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The Greatest Films Ever Made According to Pipe, Numbers 10 - 6


Sight and Sound have conducted their poll of the greatest films ever made every decade since 1952. So in September 2012 they presented, in various forms, their 7th definitive list of the world’s finest cinematic works. Although the voting structures for this poll have subtly changed over time; 2012’s vote was conducted from entries by over 1,000 critics, academics, distributors, writers, “programmers” and other cinephiles. I am informed that they received exactly 846 top-ten lists from all these various sources.

Having been published in September last year, I freely confess that we are not entirely ‘current affairs’ with regards this article and its subject matter. However, as this poll is conducted decennially, on those grounds alone, I think we can be granted a little leeway here. In any case, one should be allowed a certain amount of time in order to ‘digest’ such an extensive list. I must confess to the fact that I only saw the final results in Sight & Sound just before Christmas 2012, which has been a factor here as well.

Now either our voting pack was lost in the post, or, as I would far more realistically assume, having not been asked. We have therefore decided to give you Pipe’s very own ‘top ten’ list of cinema’s greatest ever works. Evidently, this is the primary reason for the article. I was prompted to consider compiling our own list for various other reasons also. Of which I can promise you all, not being asked our views on the matter by S & S wasn’t one of the reasons.

Firstly, I will give a little relevant background into the history of this poll, some of the voting information contained therein and some other points we consider of interest. In the process I will attempt to provide an explanation for compiling our list and introduce our ten films.

Prior to 2012, Orson Welles’ (1915 – 1985) magnificent picture Citizen Kane (1941) had been voted the greatest film in this poll in every decade, bar one, since 1952. Vittorio De Sica’s (1901 – 1974) heartbreaking Italian Neo-realist movie The Bicycle Thieves (1948), being the poll’s only other winner - winning the first poll of 1952.

I did have a suspicion that 2012’s poll would reveal a new film to be hailed as the finest and shunt ‘Kane’ from the top spot. I sensed, that although thoroughly deserving of this continued accolade, it was probably about time for a slight shift in critical opinion. Clearly polls of this nature and rating art like this is totally subjective and are - if one was to be completely honest - not always that useful. Nevertheless they certainly can be interesting, and if nothing else enjoyable to ‘mull over’.

Very few genuine aficionados of cinema would disagree that Citizen Kane is one of film’s most complete works and one of this art forms supreme achievements. Whether any film will ever again be deemed as the ‘best’ in this poll for 5 consecutive decades, I would think almost unthinkable now. Therefore, in that sense, there will always be a strong case in arguing for it as the greatest ever artistic statements in film. But, although being an immense admirer of Welles’ work and this film, I still felt it was an appropriate time for a new movie to top cinema’s longest running and most respected poll.

When seeing Sight & Sound’s list in December however, I was still fairly surprised by it. Again these things are all subjective, but I certainly agreed far more with the Director’s vote - their secondary poll, introduced in 1992 - than with the main Critics poll. Vertigo (1958) came 1st in the Critics list. It is a fabulous film and I would also agree that it is Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899 – 1980) best. Nonetheless, I personally find it puzzling and surprising that it has been considered to be cinema’s very best. To tackle this question in the critical depth it would deserve is something I won’t do on this occasion (sadly for some I hope); other than to say that it isn’t my favourite film. I respect S & S’s poll immensely and there are undoubtedly many great pictures in it. However I must say, I sway far more towards the ten films complied from director’s votes. Have a look at the lists for yourself and tell us what you think. There are links to the definitive results for all the polls on the earlier highlighted titles. S & S’s information about the poll can be found on these pages too. We have linked the pages we feel are of most importance to our article within this paragraph.

When it comes to how the votes are made and compiled S & S state that:

As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema. – Click this statement for S & S’s full description

In relation to their statement, we have tried to apply the same criteria when compiling our ten films. Nonetheless, in all honesty, I do think that their third “qualification of what is ‘greatest’ ” is the governing criteria. I may well be being presumptuous here, but I do consider an individual’s personal connections to an artwork, likely to over shadow their views in cases such as these. Is this not human nature after all? One can very rarely look at art objectively; regardless of what one may say. Ultimately it is what certain films have meant to the viewer. What specific films have meant to cinema is important, but for an individual this is a secondary consideration I would suspect.

Therefore in the spirit of these sentiments, I will introduce my ten films with a short succinct explanation as to what they mean to me and attempt to describe why I believe they are cinemas finest. I won’t re-tell the film – or much of it anyway. If those reading this want to find out about any of the movies in more depth, there are a whole plethora of sources, I would imagine. However, please do feel free to get in contact if there are any questions, or if you are seeking more information from us about the films, poll(s) or any other related topics.

As it often irks me those ‘greatest listings’ that start from 1 and work back; we will start by giving you our first 5 now and will then follow this post with numbers 5 to 1. Numerically I have no idea why it would ever be done any other way.


10) Mulholland Drive (2001), dir. David Lynch (1946 – )


The Trailer, which is just as ‘unique’ as the film itself


A film which has any number of interpretations, for me, is usually a positive; especially when none of them are confirmed or denied by the director himself. Fundamentally, I believe this to be one of the saddest and most poignant depictions of loneliness and confusion - contained within a ‘Post-Postmodern’ situation - that I have seen. Through this it manages to combine two seemingly opposing stylistic themes and treatments. In many ways it gives the impression and appearance of classic Hollywood and plays on this aspect through out. In relation to this, it makes subtle references to Billy Wilder’s (1906 – 2002) film Sunset Boulevard (1950). However I believe the picture’s real importance, is because it is an accurate reflection of a psychological state of mind. Therefore in my view - and as strange as this may seem to some - it is a sort of bizarre visual depiction of actual emotional ‘realism’. Why is this important? Because Lynch ingeniously shows what certain perceptions of fame or celebrity culture can do to individuals isolated in their present-day existences in big city environments - in this case L.A. & Hollywood. All these factors show how people can become absolutely trapped inside their own minds and isolated whilst leading what are in effect often abnormal and emotionally unhealthy lives. I do also include this film because this is one of the best representations of dreams and alternative realities I have seen in cinema.

Lastly, I honestly think that Lynch is ‘having a go’ (if you like) at what has become of the cultures associated with fame, the media and those who make a living from many of these ‘vocations’. What I am doing right at this moment may well fall into these categories. But as is the case with this great artist, he has achieved this critique so that very few people are aware of it. The true extent of this reading is definitely for another time. However, very simply I will say that all the various debates which have ensued on ‘the true meaning of this film’ prove the point some what. So, to put it far more straightforwardly than it should be, I state that: as strange as this movie seems, it will never be nearly as strange as ‘real’ life and ‘the life of the mind’ itself. Even so, it does a valiant attempt at demonstrating these odd facets of this kind of modern western existence.


9) Raging Bull (1980), dir. Martin Scorsese (1942 – )


“That’s Entertainment” and a monumental performance from De Niro


Few performances demonstrate the notion of - the now largely overhyped and misinterpreted “Method” - than Robert Deniro’s (1943 - ) central role as the boxer Jake LaMotte (1921 - ) in this film. Although hugely indebted to the likes of Brando, Dean and others; for me on pure acting alone he surpasses his dramatic ‘forefathers’ with this performance. This is a movie that combines the loose delivery of dialogue, so inspired by John Cassavetes, and evident in Scorsese’s early works like Mean Streets (1971) - with the more ambitious nature of later works such as Goodfellas (1990). I just find it a little sad now that this director has never really returned to this more realistic treatment, to any meaningful extent, since Raging Bull.

I do think the crucial reason for this film making my list is the relationship between the brothers in the film. The scenes between Joey, played by Joe Pesci (1943 - ), and Jake are as powerful as anything I have witnessed in film. The culmination of this takes place when Jake bumps into Joey in the street and attempts to embrace, and in a sense, make amends for his previous violent treatment of him. I have witnessed few more heartbreaking moments in cinema. If one scene was to sum up the film, few would be better than this one. The elusive nature of Joey’s body language and reaction to Jake’s embrace is central to the poignancy of the scene and why I believe it has always stayed with me. I also suspect this is the real reason why it has made my list.


8) Love Streams (1984), dir. John Cassavetes (1929 - 1989)


The scene we discuss starts at 6:35ish. You may watch the whole film here also


When considering why, or even what makes this film so emotionally effecting for me, I realised like many great works of cinema this can perhaps be deduced to a single, almost fleeting moment. This moment arrives as the film begins to come to its conclusion. It is simply contained in one inebriated laugh from John Cassavetes’ character Robert in the film. I have often wondered why this scene and in particular Cassavetes’ demeanour is so powerful. When looking a little deeper into the subject of this scene, I found that the Japanese director Shinji Aoyama had described his feeling about it in this way: At the end of Love Streams, Cassavetes smiles as he sees the dog next to him, which turned into a naked man. I live my life always wishing I can smile like that. I think I get what his sentiments might imply. I also believe that Cassavetes poetic use of the dog and the rain through out the scene act as clear apocalyptic references. Being a major admirer of Cassavetes films in general and knowing the condition he was in during the making of this film and towards the end of his life. I realise that in many ways this use of symbolism and his acting here is one of those rare moments in film when reality and fantasy become intertwined. The depth of emotion contained within this drunken laugh, falls somewhere between a laugh and a cry, and one gets the sense that it is not actually ‘acting’ at all. Everyone - and in particular Sarah, played by the great Gena Rowlands (1930 - ), Cassavetes wife in reality and his Sister in the film - have left Robert by the end. Leaving only the dog for companionship (oh, and some other animals too – but you’ll need to watch it for more on that). Everything in the film is leading up to this moment. As the rain falls and Bo Harwood’s beautiful score plays out, we look through the water soaked glass from outside at Cassavtes. For me this is pure art and truly one of the great moments in film.


7) Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), dir. Sam Peckinpah (1925 - 1985)


Simply Warren Oates doing what he does best


Unlike many of the other films on my list, I see this movie far more as a sum of all its parts. I believe it to be a great film because it is one of the best examples of fiction or fantasy, as metaphor for reality; or reality as Sam Peckinpah the director saw it. Capitalism’s addiction to money - and more often than not what comes with this seems to be War/violence - is presented in a violent cacophony. In what is in no small way a well acknowledged nod to John Houston’s (1906 – 1987) film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a film which equally shows what happens when greed becomes the chief motivation within a ‘narrative’. I also think that the insanity which ensues over the search for a man’s corpse in the film, is an indictment of the political and economic dimensions of a new Post-modern War fair. In the case of this period, this is clearly Vietnam.

I probably picked this Peckinpah picture over the equally magnificent The Wildbunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) - which both tackle their respective themes in equally violent visual glory - because of Warren Oates (1928 – 1982). One of America’s greatest screen actors and Sam’s favourite – now often described as a kind of alter ego for the director. Oates spent most of his career playing supporting roles. In this he is given centre stage and carries the picture in an unparalleled fashion. What is a kind of Shakespearean tragedy in a sense; the outcome of the film is inevitable almost from the start. However, by the time the ending comes, spiritually Bennie’s retribution is already complete. We root for him because he has realised that his love for Elita was far more important than money. But in this world, as soon as you stop being motivated by money, I’m afraid you’re finished. That sounds a little familiar; and is one of the many explanations why it is such a magnificent movie.


6) The White Ribbon (2009), dir Michael Haneke (1942 – )


One of the warmer moments in this often bleak tale


Like David Lynch and his previous entry in our list, Michael Haneke quite rightly neither confirms nor denies the variety of interpretations which have been attached to The White Ribbon. The well travelled explanation for the film’s succession of awful events is that it is a ‘cause’ - in a sense - for German fascism and why Hitler and the Nazis were able to gain power. There probably is something in this. However this would simply be a by-product for why the movie is so utterly devastating. One of the main characteristics of the film that struck me initially, was that I had never seen a film which has stronger, more disturbing and heart-rending performances from Children in it. They’re roles are at the centre of the film’s story and are undoubtedly why it has become such a masterwork of cinema; and now one of the reasons why it is on my list of ten. In addition, the reason that I feel it delivers such a meaningful impact, is because of the films perfectly constructed mise en scène, which is heavily reliant of the pictures unflinchingly steady pace. It has been shot in the most pristine black & white. This monochrome is so cool and has what I can only describe as a sort of ‘clean’ feeling that almost seems repressive. Within the context of the narrative and treatment, it fits the style of the film seamlessly. In its small northern German village setting in 1913, just prior to the First World War breaking out - a fact which is almost never mentioned until the end of the film - is a community that has a ‘veneer’ of strong religious moral codes. But as we find out through the film these simply mask the absolutely immoral, despicable and very ‘real’ violent acts which are perpetrated throughout. Lazily it has been called a ‘horror’ by some. However I believe that this film is almost its own category. It is far too frank and understated; that we are prompted to ask ourselves far bigger question than the obvious ‘whodunit’, as to what we have witnessed in the film. The actions of the society in The White Ribbon pose questions that require a much more universal reading. It appears from its countless interpretations, that the nature of Haneke’s open ended conclusion has motivated a greater, more universal enquiry.

The next post will reveal our top 5 films. There we will also give further details on how we decided our final 10 films and hopefully open the discussion out to the readers.

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