Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss look into their hearts
Movie lists are irresistible for those who love to read them and use them for anything from ideas for Netflix rentals to a jumping-off place from which to begin making connections and thinking about movies in ways both personal and universal. But they’re also irresistible to film critics and others who write about movies because, whether it’s a top ten list of movies of the year, or a list like Time magazine’s oddly titled “All-Time 100 Movies,” they’re an easy-to-read shorthand format for displaying, and dissecting, a critic’s predilections, prejudices and a general sense of the writer’s aesthetic and historical perspective. Lists like the American Film Institute’s attempt a few years ago to provide some sort of definitive statement—the 100 best American films, period—are usually doomed to fail. Such attempts to sum up the vastness and fluidity of 100 years or so of film history, even one “narrowed down” to exclude films not made in this country (and there have been a few of those that have popped up in the past 100 years), is akin to attempting to swallow the sea. And those annual critics’ top ten lists, that ritualistic gathering and ranking of the cream of 200 or so films released each year, can’t presume any sort of meaningful comprehensiveness. Even critics who get paid to see everything often can’t, so the list has less meaning for its arbitrary rankings than the occasion it offers the reader to be reminded of important films he/she may have missed, and for the critic to reconsider the year as a whole, talk about recent trends, revisit films that may look different after the passage of a few months, and even ponder the function, and future, of American film criticism.
Time’s “All-Time 100 Movies” list is, thankfully, a much more idiosyncratic enterprise, and one that doesn’t have much pretense toward an all-encompassing point of view—it is, after all, the product of two film critics, Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss, and therefore bound to have a bit of a split personality. A quick listen to the interview on the Time Web site reveals that the two critics’ methodology for coming up with contenders was little more than shuffling through their own memories, and the final list retains that informal, casually tossed off feel. Such a scrappy, incomplete endeavor is likely to come up short on scholarly value, which is fine because scholarship is hardly its intention. Its main marshaling impulse is the desire to get readers, most of whom may only be casual movie fans to begin with, talking and thinking and free-associating, about omissions, of course, but also about the films that were included.
Naturally, familiar titles like The Apu Trilogy (1955-56-59), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The 400 Blows (1959), The Godfather (part 1, 1972, and part 2, 1974), The Searchers (1956), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953) are represented.
But I don’t think I can ever remember a list of 100 best/all-time/whatever movies that was limber enough to save a space for argument-starters like Barry Lyndon (1975), Chungking Express (1994), City of God (2002), Leolo (1992), Mouchette (1967), Olympia (Parts 1 and 2, 1938), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and Talk to Her (2002). Every one of those titles seems geared to start demanding rants on the order of, “How they could put Barry Lyndon/The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)/Sherlock, Jr./Smiles of a Summer Night/The Purple Rose of Cairo on that list and not 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)/The Rules of the Game (1939)/The General (1927)/The Seventh Seal (1957)/Bananas (1971)?” That free association that Schickel refers to as part of his process of coming up with titles is exactly where the juice from a list like this comes from. While you’re arguing, in your head or with others, about this one’s inclusion at that one’s expense, you’re likely to start finding your way toward other titles by the same director that may feature stars who make you think about other movies that are nowhere near the list from whence you started.
And the admitted scattershot representation of films across various stretches of time and geography helps to deflate a reader’s indignation when a personal favorite is omitted. For example, any list I tried to compile myself would almost certainly feature Nashville (1975), M (1931), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Project A Part 2 (1985), Jaws (1975), Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), Rio Bravo (1959), Horse Feathers (1932), Dirty Harry (1972), Blow Out (1981), The Big Heat (1953) and The Long Riders (1980), and would have no place for Chungking Express, E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982), Farewell, My Concubine (1993), GoodFellas (1990), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Purple Rose of Cairo, Raging Bull (1980), Schindler’s List (1993) or Star Wars (1977).
But given those variances, it would be impossibly churlish to complain too seriously about a list of All-Time 100 Movies that actually includes City Lights (1931), Detour (1945), Drunken Master II (1994), The Fly (1986), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), In A Lonely Place (1950), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lady Eve (1941) and His Girl Friday (1940), The Man with the Movie Camera (1929), Miller’s Crossing (!!! 1990), Out of the Past (1947), Ugetsu (1953) and A Touch of Zen (1971). And this list in particular provides a great place for those with scant familiarity with the towering cinema of India to start catching up— Satyajit Ray’s classic Apu Trilogy leads to two films with which I’m unfamiliar-- Pyassa (1957), another from India’s golden age of movies, and Nayakan (1987), from the more recent Bollywood explosion. Any time a list like this can provide a lifelong film buff with new and explored places to go, it has to do nothing else to justify its existence and earn my gratitude.
Time’s site is fun to navigate too. Though you have to be a subscriber to the print edition in order to access the reviews of each film as they appeared in the magazine upon their release, nonsubscribers can still click on each title to get a capsule review or comment written this year, which in some ways might be the more valuable piece of writing, given how much has already been said about some of these works. There are also links to a list of Richard Schickel’s Guilty Pleasures, the same critic on Great Movie Performances, Richard Corliss on Great Short Films, both writers checking in on The Best Movies Scores of All Time and those interviews with Schickel and Corliss regarding how they put the list together. Any way you click it, the new Time list trumps more recent list-making enterprises by well-meaning institutions like the American Film Institute through its sheer unpretentious zeal and love for the movies, whenever and from wherever they may have come.
(Other lists more serious cinephiles might want to take a look at are the Sight and Sound International Critics Poll and another one recently unleasehed by the British Film Institute, The BFI 100, a selection of favorite British films of the 20th century. And Filmcritic.com has a tasty list of its own: The All-Time Top 100 Voices in the Movies.)
One for the Comments column
Take a look at the Time 100 again and let us all know:
1) What ONE movie on the Time 100 would you get rid of, and why?
2) What ONE movie would you insert in its place, and why?
And, of course, and as always, as much ranting and raving to go along with those choices as you please. This is why Schickel and Corliss put the list together, after all. Let’s hear it.
UPDATE 6/6/05: LISTOMANIA
Richard Corliss talks extensively about the All-Time 100 and the movies that he and Schickel left off the list.