Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.
I approached this project the exact same way I expect I would’ve handled being given a ballot in the actual Sight & Sound poll: by procrastinating until the very last second and making a lot of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment rules to dictate how I could possibly whittle down dozens of films into a list of 10. (I know, everyone else probably would’ve said “hundreds of films,” but I’ve always been a little cine-anorexic.)
The list of “obstructions” ought to be familiar to anyone with any exposure to this parlor game: one per decade, one per country, one per genre, one per boyfriend. But having willfully backed myself into the corner of having no more time on hand, I am forced to use a list I’ve already built elsewhere: the list of films I previously designated as favorites on MUBI. I like using that as a starting point because my choices there seem neither too conservative nor too outré (or at least both simultaneously), and I first started ticking them off as an exercise toward building a list of my 50 favorite movies. Plus, I limited myself to one choice per director.
The number of “nominees” there now stands at a slightly lower sum than that original goal (how have I still not picked a Bresson?!), but it still seems the best middle ground I can find between favoring my, well, favorites and giving movies I consider to be among “the greatest” their due. The only major wrench in this plan is that, of the 46 movies shortlisted, all but about a dozen of them are from the U.S. And nearly half are from the span between 1966 and 1976.
Well, no point dancing around statistics. A strategy is a strategy, so onward and upward, in chronological order:
Electrocuting an Elephant (Thomas Edison, 1903). Already it feels as though I’m headed down the wrong way of a one-way street. Ten slots and I give one to this minute-minus animal snuff film? Am I just trying to sidestep my misguided temptation to throw a vote Cannibal Holocaust’s way? Well, maybe, but this is one of the only movies on the whole list whose function as part of a canon makes sense to me. It’s one of the earliest examples of a medium being established capable of cataloging mankind’s abject and carnivalesque sense of cruelty.