The Sight and Sound poll came out a few days ago which gives a list of the top 10 films of all time according to the film minds of the industry and while I agree with most of the top 10 while going down the list of the following forty selections I can’t help but wonder where the more recent of films are at? So I beg this question, if those films are great, masterful, and powerful then why can’t we have any films from the past ten to twenty years on the list?

Now maybe I’m just being dumb or naive, but I just can’t wrap my brain as to why some of the more “recent” films can’t be put on this list. Now I’m not saying that The Dark Knight or Alien has to be on the list, as much as I’d like to see it but there are some films such as The Shawshank Redemption or Lord of the Rings: Return of the King should at least be in the consideration or even in the back end of the poll and here’s why:

1) Lots of awards have been won

 My first example is the picture to the left, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Now maybe when making the Sight and Sound poll they don’t take in a count Academy Awards won but rather the significance the film had on the landscape of cinema but are they saying Lord of the Rings hasn’t? The film set a record for the highest sweep at the Academy Awards by winning each category it was nominated for (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Makeup, Costume Design, Film Editing, Visual Effects) which is a total of 11 awards. Not only that but how about the influence of Lord of the Rings being a award winning blockbuster. While Jaws, arguably the first summer blockbuster, was nominated for Best Picture it didn’t win. Lord of the Rings was released in December so it wasn’t a “summer” blockbuster but at the same time it made $377,027,325 in the United States alone, making it the highest grossing movie of 2003. Not only that but it, with the help of Harry Potter, jump started the books to movies charge that has taken over Hollywood and led to adaptions of The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson. So while it may not be as influential in terms of the film itself, it still has structured the movie landscape of today and also created a new “genre” which is adaptions of novels.

2) Leaves off animation

 “Animation is not a genre, it’s a medium. And it can express any genre.” This quote by Brad Bird (The Incredible, The Iron Giant) is what fuels my argument that animation was left off the poll. Nothing, zilch. I hope that the people behind this poll don’t blindside animation next time because it can be just as powerful as any live action film. I cite a film I saw for the first time the other night, Grave of the Fireflies. This film by Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata was absolutely one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen. Period. The ending about had me in tears and I don’t cry in movies. And you forget that you are watching an animated movie by the second act! My point is that this poll has left out many animated films that are very powerful and influential. Another example is Finding Nemo or Toy Story 3. Both Pixar films and the two highest grossing. Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture the year it came out. It was highly praised by critics and made A LOT of money but probably will never see the light of day when it comes the top 50 films of all time and I’m not saying it has to be. All I want is a few animated movies to be considered and put on the next poll because these have become more than just entertainment for kids, they have become a new medium for film and one that has some of the most creative outcomes from some of the great minds in cinema today.

3) Missing some great performances

Another thing I noticed is that they are missing films that not only are amazing movies but also carry some of the most powerful, influential, and fantastic performances of the last twenty or so years. Here are a few that I think stand out along with the film:

  • Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful (1997)
  • Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007)
  • Adrien Brody in The Pianist (2002)
  • Kevin Spacey in American Beauty (1999)
  • Colin Firth in The King’s Speech (2009)

That’s just a few that stood out to me. And I’m sure there are a lot others but I just see those names and they should be enough to put some of those films in the argument for the Sight and Sound list next time.

That’s the end of my rant but I want to conclude with this thought. We see movies every year, or at least I do, that feel like they are just in a league of their own when it comes to how great they are. But once you see a poll like the Sight and Sound it skews my perspective because I am confused as to what truly makes a film a masterpiece because until a few days ago I would characterize films like The Dark Knight or Toy Story 3 or Pulp Fiction as not only a masterpiece but one of the all-time greats. So I hope that in the future of this poll they start to add more recent films into the field because the reality is that the landscape of cinema is changing. With technology the way it is going, everything is going to change and I hope they begin to use it to change how we see films in the future and heavily influence the industry as a whole.

I hope the people who read this add some comments because I’m curious to see what you think on this issue and was hoping to spark debate from this article.


3 thoughts on “What makes a Film a Masterpiece?

  1. I think you have some good points, Zach. Especially on the animation front – it seems that animation is often left out, even though there have been some completely stellar animated films lately. (I'd love to watch Grave of the Fireflies! I'm a big Studio Ghibli fan.) Have you seen The Illusionist, directed by Sylvain Chomet? It really is masterful, and had my husband sobbing by the end.I would guess, however, that many of the films you mention WILL be considered for lists of the greats… it'll just take some time. Just think of all the visual artists and musicians that weren't recognized for their genius until after their death.As for me… I already consider Toy Story 3 to be a masterpiece :)(Not to mention Shawshank, There Will be Blood, and the other films you list!)

  2. You should try Grave of the Fireflies. It's amazing! I'm glad you are kind of in my court on this. I talked about it the other day. There are a lot of influential and major movies and films that deserve to be on this list and I feel like they get snubbed for foreign films which are great but maybe don't reach to all of cinema like some American films do.

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