July 22, 2015

"BBC Culture polled film critics from around the world to determine the best American movies ever made."

"The results are surprising – Gone With the Wind appears at 97."

What's supposed to be surprising — that film critics from around the world put "Gone With the Wind" as low as 97 or that they put it on the list at all? We're talking about film critics. From around the world

And: "Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best."

Greatest, best, on an emotional level. What can that possibly mean? Scan the list and you'll get an idea. Or read this one critic's musings on how he thought about the task. Richard Brody (in The New Yorker):
None of the movies on my list were among my favorites in childhood, a time when I watched lots of movies, mostly on TV.... All are films that I discovered at or after the age of eighteen... The one ringer on the list is “Love Streams,” which isn’t the film by John Cassavetes that I have in fact watched most often (that would be “Husbands”); it’s the one in which several simple gestures and glances, the tilt of a head, the tone of a voice, even just the shadow on a face, move me in a trans-aesthetic, oddly intimate, utterly unconsidered way.
Oh, well, then, okay. I was a big John Cassavetes fan back when “Love Streams” came out (in 1984). It was mostly because I was deeply attached to "Husbands." But I avoided even seeing "Love Streams" because it got bad reviews and I'd loathed "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" (in 1976) and that got good reviews. I never wanted to have that Killing-of-a-Chinese-Bookie feeling again. But maybe "Love Streams" deserves a viewing, on some rare occasion when, these days, I'm in the mood to sit through a movie. Frankly, these days, just about any movie gives me that old Killing-of-a-Chinese-Bookie feeling.

Movies! Ah, there's something to be said for Brody's target age of 18. All the movies I discovered when I was 18, back in 1969 and in the 10 to 15 years after that. Those are the movies that are structured into my brain — on an emotional level — but the idea that they are "best" is silly. Not that it's silly for BBC to make a list. People love lists. They're easy to read. They're provocative...  unless you can resist the provocation.

72 comments:

Drago said...

Sometimes it's hard to reconcile Ben Gazzara's overall career with his performance in QB VII.

Drago said...

Oh, and "Gone With The Wind" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" and many others?

Well, in the new left-wing utopia we are apparently building, they gotta go.

Larry J said...

39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)

Are they serious?

Bay Area Guy said...

Meh. Any list without "Animal House" or "Saving Private Ryan" is no damn good.

Drago said...

Bay Area Guy: "Meh. Any list without "Animal House" or "Saving Private Ryan" is no damn good."

Try "In Harms Way".

The Duke, Kirk D, Burgess Meredith, etc.

Kirk D's character is particularly unsavory.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Heaven's Gate? I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

I'm scanning it to get new ideas.

Gone with the Wind is ranked low, yet still above 12 Years a Slave. What does that say?

Oh my goodness, they put Tree of Life at 79. Pfft. What BS. I sat through that whole thing just to see if it was going to get better. If they have that, they should have Enter the Void, the DMT movie. At least there, you are forewarned. The Birth of a Nation at 39? I was forced to watch that in several classes and while I understand the historical import, it's excruciating to have to sit through.

Skipping to the top ten now.

Aaaaand I don't like one movie in the top 5. A film critic's darling, I ain't.

Surprises: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Conversation (prescient, but slow and rudimentary in retrospect. I recently rewatched it. The middle-aged '70s men were horrifying. Gene Hackman looks younger now.) Groundhog Day and Forrest Gump? Really?

What a weird list.

CWJ said...

If you ask for ten films, you should stop at ten films. But of course this list is not a serious project.

I understand the impulse to stretch it out to 100 (Heaven's Gate?), but the methodolgy doesn't support it. Conceivably, the whole world could be in agreement that a certain film is #11, but it wouldn't appear on the list at all. You can't reasonably ask for 100, but even just asking for 15 films, I wonder how differnt those lower rankings would be.

Coupe said...

Very rarely do I get to read screenplays, but when I do I get all excited by them. Then I watch the movie and it is such a let-down.

Many films just die on the cutting-room floor. The editors being nothing more than cutting pork-chops with a band-saw in a cold fluorescent room.

I read the script to Slingblade, then watched the movie, and it was just crap compared to the writing. Yet, the movie made the money. It seems to me that the scripts should be sold, and forget about the damned movie, it's a waste of time dealing with overpaid actors.

Yep, Slingblade didn't make the cut. Same with Inglourious Basterds. Also an entertaining script.

John Christopher said...

Nice to see 25th Hour on the list, just about the only selection anyone couldn't have guessed (in order) without really trying.

Birkel said...

The Top 20 seems decent enough. All of them should be in a Top 100 list somewhere, depending on personal preference as to where.

CWJ said...

I know I'm being e pedant, but of 62 critics polled, how many responded? Of those, how many gave a full list of ten?

Scott said...
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Scott said...
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MarkW said...

No John Huston (African Queen, Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo)?

Scott said...

"What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source."

Which is why #4, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is included, despite the fact that it was shot in a British studio, had a British director, and was based on a book by a British author. It's all about the money.

(So that means that all those crappy action films with American themes and American actors that are funded by Canal Plus are really French films?)

And, of course #1 is Citizen Kane. If it were an international list, #1 would be The Battleship Potemkin. Professing to revere these pretentious films is the secret handshake of film aesthetes.

CWJ said...

MarkW,

That could easily be an artifact of the methodological glitch I noted above.

Phil 3:14 said...

Any movie with a heavy drum soundtrack is good... artsy.

Scott said...

@MarkW: Yeah, that is strange -- although John Huston was cast in #12 Chinatown as the truly evil Noah Cross.

Laslo Spatula said...

The Paris Hilton Sex Tape is the quintessential American film.

It is, at heart, an exploration of the emptiness of the rich and the American desire to be your own star.

The dialog may be construed as vapid, but -- more than that -- it is Authentic.

The Night-Vision sex scene implicates the audience in the hollowness of their search for Transcendence.

The scene of Paris having sex but shot at a distance across an expensive hotel room shows how artful framing can apply context that the performers cannot supply alone: subconsciously, they are not strong enough to be the center of attention of their own film.

When the male lead suggests that Paris stick a magnum bottle of Cristal champagne in her vagina he is providing subtle insight on the role of endless consumption in a capitalist society: alone, they can only exploit each other.

And it concludes with a Happy Ending.

THAT is American Film.


I am Laslo.

madAsHell said...

Heaven's Gate??
Are they referring to the mass suicide in San Diego, or the movie that destroyed Michael Cimino's career?.....but I repeat myself.

Bay Area Guy said...

If the Left ever seizes power, Heaven's Gate will become No. 1, while Gone With the Wind will be banned.

Graham Powell said...

I saw Killing of a Chinese Bookie recently, and despite the fact that it kind of meanders, and the ending doesn't really fit in with the rest of the film, I liked it. Plus it had Timothy Carey!

Eric said...

I was prepared to see On the Waterfront ranked too low. I was not prepared to see it not on the list.

Laslo Spatula said...

I know what people are saying: they are saying 'Hey Laslo, how can the Paris Hilton Sex Tape be the quintessential American film when there is no anal sex in it?"

The fact that there is no anal sex underscores the disparity of the Rich and the Other Folk. Her lover in the film is not of Paris' financial level, and in the caste system of the rich only the equally wealthy -- or the very very rough poor -- are entitled to anal sex.

Paris' withholding of anal sex is the understood silent agreement that he is a tourist in her world: the Rich make the Rules.

Along these lines, notice that in the film's Happy Ending she allows him to ejaculate on her breasts but not her face, much less in her mouth: the significance of this should be obvious.


I am Laslo.

YoungHegelian said...

The last time something move(d) me in a trans-aesthetic manner, it took a team of surgeons hours to repair the damage.

Big Mike said...

I wonder how many of the reviewers contacted by the BBC actually saw either "Heaven's Gate" or "Citizen Kane." The latter is a great movie, but not IMO in the same league with "Casablanca" or GWTW. There are a bunch of movies on the list I've never heard of, but if they voted "Heaven's Gate" (which I did see) or "Eyes Wide Shut" (Kubrick was a dirty old man who was willing to let Tom Cruise chew the scenery in exchange for getting to film Nichole Kidman nude) onto the list then how good can movies like "Killer of Sheep" or "Meshes of the Afternoon" or "Koyaanisqatsi" be?

MadisonMan said...

The only musicals are Singing in the Rain and West Side Story and Wizard of Oz. Meh.

I'd be far more entertained watching Annie Get Your Gun or Music Man.

MadisonMan said...

@Big Mike, Koyaanisqatsi has great cinematography, but the score is overbearing.

I've always thought it the cinematic equivalent of Kraftwerk's Autobahn.

CWJ said...

Scott @ 8:59,

Surprising perhaps, but not particularly strange at all. Which John Huston film would you put in the top ten of all American films of all time? Top twenty? I think that might be a lot closer to a sure thing. But the list is not the top 100 films as voted by film critics. It's the top 10 films as voted by film critics, other films getting votes include #11 through #100.

The thing to explain is not what was excluded but rather the lower ranked films that do appear. Here I think the critics were signalling their sophistication and/or contrariness with their choices. I don't think voting for a John Huston movie gets you either of these. So no John Huston. With the BBC's scoring system and no more than 62 responses, it probably took only one wag saying Heaven's Gate to crack the top 100.

William said...

It is interesting to note that Kim Kardashian used her sex tape as a springboard to greater wealth and fame, whereas the the Paris Hilton and Pam Anderson sex tapes did not enhance the careers of their respective stars. The Pam Anderson tape is the only one I actually watched. It wasn't great porn, but she made a lot of money with it. So it was successful on that level, and money is perhaps the best metric to measure porn......A truly great celebrity sex tape has not yet been made. I have hopes for John Edwards.

William said...

Besides Huston, they left off Elia Kazan. The list is very idiosyncratic. It will never make my list of the ten best movie lists of all time.

richard mcenroe said...

Any list of greatest films that leaves off ZAPPED?! Nope,sorry...

tim in vermont said...

I can't resist. How you can put Eyes Wide Shut 50 places ahead of Apocalypse Now is beyond me.

And is there anyone here who can explain why Mulholland Drive ranks so high?

tim in vermont said...

I think the Pamela Anderson sex tape was a success. We now have the definitive image for "Big honking dick" when he honked the boat horn with it, for those of you who never saw it.

Jay Vogt said...

TIV, apparently you miss "the scene" with Laura Harring and Naomi Watts. That alone . . .

Curious George said...

No Caddyshack? Or Stripes?

Bricap said...

Heaven's Gate at #98? Never saw it, but wasn't that supposed to be one of the biggest box office bombs ever? Could it hold the distinction of being on a top 100 list and also front and center on a Rotten Tomatoes list?

I will go further and say that Eyes Wide Shut does not belong on that list at all.

Coupe said...

I saw Apocalypse Now in the old wide-screen theaters. If the story didn't catch you, the photography did. It was gorgeous. The only time I was ever moved by color photography, being more a B&W person back then.

Then I saw the movie again on TV, or VHS, I can't remember, and it was all just blurry.

The sound of the Door's The End with the pure guitar notes starting it off filling the theater, combined with the photography was a thrilling opening.

The script was secondary to the film, in my opinion. Course I heard the film stock deteriorated quickly, so probably the only people who enjoyed the movie, were in the big theaters.

GRW3 said...

I was actually surprised the list was not dominated by artsy/fartsy movies that are so often touted as the epitome of cinema. Still, I'd have a different list but I suppose there are just so many movies that narrowing it to 100 will always disappoint. But...

Nashville for Altman instead of MASH? Really? I suppose the success of the TV show dilutes the impact.

Freeman Hunt said...

It gets problematic here:

12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)


Why do people like Godfather Part II so much? The first one is phenomenal, but the second one is not anywhere near being the tenth best American movie ever made.

Freeman Hunt said...

9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)


Except for Vertigo, that's a respectable bit of list.

Freeman Hunt said...

Most of the list is pretty good, I think. There are eyebrow raisers here and there, but mostly it's solid.

Freeman Hunt said...

I will go further and say that Eyes Wide Shut does not belong on that list at all.

I agree. It was ridiculous. People in the theater were laughing.

Freeman Hunt said...

It has the gold standards you have to have like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, City Lights, Sunrise, Taxi Driver, Stage Coach, Schindler's List, Annie Hall, The Shining, Red River, things like that.

George Grady said...

Freeman Hunt:

I agree with you about Vertigo. Let's see:

Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Birds, Psycho, Rebecca, Rope, Dial M for Murder, The Man Who Know Too Much, Strangers on a Train, To Catch a Thief,...

I don't think it makes Hitchcock's top ten!

rhhardin said...

Two Weeks Notice
You've Got Mail
The Proposal
Erin Brockovitch
Notting Hill
Get Smart (2008)

lesser but not bad

Laws of Attraction
Last Chance Harvey
Words and Pictures (you have to mentally substitute a generic difficulty for the cliched ones)
The Rewrite

off the top of my head.

Freeman Hunt said...

The original Rocky should be on there.

George Grady said...

It's missing Die Hard.

Freeman Hunt said...

Enough with Raging Bull already. For more Scorsese, why not The Last Temptation of Christ?

Steven said...

Scott said "Which is why #4, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is included, despite the fact that it was shot in a British studio, had a British director, and was based on a book by a British author. It's all about the money."

Stanley Kubrick was from the Bronx. He did not move to the UK until just a couple of years before making this movie.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's missing Die Hard.

The Dark Knight but not Die Hard? Philistines.

Howard said...

I agree with Freeman, it's a solid list of great movies, not great art films.

IMO, Eyes Wide Shut is problematic for a lot of people because it was billed as about sex when it actually critiques everyone's blindness to the reality around us. It's about the dream state we live in when we are actively working on living a "normal" life. Lee Siegel gives it a nice review (see below). Yes, I understand that many believe that if it needs to be explained like this, then the film is a failure. Frankly, I think Tom Cruise gave the performance of a lifetime and he didn't have to act at all. In any event, since it ultimately saved Nicole Kidman and her kids from Scientology, it does deserve some props.

Lee Siegel on EWS

buwaya said...

Pretty good list.
A few turkeys.
Some greats are missing.
"The Longest Day"
"High Noon"
"The Wild Bunch"
"Dirty Harry"
Some I've never heard of.
Everyone's got a list I guess.

TCR James said...

Good to see The Searchers ranked so high. Watched this with my son last week. He loved it, picked up on the serious themes, liked the action. The cinematography is also still striking, which is amazing considering the film is 60 years old. It also played against the archetype of the typical slap happy, jokey western of that era really well. It's still an amazing film. Sort of timely too, in light of the confederate flag controversy and the characters' mostly implicit back story, and the themes of racism and redemption.

Eric said...

Another omission: The French Connection. You have to see it without commercial interruption to fully appreciate it.

Static Ping said...

I am somewhat surprised that any comedies made the list, given that comedy is something that does not always translate from one culture and/or language to the next. Duck Soup I expected since that gets points for being an anti-war film (very good film, but not the best Marx Brothers movie, I think I have only seen three of them). I fully approve of Groundhog Day and I will approve of it again once I wake up again this morning.

fivewheels said...

No Pixar. Was there some rule against those movies, or do these critics just not understand what makes cinema great?

My chosen representatives would have been The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Any of the Toy Story trilogy would be fine too.

fivewheels said...

No Coens? Are they funded by non-American means, or is this list completely useless?

EMD said...

Needs Coens, and Pixar. At least "Singing in the Rain" made the top 10.

Goodfellas (#20) is too low.




Sam L. said...

Why should I care what they think? Can't come up with a reason; zip, zero, zilch, nada.

CWJ said...

Freeman Hunt inadvertently makes my point. After listing numbers 1 through 9 she says -

"Except for Vertigo, that's a respectable bit of list."

Of course it is because top ten is all they were asked to rate. Allowing for some professional variance, I was going to say off the top of my head that no rank past #20 should be taken seriously. And sure enough, just like clockwork (orange?), we pass from consensus picks like Goodfellas #20 to the idiosyncratic Mullholland Drive #21. You would get completely different lists through rank 100 had you asked the same people to list the top five, top 15, or top 20 films.

Despite the title and text this is not, and there is no list of the top 100 films.

lgv said...

I wouldn't be surprised if critics around the world hadn't actually watched Gone With the Wind. It's of a different generation. It's greatness had a lot to do with costume, cinematography, and less about the acting. I don't believe languishing at 97 is some type of social commentary about the movie.

It's a great list. I won't bother noting the ones that I think don't belong.

Mulholland Drive! Really? I lied.

Critics love Lynch, Cassavetes, Kubrick, and Malick. More than I do. Just because Kubrick directed doesn't mean it must be great.

CWJ said...

And sure enough like bookends, EMD says #20 belongs but is too low, and lgv says #21 doesn't belong at all.

Kelly said...

The Birth of a Nation at number 39, yet they're surprised at Gone with the Wind?

Edmund said...

@Howard

There are a couple of art films. "Koyaanisqatsi" is one. "Tree of Life" was a very, very unconventional film. No narrative structure, a meditation on "Job" and "Genesis". (Most of the US critics seem to not have much religious background and missed that. For some reason, the Europeans got it.)

rcocean said...

Its a weird list, but then film critics are weird. Look at the New Yorker's top ten.

The Godfather said...

I'm out to lunch on a lot of these, because I avoid gangster movies (I saw Billy Bathgate the other day, because it was filmed near where I live, and was reminded why I don't watch gangster movies), and I don't watch silent films. Overall, among the movies I've seen, I thought the list was OK, although it over-rated a lot of good-but-not-great movies (Lion King, Meet Me In St. Louis, the Band Wagon, The Shop Around the Corner, A Place in The Sun, Rio Bravo, Imitation of Life, the Searchers), included some real clunkers (Heavens Gate, Close Encounters, Barry Lyndon), and omitted some that were much better than ones on the list (Shane, High Noon, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, American Graffiti, Mississippi Burning, African Queen, Maltese Falcon, the Birds, Tin Cup).

readering said...

Meshes of the Afternoon, a 14-minute experimental film from the 1940s? I guess some of those foreign critics were really out to show their superior knowledge.

readering said...

The American Film Institute conducted a poll of the 100 greatest heroes and 100 greatest villains in American film. #1 hero, Atticus Finch, Esq. #1 villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. (And #1 female hero, Clarice Starling.) Yet no love for Mockingbird or Silence from the BBC?

lllll Alaska Jack said...

"All the movies I discovered when I was 18, back in 1969"

Ann, what did you think of Easy Rider? I ask because I just watched it for the first time.

Coupe said...

...what did you think of Easy Rider?

Never flip the bird at an armed redneck in a pickup truck.