When people learn that Julie Levinson is a film professor, they inevitably ask what her favorite movie is. She always refuses to answer. Levinson doesn’t feel the need to rank his favorites.
“I have a lot of favorite movies, some of which I teach, some of which I write about,” says Levinson, chair of Babson’s arts and humanities department. “This need to rank is reductive and stupid.”
She feels the same way about critic polls as Vision and sound magazine’s once-a-decade list of the greatest films of all time. The latest edition of the prestigious list, which polls critics, archivists, academics and others, was released late last year and made headlines with the unexpected film taking the No. 1 spot.
Levinson would prefer if Vision and sound and other similar polls are simply collecting a collection of important films that people should know about, rather than ranking films, making it a kind of competition. “The problem comes when we assign a numerical value and make it something like a horse race. It’s reductive to say it’s No. 1, it’s No. 2,” she says. “Our obsession with ranking does not do justice to the value of these works, to the cultural impact of these works, to the scope of these works.”
That being said, Levinson believes that Vision and sound the list has value in the conversations it sparks and the spotlight it shines on a wide range of films and directors that are often overlooked. “It’s vitally important,” she says. The magazine’s latest ranking, which comes at a time of concern about the future of filmmaking, has greatly expanded the pool of voters, resulting in a far more diverse list of films than in past decades. Most notably, more films by women and black directors are included.
“Do I think this is a good list? As lists go, it’s a good list,” says Levinson, also associate dean of faculty at Babson and the William R. Dill Professor of Management. “There are things I would question, but it makes sense to shine a light on these films that the general population might not know about. There are worthy, provocative films on the list.”
The drive to create a more diverse list of films reflects what has been going on in academia for decades, Levinson says, as professors have long argued over which should be read and which should be included in the canon. “People have rightly asked why we only read dead white men,” she says. “Many of these works are superb, but whose work have we not looked at? Who else deserves it?”
With more than 1,600 voters, almost double the number who voted in the last poll in 2012, the new Vision and sound the list not only includes a richer variety of directorial voices, but also includes a wider assortment of aesthetics. These are films that are not often found in the multiplex. “It’s a showcase for a fuller range of cinema. It’s a list that says cinema isn’t just about well-made Hollywood movies,” says Levinson. “It’s also experimental, non-linear, documentary and other forms of film. Cinema has many goals and many tricks up its sleeve.
Perhaps the most striking example of this is the number 1 movie of the moment Vision and sound survey. For many years, the number 1 film was Orson Welles Citizen Kane. Then in 2012, Alfred Hitchcock Vertigo took first place, pushing Citizen Kane to number 2. However, both films are undeniably great and also classic Hollywood films.
Chantal Akerman’s new #1 movie Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels, is a much different job. Unconventional, experimental and long, the film follows a woman at home through the mundane routine of her day.
Levinson found the film, the first directed by a woman, to reach Vision and soundtop 10, deep and compelling. “One has to have different expectations in terms of patience, in terms of pacing, in terms of how you reveal your agenda and narrative to the extent that you have one,” she says.
Jeanne Dillman is one of a number of films by Vision and sound a list that challenges audiences, says Levinson, pointing to films like Charles Burnett’s A killer of sheep (“It’s slow. It’s upsetting. It’s blatant and in-your-face. And it’s superb.”) and Spike Lee Do the right thing (“It’s as shocking and as relevant today as it was when it came out.”).
These are films that stand in stark contrast to the crowd-pleasing superhero movies and big-budget sequels that dominate the mainstream film industry today. “They’re not built to satisfy audiences in traditional ways,” says Levinson. “They’re not going to tell us what we already know, they’re not going to pat us on the head, and they’re definitely going to make us feel good.”
“It’s a showcase for a fuller range of cinema. This is a list that states that cinema is not just well-made Hollywood movies. It is also experimental, non-linear, documentary and other forms of film. Cinema has many goals and many tricks up its sleeve.
Julie Levinson, professor of film and associate dean of faculty at Babson
Many worry that such challenging films will only be harder to create and distribute in the future. “From its inception, film is a business, and it’s a risky business,” says Levinson, and the industry doesn’t seem comfortable pursuing films that aren’t overtly commercial. “I think there’s a real concern and anxiety about what’s going to happen to small, auteur films,” says Levinson.
Whatever the future holds, Levinson hopes her students will continue to seek out challenging films like the ones in Vision and sound list and bring them an open mind. “When you’re 18 and you only know Hollywood movies, it takes a while to settle in and open up,” says Levinson. “Look before you judge.”
It reminded her of when she took film classes in college. She once watched a film by the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, and while it was slow and deliberate, she also realized how beautiful it was. “It was just a wow moment,” she says. “This is what I wish for my students.”
Vision and sound Magazine’s Top 10 Greatest Movies of All Time
- Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels
- Citizen Kane
- A Tokyo story
- In the mood for love
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Good job
- Mulholland Drive
- Man with a movie camera
- Singing in the rain
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