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Barry Lyndon (#110 of 11)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

As R. Kurt Osenlund pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of categories more flashily controversial this year, but none have become as big a flash point among cinephiles as the cinematography prize. No demographic is more certain that one of Oscar’s longest-running contemporary injustices is its failure to coronate Emmanuel Lubezki, whose lucidly expressive images have now earned him six nominations and a near-fanatic cult devotion. Having to cope with the losses he’s suffered his last three times at bat—with The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life respectively falling to Memoirs of a Geisha, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hugo—are, for acolytes, like living in an alternate universe where John Alcott’s work on Barry Lyndon lost to Robert L. Surtees’s The Hindenburg, or Sven Nykvist’s lensing of Cries & Whispers lost to Surtees’s The Sting, or Néstor Almendros’s Days of Heaven lost to Robert Surtees’s Same Time, Next Year. Adding insult to injury last time around was the fact that Lubezki’s richly textured analog work in The Tree of Life was chewed up and spit out by the Academy’s now-insatiable sweet tooth for CGI-heavy 3D toy boxes, a trend that’s held for the last four years running.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

For many years, I maintained a Top 10 list. It was changing all the time, but by the mid-1980s, I had pretty well nailed it down. Only by then was it a Top 12, not a Top 10, and anyone who asked me my Top 10 films got an unexpected bonus. And that was how it was until a couple of years ago, when I allowed myself the latitude of increasing my all-time favorites to a list of 15. But as a devoted game player, I respect rules and try to play by them, so for this personal Top 10 list project, I’ve forced myself to pick just 10. These are not necessarily the same 10 I would pick if my criteria were cinematic greatness, beauty, and far-reaching influence—though they easily could be. No, these are favorite films, the films that mean the most to me, the ones that give me the most and best chills. There are lots more where these came from, but for now, these are the ones. I present them in chronological order to avoid any suggestion of preference.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In trying to whip up a Top 10 for this alternative Sight & Sound poll, I decided from the beginning to try to forgo any extra-cinematic considerations and simply go with 10 films that mean a great deal to me personally. There’s an implicit canon-building aspect to this particular exercise, and surely some would feel a need to take into account not only previous Sight & Sound poll-toppers (Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, , etc.), but also such things as historical importance in coming up with a list for posterity. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, screw posterity: I’m totally willing to admit, at the outset, the possibility that any of my favorite 10 below may decline in estimation over time, to be replaced by another film entirely that I may begin to appreciate more as I grow older. For now, though, these are 10 films that I could not part with in my life.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time

It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic while trying to determine one’s favorite films of all time. Memories of first viewings come flooding back, even thoughts of long lost friends who shared those moments with you. In this sense, these 10 films have sculpted my life as a cinephile, programmer, and writer, some even in ways that I’m still discovering years later. While their initial impact was undeniably potent, each one continues to influence how I think about cinema as art, entertainment, and a mirror to human nature. If narrowing this list to 10 entries has taught me anything, it’s that great movies evolve over time, and as I’ve grown older each one has become more personal, more essential to my existence. Not surprisingly, many are concerned with the detailed process of aging, or more specifically the juxtaposition of physical deterioration and emotional vitality. Others even dynamically examine heightened memory and inevitable, sometimes forceful change. But all of my choices waver between visions of lyrical, horrific, and sometimes heart-wrenching transition. They are keys to my decidedly intimate canon, one when taken as a whole acts as a reminder that movies aren’t always everything in this fragile life.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Edward Copeland’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Eons ago, while still in high school, I composed a list of my all-time favorite films for the first time. The inspiration to undertake such an endeavor was prompted by the 1982 Sight & Sound poll that Roger Ebert wrote about in a mid-’80s edition of his Movie Home Companion (the 1982 Sight & Sound list can be found here). I haven’t followed Sight & Sound’s pattern and revised my own list every 10 years, but I did institute a personal rule that I’ve always adhered to since that initial teenage list: A film has to be at least 10 years old to be eligible for inclusion. Too often, people get swept up in ecstasy over a film they’ve seen for the first time and can’t fight the tendency to overrate it. Then, years later, they see that film again and wonder what the hell they were thinking. That’s why I think all films need time to age, like a fine bottle of wine, to test their taste over time. As for the distinction between “best” and “favorite,” as far I’m concerned, it’s a pointless one. Each submitted list represents someone’s subjective opinion. I hardly can claim my 10 films represent the “best” movies ever made as no one appointed me the arbiter to rule on such absolutes where none can exist.

The Conversations: Barry Lyndon

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The Conversations: Barry Lyndon
The Conversations: Barry Lyndon

Jason Bellamy: Both in chronology and in tone, Barry Lyndon is Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic middle child. Sandwiched between more provocative films like Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Barry Lyndon is comparatively subdued, straightforward and introverted. Overlooked, too. Released in 1975 to less than breathtaking box office figures and only slightly more enthusiastic reviews, the film has since gained a considerable amount of praise and respect, yet it remains somewhat underground. Part of Barry Lyndon’s relative anonymity is due to its surroundings: one mountain amongst a mighty range, all too easily ignored in the vast panorama of Kubrick’s achievements. Part is attributable to the self-perpetuating cycle of anonymity (I suspect Barry Lyndon might be the most unseen of the Kubrick films I mentioned above, making it difficult to attain grassroots popularity). Part might even be attributable to the film’s unsexy poster, which became its unsexy VHS/DVD cover. (Back in the day when folks used to browse Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, which cover do you think popped off the shelf: this one or this one?) But I suspect the biggest reason Barry Lyndon is overlooked is because of its slow, deliberate, drawn-out pace and, this is crucial, its lack of a signature moment.

What I mean by the latter is that Barry Lyndon, so far as I can tell, has no iconic image or quote or scene or plot twist. Based on the 1844 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, and adapted for the screen by Kubrick himself, Barry Lyndon tells the story of a man who thirsts for love and loses it, thirsts for wealth and finds it, thirsts for status and nearly attains it, and then loses it all. It’s the story of a man who engages in duels, war, cons and affairs. And yet despite all that action, despite all that conflict, Barry Lyndon unfolds with astonishing evenness. I wouldn’t say it’s an emotional flatline, because that would imply lifelessness, but it’s certainly an atypically level film. Almost monotonously so. While Howard Hawks said that a good film is three good scenes and no bad ones, Barry Lyndon might be described as a long film with no great scenes and no bad ones. If that sounds like an insult, I don’t mean it to. Rather, it’s an attempt to capture the feeling of watching this film. As Martin Scorsese said of Barry Lyndon, “People didn’t get it when it came out. Many still don’t. Basically, in one exquisitely beautiful image after another, you’re watching the progress of a man as he moves from the purest innocence to the coldest sophistication, ending in absolute bitterness—and it’s all a matter of simple, elemental survival.” In many ways, Barry Lyndon is a simple, elemental film, too, is it not?

New York Film Festival 2010: Mysteries of Lisbon

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Mysteries of Lisbon</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Mysteries of Lisbon</em>

There’s much to say about Mysteries of Lisbon, Raúl Ruiz’s latest film, on a thematic level, but that’s to be expected for a 272-minute feature-film adaptation (cut down from a six-hour television miniseries) of a three-volume classic of Portuguese literature, Camilo Castelo Branco’s 1854 Mistérios de Lisboa. Class conflict, spirituality, romantic intrigue: All of these universal themes are traversed in its epic-length span, and one could certainly devote a whole essay to parsing the ways they manifest themselves throughout the film. But honestly, if there’s a reason Mysteries of Lisbon is as fluid and watchable as it is, it’s by virtue of its playful narrative structure and seemingly inexhaustible formal ingenuity. So allow me to bliss out on that for the moment.

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions

We’re through the looking glass here people. Suddenly, the Oscar race is being headlined by a pair of uncompromising, boldly conceived pieces of formalism. A pair of films helmed by established neo-auteurist superstars unabashedly admitting their works to be inspired not by Paul Haggis, but instead the likes of Robert Bresson, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick. A pair of films that are celebrated by the critical establishment (the two split the four critics’ awards that matter) and punkass fanboys alike (they are currently the two highest ranking films from 2007 on the IMDB top 250 master list). Thanks to No Country for Old Men (which we loved too) and There Will Be Blood (which we’re deeply conflicted on, but will take any day over most Oscar contenders), we’ve finally arrived at what we assumed was a mirage in the desert all this time: an Oscar ceremony in which artistic quality actually appears to be the foremost quality, a ceremony that helps us remember that this is also the organization that gave Best Picture nominations to both Nashville and Barry Lyndon in 1975. And now, naturally, it’s possible the entire ceremony could vanish into thin air in the wake of the prolonged WGA strike like the cinephile pipe dream it so feels like; and I caught one sound bite earlier this week in a post-Golden Globes wrap suggesting some writers are starting to feel the mad rush of power that shutting down Hollywood’s biggest night of self-congratulation would give them. So, while we’re personally behind any developments that could potentially invalidate (more so) the careers of the so-called “journalists” like Dave Karger, who seem to make entire careers out of telling the Academy what they feel, we also admit we’d feel a tad bummed to miss out on what figures to be the one Oscarcast of late whose possible winners wouldn’t make us want to stuff wads of Oscar ballots in our eye sockets.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.