They are either the best examples of film art of the decade or a cinema snob's top cocktail-party namedroppers.
TIFF Cinematheque, the year-long screening program connected with the Toronto International Film Festival, has compiled a list of the top 30 films of the decade, as picked by 60 film historians, festival programmers and archivists from around the world. (Actually, more than 50 films made the cut because of various ties down the list.)
Filmmakers expecting to debate the merits of The Dark Knight or The Lord of the Rings trilogy should look elsewhere. The top-ranked film, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century , a meditative two-parter based in medical centres, exemplifies the flavour of the list.
Film critics were avoided. And as the Cinematheque's senior programmer, James Quandt, says, the idea was not to sway the judges in any way. The criteria were only which films they thought were the most important and which they liked the most.
One voter did pick The Lord of the Rings and some of Pixar's animated films. Even Bad Santa received some votes, but not enough to make the list. Far more common was a preference for the austere. For instance, second and third spots are both occupied by work from the cerebral director Jia Zhang-ke of China: Platform and Still Life , respectively.
In portraying the ecological, cultural and psychological impact of the Three Gorges Dam, Still Life can sometimes seem ascetic to the extreme - until the long, unedited takes and snail's pace camera pans begin to reveal scenes as intricate as an ancient Chinese tapestry or Vermeer painting.
The picks say a lot about what's currently in vogue.
"A certain international art-house style or aesthetic has emerged. And there are definable [traits] frankly. The use of the long take, for instance, has become almost a trope, some might say even a cliché of this aesthetic," Quandt says. "I think Weerasethakul and Jia Zhang-ke and a number of these directors on the list do use these formal elements like the long take, but in a very singular way."
Some better-known films are Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at No. 9, David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which tied with an assortment of other films at 17, and Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her at 20.
In addition to Cronenberg, Canadian Guy Maddin made the list with his short film The Heart of the World, tied at No. 23, and his somewhat fanciful documentary My Winnipeg, tied at 25. Rounding out the Canadians was Zacharias Kunuk and his film Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner .
TIFF Cinematheque will run a series showing many of these films from Jan. 21 to Feb. 23. Tickets go on sale today.
For more information visit, cinemathequeontario.ca.