You’re familiar with Roger Ebert, right, the longstanding American film critic who has continued working through the most gritty battle with cancer over the past few years? Well, anyway, he is that guy, it’s quite the story.
Anyway, kottke pointed to this list he recently compiled as his contribution to Sight and Sound magazine’s decadely poll of critics to identify the greatest movies ever made. Not a small undertaking, although decidedly more possible than identifying the greatest books, I’d have thought.
Back in 2002, Ebert’s picks were (in alphabetical order):
Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
Citizen Kane (Welles)
La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
The General (Keaton)
Raging Bull (Scorsese)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
Tokyo Story (Ozu)
This time around, he has to replace Kieslowski’s Dekalog, as Sight and Sound have clarified the rules so that it would count as ten films instead of one. Ebert considered two options for the replacement: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. He plumps for The Tree of Life.
OK so those were Ebert’s picks. He does a pretty good job of justifying them in the article, so you should read it. For my part, I really want to get around to watching something – anything – by Werner Herzog, so perhaps it should be Aguirre. I still haven’t seen Citizen Kane, so I guess I should, although part of my reluctance to see it is the worry that I won’t like it enough and end up in a stew of concern that I’m not astute enough/concern that I’m too concerned about appearing astute about movies. I mean, Apocalypse Now: sure. It was good I guess, but it had kind of been built up a bit too much. Should probably have seen it at the cinema. La Dolce Vita was incredibly long and confusing. Dekalog, I have no clue. 2001: A Space Odyssey, I should really watch again some time, probably on a big screen. Raging Bull, likewise. Tokyo Story, I keep reading about so should really watch it. Vertigo, yup, it was pretty good I guess.
What I’m saying is, I wanna do my own list, so here it is. I make no claim that these are the greatest movies of all time. They are just 10 that I can think of right now that I genuinely think are excellent. Here we go.
Grosse Pointe Blank. OK, a list of things in this film that are just too good: the script, the soundtrack, John Cusack, Dan Aykroyd.
Adaptation. Roger Ebert likes Synecdoche, New York. I liked it too, but it was only funny at the beginning and afterwards kind of sad. Adaptation was amazing though. The inside-outness of it gets you the first time – as in, the scenes where Nic Cage as Kaufman narrating himself writing himself and all that. Later viewings, there’s other stuff you pick up, like how the scene where Meryl Streep gets high is so beautifully done.
Spirited Away: I seriously had no idea animation could be this beautiful. Mesmeric. And just when you think it has piled on too much weirdness (that crazy scene with a baby!) you get the train ride scene. Amazing. From the other side of the Pacific, my favourite Pixar film is probably The Incredibles.
Aliens: Oh god I talked about this before. The perfect action movie.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian: I can entertain myself for a substantial period of time just thinking about the scene where Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate tests his guards’ strength of will by stalking around them, speaking of his “friend in Rome called Biggus Dickus.” He has a wife, you know!
The Big Lebowski: Sure it’s got white Russians and nihilists and the Johns Goodman and Turturro doing their things. I just am always blown away by these little bits throughout the script where the Dude takes on the mode of speaking of whoever he was with in the previous scene. It’s so cunningly true-to-life, in that we all pick up bits of language from one another all the time, but telling about the Dude’s character, how he just gets swept along in things. Off the top of my head, “her life was in our hands, man!” “in the parlance of our times,” “and stay away from my lady friend!” “they’re gonna cut off my johnson,” but I’m sure there are tons more.
Pulp Fiction: Uma Thurman lying back with foam dribbling from her lips, shirt open and a bright red dot in magic marker on her chest, a syringe raised high like the killer’s knife in a slasher movie. My dad was quite literally on the edge of his seat, hands clasped over knees, leaning forward. I never woulda thought this was his kind of film.
The Shining: just beautiful in widescreen and horribly suspenseful even when you’ve seen it a few times.
OK you guys, that’s nine films. How am I supposed to get to ten? I’m not a critic. Seriously, it’s pretty hard to think of great films on the spot. Oh wait I was gonna say Dr Strangelove, but it would be wrong and way pretentious to have two Kubrick films. That was one good movie though. Oh OK, here’s my other option: Donnie Darko. That’ll do. Another great 80s soundtrack.