Sight & Sound, the British film magazine founded in 1932, just published its seventh Best Films poll. It began in 1952, at a festival in Brussels, and has reoccurred every decade since. This was the first year with a new winner since the second, in 1962, when Citizen Kane began to beat everything in its path, something it did five times in a row. In 2012, the critics’ choice—by a healthy number—was Vertigo, which I saw the other week for the first time. I loved it, but not more than Kane, and who cares anyway? The tapestry of the thing is the most appealing to me this year.
This is the first fully Web-searchable S&S poll. You can find titles voted for from the complete database, more than 2,000 movies, and while the picks are certainly less diverse than they could be, the fact is that when you count everything mentioned once, you get a lot of range. I began to look up all the titles from, say, Mexico (26) and Brazil (18). I also tried years. Though 1939 was long considered Hollywood’s golden annum, only 13 titles from that year made it in, only seven of them American. (Gone With the Wind, His Girl Friday, Midnight, Only Angels Have Wings, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Young Mr. Lincoln.) Despite two of the Top 10 coming from 1927, only nine more joined them in the balloting.
I don’t think this means anything, particularly. People were asked their favorites, not for a set of extensively cross-referenced overviews of the history of world cinema. But that’s the map it starts to draw, at least for me, who likes movies a lot, sees more and more of them, and wants to start tying things together a bit more in my head. And then I decided to look up 1974.
That’s the apex of the New Hollywood: two Coppola films up for Best Picture, and one of them winning—the first sequel ever to do so. It was the height of a permissive time. And a lot of people wanted to make masterpieces. A few definitely did. How many more, I wondered?
Fifty movies from 1974 got votes. I have no idea if that’s the largest number—maybe it’s not. But it’ll do.
This Tumblr will be very occasional. I’m not looking to have the last word on anything, and I’m sure I’ll be saying plenty that’s been covered to death. This is purely for fun. I’ll update it when I update it. My time frame for it is very flexible—in fact, I’ll say 10 years, until the next poll. I’ll want to finish sooner, though—to go to another year. With, of course, so much else to see in between.
I’m not sticking strictly to ‘74; the off-paths are just as enlightening. For instance, I looked up the alphabetical-first film on the ‘74 list, Margaret Tait’s Aerial. (Its sole vote came in the director’s poll, from Peter Todd.) Turns out it’s four minutes long, and that Tait was a Scottish poet who studied in Rome and made some 30 neorealist shorts over her life. The films she referred to as “poems.” Aerial isn’t on YouTube, but A Portrait of Ga (1952), about her elderly mother, is. (That got five votes: three critics, two directors.) It’s gorgeous, arresting, absolutely worth watching, and only four minutes long. Enjoy.
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