Neil Young

Freelance film-critic/journalist and film-festival worker

Voted for

CHIRCALES1972Marta Rodriguez, Jorge Silva
Fantômas 1913Louis Feuillade
Gerdy, zlocesta vjestica1976Ljubomir Simunic
Im Lohmgrund1977Jürgen Böttcher
I Am Somebody 1970Madeline Anderson
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
Light Being (Ser de luz)2009Diana Toucedo
Sambizanga1972Sarah Maldoror
Stray Dogs2013Tsai Ming-liang
Windy Day1968John Hubley, Faith Hubley


Film began in Paris on 9 May 1913 with Louis Feuillade's Fantômas and it ended in Venice on 5 September 2013 with Tsai Ming Liang's Stray Dogs. That's "film" as opposed to "cinema," which was born some time earlier and which is somehow yet to expire—despite the strenuous, recently redoubled efforts of its most mortal foe, television. Having established these semi-arbitrary, conveniently century-shaped Alpha-Omega parameters—one the first true celluloid masterpiece, the other the first true digital masterpiece—how best to fill the remaining eight vacancies?

Considering the previous six poll-results, especially the top tens, a radical response is surely indicated: 58 of those 60 slots (97%) were filled by feature-length fictional (or docufictional) male-directed pictures from North America, Europe or Japan. The exceptions: Pather Panchali in 1992 and Man With a Movie Camera (arguably docufiction) in 2012.

This poll seeks to identify "The Greatest Films." Not "The Best" (who knows?!), nor simply a collation of arbitrary, taste-dictated personal favourites (who cares?!)—the latter my sole criterion a decade ago. As a corrective to my myopia, and also perhaps in some token fashion to the well-chronicled shortcomings of the poll's history (symptomatic of severe structural imbalances) this year I decided on a totally different approach.

While retaining a certain personal idiosyncrasy in the choices, I reimagined "greatness" by taking into account the contexts and circumstances of production: what resources were available, and what were they made to yield?

For example, it was (with all due respect) considerably easier for Welles and Hitchcock to make Citizen Kane and Vertigo for opulently-staffed Hollywood studios than it was for Maldoror to make Sambizanga for in central Africa and for Anderson to make I Am Somebody in North Carolina. A case can be made for Citizen Kane and Vertigo being somehow "superior" works of cinematic art to the latter duo (they are, undeniably, massively more influential). I believe such differentials, if they even exist, are so small as to be irrelevant. Same deal re Man With a Movie Camera (product of the Ukrainian monopoly-conglomerate VUFKU) vis á vis The Brickmakers, near-miraculously conjured by its directors at a time when Colombian cinema essentially did not even exist.

My resulting list is, despite my best attempts, still unsatisfactory in terms of balances and representation. Chronologically it skews 60% to the 1970s—admittedly a golden era in terms of the planet's voiceless finding both cinematic voice and receptive ears—and geographically towards Europe. Half are from from there (representing five different nations) and half from elsewhere: two from the USA, one from South America, Africa and Asia. There are five shorts, four "longs" and one mid-lengther (The Brickmakers); running-times span under six minutes (Light Being) to over six hours (Fantômas).

And—would you Adam 'n Eve it?—the male-female ratio is neatly 6:6. Among the women, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman is my only pick that could reach the Top 10. (No woman has ever cracked the Top 25; I include the film in the optimistic hope it could topple Vertigo and thus really throw the cat among the pigeons.)

On principle, I see zero reason to prioritise feature-length works over shorts, nor fictions over documentaries. I sought to recognise animation (Windy Day), silents (Fantômas) and experimenta; They're all film too. The avant-garde is doubly represented: Gerdy, the Wicked Witch—best film I've ever seen!—and Diana Toucedo's Light Being. Toucedo is 40; her found-footage engagement with colonialism is selected as a sort of vote for the future—and to propose that the precarious power of "cinema" as an art-form can best be sustained by creative engagements with "film" as it existed for that one fleeting, flickering century, 1913-2013.