Alexander Horwath

Curator, writer, teacher

Voted for

In the Street1944-48Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, James Agee
Man with a Movie Camera1929Dziga Vertov
The External World2010David OReilly
Singin' in the Rain1951Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Ignoti alla città1958Cecilia Mangini
Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa)1961-66Peter Kubelka
Passagen1996Lisl Ponger
Meghe Dhaka Tara1960Ritwik Ghatak
Duck Amuck1951Chuck Jones
In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni1978Guy Debord


Having had the repeated honour of participating in this poll, I thought it was now time to be fresh, in both senses of the word. But I fear that neither my own attempt at a list nor the result of the poll itself will be able to communicate freshness in any way.

Many readers will look for a global 'change of tastes' between 2012 and 2022. (It is seductive to try and play a tiny part in that process.)

Many will assume that the Western debates of the past decade – the calls for a More Inclusive Cinema (MIC) and the strong presence of Social Justice Campaigns (SJC) in public/aesthetic discourse – will lead to a renewed Sight & Sound 'canon'. (I fear there will be disappointment when the global-average results become known.)

Many are hoping that the 'second half of cinema', works made beyond the 1960s, will become more visible in the Top 10 now. (There is a good chance of this happening, at least minimally.)

Back to the question of how to make a list. Since the mass markets of Memory Politics, Social Justice Campaigning and Western Capitalism work in a pretty similar and integrated fashion, recourse to one’s personal cine-biography – and the somewhat 'resistant' character we like to attach to it – always seems like an easy way out. But that’s clearly imaginary, too. Because the Top 10 format immediately gets you back into a competitive and ahistorical logic – a few isolated, shrink-wrapped jewels that are supposed to represent the memory of the world; a few athletes racing to the top of the stairs at the Olympics. As soon as they are listed, ranked and placed against each other, they start to lose all connection to their histories – and to the histories, cultures and politics of the men and women whose votes have established their respective rank.

Despondent and disillusioned, I still continued to play with several different, more or less fresh approaches to find a way out of my predicament. For instance:

1. Be generous: name only those that you’ve loved for ages but never named before.

2. Be counter-intuitive and style yourself as a radical conservative: name those that you’ve always named, the ones that you think will flicker through your mind on your dying day.

3. Be a minoritarian narcissist: name only those with a good chance of receiving no other vote, just yours.

4. Be a majoritarian narcissist: name only those who belong to the 'generally appreciated ones', so that your vote might make a difference as to their final place in the Top 100.

5. Name only those that were brought back to the light thanks to the fight for a MIC.

6. Name only those that have suffered media or classroom disgrace in the face of SJC. The ones that some of your students will literally turn their backs to.

7. Name only those whose cultural and historical appropriateness you can vouch for, because they all come from a time and place you identify with.

8. Name only those whose culture and history was so foreign to you that you felt relieved not having to think about anything than the immediate impression the film made on you.

9. Name only those whose subject is film, cinema.

10. Name only those that readers can view on a single afternoon and evening – all ten of them in one (long) 'feature- length' sitting.

In the end, I made my list by using all ten approaches: there’s at least one film for each of these viewpoints. However, approach number 9 is represented a bit more prominently. The reason is simple: cinema has receded to the margins, so maybe it’s time to focus on what it actually was and how it described itself.

Precept number 10 is the one I adhered to most closely. The world has more important things than cinema to ponder now. Should both survive, my list allows the survivors to absorb everything that cinema could do in less than a day. Watching these ten greatest films of all time will only take eight hours of yours.

The sequence is important, but it’s neither chronological nor alphabetical. It’s a programme.