Amateur Sight & Sound

In 2009, I sent a request to everyone in my address book to give me their top ten movies of the decade. From 27 “critics” and 205 movies, we were able to determine that Scorsese’s The Departed was the finest film of the 2000s. It was a fascinating social experiment and I learned everything I wanted to know about my friends’ taste in movies and more than I ever wanted about statistics and organizing them.

A couple of months ago, in advance of the announcement of the 2012 edition of the Sight & Sound Poll, the magnificent once-a-decade list compiled from the world’s leading critics, film historians and filmmakers of the ten greatest movies ever made, I decided to once again reach out to my address book to see what my friends and colleagues thought were the ten finest movies of all time.

The results remain fascinating. The specific purpose was to not get a “cinephiles” list, yet what emerged from the top ten is eight movies that are also present on AFI’s top 100 and two that were on the last Sight & Sound poll and will likely be there again in 2012. Of the 186 movies that received votes, 20% are in black and white, a figure that pleases me a great deal (just to illustrate, seven of my top ten are in black and white). The overwhelming majority of the movies came from America, including the entire top ten, but other countries were represented as well, in particular France, England, Japan and Italy for total of 10% of all movies coming from outside the States (I was particularly pleased by Sweden’s lone entry, Smiles of a Summer Night, a wonderful choice if ever there was one, but one that would never be chosen by film people to represent all of Bergman’s work). Ten movies were cartoons, a higher ratio than I think we’ll find in the real Sight & Sound poll, and 43 movies were comedies, a percentage of  nearly 25%, which I know is higher than the genuine article (granted, I was using my personal definition of comedy to compile that number but it gives a rough idea). Two silent movies received votes (both by Keaton, which is where critical favor currently lies, sorry, Charlie) and one documentary.

The largest gulf between my “critics” and the ones taking the actual poll is the tendency toward new movies. The “youngest” movie on the 2002 Sight & Sound poll is The Godfather Part 2 (1974), nearly 30 years old when the poll was released. The youngest movie on our top ten is The Dark Knight (2008), which curiously finished fifth on the poll I administered of the best of the decade but is the only representative from the 2000s on the all-time top ten. Seven other movies on my poll of the top ten were made after The Godfather Part 2. The average release date of movies on the 2002 Sight & Sound poll is 1950. On mine it’s 1980. In fact, one poll taker voted for a movie that hadn’t been released yet (Joss Whedon’s The Avengers), which doesn’t speak very highly of that person’s scruples, but in his defense, he put it as number nine on his list, in case, you know, it turned out to be just ok.

It is not the luxury of the poll arranger to enjoy every movie on the list and certainly there are some I do not approve of and others that made me cringe, but I was surprised to find a whopping four of my own personal choices on the final list of ten, including the top three in the exact order I had them. I was further pleased to see that the pollsters agree with me that Steven Spielberg is the finest director of all time. Spielberg pictures received nearly twice as many votes as the next celebrated directors (a tie between Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese). Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, as he’s the most commercially buoyant director in history. Six different Spielberg movies found themselves on people’s lists, everything from Schindler’s List to Hook and a total of three of his movies are in the final ten; no one else has more than one. Spielberg was able to top the list of directors because of his variety. Orson Welles, for example, who finished with the fifth most points given to his work, figured that high on the strength of just one movie (I’ll let you guess which one), but it was the movie that was on more lists than any other.

But to get to the list, the first installment of the Nick Renkoski Sight & Sound Poll, here’s the top ten:

10 (tie). The Princess Bride (1987) – Rob Reiner
10 (tie). The Dark Knight (2008) – Christopher Nolan
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Steven Spielberg
7 (tie). Pulp Fiction (1994) – Quentin Tarantino
7 (tie). Jaws (1975) – Steven Spielberg
6. Fight Club (1999) – David Fincher
5. Gone With the Wind (1939) – Victor Fleming
4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Frank Darabont
3. Schindler’s List (1993) – Steven Spielberg
2. The Godfather (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola
1. Citizen Kane (1941) – Orson Welles

All and all it’s a competent list, with a good cross-section of the history (at least the second half of that history) of American movies. Two best picture winners and five box-office champions, including the all-time champ, Gone With the Wind. I could point out the movies that I don’t believe belong, but what’s the point? This was a collaboration, one I was happy to organize, and I can easily live with the results.

It may not seem that cunning to announce another list of great movies with Citizen Kane on the top of it, but I think that just goes to show that it’s some movie. Is it the greatest of all time? I’m not sure pieces of art can be rated that way but I certainly think so. I’m anxiously awaiting the results of the real Sight & Sound poll in August to see if Welles’ film retains the top spot, a place it’s held since the 1952 poll. I’m also interested to see if, as indicated in my corner of the world, critical opinion is about to smile on Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, but I’m not holding my breath there.

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