Top "Ten" List 1994

NOTE: 1994 was the first year for which I actively made up a Top Ten List (or Top Eleven List as the case may be). For a while I was preparing an article that I planned to post to the Net that would have included a variety of comments about the films, or at least those that I felt needed additional comments. However, I never got very far with that. Below I give the list (minus the very few comments that I had actually made, but which had not really reached a "stand-alone" nature) and a revamped version of the original preface that I had planned to include with it (which explains my "eligibility for selection"). I have not altered the list, though I have been tempted to do so. It's always bothered me that I left it at 11 instead of trying to cut it down to 10. Were I to re-make the list today I might simply remove Vive l'amour, which I still think it a remarkable film, but of the 11 is the one that has lessened somewhat in my mind since. I'd also like to mention that Ed Wood was/is a very strong runner-up (and could have replaced Vive l'amour and Portrait of a Young Girl from Brussels by a hair).

After much thought and considerable agony (from which I shall no doubt never recover), I offer the following 11 "new" films as those which, by some vague and indescribable measure, gave me the greatest pleasure during the time I was watching them and/or in the days, weeks, months that followed. I'll confess to having seen only 6 [now 7--ed.] of the 11 titles more than once so far, but the other five [now four--ed.] were either outright impossible or highly impractical to have seen more than once during the year.

As for a film's eligibility to make the list...well it's rather complex and probably of little interest to anyone but myself, but the main components are that *I* saw the film for the first time in some theatrical venue in Chicago (or theoretically a late-in-the-year viewing on video of something that appeared theatrically earlier in the year), *and* that the film can in some sense or another be construed as "new" to Chicago in 1994, even if it doesn't have a 1994 copyright per se. (Note: I am not referring to late-1993 films that opened here but that I just didn't bother to drag my lazy butt to until early 1994; I have a secondary list for pre-1994 films [see below].) Ideally, at least from my vantage point, films from throughout the world would open simultaneously everywhere and hence it would be much easier to decide what constitutes a "1994 film". Alas, the economics of distribution are such that it often takes many months, years, decades for films to reach my little corner of the world. Another snag (though for me a highly positive one) lies in the Chicago International Film Festival. There are many films that opened theatrically in Chicago in 1994 for a regular run (such as Helas pour moi, Calendar, The Blue Kite) but which I actually saw at 1993's festival and hence would have considered for 1993's list (had I made one). Conversely, a film like Naked which played at the 1993 festival, but that I didn't see until it's regular theatrical run in 1994 is eligible for 1994's list. In short, my pool of eligibility consists of those films that I saw for the first time between January 1, 1994 and December 31, 1994 inclusive, and that I consider in some reasonable sense to be "new to Chicago" within that same time frame. Tricky and unsatisfactory perhaps in relation to the way that others make their lists, but it's the way I do things...and it is *my* list after all.

Anyway, the only other thing I have to say concerns the ordering of the 11 titles: only the first two really matter, the rest are alphabetical...

BITTER MOON (Roman Polanski)
CAREFUL (Guy Maddin)
NAKED (Mike Leigh)
PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarantino)
THREE COLORS: RED (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
VIVE L'AMOUR (Tsai Ming-liang)

My secondary Top Ten (Eleven) List consists of films that I saw in 1994 either for the very first time or "in a vastly new light" (see below), but deemed to be distinctly pre-1994 in nature. This may prove inherently less valuable for some people, since the pool of eligibility contains whatever random films I just happened to see in 1994, and certainly won't be the same for any other individual. I include it, though, to give some idea of how great a year 1994 was for me filmwise.

The ordering of this list is meant to be somewhat more significant than that of the one above...

ERASERHEAD (David Lynch) +++
GERTRUD (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati)
L'AMOUR FOU (Jacques Rivette)
ORDET (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
ROSEMARY'S BABY (Roman Polanski) +++
KNIFE IN THE WATER (Roman Polanski)
THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T. (Roy Rowland)
BAD BLOOD (Leos Carax)

+++ As implied above, the pool of eligibility for this list consists primarily of those "older" films that I saw for the first time within 1994. However, I also include a special clause which allows for the inclusion of films seen previously if I genuinely feel I'm seeing them "in a vastly new light". Both Eraserhead and Rosemary's Baby fall into this category. In the case of Eraserhead it was nearly an epiphany; in fact, I'd seen the film at least three previous times. While I'd always admired the film, I'd never really "liked" it very much. It was only this last viewing that things suddenly came together, and the experience was a transcendent one. For Rosemary's Baby it was a case of having seen it once previously many years ago and only on this second viewing realizing how great a film it truly is...

One final note: I actually composed a third list to account for magnificent films that I had seen on video, but which I eventually decided not to put on the above list due to the limiting nature of watching things that way. Limitations with size, resolution, quality-of-print, etc. diminished the actual experience of watching the following films, but could not deny their greatness:

DAWN OF THE DEAD (George A. Romero)
SUNRISE (F.W. Murnau)
DAY OF WRATH (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
O LUCKY MAN! (Lindsay Anderson)