Friday, December 08, 2023

The Greatest Films of All Time

I have avoided putting up a Greatest Films of All Time list up previously because I have always felt such a list is a slippery task because of two reasons: 

1) it is not possible for me or any person to have seen enough of the vast quantity of quality films from around the world to make a credible list 

2) views of film change over time so such a list would only be a snapshot in time 

There are some exceptions to item #1. The late Allan Fish was one person I knew who made a dent in the huge quantity and quality of films from around the world. His top 3000 films list is a wonder. Despite having seen over 10,000 films, Allan was always on the lookout for gems from around the world as he knew there were always great films to be found and documented his findings in his "The Fish Obscuro" reviews. His cinematic quests were (are) in contrast to the vast amount of North American critics who are happy to view and place only English language Hollywood films in their top 10 film lists annually and call it a year. In terms of North American critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum is an exception as he is well versed in foreign films and is always willing to seek out classic films or revisit films for a different perspective as documented by his “Global Discoveries” Cinema Scope columns. Everyone has blind spots in their film viewing but not everyone is willing to take steps to rectify those like Allan did or Jonathan still does. 

There are still a vast amount of classic films to view and consider worthy of a canon entry. The recent 101 Hidden Gems from Sight & Sound serves as a reminder of the vast amount of films that are rarely seen. Majority of the films in this list still don’t have proper distribution. In contrast, Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films of all Time list contains films that have been mostly accessible in various formats, starting from theatrical screenings to VHS Tapes to DVDs to Blu-Rays and streaming. This accessibility creates a recursive loop which allows more people to view these films thereby ensuring that these films will always be in the Greatest Films of all time lists due to higher number of mentions. 

I am well aware of my blind spots and know that there are a lot more films to be seen. However, I am finally ready to put down a snapshot in time of my 10 Greatest Films list. This list will, and should, change over time but for now, this is it.

Top 10 Greatest Films of all Time

1. The Battle of Algiers (1966, Italy/Algeria, Gillo Pontecorvo)
2. Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran/France, Abbas Kiarostami)
3. Le mani sulla città (Hands over the City, 1963, Italy/France, Francesco Rosi)
4. In the Mood for Love (2000, Hong Kong/France, Wong Kar-wai)
5. Modern Times (1936, USA, Charles Chaplin)
6. Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959, India, Satyajit Ray)
7. Pickpocket (1959, France, Robert Bresson)
8. Ikiru (1952, Japan, Akira Kurosawa)
9. Tokyo Story (1953, Japan, Yasujirô Ozu)
10. Zama (2017, Argentina co-production, Lucrecia Martel)

Honourable mention of dozen films that were once in the Top 10 (arranged in year of release):

Bicycle Thieves (1948, Italy, Vittorio De Sica)
Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear, 1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Seven Samurai (1954, Japan, Akira Kurosawa)
The Seventh Seal (1957, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Il Posto (1961, Italy, Ermanno Olmi)
Black God, White Devil (1964, Brazil, Glauber Rocha)
Play Time (1967, France/Italy, Jacques Tati)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, UK/USA, Stanley Kubrick)
Uski Roti (Our Daily Bread, 1970, India, Mani Kaul)
Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother, 1986, India, John Abraham)
Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000, Taiwan, Edward Yang)
The Time That Remains (2009, Palestine co-production, Elia Sulieman)

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Vittorio De Sica and Commedia all'italiana

Vittorio De Sica’s name looms large both in Italian and Global cinema due to his remarkable works of neorealism especially the essential Bicycle Thieves (1948). However, he did direct other type of films especially Commedia all'italiana or “Italian-style comedy”. This comedic style isn’t a straight-forward comedy but instead depicts social topics through a comedic lens. In a way, such a style feels like an extension of what De Sica managed with his more famous works of neorealism. 

Three films seen as part of this spotlight:

The Last Judgement (1962)
Il Boom (1963)

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

The Last Judgement (1962)

This Naples set film starts off with a voice coming from heavens that the Last Judgement will begin at 6 pm. At first, some dismiss the voice as that of a new advertisement, a stunt, but as the voice keeps booming, it causes anxiety and concern in people. The reason for that is that no one is clean enough to escape judgement. The film focuses on a few sets of characters and follows their lives. Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Lino Ventura, and even Vittorio De Sica himself star in the film.

Other than the booming voice, there isn’t anything memorable in this film. Even the switch from black and white to colour near the end fails to liven events up. The presence of Jack Palance and Anouk Aimée is a surprise.

Il Boom (1963)

Alberto Sordi puts in a virtuoso performance as Giovanni Alberti, a building contractor who is drowning in debt due to some risky deals going sour. Giovanni made some money during the economic boom years in Italian society during the 1950s (hence the title) but he didn’t read the writing on the wall and made some risky bets. Giovanni hasn’t adapted to the times and continues selling building schemes in the same manner. Yet, other investors and banks are now wiser and aren’t willing invest in his building schemes or loan him money. On top of that, Giovanni has kept the full extent of their debt from his wife Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale) who continues to live and expect a rich lifestyle full of expensive items and late night parties.

Giovanni Alberti continues to get desperate and is willing to do anything to turn his fortunes around. He gets such a chance after a rich business owner’s wife (Mrs. Bausetti played by Elena Nicolai) offers him a chance to wipe out his debt overnight. At first, Giovanni thinks that Mrs. Bausetti wants to sleep with him. But amusingly it turns out that she wants his eye instead as her husband Mr. Bausetti (Ettore Geri) only has one good eye and wears a patch on the other one. Acquiring a healthy body part as part of a financial trade is an illegal activity so this deal has to stay secret between the Bausettis and Giovanni. This deal leads Giovanni to evaluate what he really wants and what is the cost of his happiness.

Il Boom is an energetic smart satire that is a perfect example of Commedia all’italiana and shows how this style can blend social commentary with some amusing moments. The film contains some of the same vibrant energy as Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso (The Easy life, 1962), another shining example of Commedia all’italiana. 

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni plays three different characters in three shorts set in three different Italian cities: Naples, Milan and Rome. It is the first short set in Naples that is the best of the trio.

In the first segment,  Loren plays Adelina who sells illegal cigarettes to make ends meet and support her family, Carmine (Marcello Mastroianni) and their child. She fails to pay a fine which is a jailable offence. When the police come to arrest her, they find out she is pregnant. As per Italian law, women cannot be sent to prison when they are pregnant or within six months after a pregnancy. So after the police see the doctor’s certificate validating her pregnancy, they announce that they will be back in a year. But when the police come back in a year, she is pregnant yet again. This starts a comic cycle where she keeps getting pregnant to avoid jail. Their family grows to seven children staying in the same tiny residence. Carmine is exhausted from all the children and the constant sexual requirements he has to fulfill. Safe to say, such a topic makes for some amusing moments and both actors are lively.

The second segment features Sophia Loren playing a rich woman from Milan who is on the road with her lover Renzo (Marcello Mastroianni). The entire segment is set on the road which seems fitting as the growth of car ownership in the 1960s led to cars playing a significant part in cinema. The comedy in this segment is a bit subtle with the humour mostly in between the lines until the end.

The third segment is set in Rome and features Loren playing a seductive prostitute who is tempting both Mastroianni’s character and her neighbour who is a young man studying to be a priest. It is this short’s images that are more commonly found on the film’s poster yet it is this segment that is the weakest of the trio.


Vittoria De Sica’s name will always be associated with neorealism and films such as Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. but he did direct many other kinds of notable films such as the romantic comedy Marriage Italian-Style and the social Italian comedies known as Commedia all’italiana. Of the three films seen as part of Commedia all’italiana, Il Boom is clearly the best of the trio and shows how De Sica’s neorealist style can be married with comedic moments to produce an enjoyable insightful film. The Last Judgement is forgettable while Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow has some memorable moments due to the stellar duo of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.