Chief Film Critic, Variety
|Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
|My Neighbour Totoro
|Trois couleurs rouge
|The Gleaners and I
|The Tree of Life
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Film language reached such exciting heights in the hands of Lang, Murnau and other silent expressionists, it’s almost a shame sound came along to set things back.
Conventional wisdom holds that by the early 1940s, the Hollywood studio system was a well-oiled machine. In this case, it was as if the Model T assembly line had produced a Rolls Royce.
This perfectly calibrated Swiss watch of a movie demonstrates how well the master of suspense could manipulate an audience, while asking us to buy into a perverse psychological premise.
This list is light on epics, in part because depth of character impresses me more than scope. Kurosawa gives us both.
Before Scorsese and Tarantino, Melville was the OG movie-buff director. Bringing film noir to France, he rejected romance, focusing instead on a code of honor among criminals.
My Neighbour Totoro
In animation, we start with a blank screen, and everything must be created by hand. Here, an eye for detail establishes the reality, which Miyazaki expands via intuitive supernatural touches (like the Catbus!).
Trois couleurs rouge
The case for empathy – and chance – in cinema, from the medium’s master humanist. One senses that even the most minor characters’ lives carry on when the camera isn’t watching.
What makes this oddball “true” crime story the Great American Movie isn’t the kidnapping, but the conversation in the police car: “There's more to life than a little money, ya know. And it's a beautiful day.”
The Gleaners and I
So far, the 21st century has been defined by the democratization of filmmaking equipment and the rise of documentary. Leave it to a veteran like Varda to playfully explore the potential of both.
The Tree of Life
My favourite Malick may be Days of Heaven, but this is the film where he reaches the farthest, reminding how seldom cinema asks the big questions we’ve come to expect from art and literature.
The internet thrives on rankings, to the point that I fear readers have started to prize film critics not for their capacity to analyze and interpret movies, but by their facility in saying whether X is better than Y. It's tough enough to pick a top 10. I've listed these in chronological order.
My answers are tamer now than they were a decade ago, when I included such radical works as Saló and Performance, and challenged myself to name a comedy and a film from the 21st century (my love for Borat remains unabated, though it no longer holds a place on my list). I wish I had room for Pasolini, Haneke, Buñuel and von Trier, for Chaplin and Keaton, for Welles and Méliès. Maybe next decade.