By Dennis Lim
For five decades, the Village Voice's movie reviews have been uniquely attuned to New York City's film culture. Written by and for cinephiles, the paper's film section has filled the void left by the timidity and the complacency of mainstream movie reviewing. The Voice's film pages recontextualized Hollywood and explored the avant-garde — no other mass publication has produced a body of criticism as politically engaged and historically grounded, as dedicated to seeking out the new, the marginal, and the underseen.
This guide constructs a canon of great films from the Voice's archive of movie reviews. Given the tastes and the sensibilities of the paper's critics, this is an idiosyncratic selection, one that defies conventional wisdom and abides by the tradition of advocacy that has long informed film criticism at the Voice. It was, after all, a Voice staffer, Andrew Sarris, who essentially originated the idea of canon formation as criticism, in his seminal volume The American Cinema.
Our Top 150 films are not without a few usual suspects. Masters like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles are duly acknowledged. That said, you'll find a Welles film that's a fixture on other all-time-great lists (Citizen Kane) but also a Welles film that turns up on almost none of them (F for Fake). Obviously, there are house favorites: Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Luis Bunuel, David Cronenberg, and Wong Kar-wai all have at least three entries each.
There are also omissions. Films released before the Voice began publication in 1955 are naturally underrepresented (although thanks to the section's diligent coverage of the repertory circuit, we were able to include a good number of older movies, including silents). Given this book's mandate, we mostly restricted ourselves to positive reviews. As such, some films are missing because of what now seem like critical blind spots—John Cassavetes's 1970s work, for instance, was not favorably reviewed in the Voice (though the controversy over Shadows, a film that the paper's first film editor, Jonas Mekas, championed, then disowned after Cassavetes recut it, is documented here in full). Other exclusions can be blamed on the vagaries of theatrical distribution. Some world-cinema greats (Raul Ruiz, Edward Yang) and entire national cinemas (notably Brazil's) have enjoyed only limited exposure in U.S. art houses.
If a film was covered several times over the years, we often included various pieces to reflect evolving critical perspectives (or sometimes different opinions from the same writer—see Sarris on 2001: A Space Odyssey). Many of these reviews were edited for space and some topical references were removed, but we've tried to preserve the character of the original pieces.
Any list of favorites unavoidably reflects the period in which it was compiled. One of the goals of this book was to shake off the cobwebs of the Eurocentric art-film orthodoxy—hence the absence of some mustier standbys. My personal tastes were certainly a factor, as were those of the Voice's current film-reviewing team, many of whom I canvassed. Above all, though, the book was guided by the particular passions of the three singular critics who, more than anyone else, defined the identity of the Voice film section and established its legacy: Mekas, Sarris, and J. Hoberman.
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