Some observations on a Top 100 Films list

03 September 2011

You, the Living (Du levande), 2007
MP here

As I wrote around this time last month, the Filmspotting forum's annual Top 100 Films poll ends tomorrow, and I've just submitted my ballot; you can see the full list at the bottom of this entry. First, though, some observations...

My starting pool was every film I've scored 4/5 or above; that's around 900 films. A lot of films are easy to discard: you'll admire them from a scholarly point of view (1915's The Birth of a Nation) or respect them from an historical one (1895's Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots), but you know they're not your favourites. From this, I made an instinctive group of favourites and then devised a short list of those I know I've loved in the past but demand re-evaluation; I rewatched 45 films last month.

I could have watched more, but you have to stop somewhere. Also, the earlier you realise you're allowed to love more than a hundred films and that not making the final list isn't definitive, the easier it is to accept some films' exclusion. Anyone can write endlessly on those that don't make it - the "honourable mentions" - but that defeats the purpose of the Top Ton.

At any rate, a brief word won't go amiss, given my own surprise at some absentees: in terms of directors, there has been no room for Scorsese, Tarkovsky, Godard, Bergman, Kurosawa, Fellini, Kubrick, Lean, Powell and Pressburger, Kieslowski, Kitano, Haneke, Greenaway, Almodóvar, Altman, Buñuel, Ford, Hawks, Truffaut; the only Herzog film that made the list is a short.

In terms of the very high end of my current preferences, then, I'll allow that list to speak for itself. And since it's too tempting to consume what little time I have with a 'review' of each film that makes the Top 100, I'll allow a few more stats to speak for themselves...

Hitchcock has five films in my Top 10 and eight in the Top 70
In terms of directors (including each pair as one, like the Coen brothers), there are 70 different names across the Top 100. Alfred Hitchcock is the most recurring director with eight films; five are in my Top 10, the other three are above #70. The other directors with more than one entry are Francis Ford Coppola (4), David Cronenberg (4), Terrence Malick (4), Charles Chaplin (3), Ken Loach (3), Béla Tarr (3); Roy Andersson, Chris Columbus, David Fincher, Walter Hill, Patrick Keiller, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Jean-Pierre Melville and James Whale each have two entries - as does Michael Curtiz, though one of his films was co-directed with William Keighley.

Joanna Hogg is the only female director, and her Archipelago (2010) is the most recent film. It's also the only film from this current decade. Moving through decades from the most recent back, there are sixteen films from the 2000s; sixteen films from the 1990s; thirteen films from the 1980s; twenty from the 1970s; ten from the 1960s; four from the 1950s; ten from the 1940s; seven from the 1930s; and three from the 1920s. The earliest film is Nosferatu (1922).

In terms of nationality, things are more difficult, because many films have multiple countries of production (funding sources). If we were to count films with only one production country - so excluding for instance those directed by David Cronenberg - then there are 53 films from the USA; 11 films from the UK; 6 films from France. Germany, Hungary, Iran and Romania each have two entries.

You could try and get more specific than this, by looking at the percentage of each funding source, or by narrowing each film with multiple production countries to the nationality of its director; but while this would work for the Canadian David Cronenberg, whose Videodrome for instance is credited to Canada/USA, or the Hungarian Béla Tarr, whose Satan's Tango is credited to Hungary/Germany/Switzerland, the method falls flat for films like Children of Men or Paris, Texas: the former has funding from Japan, the UK and the USA, but its director is Mexican, whereas the latter has funding from France and West Germany, but its German director is working with an English-speaking cast. Likewise, Che Part Two is directed by an American, has funding from Spain, France and the USA, and is predominantly in the Spanish language.

Discussing my list as it was being compiled, some friends commented with surprise at how many American films were present, especially in the Top 10 (8 out of 10). While it's true that over half the list is from the USA, only four (five if we count Che Part Two) are from the last ten years. Interestingly, one of these is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by a Frenchman; the other is The Assassination of Jesse James, directed by an Australian.

Casablanca, 1942, is one of six Top 100 films that won the Best Picture Oscar
Six entries have won the Oscar for Best Picture; five of them are from the 1970s. Three films won the Palme d'Or. And there are many more interesting figures one could compile: how many of my films appear on the IMDb's Top 250? how many appear on TSPDT's Top 1000? how many will make the final poll on Filmspotting?

You could explore other trends, too. Which actors recur most often? (Jimmy Stewart is in three Top 10 films and two of the Top 3.) Why do seven of the 17 entries made since 2000 have three or more countries of production? (Has it something to do with the increasing difficulty of artists to secure funding from their own countries' funding bodies; is it indicative of an increasingly transglobal nature of funding in general?) This is to say nothing of genres, themes, styles, cinematographers, composers, editors and other creative departments.

For now, though, I've done enough, having enjoyed the month or so it took to revisit some old favourites and the hours it took to ponder and rank the list itself. Individual rankings are approximate, but overall the list represents some longevity in terms of personal preferences. The bottom end consists of films that I've decided not to rank higher because I've only seen them once. They're in, if you like, on the basis of a lasting first impression. I'll look forward to revisiting these before any others next time around.

In the meantime, though, there are all those other films I haven't seen at all; look down for vertiginous greatness...

Vertigo, 1958
__1 The French Connection
William Friedkin 1971 | USA

__2 Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock 1958 | USA

__3 Rear Window
Alfred Hitchcock 1954 | USA

__4 I Don't Want to Sleep Alone Hei yan quan
Ming-liang Tsai 2006 | Malaysia / China / Taiwan / France / Austria

__5 North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock 1959 | USA

__6 The Godfather Part II
Francis Ford Coppola 1974 | USA

__7 Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock 1960 | USA

__8 Rope
Alfred Hitchcock 1948 | USA

__9 Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola 1979 | USA

_10 Satan's Tango Sátántangó
Béla Tarr Hungary / Germany / Switzerland

_11 Chinatown
Roman Polanski 1974 | USA

_12 Songs From the Second Floor Sånger från Andra Våningen
Roy Andersson 2000 | Sweden / Norway / Denmark

_13 Blue Velvet
David Lynch 1986 | USA

_14 Don't Look Now
Nicolas Roeg 1973 | UK

_15 You, the Living Du levande
Roy Andersson 2007 | Sweden / Germany / France / Denmark / Norway / Japan

_16 The New World
Terrence Malick 2005 | USA

_17 Kes
Ken Loach 1969 | UK

_18 Werckmeister Harmonies Werckmeister harmóniák
Béla Tarr 2000 | Hungary

_19 Eraserhead
David Lynch 1976 | USA

_20 Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick 1978 | USA

_21 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry 2004 | USA

_22 Singin' in the Rain
Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly 1952 | USA

_23 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Tobe Hooper 1974 | USA

_24 The Fly
David Cronenberg 1983 | UK / Canada / USA

_25 Double Indemnity
Billy Wilder 1944 | USA

_26 The Deer Hunter
Michael Cimino 1978 | USA

_27 London
Patrick Keiller 1994 | UK

_28 The Wicker Man
Robin Hardy 1973 | UK

_29 Videodrome
David Cronenberg 1982 | Canada / USA

_30 Southern Comfort
Walter Hill 1981 | USA

_31 Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón Japan / UK / USA

_32 Zodiac
David Fincher 2007 | USA

_33 Citizen Kane
Orson Welles 1941 | USA

_34 Kind Hearts and Coronets
Robert Hamer 1949 | UK

_35 The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola 1972 | USA

_36 The Insider
Michael Mann 1999 | USA

_37 The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock 1963 | USA

_38 All the President's Men
Alan J. Pakula 1976 | USA

_39 Robinson in Space
Patrick Keiller 1997 | UK

_40 Syndromes and a Century Sang sattawat
Apichatpong Weerasethakul 2006 | Thailand / France / Australia

_41 Irreversible Irréversible
Gaspar Noé 2002 | France

_42 Laura
Otto Preminger 1944 | USA

_43 Frankenstein
James Whale 1931 | USA

_44 Out of the Past Build My Gallows High
Jacques Tourneur 1947 | USA

_45 Last Year in Marienbad L'année dernière à Marienbad
Alain Resnais 1961 | France / Italy

_46 The Conversation
Francis Ford Coppola 1974 | USA

_47 Badlands
Terrence Malick 1973 | USA

_48 Jaws
Steven Spielberg 1975 | USA

_49 The Warriors
Walter Hill 1979 | USA

_50 Shoah
Claude Lanzmann 1985 | France

_51 Take It Or Leave It
Dave Robinson 1981 | UK

_52 Blackmail
Alfred Hitchcock 1929 | UK

_53 The Blair Witch Project
Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez 1999 | USA

_54 M
Fritz Lang 1931 | Germany

_55 The Third Man
Carol Reed 1949 | UK

_56 True Confessions
Ulu Grosbard 1981 | USA

_57 The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick 1998 | USA

_58 Damnation Kárhozat
Béla Tarr 1987 | Hungary

_59 The Killing Fields
Roland Joffé 1984 | UK

_60 Heat
Michael Mann 1995 | USA

_61 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Andrew Dominik 2007 | USA

_62 Che Part Two
Steven Soderbergh 2008 | Spain / France / USA

_63 The Celebration Festen
Thomas Vinterberg 1998 | Denmark

_64 Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
F. W. Murnau 1922 | Germany

_65 The Adventures of Robin Hood
William Keighley & Michael Curtiz 1938 | USA

_66 The Circus
Charles Chaplin 1928 | USA

_67 King Kong
Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack 1933 | USA

_68 Casablanca
Michael Curtiz 1942 | USA

_69 Foreign Correspondent
Alfred Hitchcock 1940 | USA

_70 Crash
David Cronenberg 1996 | USA / Canada

_71 Paris, Texas
Wim Wenders 1984 | France / West Germany

_72 The Battle of Algiers La battaglia di Algeri
Gillo Pontecorvo 1966 | Algeria / Italy

_73 The Samurai Le samouraï
Jean-Pierre Melville 1967 | France

_74 Manhattan
Woody Allen 1979 | USA

_75 Die Hard
John McTiernan 1988 | USA

_76 Modern Times
Charles Chaplin 1936 | USA

_77 Bride of Frankenstein
James Whale 1935 | USA

_78 Home Alone
Chris Columbus 1990 | USA

_79 LA Confidential
Curtis Hanson 1997 | USA

_80 City Lights
Charles Chaplin 1931 | USA

_81 The Great Ectasy of Woodcarver Steiner Die Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner
Werner Herzog 1974 | West Germany

_82 Seven
David Fincher 1995 | USA

_83 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Chris Columbus 1992 | USA

_84 Fargo
Ethan & Joel Coen 1996 | USA

_85 La Jetée
Chris Marker 1962 | France

_86 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Milos Forman 1975 | USA

_87 Meet Me in St. Louis
Vincente Minnelli 1944 | USA

_88 The Prestige
Christopher Nolan 2006 | USA / UK

_89 The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Ken Loach 2006 | Ireland / UK / Germany / Italy / Spain / France / Belgium / Switzerland

_90 Eyes Without a Face Les yeux sans visage
Georges Franju 1960 | France

_91 Dead Ringers
David Cronenberg 1988 | Canada / USA

_92 The Death of Mr. Lazarescu Moartea domnului Lazarescu
Cristi Puiu 2005 | Romania

_93 Archipelago
Joanna Hogg 2010 | UK

_94 Still Life Tabiate bijan
Sohrab Shahid Saless 1974 | Iran

_95 Army of Shadows L'armée des ombres
Jean-Pierre Melville 1969 | France / Italy

_96 Titicut Follies
Frederick Wiseman 1967 | USA

_97 Land and Freedom
Ken Loach 1995 | UK / Spain / Germany / Italy

_98 Don Daan
Abolfazl Jalili 1998 | Iran

_99 Police, Adjective Poliţist, Adjectiv
Corneliu Poromboiu  2009 | Romania

100 To Our Loves À nos amours.
Maurice Pialat 1983 | France

The French Connection, 1971