I won’t apologise for publicising another ‘greatest films of all time’ list. I’ve discovered that I have an extremely rare condition that makes it psychologically and physically impossible for me not to post about lists that contain any or all of the words ‘greatest’, ‘best’ or ‘most popular’ in combination with any or all of the words ‘films’, ‘movies’ and ‘directors’, whether of not they are followed by any or all of the phrases ‘of the decade’ or ‘of all time’ or ‘ever’. I’m feeling strangely liberated by this new piece of self-knowledge.
The Guardian is in the middle of a film season. Each day for the last week the Guardian/Observer critics have selected their 25 favourites films in seven genres. (I’ve managed to refrain from posting about these each day because my debilitating affliction does not extend to genre lists.)
You can click on each of the links below to see the individual genre lists.
And then from the seven winners in each category, the same critics decided to give the ‘Best Film Ever‘ award to: Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Mmm…
I got some small personal satisfaction from having seen and loved every one of the seven contenders (apart from Chinatown, which I saw but didn’t manage to love), which shows how un-arty the selection is compared to most of the lists that have been concocted by critics rather than paying punters.
Here are the seven, in the Guardian/Observer order:
1) Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
=2) Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
=2) Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
4) Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1976)
5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
6) Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
7) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
And here is my revised order:
1) Andrei Rublev
2) Annie Hall
3) 2001: A Space Odyssey
5) Brief Encounter
6) Apocalypse Now
Chinatown definitely comes last.
Instead of dwelling on Chinatown, here are a few paragraphs from Steve Rose’s reflection on Andrei Rublev:
Viewers and critics always have their personal favourites, but some films achieve a masterpiece status that becomes unanimously agreed upon – something that’s undoubtedly true of Andrei Rublev, even though it’s a film that people often feel they don’t, or won’t get. It is 205 minutes long (in its fullest version), in Russian, and in black and white. Few characters are clearly identified, little actually happens, and what does happen isn’t necessarily in chronological order. Its subject is a 15th-century icon painter and national hero, yet we never see him paint, nor does he do anything heroic. In many of the film’s episodes, he is not present at all, and in the latter stages, he takes a vow of silence. But in a sense, there is nothing to “get” about Andrei Rublev. It is not a film that needs to be processed or even understood, only experienced and wondered at.
From the first scene, following the flight of a rudimentary hot air balloon, we’re whisked away by silken camera moves and stark compositions to a time and place where we’re no less confused, amazed or terrified than Rublev himself. For the next three hours, we’re down in the muck and chaos of medieval Russia, carried along on the tide of history through gruesome Tartar raids, bizarre pagan rituals, famine, torture and physical hardship. We experience life on every scale, from raindrops falling on a river to armies ransacking a town, often within the same, unbroken shot.
With Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky was consciously crafting a language that owed nothing to literature, and it’s a pity so few others followed him. In today’s cinema, we’re still served up linear, cause-and-effect biographies of artists as if, by doing so, we’ll understand the person and be able to make sense of their art. Andrei Rublev operates according to a different understanding of time and history. It asks questions about the relationship between the artist, their society and their spiritual beliefs and doesn’t seek to answer them. “In cinema it is necessary not to explain, but to act upon the viewer’s feelings, and the emotion which is awoken is what provokes thought,” wrote Tarkovsky in 1962.