from other parts of the world, and the uncomfortable reality of being confronted with one's ignorance of certain contextual realities (cultural, historical) that may have led to their creation and may be important to their appreciation. The title of the article implies that one can "bluff" their way to posing as an expert on such films, but what Rosenbaum does is the opposite: he systematically and transparently outlines his limited knowledge of Bela Tarr and Hungarian cinema; identifies the elements in Tarr's films that fascinate and confound him, employs sharp formal analysis to vividly describe what's happening on screen; and offers some interpretative possibilities while resisting reductive conclusions. It's an object lesson in how to actively engage with everything in cinema that is new and strange.

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In the two decades since, Rosenbaum has become a leading authority on Bela Tarr's films, a progression that is all the more fascinating for the extent to which it is documented. One can get a sense of Rosenbaum's growing familiarity and evolving position with Tarr's films: from the 1990 "Bluffer's" piece to his 1994 review of Satantango, to his 1996 assessment of Tarr's opus coinciding with and the filmmaker's first career retrospective in Chicago, and a 2001 conversation with Tarr published in Cinemascope. Most of these articles are available on Rosenbaum's website. Later this year his commentary track will accompany the Cinema Guild DVD of The Turin Horse, reputed to be Tarr's final film. His interest now extends into investigating the literary work of Laszlo Krasznahorkai, author of the novel Satantango and co-writer of Tarr's last five films.

When we discussed the making of a video essay on Satantango, one idea was to juxtapose a scene from the film with Jonathan's reading of a passage from the Krasnahorkai novel describing the same scene. We recorded this footage, and while I wasn't able to bring it to a result that fully satisfied me, I am fascinated by the idea of comparing a cinematic work with its source text and hope to pursue this further. We settled on another idea by Jonathan that plays in its own way with the distinctive qualities of the film. – Kevin B. Lee

Jonathan Rosenbaum is an American film critic. Rosenbaum was the head film critic for the Chicago Reader from 1987 until 2008, He has published and edited numerous books, most recently Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition (2010). 

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY – The Sight and Sound Film Poll: An International Tribute to Roger Ebert and His Favorite Films

VIDEO ESSAY – The Sight and Sound Film Poll: An International Tribute to Roger Ebert and His Favorite Films

This week Press Play introduces Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer. 

To start off the Critics' Picks series, why not have the most famous film critic in the world? Roger Ebert needs no introduction, but his impact on film culture is something we have long taken for granted, and extends beyond his 45 years of film reviewing and television celebrity. His reach is felt even within the Sight and Sound Poll – as I wrote in Press Play's roundtable discussion of the poll, it was Ebert who first brought the poll to my attention as a teenager reading his Movie Home Companion, where he analyzed the 1982 poll results and shared his own top ten, distilled in a series of exquisitely crafted paragraphs. That book and those paragraphs initiated my own love of film criticism, and form the basis for this video essay. 

The passages that serve as the video's narration cover the four films from Ebert's 1982 list that remain on his freshly minted top ten for the 2012 Sight and Sound poll. In its own way, the video reflects more significant developments in his life than his updated top ten list. When a fight with cancer left Ebert unable to speak, he took to the web to express himself, convening a international community of movie lovers around his website and blog. That in turn led to the creation of a special section on his website, Roger Ebert's Far-Flung Correspondents, featuring film reviews and articles from people around the world. The site celebrates movies as a global phenomenon bringing people together across languages and cultures.

To honor that vision, this video features many of the Far-Flung Correspondents speaking Ebert's words in their own language. The video also reunites the two hosts of Ebert Presents at the Movies, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Vishnevetsky bringing a multilingual twist to his voiceover. Also taking part are contributors to Roger Ebert's Demanders, the section of his site reviewing video on-demand titles.

It was extremely fortuitous that the production of this video coincided with Ebertfest, Ebert's personally curated annual film festival held at his alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Most of the participants of this video travelled to Ebertfest, making it the perfect opportunity to record them. Others recorded themselves remotely and sent their audio via email. All told, there are 20 contributors speaking ten languages, discussing four favorite films of one man whose writing proves that not only great films, but great film writing, can transcend humankind's boundaries. – Kevin B. Lee

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Roger Ebert's Far-Flung Correspondents

Ali Arikan (Turkish)
Olivia Collette (Canadian French)
Wael Khairy (Arabic)
Scott Jordan Harris
Michael Mirasol (Tagalog)
Omer Mozaffar
Michal Oleszczyk (Polish)
Krishna Shenoi
Gerardo Valero (Spanish)
Pablo Villaça (Brazilian Portugese)
Grace Wang (Mandarin)

Roger Ebert's Demanders

Steven Boone
Jim Emerson
Odie Henderson
Kevin B. Lee
Donald Liebenson
Jana Monji
Jeff Shannon

Ebert Presents At the Movies

Christy Lemire
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Russian)

Predictions You Can’t Refuse: Previewing the Sight and Sound Greatest Films Poll, Part III

Predictions You Can’t Refuse: Previewing the Sight and Sound Greatest Films Poll, Part III

nullEDITOR'S NOTE: This summer Sight and Sound, the magazine of the British Film Institute, will issue the seventh edition of their international poll of critics and directors on the greatest films of all time. While there have been plenty of lists and polls of this kind conducted over the years by innumerable publications, websites and other outlets, the Sight and Sound poll occupies a special place among them. It polls a select number of participants that rank among the most respected authorities on film (the 2002 edition polled 145 critics and 108 directors). To my knowledge it is the longest-running poll of its kind, having first been conducted in 1952, and conducted only once every ten years.

To discuss the poll, its history and relevance to film culture, and possibly indulge in a bit of prognosticating, I’ve organized an online discussion with David Jenkins, UK-based film critic for the website Little White Lies, Vadim Rizov, US-based film critic for Sight and Sound and other publications, and Bill Georgaris, Australian-based creator of the website They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They and keeper of the massive list of 1000 greatest films, compiled from over 2100 such lists, including each edition of the Sight and Sound poll. (His list was what inspired me to start my own blog Shooting Down Pictures, in which I watched and researched all 1000 films on the list, a project that did as much towards expanding my film knowledge as anything I’ve done.) – KBL

Read Part One: Not Simply the Best

Read Part Two: A Top Ten Dilemma

KEVIN B. LEE: Since we touched on a bit of trendspotting in our discussion, I wanted to take some observations from the historical results of the poll. If we look at the last five editions of the critics' top tens and make a newspaper headline for each, it would go like this (click on each year to see the results that inspired their headline)

1962: Humanism Is Out (Bicycle Thieves, Chaplin), Formalism Is In (L’Avventura, Citizen Kane)

1972: Kane, Rules of the Game, Potemkin Cement Canon Status; Fellini, Antonioni, Bergman Lead 60s Vanguard

1982: Kurosawa and Singin’ in the Rain Shift Spotlight to non-Western and Genre Films

1992: Ozu, Satyajit Ray Broaden International Canon; Dreyer, Vigo Lead Early Cinema Resurgence

2002: Godfather Films Break Silent Embargo on Post-1970 Cinema

That last one is only half-facetious. It’s flat-out crazy that at the time of the 2002 poll, the last 30 years of film accounted for only 1 of the top ten and one sixth of the top 50. And the only reason the Godfather films placed so high is that the compilers kinda sorta fudged and counted votes of the two films together, regardless of whether they were voted on as a tandem.

In case anyone is curious, here’s a list of the top films from the cinematic wasteland known as 1970-2002, based on votes from the last poll:

null1. The Godfather and The Godfather II, 1972 (actual placement #4, 23 votes)
2. Barry Lyndon, 1975 (actual #27, 7 votes)
3. Fanny and Alexander, 1982 (actual #35, 6 votes)
tie. Taxi Driver, 1976
5. Blade Runner, 1982 (actual #45, 5 votes)
tie. Mirror, 1976
tie. Shoah, 1985
tie. The Travelling Players, 1974

You’ll notice nothing from the 90s (I believe the top placer was Pulp Fiction with 3 votes). Had I taken part in the poll, I almost certainly would have included Jia Zhangke’s Platform, a 2000 film.

Thinking back to the Robin Wood Rule discussed earlier, I understand the logic of it, but frankly I admire those crazy critics in 1962 that had no compunctions about putting 2 and 3 year old movies like L’Avventura, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Pickpocket among their top tens. I think members of my generation who live and breathe the films of today have a duty to make the best case for the films of our time – if we don’t, who will? At least one or two titles wouldn’t hurt.

MOVERS AND LOSERS FROM THE LAST POLL

There were some big ascenders back in 2002 (see full list here) from the 1992 results (see full list here). It’s curious to speculate what films might do the same this year. Barry Lyndon is on my short list, so its relatively meteoric rise in the 2002 poll – up about 105 spots from 1992, up to #27 – was heartening to see, moreso than the Godfather I & II’s 26-spot ascension to the top ten. The single biggest mover was Mizoguchi’s The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, up at least 108 spots to the top 25. I’m not sure I can account for its rise the way I can Au hasard Balthazar’s 43-spot leap to #19 (that 1999 worldwide Bresson retrospective made a difference, I imagine), or Rashomon’s remarkable 80-rung catapult to #13 (the '90s rage of non-linear, multi-subjective narratives in everything from Pulp Fiction to Satantango made this film a hot ur-text). 

nullOn the flip side, the biggest loser of 2002 was Roberto Rossellini, whose Paisan fell from #18 out of the top 60 – Journey to Italy didn’t do much beter. Bicycle Thieves fell 34 spots, just as it was on the fringe of making it back to the top 10 for the first time in 40 years. Seems that Italian neo-realism fell out of favor – as did its Indian cousin Satyajit Ray, whose Pather Panchali fell out of the top ten. Surprisingly, Rear Window dropped 35 spots even as Vertigo nudged into the #2 spot, seriously challening Citizen Kane – you have to wonder if the Hitchcock contingent somehow collectively agreed to go all in on Vertigo. But the biggest surprise for me is seeing Raging Bull lose support, falling out of the top 50 after being the #1 post-1970 film in the ‘92 poll. (Note in the list above that Taxi Driver placed higher, so the Scorsese contingent may have shifted their focus). Maybe it just goes to show that it’s hard for recent films to gain momentum; and that it’s not that there aren’t any worthy of being the greatest, but perhaps too many for any one to attract consensus.

Bill, I agree with your observations about the directors’ lists vs. the critics’ lists; I find the latter more inspiring and credible from the standpoint of breadth and depth. Though there were some fascinating individual lists (Richard Linklater’s, Michael Haneke’s and Terence Davies’ top tens really illuminated their sensibilities for me), and particularly the comments of some like Catherine Breillat and Michael Mann (who sounds like he should write a dissertation, or at least should be writing on film more often).

Scorsese didn’t take part in 2002, but I remember in his ‘92 ballot he listed only five films and said that these are the titles he will always stand by (off the top of my head, it was Citizen Kane, 8 ½, The Leopard, The Red Shoes, The Searchers – five is easy to remember!). Interesting and perhaps disheartening that one of the most literate of directors is so rigid with his list. But I admire his loyalty to certain films and filmmakers, it may be what gives him an anchor for his own visions. My own tastes and values can feel downright unfocused and promiscuous in comparison.

I currently don’t have any loyalties to auteurs informing my agenda. Looking back at David’s questions, I’m not particularly interested in genre representation, except perhaps a desire to include at least one documentary and/or avant garde film. However, I think I will make it a point not to include any of the top ten from 2002, and not to include more than one film from a given country (and possibly a given decade). Perhaps this makes my potential list sound too calculated or draconian in its design. But the fact is that there are too many great and worthy films and these restrictions are one way of narrowing it down.

And I completely know where Vadim is coming from with his point about ad hominem gauntlet-throwing, even though it has a tinge of cynicism to it – but heck, this whole conversation rings of a cynicism, or at least a loss of innocence or naivete (whichever connotation you prefer) about how canons are formed and what they mean. But it’s necessary.

And to Bill’s point, it will be interesting to see how many of them I’ve actually seen in a theater. The holy movie theater, another sacred cow, like film canons, in need of re-evaluation under threat of irrelevance.

BILL GEORGARIS: This is a bit of a calculated guess. I've added up all the noteworthy lists that I've compiled since the last Sight & Sound poll. This may be a reasonable guide to the forthcoming results.

null1. Vertigo
2. The Godfather
3. Citizen Kane
4. The Rules of the Game
5. The Seven Samurai
6. Sunrise
7. Au hasard balthazar; Lawrence of Arabia
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey; 8 1/2; Dr. Strangelove; Taxi Driver
13. The Wild Bunch
14. Some Like it Hot
15. The Magnificent Ambersons; Once Upon a Time in the West
17. The Bicycle Thieves; The Shop Around the Corner; Singin' in the Rain; The Third Man; Tokyo Story
22. The Godfather Part II; Jaws; Playtime

The above list is based on 182 critics/filmmakers. It is a very decent sample. Battleship Potemkin is the only film from the 2002 S&S Top-10 not included in the list above.

I, personally, will be quietly elated if a Robert Bresson film makes the top-10. If that occurs, then maybe Humanism is Back In. In terms of a headline, how about "Internet cinephiles crash BFI server(s)".

In terms of a bold pronouncement, I am going to be mechanically-boring and side with the results of the list above, and assert that Citizen Kane will not top the poll this time around. And, I predict, will never top it again. Furthermore, an obvious point perhaps… If either The Godfather or Vertigo are number one, it will the first time a colour/widescreen film will rule the roost.

A more uneducated pronouncement would be that films from the last decade-or-so will poll strongly. Just my gut feeling. I think many critics, especially those being polled for the first time, will want to bring something fresh to the table and I think they will draw from recent cinema for that freshness. Among films of the 21st century, I expect In the Mood for Love, Mulholland Dr. and Yi Yi to do quite well. Also There Will Be Blood and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days will probably get some recognition.

[Editor's Note: See Bill's compilation of the 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films, compiled from countless critics' polls of the past decade plus change.]

DAVID JENKINS: Bill and Kevin have offered their predictions based on hard fact and considered conjecture. So I thought it best to offer some totally spurious thoughts on how things may go down…

nullIt's interesting to see that Bill predicts The Godfather will rise in the rankings. I was under the impression that it would, if not crash and burn, then at the very least fall out of the top ten. Coppola has hardly been churning out the copper-bottomed classics of late (20 years since the last decent film?), and perhaps his recent slump could affect participants' memories his early hits. Of course, it'd be churlish to think that too many participants would question their love of The Godfather on the basis of the director's more recent work, but for those formulating their lists by picking favourite directors and then narrowing things down from there, it could be swing the vote in small but meaningful ways.

Again, an entirely spurious proclamation, but I think (hope!) the lists sent in by "internet cinephiles" will reflect a reaction to – and possibly a rejection of – past consensus. Considered gauntlet throwing, if you will. Just recently I was nosing in on an Twitter back-and-forth which espoused the relative merits of De Palma's neglected Mission to Mars, to cite just one tiny example. It'd be disingenuous to dismiss this strain of criticism as wilful contrarianism (which some more established critics have) as it's clear in the reading that the large majority of these critics possess the necessary deep background to back up their claims.

I agree with Vadim that there is an all-mouth-and-no-trousers critical contingent (a practice which I'll admit I'm occasionally guilty of myself) but for the purposes of this list, being bold – justified or otherwise – can only make the final results more interesting. Whether these bold decisions will galvanise in any way seems less likely. I'd love it if a group of critics rallied together for an act of cine-terrorism and tactically voted Soul Man into the upper echelons of the canon.

Interested in Bill's belief that the last decade will poll strongly. More interested to see where those votes come from – critics covering the weekly theatrical releases or bloggers who have more opportunity to cover the back catalogue?

I'll also go further and say that not only will Kane fall from the top spot, it'll fall out of the top ten. Major backlash.

Personally, I'm against Kevin's idea of creating a list that cosily covers bases. There are some Russian films I love and would absolutely put them in my top ten, but I wouldn't do so because they were Russian. It also seems a shame that, say, French cinema should be covered with a single film. So you've had your Bresson and that's adios Melville, Godard, Renoir, etc… I've tried my best to make my list as expansive as possible, but I've gauged this expansiveness in terms of style and, to a lesser extent, time of production rather than geography.

Apropos of nothing (and somewhat off-message), my method has been to select 100 films, personal favourites mainly, rewatch as many as possible and then gradually hone them down to ten. I kinda felt that there just isn't time to make new discoveries, but more than that, there's not the time to be able to process them properly. All bar one of my top ten I originally saw at the cinema, though that did not affect my selections.

nullKEVIN B. LEE: Looking at Bill's predictions, I would be thrilled if Balthazar makes the top ten. Bresson is one of a handful of directors I would ever consider devoting a lifetime to study, and Balthazar along with L'Argent are my very favorites of his inimitable corpus. And I would be even more pleased – and perhaps a bit ashamed – if he makes it in without my vote. Because I'm pretty sure I'll be selecting another film and master as my lone representative from France.

Reading David's comment in response to my "one film per country" requirement, I sense the incredulousness that such an approach may meet among others. But I don't see it as "cosily covering the bases" (it's not like I can select a film from every country that I think has an all-time great film) as it is spreading the field in a way that I think is valuable. And I really don't see it as any more or less risible than, say, the auteurist thinking that typically dominates this kind of list-making, and that in my view has been taken too far. The glorification of the film artist gets taken to the point that people undervalue the importance of film as a global, social phenomenon, almost always made by groups of people instead of individuals. Creativity and innovation spring as much from social forces and cultural developments than they do from individual genius.

nullI struggled with these matters a lot concerning one film that is one of my favorites and will continue to inspire me for years to come, but I ultimately will not select. That film is Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema, which is in some respects the greatest essay film ever made, and as a film about films is the kind of work I could only dream of making. I know at least one film critic who has it in their top ten ballot. But I ultimately decided not to include it because, as a work that seeks to explore film, its worldview in regard to cinema history and cinema's relevance to world culture is so baldly, unapologetically provincial that many times it feels antithetical to my understanding of film. Of course it is a reflection of Godard's Eurocentric orientation, but whatever the case the work embodies a lot of assumptions about what film is that, in the 21st century, can no longer be taken for granted.

The conventional way of thinking about films, as discrete, self-contained works whose value is self-evident according to received aesthetic criteria, often ignores the larger cultural forces that shape our way of evaluating them, including the Sight and Sound list. My framework for creating my own list seeks to address that. It is not just shaking things up for the sake of being bold, controversial or un-boring. I want my list to express a set of principles that I consider to be crucial ways to understand cinema. As I mentioned in my first entry, I'd rather see a list espousing ten ways to watch a movie than a list of the ten "best" films. There are so many films out there worthy of being called the best than can't possibly fit in a list of 10, 20 or 100. I think we are at a point in the history of the movies where it is more important to think about how we watch films than about which films to watch. Or at least the latter should serve the former.   

Speaking of where we are in film history, at least David and I agree on spreading the field according to decade – this is the last possible decade where one could make a top ten list with a feature film from each decade in cinema history. And maybe that's a framework that we have to let go of as well, insofar that it holds us back from thinking about the future. After all, a list of the greatest films of all time should be less a reflection of what the best of cinema has been, but of what it can be.