Better Than BFI’s Top 100: Un Certain Regard

For a brief introduction and a running list of movies covered in this project, click here

The trouble with a top 100 list is usually #101.  What follows here is not 101-125, and it shouldn’t be construed that way, but it is a list of movies that I thought about a great deal when I was making my Better than BFI’s Top 100, and for one reason or another they deserve to be discussed as I put a bow on this project.

 

Movies from Directors Who Packed the Top Twenty

  • A Canterbury Tale
  • Night Train to Munich
  • A Room with a View
  • The Tales of Hoffmann

Two from Powell and Pressburger, one from Ivory, and another from Reed. A Room with a View is probably the closest of the bunch, followed by A Canterbury Tale, but both of them feel just a little lightweight. Room is kept afloat by two magnificent supporting performances by Maggie Smith and especially Denholm Elliott. There’s good work being done by Simon Callow and Helena Bonham Carter. And then the rest is lush photography, great shots of Venice and the surrounding countryside, and…eh? Certainly a very good movie, and it did stick around at the bottom of my rankings for some weeks, but in the end I couldn’t justify the spot. The inverse happens with A Canterbury Tale, which has a very good lead performance from Eric Portman and some lovely photography of Canterbury—I think the way this movie ends is spellbinding—but if there’s a plot I can’t quite find it. Night Train to Munich asks me to believe in Rex Harrison as a secret agent type, and by jingo I actually did; a good movie, but in the end I couldn’t squeeze it in. The Tales of Hoffmann is the one I most regret leaving off the list out of this bunch. It’s not always exciting, and in fact I would even call certain stretches of it fairly dull. But this is a true blank check movie in which two of the leading filmmakers of the previous decade decided just to go all the way in on making this opera into a movie. The costumes and makeup and dancing are sublime. The sets are just fabulous. Perhaps I was a little turned off by Robert Rounseville’s Hoffmann? All in all it’s a movie to be seen, and to be seen more than once. Powell and Pressburger may be filming an opera, but there are moments in there which just absolutely slay.

Movies Which I Couldn’t Find, Maybe Because I Don’t Live in Britain

  • Distant Voices, Still Lives
  • The IPCRESS File
  • Passport to Pimlico
  • Ratcatcher
  • Sexy Beast
  • Whistle Down the Wind

Distant Voice, Still Lives is the most significant omission from my list, I’d say, and I have little doubt that if I’d seen it I would have put it on this list without question. (I spoke to the proprietor of Videodrome, Atlanta’s magnificent movie-rental store, who was very nice about telling me that they didn’t have it. Seeing as they have just about everything, that seemed especially noteworthy.) In the end I got very close to launching this project with Distant Voices still in my draft, and I decided I couldn’t justify keeping a movie in there I haven’t seen. Ex Machina will be eternally grateful. The same goes for Passport to Pimlico, which definitely lands in my wheelhouse for “movies reacting to World War II on a primarily social rather than military level.” As for the rest, I have no doubt that I will catch up to them someday, feel serious guilt, and plan for a time when I have to remake this list. Whistle Down the Wind sounds like the one I would enjoy the most; Ratcatcher sounds like the one most likely to jump aboard a revised version; my Jonathan Glazer experiences have been tepid, at best.

Period Best Picture Winners

  • Chariots of Fire
  • Gandhi
  • A Man for All Seasons

Three movies I definitely enjoy a great deal, and which I think I am much higher on than consensus. All three, although Gandhi doesn’t care about this aspect quite as much, are quite interested in what it looks like when people are serious about their religious faith. Chariots of Fire in particular has a character in Eric Liddell who is scrupulously religious, someone who believes that God is real and thus his laws are real, and who will not bend to societal pressure because of those beliefs. (Insert lazy but necessary comment about how this is the exact opposite of how evangelical Protestants like Liddell act in the contemporary United States.) There are other elements in each one that should bump them up. Gandhi has probably the best scene of any of those movies in the Dharasana Salt Works satyagrahaChariots of Fire has the best score. A Man for All Seasons has the best leading performance in Paul Scofield. If one of them were as good as The Last Emperor, which did scoot onto this list, that would be another thing, but none of them tie all their ingredients together as well as Bertolucci’s movie.  

Recent Movies That May Yet Age Into This

  • The Death of Stalin
  • I, Daniel Blake
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Peterloo
  • You Were Never Really Here

This section is the one that really troubles me, because I can see a reason to put all of them in the top 100 but none of them above #75 or so. Peterloo I saw literally a week and a half ago, so it never had any chance to get here, and I would have to think hard about whether it might sit in that 80-100 zone. I, Daniel Blake is a little preachy for me, and I think I let the preachiness stand taller than any other single element of the movie in my evaluation as I was making the list. If I thought more about how good Hayley Squires is in this movie, it may have squeezed in. The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Death of Stalin both occupied spots in the bottom ten at different points, and I already feel kind of bad about not having The Death of Stalin in the top 100 when I think about how hard it made me laugh. If it had come out five years earlier, it probably would have gotten in there. You Were Never Really Here has the opposite problem. I have a hunch that if it had come out in 2010 or whatever, it would have stood a good chance of getting in, but I probably would have left it on the cutting room floor anyway. I erred on the side of caution. Also, of note: it’s nice to have a section like this in my “Un Certain Regard,” because I was not tempted to make a serious section for recent movies when I did this two years ago for American flicks.

Excess “Boy, Scotland Is Weird” Movies Excluded Because They Have Punctuation in the Title

  • I Know Where I’m Going!
  • Whisky Galore!

Whisky Galore! was always closer to this list than I Know Where I’m Going!, even though Wendy Hiller is certainly very good in that movie and if they remade it in 1996 it would have brought in buckets of money. But Whisky Galore! is just a really funny movie and a sort of goofy anthropological document all at once, as if they’d decided to make Man of Aran with a laugh track. In fairness, I wouldn’t say that either one of these movies was all that near the list.

Movies Everyone Else Includes But Me

  • Blow-Up
  • Brazil
  • Get Carter
  • This Is England
  • Zulu

Get Carter is the omission that I feel most troubled about, but then again, I’m less susceptible to gangster pictures, bleak or otherwise, than most, and I also don’t feel any particular sympathy for Michael Caine. It’s an extremely well made movie, one that gets menace and nihilism across, but I’m not sure there’s much else to go on. Zulu at least has emotion, but they aren’t feelings I feel all that good about given what those soldiers were fighting for; it’s sort of the equivalent of watching Cold Mountain. This Is England is effective for an hour or two after you watch it, and then you decide while it’s definitely better than American History X, it is only slightly more insightful. Blow-Up is wonderfully made, shot as well as most of the movies on the list, and just so cold to the touch. Finally, Brazil. I’ve written about this before, but Brazil is sort of in-between two much more interesting movies. There’s an interesting movie to be made where you replace Jonathan Pryce and Kim Greist with people who could actually hold our attention, or there’s an interesting movie to be made with a stronger sense of what’s bad about the government. The government of this dystopian ductwork future is one which is either amusingly incompetent or hyperefficiently destructive. Obviously there are plenty of real governments like that, but then again, most of us aren’t trying to satirize them in two hours or fewer. Brazil would work better if it had a better target to fire on, because “bureaucracy” is just vanishingly vague.

Directors Conspicuously Absent

Shoutouts before we begin to Charles Crichton, Ken Loach, Joseph Losey, Alexander Mackendrick, Steve McQueen, Tony Richardson, Ken Russell, and John Schlesinger, who each only have one movie in the Top 100 and who I feel guilty for having shortchanged.

Ones I feel bad about on a personal level:

  • Andrew Haigh
  • John Boulting
  • Michael Winterbottom

Ones I’m sort of troubled by leaving out, but I’ll live:

  • Henry Cornelius
  • Shane Meadows

Ones who might have made it if they ever learned a new trick:

  • Alan Parker
  • Neil Jordan

Lol

  • Guy Ritchie

One thought on “Better Than BFI’s Top 100: Un Certain Regard

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