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Why did they come to the U.S.? You may deduce that, at least for the Germans, Austrians and Hungarian, most of them Jewish, the answer was one word: Hitler. Yet except for Wilder, all the German speakers had emigrated during the Weimar years, when Nazism was barely a cyst in Mittel Europe's eye. Another word explains the lure of these directors for and to Hollywood: Ufa. That was the German studio where Lubitsch, Murnau and others made the films that attracted the attention of the Eastern European men who ran the U.S. movie industry. They had made films at Ufa because that's where the European action was. They came to Hollywood for the same reasonexcept that, there, not Europe but the world was their audience.
I argued, more stridently than Schickel, for geographical politics. "Ya gotta have an Iranian film!", I said, even as Richard insisted on a representative of the 60s Czech New Wave. Yet we both ignored gender politics. Of the 100, 99 were directed by men, and the only auteuse, if that's a word, is the German Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite director. Pressed for a second film made by a woman, I would have chosen Kasi Lemmons' magical melodrama, Eve's Bayou, which was among my semi-finalists. It happens that Lemmons is an African-American, so the inclusion of her film would have addressed another nagging deficiency in the listif you believe, as I half do, that the 100 should be as inclusive as possible. (The non-Caucasian directors, 11, are all Asian: Japanese, Chinese or Indian.)
Speaking of half-thoughts, here's a half-serious suggestion. To compliment our selection of Guilty Pleasures, we might have had another sidebar called Guilty Consciencea contingent of films from developing countries and other underrepresented regions and ethnicities. Such a U.N. General Assembly of cinema might comprise, from Egypt, Youssef Chahine's Alexandria, Why?; from sub-Saharan Africa, Ousmane Sembene's Moolaade; from Brazil's Cinema Novo, Glauber Rocha's Land in a Trance; from Korea, Im Kwon-taek's Seopyeonje... I could go on singing. Last month TCM played more than a dozen Mexican movies from the 40s and 50s. As with Indian musicals, these robust artifacts made me wonder: What have I been missing? Life is a contnuing film education. And I remain a very impressionable lad.
Some readers might think that I shoehorned and strong-armed too many obscure titles onto the listall those Asian films that were barely or never released in the U.S. It's true that, when push came to shove, I deleted Hollywood movies I love and respect to make room for four Chinese-language films (A Touch of Zen, Farewell My Concubine, Drunken Master II and Chungking Express) and two Indian pop-musical dramas (Pyaasa and Nayakan). But even those titles are fewer than I'd wanted; I cut Awara and Peking Opera Blues at the last minute.
Anyway, I'd argue that a grand cinematic decade, from the mid-80s to mid-90s, belonged to the Chinese; their emergence and speedy supremacy was thrilling to watch. As for the Bollywood-style films, my recent inundation in India film instructed me in the subcontinent's teeming movie achievements, and persuaded me that in its Golden Age, for about 20 years after Independence in 1947, India produced films whose quality matched Hollywood's. Apparently some of you agree: Pyaasa, Nayakan and Concubine are often near the top of our readers' poll. Which proves that one man's obscurity is another's great and glowing treasure. Thanks, India and China, for voting early and often.
And the half-argument against such a niche: great films don't come from places, or groups, but from individuals. That's one reason the list contains more entriestwoby each of six different directors (Lubitsch, Kubrick, Scorsese, Bergman, Kurosawa, Leone) than from the whole African continent. The other reason: we're white males, and philistines!
IF WE ONLY HAD A HEART
We hear your pain. Reading some of the e-mail, Schickel and I sympathize, a little, that our selections didn't always jibe with your favorites. "Bride of Frankenstein but not Gone With the Wind?" was a frequent keen. "Way too many old films," one of you wrote. Sometimes, as I mentioned earlier, your criticism was about our color-blind, or color-myopic choiceswhy no Spike Lee film?
But the main complaint is that so few of the films we chose had heart. Among the movies deemed unfairly missing were Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Sergeant York, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, From Here to Eternity, La Strada, Ben-Hur, Parrish, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound of Music, Bang the Drum Slowly, Dances With Wolves and The Shawshank Redemptionall films that touched the people who saw them. The most frequently cited title was Mockingbird.
It's true that, by nature, critics are skeptics. We have been trained to spot the puppet strings, to be suspicious of the heroine's oh-so-noble renunciation, to note how the swelling of violins can cue a flood of audience tears. Aware as we are of all the manipulations, we find it harder to articulate an argument for humanist drama than for other kinds of films. Discussing a comedy, we can point to the wit and surprise, the shapeliness of construction, the Swiss-watch timing, the outsize bravura of a performance. We can even get away with the boast, "It made me laugh." With a weepie, we can only say, "It made me cry." For some reason, that is a confession as maudlin as the movie we're trying to defend. Defending comedy is easy; defending sentiment is hard.
I saw that last month at the Cannes Film Festival, where the 10-film Competition contained exactly one forthrightly emotional film, Marco Tullio Giordana's Once You're Born. The movie, about a 12-year-old Italian boy whose sweetly naive outlook on life is tested when he is thrown in with some illegal immigrants, challenged the audience both to feel for these characters and to examine those feelings. It was both a sentimental movie and a comment on sentiment. Between us, reader, I sobbed through about half of the film. Most of the critics didn't; it was roundly, often joyously scorned. And though Once You're Born was one of my favorite films at Cannes, I soon stopped praising it with talking with other critics. I was ashamed to be thought a softie.
But I'm telling you, reader. So you know I wouldn't be ashamed to put a movie that made me cry on the all-Time 100. Indeed, you will find there many films that stir powerful sentiments: City Lights, Dodsworth, Camille, The Shop Around the Corner, Meet Me in St. Louis, Children of Paradise, It's a Wonderful Life (can you get any weepier?), Ikiru, Umberto D., Tokyo Story, Closely Watched Trains, The Singing Detective, wings of Desire, Leolo, Farewell My Concubine, Kandahar, The Lord of the Rings, Talk to Her... and more, depending on whose heart is speaking.
If the list were a little longer, I would have been proud to stand up for Mr. Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Shawshank and other personal favorites: One Way Passage, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Miracle Worker, Empire of the Sun. Also a picture that was on my original, rough-draft list: Gone With the Wind. Until Schickel, the heartless bastard, snorted it off.
I don't think of these films as sentimental (no one does, when itemizing his top sentimental films). I think of them as touching some honest emotion. Translation: They made me cry, and I felt elevated, not manipulated, in the process.
LIKING AND HATING
So thanks for liking and hating the list. All of us who worked on this feature got a lot of satisfaction from the lavish response. The Indian press was pleased that The Apu Trilogy and two Indian musicals were in the 100, and that Raj Kapoor and A.R. Rahman graced the sidebars (though my fact-checkers at Bollywhat.com were pissed that I used the Hindi, not Tamil, names for songs from Rahman's Roja). Speaking of musicals, I was floored to get a thank-you note from Marc Shaiman, co-composer and arranger of the songs in South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. He teased me for calling him "SuperArranger": "Maybe I can get them to add me into The Fantastic Four"...
And as for those complaints"What are you smoking!" one reader askedmaybe this will help. Look, I helped make up the list, and I have a few objections. I'm sure Richard Schickel has his own grievances. It must have hurt to cut From Here to Eternity,his favorite World War II romance, at the last minute. But this is my column, so I get to kvetch. I mean, The Rules of the Game has for decades been in my all-time top ten. How come it's not here? And two Ingmar Bergman films, but not The Seventh Seal? That movie changed my life, man! No Max Ophuls? No Antonioni or Rossellini? And Audrey Hepburnwas the screen's greatest lady ever more radiant or ethereally seductive than in Sabrina?
Damn. I'm going to write an angry e-mail to the all-TIME 100 Movies.