“They have to really do something extraordinary”
Isn’t doing something extraordinary part of the definition of “greatest”?
I think we could probably identify a lot of apparent prejudices in this kind of process, but, for the most part genre and comedy is more appreciated in film than in literature, for example.
From the new BFI/Sight & Sound Top 50:
Apocalypse Now (war film)2001 (sci-fi)The Searchers (Western)Singin’ in the Rain (musical)
The Godfather Part II (gangster film)
Battleship Potemkin (propaganda film)
The General (comedy)
Some Like It Hot (comedy)
City Lights (comedy)
(and can I count Au hasard Balthazar as a children’s film?)
“and can I count Au hasard Balthazar as a children’s film?”
Would you show it to children? And would you show it to children because you think they’d really connect with it, or instructionally?
I was being flippant, but yeah, maybe. It would depend on the child. It’s a pretty intuitive film.
Yeah, but lite comedies, musicals and children’s films seem to have to be extra-extraordinary, if you know what I mean. Case in point: WPQX says he/she selected Holy Grail over GFII—but s/he qualifies this by saying it’s the funniest film of all time. Dramas or more serious films don’t seem to have to meet the same standard.
Apocalypse Now (war film)
The Searchers (Western)
Singin’ in the Rain (musical)
The Godfather Part II (gangster film)
Battleship Potemkin (propaganda film)
The General (comedy)
Some Like It Hot (comedy)
City Lights (comedy)
(and can I count Au hasard Balthazar as a children’s film?)
Except for maybe SITR, SLIH and maybe The General, the rest of the films are more serious dramas that conventional genre films—which is sort of my point: films have to be serious, dark or arty to be considered great. If they’re primarily lite, happy or entertainment-oriented, they face an uphill battle. Or do you disagree with that?
I think the bias is there. The question is, is the bias appropriate—i.e., are serious, dark, artier films inherently superior to films that are the opposite—regardless if the latter are exceptionally well-made and executed?
Why certain genre films aren’t polled highly in greatest films lists? Well, it depends on the genre. I disagree that comedies don’t get represented. Look on the latest Sight and Sound top 100 and we have:
8% of the top 100 are comedies. That’s not a great number, but it’s not shabby. Compare that to other genres:
Animation or Children’s Films
It’s also important to note that westerns are essentially a dead genre as so few get made anymore. Musicals are too unless you count Bollywood, and Bollywood indeed gets overlooked (SHOLAY, for example, deserves recognition), but they also put out a lot of dreck that it’s hard to spot the cream of the crop.
Another reason is Jirin’s astute statement that “genre films that deserve to be on lists are often held guilty by association with the millions that don’t,” which WPQX reiterated about horror.
But thirdly, other genres don’t tackle weighty themes as often as dramas, and so dramas get represented more. What I’d really like to see is a martial arts film show up on one of these lists.
Now a couple of quibbles:
WPQX: Even films like Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain which many people love don’t show well on Sight and Sound’s poll (Singin’ in the Rain dropped a full ten spots from the poll in 2002).
I don’t know what you think not showing well means, but SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN being #20 of all the movies ever made is a damn well showing in my book.
Chad Bentley: Honestly, I can’t stand musicals. For the most part. It’s like they’re just filling time in because they don’t have a story.
This makes no sense whatsoever. The whole purpose of a musical is the musical segments and not the story! Saying you’re going to a musical for the story is like saying you want a lollipop for the stick.
Here are some genre films not on the S&S list that I think deserve at least top 300 consideration:
My Neighbor Totoro
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Tale of Tales
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
The Gold Rush
His Girl Friday
Being John Malkovich
A Cock and Bull Story
The King of Comedy
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000
O Lucky Man!
Get Out Your Handerkerchiefs
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Shop Around the Corner
So This Is Paris
Trouble in Paradise
Sex and Lucía
Private Vices and Public Virtues
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle in Milan
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Le Pont du Nord
King Kong (1933)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
Project A, Part II
A Touch of Zen
Ashes of Time
The Heroic Trio
The Wizard of Oz
The Magic Flute (1975)
Don Giovanni (1979)
The Court Jester
A Hard Day’s Night
The Empire Strikes Back
Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Ride the High Country
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
I think you hit on the key thing there—a high degree of “conventionality” is generally not believed to correlate with a high degree of “greatness.” If you’re evaluating film as art though, which is what most of these sort of polls would be doing, you’ve got to expect for the top films to be “arty”, right? As far as the “darkness” question, I think a lot of films generally considered great—Chaplin, Keaton, and Tati among them—strike a keen balance between light and dark. Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera travels light. Even something like Lynch’s Mulholland Drive may be dark, but it’s the pleasant kind of scary-story-around-funny/strange-Uncle-Dave’s-campfire kind of dark.
It’s all a matter of degrees, right?
Matt mentions that Man with a Movie Camera is lighter. Yes! Plenty of playful visual gags there, which is a big part of why prefer it to the other Soviet Montage film, Potemkin. Movies like The Searchers, 2001, 8 1/2, they all have their comedic moments. They may be more rooted in dramatic material, but I don’t think comedy is being shut out. Of the top ten in the Sight and Sound poll, only Joan and Tokyo Story are DEAD serious. And though Vertigo isn’t a prime example of this, Hitchcock has a wonderful sense of humor.
If you’re looking for movies to guffaw at, then, yeah, these polls will come up short. But on the other end of the spectrum, I don’t see too many titles that completely lack any comedic touch.
La Règle du jeu
Some Like It Hot, Pierrot le fou, Play Time
Four silents on this list, three of the other four are heady cultural satires, and then Some Like It Hot, which has the child-like simplicity of an early silent.
That says something interesting about which comedies get critical attention. The two extremes of the difficulty spectrum get in but nothing in the middle.
I think you hit on the key thing there—a high degree of “conventionality” is generally not believed to correlate with a high degree of “greatness.” If you’re evaluating film as art though, which is what most of these sort of polls would be doing, you’ve got to expect for the top films to be “arty”, right?
I’m using “arty” to contrast “entertainment.” The former is serious and “profound,” while the latter is fun and lite. I would argue that the latter can be very “artistic” as long we broaden the term to include films that are essentially fun and lite.
As for unconventionality, I get the sense that means taking something that is normally entertaining and making it serious. Couldn’t something be unconventional in the other direction—i.e., Frank Zappa’s music, which takes serious music and makes it goofy at times. I see no reason a film can’t be unconventionally lite, fun and even beautiful.
As far as the “darkness” question, I think a lot of films generally considered great—Chaplin, Keaton, and Tati among them—strike a keen balance between light and dark.
Part of my point is that a bit of darkness seems to have to be in there.
They may be more rooted in dramatic material, but I don’t think comedy is being shut out.
Right, and that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m saying that when critics recognize comedy or comedies or entertainment-oriented films, there has to be a “serious” element in the films. That suggests a bias against pure comedies or films that are primarily entertaining.
My point, though, is that the degrees work on the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Generally speaking, most of the “serious” movies on the top 50 could be seen as carrying at least some element of comedy, which should indicate that we tend to bias towards dramas that leave a little room for levity.
When I look at my personal top twenty or so, only a few films – The Passion of Joan of Arc, Late Spring, and A Man Escaped – classify as 100% drama. All the other titles I value, even something like Taxi Driver, which is easy to read as a black comedy, have some laughter.
Generally speaking, most of the “serious” movies on the top 50 could be seen as carrying at least some element of comedy, which should indicate that we tend to bias towards dramas that leave a little room for levity
I don’t know, Nathan. I feel like the comedy is negligible in these serious films are negligible for the most part. My sense is that critics don’t rate these films higher because it has some level of comedy in them (TD?!) To me, the evaluation works the other way: if it’s a comedy or genre (read: entertainment) picture, it has to have elements serious, deeper or artier elements to them. WPQX brought up horror films and that’s a good example. I get the impression that for a horror film to be considered great one to provide a serious socio-political reading of the filim (e.g., Romero’s zombie films, Carpenter’s films, Craven’s, etc.)
It can be—Play Time (which, to back up to one of Jirin’s observations, is sort of a virtual silent as well), for example—but it probably can’t be so exclusive of every other quality. Look at something like Sturges’s The Lady Eve or some of Lubitsch’s comedies, or some of the other screwball comedies and their derivatives like Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby, McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap, etc. Even something like Hawks’s *Rio Bravo is both a genre film and really a pretty “light” story, interested more in the relationship between the main characters than in the more “serious” dramatic aspects of the film.
Perceived “seriousness” is an interesting issue, though. To cite a more recent example, look at Wes Anderson—the criticism frequently cited here is “shallowness”, which I interpret to be a lack of signifiers of “seriousness” in stories where the dramatic arc would seem to call for them. Compare that to Christopher Nolan, whose films strike me as chocked full o’ seriousness, even when many would argue that his subject matter (i.e. Batman) doesn’t really warrant it.
" I get the impression that for a horror film to be considered great one to provide a serious socio-political reading of the filim (e.g., Romero’s zombie films, Carpenter’s films, Craven’s, etc.)"
Well, yeah, great art generally is expected to be innovative, or to “say something”, or otherwise engage the culture in some interesting way. Otherwise it just gets buried by layers of similar things (until someone comes along and dig it up perhaps).
@Jazz – I don’t generally like to speculate on a group of critics’ reasons for putting a particular movie on the list. For me, part of why I love Taxi Driver is for the dark comedy of it; one second it’s funny as hell, then next it’s shocking, depressing, and surreal.
Maybe what critics are looking for is plurality of emotion? They don’t want movies that stick to just one note? This makes particular sense when you think of Citizen Kane and The Rules of the Game.
…one second it’s funny as hell,…
That seems to be pushing it. I think I could say painfully funny perhaps, but I can’t even remember many of those moments in the film.
I don’t know. What about Passion of Joan D’Arc? I think some of them might like variety of emotions, but if the overall tone is largely serious, I don’t think they penalize a film for that. On the other hand, if the overall tone of the film is whimsical or fun, the film has a really big uphill battle—at least that’s my impression.
Again, we’re talking about ten films, voted on by over 800 people. The Passion of Joan of Arc is an obvious exception to what I’m saying. Tokyo Story would be, too.
Ok, Pierrot le Fou isn’t a comedy don’t know why you’re considering it as such. Perhaps there’s humor in it, but I’ve never considered this a comedy.
If you look at the films that could be called comedies on this list very few of them are actually funny and the lot of ‘em are pretty pretentious (sorry Tati is extremely pretentious to me). Rules of the Game has comedic elements but it’s ultimately a tragedy.
The fact that the majority of comedies seem to be silent (or mostly silent) on this poll does little but reinforce the prejudice to me. I love Buster Keaton, but how many of you can actually name say three moments in The General where you laughed out loud?
Perhaps part of the problem is that when dealing with an international audience (and the poll aims to have input from all over the world even it if is biased to the Western world), is that humor doesn’t always translate well. What one culture finds funny often isn’t the same for another. The fact that silent films are represented gives them more of a universal appeal perhaps. Same thing might go for musicals. Listen to the songs in Singin’ in the Rain and compare them to the music in say The Music Room and it seems like quite a stretch to say these two completely contrasting sounds can both be called music, and what might sound like cats being murdered to one culture may be quite beautiful or catchy to another and vice versa.
btw WPQX is all man, thus to alleviate future confusion.
That’s true that comedy doesn’t always translate well, and the fact silent comedy does the best backs up that point. It’s easier to spot dramatic paradigms between cultures because they tend to relate far more to absolutes of the human condition than comedy which tends to be reference dependent.
One might even argue comedy is a function of difference from ingrained expectations, and drama is a function of reflection of ingrained emotions. The former is culturally specific and the latter is universal.
But even on country specific lists you don’t see many comedies near the top. I wonder if the cynical nature of academics leads people to associate pessimism with realism and realism with depth. There’s also probably the ‘no fair’ factor, where critics react against upbeat movies because they do unjustly better at the box office.
It’s partly that the thinking that tragedy is a higher form than comedy goes back at least to Aristotle.
“But even on country specific lists you don’t see many comedies near the top.”
I think it depends on the country. Looking at the BFI’s list of top 100 British films, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Trainspotting, The Ladykillers, and The Lavender Hill Mob, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Whisky Galore!, and The Full Monty are all in the top 25.
THE FULL MONTY? Man, they were slumming with that pick.
WPQX: Perhaps part of the problem is that when dealing with an international audience (and the poll aims to have input from all over the world even it if is biased to the Western world), is that humor doesn’t always translate well. What one culture finds funny often isn’t the same for another. The fact that silent films are represented gives them more of a universal appeal perhaps. Same thing might go for musicals. Listen to the songs in Singin’ in the Rain and compare them to the music in say The Music Room and it seems like quite a stretch to say these two completely contrasting sounds can both be called music, and what might sound like cats being murdered to one culture may be quite beautiful or catchy to another and vice versa.
This is a very good point. In an international poll, culturally specific films won’t do as well. Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL usually flirt with the top 100 in these type of things but they’re missing here.
Jazz…Which films do you think have been underrated? Which comedies, musicals or children’s movies have been groundbreaking that would earn them a “best of” award? I’m more interested in hearing about recent ones.
Lots of best of lists are comprised of the general populace rating them. I don’t think people usually lie about which movies they like. So the lists are pretty accurate as far as that’s concerned. But I’d never trust a list anyways…
Hmm… The Wizard of Oz, Singing in The Rain and Bringinging up Baby are considered great films….
Exactly. And they are on the lists. And they are all old as hell. Is that all the genres have produced in the past 70 years?
If it was up to me 1941 would be considered one of the most important fims of the 70s….
How could I forget M.A.S.H.?
Those genres have been in decline since the 50s for various reasons. Comedy was never the same after the advent of Sitcoms. Musicals are rarely made. The last great Children film I saw was Hope And Glory in 1988…
Jazz…Which films do you think have been underrated? Which comedies, musicals or children’s movies have been groundbreaking that would earn them a “best of” award?
Actually, I don’t have any specific comedies, musicals or children’s movies that I think should be considered among the very best of all time (maybe I have that prejudice myself?). Actually, when I think about it, I can’t think of many films that I find really hilarious—to the point where I’m laughing throughout the film. That’s probably an unreasonable standard…maybe this is the reason comedies that make the list have some other element—e.g., serious drama, tragedy, etc. (Generally, if a comedy has a several funny moments, it’s considered a good comedy, but that doesn’t seem sufficient for being an all-time great film.)
@ Jazz: What do you consider a children’s movie? Because the only movies I can think of that really are geared toward children (vs just being family friendly) are pretty bad, or at least very far from great. Olsen twin movies, Ernest movies, Hocus Pocus. OK, I will admit to liking some Ernest movies…and Hocus Pocus ;) But I also recognize that they are far from great cinema.
Also, i think that “serious” films just have an advantage of numbers. I know that if I go to the library, and could put all of the films from the comedy, musical and “family” section together, they would still only be about 1/3 the size of the drama section, and even less than that if I added foreign films, westerns, and horror (i.e. the other non-lighthearted genres) into the drama section. So if that is representative of all films, “serious” films just have a better statistical chance.
@ Jazz: What do you consider a children’s movie?
Movies geared toward children. Disney films would qualify. Ditto Miyazaki’s films. I think Pinocchio (which I recently re-watched) and Spirited Away are really good films. I don’t think they’re among the all-time best, but they’re very good.
Also, i think that “serious” films just have an advantage of numbers. I know that if I go to the library, and could put all of the films from the comedy, musical and “family” section together, they would still only be about 1/3 the size of the drama section,…
Do you think more dramas are made than comedies or children’s films? If you check what’s playing at the movie theater, are there more serious dramas than comedies and family shows? Maybe more dramas end up being good—hence you see more of them at the library?
I think it also has to do with complexity.
People like a little meat on their bones and these types of films tend not to have too much. Not always the case. And sometimes a simple story can pack a punch. But I imagine these to be the exception.
To make it onto a list like this, let alone near the top, you have to be in the top ten list of a majority of the people participating in the polling. Comedy (and, for that matter, horror) is, let’s face it, far more subjective than drama. What makes people laugh (or scream in terror) is far more diverse than what makes people cry, let alone think deeply. Thus, if you look at individual lists (which I haven’t done for the S&S poll – I do have a life, after all – so I might be wrong) I suspect you’d see a large number of comedies, but a much wider range, whereas the same dramas will keep popping up, thus pushing them to the top of the list.
Also, as everyone knows, critics lack a sense of humor. (SARCASM)
isn’t drama just as subjective?
I find small life things well told to be sad
Parts of Station Agent are sad for me while Schindler’s List is less so for instance.