Tyler’s 10 Greatest Films of All Time – A Theoretical Sights and Sounds Submission

I am not and was not eligible to submit to the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound vote as to the greatest films of all time. I don’t particularly care of course. I am a member of the Music City Film Critics Association with five years of published film criticism under my belt. I don’t need stuffy approval to feel validated in my work. What drew my attention to the list though was the general upset that was this decade’s poll.

The list is usually filled with films you would expect it to be if you are a student of film history: Bicycle Thieves, Breathless, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, 2001, Vertigo, etc. None of these entries are surprising. What was surprising was the general upset that was the blindsided declaration of Chantal Akerman’s 1975 feminist film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles as the runaway contender for the greatest film of all time.

The move was met with derision by some in the film community. Director Paul Schrader, a noted leftist, went as far as to rip the elevation of the film as an expression of woke pandering, saying “the sudden appearance of Jeanne Dielman in the number one slot undermines the S&S poll’s credibility. It feels off as if someone had put their thumb on the scale. Which I suspect they did.”

The elevation isn’t too surprising though. The Sight and Sounds poll is very political and reflects the values of academic film studies, which skew very postmodern and Marxist. Such lists though can’t help but be an expression of the films the critics believe SHOULD represent the best in filmmaking. Beyond the technical nuts-and-bolts logistics of pulling a film together, the absolute heights of filmmaking belong to people who fully realize the art form and bring the most out of it, using all of the tools they can bring to bear to realize visionary works of art that challenge our world.

Of course, to what end we challenge it is ultimately what defines that question. These lists usually become filled with films that advance the internal structure and function of film and open new doors for ideas and moral license in the medium: ala Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Breathless, etc.

Films that truly challenge us and change the world come by more subjectively and make us question the philosophy and the moral purpose of an art form. What is it accomplishing? What is it building up? What is it passing on to future generations?

I’ve read plenty of critics who hold up films like Do the Right Thing, A Short Film About Killing, and even Get Out among the greatest films of all, not merely because of their artistic virtues but because these films moved the needle on progressive politics and shot major ideas into the collective consciousness.

I can tell you that my personal list of favorite filmmakers is deeply tied to my inner sense of moralism and youthful existential musings. I love the works of Frank Capra and Martin Scorsese, big splashy dramatic works of moralism that reflect the values of the society they come from.

Most film critics are postmodernists and cultural Marxists, and they value deconstruction, reason, and the questioning of absolute authority, hierarchy, and objectivity. As such, any listing of this type is less of an objective list and more of a question about what your core priorities are. Are you a filmmaker interested in the art form? Are you an activist interested in pushing ideas? Or some combination of the two? And if you are pushing ideas, which ideas?

Being both a Christian and a political Conservative, I can’t help but feel the need to throw my hat into the ring and offer my contrarian vote. Such a vote is not a full expression of what I feel are the objective ten greatest films ever made. I haven’t watched enough Bergman, Fellini, or Godard to truly say I have experienced the fullness of this artistic medium. But I can say the films I pick represent my own values. Consider this list a work of advocacy, the best films that SHOULD be considered for all-time great status because they reflect the world I want to live in. They make for a contradictory lot, but the nuance and beauty in all of them are what draws me back to them.

Andrei Rublev (1966) by Andrei Tarkovsky

I am almost reticent to start this list out with a three-hour work of Soviet anti-religious arthouse filmmaking but this list is alphabetical. In any case, though, Tarkovsky is a filmmaker I am immensely drawn to. He was raised in the Soviet Union but his work was never fully defined by it. Many of his films were actually banned in his home country and only saw small releases in Western European film festivals. At a time when the Soviet government wanted movies that made religion look more foolish and corrupt, Tarkovsky made something far more meaningful and nuanced with this film. The story is an epic tale of medieval artists struggling under the weight of doubt, religious oppression, and despair but resolves on a note of such beauty and miraculousness that you can’t help but realize how sympathetic the director is towards spiritual wonder and beauty.

Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight (1966) by Orson Welles

It is a cliche at this point to call Citizen Kane the greatest film of all time, so much so that it is common parlance to call the greatest of anything “The Citizen Kane of X.” Thus why the film isn’t on my list, despite the fact that I adore the film and endlessly respect what Orson Welles accomplished with it. That said, Welles created a lifetime of masterpieces that Hollywood all but totally ignored and the highest of them is his glorious epic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedic history play Henry IVth. The film was almost a lost film for decades because of poor distribution and preservation but returned to the public eye in 2016 thanks to a major effort to restore and distribute the film, which is now available through Criterion Collection and HBO Max. Welles not only gives one of his greatest performances but tells one of his most joyous and personal stories with this retelling of the life of Shakespeare’s funniest character Sir John Falstaff.

The General (1926) By Buster Keaton

I am neither the first nor last to uphold Buster Keaton’s career masterpiece as one of the funniest and most exciting works of filmmaking to come out of the silent era. And that is perfectly fine because few films deserve so much praise. Keaton delivers on all of the death-defying talents he’d built up over a lifetime of playing clownish buffoons on stage and on film and used them here in what remains today, per capita, one of the most expensive films in the history of cinema. And the result is perfect! This Civil War epic retells (loosely) the real-life story of the Great Locomotive Chase as an epic of love and service during America’s most bitter war. It is a film so epic and beloved that few criticize the fact that it is VERY Pro-Confederate. It’s THAT good!

Gone With The Wind (1939) by Victor Fleming

I realize the can of worms I may be opening up merely by acknowledging this film but it must be said that the modern attempts to Cancel Gone With The Wind haven’t succeeded at draining the prestige of the film that remains, per capita, the highest grossing film of all time. I’ve already offered a full-throated defense of the film’s themes for GeeksUnderGrace, but I will reiterate that the film’s themes only work if you realize that it is a classical tragedy, a story about characters being consumed by their own flaws. In this case, we’re shown how the pride and vanity of the Old South destroyed a way of life. And we see it visualized in some of the most epic technicolor filmmaking ever put to celluloid. You don’t have to be some sort of Neo-Confederate to recognize this. This is a complicated movie about complicated people.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Ironically, this feels like it should be a more controversial film than the one we just discussed, that being a Jesus epic directed by a gay, atheist, Marxist, Italian neo-realist director famous for making depraved works of sadomasochist satire like Salo: 120 Days of Sodom. And yet, Pasolini somehow directed one of the most sincere depictions of the life of Christ ever put to film, albeit one that downplays his miracles in favor of his condemnations of the rich and powerful. Yet this is still very much in canon with the text of the Holy Bible. Part of what makes the film miraculous is that Pasolini ONLY used text from the Book of Matthew, having his actors pantomime elements of the story. The result is one of the rawest and most impactful depictions of Christ in the history of filmmaking.

Groundhog Day (1993) by Harold Ramis

There is nothing I can write on the beloved Bill Murray comedy that Jonah Goldberg hasn’t written better and more succinctly in his excellent breakdown of the film at National Review Online. Regardless, I will say he is absolutely correct in identifying the film where Bill Murray tells a groundhog not to “drive angry” as one of the greatest works of spiritual and moral growth in the history of filmmaking. That might sound goofy (and I have met many friends who consider the film bizarre or overrated because of that pronouncement) but the realization is one that has slowly washed over me the more I watch it. It is a film that maps perfectly onto Christian ethics, Jewish ethics, Buddist ethics, Hindu ethics, Nietschian ethics, Aristotelian ethics, and more simply because it captures the essential dryness of life and shows us how life improves by us putting more investment in others. Life is what we put into it and when we die to ourselves we can actually make it better.

The Lives of Others (2007) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Again I defer to the words of a far more talented and wise conservative thinker than myself, William F. Buckley declared shortly before his passing that this film was one of the greatest he had ever seen. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has arguably gone on to bigger and better things since this Oscar-nominated German-language film hit theaters. His 2019 film Never Look Away is arguably more epic and emotionally wrenching a film in its depiction of anti-authoritarian disdain and collective trauma. And yet, his breakout film must be held as one of the finest depictions of the evils and cruelties of life in Soviet-controlled East Germany ever produced. It remains a singular work of bittersweet humanism as we watch innocent souls be ground up within the gears of communism.

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) by John Ford

I don’t know if I can say this film is the greatest western of all time but it remains one of the most essential works from the greatest director of westerns of all time. John Ford is the man who built the myth of America and defined the vision of the old west as the soul of America’s mythic history. As he grew older though, Ford became more cynical and frustrated with the myths and the legends. His films became more tense and uncomfortable with the real-life history of the west and this film most encapsulates the incredibly complicated feelings he felt in his deep love for America. The film is defined by artificiality, bitterness, and regret, exploring the lamentable reality that the legend of America didn’t always live up to the truth of America. Unlike modern tellings of that tale as we see in the 1619 Project, this film takes no glee in the destruction of our national myths. It merely sits at the place of maximum irony, tension, and tragedy and asks what we’re supposed to do with the myths now that we have them.

Meet John Doe (1941) by Frank Capra

Frank Capra is a director who moved from hit to hit at the height of his career, only to return from World War II unable to recreate the success he’d made before. Even so, he delivered one of his most enduring works It’s A Wonderful Life during that time. His pre-war works though capture more of his talent and breadth as an artist, as he moves from depression-era Rooseveltian optimism to anti-war activism to screwball comedy in films like It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, and Arsenic and Old Lace. The height of that may have been Meet John Doe, the story of a falsified messiah figure coming to epitomize the plight common man at the height of the great depression. Capra’s depiction manages to paint one of his most heartbreaking portraits of the common man’s struggle and religiosity in a filmography that did amazing work portraying both of those themes well.

On the Waterfront (1954) by Elia Kazan

I end my list one a film that I considered one of the best judges of character in cinematic history. How people react to this film will tell you a lot about them, mainly because there is a large portion of Hollywood that considers Kazan a traitorous “stool pigeon” for abandoning his youthful communism and naming communist conspirators who attempted to feed propaganda into mainstream films, resulting in their careers being destroyed. This film was Kazan’s reaction to his critics, an angry youthful film where he was “telling his critics to go f*** themselves.” Marlon Brando delivers his career-best performance as a dock worker who rats on his union bosses after witnessing a murder, ending on one of the greatest SCREW YOU speeches in cinematic history. It is a film every committed anti-communist should hold dear to his heart.

Published by Tyler Hummel

Editor-in-Chief at Cultural Review, College Fix Fellow at Main Street Media, Regular Film Critic for Geeks Under Grace and the New York Sun, Published at ArcDigital, Rebeller, The DailyWire, Hollywood in Toto, Legal Insurrection and The ED Blog, Host of The AntiSocial Network Podcast

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