Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita (1960) was such an enormous international success that the director was in a quandary about what to do next. After much tortured soul-searching, he finally decided to make a movie about . . . a successful director who doesn’t know what to make next. The resulting work, 8½—so named because Fellini had made seven and a half films to that point (by his own count, although how he arrived at that number varied in different tellings)—is not just perhaps the greatest film about the process of filmmaking but also one of the most striking statements about the nature of art in any medium. Fellini’s alter ego, Guido Anselmi (played with brash charm by Marcello Mastroianni), finds himself creatively blocked as well as romantically confused, and as he struggles to locate artistic inspiration and juggle the many women in his life, the film grows ever more collagelike, weaving between the past and the present, dreams and waking, movie life and “real” life. In fact, 8½ begins in fantasy, with a surreal yet emotionally lucid nightmare sequence that is among the most gripping openings in cinema history. As cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo’s floating camera drifts around an epic traffic jam, we feel Guido’s anxiety and terror right along with him.