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If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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

I’ll sidestep the usual throat-clearing about the thought process behind my all-time 10-best-movies list (the agonizing, the second-guessing, the hair-splitting between “bests” and “favorites,” the last-minute changes—yes, it was quite a ride), and cut to the chase. My picks deceptively cover six decades of film history, albeit hopscotching over three of them. Nine of my 10 choices hail from the 1960s and 1970s, making the one remaining look like a token acknowledgment of the silent era when it’s anything but. Nevertheless, six of my films were released between 1967 and 1970, which suggests what I’ve often suspected: that that era of cinema is my favorite. I hasten to add, however, that none of my selections are Easy Riders; and my timeframe stops short of any Raging Bulls. In alphabetical order, my Top 10 movies are:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Ted Pigeon’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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

For film critics, Top 10 lists are a fact of life. Yet, despite frequent complaints that Top 10s are a bore to compose at the end of each year, the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound poll is one of those rare lists to which most critics would love to be asked to contribute. It’s the Top 10. The lists themselves tend to represent each critic’s best effort to express the knowledge and creativity that the invitation supposes. You can imagine the arduousness, then, of limiting one’s selections of the greatest movies of all time to just 10 entries.

Given that my role in the larger critical dialogue is minute as compared to those participating in this year’s Sight & Sound poll, I took to the challenge of a personal Top 10 more in the spirit of fun than soul-searching. Indeed, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about all of the films below in various capacities and stages of my life. Some meant more to me years ago than they do now, while others have lingered in my thoughts and memories beyond what seemed like an ordinary experience of watching them. Some are predictable, others perhaps naïve. But they each played an important part in my own development as a film lover, a writer, and a person.

So while individual Top 10 lists represent an opportunity for all of us to showcase our film knowledge, I see them more as a reflection of who we are as people. They are all unique, interesting, and flawed, both in concept and execution, which also makes them less significant than their epic design would suggest. That’s why I have opted for simplicity in deciding on the films for my list. While a certain amount of self-reflection is essential, some things are better felt than pondered. The following list is no doubt an expression of my personal tastes and knowledge about film, and perhaps even a statement about how I approach life. Then again, it is also a fairly arbitrary ordering of 10 films that mean a great deal to me.

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

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Odie “Odienator” Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Odie “Odienator” Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I’m a compulsive. It’s no surprise that my list is full of movies about compulsion. Whether it’s a man who must play God in his relationship, casting his beloved in an image of his design, or a guy who can’t stop working, whoring, and drugging, I find myself drawn to depictions of people trying to find order in chaos. I’ve discovered this has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. When I dug up my 2002 list of this type, I shuffled the order and kept eight of the titles. I dropped the most emotional and the most rigorously organized movies, replacing them with films that were twice as organized and emotional. By this rationale, I’ll drop four movies in 2022 and be driven bat-shit insane looking for replacements.

This isn’t a list of my favorite movies, though two of these would appear on that list. This is a list of movies that profoundly affected me more than any others. With that said, a caveat is in order: Movie lists always inspire grouchy comments reflecting what a person felt should have been on them. Let me stop you now. You have no say in what should or shouldn’t be here because you are not me. Thank your lucky stars for that.

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

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

List-making is an exercise in futility, but as futile exercises go, it’s one of the best. Over 10 brief bullet points, one maps out a condensed history of personal taste, a cartography of the canon made one’s own. I found it taxing and, by the end, exhausting, struck at every moment with crippling self-doubt. I wondered: Is my list exhaustive? Am I a victim of my own myopia? My confidence in these choices—which, truly, I love with all my heart—began to crumble under the pressure of a (I think universal) desire to not only be, but to seem worldly and omnivorous, to appear to have taken in everything and to conclude, finally, that these 10 films are definitively the best of all time. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I felt compelled to trade out canonical classics for idiosyncratic curveballs (though in the end I included a couple of both), but that while thinking through my favorites I couldn’t help but criticize myself for what was surely missing. Doubt gnaws away at you always, often like so: How much did I know about African cinema? Why are none of these 10 films directed by women? (Vagabond was a late and regrettable cut.) Why are there no silent films on my list? Are these films generally too recent? Should I feel guilty—and I mean this seriously—that each of these 10 films is an English-language narrative feature directed by a white male? What does that say about me as a person? Should I trade one of these films out for, say, Close-up, Paris Is Burning, or A Brighter Summer Day, each of which came extremely close to making the final cut but, alas, did not? The truth is that I don’t know. Maybe it makes me a shitty white critic with blinders on. But what I do know is this: I love these 10 films more than any other films in the world. I hope that’s enough.

Jacques Tati’s Playtime on Criterion

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Jacques Tati’s Playtime on Criterion
Jacques Tati’s Playtime on Criterion

A man approaches a uniformed doorman from the sidewalk, holds up a cigarette, and casually asks for a light. The doorman waves his hand and tells him to “go around.” The camera drifts back to reveal the huge pane of glass separating the figures, so spotless that the man (as well as the audience) initially fails to perceive its existence. This ground-floor window of a modern and sterile building, an invisible barrier of progress, forces the man to walk to the entrance to receive his desired light; the shot, at once a joke and a lament, indicates the presence of a master.

Who else could be responsible for Playtime (1967) but the great Jacques Tati? The production of this meticulous masterpiece was so prolonged and disastrous that the film stands as both the apex of his career and the cause of its ruin. Playtime addresses some heavy themes, among them the alienation of the individual in the modern world, the unforeseen complications arising from technological developments that promise to make life easier, and the harmful effects of corporate, homogeneous architecture on cities around the world. Tati cloaks these concerns in charm, optimism, and hilarity, developing his comedic material out of our collective tendency toward clumsiness and error, despite our wishes to the contrary, and ultimately celebrating this imperfection as the foundation of spontaneity, creativity, and human compassion.