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Archive for July, 2012

The Greatest

Sight & Sound is set to release the results of its cinematic mega-poll this week. Every 10 years, the magazine surveys hundreds of critics and directors to compile the most respected top-10 list in the business. A landmark event for film and list nerds, the poll offers the closest thing to an end-all assessment of the greatest films ever made. It provides so many pleasures: track a film’s ranking from decade to decade (Vertigo ascends from unranked to #2 in 30 years), read top-10 lists from individual directors (Joel Schumacher has awesome taste) and critics (Armond White sure loves A.I.), note the difference in polling between critics and directors (critics are snobbier), discover what the intelligentsia hailed as the best film of all time in 1952, etc.

To mark the release of 2012’s poll, I give you my list of the 10 best films ever made. Feel free to eviscerate me in the comments section.

#1 Grey Gardens (Maysles, 1975)
Resigned from life, a mother and daughter romanticize the past and blame each other for the present. A work of bottomless compassion, humor, and thematic depth. No medium but the documentary film could capture the raw-nerved cabin fever and mutual dependence seen here. Key quote: “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.”

#2 Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
An unbalanced detective transforms his girlfriend into The Perfect Woman. Vertigo is Hitchcock’s perverse take on the creepiness of male sexuality. The film’s individual elements offer so much to adore — Bernard Herrmann’s score, Saul Bass’ titles, the costume and set design — while the warped narrative is so subtly disturbing that it approaches gallows humor. Key quote: “The color of your hair…”

#3: Scenes from a Marriage (Bergman, 1973)
A front-row seat to the death and rebirth of a monogamous relationship. Bergman’s six-part opus may be the definition of difficult but required viewing. It tells the story, in essence, of every long-term couple: Initial passions fade, but a nagging love lingers, turning the two leads into fickle “emotional illiterates.” Sound familiar? Scenes from a Marriage takes us through a 261-minute emotional maelstrom, from which we emerge with a keener understanding of love and human desire. Key quote: “I don’t believe people are strong all on their own. You have to have someone’s hand to hold.” (more…)

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***** out of *****

A young woman learns how the world works — morally, legally, politically, sexually. That’s Margaret, the scrappy and all-around magnificent new film from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. I caught a screening of the 189-minute cut of Margaret last week, and I’m now fighting a tourettic urge to call it the best coming-of-age film I’ve ever seen. To avoid accusations of hyperbole, I’ll settle on this: Margaret is a titanic work, one with enough meat on its bones to feed an army of film lovers for years.

The film opens amid a sea of bodies in Manhattan. Pedestrians beeline around one another, dodging cars and advertisements. The asphalt jungle. From these first moments, and through its persistent use of off-screen dialogue and outdoor long shots, Margaret creates an expansive world, one in which our protagonist Lisa  (Anna Paquin) is but one of Harry Lime’s inconsequential dots. Lisa attends a well-to-do high school on the Upper West Side. She lives with her mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), a nervy stage actress who can’t quite find that work-life balance. Orbiting her world are Darren (John Gallagher Jr.), a dear friend who harbors clear romantic feelings for her, Aaron (Matt Damon), a teacher she lusts after, Ramon (Jean Reno), her mother’s suitor, Karl (Lonergan), her remarried father, and too many more to list here.

Lisa’s life could not sustain a feature-length film. The drama just isn’t there — that is, until a brutal accident brings New York’s ever-moving masses to a stop, if only on one block. Lisa, on the hunt for a cowboy hat, spots one atop a passing bus driver (Mark Ruffalo). She waves from the sidewalk. He waves back, confused but intrigued by the attention from a young girl. She shouts about his hat, but the Manhattan roar muffles her words. He strains to hear, so much so that he doesn’t notice the oncoming red light. The two continue their moment, both complicit, as the bus slams into a woman crossing the street. The woman dies in Lisa’s arms. (more…)

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