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Have You Seen..., by David Thomson

There are quite a number of books that people buy, I think, mainly for the lists at the back. 1001 Places to Go Before You Die doesn't sound like much of a travel guide, and I don't really care too much what the guy who recommends 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die thinks about the novels he includes: he included them, so you'd think he'd like them. What else did you want?

David Thomson's book is closer to these books than it is to a Harold Bloom or Jonathan Rosenbaum canon—both Bloom and Rosenbaum choose their items out of a quasi-metaphysical devotion to the idea that a certain set of works must, at all costs, be preserved. Thomson's 1000 film list isn't about preservation so much as conversation: as he says, people tend to ask critics what they should watch. This is his response. He doesn't like all of them, but someone interested in film will probably find all of them worthwhile in some capacity, and a casual movie-watcher will probably enjoy most.

Thomson's had great practice at writing short, dynamic, fearlessly opinionated entries about film while composing and compiling his Biographical Dictionary of Film (and its revision/expansion). This book is no different, although a little more relaxed.

Thomson organizes the entries alphabetically, but the list at the back is ordered chronologically. His taste grows a little less canonical almost with each year that passes, so that there were actually more films I hadn't heard of from the 90s and 2000s than there were in the 40s and 50s. Which is not to say that he ignores the films that are legitimate and kind of inarguable masterpieces from the past decade or so, but that he adds in some truly obscure (mostly British) work. Here's the films from 2006 and 2007, the last years of the book:
  • The Lives of Others
  • Longford
  • The Queen
  • Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  • Eastern Promises
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Sweeney Todd
  • There Will Be Blood
  • You, the Living
Well, Sweeney Todd's a surprising choice, and I hate The Lives of Others, but pulling out the ones I hadn't heard of (Longford; 20,000; You, the Living), that's not a bad list, I guess. No Country's one of the weakest films the Coens have made, but whatever.

Thomson's Wikipedia page also gives the Top Ten he submitted to the Sight and Sound poll, which is conducted every decade and will be done again in 2012. I don't think Thomson is likely to insert any of the films of the past six/seven years (i.e. since 2002, the last Sight and Sound poll) into his top ten, but his lists got me thinking about which possibly could, at least for me.

The Italian miniseries The Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventù) is certainly a contender, as are There Will Be Blood and Children of Men. I really liked Syndromes and a Century, by the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul; The New World, I'm Not There, and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows would all be in the back of my mind.

What about you—what films released since 2002 should or could end up on a critic's all-time top ten list? If anyone says Dark Knight, I'm banning them from ever commenting again.