Monday, September 12, 2016

The Second Century

Since my departure from the U.S. in 2007 and my self-exile in a country that seems to be transforming itself rapidly into Venezuela, I must confess, as a self-respecting film critic, to being out of circulation. Everything that has happened in the film world subsequent to 2007, with notable exceptions, is terra incognita to me. So I should disqualify myself from commenting on BBC Culture's recently published list of the 21st Century's 100 greatest films.

But I won't, simply because, from what little sense I can make of it (I have seen less than half of the films in the rankings), it is easily the most ill-advised list since someone once asked me to rank the Star Wars episodes from the best to the worst. For handy reference, here is the list:

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
99. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
98. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
97. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
96. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
95. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
94. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
93. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)
92. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
91. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009)
90. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
89. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
88. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
87. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
86. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
85. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
84. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
83. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
82. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)
81. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
80. The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
79. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
78. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
77. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
76. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
75. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
74. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
72. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
71. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
70. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)
69. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
68. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
67. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
66. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
65. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
64. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
63. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
62. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
61. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
60. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
59. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
58. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène, 2004)
57. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
56. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, director; Ágnes Hranitzky, co-director, 2000)
55. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
54. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
53. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
52. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
51. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
46. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
45. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
44. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
43. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
42. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
41. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)
40. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
39. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
38. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)
37. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
36. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
35. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
34. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015)
33. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
32. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
31. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
30. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
29. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
28. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
27. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
26. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
25. ​Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
24. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
23. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
22. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

I have seen forty-seven of them, including seven of the top ten, and I will limit my comments to them.

First of all, ranking the films is rank philistinism. Art, like life, isn't some kind of stupid competitive event. But I'll start at the top of the list, without naming titles, and work my way down to number one.

Tied for 100, listed second, I remember just enough of it to wish I didn't. 98 A hodge-podge by a great filmmaker is still a hodge-podge - tantalizing but not a cohesive whole. 96 As bad as Disney at its worst. 94 Beautifully-shot, matter-of-factual vampire movie, and better than the American remake. 93 Call an exterminator. 92 Really a Roger Deakins film, startlingly photographed - almost a historical artifact unto itself. 90 Could've been harrowing, but Polanski wasn't up to it. 87 Achingly twee. 83 Unhappy marriage of a Kubrick concept with a Spielberg execution. 80 Beautiful. 79 A history of music I hate, that launched Kate Hudson on an unsuspecting world. 77 An uncomfortable attempt to actually alter perception according to an extraordinary disability. 76 "Von" being typically obtuse. 73 Ethan Hawke at his best, Julie Delpy at her usual - in Paris. 68 Insufferable. 67 An Iraq War film, about as good as they got. 66 Uniquely beautiful. 62 Borderline imbecile. 59 Damned Silly. 57 Women are brutes, too. 53 Unbearable. 51 A film with a big hole (Leo) in it. 44 Unexpectedly shocking, historically important. 42 Intensely moving. 40 Utterly brilliant. 39 Beautiful and boring. 38 A kind of new world 400 Blows. 35 Alluringly beautiful fantasy. 33 An ultimately vacuous vision of a world full of psychos - including its hero. 29 Fun for kids. 27 A spiteful portrait of the youngest billionaire in the world. 26 Well-meaning miss. 25 A unedifying tale told backwards is still unedifying. 23 French guilt, flawlessly depicted. 22 Stupidly condescending outsider's tour. 21 Annoying. 17 Bizarrely creative. 13 Bergman did it better with much less. 12 Another surprisingly dull "true story". 11 Pointless. 10 Not even a good thriller. 6 Exquisite. 5 Remarkably made. 4 One of the reasons the Japanese film practically no longer exists. 3 Brilliant actor but nothing else. 2 Two people encircling nothing. 1 Purposefully meaningless.

The late Stanley Kauffmann pointed out that the decline of film is no cause for wonder. The history of drama started with a flourish - Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Then it declined. English drama began with the Elizabethans - Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and others. Then it, too, declined. The first century of film gave us Chaplin, Keaton, Renoir, De Sica, Ozu, Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Troell, Truffaut and some others. An impressive flowering of creativity. Then it declined. It doesn't mean that film is dead. There will be a renaissance, but there's this little dark age to get through first.

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