Last week, Sight & Sound magazine released their once-a-decade poll of the world’s greatest films. (In case you missed it, critics ranked Hitchcock’s Vertigo as the best film of all time, directors placed Ozu’s Tokyo Story at the top.) In a world where everyone from AFI to MTV churns out idiotic best-of movie lists, Sight & Sound's poll is just about the only one worth taking seriously. They poll rarely and they poll the right people- film directors and scholars who don't treat the task of forming the new canon frivolously.
This all naturally led me to ruminate on what ten films I would choose if I had a say in the matter. (Getting me to make a list is the easiest thing in the world.) However, I realize there’s no way to win at something like this. If my choices are too arcane, I look like a snob. If my choices are too populist, I look like a dullard. So I just tried to be true about what movies I love. If I come off like a philistine, at least I’m an honest philistine.
For what it’s worth, here’s what I like, right now, on an August day in 2012:
Note: I’ve been going through my archives lately and keep coming across odd pieces of writing that never went anywhere. I don’t remember writing this and have trouble imagining any audience that would want to read it. (I think it must have been an attempt at an Onion-style article?) Anyway, here’s one from the archives:
Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter Go On Date In Heaven
Moments after departing this mortal coil and entering the afterlife, famed playwright Harold Pinter and singer/actress Eartha Kitt met up for a hot dinner date in heaven on Friday. Pinter, author of several highly acclaimed plays including The Homecoming, had always been an admirer of Kitt’s performance as Catwoman on the Batman TV series, but had been too nervous to approach Kitt while living on earth. Likewise, Kitt had been an enthusiastic fan of Pinter's writing since seeing the 1963 Dirk Bogarde drama The Servant, which Pinter scripted.
Though the two never met while living, Pinter and Kitt died within 24 hours of each other on Christmas Eve, creating perfect timing for a heavenly dinner date. A nearby angel witnessed Pinter and Kitt dining on jelly beans atop of a fluffy cloud while romantic harp music played. Wooing Kitt with dry Pinter-esque witticisms, the playwright was able to get to second base with the singer. After being escorted to their cloud mansions by a band of angels, they made tentative plans for a second date. Kitt serenaded Pinter with a verse from her 1953 Christmas classic Santa Baby and the two deep kissed for several minutes.
This is not the first time two tenuously connected celebrities have rendezvoused in the afterlife. In 1989, a recently dead Bette Davis and Samuel Beckett canoodled at the Pearly Gates. And in August of 1998, Frank Sinatra got a wicked blowjob from Diana, Princess of Whales in the back of his cloud car.
In years past, I’ve usually made a top ten list of my favorite films. It’s a silly annual tradition that the internet has recently allowed me to make embarrassingly public. This year, after pushing through a bottleneck of top ten lists at the end of December, I decided to adopt a different method. Rather than praise the exact same films that were popping up on every critic’s list and nomination ballot, I wanted to illustrate that we had a very fine movie year even if you wiped this current slate of nominees clean. Hence, the idea of the Alternate Oscars.
One, we owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.
Two, every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else’s. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.
Three, when we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.
Four, no artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.
Five, at any time, and particularly at the present, the self respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on. They will fight or intrigue to work on a subject they feel is urgent or contemporary, and fight equally hard to avoid working on a trivial or pointless subject. And we agree with them and want the best workmen with us; and get them. These are the main things we believe in. They have brought us an unbroken record of success and a unique position. Without the one, of course, we should not enjoy the other very long. We are under no illusions. We know we are surrounded by hungry sharks. But you have no idea what fun it is surf-bathing, if you have only paddled, with a nurse holding on to the back of your rompers.
We hope you will come on in, the water’s fine.
”—The Archers Manifesto as outlined by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger