Everything Went Black: Rewriting Sight & Sound's Top Ten

What, no Polanski?

Everything Went Black: Rewriting Sight & Sound's Top Ten

Once every decade since 1952, the British Film Institute's monthly mouthpiece Sight & Sound compiles a much loved, frequently loathed list of the top films of all time. One-thousand critics, academics, and, directors are polled, and earlier this month the 2012 edition arrived. Chaos ensues.

Top ten lists are subjective and thus subject, in my case anyway, to frequent change and revision. New "best" films are released and old "great" films drop a rank or two. That's not what generally irks me about Sight & Sound's lists, though (and you can peruse their latest right here).

Citizen Kane really is either the first or second finest film of all time. I can get behind that. Ditto Vertigo. And to my mind the big switch-up between the two is not only fair but accurate. I've long believed Hitchcock's violet-hued descent into madness is an unimpeachable artistic achievement, not to mention one of the very few genre films that regularly turn up on all sorts of critical desert island lists.

Even a quick read-through of this year's list, however, veers wildly but probably not all that surprisingly from my own. As a lover of genre-based filmmaking -- and that includes everything from American International Pictures trashy-fun sci-fi potboilers of the 1950s to Jack Hill's Lolita-gothic Spider Baby and beyond -- I can't help but think those films that have inspired the likes of modern masters such as Quentin Tarantino and, yep, Robert Rodriguez, have been permanently marginalized. (This isn't all that unusual. The same thing happens in literary fiction, too. Just ask Stephen King or Texas's own genre-warper, Joe R. Lansdale.)

So here's my Top Ten list of the greatest films of all time, genre and otherwise, subject to change without warning or much of an explanation, natch…

1) Vertigo

Hitch's best, bar none.

2) L'Age d'Or

Louis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's surrealist critique of religious doctrine, bourgeois society, and l'amour fou remains as resonate and twisted (possibly more so) in today's factionalized media-sphere as it was in 1930.

3) Badlands

Terence Malick captured the loving heart and rotten soul of bone-deep Americana in this dreamy portrait of flight and rapture.

4) Wings of Desire

Wim Wenders heavenly, Nick Cave-infused depiction of semi-eternal love in pre-Wall-fallen Berlin is sublimely romantic. RIP Peter Falk.

5) Rosemary's Baby

Chinatown may be Polanski's most lauded work, but this pitch-perfect blend of pre-partum paranoia and urban claustrophobia continues to haunt me time and again.

6) The Wicker Man

Destroy the 2006 "remake" on sight. Bow down and worship Robin Hardy's 1973 original, which combines post-1960s, new-agey, back-to-the-landism with an unsubtle critique of the C of E and a paranoia quotient that rivals Rosemary's.

7) Duck Soup

Arguably the best, without a doubt the most hilariously accurate deconstruction of politics and war ever made. The Marx Brothers borrowed heavily from Dada, which makes Buñuel and Dali something like first cousins.

8) Once Upon a Time in the West

Sergio Leone, a harmonica, and Henry Fonda's ice-blue eyes and killer smile equals choreographed mayhem on an operatic scale. The foley work alone is Top Ten-worthy.

9) Fireworks

Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's 1997 cops versus yakuza drama is instantly affecting in a way even Kinji Fukasaku's best films are not. (Although Sympathy for the Underdog sure comes close.)

10) Apocalypse Now

I wanted a film and for my sins they gave me one. Unsurpassable, except by Duck Soup.

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