Thursday, August 30, 2012

A MAN'S GOT TO KNOW HIS LIMITATIONS


Attempting to create a line as catchy as “Do you feel lucky?” after the success of DIRTY HARRY in 1972, the sequel MAGNUM FORCE one year later gave us, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Clint Eastwood no longer knows his.
Clint Eastwood embarrassing himself at the Republican National Convention tonight in Tampa.

Clearly, tonight at the Republic National Convention, Eastwood tarnished his beloved image as Dirty Harry, or one of Hollywood’s most beloved individuals, with his rambling, incoherent, sophomoric and utterly embarrassing ‘speech’ in primetime at Tampa. It’s one thing to stand up and laud your candidate. It’s another thing to kick your own reputation around while doing so. And that’s what ol’ Clint did.

No matter where you stand politically, there is much to criticize about any president. And a political convention should be a place for serious ideas and critiques. It should not be a showcase for something as sophomoric and bizarre as what Eastwood presented tonight. His sniggering and condescending ‘comedy routine’ knocking President Obama was ugly and dumb. And it echoed much of the ridiculous pettiness that the GOP demonstrated this entire campaign season towards Obama, let alone these past 4 years questioning whether he's even an American. 

Eastwood's fumbling ineptitude tonight had less to do with his age and more to do with a laziness unbecoming the meticulous talent. His speech was reminiscent of a drunken best man at a wedding, winging it through a cringe-worthy toast filled with off-key jokes. What the hell was Eastwood thinking when he starting talking to an empty chair, supposedly holding Barack Obama in it? That whole 'mime' routine was a jaw-dropper filled with a snark and smarminess that makes comedian Jeff Ross's antics at a Comedy Central celebrity roast seem like a Harvard law lecture.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Eastwood mocked President Obama  supposedly telling people to go f**k themselves. Three times. And he maligned Vice-President Biden as nothing but “a smile in front of a body”. Really? A man who’s been in the Senate for 30 years, served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and has brought important legislation to the fore for civil liberties, drug policy and crime prevention. At that’s just one sentence of his resume. 

Clint Eastwood is still one of Hollywood’s most important talents. He’s an actor, director, composer and producer with a sterling body of work, but he gave a performance tonight that tarnished his reputation. I thought J. EDGAR was the worst move he’d made in the twilight of his long and esteemed career. But tonight he topped that. By lowering himself like this in a disastrous speech. It hurt him, the GOP and our political seriousness. 

He didn’t make my day. He made me sad.

Monday, August 20, 2012

37 YEARS LATER, JAWS STILL HAS BITE


This weekend was one of the last big summer movie weekends, and THE EXPENDABLES 2 opened about 29% off of expectations. It’s been one of those kinds of summers where, outside of the big success of THE AVENGERS, little has lived up to the hype. Certainly none have come close to creating the kind of summer movie hysteria that JAWS created back when it opened in the summer of 1975. To call it a phenomenon is an understatement. And now with it’s spiffy new Blu-ray release this past week and the Huffington Post characterizing it as the most influential film of all-time (http://huff.to/NL0VPQ), it’s time to take a new look at this Steven Spielberg masterpiece. 
Original caricature of Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw & Roy Scheider in JAWS
Indeed, HuffPo got it right.  JAWS did change the film industry forever. For starters, it set the summer template for blockbusters to come, not only setting ridiculously high expectations for what a film could reap at the box office, but also in the way it was rolled out. It opened on over 400 screens at the time, which was extremely rare, almost unheard of, in the 1970’s. (Another blockbuster wannabe, BREAKOUT starring Charles Bronson, opened on a thousand screens earlier that year, but it bombed.) And Universal Studios cleverly marketed the film on TV, launching a series of 30-second commercials, mini-trailers if you will, that have now become the norm for film promotion. At that time, newspaper advertising still got the lion’s share of movie ad dollars, but the JAWS broader and more visceral media buy demonstrably whetted people’s appetites for this big fish story. 
Brody's reaction to seeing the shark up close set up Scheider's brilliant ad-lib, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
But all that marketing wouldn’t have made a dime of difference if the movie hadn’t been utterly superb. And  JAWS was. To watch it anew again, via the new two-disc set, is to not only see a movie that looks amazing with its digitally remastered picture restored from the high resolution of its 35 mm print, but to realize that few summer releases or films in the horror genre have as much bite. Or as much lasting impact on our cinema psyches.
Robert Shaw delivers Quint's famous monologue about delivering the Atomic Bomb.
Taken from a pulpy, sexed-up Peter Benchley novel (the scientist Matt Hooper has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife in the book), the movie surges way beyond Benchley’s purple prose. Director Steven Spielberg, all of 26 when he filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, wisely eliminated the affair and cast Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper (Not exactly hunk central.) He went for superb actors, never condescending to the machinations of a monster movie, and rounded out his leads with acclaimed thespians Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. Spielberg also cheekily cast a lot of the locals, non-actors most of them, in the small parts of the townspeople and it gives the film a salty authenticity.
Steven Spielberg in the jaws of the mechanical shark "Bruce"
Spielberg also was an incredible improviser. As the documentary features on the discs showcase, the mechanical shark malfunctioned constantly under the rigors of the briny waters of the Atlantic Ocean. “Bruce”, as it was not so affectionately dubbed by Spielberg after his Hollywood lawyer, delayed the film for weeks and forced Spielberg to re-storyboard his picture. Spielberg shrewdly chose to use the difficulties to his advantage. He decided not to reveal the shark in its entirety until almost 90 minutes into the picture. Thus, he not only kept us from seeing a prop that might not have looked all that convincing, but it made the shark seem all the more real because our imaginations filled in the rest of what we could not see.
A side shot of the mechanical shark and all its working parts.
And John Williams’ nerve-jangling score did the same as well. By creating his famous “Da dum, da dum” theme, Williams let the shark have presence even if it wasn’t visible. Williams and Spielberg also were brilliant to not overuse their tensely aggressive theme music. As noted in the disc’s main documentary, the theme is only heard when the shark actually is present. It is cleverly absent from the scene where you think the shark is attacking the July 4th vacationers, but it’s actually just two kids playing a prank. 

There are so many other wonderful things to reflect upon after seeing the movie again with fresh eyes: Scheider’s subtle acting of self-loathing after being slapped by one victim’s mother; Shaw’s casual body language, legs crossed and snacking on a chip, as he announces to the town board his services as a Great White hunter; the overlapping dialogue in the screenplay that gives the narrative realism as well as a sense of comedy. Then there’s the obvious things that you’ll all remember like Verna Field’s masterful editing throughout, the eyeless fisherman’s head popping out of that boat, Shaw’s monologue about delivering the bomb, the Orca sinking, and iconic line after iconic line like, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” (a Roy Scheider ad-lib!) and “This was no boating accident!” 
The original 1975 iconic movie poster
 Yet for me, the most amazing part of JAWS is the fact that it treats horror seriously. And why it remains my favorite horror movie to this day. Yes, it’s an implausible tale about a Moby Dick-esque fish that seems to have a mind for terrorizing as well as tenderizing the people of Amity Island. And true, it’s a bit farfetched that shooting a gas tank caught in the corner of the shark’s hungry mouth would explode him like an oil rig. Still, Spielberg knew that the story was visceral, that his screenplay was smart, and that his cast and crew were perfectionists. Bill Butler’s revolutionary underwater photography alone gives this film a cachet that horror never had, and that is just one of the reasons it is not only one of the greatest frighteners of all-time, it is also simply one of the best movies that Hollywood has ever made.

We’ll see if we’re still talking about any Avenger or Expendable 36 years later with the same awe and affection. Sorry, Iron Man and Sly, but you’ve got nothing on ol’ Bruce.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROBERT REDFORD!


Robert Redford is 76 today. (Happy birthday, Bob.) He was born on August 18, 1936. And since the mid 1960’s, he’s been a preeminent figure in cinema throughout the world. For almost 50 years, he’s been a leading man. Redford’s also an Oscar-winning director, a producer, and of course, he’s the father of the modern independent film movement in this country by virtue of The Sundance Film Festival. (He still opens his fest every year with a press conference http://exm.nr/M0ZbC6) Redford is a talent who should be celebrated today and remembered for his invaluable contributions to the art of film.
Original caricature of Robert Redford by Jeff York
Starting with his breakthrough to superstardom in 1969 with his role in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, Redford starred in a body of work that was not only full of critical and commercial hits, but has stood the test of time. Among his classics are DOWNHILL RACER (1969), JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972), THE CANDIDATE (1972), THE STING (1973), THE WAY WE WERE (1973), THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN (1979), THE NATURAL (1984), OUT OF AFRICA (1985) and INDECENT PROPOSAL (1993).
Robert Redford with Paul Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
Redford has always had matinee idol looks, despite a rather large Eagle nose and three moles on his lower right cheek. His athletic build, blond hair and megawatt smile made him seem like the quintessential all-American boy, perfect for the Hollywood dream machine. And he likely could have had the same kind of career that Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue had, two contemporaries of his, just playing all-American hunks that always get the girl. But Redford balked at that image and those roles. And he strived for work with more meaning. That’s why he played so many anti-heroes, starting with the Sundance Kid. Redford was complicated, moody, and ever restless. And he sought out roles that had more edge.
Robert Redford in THE CANDIDATE (1972)
 A perfect example was his role in THE CANDIDATE. There he played an earnest lawyer running for the California senate who thinks he can stay above the fray and not be corrupted by the American political system. Boy, is he wrong! By the end, he's won, but he sold out all his principles to do so and turns haplessly towards his campaign manager at the end asking, "Now what do we do?" 

Redford with Barbra Streisand in THE WAY WE WERE (1973)
It’s also why he was so perfect for the 1970’s. America was still playing the part of the great hero then, but Viet Nam and Watergate tarnished that image, and exposed a nation that was darker and not so innocent. Redford’s corrupted pretty boy parts captured that side of our country. Remember that line that Redford’s Hubbell Gardner character wrote in THE WAY WE WERE? “In a way, he was like the country he lived in. Everything came too easily to him. But at least he knew it.” Redford knew that this was an allegory for America. And by taking such roles, he hoped that we'd recognize ourselves and change for the better. 
Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton in Redford's Oscar winning Best Picture ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)
Redford has always had such a clever sense of self-awareness. When he started directing movies he made films whose subject material was about those very truths. He dramatized the breakdown of the American family in affluent suburbia in ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980) and won an Oscar for his directorial debut. He held a mirror up to the public's fascination with turning regular folks into celebrities in QUIZ SHOW (1994). And last year he directed the under-appreciated THE CONSPIRATOR about Mary Surratt’s role in the Lincoln assassination. If you think it’s a jingoistic portrayal of American justice, you haven’t seen it. And you don’t know Redford.
Redford today at his Sundance Film Festival.
Redford has always angled to make movies that are more than just entertaining. He wants them to have value for the head as well as the heart. And it’s one of the reasons he started his Sundance Film Festival. He felt that Hollywood had become too obsessed with the bottom line and making tent-pole pictures and blockbusters, so he created a place for independent and smaller filmmakers to get noticed. Now, his film festival opens 100-200 films each year. The work comes from over 30 countries. And his fest is attended by over 50,000 film fans each February.

With all those accomplishments, you'd think Redford would slow down, but he's still making movies, with two new ones in the can already, and one of them is slated to be released this fall. It’s a thriller called THE COMPANY YOU KEEP and he has the starring role. Redford doesn’t get as many accolades for his starring and directing as fellow actor & auteur Clint Eastwood does these days, but he should. Redford should also be honored with The American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. He’s won just about every other kind of accolade imaginable, and he deserves that prestigious one too. But then the AFI just got around to honoring Shirley MacLaine this year, and she was 78, so Redford’s time will come.

And his time is today. He’s 76. Still working. Still making films that matter, that try harder. And he still looks pretty damn good. If you haven’t seen some of his work in a while, you should take a look. He had a lot to say about his times. And like all films that have stood the test of time, they have a lot to say about today as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

SCORING IN HOLLYWOOD

I couldn’t help but think after Marvin Hamlisch’s unexpected death this past week of some of his greatest accomplishments in the film world. He won Oscars for his 1973 original film score and title song for THE WAY WE WERE. Hamlisch took home a third Oscar that year for his adapted score for THE STING. His use of the Scott Joplin ragtime music from the late 1800’s for that caper film about two grifters in the 1930’s helped make that Oscar-winning Best Picture so memorable and unique. The unusual music choice of Joplin’s rags, out of synch with the period, was a bold choice and Hamlisch often made such daring choices in his career.
Marvin Hamlisch
Hamlisch was a composer who could create outstanding work within the lines too, as he did with THE WAY WE WERE, a lush romantic weepie, as well as his appropriately haunting score for the mournful SOPHIE’S CHOICE in 1982 and the other more traditionally scored works of his. But he could be as bold as anyone too. In 1977, he wrote one of the more unusual film scores ever for a James Bond film with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. He didn’t go the bombastic route that the 007 composers usually take. Instead, Hamlisch’s Bond theme “Nobody Does It Better” was a slow and steady pop ballad sung by the breezy Carly Simon. The result was positively winsome and incredibly different from the typical Shirley Bassey brassiness of most Bond themes.
Burt Bacharach
Director George Roy Hill not only worked with Hamlisch to create something special with THE STING, but years earlier in 1969, he did the same with Burt Bacharach when it came to scoring BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Most western scores typically rely on guitars and harmonicas, instruments of that time, to give them an authenticity. Hill went a different way. He hired Bacharach to write a jaunty and jazzy score and it made his contemporary western feel even more modern.
Jerry Goldsmith
Composers like the late, great Jerry Goldsmith had always strived for such modernity. He could score bombast with the best of them (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL) but when he experimented with oddball instrumentation, he broke new ground and became one of the true pioneers of film music. He clanked on everything from garbage can covers to lead pipes to make the futuristic music for PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and it gave the whole venture a genuine sense of the bizarre and other-worldliness. Years later, Goldsmith was still experimenting, using a basketball as the traveling bass for his score of HOOSIERS (1986). Traveling, indeed.

There are many scores that one can appreciate for not only their emotional connection to the story they’re accompanying, but because they took the road less traveled creatively. One of the reasons that Stanley Kubrick is so well regarded and that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is so legendary is due to his choice to employ classical music for his futuristic story. That was considered quite unique back in 1968 and it helped pave the way for the full orchestral sound of the likes of STAR WARS (1977) and everything else in the sci-fi genre that has come since.
Ennio Morricone
The directors and producers who hire the composers and then let them go in different directions deserve special acclaim. They too are pushing their craft, and the medium, in all kinds of details that make up a movie. 99 out of 100 filmmakers would have probably chosen standard classical fare to accompany the veddy, veddy British Olympic story of CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) but producer David Puttnam and director Hugh Hudson called upon Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou to create something wholly fresh with his pulsing synthesizer-driven score. Brian DePalma saw THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) as a modern day western and hired Sergio Leone stalwart Ennio Morricone to score the tale and give it, yes, those period harmonicas and other western instrumentation.

Of course, some genres seem to encourage the same old/same old when it comes to musical composition. Perhaps focus groups are driving the constant use of treacly piano music in romantic comedies, but I think it’s so prevalent in the genre that it’s become a joke, one that’s funnier than most rom-coms. The just-released HOPE SPRINGS with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones has gotten very good notices but its preview suggested that its score is anything but fresh, with the clichéd tickling of the ivories that limits so much of what that genre could and should be. There are other instruments that can make humorous sounding themes come to life. An oboe, anyone?
Ludovic Bource
I think musical scores that try something different and really push the boundaries make for a more exciting cinematic experience. And I own hundreds of scores on CD and most of them are the more daring ones. Still, some critics and film fans frown upon such experimentation and boundary pushing. Director Michel Hazanavicius got into some serious hot water with the film blogs last January for sampling some of Bernard Herrmann’s VERTIGO score in his soundtrack for THE ARTIST. If it was my call, I’d have had incorporated only original music for the Oscar-winning Best Picture, and composer Ludovic Bource was certainly capable of doing so. (He too won an Oscar for his score for THE ARTIST.) 
Bernard Herrmann
But it was Hazanavicius’ artistic choice and that’s fine. It worked in his film. And it’s done all the time by some of our greatest filmmakers. Everyone from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino do it all the time. Tarantino sampled the David Bowie song “Putting Out the Fire” from CAT PEOPLE (1982) a few years ago in his WWII tale INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. The fact is, daring music choices like those of Hazanavicius and Tarantino add not only a distinct personal touch to the art, but make for a more interesting soundtrack. Certainly these choices get people talking and paying more heed to film music. And that’s great because there are so many marvelous artists composing music for the film world.
Danny Elfman

In many ways, they are our Mozart's and Bach's. Even though composers like Herrmann and Goldsmith are gone, their music lives on forever, just like classical pieces live on from centuries ago. And their music lives in two places – on the soundtrack CD’s as well as the films themselves. Some of the best composers working today continue that great tradition, including the likes of Michael Giancchino (THE INCREDIBLES, UP) Hans Zimmer (GLADIATOR, INCEPTION) and the amazing Danny Elfman who’s scored everything from BEETLEJUICE to the first SPIDER-MAN movie. (He also wrote the theme for THE SIMPSONS on TV. Whoo-hoo!) 
John Williams
There are so many great composers who fill a movie with full, rich music but I also love the composers who know that less can be more too. Herrmann only used strings in PSYCHO (1960) and it was incredibly suspenseful with no other instrumentation to be found. John Williams made his theme for JAWS virtually unmelodic, but everyone and their brother can still hum that unforgettable, repeating 4-note stanza. And Williams once again knocked it out of the park with his score of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) basing his core theme on a mere five notes.
Elmer Bernstein
Some say the best movie music is that which you don’t realize is there at all. I couldn’t disagree more. The best movie music is that which stands with the film and helps the whole experience stand out. And if you respond to the music specifically, well, that only can help the film in the final analysis. I also think that the best film music is like any music – it moves you, makes you feel an emotional connection, and you return to it again and again, wanting to hear it over and over. Lately I’ve been listening to Elmer Bernstein’s sublime score for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962). I’ve enjoyed it dozens of times, both in the movie and alone on its soundtrack. Each time, Bernstein’s gorgeous and heartfelt score moves me to tears. And that is a score worth noting. As are all the scores mentioned here by these fabulous artists, including the recently departed Mr. Hamlisch. I will miss him. But I will always have his music.



Saturday, August 4, 2012

IS “VERTIGO” THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME?


According to the latest Sight and Sound magazine poll, it is. (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time) Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 psychological thriller has just been voted the greatest film in the history of cinema. The balloting is done for the British film magazine every ten years, as it has since 1962, and this is the first time in the poll’s history that Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE is not atop the list. The thriller about one man’s obsession with a mysterious blonde starring James Stewart and Kim Novak is.
The full list of the Top 10 films picked this year, as judged by the international panel of 846 film critics and scholars, were as follows (title, director, year):

1.) VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock 1958)
2.) CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles 1941)
3.) TOKYO STORY (Yasujiro Ozu 1953)
4.) THE RULES OF THE GAME (Jean Renoir 1939)
5.) SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (F.W. Murnau 1927)
6.) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Stanley Kubrick 1968)
7.) THE SEARCHERS (John Ford 1956)
8.) MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (Dziga Vertov 1929)
9.) THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Dreyer 1928)
         10.) 8 ½ (Federico Fellini 1963)

Amazingly, three silent films make the list - THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and SUNRISE. To put three films from the 1920’s on the list of only ten seems somewhat absurd to me, especially when you consider there have been over 70 years of movies since. Equally confounding is many by rote choices that never seem to budge. Is THE RULES OF THE GAME really that great? Greater than say, THE GODFATHER? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong; the list is strong, but too many of these choices feel old school to me. The list certainly fails to reflect any sense of modernity or shifting understandings. Heavens, the most current movie is from over 40 years ago! 
The directors’ choices (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/sight-sound-2012-directors-top-ten) have many of the same picks but at least their list is more modern and recognizable. It’s also much more American. That’s not surprising considering that more directors hail from the United States than any other country. Here is their list, in order:

1.) TOKYO STORY
2.) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
3.) CITIZEN KANE
4.) 8 ½
5.) TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese 1976)
6.) APOCALYPSE NOW (Coppola 1979)
7.) THE GODFATHER (Coppola 1972)
8.) VERTIGO
9.) MIRROR (Andrey Tarkovskiy 1975)
         10.) BICYCLE THIEVES (Vittorio De Sica 1948)

I like that list a lot more. So, what would I pick if I had a vote? Well, first let me say that I like the films that were picked on both lists and have seen them all. But for me, the lists are too obvious, almost clichéd, certainly expected in many regards. Therefore I’d like to offer an alternative list here at The Establishing Shot, one that counters, film by film, that critics’ list of ten. Here goes:

Their Hitchcock classic: VERTIGO
The Hitchcock classic I’d choose: PSYCHO
PSYCHO (Alfred Hitchcock 1961)
This black & white thriller is one of the most influential, important and continually debated films for 50 years now. It is a meditation on the dark soul of man and it’s filled with so many scenes that have become iconic they’ve not only been imitated over and over again, they’ve been parodied too. It’s a film that still influences every horror movie and thriller that comes out. The reason PSYCHO resonates so powerfully is due to its spooky surprises and its portrayal of evil dressed in the veneer of the banal and everyday. As Norman Bates says so famously in the movie, all of us can go a little crazy now and then. One only has to look at what happened two weeks ago in Aurora to realize that many Normans walk among us. Critics love VERTIGO because it’s so biographical about Hitchcock, but PSYCHO is about us.

Their ‘American Dream’ movie: CITIZEN KANE
My ‘American Dream’ movie: THE GODFATHER
THE GODFATHER (Francis Ford Coppola 1972)
I believe it’s the greatest American film of all time, as well as the greatest film of all time. It’s a harrowing masterpiece about the corruption of power, just like CITIZEN KANE, but here the victim is a nation, not just one individual. Michael Corleone spirals downward morally as he rises to prominence in business. And he’s enabled by everyone around him, family, colleagues, and a nation hungry to succeed at any cost. It’s about America losing its very humanity in the 20th century when we lost our moral compass and became our own worst enemy.

Their Japanese pick: TOKYO STORY
My Japanese pick: SEVEN SAMURAI
SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa 1954)
I cannot believe that Kurosawa did not make it to the top ten. Especially when you consider his greatest film, the Eastern Western SEVEN SAMURAI, is still influencing moviemakers today from Scorsese to Tarantino. It’s a brilliant riff on men, machismo and violence as a means of order, all told with some of the most amazing visual ideas that have ever been put on celluloid. Kurosawa comes as close as anyone in the history of film has to putting dreams on film. And his innovative work should have been acknowledged instead of three movies made during the infancy of film.

Their 1939 classic: RULES OF THE GAME
My 1939 classic: THE WIZARD OF OZ
THE WIZARD OF OZ (Victor Fleming 1939)
How is this film not anywhere close to the top 10? Do the critics feel it’s too childish or light? Perhaps they’ve forgotten lines like Mrs. Gulch promising to take Toto to the sheriff and make sure he’s destroyed. Or the witch’s various attempts to burn the scarecrow alive! And yet, this dark tale about rebelling against tyranny and fraud is one of the most positive, joyous, and loving adventures ever made. I still want to be somewhere over the rainbow with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Add a brilliant song score to the mix, along with stunning art direction, sumptuous costumes and the heart-wrenching Judy Garland and you have more than a movie, you have a marvel.

Their Kubrick: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
My Kubrick: DR. STRANGELOVE
DR. STRANGELOVE or HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (Stanley Kubrick 1964)
I admire 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY more than I like it. Yes, it’s impeccably shot and brilliantly elevated sci-fi from the cheesy B-movie world, but it’s also very, very slow and often murky. I like Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY and SPARTACUS a lot better. As the horror critic for the Chicago Examiner, I could make the case for THE SHINING too. But ultimately I would have cast my vote for DR. STRANGELOVE. It is the blackest of black comedies, a powerful anti-war film, and a hoot from the first appearance of George C. Scott trysting with a bikinied bombshell to the atomic bomb blowing up the world to the strains of “We’ll Meet Again”. This movie dares us to laugh at political leaders so idiotic that they start fighting in the war room. And yet we do.

Their Western: THE SEARCHERS
My Western: UNFORGIVEN
UNFORGIVEN (Clint Eastwood 1992)
Sight & Sound was right. THE SEARCHERS is the best western. But a worthy second is Clint Eastwood’s final contribution to the genre. Both are anti-western westerns, ridiculing the stubborn men whose pride and arrogance brings murder and death to all they touch. There are no glorious gunfights or heroic cowboys riding off into the sunset in Clint’s dissertation on the limits of violence. His work always shows that killing is the result of men who have run out of reason. UNFORGIVEN is a haunting portrayal of a man who is the greatest victim of all his gunslinging. 

Their voyeur film: MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
My voyeur film: REAR WINDOW
REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock 1954)
Indeed, Hitchcock makes my list twice. Who but Hitchcock would have been so cheeky to film a suspense story where the lead character is confined to a wheelchair and never leaves his one-bedroom apartment? Hitchcock knew that he had more than enough to keep us on the edge of our seats simply by watching James Stewart spy on his neighbors and end up witnessing a murder. And miraculously he did this thriller with only ambient sound, and his camera seeing only what Stewart could see from his chair. It is leaps and bounds ahead of most thrillers simply by staying put.

One of their silent classics: SUNRISE
My silent classic: CITY LIGHTS
CITY LIGHTS (Charlie Chaplin 1931)
Three silent films on the Sight & Sound list, but none of them a comedy? No Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? How is that possible? Chaplin’s greatest deserves one of those slots. Easily. And for any critic who might think that a silent movie comedy is too light or fluffy to be taken so seriously, I say watch the last minute where the flower girl realizes the little tramp was the one that helped her regain her sight and tell me you’re not in tears. Chaplin knew how to make us laugh and cry, and those at Sight & Sound should acknowledge his artistry much more prominently than they did.

Their dissertation on God’s will: THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
My dissertation on God’s will: CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS 
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (Woody Allen 1989)
Woody Allen is not only an equally great dramatist and farceur; he’s also a moralist of the highest order in his movies. His films are always filled with questions about how man and his sins square with God. In THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, Saint Joan is burned at the stake for listening to her God who told her to rebel against England when they invaded her native land of France. She is unshakable in her beliefs of what God told her to do and she dies for her faith. In CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, Martin Landau has his mistress killed after she threatens to expose their affair to his family and friends. A devout Jew, he knowingly defies God’s teachings, yet skates away from his sins with barely a scratch. The world is not just, Allen’s film argues, and perhaps God is indifferent despite what we’d like our deity to be. It’s a daring narrative, one that few other filmmakers would have had the balls to make. Allen bends the rules and it’s funny. And tragic. It’s also one of cinema’s greatest achievements.

Their show biz movie: 8 ½
My show biz movie: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN 
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly 1952)
The best musical comedy of all-time has often been in the top 10 but not this year. That’s a major oversight in 2012, the year of THE ARTIST, another movie about Hollywood moving from the silents into talkies. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is the quintessential Hollywood story, as fun as it is knowing, as melodic as it is acidic. Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen play the silent film stars here struggling to adapt to sound pictures. And with the congenial Kelly bounding everywhere, an 18year-old Debbie Reynolds as the ingénue, the rubber-limbed Donald O’Connor dancing off the walls, and Hagen giving what may be the funniest supporting performance ever in movies, you've got one of film's greatest gifts. Oh, and did I mention the extended dance number with Cyd Charisse’s endless legs on dazzling display? Stunning.
There, that’s my alternate list. I could also make quite a case for the inclusion of CHINATOWN, TALK TO HER, JAWS, THREE COLORS, CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, SUNSET BOULEVARD, PULP FICTION, SCHINDLER’S LIST, SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS, LA CONFIDENTIAL, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, BEN-HUR, and about a dozen others that don’t even show up on the top 50 of that Sight & Sound list.

Look, lists like this are always subjective, and any list that gets movie fans talking about what films they love and why is a good thing in my book. I just wish that the esteemed critics voting in such a prominent poll as the Sight & Sound one would show a little more daring and modernity. The best films in the world were made after the first 20 years of cinema and the poll should better reflect that.
One last note of interest, none of the films on either the top 10 from the critics or the directors is an Academy Award-winning Best Picture, other than THE GODFATHER. Take that, Oscar!

So, what would your list look like? I’d love to hear what you think is the best ever. Remember, it’s not your favorites, but rather what you think are the greatest achievements in cinema. Let me know here at The Establishing Shot and let’s keep the debate alive.