Monday, March 4, 2013


With so many websites and organisations posting lists of the greatest all time this or the best of cinema history that, it's hard to keep track. It's even harder to care to be perfectly honest, but sometimes a list will pop up that is actually worth perusing if only to see whether the people compiling it even bothered to look further back than, say, their 1980s teenage years (a startling number of which you can answer "er, no they didn't.") As miffed as I am to link to them, I did actually find Total Film's "50 Greatest Cinematographers list to be a good one. Don't get me wrong, like many of the lists on that website, this great cinematographers piece isn't exactly the best read - the quality of the write-ups, bare as they already are, are rather all over the place - and their hit-baiting system is incredibly frustrating given their penchant for lists that are, like this one, 50 titles long. Yikes. Nobody wants to click 50 times, yeah?

As for the calibre of the choices, however, they get good marks. Amongst the many brilliant choices - why hello there Vilmos Zsigmond, Robert Burks, Sven Nykvist, James Wong Howe, Vittorio Storaro, Christopher Doyle, Charles Rosher (pictured) - I especially liked the inclusion of Maryse Alberti, whose work is predominantly in the less-beautiful realm of American independent cinema, and Tak Fujimoto, whose work one could mistake for lacking a predominant style, but which I find to be entirely faithful to the vision of his director. Many of the cinematographers responsible for my favourite acts of film lensing are featured: for instance, NĂ©stor Almendros is ranked at no. 22 presumably based entirely on his Oscar-winning work in the "magic hour" with Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. Still, if your legacy as a cinematographer is going to rest on one piece of work then it might as well be Days of Heaven, no?

Of course, as with any list like this one has to take it with a measure of subjectivity and a grain of salt. Would I personally trade Wally Pfister for one the many technicolor masters of the 1950s who worked on the "women's pictures" of the period? I undoubtedly would, yeah. And do I find it particularly disappointing that there's only one woman on the list? Well, sure, but at least they acknowledge that. Still, I'm sure anybody who's seen The Well could argue for Mandy Walker's inclusion. Still, as these things go they did a pretty decent job.

A far more note-worthy list is the Writer's Guild of America's 101 Greatest Screenplays that came through the pipeline in the last week. With a list from an organisation such as the WGA will always be hard to fault out of a general blase hive mind attitude that is hard to ignore. The 101 screenplays listed are pretty much wall to wall classic films - whether one agrees with all of them or not, it's hard to deny that they all hold a certain reputation as great cinema that means their placement makes sense and that even includes Forrest Gump, sadly - but, as with all lists of this kind, the true fun is in the novel surprises.

I, for instance, love the inclusion of both Shakespeare in Love (no. 28; Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard) and Thelma & Louise (no. 72; Callie Khouri), which are two very female-centric films that have taken a beating over time. A beating that has retrospectively coloured them in a not very flattering light. Trust the actual writers to jump to the former's defense when, to this very day, John Madden's film still cops flack for its supposed unworthy Best Picture win with The Academy. I also adored the citations for films that one might not necessarily point to the screenplay for their success. Titles such as Amadeus (no. 73; Peter Shaffer), Psycho (no. 92; Joseph Stefano), and Witness (no. 80; Earl W. Wallace, William Kelley, and Pamela Wallace). And of course the writer's guild would be cool enough to put Groundhog Day (no. 27; Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis) and Tootsie (no. 17; Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, and Don McGuire).

Naturally, I would have liked some more oddball choices to have slipped through the cracks, one of those spots that makes me sit up and nod my head in baffled agreement. Still, it's not like the final product is riddled with bad films. Well, except for Forrest Gump, of course.

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