Blind Leading the Blind: Sight and Sound’s Top Ten Films of All Time

Doth my eyes deceive me.

In my daily travels through the internet film blog-o-sphere, I of course saw the usual asinine news concerning superhero movies, reboots and sequels. However, I was taken by temporary surprise by a news item that was making its rounds through most of popular film blogs. At first I thought I was seeing the beginnings of something special. Great films were being discussed on these usually tasteless and juvenile blogs.  Paragraphs were being devoted to discussing the works of Hitchcock, Renoir, Wells, Murnau, Fellini, and Ford. No mention of a reboot or superhero was anywhere to be found. At first glance it was a beautiful sight.

At second glance it was a travesty.

What was the reason for this sudden renaissance of taste and culture among the general consortium of online film journalists? We’re they finally growing up and starting to think deeply about film? We’re they looking for something more to contribute to cinematic culture than their sadly routine and repugnant commentary? Was this the birth of a new wonderful dawn in cultural criticism?

No. It was simply the mindless nitpicking over yet another top ten list.

Sight and Sound has recently unveiled their yearly list of the greatest films of all time. The reason why this list receives more notice than the millions of others out there is due to the regal pool it draws from. The most renowned cinematic thinkers, critics, teachers, programmers and distributors are asked to weigh in on this particular list. The results usually consist of a collection of prestigious and legendary films. This year is no different.

1. VERTIGO (d. Alfred Hitchcock)

2. CITIZEN KANE (d. Orson Welles)

3. TOKYO STORY (d. Yasujiro Ozu)

4. THE RULES OF THE GAME (d. Jean Renoir)


6. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (d. Stanley Kubrick)

7. THE SEARCHERS (d. John Ford)

8. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (d. Dziga Vertov)

9. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (d. Carl Theodor Dreyer)

10. 8 1/2 (d. Federico Fellini)

I suppose a list of this caliber deserves some attention, at least to counteract the poor recommendations usually offered by the writers of the more popular film blogs in existence. However, there has always been, and still are, those who balk at the very idea of definitive lists. They feel it degrades the art of film-making turning the discussion of cinema away from more enlightened pathways and leading it down the avenue of sports statistics and silly games of one upping. To a great degree I must concur. I have seen more negatives as a result of top ten lists than I’ve seen positives. It seems people no longer want to discuss the great works of cinema in a intelligent or dignified sense (concerning what the film is saying, how it relates to us, ect). In light of these lists, people put art aside and argue senselessly about pole position, nitpicking the work of others to make their own personal selections look good. When did we turn the cinematic arts into a competition? Are people not capable of talking about great films unless we pit them against each other? I know that art is comparable, but shouldn’t the comparing come from examining the themes and motifs presented in the work of art; connecting and contrasting the different viewpoints and styles presented therein for a more informed central and personal viewpoint? Is that discussion not more worthy of interest than the place a films holds on a list? What does talk like that gain anyone?

Defenders of lists such as these say an excellent education is offered for those looking to verse themselves in great movies. Well…..okay. Sitting at the feet of the masters and learning is always a good thing. However I’d rather go to the master with at least some sort of open mind instead of looking to see how his stupid film could ever be ranked above mine on a cockamamie list. Am I looking at this film to see what it presents to me as a work of art, or am I watching to compare it to some entries on a list; jockeying it around to see how it comes out. I think attitudes like that rob cinema of its impact and beauty making it a pointless contest where subjectivity is the only argument that matters.

Oh, what a cheap argument subjectivity is. Its the hallmark of the current childish brand of internet film journalism. Why are people so afraid to make a stand on a particular subject in cinema (or is it that they lack the ability to do so)? The film blog-o-sphere had only subjectivity to offer as a response to the top ten list.  Its the only way they know how to respond when presented with films such as these (which differ from their usual sub-par fare) Have they no critiques or commentary to offer besides “well everything is subjective”? Why not talk about the films at length (or have they not even seen them)? Why not discuss them on your podcasts and write feature stories about them for your websites. I’m sure we could all use a rest from the latest “Dark Knight Rises” News.

Sadly, the only “worthwhile” thing most of these journalist had to say about the list is that it is not very current.

“today the first poll since 2012 was finally announced, and once again, there’s not a movie on either list made after 1980.”

Katey Rich – Cinemablend

“All indisputably great films, and not a single one made before 1968.”

Beaks – Aintitcool

I am certainly not against any films from the very recent past appearing on the list, but I’d be willing to bet that the reason most film bloggers are making note of the vintage of the films listed, is that they have a lazy aversion to seeing films that are “old movies”. They feel they are able to digest more easily and connect with films from their own time. Please excuse me if I sound harsh but don’t use subjectivity as an argument to defer from your lack of depth in cinematic history. Its already evident in your writing reflected by the your threadbare and disposable opinions. I’m not saying you have to live and breath classic cinema (as if that’s a bad thing) but I generally find that those who aren’t well versed in the classics usually have very little of interest to say concerning movies for they lack the history and bearing to do so. Why should I reward your website with my viewership just because you find it easier to write about how cool batman villains are instead of taking your time to watch and reflect on great cinema?

Hang Subjectivity!

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say movies are awful nowadays. The major critics in the world seem to realize that. The list they cobbled together reflects it.

Citizen Kane is number 2 now. So What?! What about the film itself? What do you think about it.?What are its themes? What about its craft? Citizen Kane is not number 1 or number 2. Its a brilliant work of art worthy of discussion better than its placement on a list. Arguing and reporting such as that are really what is number 2.



About celluloidhumanoid

Celluloid Prophet

Posted on August 1, 2012, in Film and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. There are a few problems with your article that I find rather troubling. The first is that you assert that “Sight and Sound’s” list is an annual one; it is not. This list is compiled every decade. This is something that is very important about this list, it refuses to cow to the pressures of a 24 hour news cycle. You won’t find flash-in-the-pan works on this film. This is not an IMDB list. This list, and its published statistical deviations, offers us a historical snapshot of the evolution of opinion from our most esteemed artists and critics. This list goes to our modern masters and gets their opinion in a way that we individuals rarely could. If someone is looking to see how their favorite film ranks, they have missed the entire point. We both acknowledge that.

    The second is that you, and several critical quotes, note that this is a top ten list; it is not. This is a top fifty list, that does in fact include some films from the past twenty years. Particularly, it includes “In the Mood for Love,” ” Mulholland Drive,” and “Sátántangó.” Those are all three amazing, testing works that require patience and love.

    I’m sure we can agree that most modern film journalism is junk food. However, I’m not sure why you expect these sites that are primarily interested in modern movie news to contain substantial film criticism and theory. There are plenty of sites that do that. There are wonderful books filled with film criticism. I doubt most of these sites have even one staffer who would enjoy dipping into some Christian Metz, Noel Caroll, or Gilles Deleuze. I doubt most of these staffers know who Pauline Kael is. But you and I do, and so do other websites.

    So write about those movies you love. Write about the greats! Don’t recycle the vapid news. Don’t go for the low blow and attack sites who you know are cheap and easy targets (despite their size and readership.) If you want to be better than that, be better than that.

    I personally was happy to see “La Jetée” on that list, just two days after Marker passed away.I am also ecstatic to see “Man with the Movie Camera” mentioned outside of film school circles.

    • OMG yes I was so happy both La Jetée and Man With the Movie Camera made the list.

      As far as soviet propaganda films go I much prefer Camera over Battleship Potekmkin because of the pure joy of it.

  2. Hang on a minute…doth my eyes deceive me! Is this “blogger” dragging fellow film fans’ names through the mud simply because he or she hates a cash-in sequel or a superhero. Surely not. If he or she were doing just that wouldn’t it be beneficial for both thier state of mind and their time simply to stop reading them!!! Let those that love the movies that make them happy continue doing so. Let the haters rot in their caves.

  3. “I am certainly not against any films from the very recent past appearing on the list, but I’d be willing to bet that the reason most film bloggers are making note of the vintage of the films listed, is that they have a lazy aversion to seeing films that are “old movies”. They feel they are able to digest more easily and connect with films from their own time.”

    I’ve seen every film in the top ten except for Man With a Movie Camera and Sunrise. It’s a more than respectable top ten and classical cinema is important to me. I think the only problem with the top ten is that since the most recent film on the top ten is from 1968, it seems to be ignoring the next forty years of film history. For me, I think it’d be exciting to see more recent films in the top ten because then we’d be getting a sense of the consensus regarding the current cinema. From films from the last few years feel like they could be classics? That’s an important question, and would provoke an even more fascinating discussion.

    “Please excuse me if I sound harsh but don’t use subjectivity as an argument to defer from your lack of depth in cinematic history. Its already evident in your writing reflected by the your threadbare and disposable opinions.”

    If you want people to listen you, don’t call their opinions threadbare and disposable. Also, what’s the point of trying to convince them of anything if you don’t respect them already. You also have to be careful when judging someone’s knowledge of cinema history. People may know more than you think they do.

    I agree that to compare films you have to look beyond where they rank on a list. But I also feel it’s important to ask what it means to rank films on a list. What does it mean for Vertigo to have the number one slot instead of Citizen Kane? What caused the shift from Citizen Kane having a firm place on top of the S&S list to Vertigo gaining the advantage. It may mean nothing but it’s an interesting thing to explore and I feel it speaks volumes about what we value in cinema.

  4. Where’s Mr. Chaplin’s movies? Mr. Altman? Akira Kurosawa? The world has too many great movies to name them all…that’s all I have against these types of lists 🙂

  1. Pingback: Welles’s Kane – a cinematic critique | realitynow2012

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