How Do You Pick A Top Ten?

London, The Arts

I’ve been reading Sight & Sound since I was eleven years old, when it was still called the BFI Monthly. The academic film magazine has been enthusing/annoying cinemagoers with its mix of pretension and erudition for a very long time, and every ten years it conducts a poll of the world’s critics, programmers, academics and curators to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1952, and has become perhaps the most recognised poll of its kind in the world.

This year, I’ve been invited to take part in the 2012 poll. It’s a poisoned chalice – how on earth do you pick the top ten films of all time? One of my problems, looking back over the polls, is that the list became preserved in aspic for too long, with ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Singing In The Rain’ stuck firmly near the top along with ‘L’Atalante’, ‘Tokyo Story’ and ‘Modern Times’. Many great films of the past are stepping stones in the development of cinema, and don’t necessarily deserve to stay in the top ten forever.

So instead of picking films the world considers ‘important’, I’ve picked a top ten that fulfil my main criteria, the first being; do they achieve their aim of being the best in their selected genre? Ie, if it’s a comedy, does it really make you laugh? As the selection hasn’t yet been published I’ll hold off with the full list, but I’d be interested in hearing top ten choices from others…

16 comments on “How Do You Pick A Top Ten?”

  1. Cid says:

    The Big Lebowski / Blazing Saddles / The Truman Show / Rear Window / Withnail & I / The Shawshank Redemption / Night of the Hunter / LA Confidential / The Blair Witch Project / This Is Spinal Tap

    And tomorrow I expect I’d have replaced three of those with three others, proving your point about the fluidity of it all.

  2. Diogenes says:

    The Bicycle Thieves/Wild Strawberries/Bladerunner/The Matrix/Stalker/Metropolis/The Godfather/One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest/Apocalypse Now/Donnie Darko

  3. Matt says:

    In Bruges / Etre et Avoir / Forgetting Sarah Marshall / The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp / The Jerk / Dean Spanley / Harvey / Goodbye Lenin! / As Good As It Gets / Wall-E.

    I have awful taste.

  4. BangBang!! says:

    The Adventures of Robin Hood, LOTR Return of the King, My Fair Lady, Raiders of the Lost Ark, My Neighbour Totoro, Goodfellas, The Empire Strikes Back, 13 Assassins, To Have and Have Not, Dawn of the Dead (original).

  5. Jez Winship says:

    A Matter of Life and Death (always)/Stalker/If…/Kwaidan/The Seventh Seal/La Belle et La Bete/The Fearless Vampire Killers/Dead Man/Night of the Hunter/A Woman Under the Influence. Of course, it might be entirely different if I chose again tomorrow.

  6. Joel Meadows says:

    Godfather, Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Great Escape, North by Northwest, The Third Man, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Pan’s Labyrinth, Shawshank Redemption, Outlaw Josey Wales
    If I had to pick ten

  7. Nostalgia.Detected says:

    I compiled my list – Melody (SWALK), Cabaret, Almost Famous, Meet Me in St Louis, Pillow Talk, Lady Killers (1955), On Moonlight Bay, Deathtrap, Murder at the Gallop, Jesse James (1939) – but actually it’s my 10 ‘favourite’ films rather than the 10 ‘greatest’ films. But I still think they’re all great!

  8. Sam Tomaino says:

    Here is my list: It’s A Wonderful Life, King Kong(1933), Casablanca, Scrooge(1951), The Godfather, The Quiet Man, The Body Snatcher, Stagecoach(1939), North By Northwest and Taxi Driver. The 11th on my list is It’s A Gift with W.C. Fields which I think is the funniest movie ever made.

  9. Gretta says:

    I have no illusions that the following are great, important, or life-changing. My only criteria is that I love them and can(and do) watch them repeatedly. Apart from Some Like It Hot being my all-time favourite, they’re in no particular order:

    Some Like It Hot
    To Catch A Thief
    East Of Eden
    Arsenic And Old Lace
    North By Northwest
    All About Eve
    Rebel Without A Cause
    All About Eve
    West Side Story
    Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

  10. Gretta says:

    Obviously I got a little too excited are All About Eve. :) Replace that with On The Waterfront.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Well, North by Northwest made it into several lists and I think it would be on mine, as would the Seventh Seal and Blazing Saddles (which I rewatch often). For the rest: The Third Man/The Pillow Book (but I’m a calligrapher)/[can't decide which Peter Sellers]/ LOTR maybe the Return of the King/Westside Story/ I think the other two are out there but I haven’t seen them yet.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon are ones I look at and love, but I’m not sure where they fit. Citizen Kane is an important film, sociologically important, but that’s different. I haven’t seen many of the Japanese films but Seven Samurai, Rain and a couple of others probably should be in there, too.

  13. Roger says:

    Mam with a Movie Camera, Les Enfants du Paradis, Stalker, La Regle du Jeu, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Fires Were Started, Duck Soup, Floating Weeds, Once upon a Time in the West, An Actor’s Revenge…
    what do you mean, stop? i’ve only just begun!

  14. martin says:

    In no particular order: The Godfather, Bladerunner, The Maltese Falcon, Pulp Fiction, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Chinatown, Duck Soup, Patton, Fargo, Seven Samurai. These would probably change from day to day, but about half of them would be consistent. Especially Maltese Falcon and Chinatown

  15. Steve says:

    Nosferatu (original)/Forbidden Planet/The Day The Earth Stood Still (OBVIOUSLY the original, not the recent piece of crap)/The Haunting (Original)/Psycho (Original)/Lawrence of Arabia (what???)/Monty Python and the Holy Grail/Airplane!/Arsenic and Old Lace/Scrooge (1951).

  16. Helen Martin says:

    I forgot Lawrence of Arabia for some reason. I don’t know about best or even innovative. A film you want to see over and over is a good film because it hits you somewhere. Arsenic & Old Lace for the performances, which are terrific. I watched ‘They Drive By Night’ last night on TCM and felt as if I was walking into my childhood. The men were my father’s friends and neighbours and the women, my mother’s. The second half where the fleet owner’s wife murders him and goes mad was rather inexplicable and over the top I thought. The commentary afterward (with Jules Feiffer & Robert Osbourne) revealed that they had mashed two scripts together, presumably so it wouldn’t be all working class, and that accounted for the difference. That first half is a wonderful portrait of North American trucking at the end of the depression, beginning of the 1940’s.

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