I’m not a big fan of lists, but this is one that I thought you’d find interesting and that might generate some discussion (see my questions at the end).
In short, every decade, respected film journal Sight and Sound conducts a worldwide survey of film critics, on what films they consider the best ever made. 60 years since it was launched, the poll is now one of the most anticipated and respected of its kind.
The journal has also been doing the same thing, but with directors surveyed instead of critics, since 1992 – an endeavor that has now grown to include 358 directors polled for their opinions on the 10 greatest films in film history. The 2015 survey has been released, and is embedded below.
Looking it over, the first thing I wondered was who the 358 directors polled are, and, after a little digging, found a list that is actually fairly diverse (to be frank, my expectations of that being the case, were low). Yes, the 358 names are dominated by white men like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Mike Leigh and Michael Mann, but it’s definitely international, and there are more 50 than women filmmakers listed.
Of note to this blog, given its stated mission, Akin Omotoso (Nigeria), Charles Burnett (USA), Faouzi Bensaïdi (Morocco), Farai Sevenzo (Zimbabwe), Khalo Matabane (South Africa), Zina Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria/UK), Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya), Steve McQueen (UK), Richard Ayoade (UK/Nigeria), Ahmed Atef (Egypt), Gaston Kaboré (Burkina Faso), and Newton Aduaka (UK/Nigeria) are all members of the 358 directors polled.
There is also representation from across far east Asian countries, the Middle East, and South America.
I was surprised that I didn’t see Spike Lee’s name on the list, however. I looked over it several times, just to be sure I didn’t miss it. But it’s not there, and so now I’m wondering how the journal selected what filmmakers to poll. Check out the list of directors here: http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/voter.
If you were expecting any “black films” to make the list of 10, don’t, because there aren’t any. But, again, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, especially given the list of filmmakers polled. But maybe that’s not fair for me to say. So I’ll leave you with these questions: first, looking over the list of 10 films below, are there any “black films” that you would swap one of them for, and if so, why? And secondly, even if the list of 358 filmmakers was far more diverse than it is this year (let’s say, double the number of non-white-male filmmakers than there are), how different do you think this list would look? In essence, is the idea of what a “great film” is a universal one, or does the POV of each person polled, influenced by their individual life experiences, in turn influence the “greatness” and impact of a film, as they see it?
And finally, how many of these have you seen? I’ve seen them all, and the list is (maybe unfortunately) almost exactly what I’d expect a list of this kind to look like, in terms of the films selected. Really, how could films like “Citizen Kane” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” not make any list, given how groundbreaking and influential they were. Although I’d admit that, when I was in film school, it took me several attempts to finish Fellini’s “8 1/2.” And yet, many years later, it’s a film that I watch about once a year, and love and appreciate every single time. So what happened? Well, I remember seeing his first film in color (“Juliet of the Spirits”) on the big screen, some time after I saw “8 1/2,” and I’d say that “Spirits” was actually the film that made me appreciate Fellini’s unmistakable on screen flamboyance, and when I rewatched “8 1/2” after that, I suddenly saw it differently. I had an immediate visceral response to “Spirits” that I didn’t with “8 1/2.” But, for a number of reasons, I think I needed some intellectual working-out to learn to appreciate the latter – even though both came from the same creative mind. Meanwhile, I was captivated by Tarkovsky’s much more challenging “Mirror” instantly, even though I didn’t quite understand it. What to make of that? So is an education necessary to appreciate “greatness” in art, or, as I suggested before, is it more of a personal, instinctive thing, drawn from our individual experiences? Or a combo of both?
1. Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick (1968)
3. Citizen Kane – Orson Welles (1941)
4. 8 ½ – Federico Fellini (1963)
5. Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese (1976)
6. Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
7. The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
8. Vertigo – Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
9. Mirror – Andrei Tarkovsky (1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica (1949)