Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Best Film of All Time?

Which movie is generally considered the best of all time? This depends on the poll you're placing in highest regard, and also whether you mean the critics choice or the popular choice among fans. There's an interesting but incomplete and unsatisfying Wikipedia article of films considered the best, check it out here

Here are some famous film polls and the winners

Sight and Sound (surveys of critics every decade, some claims this one is the gospel of polls, but since it rarely changes, I'm not so sure): Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 41), which has won every poll since the first; the only other film to win this survey is The Bicycle Thief (De Sica, 48, the Italian classic; I honestly prefer his Umberto D.)

Village Voice (Critics poll): Citizen Kane (41)
Time Out (Critics poll): Citizen Kane (41)

Steadycam Mag (poll of directors): The Searchers (Ford, 56)
Cinemaya Mag (Asian, critics poll): Tokyo Story (Ozu, 53)
Positif Mag (French): The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 39)

Brussels Worlds Fair (critics & filmmakers poll, 1958): The Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, USSR, 1925) [Obviously, held in 1958, only films up to that year were considered]

Movie Mail (fan poll): The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 54)
Entertainment Weekly (Fan poll): The Godfather (Coppola, 72)
Empire Magazine (Fan & critics poll, 2008): The Godfather (Coppola, 72)
Everyone's a Critic (online poll): The Godfather (Coppola, 72)

Internet Movie Database (fan poll): Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, 94) [Godfather is #2 at IMDB, with Godfather II right behind]

TV Guide (fan poll): The Godfather II (Coppola, 74) - I agree that his film is much better than The Godfather. The academy agreed, giving II seven Oscars overall, vs. only 3 for the first.

Cinema Magazine (Germany): Schindler's List (Spielberg, 93)
Australian tv poll, My Favorite Film: Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-03)
German tv poll, best all time film: Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Yahoo movies (poll): Lord of the Rings - Return of the King (2003)

Movie.Com (annual reader's poll): Lord of the Rings - Return of the King (2003)
Harris Interactive (fan poll): Gone With the Wind (Fleming, 1939)
Los Angeles Daily News (readers poll): Casablanca (Curtiz, 42)
Cinamag (magazine): Cross of Iron (Peckinpah, 77)

They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? (website): Citizen Kane (Welles, 41) [This is a 'compendium' of various polls, they claim over 1600 in all]

The Auteurs (Criterion film club, votes of 100k+ members): 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969)

The World's Best Films (a compendium of all polls): The Godfather (Coppola, 1972) [This is our own compendium of all the available polls we've found so far; it was followed by 2. 2001-A Space Odyssey, 3. Chinatown, 4. Star Wars, 5. Citizen Kane]

Metacritic (all have perfect scores of 100): Balthazar, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, The Leopard, The Conformist, Sweet Smell of Success, Fanny and Alexander, The Wizard of Oz (glad that they added The Conformist and Sweet Smell at the top, but cannot fathom how The Leopard and Wizard of Oz are here. One is a dreary bore in which almost nothing happens, the other a very stagey and average musical with amateurish acting and a girl as big as all the adults. It didn't even win the specials effects Oscar, beaten out by The Rains Came)

Total Poll Winners (from the above film polls): Citizen Kane (4), The Godfather (4), Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (3), no others won more than one. If you remove two "compendiums" of polls (from They Shoot Pictures and our own), then each of these has 3 poll wins.

These are generally considered the best of these particular genres.

Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, though like the academy, I much prefer Godfather II, which added Robert De Niro and Lee Strasbourg to the cast and was able to drop James Caan through unnatural attrition. He really seemed more like a football halfback or an army sergeant, didn't he? But De Niro really seemed Italian, and Strasbourg really seemed Jewish. Polanski's Chinatown never wins polls, but is high enough on many to be ranked #3 overall film on our top 1000 compendium of polls. (way too high, isn't it?) Also ranked high are Hitchcock's Vertigo, Lang's M, and Scorsese's Taxi Driver

Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind (popular polls anyway, it's fallen a bit on critics lists). This I can't fathom, all of Scarlett's romances were aberrant and unhappy; she was self-centered, spoiled, and never satisfied - this is great cinema romance? Capra's It's a Wonderful Life is really a romance, and ranked highest on our top 1000 compendium (at #10). Michael Curtiz' Casablanca (1942) also often wins polls as best cinema romance, which was #47 on our survey. My own favorite is Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), which ran the gamut of romances, from empty to full, in a complex plot that linked four families. "Why couldn't I get a real husband instead of this haircut that calls itself a man?" bemoans Maureen O'Sullivan (who played her real daughter Mia Farrow's mom in the film). Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally (1989) is another great modern one.

If you eliminate the winners from specific genres, Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) would have to be #1 here. My choice is now #2 in the polls, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), though Joseph Mankiewicz' best picture winner All About Eve (1950), and William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, also a best picture) rate high consideration.

Easily Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1965), which is #17 on our compendium, and #5 on the Auteurs list (the Criterion film club with over 100,000 members). Buster Keaton's silent The General (1928) is the only film close, though Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), and the Marx Brothers Duck Soup (1933) are also highly ranked. I'll go with Dr. Strangelove myself - "with a healthy ratio of women to men, say ten to one?"

Science Fiction
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (critics, with Blade Runner second), though Star Wars is usually the winner of popular polls (crazy - Empire Strikes Back is about 200% better, as are E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, both from Spielberg)

Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz always seems to be ranked highest, though Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won more individual film awards than any other in history, 118 in all. This is perhaps due to the entire trilogy, but the third film was the most critically successful, and won all 11 academy awards for which it received nominations. Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) would also have to be called fantasy, it's always ranked high on critics polls.

Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (I guess you could call this war, though it's also comedy and science fiction as well). For straight 'real' war action, Spielberg's Schindler's List outranks all others, followed by Coppola's Apocalypse Now!, then then David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. If you classify Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai as a war film, then it would be #1, though it's really a small skirmish involving less than 100 men.

though John Ford's The Searchers is generally considered best by critics, Sergio Leone's excrutiatingly tedious The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly seems to be the most popular now, ranked #4 on the Internet Movie Database top 250 (The Shawshank Redemption is #1) and #73 on our compendium (Searchers is #46). I like Kevin Costner's Open Range (2003), though his betst picture and director-winner Dances With Wolves (1990) was far more successful, and came in 2nd to The Searchers in a tv poll.

Stanley Donen's Singin in the Rain (1952) is usually the top musical in any poll, especially if you consider Wizard of Oz fantasy and not a musical. The top concert film is usually Scorsese's The Last Waltz, though the documentary Woodstock (1970) is far better, in my opinion, and documents a generational event, not just a concert. The split screens and interviews took this film into the next level technically Adventure: Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark now seems to be the favorite, unless you would quality Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai as adventure, then it would easily be tops.

Dziga Vertov's 1928 silent classic from Russia, Man With a Movie Camera. This astonishing film still looks modern today, and the idea was a day in the life of Russians, an idea copied a thousand times since. Even more clever, the film started with an audience coming into a theater to watch this film, and it ends with the audience leaving - so technically it's a film about the showing of itself! There's a galloping horse sequence to rival the chariot race in 59's Ben-Hur, then a shot of the cinematographer getting that sequence, then another of the director shooting the cinematographer shooting the horse, which means a third moving camera crew was also involved, all in cars speeding in parallel along with the horse. Probably the most influential documentary in history is Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1934), which documented Hitler's rise to power, and was influential enough for Time Magazine to award Hitler 'Man of the Year', in 1935.

For dramatic recreations of history, Sergei Eisenstein's Russian classic The Battleship Potemkin (1925) would have to be considered the critical choice. (Eisenstein famously killed more extras in storming the Odessa steps in October than were killed in the original event). However, kudos go to Gillo Pontecorvo’s Oscar-winning Battle of Algiers (1966), which used 250,000 citizen extras to fill the streets to recreate the Algerian revolution against France.

Even though fictional, Orson Welle's Citizen Kane (1941) would have to be called a biopic; in reality it is such a thinly veiled variation of the life of legendary newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (even rosebud was his own pet name for girlfriend Marion Davies’ private parts) that Hearst unsuccessfully tried to get its release blocked. It wins lots of critics polls, never popular ones (it's just so dreary), and is #5 on our compendium of film polls. For real people, David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) would be tops (#50 in our compendium), though Milos Foreman's Amadeus (1984) isn't far behind at #63. Raging Bull (see Sports below), would be #1 if you consider this a biopic. Other great ones are Attenborough's Gandhi (1982), and Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1988)

Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980) is usually ranked highest (#24 on our top 1000 compendium). Other ranked sports films include the best picture winning Chariots of Fire from director Hugh Hudson, and Pride of the Yankees

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is always ranked high, and is #8 on our top 1000 compendium. (for me, this film becomes a joke after the shower scene, with Tony Perkins running around in a dress – Hannibal Lector is not threatened). The monster film King Kong (1933) is also consistantly ranked high (#40). To me, both are overrated, the scariest film for me is James Cameron's Aliens (1986), which is a far superior SF film to the original, but usually isn't ranked as highly - the original is #98 on our compendium, while Aliens is #159. Even Sigourney Weaver admitted that the first is 'nothing but And Then There Were None in space'. Silence of the Lambs (1991) would also have to be considered horror, and the best picture winner is #90 on our top ranked 1000.

John Lassiter and Pixar's Toy Story (1995) is now tops (#83 on our survey). Pixar's WALL-E (2008) is now 2nd, while the earlier favorite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938) is being quickly forgotten in the onslaught of Pixar films. My favorite is WALL-E, and I also loved Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo.

Foreign Language films (not in English)
Akira Kurosawa's classic Japanese epic The Seven Samurai (1954) would easily top a poll of just these films. De Sica's 1949 post-war classic The Bicycle Thief (or Thieves if you prefer, this confusion I can't understand, some say there was more than one thief in the film - yes, but the film was only about ONE man) would be second, or perhaps Fritz Lang's M (1931). Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) is also high on all lists.

Silent films
Fritz Lang's science fiction masterpiece Metropolis (1926), now restored with some lost footage found in Argentina. F.W. Murnau's Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans (1927) is also very highly ranked, and actually won more Oscars in those awards first year than did best picture winner Wings, three to one. . Next would be the aforementioned Man With the Movie Camera (1928).

Personally, I would select Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) as best all-time due to its influence on all science fiction films that followed. However, the most enjoyable film for me to watch again and again is Zhang Yimou's Hero (2002), the highest grossing Chinese film of all-time.

Growing up, my favorite for years was Lawrence of Arabia (1962); it’s admittedly slow and at times even boring, yet it’s ability to transport the viewer into its own desert world is unmatched. This was the best use of widescreen ever, Freddie Young’s Oscar-winning cinematography is stunning. Two of my favorites to re-watch won't make the top of any polls: Chris Noonan's Babe (1997) and George Miller's The Road Warrior (1981) - ironically, both from Australia, and George Miller worked on both (as producer on Babe).

A Consensus of Sorts

 If I had to say which films the critics favor, it would be in this order:
(1) Citizen Kane  (2) The Godfather  (3) 2001: A Space Odyssey  (4) Lord of the Rings: Return of the King  (5) The Seven Samurai  (6) The Bicycle Thief  (7) The Battleship Potemkin  (8) Dr. Strangelove  (9) The Godfather II  (10) Casablanca  (11) Fellini's 8 1/2  (12) Singin in the Rain

 If I had to rank the films the fans favor:
(1) The Godfather  (2) Lord of the Rings Trilogy  (3) Star Wars  (4) Gone With the Wind  (5) The Wizard of Oz  (6) It's a Wonderful Life  (7) Casablanca  (8) The Godfather II  (9) The Shawshank Redemption  (10) Singin in the Rain  (11) Psycho  (12) Dr. Strangelove

 Putting them all together:
(1) The Godfather  (2) Lord of the Rings Trilogy  (3) Citizen Kane  (4) The Seven Samurai  (5) The Godfather II  (6) 2001: A Space Odyssey  (7) Casablanca  (8) The Wizard of Oz  (9) It's a Wonderful Life  (10) Singin in the Rain  (11) Dr. Strangelove  (12) Psycho

Removing my personal favorites, from a critic's perspective I'd rank them thusly [click each for our review]:
  1. The Godfather II (Francis Ford Coppola) [AA] 1974
  2. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson) [AA] 2003
  3. The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa) Japan, 1957
  4. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean) [AA] 1962
  5. The Best Years of Our Lives (Willliam Wyler) [AA] 1946
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) 1968
  7. Man With the Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, Russia, bw-silent) 1928
  8. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) 1941
  9. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, bw) [AA] 1950
  10. Hero (Zhang Yimou, China) 2002
  11. Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, bw) 1964
  12. Singin in the Rain (Stanley Donen) 1952
  13. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, bw) [AA] 1942
The films I've most often rewatched are Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, Godfather II, Hero, Dr. Strangelove, and Singin in the Rain. Of those off this list, it would My Fair Lady and The Road Warrior at the top, with Hannah and Her Sisters and Raising Arizona after that.

1 comment:

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