Manohla Dargis

Manohla Dargis

Critic, New York Times
Voted in the critics poll

Voted for:

Au Hasard Balthazar 1966 Robert Bresson
Barry Lyndon 1975 Stanley Kubrick
Flowers of Shanghai 1998 Hsiao-hsien Hou
Flowers of St Francis, The 1950 Roberto Rossellini
Godfather: Part II, The 1974 Francis Ford Coppola
Little Stabs at Happiness 1963 Ken Jacobs
Masculin Féminin 1966 Jean-Luc Godard
There Will Be Blood 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson
Touch of Evil 1958 Orson Welles
Wizard of Oz, The 1939 Victor Fleming


These are not the ten greatest films, but rather ten that made me look at cinema, the world and my life differently. That makes this list somewhat nostalgic, as does the fact that these particular favourites were shot on film and not digital. I don’t hate digital, and recent features from the likes of David Fincher and David Lynch are just a few of the reasons why. But film taught me to love the movies, and it’s film that I love. It’s crushing and incomprehensible that film will vanish within my lifetime, forced into obsolescence by the greed and the shortsightedness of a movie industry that’s aided in its anti-film campaign by the unsettling indifference and ignorance of too many critics. The movies will continue, but right now my list feels a little like a dispatch from a nearly lost world. Ask me again tomorrow, and it would certainly look a bit different. Here are some reasons why I came up with this list today: Balthazar wearing a crown of flowers and dying among the sheep. The candlelight, ‘Sarabande’ (Handel) and the ‘Women of Ireland’ (Seán O Riada) in Barry Lyndon. The camera moving across the pale faces and shadows in the opening of Flowers of Shanghai – the first of 39 shots in the film. Saint Francis shushing the birds so that God can hear him while he prays (“My little brothers, you can praise God so easily, because you’re free to fly through the air so pure.”). The parallel structure of The Godfather Part II, with Vito ascending and Michael descending; the way the young Clemenza stands pointing his gun at the silhouette of a policeman, evoking the codified gestures in silent cinema and underlining Coppola’s two other histories (the Corleone’s, cinema’s). Jack Smith in the bathtub in Little Stabs at Happiness and Ken Jacobs in voiceover (“Almost no one in this film do I see anymore”). “This wasn’t the film we dreamed of,” the doomed boy says in Masculin féminin. “This wasn’t the total film that each of us had carried within himself [sic], the film that we wanted to make or, more secretly, no doubt, that we wanted to live.” The cinematographer Robert Elswit said that while shooting There Will Be Blood he and director Paul Thomas Anderson looked at traditional film dailies rather than so-called digital dailies. In explaining the benefits of film dailies, Elswit provided an inadvertent explanation of why so many contemporary studio and independent movies look so bad: with film dailies “you can’t kid yourself about focus and all the other technical issues that can come back to bite you later when you go to do an IP [interpositive]. Or when you make a digital file into a negative, and you find out that those ten shots you sort of saw sharply with your D5 or HD dailies really weren’t that sharp at all. And then, of course, the color space of motion picture film is completely different than digital color space.” In Touch of Evil, the camera travelling across the border with both the newlywed Mr and Mrs Vargas and the blonde with “this ticking in my head”/Henry Mancini/ Charlton Heston striding across the screen like the Colossus of Rhodes and Orson Welles looming in it like a colossus of cinema/the overhead shot of Vargas driving/Dietrich lighting a cigar (evoking von Sternberg) and eulogising Hank Quinlan (suggesting Welles). Growing up in New York in the 1960s and 70s, my family only had a black-and-white TV, so wow, was I surprised when I first saw The Wisard of Oz in colour!