The Greatest Films Of All Time saga rumbles on with the release of the full top 250 titles.
No one can accuse the British Film Institute and Sight and Sound magazine of rushing through their once-a-decade Greatest Film Poll. After the top 100 appeared in December 2022, we’re getting the next 150 titles – taking us to 250 in total – on the last day of January 2023, with the full list of votes and voters not due until March. At this rate, we’ll be starting the next lot of votes before we’ve finished with the last one. Perhaps everyone is still in quiet shock at the winner.
Anyway, as with most polls, the also-rans are often more interesting than the winners. While we await the full voter list and – presumably – details of just how many people voted for each individual film, it’s safe to assume that in the points between 101 and 250, we’ll be getting those movies that only had a handful of votes – enough to make the lower echelons of the chart but not enough to be seen as important. If we assume – and I fear we must – that the ‘greatest film of all time’ winner was the result of a deliberate gaming of the system and a quiet campaign to overthrow the patriarchy, then here are the films that were perhaps more honestly voted for.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. This next batch of films is still packed with the sort of movies that no one outside of the most chin-stroking of cineastes has even heard of, let alone seen – once again, if the idea of expanding the voting panel was to make the results more diverse, then I suppose you could arguably say it succeeded, but if the idea is to make the whole thing seem less elitist… well…
There are a few notable observations to make. Firstly, there are more post-2000 movies here – 20, if I’m counting correctly, which range from the predictable to the baffling (arty darlings in the former, Mad Max: Fury Road in the latter; I mean, if you have to pick a Mad Max film, voting for this over Mad Max 2 seems the height of insanity). Populist box office hits and franchises that failed to make the grade before are here – Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Matrix and Pulp Fiction are traditionally more the darlings of the Empire crowd, so perhaps we’re seeing a coming together of the two diverse strands. It certainly suggests ‘interesting’ times ahead where half of the films will be big-budget box office smashes and the other half determinedly obtuse titles that are so obscure as to be virtually impossible to see yet still secure votes.
Genre films make more of an appearance here – Jaws, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Suspiria, The Thing, Alien, a couple of David Cronenberg titles (Videodrome and Crash) and, most pleasingly but not all that unexpectedly, Zuwalski’s Possession. While some of these titles have appeared on the Big List before, they seem to be in higher positions than before, again perhaps reflecting a shift in how ‘serious’ film critics view horror in particular. Similarly, there are the cult classics with big enough reputations to secure multiple votes – Pink Flamingos, A Touch of Zen, A Clockwork Orange, Michael Mann’s Heat (I’d rather vote for Paul Morrissey’s Heat personally, but whatever) – and the former big names that have slipped further and further down the list over the years as they – or their directors – fall out of fashion: Annie Hall, The Godfather Part II, Touch of Evil, Raging Bull, Chinatown, The Seventh Seal, Hiroshima Mon Amour, L’Eclisse, Black Narcissus, Abel Gance’s Napoleon, Sullivan’s Travels… do we need to mention that all of these are much better films than Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles? Of course not.
The lower part of the poll is where your Reprobate editor’s own choices make more frequent appearances. Three of my ten picks – Apocalypse Now, Daisies and Le Mépris – made the hot one hundred. A few more make the next 150 – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exterminating Angel, Last Year in Marienbad, Paris, Texas and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Had I been allowed to choose 20 films, I might have had more films on the list – I guess I’m not so removed from the critical consensus after all. Incidentally, it was good to see Twin Peaks: The Return at 152, higher than Fire Walk With Me – I certainly had that under consideration but couldn’t quite decide if it qualified as a film or not.
Anyway, what do we learn from this expanded list that we didn’t already know? That some beloved horror movies are on the cusp of the top 100 but are still not seen as respectable or worthwhile enough by a large percentage of critics? That people vote for what makes them seem smart rather than what they love? That cultural snobbery is still rampant in the film world? That comedy is still seen as inherently worthless? Perhaps. The real fun will come with the release of the individual votes, a chance to see who voted for what and – more importantly – which oddball outliers get a single vote. We’ll be back to this in March, I guess. In the meantime, here’s the top 250 to explore with a sense of wonder and despair: https://www.bfi.org.uk/sight-and-sound/greatest-films-all-time
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