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.
When The House Next Door invited its writers to submit their Top 10 films of all time, I was faced with the usual conundrum: What does “Top 10” signify – best or favorite? After much consideration, I’m happy to say that the list I came up with could easily represent either. These are definitely personal favorites, but, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are also unassailable in their perfection, and could easily fall at the top of any all-time best list arrived at by consensus.
10. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls, 1955). The gilded beauty of Lola Montès is as lustrous as that of other titles on this list, but whereas the cinematic worlds of those films are warm and inviting, Lola Montès’s is icy cold. This is by design. Max Ophüls always keeps the viewer at arm’s length from the heroine, a courtesan who is as much a cipher as The Conformist’s Marcello Clerici. But unlike with Clerici, Ophüls never allows us to get inside his protagonist’s head. Instead, he creates an unnerving effect by placing us in the midst of the film’s action, yet separating us from Montès (Martine Carol), constantly placing foreground objects like architectural grating and stained glass in front of the camera. As if to remind us that we are as much spectators as the audience for which the unknowable Montès performs in her circus act, Ophüls ends the film by dropping a curtain over the proscenium that constitutes the final shot.