Thursday, August 23, 2012

15 Surprises from Directors' Sight & Sound Top 10s

Since the 2012 Sight & Sound poll was released a few weeks ago, the conversation has focused mostly on Vertigo trumping Citizen Kane as the best film of all time. Nearly 850 film critics participated in that poll, but the far more interesting aspect of Sight & Sound’s once-in-a-decade list is the fact that two polls took place: one for critics and one for directors.

A few Top 10 lists from heavy hitters like Scorsese, Coppola, Mann and Tarantino have already been released, but now, finally, the British Film Institute has published the Top 10 lists of all 358 directors who participate in the directors poll.

I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time going through them, and honestly, most is what you’d expect. Critical darlings, foreign wonders and Oscar-friendly powerhouses reign supreme. But, occasionally, I came across a movie that I found amusing for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s a spirited choice, maybe it’s batshit out of place, maybe it reaffirms the choosing director’s overall vision. Either way, here are my favorite single movie picks from a handful of directors’ Top 10 lists.

Les Blank (director of Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Burden of Dreams)
Picked Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams
I had the pleasure of meeting Les Blank at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, and I can tell you, based on the brief time I spoke with him, I am not at all surprised that he would pick one of his own films as one of the best of all time. He’s… out there.

Joon-ho Bong (director of Memories of a Murder, The Host)
Picked David Fincher’s Zodiac
A slightly off-skew example of how a director’s favorite films influence the ones they make. For instance, there are clear traces of Fincher’s best films in Memoires of a Murder.

Atom Egoyan (director of The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe)
Picked Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Here’s a good example of a contemporary picking a contemporary, which I find wholly refreshing. Now, Pulp Fiction is widely praised as an influential modern masterpiece, but regardless, it’s nice to see Egoyan picking something slighty more recent.

Peter Farrelly (director of Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary)
Picked Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List
Most of Farrelly’s list consists of films you’d expect, including Airplane!, Borat, and Sideways. Then there’s Schindler’s List

Abel Ferrara (director of Bad Lieutenant, 4:44 Last Day on Earth)
Picked Ingmar Bergman’s Prison
I LOVE that Ferrara loves Bergman, but I am (pleasantly) surprised that he chose one of Bergman’s earliest films as one of his favorites. Either way, solid pick.

Miranda July (director of Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future)
Picked Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank
Nothing too surprising about this – one talented female director choosing the film of another talented female director. But if someone is praising Fish Tank, I try to make people aware of it. Please see this movie.

Mike Leigh (director of Naked, Secrets & Lies)
Picked Woody Allen’s Radio Days
Leigh’s Radio Days pick just feels… comforting, doesn’t it?

Michael Mann (director of Heat, Ali)
Picked James Cameron’s Avatar
Most of us have heard about this one already. But, yeah. Wow.

Steve McQueen (director of Hunger, Shame)
Picked Andy Warhol’s Couch
If there was a director to pick a 40-minute silent film about many different people engaging in unsimulated sexual acts on a couch in Andy Warhol’s factory, then it would be Steve McQueen.

Fernando Meirelles (director of City of God, The Constant Gardner)
Picked Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void
Given the frenetic, unapologetic energy of City of God, this pick isn’t particularly surprising. I just love that Enter the Void has something to do with the Sight & Sound poll.

Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty, Revolutionary Road)
Picked Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood
One of the best examples I could find of contemporaries highlighting their peers. Mendes and PTA came up around the same time, and it is very cool to see how much Mendes enjoys PTA’s work.

David Michôd (director of Animal Kingdom)
Picked Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line
The silences in Michôd’s Animal Kingdom are my favorite parts of the film. The way the audio sneakily fades out right before an action occurs. I was wondering where he got the inspiration for that. This pick helps explain.

Gaspar Noé (director of Irréversible, Enter the Void)
Picked Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom
Because, why wouldn’t Gaspar Noé choose Salò as one of his favorite films of all time?

Béla Tarr (director of Werckmeister Harmonies, The Turin Horse)
Picked Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie
I never would’ve pegged Béla Tarr, and his slow, purposeful pace, to be so fond of Godard’s revelatory style. Happily proved wrong here.

Matthew Vaughn (director of Layer Cake, Kick-Ass)
Picked Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky III
I don’t have much to say here. This pick speaks for itself.

To gloriously lose the next several hours of your life by looking over all of the directors' Top 10 Lists, click here.


  1. Fantastic idea for a post! I still need to make my way over to the BFI's site to peruse the director picks. Interesting choices all around though.

    YAY for Fish Tank! :D

    I can't believe Noé picked Salò. ;)

    Haha. Rocky III...

    1. Thanks man. I was really stunned by some of the directors' picks. Definitely interesting shit throughout.

      Fisk Taaaank.

  2. Funny picks. I have spent wayyy too much time studying the lists, especially now that the directors have been released. The two most surprising picks were critics for A Serbian Film and Pirates of the Carribean At Worlds End. I also am wondering if Tarantinos picks are actually what he feels the best films are or just him trying to stay apart. Still really interesting seeing directors influences.

    1. You know, I've wondered that about Tarantino as well. But I think that dude has literally seen, like, everything, so I honestly believe his list is what he legitimately considers his favorite. Scorsese's is equally as... challenging. So who knows.

      The critic that picked A Serbian Film had mostly "normal" picks for her other nine, so, again, who knows. We like what we like!

  3. I hope they release the list of critic picks too. That would be interesting to see, though I would think their picks would be less diverse and far-out then the directors. But I do know that Richard Brody picked 'Marnie' for his Top 10...

    1. Nevermind that's up there too. So long to many hours of nothing

    2. Ha okay cool. Andrew Dominik also picked Marnie for his Top 10. Crazy.

  4. These are great picks. I read about them in Indiewire.

    I'm not surprised Noe picked Salo though I haven't seen that film.

    I think someone picked Showgirls in that list.

    1. Thanks man. Yeah, Salo is a Noe flick if there ever was one. I've seen Salo once, and that was enough. It's exactly what you think it is, you know?

      Just looked up the director that chose Showgirls. Some interesting picks on there for sure. Blade Runner, Touch of Evil. Nothing beats Showgirls though.

  5. Off to check these lists out, especially the Bela Tarr one. For some reason I'm happy Steve McQueen chose Couch, even though I hate Warhol's movies. I like the ideas behind them, they're just impossible to watch.

    1. Yeah I agree. I took a Warhol course in college and watched a lot of them. But you get the "point" after about 4 minutes of every film. No need to see them through to the end.

  6. Pulp Fiction,yeah,I consider it as the American Breathless,it broke so many rules and looked so refreshing.

    Couch,oh,I don't think I would watch any Andy Warhol in my lifetime.

    Irréversible and Salo,sounds like a nice pair.

    I'm leaving this for my diggings now.

    1. I think that's an interesting (and accurate) notion that Pulp is the American Breathless. Cool thought.

      I just love that Noe digs Salo so much. That says a lot.

  7. Nice work trawling the lists Alex, I can't bring myself to do it but you;ve picked some real surprises there. Such as why would anyone think Matthew Vaughn should be allowed to vote on this?

    1. Ha EXACTLY! Guess the dude is a Mr. T fan. Who can blame him?

      Those lists are so addictive. I had to force myself to stop after, like, 4 hours.

  8. I'm always shocked that there is not more love for 'City of God' across the board. Two Directors and only one critic voted for it. My hope is that it'll get it's due in the near future. And Meirelles' list is great too, with Coppola, Scorsese, Kurosawa and Malick represented. Hey, someone had to vouch for 'The Thin Red Line'. As always there are around 20 good answers for the 'Greatest of all-time', so 'Vertigo' grabs the reins for awhile I have no gripes.

    1. City of God is fucking amazing, I was stunned that it only got three "votes" total.

      Loved seeing The Thin Red Line here. I've long since considered that an American masterpiece.

      I loved that Vertigo trumped Citizen Kane. I don't think it's better than Kane, but I like mixing things up. Thank for commenting, Jeff!

  9. Hahah omg I loved how Les Blank picked one of his own films....

    1. I was shocked by that at first, but that dude is seriously out there. Having met him, I am not surprised at all that he chose his own movie. Still though... really?

  10. Oh God, we live in the world where people care enough about Vaughn's prefrences to actually ask him about his favorite movies. Long pause.

    Great post and woah going through all of those polls must have been exhausting, Mann picking Avatar is the biggest WTF for me.

  11. Ha, yeah, that might be the most baffling thing about Vaughn's pick... the fact that he was actually allowed to pick them haha. Ahhh but maybe that's not being fair.

    Anyway, Mann picking Avatar is just balls nuts. I know he's a technical dude but, whoa.

  12. Rocky THREE?! pfft. The only one worse than III is V.

  13. This is interesting. I was wayy more into the directors' lists than the critics' ones.

    I don't think I will ever watch Salo. I love Mendes choosing There Will Be Blood and July choosing Fish Tank. Also, I think it's perfectly fine that Mann chose Avatar. I do not get people's amazement. Like it's fine to choose super weird esoteric movies, but choosing Avatar is like sacrilege. I mean, no it's not anywhere near my "favourite" favourite movies, but it is a wildly entertaining film that is absolutely gorgeous and a monstrous technical achievement. I really like it.

    1. I actually don't hate Avatar at all. I think the dialogue plays like it was written by a 12 year old, but the technical aspects of the movie are undeniably game changing. What's surprising, to me, is that someone like Mann, a dude who makes mostly effects free, intense crime dramas, loves a movie like Avatar so much.

  14. Yes, the Radio Days selection is comforting.

  15. I love lists like this. Endless debates are always fun. I'm happy you picked out of a few of these to highlight since this was very interesting.

    Really how Sam Mendes loves There Will Be Blood. If only he could show the talent he had during American Beauty. Hopefully Skyfall will be good.

    1. Thanks Max! I like stuff like this too, and these sorts of debates can really be a lot of fun.

      Man, I'm really hoping Skyfall is legit as well.

  16. Really interesting highlights, man. One question though: how did Les Blank select his own work? I thought one of the rules was that you couldn't select anything you created?

    1. Thanks dude.

      Ha, I have no idea. But he isn't the only one. A few others did. So lame.

  17. My Top 12

    Apocalypse Now
    Do The Right Thing
    Monty Python And The Holy Grail
    Boogie Nights
    Blue Velvet
    Dr. Strangelove
    LA Confidential
    Dazed And Confused

    1. That is a great list. I love the blend of old and new, and I adore that you have Precious listed. I really do love that movie. So painful and true.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!