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From "2001" to "Vertigo," here are the 10 best films ever

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

It’s no exaggeration to say that participating in the Sight and Sound “Greatest Films of All Time” poll feels like being invited to a royal party at Buckingham Palace.

That’s not just because the magazine is based in London and published by the British Film Institute. It’s mainly because the Sight and Sound poll, taken every 10 years, has so much tradition and authority behind its 70 years of surveying and expanding critical thinking about the movies.

It’s the one film poll that truly matters for critics and other cinephiles.

I first participated in Sight and Sound’s poll in 2012. It was a task I approached joyfully, but one that required some deep soul searching. I figured my Top 10 list for 2022 would be easier, as I’d already done most of the heavy mental lifting a decade earlier. More fool me.

I didn’t reckon on how my tastes would evolve over the past 10 years, not to mention my guilty feelings about omissions from the list. I’ve attempted to rectify the latter by swapping in two films: Spike Lee’s cultural conscience-tweaker “Do the Right Thing” and David Lynch’s Hollywood fever dream “Mulholland Drive.”

This necessitated swapping out F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” and Terrence Malick’s head-tripping “The Tree of Life.” I still value Murnau’s and Malick’s films, although now I do so more with my mind than my heart.

I’ve decided I want the movies on my all-time greatest list to represent an emotional response as well as a critical one. I’ve grown to better appreciate the work of Lee and Lynch over the years and I’m delighted to place their personal bests on my tally of masterful motion pictures.

Sight and Sound doesn’t require us to rank our Top 10 submissions, so my personal list below is listed alphabetically.

This conveniently places my favourite film of all time in the top spot: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which I have now seen more than 55 times (and counting) since a first viewing as a 13-year-old Apollo moon freak in January 1969.

Here’s my list:

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Leaping from the Stone Age to the Space Age, Kubrick’s cosmic epic is the definition of cinema’s capacity to amaze and enlighten. It never fails to show me something new. 🌓

“Apocalypse Now” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

Coppola’s magnum opus, set during the Vietnam War, continues to mature as a statement of war’s futility. It’s more relevant today than ever. 🌓

“La Dolce Vita” (Federico Fellini, 1960)

Fellini’s greatest film, set over seven decadent days and nights in sinful Rome, knows that “the sweet life” is more of the mind than the body. 🌓

“Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989)

Lee’s movies never get old because his theme of racial injustice never loses its urgency. Nowhere is this truth more searing than in his explosive third feature, set in a broiling Brooklyn neighbourhood. It burns even brighter now than it did in the ’80s. 🌓

“In the Mood for Love” (Wong Kar Wai, 2001)

As wonderful to gaze upon as it is to contemplate, Wong Kar Wai’s simmering love story, set in the Hong Kong of ’62, makes romantic longing incredibly sexy. 🌓

“Metropolis” (Fritz Lang, 1927)

In his dystopic forecast of a city of enslaved workers and heartless capitalists, sci-fi visionary Lang saw the dehumanized future of humanity long before the robots came to take us away. 🌓

“Mulholland Drive” (David Lynch, 2001)

In Lynch’s sad and sinister Hollywood tale, the road to hell is paved with ambition and lit by twinkling lights. Take it literally or symbolically, but everything leads to a lonely heart at the end of a very long road, and a movie to savour. 🌓

“Playtime” (Jacques Tati, 1967)

French satirist Tati’s most astute and frantic comedy about modern existence understands how life can be fun and chaotic at one and the same time. 🌓

“Tokyo Story” (Ozu Yasujirô, 1953)

The gentlest of masterpieces. Ozu’s timeless statement on the cruelty of getting older, as seen through elder eyes on a family visit, summons contemplation that achieves screen perfection. 🌓

“Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

Hitchcock’s most finely tuned suspense, a San Francisco enigma, is a drama beyond compare and a mystery beyond reason. It rewards endless viewings, inducing rapture. 🌓

(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)

Twitter: @peterhowellfilm


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