When it comes to compiling “Best _ of All Time” lists, I generally find the process more interesting than the final lists themselves. For me personally, I obsess for hours over the internal debates and criteria which only make sense to me. Once those decisions are made, all that is left to do is record it somewhere and throw it into the void of whoever reads it. For the Sight and Sound list, I find it fascinating how the simple passage of ten years along with structural changes result in movies being added, removed, or changed in ranking. Do I have a lot invested in how any particular movie is ranked on the Sight and Sound list? Aside from Seventh Seal, no. Do I think it’s cool that recent movies like Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Moonlight got onto the list? Absolutely. I’ll be absolutely curious how those movies mature in stature for the 2032 list. That’s why I mostly don’t get too hung up on particular rankings, because these “Best _ of All Time” lists don’t establish some kind of eternal metaphysical truth, but ironically mark a very specific moment in time for the people involved.
Unlike in music, where I’ve had a pretty decent “Top 5 (or maybe 10) Albums Ever” list in my head for years, this will be my first crack at compiling this kind of list for movies. I didn’t mean to implement too many rules about how I would build the list. That being said, I’ve mentioned in the podcast that my years of watching movies can roughly be split in two parts; before and after Screened (RIP). Being a sheltered church kid didn’t really stop my parents from introducing me to their love of Star Trek (and begrudgingly Star Wars), and it didn’t stop the cool kids in the college dorm from showing me movies like Requiem for a Dream, The Deer Hunter or Pulp Fiction. But it took former Giant Bomb editors Alex Navarro and Matt Rorie starting their own movie website Screened in 2010 where I would learn about some of the directors represented in my own list, and be exposed to the wider world of movies than I’d been previously. Ultimately, I think my Sight and Sound ballot reflects those two parts, movies that have stayed with me my whole life, and movies that have expanded my imagination.
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966 Russia)
Amongst a plethora of details that linger in my imagination when thinking about this movie, the one that stays with me is the final sequence of The Bell, where Boriska cons his way through making a giant bronze bell at mortal risk to himself, and succeeds. Whether you take this an allegory of religious faith, a metaphor for Tarkovsky’s own artistic process or something else, its a stunning end to a wonderful movie.
Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969 France)
A movie about French resistance in World War II that doesn’t look away from and instead stares directly into the messiness of survival. This has the feeling of an epic gangster saga set in a war movie.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, USA 1980)
Arguably, the plot twist in this movie has become something of an albatross around the neck of this franchise for the last 40 years but that’s not the fault of this movie. This movie has the best score of the franchise, the best dialogue in the Han/Leia romance, memorable sequences like the Battle of Hoth and the asteroid chase. It’s the rare sequel that doesn’t just “redo the first movie but bigger”, but meaningfully progresses the story.
Faces Places (Agnès Varda, 2017 France)
I wavered between this and The Gleaners and I, which to me shares similar themes and filmmaking approaches. I landed on this film because the intervening 17 years between films allows her ruminations on her own aging to land more fully. On the other hand, her budding friendship with JR brings a much needed sense of joy and wonder as well. These opposing moves serve each other well, especially in the film’s conclusion, where JR offers Varda a small but potently kind gesture in a moment of vulnerability that leaves no dry eyes in the audience.
The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001, USA/New Zealand)
I will readily concede so many of the adaptation choices made for this trilogy, both in this movie and in the sequels as being necessary to make a successful movie. That being said, while I probably don’t count as a Tolkien purist, The Fellowship of The Ring gets it the most right, on both a plot and thematic level. From the pastoral landscapes of the Shire and the ethereal kingdom of Lothlorien , to the terror of the Mines of Moria and majesty of the Argonath, Fellowship most successfully captures the magic of the journey these characters go on.
The Matrix (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1999 USA)
I have come around on the sequels that have come out in the subsequent decades, especially the most recent entry. But there is no arguing The Matrix is a perfect film. I don’t write this to imply that it is the best film on this list, but rather that it takes all of its influences, themes, acting performances, action scenes and special effects and combines them with perfect virtuosity. There is no aspect of this movie I can think of that lags behind the others.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984 Japan)
Of the many Miyazaki films that absolutely could make this list, I picked this one for its pure imagination. Of course none of his films are lacking in that department, but the specific way he envisions this particular post-apocalyptic world, with its combination of medieval imagery, airships and fantastical creatures is special to me. Add to that the consistent environmental and anti-war themes, along with a plucky young female protagonist, and you have yourself a great Miyazaki movie.
Parasite (Bong Joon-Jo, 2019 South Korea)
I love the way that this movie is built, from the complexity of the character relationships, to specific plot points like the blinking lights or the kid who saw a ghost. Nearly everything that gets set up in this movie gets paid off in a way that is satisfying. If the themes are strongly stated, both visually and verbally, they’re never too overbearing. And the sequence when the Park family goes camping is one of the most tense experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985 Japan)
Kurosawa is a hard pick to narrow down because the man could fill up several entries of his own without breaking a sweat. But I come back to Ran because of way he so effectively uses color at a scale of filmmaking that, before the overuse of CGI, would be mind boggling. It is a feast for the eyes from a master in his twilight years.
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957 Sweden)
I don’t particularly care if this is seen as a basic choice, and as mentioned before I am trying not to get too hung up on it not showing up on the compiled critics’ list. The simple truth of this movie is that the iconography, the metaphors, Gunnar Björnstrand, all of it are still powerful. I don’t know other old art house movies with enough cultural memory to make it into the Bill and Ted franchise, I can tell you that. If Tarkovsky looks into the void and steps out in faith, Bergman looks into the same void and screams. One is inspiring and the other can be related to.
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