Roger Ebert

Critic, Chicago Sun-Times


Voted in the critics’ poll

Voted for

2001: A Space Odyssey


Stanley Kubrick

Aguirre, Wrath of God


Werner Herzog

Apocalypse Now


Francis Ford Coppola

Citizen Kane


Orson Welles

dolce vita, La


Federico Fellini

General, The


Buster Keaton

Raging Bull


Martin Scorsese

Tokyo Story


Ozu Yasujirô

Tree of Life, The


Terrence Malick



Alfred Hitchcock


I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound’s famous poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Apart from my annual year’s best lists, this is the only list I vote in – and have done since 1972. It’s a challenge. To add a title to the list I came up with in 2002, I must remove one. At one point in pondering this list, here’s what I thought I would do: I would simply start all over with ten new films. But it was too much like a stunt. Lists are ridiculous, but if you’re going to vote, you have to play the game. Besides, the thought of starting with a blank page and a list of all the films ever made fills me with despair. So I decided there must be one new film. The two candidates, for me, were Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Like the Herzog, the Kubrick and the Coppola, they are films of almost foolhardy ambition. Like many of the films on my list, they were directed by the artist who wrote then. Like several of them, they attempt no less than to tell the story of an entire life. In Synecdoche, Kaufman does this with one of the most audacious sets ever constructed: an ever-expanding series of boxes or compartments with which the protagonist attempts to deal with the categories of his life. The film has the insight that we all deal with life in separate segments, defined by choice or compulsion, desire or fear, past or present. It is no less than a film about life. In The Tree of Life, Malick boldly begins with the Big Bang and ends in an unspecified state of attenuated consciousness after death. The central section is the story of birth and raising a family. I could have chosen either film – I chose The Tree of Life because it’s more affirmative and hopeful. I realise that isn’t a defensible reasons for choosing one film over the other, but it is my reason, and making this list is essentially impossible, anyway. Apart from any other motive for putting a movie title on a list like this, there is always the motive of propaganda: critics add a title hoping to draw attention to it, and encourage others to see it. For 2012, I suppose this is my propaganda title. I believe it’s an important film, and will only increase in stature over the years.

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