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Sight & Sound: The Greatest Films of All Time
My Ballot + Commentary
I was invited to contribute to Sight & Sound’s “The Greatest Films of All Time” poll earlier this year, and sent in the below ballot and commentary. Individual ballots are not up on the site yet, but you can find the results of the poll here.
The New World
Miami Vice (theatrical)
Youth Without Youth
Pauline at the Beach
Swing Shift (director’s cut)
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion
“Ten for now. A different ten, God willing, in another ten years.” So I said a decade ago. God (or who/whatever) willed, and here we are. Last poll, I consciously chose a movie from each decade. This time I decided to go full instinctual kinky, which led me to this grouping — not ranked, but certainly ordered with an eye toward the oddball.
2005-2007 was, for me, some kind of transition/inflection point. Hence the top four: Terrence Malick’s masterpiece (in any of its versions) is one of the great dissections of the American creation myth; David Lynch’s lo-res digi-opus a triumphal study of artmaking against all odds; Michael Mann’s hi-def crime saga (theatrical cut only!) a treatise on how to be present in this ever-changing world in which we live in; and Francis Ford Coppola’s galaxy-brain reverie about an achingly intellectual Übermensch the only essential superhero movie of our most unMarvel™-ous era.
All roads lead to Joe’s Memoria — basically Close Encounters queered, though there’s nothing basic about its all-senses-go! engagement with universes without and within. The film, whose one truly noticeable visual effect gave me a giddy/heady thrill of a sort I’ve never before experienced, shames all manner of superproductions with their interchangeably “visionary” sights and sounds. I’ll carry this movie to my deathbed, and hopefully beyond.
Vincente Minnelli’s widescreen melodrama makes multiple mountains out of a molehill of a scenario: a battle over drapes in an asylum common room. Since it’s Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame and Lillian Gish doing the sparring, more than the heavens move, and the whole of cinema seems at stake.
Both the Hitchcock and Rohmer films have long felt to me as if they contain the mysteries of the cosmos — perhaps glimpsed in the voided eye-sockets of a de-fowled human corpse, or felt in the mutually delusive pact made between a pair of vacationing cousins after they fend off a summer’s-worth of male attentions. What happens at the shore stays at the shore, though the scars always come with.
No less than Elaine May stanned for the original cut of Jonathan Demme’s female-centered romantic roundelay, set mostly in and around a WWII-era munitions factory on the American homefront. And still the studio, with the full backing of lead actress Goldie Hawn, turned an emotionally intricate ensemble piece (with Christine Lahti, Kurt Russell, Ed Harris, and Hawn herself doing career-best work) into an inertly goody-goody star vehicle. The officially released cut is as much of a defilement as the hash made of another 1984 feature: Sergio Leone’s since reconstructed and reclaimed Once Upon a Time in America. Demme’s superior version of Swing Shift has unfortunately been relegated to the bootleg circuit, and I can only hope it one day gets a full-as-possible restoration.
I close with Hideaki Anno’s theatrical conclusion to his unparalleled anime series. The television show had its own singular-vision excesses — comparable to Twin Peaks and The Prisoner — which the movie expands on and explodes via a sanity-upending orgy of death, destruction and rebirth. I personally maintain a Michael Powell-like optimism about art and life as they are and will be. But should the apocalypse occur, I hope End of Eva provides any and all divinities their humanity-liquidating template.
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