Dane Benko

Dane Benko, Albuquerque, NM USA

Dane Benko is a freelance filmmaker and way tl;dr Internet movie discussion participant.  Recently he has started making more movies than watching them.

I don’t like making lists without explanations so here’s my responses to movies featured on the Sight and Sound 2012 100 list, in order of how much I ‘like’ them.

Movies in this section are canonical classics that I also personally adore and could never grow tired of discussing or rewatching.

Sherlock Jr. | Buster KEATON | 1924
Buster Keaton in general (ha!  See what I did thar?) is a guy I turn to when I need the world to be okay, but this movie is tops in every regard.  In addition to showing the best techniques only he could offer, it also summarily wraps up the silent era in a cocoon of ‘this is the new art, and it is a good art.’

La Jetée | Chris MARKER | 1962
…and on the flipside there’s always the proof that one of the most remarkable and inspirational pieces of film could be constructed of mostly stills from a cheap camera if you’re as ace whiz as Chris Marker (may he RIP) and turn every medium you touch into gold.

L'Eclisse | Michelangelo ANTONIONI | 1962
Most of my love of this film is compositional and structural and I’m astounded at how the pieces fit together.  It doesn’t matter what aspect of the film you mention, it somehow eclipses some significant other part of the film that gets revealed later.

Sans Soleil | Chris MARKER | 1983
Puzzles feature a lot in my taste preferences and this is one I’ve rebuilt over and over and over again and found a satisfying new picture every single time.  I once started an eight page essay on it where the introduction was supposed to break down its structure.  Sixteen pages later, I had finished breaking down its structure and turned in the introduction as the essay itself.

Stalker | Andrei TARKOVSKY | 1979
Bewildering at first but an epic fable at center, one of the things about this film is that every time I watch the scene where they walk through the grass following the rolled up nuts, I get the howling fantods.  Tarkovsky constructed a Borgesian like maze out of fields and wind.  Crazy.

You have to see this movie.  No really, it’s important.  No, really, you have to.

Ugetsu Monogatari | MIZOGUCHI Kenji | 1953
Like floating through the netherworld.  Also at heart a morality fable, nevertheless of a haunting and foggy type.

Un Chien Andalou | Luis BUÑUEL | 1929
I prefer late Bunuel to early Bunuel (and both to mid-career, but that’s a discussion for another day), but this is good to put on to remind yourself of some of the semantic roots of surrealist film.  And its sense of humor.

Blade Runner | Ridley SCOTT | 1982
Probably the most likely on this section to be dismissed as ‘not important’, ultimately I like how the movie completely dissolves boundaries between human, machine, animal, and godhead.  Plus it’s beautiful.

Rashomon | KUROSAWA Akira | 1950
Much of what is amazing about cinema is how it constructs perspective and this movie is a text-book example of that idea, in a more accessible and narrative manner than relying on structuralist breakdowns or other abstract theory.  It’s one of those movies that even the most unrelated of subsequent ‘point, counterpoint’ plots get called out as ‘A Rashomon ripoff.’

Sunset Blvd. | Billy WILDER | 1950
Neil Postman has us constantly asking of various new technologies and media, “What do we gain and what have we lost?”  Sunset Boulevard reveals that that question is important within a specific medium as well.  The movie is an ironically talkie production about the loss of the silent era, but it’s the only one that uses its irony (as opposed to stuff like Singin’ in the Rain or The Artist) to disturb and to use the audience against itself.  With Buster Keaton saying ‘Fold’ and a voiceover narration from a dead character, it’s attacking its own audio from the inside.

Mirror | Andrei TARKOVSKY | 1975
Unfortunately this is more the type of film where you have to have seen other movies to understand this one, namely some of if not all of Tarkovsky’s other pieces.  Chris Marker sez, “It is a house where at any moment, one of the characters from his other films may walk through the door.”  Contained in that house is also something of his autobiography, meaning his work and life are sutured indefinitely.

Sansho Dayu | MIZOGUCHI Kenji | 1954
I would say this movie is just as haunting as Ugetsu Monogatori but from a more realist perspective.   The sister and brother are traces in the wind that you follow to find a very tragic history.

Movies in this section are hated only by irascible contrarians looking for attention, but to be fair they’re not perfect.

Blue Velvet | David LYNCH | 1986
After you get passed the novelty of a Lynch film, his wider career is more interesting than the specifics of any typical movie, because of how he developed a film language specific to only him.  Here is one highlight that’s important merely because it applies his film language to probably one of his most narrative films and the result is satisfyingly self-contained.  We don’t have to debate whether the blue key is really all that great of a save of a failed pilot or deal with the roughness that is his first and latest feature films (Eraserhead and Inland Empire).  Instead, we have only Frank.  Dear God scary, terrifying, Frank.

Seven Samurai | KUROSAWA Akira | 1954
Weighted and balanced character development of lost heroes; sheer cinematic storytelling, a basic foundation for how to make a good narrative film.

Man with a Movie Camera | Dziga VERTOV | 1929
The work silent era explorers did in discovering the uses of a movie camera as a tool for making art is continued to this day in the experimental realm, but unfortunately the wider culture of ‘cinema’ forgets much of the spectacular alternative uses of this tool for their preference on mere narratives.  This movie is kino-eye and kino-man and kino-culture and kino-world, construction of visual all through a camera lens.  Claiming that ‘Movies are about story’ comes from either uneducated or dismissive ignorance of movies like this.

Wild Strawberries | Ingmar BERGMAN | 1957
The dream that sets the protagonist on his journey also sets the audience on the same one.  Rarely are audience and protagonist searching for the same thing and haunted by the same idea, undefinable by simplification of things like ‘life’ ‘death’ or ‘aging.’

Singin' in the Rain | Stanley DONEN & Gene KELLY | 1952
Sunset Boulevard is about what we have lost.  Singin’ in the Rain is about what we have gained.  ‘Nuff said.

Modern Times | Charles CHAPLIN | 1936
I’d be hard pressed to understand the perspective of a person who doesn’t like Modern Times.  That’s like hating puppies and kittens and guinea pigs in Tyrannosaurus Rex costumes.  Though I hear conservative talkshow hosts aren’t much for entertainment pieces with social messages or something.

The type of stuff that, if you haven’t seen, you should probably get around to, and for the most part set the standard for qualitative cinematic experiences.

A Matter of Life and Death | M. POWELL & E. PRESSBURGER | 1946
A matter of love of life and color and cinema and British humor.

The Spirit of the Beehive | Víctor ERICE | 1973
Surprisingly it’s not the meta aspects of the Frankenstein monster that wins this one for me though that type of stuff is right down my alley.  Rather, it’s the construction of the ‘beehive’ house and how it warmly cocoons the little girl’s life.

City Lights | Charles CHAPLIN | 1931
It’s not Modern Times but it’s still fun times.

The Battle of Algiers | Gillo PONTECORVO | 1966
Possibly a bit too painful for average audiences but nevertheless a token construct of cinema as documentary of a certain time, place, issue, and arena.  This movie is extremely difficult to ignore and equally as difficult to forget.  Also, the irony of all ironies is how it’s sometimes used to introduce new soldiers to techniques of urban zone combat.

The Night of the Hunter | Charles LAUGHTON | 1955
Now normally I don’t react well to intense tonal shifts in movies (see Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans below) but nevertheless Laughton just saturates  all ‘reality’ with the feelings of his characters.  It’s like this movie takes place inside the hearts of the little children protagonists.  Which is actually terrifying when it comes down to the fact that this movie is about a serial killer.

Mulholland Dr. | David LYNCH | 2001
Nice save, Lynch.  Some people may not be into the literal key in a puzzlebox reveal but nevertheless the first half indicates the hint of a wider world that Lynch was about to explore (and gratefully returned to in Inland Empire) and the second half manages to wrap up the whole gift and contain it in one character.

Tokyo Story | OZU Yasujirō | 1953
Damn this movie is good.  And relaxing.  And wonderful.  Like warm green tea during late spring (see what I did thar?).

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp | Michael POWELL & Emeric PRESSBURGER | 1943
To be fair, if you’re not a fan of British sense of humor, this movie will probably pass right over your head.  I am not British and this is one of the movies that makes me suspect I may be missing some good details herethere.  Nevertheless a very compelling character for the fact that he was based off of a caricature.

L'Avventura | Michelangelo ANTONIONI | 1960
Personally I prefer L’Eclisse and find it tighter structurally and compositionally speaking, but if you’ve seen the one you really ought to see the other.  This movie is delicate though because on the one hand, it works better if you don’t know where it’s going, and on the other hand, the type of people with enough attention span and memory for detail for specific points are typically the type of people who hear about this from people who explain how it works.  I went into it educated on its structure in advance, so I never really got a chance to be hit on the side of the head.  Basically consider it the arthouse equivalent of a spoiler, though I don’t believe in such things.  The movie’s good either way.

The Passion of Joan of Arc | Carl Th. DREYER | 1928
If a shot is a sentence, then this movie is all exclamatory.

The Third Man | Carol REED | 1949
You know what’s great about this?  Such a perfect film noir flavor with such a light and fun soundtrack.  Appealing in a variety of ways that makes it what one could call ‘a crowdpleaser’ without application to lowest common denominator thinking.

Movies in this section are classics I personally like a lot but can easily see why other people don’t.  For the most part we can agree to disagree but I urge you give it a second chance if you have the time.

The General | Clyde BRUCKMAN & Buster KEATON | 1927
Like I said, I enjoy Buster Keaton.  What’s interesting is that this is one of the lower on the list of his movies I enjoy.  What’s also interesting is that it subsists on these lists despite getting called out on occasion for having the protagonist on the Confederates’ side.  I’ve noticed over time that Birth of a Nation is slowly trickling down these sorts of lists while Intolerance (see below) is gaining head, and I think the same is true of The General.  The difference is that I can see how Birth of a Nation stands out in DW Griffith’s specific filmography whereas The General really is not one of Buster Keaton’s best work.  Nevertheless, damn look at what he does with those trains!

Andrei Rublev | Andrei TARKOVSKY | 1966
Every now and then a critic uses the term ‘painterly’ to describe a movie.  Here’s one, and purposefully meant to be so.  Andrei meets Andrei (it’s better than Michelangelo Meets Michelangelo, a late career short of Antonioni brushing his hand over a Michelangelo statue).  However, it’s the bell sequences that won me over.  I thought that kid was a much more fascinating story than most of the rest of Rublev’s own.

The Seventh Seal | Ingmar BERGMAN | 1957
Two things about the iconography: one, this movie really created a new image of Death both familiarized by older versions and also unique to its own; two, and did so well at it that now it’s a Bill and Ted joke.  I love Bill and Ted movies and I don’t count parodies against classics, but unfortunately the iconography of this movie sometimes gets in the way of some of its more pleasing and introspective segments.

Au Hasard Balthazar | Robert BRESSON | 1966
Man I love this movie.  Man I can totally see why other people would be just a little put off by a donkey playing a religious figure.  Man Bresson’s suffering innocents movies are great.

Casablanca | Michael CURTIZ | 1942
Pure old fashioned Hollywood greatness.

Late Spring | OZU Yasujirō | 1949
Often the subject of a Tokyo Story vs debate, always weird since Ozu’s movies really just build upon and variegate themselves in terms of characters, plot, themes, et al.  But anyway, I didn’t like this movie as much though it won me over with the sequence where the father and daughter are crossing back and forth in a Japanese hallway getting ready for bed.  Interestingly enough that sequence deserves some comparison to what Bunuel does in a hotel hallway in The Phantom of Liberty.  These are filmmakers that know their own cameras are what house their characters, let loose once the strip starts rolling.

A Man Escaped | Robert BRESSON | 1956
A minimalist classic that creates a prison out of white space.

2001: A Space Odyssey | Stanley KUBRICK | 1968
Pretty much the litmus test to see if someone is willing to take cinema seriously.  Not that people who take cinema seriously always like it, but if they dislike it they usually come up with much better reasons than, “It was boring” or “It made no sense.”  Like it or dislike it it’s a movie to show to see if someone’s willing to pay attention.

Taxi Driver | Martin SCORSESE | 1976
Ultimately this movie is messier than it originally seems but it’s really Scorsese’s best and for some reason I just cannot help but rewatch it quite often.

Psycho | Alfred HITCHCOCK | 1960
Disappointing ending but everything else about it is great!

The 400 Blows | François TRUFFAUT | 1959
I actually saw this one long before I was really that into cinema and it left an indelible effect.  That’s just the type of movie it is.

Once upon a Time in the West | Sergio LEONE | 1968
I’d be willing to admit this movie is overrated in terms of importance but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just so well shot and edited.

No film on the Sight and Sound 2012 list do I find bad and every film I can respect.  Nevertheless here begins the point in the list where my appreciation for the film has more to do with the fact that I respect what it’s doing rather than do I personally enjoy it all that much or, as we go further and further down, care.

Rear Window | Alfred HITCHCOCK | 1954
Hey.  This is just sheer, good, qualitative, rote Hitchcock everything, from its limited set to its playfulness in perspective to its thrilling storytelling and so on.  But I’ve never really cared all that much for Hitchcock, so there’s that.

Metropolis | Fritz LANG | 1927
I don’t mean to be dismissive, in fact I actually mean it well, when I say I think this movie is a better prototype of a science fiction effects film than its own movie.  I think it’s more important as an inspiration.

Chinatown | Roman POLANSKI | 1974
I enjoy this movie a lot and obviously other people do as well though sometimes its positive reception stands in almost disturbing contradiction to its negative worldview.  It’s a really painful movie and that’s exactly why I like it but many people talk about it as if it’s classic whodunit with a twist.

Intolerance | D.W. GRIFFITH | 1916
You do know if DW Griffith was alive today he’d get the type of crap Nolan gets about being too big, too over-the-top, too decadent, too many storylines, too much…?  Right?  But that’s the point.  This movie is just stunning in scope.

Battleship Potemkin | Sergei EISENSTEIN | 1925
I have to admit my privileging of Man with a Movie Camera over this has to do with relative political neutrality in comparison to this propaganda piece.  One the flip side, some people feel politics is very important to art and there is no denying Eisenstein’s skill, and I really find this movie to be quite amazing.

Apocalypse Now | Francis Ford COPPOLA | 1979
This is a movie I used to adore, but over time I just found better movies.

Bicycle Thieves | Vittorio DE SICA | 1948
I really enjoyed this movie and yet couldn’t help laughing at myself a bit because it’s almost too rote narrative for neorealism and too neorealist for rote narrative.  I respect it as a balance.

Citizen Kane | Orson WELLES | 1941
I will never argue against the brilliance of this movie but it turns out I don’t find Kane to be all that fascinating of a character.  In fact, it is testament to Orson Welles’ skills that he makes this guy so universally talked about.  Think about it.  Under lesser hands, I’m not convinced anybody would really want to know more about ‘who Kane is.’  That said, in the end he’s revealed to be empty inside, so even my dismissiveness stands as neglectful of that emptiness.

The Godfather | Francis Ford COPPOLA | 1972
Here it is!  That movie that apparently guys are supposed to like as some male rule (though strangely the type of bro goes contrary to its careful and considerate exploration of family dynamics and subversion of American Dream themes) and for some reason gets placed at or quite near number 1 on many lists, especially those concerning ‘American cinema’.  I think it’s a testament to its time and a really amazing piece of work, but like Apocalypse Now, eventually I found better movies to chew on.

Greed | Erich VON STROHEIM | 1924
I do honestly wish the ten hour cut survived.  This movie was great, though hysterically melodramatic in parts.  If anything I sort of wish the ten hour cut survived just so that there’d be better precedence for longer and more involved movies.  I don’t necessarily think the full piece would have been as good considering what evidence we have of what remains.

| Federico FELLINI | 1963
To me this represents the best of and all the Fellini you need to see.

Lawrence of Arabia | David LEAN | 1962
This was one of those problematic movies where I keenly remember enjoying it but I can’t remember anything about it.  Doesn’t speak well to its long-term effectiveness but then again it’s my responsibility to rewatch it.

Vertigo | Alfred HITCHCOCK | 1958
Honestly I’m ambivalent about this movie but it’s slowly creeping up the ladder of my best-of lists like this simply because of the profound effect its had on filmmakers such as Chris Marker and a lot of what people have pointed out about its spiraling structure and geography.  In a weird way I can agree that this is Hitchcock gone batshit, which is saying something.

M | Fritz LANG | 1931
Great use of sound and a surprising ending, but I get that same ‘prototype’ feel I get from Metropolis.

Movies I don’t really care for but recognize their skills, would never say are bad but at the very least, just aren’t for me.

Aguirre, Wrath of God | Werner HERZOG | 1972
I love Werner Herzog as the batty obsessive making movies about batty obsessives he is, but honestly switch this movie with Fitzcarraldo and now we’re talkin’.

Breathless | Jean-Luc GODARD | 1960
The movie that’s pretty much sold to every cinephile as the movie made for them.  The thing that’s always struck me about Godard is that I feel like I ‘get the joke’ based on the structural things he does, and I rarely care for the results because I know the punchline in advance.

Pickpocket | Robert BRESSON | 1959
I love watching this movie as a double-feature with Pickup on South Street.  I also like watching Pickup on South Street by itself.   Pickpocket I’ve never felt the need to.

Les Enfants du Paradis | Marcel CARNÉ | 1945
Man this movie was beautiful to watch and I really liked the performance sequences within the movie but didn’t care for any of the rest.

Some Like It Hot | Billy WILDER | 1959
You know, Marilyn Monroe is a very disturbing pop culture icon.  Billy Wilder seems to have tapped into that fact, and then ran with it.

Barry Lyndon | Stanley KUBRICK | 1975
GOD THE CINEMATOGRAPHY.  Like Renaissance paintings in motion!  …What was this movie about again?

The Godfather: Part II | Francis Ford COPPOLA | 1974
Same as Godfather but I’m even more puzzled by its fandom.  Some say it’s ‘better than the first’ but my counterargument is that too many plotlines rely on your knowledge of the original so it doesn’t hold its own.

In the Mood for Love | WONG Kar-wai | 2000
I did love how this movie was a slow, no-physical-contact dance, there was a lot of electricity there.  I couldn’t really get into it further than that.

La Grande Illusion | Jean RENOIR | 1937
In the end I liked how this movie represented civility and class more than I care for it as a movie.

The Wild Bunch | Sam PECKINPAH | 1969
I used to love this movie as the anti-Western it is.  The ending sequence to me signified the death of the concept that the violence of Westerns was anything resembling heroic, but later on I watched some more Sam Peckinpah and realized that he has a strange and distasteful appreciation for the manly men behind such violence and a lot of his anti-Western narratives are as nostalgic as anything.  I now have a really hard time with this.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans | F.W. MURNAU | 1927
Like getting into a shower that turns alternately hot and cold.  The mood and tone changes so frequently I feel at various points like I’m watching entirely different movies.  In the end if you break down the plot points individually, the tonal transitions make total sense.  I can’t really argue against it.  I just have those moments when watching it where I’m like, “Wait a minute, wasn’t this just a few minutes ago an expressionist movie?  Why are they chasing a pig around like a slapstick?  Wait a minute, a storm’s brewing?  Wasn’t this just a romance?  Dafuq?!”

La Règle du Jeu | Jean RENOIR | 1939
In the end I liked how this movie represented civility and class more than I care for it as a movie.  It also suffers from the lack of World War II significance that Grand Illusion has.

These are the movies I don’t like.  Notice I said I don’t like them, not that they’re bad movies.  I’m perfectly okay with other people liking them and in some cases their influence is undeniable. I just have never found much of interest in them.  Oh come on guys I’m perfectly allowed to just not like some things!

Raging Bull | Martin SCORSESE | 1980
I watched it, it was very well made, brilliant performance by DeNiro, and I could care less about anything that happens in it.  Like Citizen Kane, the character isn’t nearly as interesting as the movie’s place in history and the filmmaker behind it, but unlike Citizen Kane, Scorsese never sold me on the idea that he was interesting at all.

North by Northwest | Alfred HITCHCOCK | 1959
This movie is totally silly.  Not that that’s a bad thing, silliness has its place in the world and I think a lot of it here was intentional, but very little, to me, justifies it being on so many top lists.

The Searchers | John FORD | 1956
I’ve always thought what people write critically about this movie is of ten times the value of the movie itself.

La Dolce Vita | Federico FELLINI | 1960
Seriously, I could give a rat’s ass about these people.  At best they bore me and at worse they annoy me.  I find Fellini as a whole to be obnoxious, though there’s no arguing his showmanship.


This section is split into various subsections based on what I feel often gets neglected in ‘canon’ lists, stuff we need in there to recognize sometimes cinema itself is zany and fantastic and crazy and weird and bewildering and fun and disturbing and messed up and mind-expanding and mind-fucking and psychedelic and broken and a spinning whirligig of awesome.  If you take, for instance, this Sight and Sound list on its own, there’s really a wide variety and range of exceptional and unique movies.  If you take that list in comparison to the following, they’re weighed mostly towards sober contemplative dramas with a predominantly Euro-arthouse style for middle class adults to talk about over tea and coffee.








(and were better for it)



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