Kill the Headlights and Put It in Neutral
Another Sight & Sound Poll

(An E-Mail Conversation About Movies Between Phil Dellio and Andrew Lapointe.)

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Phil:    I take it you're young enough that this is the first Sight & Sound poll you've taken an interest in. I first caught up with the poll in 1979, when I found the '72 list reprinted in The Book of Lists. That was right when I started to obsess over Taxi Driver, Nashville, and The Conversation (and Manhattan, and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and other stuff I'm less eager to admit to), so it was quite an amazing thing to find. I think one of the key foundations of my long-standing friendship with a guy named Peter Stephens--we met while working as ushers in Georgetown's new theatre at the time--was my ability to rhyme off the Sight & Sound top 10. I drove into the city that winter to see Persona (#5 in '72) at the Eatons Centre. Hard to believe now, but the Cineplex there began by showing Persona, Dr. Strangelove, Last Tango in Paris, and the like.

Andrew:    Actually, I've never taken a look at the Sight & Sound poll before, but when I saw the recent list, I was pleased to see The Godfather Parts I & II on there. At least The Godfather Part II, which I believe is the rare sequel that is more complex than its predecessor in methods of cinematic storytelling (e.g., flashbacks and present connections in the Corleone family history). I'm glad you mentioned Taxi Driver. I saw that again recently on video, but I wish I had the kind of accessibility that you have seeing these films in repertory theatres. I live in Ottawa and there are only two (the ByTowne and the Mayfair), but in modern suburbia there's the AMC that shows the mega-blockbusters.

Phil:   You're forgetting C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud among sequels, but that and Godfather II are the only ones...I guess the one noteworthy breakthrough in this year's poll is The Godfathers becoming the first post-1970 films to make the top 10. I thought that was going to happen in '92, either them or Raging Bull, but it took another 10 years--the fact that they made the directors' top 10 in '92 may have helped. The gap between the poll and the most recent film in the top 10 continues to widen almost unabated, though: three years in '52 (Bicycle Thief), two years in '62 (L'avventura), six years in '72 (Persona), 19 years in '82 (8-1/2), 24 years in '92 (2001), and now 28 years (Godfather II). If Raging Bull were to get on next time and nothing newer, the gap would be 32 years. For what it's worth, I think they were right to count votes for the Godfathers together--I read somewhere that there was some grumbling about that.

Andrew:   Yes, I've heard some people talking about The Godfather I & II being listed together, which is something I don't think they should have done. Both films are extremely different, and I believe Godfather II is better for the reasons I talked about above. And for the record, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud was originally meant as a sequel to Return of the Living Dead.

Phil:    Andrew--you're my sparring partner here, and I respect you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against The Godfather again. Ever...I want to check voting for a few horror films, actually. Psycho, Night of the Hunter, and Blue Velvet would have gotten lots of support, and there was undoubtedly some votes for Nosferatu and Rosemary's Baby. I hope Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Peeping Tom, Repulsion, and Carrie also got something--all of which I prefer to 8-1/2.

Andrew:    For horror films, my top choice is definitely Dawn of the Dead, which I think is a skilled work of horror cinema. I know a lot of people would back me up on that, notably Roger Ebert. Poltergeist would also be a choice of mine.

Phil:    I'm not a fan of Dawn, though I haven't seen it since it came out. I remember it being campy and comic-book gory and in overly bright colours, and that the film's basic premise--that consumers are zombies--was driven home with a sledgehammer one scene after another. I'm a Pet Shop Boys fan and a full-time consumer--get off my case! Night, on the other hand, is grimy and surreal and appeared out of nowhere; I can totally understand Ebert's famous review where he sat there numb, completely unprepared for what he was seeing. And the political stuff in Night, Viet Nam and race, is so much more subtle. By the way, Scott Woods played me the opening scene of Dawn last year, inside the TV station, because he was convinced that John Cazale had an uncredited role as one of the technicians. Chronologically it's possible, if you assume that the film was shot in '78 before Cazale died, and there's one shot where the guy indeed looks like a dead ringer. But it's not him.

Andrew:    Dawn had an intelligent verve to it. I thought the characters in the film were believable and smart and not cardboard idiots just there to get killed. The movie wasn't just a zombie flick, it had something to say, politically and socially. How often do you see a horror movie like that?

Phil:    There are quite a few, but we've got to get off horror films. Before we do, though, as a service to Robin Wood/Forest J. Ackerman groupies, I quickly went through Sight & Sound's master list and, without bending the definition of "horror film" too much, found all the titles that got votes: Blue Velvet, Bride of Frankenstein, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Carrie, Cat People (original), Cul-de-Sac, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Don't Look Now, The Exorcist, Eyes Without a Face, Hour of the Wolf, I Walked With a Zombie, Jacob's Ladder, Jaws, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Night of the Hunter, Nosferatu (original), Psycho, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, The Tenant, The Thing From Another World, Vampyr. I haven't seen Cul-de-Sac or Jacob's Ladder, but I think they're generally classified as horror films. I didn't check vote totals--I'm guessing Night of the Hunter got the most and Let's Scare Jessica to Death the least (what a weird choice). I'm really surprised there was nothing for Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Freaks, or Peeping Tom. Frankenstein, too, which I remember was on Fellini's list in '92. There's someone we can talk about, Fellini--as I indicated earlier, I don't get the appeal. He and Bergman were basically on even footing 30 years ago, but Bergman has dropped out of both the critics' (two top 10s in '72, Persona and Wild Strawberries) and directors' lists, while Fellini's higher than ever. I find Persona much more absorbing than 8-1/2--the credit sequence, Bibi Andersson's monologue, and the frame burning up are unforgettable. As John Waters once wrote in Film Comment, c'mon Ingmar, how about Persona II?

Andrew:    First of all, Blue Velvet isn't a horror film, so I guess they're branching out to the more psychological thrillers. Persona is definitely a psychological thriller. I hear so much more about 8-1/2 than I do about Persona, so it seems 8-1/2 is getting overrated, as are a lot of the films on that list. But they're excellent nonetheless. I don't see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which is one of my all time favorites, anywhere on the list. An excellent film that seems underrated.

Phil:    You don't consider Blue Velvet a horror film? Is it because there's no creaking doors or lengthy hand-held shots from the killer's point of view? Surely it's as much of a horror film as The Shining or Psycho. Or maybe I just don't understand genre--the Action Channel has been playing Five Easy Pieces recently, one of my favourites but a little hard for me to get a handle on as an action film. Maybe they're thinking of the ping-pong game between Nicholson and the guy in the neck brace...Cuckoo's Nest did get votes: one critic and two directors, none of whom I recognize. It's a great film--I wouldn't put it right at the top of the '70s heap with The Godfathers and Nashville and Taxi Driver and a few others, but it's in the second tier. Milos Forman's own list is pretty interesting to the degree that almost half of it is made up of competitors from that time: he's got American Graffiti, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather, and Raging Bull. I've sensed from scanning the directors' lists that a lot of them shy away from contemporaries.

Andrew:    Okay, you could consider Blue Velvet horror because it does reach beyond the elements of a drama, or it could just be a psychological thriller with horror film elements (in the vein of Psycho perhaps). Or maybe I'm thinking in video store terms, in which you would probably find Blue Velvet in the drama section. Anyway, I disagree with lumping Cuckoo's Nest in the second tier. I think it's probably the best film of 1975, if not one of the best of the '70s. And while we're on the subject of Jack Nicholson, I was curious if you knew of his earlier roles in some of those Roger Corman classics?

Phil:    Basically my rule is, if it scares me, it's horror...Nashville or Frederick Wiseman's Welfare is my #1 for '75, I'd put Cuckoo's Nest or Jaws next, then Dog Day Afternoon, Night Moves, and Smile. I think a lot of people count '75 as the high point of American film in the '70s because of the strength of that year's five best-picture nominees, but I think '72, '73, and '74 were probably stronger. Cuckoo's Nest does provide one of the four Jack Nicholson impressions I amuse myself with on a semi-regular basis: "I want you to hold it between your knees," "Keep on talkin' 'bout the good life, Elton, 'cause it makes me want to puke," "I goddamned near lost my nose for you Mrs. Mulwray, and I happen to like my nose--I like breathing through it," and, Nicholson's impassioned plea to Will Sampson, "You wanna watch a ball game, Chief?" (I had to double-check Sampson's name on the IMDB--you know he gets something like 20th billing? Ridiculous.) I don't think I've ever seen any of the Corman films, though I can visualize Nicholson in The Terror, so I've probably caught bits and parts.

Andrew:    Peter Bogdonavich once saw The Terror and said, "Gee, I hope Jack makes it as a director, because he's not much of an actor." Nicholson had done a number of Roger Corman films beginning in 1958, and when Corman had to leave location when shooting 1963's The Terror, Jack offered to direct parts of it. (Francis Ford Coppola directed some parts as well, not to mention Monte Hellman.) Nicholson probably had exceptional promise as a director when he first started out co-directing The Terror voluntarily, while at the same time honing his acting craft, which I guess he hadn't perfected until he broke through with Easy Rider. (Though he has an infamous bit part in Corman's 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors, playing a creepy young man who loves dental pain. Jack remembered attending the premiere of Little Shop and the audience going berserk. He couldn't hear his dialogue when the film was screened because the audience was going crazy, so Jack really didn't get much notice as an actor until Easy Rider in 1969.)

Phil:    I've never seen Drive, He Said, or Goin' South, the '78 film Nicholson directed; The Two Jakes was a big disappointment, and he hasn't directed since. If I get really ambitious sometime, I'd like to go through the whole poll and compile a list of the ten actors and actresses who got the most votes. You could go by either most films listed or most total votes. In some cases, there'd obviously be a strong correlation with director votes: John Wayne's total is probably very close to the sum of votes for Ford and Hawks. The '70s, as you may have guessed by now, is the decade that most interests me--I'd like to see how the voting for Nicholson, Pacino, and De Niro compares. My guess is that Nicholson has the most films listed, but Pacino or De Niro would outpoint him because of The Godfathers. Actresses, who knows? Somebody like Janet Leigh, somebody you wouldn't necessarily think of right away, might come out on top. She'd do well just on the basis of Psycho, Touch of Evil, and The Manchurian Candidate.

Andrew:    I imagine Diane Keaton would make the list, with The Godfather I, II & III and Looking For Mr. Goodbar. She's one actress who comes to mind. Actually, I recently bought a copy of the 1969 political drama Medium Cool, about the Democratic Convention in Chicago with all the riots. Aside from being impressed with the movie, I liked the performance of Verna Bloom. I don't know if she'd make the list, but she'd be an exceptional choice.

Phil:    Yes, Keaton would rank for sure. I'd be surprised if Goodbar got any votes, but besides The Godfathers, I know Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Love and Death did--she'd do really well. Medium Cool's really good; I saw the Robert Evans movie recently, and in describing the fork in the road that defined Hollywood circa 1969, he contrasted Medium Cool and Paint Your Wagon. But I can't remember Verna Bloom in anything else noteworthy, except maybe a small part in After Hours. What about cinematographers? Haskell Wexler must have a bunch of films listed.

Andrew:    I read that Haskell Wexler won on Oscar for his work on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and he also worked as a cinematographer on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I also found out that he was a supervising cameraman on American Graffiti, and that he shot Bound For Glory in '76, for which he won an Oscar. In terms of other cinematographers, I imagine Michael Chapman would rank for Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. I also found out he did The Last Detail in '73 and The Last Waltz in '78. I really liked Robert Elswit's cinematography on Boogie Nights in '97. There's a great shot of people at a party and following someone diving into a pool that you might remember if you saw that picture. There's one quite lengthy shot of a handshake that's great too! Speaking of Verna Bloom, she was also in National Lampoon's Animal House.

Phil:    I remember the poolside shot in Boogie Nights very, very well--it's one of my favourite shots ever, not just for the camera movement but for the way Anderson uses "Spill the Wine" overtop. It's kind of a double homage: specifically to a similar shot in I Am Cuba, and more generally to the Copa shot in Goodfellas. In an issue of Cinema Scope devoted to the '90s, John Harkness named Boogie Nights' opening shot, the lengthy track through Luis Guzman's disco where we meet all the principals (an even more pointed reference to the Copa sequence), as the shot of the decade. I think he had the right film and the wrong shot. I really wish P.T. Anderson had submitted a list for the directors' poll. There were a number of people missing who I wish had voted: Wes Anderson, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Joel Coen, Terry Zwigoff, Jonathan Demme, Coppola, De Palma, Altman, and Polanski, to name a few. I assume that just about any living director with a credit gets an invitation. Scorsese didn't vote, but his ballot first time around, in '92--where he named the five films that most influenced him and declined to expand his list beyond that--explains why. It was good to see Tarantino's ballot, which accounts for one of the weirder choices I came across: Bogdonavich's They All Laughed. It's about as un-Tarantino as a film can be (and pretty marginal from what I remember).

Andrew:    Tarantino also loves John Carpenter's 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13, which is sort of a Rio Bravo equivalent where people are held up in a police station and are fighting gangs from the inside. You might see why Tarantino was influenced by that: he co-wrote that tongue-in-cheek horror flick From Dusk Till Dawn, which is sort of similar in plot to Precinct 13. One of my all time favorite directors, Cameron Crowe, voted for Pulp Fiction. As for Scorsese, he was a guest host on Roger Ebert's show and he voted Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket as one of his favorite films of the 1990s.

Phil:    I watched, taped, and showed a bit of the Scorsese/Ebert show to my grade 6 class when they were writing movie reviews a couple of years ago. I wanted them to listen carefully to Scorsese's explanations for his choices, and to try to get some of that into their reviews--I can't think of anyone I'd rather listen to talking about movies. Bottle Rocket surprised me--besides the fact that, as with They All Laughed and Tarantino, it's a very genial film that doesn't seem a good match for Scorsese's temperament, I thought it was a little ordinary after loving Rushmore so much. (I had the same problem when I saw Hard Eight, P.T. Anderson's first film, after Boogie Nights.) I'm sort of in the middle with Cameron Crowe: I like parts of Say Anything and Almost Famous (that's all I've seen of his), but I don't think either of them is a match for his contribution to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Maybe this is an opportune moment to ask you for your own Top 10.

Andrew:    Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High has some poignant moments, but it's best approached as a classic seminal sex comedy, much better than most of those kinds of movies; not his best but a good one to see. He wrote and produced a sort of follow-up to it in 1984 called The Wild Life, which was directed by his Fast Times producer Art Linson. The film flopped and very few producers talked to him after that, so I guess his salvation was Say Anything. Crowe's masterpiece is Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky is a very different and surreal film--I feel those two are his best. Say Anything is his much loved teen romance that has a lot of great moments; Singles, more of a low key romantic comedy set against the Grunge scene in Seattle, also has great moments; and Jerry Maguire put him on the map with an Oscar nomination. Almost Famous tops it, which segues me into my proverbial Top Ten List of Best Films. Please keep in mind, lists are not my strong suit. I've listed what I believe are a few favorite films in no particular order. On a final note, you'll notice my strong agreement with Scorsese on Bottle Rocket.

1. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2001)
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
3. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
4. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
5. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
6. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
7. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
8. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)
9. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
10. Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996)

Phil:    Wow, you really do like Almost Famous. I like seeing it on your list--it's a nice change from the reaction of most music writers, which was to jump all over it. I thought it had problems (the biggest for me was the bland wholesomeness of the kid who played Crowe Jr.), but as a period piece it had a good feeling for the '70s, and Billy Crudup is great every time out. My enthusiasm for Apocalypse Now has waned considerably since first seeing it at the old University Theatre in its initial run--before its initial run, actually, one of the "special previews" ($10 per ticket--unthinkable!) they had that winter, when I of course rushed back to Georgetown and told everybody I worked with at the theatre that it was the greatest film ever made. When I saw the rerelease last year (I'd seen it a couple of times in the intervening years), all the impressive pyrotechnics were negated by Martin Sheen's plodding narration and the murkiness of the Brando scenes, and the two restored sequences seemed very clumsy. In its own way, Apocalypse feels like the very definition--one definition, anyway--of Manny Farber's "white elephant" art. My turnaround probably has as much to do with the course of my own moviegoing biography than with the film itself. It's not the only film I loved from that time that's lost to me. Heat was another one on Scorsese's '90s list; it didn't make much of an impression on me, other than I remember being very impatient with all the meticulous cutting during the heist. It was a sequence I'd seen too many times before. I liked Being John Malkovich, especially the first half-hour; I'm surprised Spike Jonze hasn't followed up yet. I'm not that big on Clerks--I thought some of Chasing Amy was strong, though. I haven't seen Donnie Darko, though I read something to the effect that it's acquiring a passionate following. And that leaves you with two from my own list, which I'll get to shortly. The earliest title you have is '74; I've always thought my own taste is relatively weighted towards the recent and near-recent, but I'm like William K. Everson next to you. Anything from the '40s, '50s, or '60s that was close?

Andrew:   I watch movies from most eras, but my list starts in the early '70s. I really like movies with Abbott & Costello, like Abbott & Costello in Hollywood (1945) and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). I also really enjoyed Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), which struck me as an uncompromising and realistic look at alcoholism, something a lot of movies and TV shows today cover with less effectiveness. I also liked Key Largo (1943), not to mention many others from that time. Those films don't quite reach my top 10, but I did really enjoy them, and I like the work of Edward G. Robinson. I also have a penchant for Psycho (1960). I like Hitchcock's detailed and specific filming techniques, especially in the famous shower scene, of course. As for my list, I didn't want to limit my choices to a certain decade or era, just basically take the main films I've loved regardless of their age. I saw Donnie Darko months ago and have seen it numerous times by now. I remember being blown away by its meticulous narrative, and by the performances of Jake Gyllenhall, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osbourne, and Drew Barrymore (who also executive-produced). The film has an abundance of ideas and imagination, but unfortunately few people saw it in its token theatrical release. It's a wonderful movie that does require multiple viewings and an open mind. Francis Ford Coppola came on the set of the film, read a section of writer-director Richard Kelly's screenplay, and then circled the key line Drew Barrymore's character says: "Kids have to save themselves these days because parents don't have a clue." He circled that line and told Kelly, "There. That's what your film's about."
     Clerks was a hard choice. Kevin Smith is one of my all time favorite writer-directors, and I like all of his films, especially the critically trashed Mallrats, which I see as some sort of cult classic. Clerks has a unique style of storytelling and really intelligent dialogue, but I was torn as to whether I should go with Chasing Amy as my Smith pick. Heat I saw years ago, and I remember thinking it was probably the most original and different action film I'd seen. And, of course, I've always liked Pacino and De Niro. I was really impressed with Being John Malkovich in terms of the versatility of the actors, especially Cameron Diaz in a very different role, and of course also with the film's stark originality. The Godfather Part II is a huge cut above the first. I really like the contrasted stories between young Vito Corleone and Michael Corleone rising to power. I think that's a great way to raise the bar and continue a film story.

Bottle Rocket was a film I didn't particularly like that much when I first saw it! But for some reason I wanted to see it again and again and again, till I realized it was a good example of independent filmmaking with gifted new actors and a sharp script. It's also good to have James Caan in a little movie like this--even though his role is kind of minor, he's still great. Apocalypse Now is a film I'd seen partially years ago, but I've since seen the whole thing and I think it's probably the best approach you could take for a war movie, in contrast to the recent war pictures that just seem to glorify the subject. I was torn about maybe putting Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse on my list. That's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen about the troubles and ultimate disasters a movie production can bring. How many movies have you seen where the documentary of its making is on par with the actual film? Taxi Driver is dark and bleak and very unpleasant, but the film is meant to illuminate those subjects and themes, and Scorsese does it masterfully. It works excellently as a character study of a complex person who basically wants good but is driven by rage and turns to violence in retaliation, as many people do in real life. Finally, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Almost Famous top off my list as films that take my perception of film and storytelling to another level with fantastic screenplays and stories that ring true to life. So, let's see your list!

1. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
2. The Godfather I & II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972/74)
3. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
4. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
5. Goin' Down the Road (Don Shebib, 1970)
6. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
7. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
8. Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960)
9. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
10. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)

This is basically the same as a Top 10 I had in Radio On five years ago. I dropped GoodFellas, which at the moment I've seen one too many times (I fall into that trap a lot, but after staying away from such films for an extended period of time, I'll watch them again and they generally look as good as ever), and Miller's Crossing. In their place, I've added Nashville, on my list of runners-up last time, and Boogie Nights, which hadn't yet been released. Anderson's film is my favourite out of the handful of things that made a deep impression on me over the past five years: there was also Rushmore and The Virgin Suicides, and, among older films I caught up with for the first time, Welfare, Ermanno Olmi's The Sound of Trumpets, and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali. (Pather Panchali especially, but really the whole trilogy, which I was lucky enough to see in one six-hour sitting at Toronto's Cinematheque. It was an experience comparable to the night I saw the first two Godfathers together for the first time, at a Toronto rep house called the Nostalgic that closed down a number of years ago.) But I'd need to see the Olmi, Wiseman, and Ray films again before being sure I like them better than what I've seen many, many times. I'm glad you mentioned Double Indemnity, which is real close for me. I just filled out the favourite-movie-lines Top 5 elsewhere on this site, and after I did, I regretted not including some of the amazing back-and-forth between MacMurray and Stanwyck from Indemnity. Stanwyck: "I wonder if I know what you mean." MacMurray: "I wonder if you wonder." I had something from Sweet Smell of Success as my #1--I think you could draw up a list of 20 brilliant lines from Sweet Smell of Success alone. I even thought it was a longshot for Sight & Sound's Top 10 this time, it's attracted so many testimonials the past decade, but it wasn't even close--two votes from critics, five in the directors' poll.

Andrew:   As for movie lines, I liked the last exchanges between Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, and their "I love you too..." lines. In The Godfather Part II, the conversation between Robert De Niro and Bruno Kirby about their plans to compromise with the neighborhood Mafia Don over the two hundred dollar payoff was great. In Taxi Driver, there's a great scene where De Niro gives sort of a testimonial to the Senator about how bad New York City has become. I was glad to see both those films on your list. As for Rushmore, I did enjoy that and it's in my collection, but I thought Bottle Rocket had more charm, even with Caan playing sort of a gregarious thief with a little eccentricity. But Rushmore has terrific scenes and some great performances. The Royal Tenenbaums, I think, is Wes Anderson "epic," but some would disagree. The Virgin Suicides was intriguing but I was lost with the ending, even though it was an interesting film and I admired Sofia Coppola's direction (with her father's backup as producer). There are some diverse choices on your list there.

Phil:   I'm not a Billy Crystal fan, but whenever I think of Edward G. Robinson I'm always reminded of this inspired bit I saw Crystal do (probably on the Academy Awards) about how insanely anomalous Robinson's tough-guy staccato is in The Ten Commandments: "Ah, so where's your messiah now?" That, and finding out that Chief Wiggam's voice on "The Simpsons" is based on Robinson...Leonard Harris, the guy who played Senator Palantine in Taxi Driver, was a film critic for CBS, I think. One reason I become less interested in the Sight & Sound poll each time out is that, because I don't keep up with current film criticism--my frame of reference is still the Kael, Kauffmann, and Simon books on my shelf--most of the writers who vote don't mean anything to me. The only names that even register now are the people who've been around forever: David Ansen, Peter Cowie, David Denby, Ebert, Jim Hoberman, Laura Mulvey, Donald Richie, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Amy Taubin, Peter Wollen, Robin Wood, and a few others. Sarris didn't vote this time (a major surprise--in the annals of obsessive listmakers, he's like the blueprint for High Fidelity), Kauffmann last voted in '72, Simon never did (and seems to be in retirement--he hasn't been in The National Review for months and months), and Kael's dead (and never voted anyway). Phillip Lopate didn't vote--I loved the long opening essay he had in Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Essays and Criticism From a Lifelong Love Affair With the Movies about going to the movies in the early '60s. The one critic I've taken some notice of recently, Charles Taylor in Salon, didn't vote. It'd be more meaningful for me to see ballots from occasional film writers like Greil Marcus or Luc Sante than a lot of the people in there.

Andrew:   I was curious to know if you have ever read any reviews by Rod Lurie, who went on to direct such movies as The Contender (2000) and The Last Castle (2001). He's the rare critic who went on to become a filmmaker. I wonder if he's listed as a director or critic on the Sight & Sound poll, if he is listed there. Also, I read Roger Ebert's "Movie Answer Man" column and someone pointed out that the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were absent from the Top 10 in the poll. He noted that he wanted to screen some of their movies in a film club, while others wanted to see the films of Kevin Smith and Wes Anderson. The others laughed at his choices of Chaplin and Keaton. Now, I personally feel that the films of Smith and Anderson are just as worth seeing as those of Chaplin and Keaton. Some would argue against having anything from the 1990s or even 2000s on the Sight & Sound poll, but I think time can be irrelevant sometimes with films. As you can see, I have Donnie Darko on my list. Some would be outraged over having a film that's one year old on a list, but I'm 17 and I'm still experiencing new and old pieces of film. The oldest film on my list is from 1974, but I still find the films of the '60s, '50s, '40s, and '30s to be very important in cinematic history, and to me as a young filmgoer. Lists don't come as easy to me as they do to you probably, but I selected the films that stood out to me personally, regardless of whether they were 30, 20, 10 or even a couple of years old. My list will probably change in a matter of years as I see more and more films, and maybe by then it will contain a more diverse selection of films from the '30s through the '90s. Another problem is that some of the older films are harder to find on home video. I do think it's great, however, that resources like DVD are restoring them, so they can get as much attention from younger audiences as the newer films.

Phil:   Seventeen? Seventeen? Wow. That puts you inside a demographic I basically have zero contact with at this point in my life--from about 14 to 20. I'm afraid of the grade 8s at the school where I teach...I didn't know that about Lurie; if he had voted, they would have put him in the directors' poll. I guess critic-turned-director isn't such a fact of life anymore (possibly replaced by the Tarantino route of video-clerk-turned-director), but at one time it was fairly common: all the Cahiers people (Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, etc.), their British equivalents (Anderson, Reisz, Wollen), and later such Americans as Bogdanovich and Schrader. On the basis of The Contender, which I thought was overwrought and pretty hokey at times, I'm not that eager to track down any of Lurie's writing. (I did like Gary Oldham, but a comment about Joan Allen attributed to Kael--"See if you can scrape her off," when informed by a friend that Allen was "growing on him"--sums up my feelings about her perfectly. She's so dull.) Anyway, I'm envious that you get to spend the next 20 years discovering all these great films that knocked me out when I first saw them. Not that I'm not still catching up myself--like I say, it was only recently that I saw Pather Panchali, and after fidgeting through about a dozen Godard films over the years, I finally saw one I liked last winter, Vivre sa vie. One request: try to do your catching up at actual movie theatres whenever possible. I know that's difficult for you living in Ottawa, but videos, DVDs, whatever--films are meant to be seen in movie theatres. And not just because of the screen, though obviously that's a big part of it. In that split-second before Michael shoots Sollozzo, or before Raymond Burr glances down at Grace Kelly wiggling her ring finger in Rear Window, I want to be part of an audience; I want to experience the shared anticipation that leads up to that moment, and I want to feel the astonishment that cascades through the theatre right after. It's worth the occasional inferior print (not a problem at the Cinematheque, my usual haunt) and the less occasional grief of chattering idiots. I get the feeling a lot of critics who started writing about film in the past five or ten years have taken a crash-course in film history via videos--I go to a lot of rep screenings, and I hardly ever see any local critics, even at things that I know are rarely screened. I guess seeing something on video or DVD is better than not having seen it at all, and again, I understand that I have the advantage of living in a city with a half-dozen rep theatres--home-viewing by choice and by necessity are two different things. But in general, I think watching films on video/DVD is as poor a substitute for the real thing as the art education I've gotten looking at reproductions in books.