Greatness is Transitory

Yesterday afternoon I drove out to Universal to watch a new DCP of Vertigo, which is the basis of the forthcoming Bluray. I’m not going to share my reactions until later, but it did leave me wondering if Vertigo really and truly deserves its #1 position in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll. Every time I see it it gets a little creakier, just a little bit harder to get lost in. I used to think this 1958 film was eerily haunting and slightly spooky and totally swimming in emotional obsession like few other films in history, but it’s getting old and the Eisenhower-era seams are showing.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Vertigo too many times, but more and more I’m noticing and getting stopped by the exasperating, flat-footed aspects. That expository dialogue in that early scene in Midge’s apartment. James Stewart‘s inability to be even slightly covert as he follows Kim Novak around San Francisco. That nonsensical moment when the landlady of the McKittrick Hotel says that Novak hasn’t been in the hotel, a lame tease on Hitchcock’s part. Novak’s pathetic line to Stewart in her hotel room: “Like me?” Novak’s stupidity in putting on the Carlotta necklace. The absurdity of a heavily shadowed nun scaring Novak enough to fall or leap put of the San Juan Batista bell tower. I’m sorry but all these things were vaguely irritating me and then some.

Hollywood Elsewhere’s 45 or 46 Greatest Films of All Time: The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull, High Noon, Zodiac, Strangers on a Train, Barry Lyndon (except for the dead zone portion in Act Three), L’Avventura, Citizen Kane, The Social Network, North by Northwest, The Godfather, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, Shane, Sexy Beast, Taxi Driver, Some Like It Hot, Children of Men, On The Waterfront, The Wizard Of Oz, The Limey, the Sopranos epic, The Train, Goodfellas, On The Waterfront, Sunset Boulevard, The American Friend, Psycho, Blow Up, Prince of The City, Full Metal Jacket, L’eclisse, United 93, Vertigo, Deliverance, The Hit, Purple Rose of Cairo, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Only Angels Have Wings, Lolita, Bloody Kids, Amores perros.

  • Sasha Stone

    The list is kind of misleading because all it really says is that all of those critics agreed that Vertigo belonged somewhere in the top ten best films of all time. More believed that than believed Citizen Kane did. But to me that doesn’t necessarily mean they all thought it was the best film of all time.

    Having said that, I agree it’s either one or two.

  • Sasha Stone

    p.s. Sexy Beast!

  • cyanic

    I know I haven’t said anything in the previous threads about Taxi Driver, but how are you able to watch that repeatedly? I saw it once as a teenager and I still hear Jodie Foster pleading for the life of her John.

  • mizerock

    I remember having those same reactions to Vertigo when I saw it, years ago, and thinking I was just too young to get its genius at the time. It’s the exact opposite of a tightly-plotted mystery, with (as you note) several events and elements that don’t make sense at the time OR in retrospect. They work well to set up this spooky atmosphere and to confuse the main character (and audience), but they almost seem like cheats. And so much of what happens doesn’t register as either realistic OR as a stylish interpretation of how I could picture these characters seeing the world / reacting. It’s surely an interesting, even mesmerizing film, but greatest movie ever? I just don’t get it.

    Surely some of that feeling I get is due to the fact that even the straight-forward cinema of 1958 speaks a vastly different language than films today, or even from when I first got into watching movies (the 80s).

  • kdoucette

    That landlady is played by Oscar nominee/GG-winner Ellen Corby (I Remember Mama), a bit player for most of her career (she started in the industry as a script reader and screenwriter) until she hit it big with her role as the matriach of the Walton clan in The Waltons

  • Travis Actiontree

    Well, if you think “The Social Network” is one of the 45 greatest films of ALL TIME, no wonder you birthed kittens when it lost to “King’s Speech”.

  • Zach

    Well is it 45 or 46?

  • moviewatcher

    How, oh how, could you have North by Northwest on your 45 best OF ALL TIME? What is so great about that film? I asked this a few weeks ago on one of your posts and someone said it was the “framing of the shots”. I’m sorry, but no matter how beautiful the framing of the shots is, that doesn’t make up for an average film with an average script and average performances.

  • lazarus

    45 or 46 films, only three of them not in English.

    Maybe you should switch over to the Republican Party.

  • bill weber

    Wells sure loves his non-English-language films.

  • Monroe Bouchet

    Well he’s got room for a few more…only 42 here, plus one is a TV show.

  • bill weber

    Renoir, Kurosawa, Godard, Fassbinder, Kiarostami… all hackwork compared to United 93.

  • JLC

    I saw some of the lists that they used to create the Sight and Sound Poll. Matthew Vaughn included Rocky III.

    Which is to say, this is all subjective so whatever.

    What’s not subjective, however, is that The Sopranos is not a “film,” no matter how good it is. And I don’t think you want to open that bucket of worms.

  • Mr. F.

    “What’s not subjective, however, is that The Sopranos is not a “film,” no matter how good it is. And I don’t think you want to open that bucket of worms.”

    Wells took their ad campaign a little too seriously: “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”

    Given how hard some of us try to get him to watch some of the better shows out there… let him have it.

  • shefhammer

    I think the sight and sound poll would be more interesting if they asked critics/directors to list their 10 ‘favourite’ films. At the moment they ask them to list the ‘greatest’ and then stipulate that ‘greatest’ can mean most important, unique blah blah blah. Or something like that. I think the wording lends itself to older films and some of them I’m sure are ranked so highly because of how important they are in terms of revolutionising cinema. I mean, Battleship Potemkin is great and all – not a tough sit by any stretch and pretty enjoyable – but I’d much rather watch Social Network 25 times before I saw Potmemkin twice. Maybe that’s just me and maybe I just really like Social Network, but I reckon you ask people to list their favourite instead of the greatest, you will find many of Jeff’s top 45 or 46 would feature and it’d be less older film biased. Maybe that’s actually a less interesting proposition in the eyes of some but I’d like to see it for one and there’s no reason why both lists can’t coexist. Or maybe I’m wrong and favourite and greatest mean the same thing to those polled but I kinda doubt it. All I know is if I was asked to name the greatest films of all time I’d list my 10 favourites and be damned. And Silence of the Lambs would have it’s first vote (its zero vote status is stunning I think.)

  • LauraReeling

    Nothing great before 1939 either? No Sunrise?

  • Jesse Crall

    @shefhammer: I get what you’re saying. I imagine there’s overlap for most people between “greatest” and “favorite” lists, but you’d likely get more honesty out of a favorite list.

  • bill weber

    Greatest Comfort Food of All Time.

  • Eloi Wrath

    If Wells put together his top 50 favourite albums of all time and none of them were foreign-language or pre-1939, nobody would complain. It’s only in film snob circles that you’re expected to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every country’s cinema since the dawn of the artform.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Vertigo has more naturalistic dialogue than The Social Network.

    And just to put this out there to see if anybody else on earth agrees (and everybody else can take with the requisite grains of salt): The Children of Men is an unimaginative dystopia with blandly self-congratulatory politics, whose SOLE selling points are a couple of impressive tracking shots and some nice outdoor cinematography. As a literary vision of the future it is FAR cry from the imaginative and philosophical brilliance of 1984 and Brave New World, and as a cinematic vision of the same it doesn’t come within boot licking distance of A Clockwork Orange or Blade Runner.

  • bill weber

    btw JLC, I had to look up Matthew Vaughn — his ballot was in the directors’ poll, and he voted exclusively for studio biggies from 1962-91. Vertigo was not #1 in the directors’ list, Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” was.

  • JoeTanto

    Yeah, as always, LAZARUS, the 38-year-old suburban white boy, is the AUTHORITY on global cinema and gets all twitchy like the fucking Machine if anyone dares say they enjoy Hitchcock or Woody or Fincher or whoever more than they like watching a scratched-up slideshow of some Chinaman’s balls from 1914 called AZUUUP BAZANKWAD.

    Like most guys whack off to porn and centerfolds, I can see Laz whacking it to Glenn Kenny.

    Face it, foreign movies are in that SHITTY GREEN TINT like they were shot in an opium den and you don’t know who any of the actors are, and if it’s Asians LET’S BE HONEST, you can’t really tell Asian people apart.

    Also Lazarus is fucking full of shit here, because if Scorsese took a piss test into a cup, Laz would be hyping the results like it was the greatest thing ever and browbeat the fuck out of anyone who didn’t love it enough. You know, that eminently FOREIGN AND ARTSY PRE-1939 Marty Scorsese.

    You guys really sit around, for fun, watching movies from the ’30s? Yeah, that OSGOOD PERKINS sure is a pisser.

  • JLC

    @bill – apologies. I thought they factored the directors’ ballots into the list. I think my point is still valid, though.

    @Tristan, I agree. Never quite got the love for Children of Men. It’s a good film, but top 50 of all time? Along with the two you mention, I’d even put Road Warrior much higher on the list. Damn near every dystopia film made since (including CoM) uses Miller’s template. It’s the 2001 of post-apocalyptic films.

  • bill weber

    It’s a poll of film scholars. Scholars should be scholarly.

    Lex, please kill yourself. We need the room.

  • JoeTanto

    Unless you’re on a college campus, what good is being scholarly? Like do you get pussy from watching old bullshit? Can you imagine anyone awesome like a hot chick or a rapper or Fred Durst watching some old-ass dogshit from a trillion years ago? Like you get THE GANG together and want to put on a movie, you make them watch OZU?

    Yeah, sounds fun as fuck.

    OZU. I don’t even know who that is, except the name. Fuck him. Watch some John Stockwell shit instead, at least there’s white women in bikinis.

    FILM SCHOLARS. THEY’RE SCHOLARS, BETTY! SCHOLARS! IT’S FOR FILM SCHOLARS BETTY! WHERE ARE THE CLASSIC WORLD CINEMA SELECTIONS, BETTY? IT’S FOR SCHOLARS!

    CHRIST, do you guys like ever WATCH SPORTS or TALK TO NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS IN REAL LIFE? Like do you hit up the receptionist who’s listening to her One Direction in the break room and tell her about fucking PANTHER PATCHOULI?

    WE’RE SCHOLARS. More like beardos and bullet-belt emos who think their Criterion spines make them some kind of bullshit authority.

    Hey, maybe I’ll go buy every DVD that was issued by Blue Underground and call myself a SCHOLAR. MAKE ABOUT AS MUCH SENSE.

    WE’RE SCHOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLARS.

    Lazarus ain’t no fucking scholar, and Glenn Kenny’s a 54-year-old jamoke from Jersey. FUN PEOPLE don’t watch bullshit.

  • Watcher Of The Skies

    2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001

    You’ve already got GODFATHER 2 and GOODFELLAS on the list and you put the SOPRANOS on it ,too? Really, Wells? Wow, the lameness of that pic is staggering. Especially when there at least 10 better shows you could’ve chosen. Almost as your lack of any great foreign films.

    No “movie Catholic” can be a true one unless he/she enjoys a healthy diet of the best cinema in the world, which often is not made in the English language.

    The horror, the horror.

  • Watcher Of The Skies

    It’s hysterical to see Lex equate everything in life down to “pussy.”

    The only thing more funny is that I’m gay and I’ve had more pussy than Lex will ever see in his life.

    March on, brother.

  • JoeTanto

    “…he/she enjoys a healthy diet of the best cinema in the world…”

    OH CHRIST is that EMBARRASSING, I’m like hiding under the fucking floor.

    A HEALTHY DIET. CHRIST.

  • Breedlove

    Yeah, I fucking adore BARRY LYNDON, but FULL METAL JACKET over 2001? Also you need some Malick, PTA, and CHINATOWN on there. And the Coens. NO COUNTRY.

    Lex you fucking kill me…so funny…

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    And Full Metal Jacket over 2001? Jesus, 2001 makes a better stab at feeling like it was shot in outer space and the Infinity and Beyond than FMJ does Vietnam.

    JLC – love The Road Warrior, that flick never gets old.

  • JoeTanto

    For the zillionth goddamn, and this is Eloi Wrath’s point, is a “music Catholic” expected to know every goddamn Masai Warrior xylophone player in the Congo?

    ‘Cause most of them just rehash the same Beatles, Cult, Clash, Radiohead, Dylan, Boss, Stones bullshit.

  • Ghost of Kazan

    Don’t let Lex near the peanuts. There will be an incident.

  • Colin

    Shane? Really? I suppose I can’t look past the glossed-over adapting the film took.

  • Colin

    As for the world’s cinema argument: most of these scholars spend so much time patting themselves on the back, they forget to watch and analyze the film.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Obviously, this lists are hugely subjective, and their sole virtue lies in the arguments they generate, but any list that includes The Children of Men, United 93, and The Social Network, while ignoring the whole of the Coens, Lynch, Mann, Altman, Peckinpah, Leone, Fellini, Tartovksky, and so on and on, borders on being OUTRIGHT PERVERSE.

  • bill weber

    Some of Wells’ objections to Vertigo suggests he belongs to the club Hitchcock labeled “the Plausibles.”

    And since he listed On the Waterfront — which I grew up loving — twice, can we name some things about that film, besides Brando’s performance and the location shooting, that haven’t aged too well? Like, the rest of it?

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    Jesus Christ, Jeff, if you’re going to skimp on the foreign films and overload on more contemporary American bullshit, at least make it fucking CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE or something.

    What a shitty-ass list from a supposed “Movie Catholic.”

    And how did The Sopranos get in there? It’s not TV, it’s HBO – BUT IT AIN’T MOVIES.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Obviously, these lists are entirely subjective, and their only real virtue lies in the arguments they generate, but any list that includes The Children of Men, United 93, and The Social Network, while ignoring the whole of the Coens, Lynch, Mann, Altman, Peckinpah, Leone, Fellini, Tarkovsky, and so on and on, just borders on being OUTRIGHT PERVERSE. Subjective is subjective, but off the top of my head, Heat, LA Confidential, a couple of Tarantinos, and any number of Coens’, piss from on high on United 93 and The Children of Men. Very strange list.

  • cinefan

    I’m with you, Breedlove, on the exclusion of Chinatown. I would also replace North by Northwest with Notorious, a vastly superior Cary Grant-Alfred Hitchcock pic.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Apologies for double post which was probably tedious enough once.

  • JoeTanto

    Any list with no Bay is automatically suspect.

  • Breedlove

    At the end of the day, the best movie ever made is probably THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

    It is so.

  • facls

    I love North by Northwest and it’s on my list as well, but I find it odd that Jeff can put that movie on his list and on the other hand have problems with Jaws. I mean, North excels in every possible category for me (writing directing, acting, cinematography) and I love it to death, but in its essence it’s a thriller with no real undercurrents. Jaws is a different type of thrill ride, but underneath it there’s some real work to tap into your fears. And it also excels in every category I can think of (of course, with the exception of the fake looking shark).

  • Jesse Crall

    Just about any list of 45 films would piss a lot of people off because of their supposed definitions of great filmmaking. Film constantly develops so Jeff probably favors flicks that utilize building technologies and styles and storytelling techniques rather than older movies that work as influences more than anything else. And that’s FINE. It’s subjective. The rationale behind lauding/panning a film is more important than the judgment itself.

    I could pick and choose an array of multi-cultural films in difference genres spanning the last 90 years and drop in a couple of oddball picks like “Tango and Cash” to sound unique but it wouldn’t be an honest list AT ALL.

  • Alexander

    I don’t agree with many of Jeff’s choices but it’s his list and his list is his list. (Okay, including The Sopranos is just… odd…) I’m in agreement with Tristan and others that it would be cool to see Lynch and the Coens represented, or some more great cinema from around the world and not in the English language, or a less-contemporary bent in general but it’s ultimately his list and while most of the picks aren’t surprising to anyone who’s read Jeff over the years, I’m glad that he’s giving us his honest thought rather than throwing Tokyo Story or Andrei Rublev in because they’re supposed to be there.

    Although, frankly, I’d rather watch Out of the Past a hundred times over Children of Men or United 93 or a bunch of these, but that is positively one of my favorite films of all time (Best… Noir… Ever), but Jeff is more utterly enamored with other films and that is okay.

  • lazarus

    Eloi, hard to make a comparison with band/song-based music, because without understanding the language of what’s being sung, you’re not able to fully appreciate the work. Subtitles allow us to watch stuff from all over the world, which is a privilege. Shouldn’t be looked at as homework.

    Now obviously there is instrumental work that doesn’t require language, which is how many of the classical composers have had such a global audience for centuries.

  • Gideon

    This sort of thing is obviously inherently subjective to at least some extent. I’ve always felt that the sweet spot lies somewhere in between Lex’s POV and these lists that are overloaded with movies that might not have aged well and really aren’t that much fun for most people to watch nowadays.

    IMO Hitchcock’s work has not aged well. There are multiple elements in all his films that just feel so contrived. I think many of the “scholarly” choices just don’t age that well, really. I remember a class in film school that studied Welles, Ophuls, Losey, Polanski, and Kubrick. It REALLY picked up when it got to Polanski and Kubrick, and I’m saying that when it was obvious I liked the first three directors much more than most of the people in the class.

    The professor would spend a whole class talking in hushed tones about how incredible some tracking shot was in Lola Montes… and, yeah, it was a pretty awesome shot, but the movie just wasn’t that engaging, and people (well, 95% of people, anyway) are there for the story, to connect with the characters, to be entertained, to be moved, to think differently afterwards even in some small way, not to be impressed by some fancy thing somebody did with the camera.

    I do think Jeff’s list needs a few more foreign films. I mean, it’s pretty weird to argue that NONE of Bergman, Fellini, Wong Kar-Wai, Kurosawa, Ray, etc. belong in that sort of list. That’s a big problem IMO, but other than major caveat, I kind of like Jeff’s picks in a sort-of overall-vibe sense, and I like that he includes stuff from the past few years.

  • Thom Phoolery

    Yeah, 46 great movies and no room for Bergman? Not even Casablanca or Notorious? WTF, dude?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Jesus Christ, you guys are so miserable. Seriously, how can you give a flying fuck what someone else loves as compared to you? Have you all shat over Grantland’s picks of the greatest sequels of all time too? Turn the page.

    Just because you think (and obsess over the idea that) United 93 is not up to par with Rashomon or Blood Simple doesn’t make Wells wrong. When you whine and cry about it, It makes you sound like a nose-in-the-air asshole.

    I love Halloween and Jaws and The Thing and Evil Dead 2 and Kentucky Fried Movie. And good on Wells and the rest of you for loving your movies as well.

  • Rashad

    Vertigo stinks. The most absurdly, unecessarily convoluted movie ever. Just a bore to sit through, and The Cock’s worst. Why isn’t Rope loved more? When is Rope going to get its due?

    Eloi is spot-on with the music analogy.

    And Lex including a Freddy Got Fingered reference is lost on the masses.

  • roland1824

    I’m liking this reconsideration of The Sopranos as one continuous epic. It was shot on film, never compromised for commercials, and is the vision of a single auteur in David Chase. Lead the way on this, Jeff.

  • Jesse Crall

    FWIW David Thomson threw The Sopranos in his “Have You Seen It?” book which was virtually all movies.

  • Mr. F.

    “Vertigo stinks. The most absurdly, unecessarily convoluted movie ever. Just a bore to sit through, and The Cock’s worst. Why isn’t Rope loved more? When is Rope going to get its due?”

    Possibly when people stop referring to him as “The Cock.”

  • Glenn Kenny

    Lex, I’m only 53. The rest is accurate though.

  • Mr. F.

    “I’m liking this reconsideration of The Sopranos as one continuous epic. It was shot on film, never compromised for commercials, and is the vision of a single auteur in David Chase. Lead the way on this, Jeff.”

    TV series can never, never, EVER be including when discussing movies.

    Why? Because the series creator(s) are able to see the praise — and criticism — of their work at the end of each season and respond accordingly. Now, you can say that “auteurs like Simon are good enough to ignore that!” But NO ONE, no matter how much of a genius, works in a vacuum… especially over several+ years of a successful show. Does an audience hate a character that’s important to the series? Guess what — chances are, their role will likely be diminished in future seasons. (“Lost” fans — think of Nikki and Paolo in Season 3… two characters who were ENTIRELY CONCEIVED as a result of fan complaints that there were no “new” survivors of the crash… who were later ONLY KILLED OFF because fans hated them.) Do audiences love a supporting character? Guess what — they’re going to be made more important in future seasons. Call it the “Fonz effect.” (And no, I am not equating “Happy Days” with “Sopranos.”)

    Anyway, I don’t care about “evidence” whether or not a TV show adjusted course midway through its run. That isn’t even relevant. But as long as a TV series HAS THE CHANCE to get feedback from its audience, and can change direction as a result… TV series should never be equated to film.

    (NOTE that I didn’t include TV movies or even miniseries…)

    Also, to your point about “compromising for commercials” — how is that any different than how “Sopranos” was compromised by both 1. its 60-minute run time per episode, and 2. its season orders? Or a related question: is it possible for a movie to be truly “great” if the studio/financer imposes a running time on the filmmaker? Or can a movie be “great” if it has been compromised by product placement, even if its unobtrusive? After all, it’s not the filmmaker’s creative choice to include it — it’s solely a financial agreement made to help pay for the film’s production.

    Bottom line: arguing that “commercials” are a compromise ignores the many hundreds of compromises made to get films produced.

  • Rashad

    Tanto, quit protecting your twitter.

  • lazarus

    Gideon, you make some good points about what’s going to work for modern audiences, even adventurous ones, but it’s rather hard to predict. I project movies for friends (mostly peeps in their mid-20’s) every week, and try to mix it up genre, time period, and language wise (about one foreign film a month). As with your class, the two Ophuls I’ve shown (Letter To An Unknown Woman and Lola Montes) did not go over too well. And yet they applauded multiple times during Renoir’s French Cancan, and loved Dreyer’s Vampyr and Fassbinder’s Marriage of Maria Braun.

    Not sure about your Hitchcock claim, though. That’s gonna vary from film to film. I can see a crowd not getting into Vertigo, but I can tell you that my friends loved Shadow Of A a Doubt and Rear Window. Same reaction to Preminger’s Laura. I would think John Ford’s stuff would date worse than Hitch, but She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers both went over well and made some new John Wayne fans.

  • JD

    The superficial beat-by-beat enjoyment of the film is not the key to its long-term importance. Vertigo lives on because of its very deep philosophical undercurrents. If you’re only talking about the visual style and the performances, you’re completely missing the thing that makes it great.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    I’ve no problem with The Sopranos being in there. Obviously, it’s not a movie – but there is nothing wrong with provocatively acknowledging that the lines have been blurred – that the role of cinema as the primary, most exciting medium of visual story-telling has been seriously challenged in recent years by television. You’d have to have your head in the sand not to acknowledge that in some way or another. The Sopranos was 100% per cent better cinema than a lot of things I have seen in a theater.

    “That isn’t even relevant. But as long as a TV series HAS THE CHANCE to get feedback from its audience, and can change direction as a result… TV series should never be equated to film”.

    Test screenings and re-shoots/edits?

    Referring to Hitchcock as “The Cock” is effing genius. I’m sure the man who once allegedly told Paul Newman that his motivation was his paycheck would probably appreciate the irreverence. Any any rate, Tippi Hedron probably wouldn’t object.

  • Rashad

    Themes are irrelevant if they’re not delivered in a way that’s entertaining. And before anyone goes off on their “art” tangent, all movies are art, and all movies are entertainment. There’s no such thing as a great boring movie. If it works, it captured your attention, and you enjoyed it.

    These lists, and the need to bow down to canon is one of the worst things about so called film fans. They completely remove the subjectivity behind movies, in favor of replacing it with a system that suits sports more than art.

    Also when it comes to Hitchcock, critics tend to overanalyze his works, and give him more of a pass than they would any director these days. If Michael Bay had the audacity to try and kill someone by running them over with a plane, then having that plane randomly crash into a stationary truck and blow up, he would be mocked. Hitchcock used contrivance, after contrivance for the sake of it, and didn’t care one bit about logic.

  • Breedlove

    I want to see a Lex/Glenn Kenny tv show. HE’s two finest commenters. Glenn you consistently crack me up as well. I salute you. A Wells/Lex/Kenny tv show would be GOLD. Have those three on the podcast and maybe I’ll try listening for once.

  • Rashad

    If Sight and Sound can include The Decalogue on their greatest films list in 2002, then Wells has every right to include The Sopranos.

  • Jesse Crall

    “There’s no such thing as a great boring movie. If it works, it captured your attention, and you enjoyed it.”

    I agree, but what’s boring to you might fascinate me and vice-versa. I thought Days of Heaven was boss but The Tree of Life’s noodlings kept me checking my watch every time the actors left the screen. A Dangerous Method felt flat but plenty of critics raved about it.

    Flicks that sacrifice a swift plot for deeper psychological probing or visual artistry might connect with some audience members in a profound manner while alienating others even if both groups are thoughtful viewers. Any bright moviegoer can appreciate Pitt’s acting in TOL or the hazy beauty of Malick’s Texas but the lengthy digressions didn’t always resonate, so I call it indulgent but someone else calls it a masterpiece. Life goes on.

  • Bastard in a Basket

    Kudos to Jeff on this list. United 93 is a flat out masterpiece. One of the most intense, visceral movies ever made. You’re severely lacking in humanity if you’re not moved by it.

    His inclusion of the Sopranos is even better. For those who “get it”, the final season of the show (Parts 1 and 2) is the greatest season of any show in television history. It deserves serious study as a work of art and right up there with the greatest films released in the last 25 years. And the final scene is perhaps the most creative and frightening depiction of death ever put on film; a first person perspective that Chase should be getting more credit for (probably because he doesn’t like to talk about the ending). That editing pattern in the final scene is something that Kubrick would have been proud of.

    Also the Sight and Sound poll is sort of a joke. I loved Mullholland Drive but is it really the best movie that came out in the last 20 years?? It was much higher than Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven, and Goodfellas. That is just silly. Did you actually see there top 250? L.A. Confidential was not even on it. Those film snobs don’t think a guy like Curtis Hanson is “auteur” enough for them. How is AI (which I do love) on the list but not Schindler’s List?

  • K. Bowen

    I’ve grown colder on Vertigo lately. One reason is that Notorious has a lot of the same themes but more subtly with a more entertaining story. A second reason is that watching L’Avventura recently, I realized that it was Vertigo from Judy Barton’s perspective, but a better film overall.

  • Los Bostonian

    I appreciate Wells list for its audacity, though I wish he’d watch Breaking Bad and The Wire before throwing The Sopranos on a film list. The ending may be one of the greatest of all time: tv or film.

    What’s rarely brought up with Vertigo is Jimmy Stewarts very uneven performance in a post Brando acting world. Every one of his Vertigo swoons are laughable. Another point of contention is that we laugh when films sfx from the 70s/80s become comically outdated, yet some of the animated bits in Vertigo are flat out ridiculous. It’s a great movie but definitely not number one and the performances in Citizen Kane have aged much better, ditto Casablanca.

  • Mr. F.

    “That isn’t even relevant. But as long as a TV series HAS THE CHANCE to get feedback from its audience, and can change direction as a result… TV series should never be equated to film”.

    “[What about] Test screenings and re-shoots/edits?”

    Nope — not like test screenings in this case, since you aren’t releasing your movie to theaters and making it available to anyone who has the means to view it. The more accurate comparison is to the “Special Edition” versions of the original Star Wars trilogy — changing things after the release, and in some cases, changing them back for the home video release when they didn’t go over so well. And we all know how much people respect the artistry of the Special Editions, right?

    “His inclusion of the Sopranos is even better. For those who “get it”, the final season of the show (Parts 1 and 2) is the greatest season of any show in television history. It deserves serious study as a work of art and right up there with the greatest films released in the last 25 years.”

    Look, I agree with you. But again: TELEVISION SHOW. If we’re going to open up a list of “Best Movies” to a TV show because it’s “great art,” here are some other titles we should put on the list:
    – Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: sure, the visuals are lacking, but the sound design and score are fantastic;
    – Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: amazing imagery;
    …and so on.

    Yes, Sopranos was amazing. So was The Wire, as Bostonian says. People love Breaking Bad MORE than either of those shows. I happen to love Mad Men. But again… why do any of these well-acted, well-written, well-directed, well-shot TV projects warrant inclusion on a list of “Best Films”?!

  • JLC

    Films by their nature require a lot more discipline. They must tell a story within the constraints of two, or at most, three hours, with a beginning a middle and an end.

    TV shows, no matter how well made, do not require such discipline and are under a totally different set of rules. Take the Sopranos for example. As I recall Drea de Matteo was written out of the show because she had signed to play Matt LeBlanc’s sister on the Joey sitcom. Now, it may have been the plan all along for Adriana to have the fate she did. But in that case, the timing was dictated by the real world, not any choice of the storyteller.

    I suppose you could talk me into shows in which the entire arc was planned ahead of time, and the length of that arc was not extended or truncated by the dictates of ratings. But since, outside of miniseries, I don’t think any such shows exist, I don’t think you can include them in film list discussions.

  • Floyd Thursby

    “The absurdity of a heavily shadowed nun scaring Novak enough to fall or leap put of the San Juan Batista bell tower.”

    Hitchcock’s Catholic guilt entangled with his fear of death.

    I would love to hear Wells explain why he loves Some Like It Hot, Wizard of Oz, and Deliverance.

  • mizerock

    @JLC the friend that introduced me to Babylon 5 insisted that JMS had the whole story planned out ahead of time, with multiple contingency plans in place if any actors departed. But then again, I’m also told that the 4th season wrapped up the planned story in haste, and then they had to make up new subplots for season 5.

  • Eloi Wrath

    JLC: But there are plenty of examples of films that changed significantly from their original script based on unforeseen things happening on set. Take Oliver Reed dying midway through Gladiator, or the shark in Jaws malfunctioning, etc.

  • Raising_Kaned

    “The superficial beat-by-beat enjoyment of the film is not the key to its long-term importance. Vertigo lives on because of its very deep philosophical undercurrents. If you’re only talking about the visual style and the performances, you’re completely missing the thing that makes it great.”

    Exactamundo, JD.

    The thing I’ve always really appreciated about Hitchcock (I refuse to refer to him as “The Cock”) is that he’s able to work in so many different genres and tones, all while firmly retaining his auteurist stamp (and — by proxy — thematic obsessions). Psycho is narratively experimental (which makes sense given when it was made), Rope is formally experimental, NxNW is fun and commercial (in some of the same ways that we’d associate a “good” blockbuster today of being), Strangers on a Train all builds from its truly subversive central idea, Rebecca‘s his straighit-ahead “Oscar-bait” pic, To Catch a Thief is light and breezy (my Mom loves it, even though she doesn’t care for most of Hitch’s work), Notorious is a study in high suspense, even by his incredibly elevated standards (we almost always know more than every character onscreen, which can make it an excruciating — in a good way — sit).

    Aside from themes and a wry sense of humor (which almost always pokes its head through in one way or another in his flicks), what all these movies have in common is that they’re all highly influential, and well-made.

    Out of all of AH’s work, it feels like Rear Window and Vertigo generally get the most love from “movie fans” (which is different from a cinephile) — although it’s interesting to me, and heartening, that Psycho seems to be picking up steam in both the S&S polls. The former does that clever thing where the entire picture is some sort of metaphor for the movies (with Stewart as “the director,” the apartments across from him being his “screen,” and Grace Kelly, well…she’s the “star” in both!) which have subsequently been a bit of a formula for the likes of such greats as Contempt, Mulholland Drive, Inception, Bad Education, Barton Fink, and oh let’s not forget last year’s Oscar winner!

    Vertigo I still think is his best. And in this case, also my “favorite.” I don’t know what to tell you about the stuff that bothered you, Jeff. I think it pretty clearly isn’t designed to be a literal film in the strictest sense (perhaps it’s telling that so many on your list of list of “greatest” are). I know many of you will call that a cop-out, but watching Vertigo puts me in a trance-like state, and I go with it. I think he’s digging more deeply in trying to achieve psychological (or psychosexual) truth than anything else, and guess what? That shit often isn’t very logical.

    The list of other directors that can put me in a trance-like state is a short one, by the way (and perhaps the only way we should attempt to quantify true artistic “greatness” in a filmmaker): Murnau, Lang, Kurosawa, Welles, Godard, Kazan, Kubrick, Polanski, Malick, Lynch, Noe…Scorsese (although not anytime recently), Coppola (ditto), probably De Palma (his visual skill set is pretty astounding), maaaybe Altman…I thought QT and PTT both finally broke through in the past 5 years. I know I’m leaving some pretty big names off that list, but that’s the best I can do off the top of my head.

  • JLC

    @mizerock, that’s the nature of episodic TV. Apparently, a simliar thing happened with LOST, which was given one last seaston to wrap up after the ratings had started to slip (though I refuse to believe that the “Heaven’s waiting room” was ever part of any master plan).

    I’m not saying these shows aren’t well-plotted or ambitious- they clearly are. But they change as they go along according to the dictates of the real world.

  • JLC

    @Eloi, but in those cases, the fundamentals of the storyline itself did not change. And the stories were still resolved within the structure of the film.

    There are plenty of examples where a film DID fundamentally change due to the death or disability of a cast member mid-stream. Ask Terry Gilliam or Douglas Trumbull about that. But those films, if they got finished at all, seldom make any top 50 lists.

  • Raising_Kaned

    “I’ve grown colder on Vertigo lately. One reason is that Notorious has a lot of the same themes but more subtly with a more entertaining story.

    What’s rarely brought up with Vertigo is Jimmy Stewarts very uneven performance in a post Brando acting world. Every one of his Vertigo swoons are laughable.”

    Wow, I understand the need to “knock the top dog” and all, but you guys are being REALLY rough on Vertigo, man.

    I don’t know that Notorious is really any more thematically-similar to Vertigo than a handful of other AH releases. Do you mind being a little more specific?

    As far as Stewart, I think we need to appreciate just how far outside of his normal acting comfort zone he was in Vertigo. Hitch does a very clever thing in offering him this role — after a nice test-run in Rope — because this is a movie icon that was not used to playing this kind of obsessively dark role AT ALL (although there are definitely hints of it through small stretches of Capra’s IAWL).

    The fact that he’s able to carry the part at all (I happen to think he’s pretty spectacular, but obviously YMMV) is gravy on top of the fact that his image is being subverted in a very calculated way. The closest recent example I can think of is Cruise in Magnolia (maaaybe Denzel in Training Day). They’re really, really good — but the mere sight of seeing them playing such a character provides a decent amount of the “shock and awe” framework.

  • JLC

    @Kaned- Add to your list Henry Fonda in OUATITW. Reportedly showed up the first day wearing brown contacts and a beard. Leone said no, he wanted everyone to see the Fonda they knew and loved, especially the ice-blue eyes. Worked like a charm.

  • Raising_Kaned

    “There are plenty of examples where a film DID fundamentally change due to the death or disability of a cast member mid-stream. Ask Terry Gilliam or Douglas Trumbull about that. But those films, if they got finished at all, seldom make any top 50 lists.”

    @JLC — Oh, I dunno about all of THAT. As a DVD-extra watching fiend, I’m always surprised by the number of “happy accidents” that happen on the set of films (of course, you can always make the Boy Scout argument that these accidents only turn out happy for those who are “always prepared”).

    Listen, I agree with you 100% on the concise discipline needed for telling a story within the confines of a film versus a serialized television show (that’s why I’ll always be a cinema guy at heart). I also really love the fact that when a movie is released, it pretty much “is what it is” without having the benefit of responding to public/critical opinion over time (yeah, I know…test screenings and director’s cuts muddle this point a little). But if you read daily film sites at all — which I don’t necessarily recommend — I think you’d have a hard time saying that motion pictures aren’t subject to the same sort of “real world” scheduling snafus as TV.

    Now maybe on a movie, you’re able to “wait around” for your star to free himself up because the deadline pressure is (usually) a little less pronounced. But the supporting cast is likely going to be shuffled as a result — it’s a very small minority of actors that have the luxury of working on only one or two movies per year. This doesn’t even take into account specific examples of “woulda, coulda” like a Joe Carnahan-helmed M:I III, or Pitt in The Fountain, among countless others (just read about Rourke being kicked out of Seven Psychopaths the other day; too bad because I bet he would have killed in that, too).

  • Raising_Kaned

    Absolutely, JLC, re: Fonda in OUATITW.

    I’m sure there are a TON of other really good examples of this that I’m just not thinking of (not a bad idea for a separate thread, really). I think Kubrick did an interesting “couple” variation on this Hollywood subversion with Tom & Nic in EWS.

    Now we can likely debate how successful or unsuccessful this move was cinematically ’til the cows come home, but — at the very least — I think it’s interesting to see how quickly their marriage dissolved after shooting their scenes for Stanley (although maybe not, now that we’ve basically seen that cycle repeat itself over again almost identically with Holmes, without the “detriment” of sharing the screen to “play out” scenes of sexual dissatisfaction and marital strife).

  • JLC

    @Kaned, I guess I’m having a hard time explaining what I mean. Let’s say Jaws has the following plot: A->B->C->D. The shark doesn’t work as advertised, so you can’t show him as planned in A and B. But the plot doesn’t fundamentally change as a result in C and D. Let’s use the same analogy for Gladiator. Oliver Reed dies. He was supposed to appear in more scenes in B and throughout C, but those scenes weren’t shot. So you do some trickery to fill out what you can in C and rewrite D. But in both cases, the film is still fundamentally what it was to begin with ABCD.

    Now change the analogy to TV, where each letter is a season. Let’s say LOST was designed to go ABCD. But the ratings slipped, so now it’s got to go ABD. Or in the case of Babylon 5, the ratings were better than anticipated, so the arc became ABCD->E. In both cases, the story fundamentally changed from inception because of the requirements of serial TV.

  • JLC

    (hit submit too soon) And in the case of the TV shows, the change in the story doesn’t happen until A and B have already aired. So the story really doesn’t have the integrity it does with film, where the changes caused by the “happy accident” are made on the fly before release.

  • Raising_Kaned

    No, I get where you’re coming from there, and I totally agree — although I really do wonder how many people (outside of you and me) would inherently take the relatively immalleable nature of a film as a “positive” in this day and age.

    I know I’ll get blasted for this (assuming enough people check back into this thread), but filmmaking is really the “purer” artform of the two in the sense that it’s much more likely to reward the viewer with a singular and uncompromising vision (by the same token, I also think it’s more likely to really piss the viewer off, too).

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few solid counterexamples on both ends of the spectrum (not to mention a few crossovers in both directions a la Abrams or Lynch), but I think you’re right that a lot of it has to do with the fundamental difference between the two mediums.

  • JLC

    Because of the limitations we’ve discussed, I’ve really begun to sour on the long-form narrative TV show. The shows are fine as they go along. But try as they might, very few ever “stick the landing,” assuming the end really was what was intended all along. And many never even get to film an end. I personally never cared for the ending of The Sopranos. I thought the last season of LOST was a mess. And don’t get me started on Battlestar: Galactica.

    The one show I’m still intrigued about is Breaking Bad because apparently the creators are getting to end the show in precisely the way they planned from the beginning. But I remain cautious.

  • jasonb

    When Jimmy Stewart is dragging Kim Novak up the stairs at the end, he’s absolutely brilliant. You people.

  • Floyd Thursby

    JLC: The final season of Twin Peaks proved Lynch had no great plan.

  • JLC

    Floyd: I seem to recall that Lynch’s involvement largely ended when they revealed Laura Palmer’s killer fairly early in the second season. But you’re right. After that, there was no real reason for Agent Cooper to hang around Twin Peaks, but they kept spinning their wheels with the whole Bob thing. A good early example.

    Incidentally, a mynah bird on the show actually tipped off the killer’s identity before the end of the first season. My friends were pissed when I figured it out.

  • roland1824

    TV is a compromised medium, no question. But that doesn’t mean the final end product can’t later be judged to be a great film. Charles Dickens’s novels were serialized in newspapers before being published as books.