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.
To choose only 10 films for this list was a task at once simple and impossible. Had I been given enough time to watch every film ever made, then allowed several decades to narrow down my choices, I would have still bemoaned this challenge. By the time this is published, I’ll have changed my mind. Held at gunpoint, however, the results would probably look something like this, and for my purposes here, know that the difference between “best” and “favorite” is immaterial. Every one of these represents not only a peak of the art form, but an experience I wonder whether I could truly live without. With apologies to Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg, F.W. Murnau, Nicholas Ray, Fritz Lang, Abel Gance, Werner Herzog, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick, Chuck Jones, Ridley Scott, George A. Romero, and the 1930s, among others.
Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, 1919). Though far less technically sophisticated than The Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms still represents a greater achievement to these eyes, often cited alongside Intolerance as one of director D.W. Griffith’s apologies for racism, but really a deeper continuation of his generous, if conflicted (and frequently misunderstood), humanitarianism. The tragedy of Lucy (Lillian Gish) and Cheng, a.k.a. the Yellow Man (Richard Barthelmess), transcends the eras (much like their forbidden love transcends petty social expectations) through simple, but not simplistic, storytelling. Griffith’s mastery of basic camera techniques and narrative devices paved the way for every filmmaker who came after.