The Ever-Shifting Consensus
“So many films, so little time… ” Recently, I discovered The 1,000 Greatest Films. Coupled with our access to the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus, this is a potentially dangerous thing. A carefully curated database of critically lauded cinema, this annually updated project comes from the laudable efforts of the website They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?. The films’ rankings are determined from 1,900-plus “Best Of” lists from critics, filmmakers, and scholars. Being aware that taste in anything is entirely subjective, you can arguably approach a project like this with a grain of salt – what it tells me is that film experts overwhelmingly prefer their themes heavy, their running times lengthy, their languages non-English, and their directors auteurist. Despite all that, it’s stimulated me to go back to the biggies (in the top 100) to review as many as I can.
While a good half of the films in the TSPDT top 100 I’d already seen (in several instances, much too long ago), it also contained a number of bona fide classic Classics which got an overdue first viewing. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (#24) was as jaw-dropping as I’d always heard, an unforgettable and beautifully performed work of art. By my definition, the truly great films are ones that linger in your thoughts for days and weeks afterward. Persona fits that description, as does Robert Bresson’s devastating religious allegory Au Hasard Balthazar (#35). Bresson took a deceptively simple story – about a donkey who passes through several owners – and made it into a carefully constructed, dry yet oddly touching statement on humankind’s innate cruelty. We also streamed the proto-realist 1934 comedy L’Atalante from Jean Vigo, the acclaimed French auteur who died at a young age. Quite a charming little film, although its ranking at #17 seems awfully high. Hulu lacked Jean Renoir’s stately pacifist statement Grand Illusion (#39), although I managed to snag a copy of the out-of-print DVD from the local library. That was another heartfelt, stunningly constructed masterpiece, although it loses a bit once the main characters leave the prisoner-of-war camp. Andrei Tarkovsky’s non-linear, deliberately obtuse Mirrors (#26) seems more like what you’d expect from a list like this. While it didn’t wow me like the others, I admired Tarkovsky’s impeccable craftsmanship – his attention to detail shows in the nuanced performances and the gorgeous photography. I’m currently halfway through Federico Fellini’s excellent La Strada (Giulietta Masina must be the greatest silent comedienne never to appear in a silent movie). Once that is finished, I will have seen seventy of the top 100 – what a joyful learning experience.
By the way, I’ve also started logging my movie viewing habits at Letterboxd, a site that allows film fans to catalog and compare their viewing habits. It’s fun. C’mon and join me!