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Stereoactive Movie Club

Stereoactive Movie Club

By Stereoactive Media

Alicia, Lora, Mia, Stephen, and Jeremiah are discussing some of the greatest movies ever made. Who says? Sight & Sound Magazine says. Every ten years, since 1952, the publication has surveyed critics and directors to determine which films, according to those surveyed, might be considered the best. The five film-loving friends take turns picking movies that have appeared on the list and then dig into them with an eye on their cultural impact, how they stand up today, and just whether they’re actually as good as all those critics and directors say they are.
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Special Episode // The Sight And Sound 2022 Polls Revealed!

Stereoactive Movie ClubDec 08, 2022

Special Episode // The Sight And Sound 2022 Polls Revealed!

Special Episode // The Sight And Sound 2022 Polls Revealed!

The 2022 edition of Sight And Sounds magazine’s polls of the “greatest films ever made” were released last week, and since our entire podcast is about movies that have been on these decennially updated lists, we got together to share our reactions to the new ones.

Here is the top 10, as decided by 1639 critics:

  1. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
  2. Vertigo (1958)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953)
  5. In the Mood for Love (2000)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  7. Beau Travail (1998)
  8. Mulholland Drive (2001)
  9. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  10. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

And here is the top 10, as decided by 480 directors:

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  2. Citizen Kane (1941)
  3. The Godfather (1972)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953)
  5. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
  6. Vertigo (1958)
  7. (1963)
  8. Mirror (1975)
  9. TIE: Persona (1966), In the Mood for Love (2000)
  10. Close-up (1989)

In our discussion, we reference:

Dec 08, 202201:26:01
Ep 28 // The Grapes of Wrath

Ep 28 // The Grapes of Wrath

It’s Mia’s 5th pick: The Grapes of Wrath, the 1940 film directed by John Ford.

The film is based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, which was also the best-selling novel of that year and was cited as a major part of the basis on which Steinbeck was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The politics and story of the book were potentially thorny enough that Daryl F. Zanuck, the famed producer at 20th Century Fox, sent investigators to witness just how bad the situation in Oklahoma actually was so he’d know whether he’d feel equipped to defend the film against any criticism for being potentially pro-Communist. That said, the aforementioned politics and story were still softened somewhat as compared to the book.

Ford was coming off a banner year, having directed 3 films in 1939: Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Drums Along the Mohawk – the latter two both with Henry Fonda, who himself had additionally been in 3 other movies in 1939.

The film received plenty of rave reviews and accolades including this incredibly laudatory one from Frank Nugent for the New York Times:

In the vast library where the celluloid literature of the screen is stored there is one small, uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema's masterworks, to those films which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment seem to be of enduring artistry, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned.

To that shelf of screen classics Twentieth Century-Fox yesterday added its version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath…

John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for the film, while Jane Darwell won Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Outstanding Production (or what is today called Best Picture), Best Actor (Henry Fonda), Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Recording. In more recent years, The Grapes of Wrath was on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list, ranked at #21 in 1998 and then at #23 in 2007.

As for our purposes, the movie has never actually appeared in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics or directors surveys, but it was a runner up on the very first list back in 1952. In the 2012 polling, it was ranked #183 by critics and #174 by directors – and among the filmmakers who had it on their top 10 lists that year was Lawrence Kasdan.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Nov 08, 202201:27:34
Ep 27 // Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Ep 27 // Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

It’s Jeremiah’s 5th pick: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, the 1927 film directed by F.W. Murnau.

Based on a 1917 short story called “The Excursion to Tilsit,’ written by Hermann Sudermann, the film was Murnau’s first in the United States, after he was brought over from Germany by William Fox to make something for Fox Film Corporation like the expressionist work he’d produced in his home country – Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, and Faust among those. As with his previous work, the art design is exaggerated or even distorted to represent the emotional and symbolic tone being strived for. Add in innovative camerawork and one of the first synchronized soundtracks featuring a specifically composed score and sound effects, and the technical achievements alone begin to make it clear why the film had been popular and influential.

The film was hailed as a masterpiece by many critics of the day. And it also holds the distinction of being the only film to ever win Best Unique and Artistic Picture at the Oscars – an award that only existed in the ceremony’s first year. More recently, AFI listed Sunrise at number 82 in the 2007 version of their 100 Years… 100 Movies list of the greatest American films.

As for our purposes, Sunrise has appeared in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics survey twice – at number 7 in 2002, and then at number 5 in 2012. Also in the 2012 polling, it was ranked #22 by directors; among the filmmakers who had it on their top 10 lists were Francis Ford Coppola and the Dardenne Brothers. And one more thing worthy of noting: Sunrise was released on September 23rd, 1927… Two weeks later, on October 6, is when The Jazz Singer was released, ushering in the beginning of the sound era for motion pictures.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Oct 20, 202259:14
Ep 26 // Round 5 Picks!
Sep 15, 202226:33
Ep 25 // Pather Panchali

Ep 25 // Pather Panchali

It’s Lora’s 4th pick: Pather Panchali, the 1955 film directed by Satyajit Ray. Pather Panchali, which translates as “Song of the Little Road,” is based on the 1929 novel of the same name, which is the semi-autobiographical work of author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Satyajit Ray was a graphic designer working on illustrations for a 1944 abridged edition of the book when it was suggested to him that the stoy’s depiction of rural life in the Bengali region of India would make for a good film. A few years later, as Ray became interested in making a movie, he decided to take that suggestion. After a start-stop-start production beset by funding issues, support from the regional government, as well as MoMA and filmmakers like Jean Renoir and John Huston helped to eventually push the production over the finish line. Its success was eventually sure enough that there were two sequels that, together with this film, form what’s known as the “Apu trilogy,” which when taken together follow Apu’s life through adolescence and into adulthood. Pather Panchali won Best Feature Film and Best Bengali Feature Film at India’s 3rd National Film Awards. It was also honored at Cannes with the aforementioned award for Best Human Document and was nominated for or won several other critics, festival, or industry awards around the world. As for our purposes, the film has appeared in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics polls twice, once as a runner up in 1962 and then again at number 6 in 1992. In the 2012 polling, it was ranked #42 by critics and #48 by directors. Produced by Stereoactive Media
Sep 06, 202201:00:30
Ep 24 // Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Ep 24 // Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

It’s Stephen’s 4th pick: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the 1964 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Often cited as one of the best comedy films of all time – as well as simply one of the best films generally – this was Kubrick’s follow-up to Lolita, released two years before in 1962.Its making began with the director’s desire to produce a movie about a nuclear accident during the Cold War. As he was doing research for the project, someone suggested he read Peter George’s book, Red Alert, and he eventually bought the rights for it and began working with the author on an adaptation.

As they began to write, Kubrick at some point came to the conclusion that there was no real way to depict the scenario he was interested in without it seeming absurd, so they decided to lean into that absurdity and make it a satire, which is a departure from the more serious depiction of the novel. Satirical author Terry Southern (perhaps best known by movie fans as a co-writer of Easy Rider a few years later) was brought in to help with the tone.

The casting of Peter Sellers was instrumental in getting the film made, with Columbia Pictures making it a condition that the actor play 4 roles – one more than he had in 1959’s The Mouse that Roared. Originally, he was set to also play Major Kong, the bomber pilot, though perhaps against his better wishes since he wasn’t comfortable with the character’s Texas accent. But an injury forced him out of the role and it was recast with Slim Pickens, though not before it was offered to John Wayne. Another change of note is that the film legendarily originally ended with a giant pie fight between all the personnel in the War Room.

The film was originally set to open in late 1963, but was delayed due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Instead it was released in January 1964 to good box office and it was eventually nominated for 4 Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director, Actor (Peter Sellers), and Adapted Screenplay – though it won none. It did however win 4 BAFTA awards, including Best British Film and Best Film From Any Source. And it was nominated for or won other Guild and Critics awards.

As for our purposes, it only appeared in the top 10 of one of Sight & Sound’s polls once, when it was ranked the 5th greatest film by directors in 2002. In the 2012 polling, it was ranked #117 by critics and #107 by directors. Among the directors who included it in their top 10s were Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Mann, and Amos Poe.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Aug 29, 202201:09:13
Ep 23 // Persona

Ep 23 // Persona

It’s Mia’s 4th pick: Persona, the 1966 film directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Persona is a film that is open to much interpretation about its themes, meaning, and maybe even its plot. In the most basic way, it’s the story of a well known Swedish actress who suffers an emotional shutdown and is put in a hospital. It’s explained that there is nothing wrong with her either mentally or physically, but she is completely unwilling to move or speak. A nurse is assigned to her, but a lack of any progress soon leads the attending doctor to send the actress, with her nurse, to a seaside cottage. With the actress still not speaking, but beginning to otherwise take part in life, the nurse finds a willing set of ears to spill her thoughts and secrets to. This eventually leads to a seeming betrayal of confidence. Meanwhile, both for the nurse and for the audience, the identities of the women become increasingly blurred.

Persona was Ingmar Bergman’s 27th film as a director and was released 20 years after his first. It also came about a decade after The Seventh Seal firmly established him as a well-known name of world cinema. The experimental opening moments of the film effectively set up an experience that is harder to pin down than other, more mainstream films. Discussion and debate about how to interpret Persona tend to follow several different lines, from identity, gender, and sexuality to Jungian psychology, art, and even vampirism.

For our purposes, Persona only appeared in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics poll once, in 1972, when it was ranked 5th. In 2012, it was tied with The Seventh Samurai at number 17 on the wider critics poll, and it was ranked number 13 on the directors poll.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Aug 03, 202201:05:54
Ep 22 // The Rules of the Game

Ep 22 // The Rules of the Game

It’s Jeremiah’s 4th pick: The Rules of the Game, the 1939 film directed by Jean Renoir.

‘The Rules of the Game’ was the most expensive film ever made in France at the time of its production and came on the heels of a series of successful films that had made Renoir one of the top French directors. After initial preview screenings that began in June of 1939 and a premier in July that met with low box-office and mixed reviews, a series of edits eventually whittled  the film down from its 113 minute runtime to 85 minute; many of the edits excised Renoir’s own performance, resulting in a much less complex and integral character. By October, the film was banned in France for being "depressing, morbid, immoral [and] having an undesirable influence over the young." A successful 1956 attempt at restoration led to the discovery of negatives and other prints and audio for the film that had been thought lost during World War II. Eventually, with advice from Renoir, a 106 minute cut was assembled that largely restored what had been cut after the film’s post-release failure. This restoration was screened for Renoir in 1959 and reportedly left the director in tears.

Director Satyajit Ray – whose film, ‘Pather Panchali,’ we’ll be watching for an upcoming episode – said of The Rules of the Game: it is “a film that doesn't wear its innovations on its sleeve ... Humanist? Classical? Avant-Garde? Contemporary? I defy anyone to give it a label. This is the kind of innovation that appeals to me."

For our purposes, this is the only film that’s been in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics poll every single time since it began in 1952, when it debuted at number 10 (even before it’s restoration). It then fluctuated between number 2 and number 3 from 1962 to 2002 and was at number 4 in 2012. Additionally, it was on the directors poll in 2002, at number 9. In the 2012 polling, 100 critics had the film on their list – and 17 directors, including Olivier Assayas, Lawrence Kasdan, Steve McQueen, and Paul Schrader.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Jul 20, 202201:06:04
Ep 21 // Hiroshima Mon Amour
Jul 07, 202201:21:26
Ep 20 // Round 4 Picks!
Jun 23, 202216:36
Ep 19 // Singin’ in the Rain

Ep 19 // Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain was a product of MGM’s so-called “Freed Unit,” named for the person who headed it -- Arthur Freed.

Before this film, Freed worked on many of the best known musicals, both historically and of their respective days: The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, Easter Parade, On the Town, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, and An American In Paris.

It was after working on An American in Paris -- which featured music by George Gershwin, and went on to win 7 Academy Awards (including Best Picture) while becoming one of the top 10 highest grossing films of 1951 -- that Freed decided to put together another musical featuring pre-existing music by a specific songwriter… namely, himself, along with collaborator Nacio Herb Brown.

The resulting film features tunes the duo wrote for previous MGM musicals.

Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green worked on the initial draft of the screenplay with Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen jumping in to collaborate on adjustments to the story once they were done with American In Paris.

Debbie Reynolds, who was not a dancer before the movie began production, had a particularly rough time making the picture -- with Kelly being rough on her throughout and one extremely long day of shooting a number resulting in bloody feet. In 2003, she told the Saturday Evening Post that "Singin' in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life."

And the famed “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence reportedly left heavy smoking Donald O’Connor recovering in a hospital bed for several days.

The film was considered only a modest hit at the time it was released, though it did receive strong reviews from many of the major critics of the day and it did rank as the 10th highest grossing film of 1952.

It was nominated for 2 Oscars -- Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen) and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture -- but won neither.

The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture that year went to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth -- and that film was also the highest grossing of 1952.

Over the nearly 70 years since its release, Singin’ in the Rain has arguably become one of the best loved movies of all time, especially as far as Hollywood movies go.

It wa among the first batch of 25 films considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" that the Library of Congress recognized in 1989 for its National Film Registry.

And it was included in AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list in 1998, ranked at #10... then rose to the #5 spot when that list was updated in 2007. AFI also listed it as the #1 greatest movie musical of all time in 2006, beating out West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and Cabaret... in that order.

For our purposes, the film first ranked in the top 10 of Sight and Sound Magazine’s critics’ survey of the best films of all time in 1982.. At #3. It was then a runner up in 1992 and at #10 in 2002. And though it didn’t make the top 10 in 2012, it was included on the full list at #20, right behind Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror and just ahead of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura -- both of which we’ve discussed in previous episodes of this podcast…

Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School, put it on his list, saying:

“Through the faked-up DIY of Singin’ in the Rain, seemingly a mad throwing together of stuff that somehow just gels, we’re allowed to feel the joy of creativity and to glimpse the very human face of genius. It’s the least improvised film providing the most thrillingly spontaneous feeling to be had in a cinema.”

Singin’ in the Rain also came in at #67 on the 2012 directors’ poll. Among the directors who voted for it were Francis Ford Coppola and Marc Webb.

Jun 13, 202201:15:02
Ep 18 // The Godfather Part II

Ep 18 // The Godfather Part II

It’s Mia’s 3rd pick: The Godfather Part II, the 1974 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather Part II both continues the story begun in the first film and also deepens it by depicting what came before. We watch as Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone continues in the family business, building his empire while trying to hold on to his family, both actual and figurative. This is crosscut with a portrayal of his father Vito’s rise from an unfortunate child in Sicily to a respected man in New York, as deftly played by Robert DeNiro. We watch as the older man builds his empire in order to, as he seems to view it, strengthen his family, just as the younger man causes his family to weaken as he extends his father’s empire.

Mario Puzo, the author of the novel on which the first movie and the overall saga were based, began working on the script for Part II before the first movie was even released. And, at least according to Coppola, the production of this followup was much smoother than that of the first film, as that installment’s success afforded him greater opportunity for control and independence from the studio, Paramount Pictures. It was released in December of 1974 and, though the critical reception was mixed at first -- with the film’s structure drawing the most consternation -- reassessments began sooner than often happens.

In addition to being the big winner at the Academy Awards that year, the film was also the 6th highest grossing film of 1974 in North America. The Godfather Part II was included in AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list in 1998, ranked at #32… and it stayed in the same spot when that list was updated in 2007.

For our purposes, it gets a little messy -- the film ranked #9 on Sight and Sound Magazine’s survey of directors in 1992… But when it was paired with Part 1 for the the survey in 2002, the 2 films collectively came it at #4 on the critics poll and at #2 on the directors poll.

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Jun 02, 202201:30:51
Ep 17 // 8 ½
Nov 01, 202101:18:38
Ep 16 // Lawrence of Arabia w/ Matt

Ep 16 // Lawrence of Arabia w/ Matt

It’s Alicia's 3rd pick: ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ the 1962 film directed by David Lean. The film is adapted from the autobiographical account of T. E. Lawrence, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ which was first published in 1926 and told the story of his involvement with the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks, from 1916-1918. Over the decades, many filmmakers – chief among them legendary silent and early sound era producer/director Alexander Korda – courted Lawrence, his estate, and biographers who owned rights to their own versions of the story. But it was ultimately producer Sam Spiegel who secured the rights, looking to follow up on his successful production of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ with director David Lean. By most accounts the extremely long shoot – which took place in Jordan, Morocco, and Spain – was hellish, but the resulting Super Panavision 70mm CinemaScope film, which premiered in December of 1962, went on to great success largely with both audiences and critics. In addition to its 7 Oscar wins for Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Score, and Sound, it was also nominated for Best Actor (Peter O’Toole), Best Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson). Notably, Gregory Peck won Best Actor that year for To Kill A Mockingbird. As for our purposes, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ has actually never appeared in the Top 10 or as a runner up on Sight & Sound magazine’s critics poll of the greatest films of all time, but it did rank at #4 on their poll of directors in 2002. Produced by Stereoactive Media
Oct 13, 202101:46:04
Ep 15 // Vertigo
Aug 13, 202101:22:22
Ep 14 // Round 2 Wrap Up / Round 3 Picks
Jul 22, 202101:26:47
Ep 13 // The Godfather
Jun 24, 202101:25:41
Ep 12 // Mirror
Jun 14, 202101:19:60
Ep 11 // L’avventura
Jun 02, 202101:27:25
Ep 10 // Bicycle Thieves
May 21, 202101:16:12
Ep 9 // The General
May 05, 202101:11:03
Ep 8 // The Searchers w/ JPK
Apr 29, 202101:42:57
Ep 7 // Round 1 Wrap Up / Round 2 Picks
Apr 16, 202101:06:55
Ep 6 // Rashomon
Apr 05, 202101:07:24
Ep 5 // Tokyo Story

Ep 5 // Tokyo Story

It’s Alicia’s pick… ‘Tokyo Story,’ the 1953 film by Yasujirō Ozu, which filmmaker and critic, Lindsay Anderson, after seeing it in London in 1957 wrote a review for Sight & Sound magazine likened it to the Zen state of experiencing the world in the same way as before, but feeling as if you’re 2 inches off the ground.

The film has appeared several times on Sight & Sound magazine’s decennial polls of the “greatest films” most recently at #3 on the critics poll and #1 on the directors poll.

Also, with the horrific events recently in Atlanta and the overall rise in bigotry and violence toward our friends in AAPI communities, we suggest supporting groups Stop AAPI Hate. And for those who want to learn how they can assist people facing hatred and violence in person, we suggest looking into bystander intervention training with groups like Hollaback!

  • 00:00 - Intro + the last good movies we saw
  • 03:55 - About the show / expectations for ‘Tokyo Story’
  • 06:38 - About the film / open discussion
  • 55:50 - Favorite scenes or moments / the test of time / influence or relevance today
  • 61:31 - Bonus question: What movie's setting made you want to travel there, and have you actually gone or not?
  • 70:13 - Next week on Stereoactive Movie Club… / Outro

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Mar 25, 202101:11:22
Ep 4 // Citizen Kane

Ep 4 // Citizen Kane

It’s Lora’s pick… ‘Citizen Kane,’ the 1941 debut film by Orson Welles. Often referred to as the greatest film ever made, it’s possibly Welles’ greatest achievement, but the controversy surrounding it (mainly stirred up by William Randolph Hearst, the main target of the film’s narrative) also led to his quick fall from grace.

The film has appeared on every single one of Sight & Sound magazine’s decennial polls of the “greatest films,” debuting as a runner up in 1952, then sitting at #1 for the next 50 years, before eventually dropping to #2 on both the 2012 polls of critics and directors.

Also, with the horrific events this past week in Atlanta and the overall rise in bigotry and violence toward our friends in AAPI communities, we suggest supporting groups Stop AAPI Hate. And for those who want to learn how they can assist people facing hatred and violence in person, we suggest looking into bystander intervention training with groups like Hollaback!

  • 00:00 - Intro + the last good movies we saw
  • 10:21 - About the show / expectations for ‘Citizen Kane’
  • 14:19 - About the film / open discussion
  • 54:02 - Disputed authorship of ‘Kane’
  • 61:34 - Favorite scenes or moments / historical context / the test of time / influence
  • 75:34 - Bonus question: what’s your favorite “ripped from the headlines” movie?
  • 83:29 - Next week on Stereoactive Movie Club… / Outro

Produced by Stereoactive Media

Mar 19, 202101:25:23
Ep 3 // The Magnificent Ambersons
Mar 05, 202101:25:55
Ep 2 // The Passion of Joan of Arc
Mar 01, 202101:12:02
Ep 1 // Introductions & Round 1 Movie Draft
Feb 09, 202129:56


5 person discussions on films, starting with those on the decennial movie polls put out by Sight & Sound magazine.

Feb 06, 202100:25