MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2022
Dargis drops it to third: These elites today! Often, they're in the framework-of-understanding business, sometimes in ways we may not fully see.
Last Wednesday, the New York Times co-chief film critics—Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott—released their own lists of the world's ten greatest films. Their colloquy appeared in today's print editions—or at least, it appeared in the print edition we found outside our front door.
The pair were reacting to Sight & Sound's recent announcement that Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was selected as history's greatest film in its latest survey of slighlty over 1,600 academics and critics.
What did the co-chief critics of the Times list as the ten greatest films? Scott presented his list in chronological order—and the world's greatest film wasn't there:
A. O. Scott, ten greatest films
The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin)
La Terra Trema (Luchino Visconti)
What’s Opera, Doc? (Chuck Jones)
Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli)
La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini)
Cléo From 5 to 7 (Varda)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves)
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston)
Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)
That's right—Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One! It's one of the ten greatest films!
For ourselves, we've seen three of those ten films, though possibly not to the end.
Scott didn't include Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on his list at all. It came in third on Dargis' list, which she said she was listing in order of merit:
Manohla Dargis, ten greatest films
1) Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)
2) The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
3) Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman)
4) Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
5) The Gleaners and I (Varda)
6) Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
7) Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
8) Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs),
9) There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
10) Shoes (Lois Weber)
We've seen two or possibly three of those films, one about ten millions times.
Dargis' second greatest film is a giant popular favorite, at least here in the U.S. Her greatest film is about a donkey named Balthazar. It would strike most American viewers as amateurish and highly tedious, much as it struck some observers when it first appeared:
The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, however, wrote that although some consider the work a masterpiece, "others may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy." Ingmar Bergman also said of the movie, "this Balthazar, I didn't understand a word of it, it was so completely boring...A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting."
Judgments like these are subjective. We do think it's interesting to note that the chief critics for the Times tend to favor films whose merits would be unrecognizable to most Times readers and which would very likely bore many Times readers to tears.
That doesn't mean that their judgments are "wrong." It does suggest a possible oddity concerning some of our modern world's high-end journalistic and academic elites.