The critics kicked Citizen Kane to the number two curb in favor of Vertigo. Directors lauded Tokyo Story, placing the almighty Kane in a tie with 2001. Quentin Tarantino loves The Bad News Bears more than you ever knew (God bless him). That list! Or rather, those lists! Everyone's been talking, dissecting and arguing about Sight & Sound's greatest films lineup that comes once a decade (see the top 50 here). The internet was abuzz -- exciting and agitating cineastes and as usual with lists, provoking discussion about what their picks would consist of. I wanted to know more about individual choices (here's the director's tallied top ten) and since I have access to Guy Maddin, one of the filmmakers invited to the Sight & Sound soiree, he has allowed a look at his personal list (Sight & Sound will post the 358 directors’ entries on August 22). Discussing each movie with me (his official write-ups will be at S&S) and pleased to include his honorable mentions (all twenty of them) here's his terrific, toiled-over tally.
1. Zero de conduite (1933) Jean Vigo
Vigo knows exactly how we sort and reconfigure our childhood memories, how we tear them up into shreds of pure sensation and sloppily collage them back together into heightened and giddy mythologies. This is film assembled with the logic of music, a song you need to hear over and over again, and each time out it's more thrilling, mysterious and revolutionary.
2. The Unknown (1927) Tod Browning
Tod Browning's lean, unpredictable circus melodrama is as bizarre as this macabre auteur's work gets, yet far more universal than one would think possible. Long under-praised genius Lon Chaney plays that dishonest part of us all who prefers to tack indirectly upon his lust object, preferring any approach, no matter how self-mutilatingly impractical, except the direct one. Perhaps the most savage, nightmarish and honest melodrama of all time.
3. Man’s Castle (1933) Frank Borzage
Submerged in the most silvery and darkly enchanted emulsions of 30s Hollywood romance, yet minutely, unhurriedly observed, this masterpiece expresses itself in a mannered naturalism, unique to Borzage, who details the human heart like no other studio titan.
4. Tree of Life (2011) Terrence Malick
Malick thought it time to project directly from his wrung heart to the screen, resulting in a purity of intent something like minimalism (no matter how many near-baroque detours through grief and memory he may take) in this account of a brother's long-ago suicide -- gorgeous and cathartic.
5. L’Age d’or (1930) Luis Buñuel
Essay film or dream? After 82 years, this singular hybrid is still the most assuredly jagged, trope-packed, gleeful, swaggering and mischievous filmic salvo of all-time. We'll never quite catch up to this picture.
6. The Long Goodbye (1973) Robert Altman
This movie feels shambled together by Elliot Gould and his director, both in some cocky visionary state when every move they made together was exactly right for the moment and, sadly, after the also brilliant California Split, impossible to duplicate. Some sort of evanescent miracle that produces viewer euphoria and regret in equal portion.
7. Mulholland Dr. (2001) David Lynch
Fairy tale inside nightmare featuring false bottom and healed-over escape hatch. The master's most vertiginous peak.
8. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophuls
Maybe the most bracingly masochistic comedy possible. Take ten parts pure unrequited love, let fester in heart for two decades, then shatter. The laughs may have a strange aftertaste.
9. After Life (1998) Hirokazu Kore-eda
Singular use, reuse and re-reuse of memory and film-as-memory in this strangely playful yet moving wonder. What a structure!
10. Zvenigora (1928) Alexander Dovzhenko
This guy Dovzhenko has his own film vocabulary -- quirky, mythopoetic, brazen and downright perverse -- and he wields it to create the oddest portraits of whatever he's thinking about, unlikely subjects treated in a style that comes from an eccentric place film might have evolved toward in another, parallel, pass through time. No one has the heart and voice of this man.
20 Honorable Mentions:
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955), Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932), Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg, 1932), Mother and Son (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1997), His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940), The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941), The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976), Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951), The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963), Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945), City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931), Swing Time (George Stevens, 1936),
Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959), The Overcoat (Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg, 1926), Women in Revolt (Paul Morrissey, 1971), Possessed (Curtis Bernhardt, 1947), The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940), Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971), Pink Narcissus (James Bidgood, 1971), The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946)