If Sight & Sound Should Ask Me…

Back in 1952 someone at Sight & Sound, the British Film Institute’s high-brow magazine, had an interesting idea: they asked some of the world’s top film critics to name what they considered to be the ten best films ever made, and then the magazine compiled all of the votes from all of the critics and produced a list of the ten greatest films in the history of cinema.

In this day and age where you can’t open a magazine without stumbling across a top 10 (or 20, or 100) of something, and list related TV shows seem to be the backbone of music channels and late night Channel 4, the idea of producing a list of the ten greatest films doesn’t sound all that remarkable, but back in 1952 it was something of a novelty.

The 1952 poll was won by the classic Italian film Bicycle Thieves, and the poll proved so popular that Sight & Sound have run it at ten year intervals ever since. One film conspicuous by its absence in the 1952 top ten (at least when viewed from where we are now) is Citizen Kane, which topped the poll in 1962 and has gone on to top every Sight & Sound Greatest Film poll, as well as countless other best film surveys, since.

It being 2012, Sight & Sound are in the process of compiling the latest version of the Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time and the invitations to vote have gone out to the great and the good of the movie world. Some of the most influential film critics and highly respected directors in the world have been asked to cast their votes. They haven’t got round to asking me for my opinion just yet, but I thought I’d have a go at putting together a list of my top ten favourite films just in case they do.

I’m not sure how many films I’ve seen, but it’s going to be in the thousands. Between the ages of 16 & 30 I reckon I went to the cinema on average once a week (it helped that I worked in one for two and a half years). Combine that with three years of film clubs and societies at University and a propensity to devour anything that appeared on terrestrial TV, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I’d seen more than 5,000 films (in case that doesn’t sound like a big number, if you watched one film a day it would take you over thirteen and a half years to reach 5,000). A couple of years ago someone bought me one of those “1,001 Films To See Before You Die” books (another example of our fascination with lists) and I counted that I’d seen around 300 of them, which doesn’t sound like many I admit, but that’s only the really good stuff. They didn’t mention the Police Academy films in that book, and I think I’ve seen all of those. Come to think of it they didn’t even mention the James Bond films, and I know I’ve seen every one of those. Either way, I’ve seen a lot of films, so trimming my list down to ten would be quite a task.

To start with I trawled through my DVD collection, the aforementioned 1,001 films book and IMDB to come up with a short list of around 50 films that I loved – my desert island films. I took the decision not to include anything that was less than five years old, since I think a measure of a truly great film is its longevity, and you don’t know whether something is going to stand the test of time until it’s, well, stood the test of time.

I then took the short-list and tried as best I could to weigh them up against each other to come up with my final ten. It was, to say the least, a very subjective process, not just comparing apples to oranges, but comparing apples to fine wine or designer T-shirts, and deciding whether I wanted to eat, drink or be trendy. The results are what you see below. It’s fair to say that this is the list as I see it now, and if I were to go through the process again in six months time, I might end up with a different list – not completely different, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were two or three changes.

So, after all that preamble, my ten favourite films off all time, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Back To The Future part II (1989)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  • Superman The Movie (1978)
  • The Thin Blue Line (1988)
  • The Untouchables (1987)

So, now that the list is out there, a quick bit of analysis – half of the list come from the 1980s, which isn’t too surprising if you think that this was the time when I was really starting to love film and appreciate what great cinema actually meant; it was also the time that I was coming of age and finding my own identity, so it’s understandable that I love these films so much – they are, in a very real way, the films that made me.

There are some notable omissions – no Hitchcock (technically a genius, but a lot of his films leave me cold), no Coppola (I will freely admit that I don’t understand what all the fuss around Apocalypse Now is about) and no foreign films (I had a few on my short list, Les Diaboliques and Delicatessen spring to mind, but they didn’t make the final cut), but all in all I think this is a fair representation of what I truly believe are great films.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write a few words on each of these films to explain why I think they’re so wonderful and why I rate them above the other 5,000 odd films that I’ve seen, so even if you don’t agree with me, you might at least see where I’m coming from.

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