Lists are all the rage nowadays. You can’t switch on Channel 4 without there being some sort of show with the titles ‘Top Hundred Greatest Programmes About Kittens’ and the like. Indeed, over the past few years we’ve had the Hundred Greatest Comedy films, War films, Family films and Horror Films. ‘Voted for by the audience’ (roughly translated ‘The audiences think they have some say, but the films are actually determined by which directors and stars they can speak to.’) and aided by some talking heads from ‘experts’ (and if you think you can detect a hint of sarcasm because they’ve never asked me, you’d be darned right), they’re a diverting if rather subjective way of looking at the history of cinema.
What made The Ultimate Film – a survey/programme made in association with the BFI – so interesting was that – by looking at the top 100 films in Britain solely in terms of Box Office – we get rid of some of the arbitrariness of the list. What resulted was a vaguely entertaining programme spoiled by the presence of everyone’s favourite film critic Paul "(Insert title of film) is the best movie ever made!" Ross talking about films he clearly had no idea about. Now, the book of ‘The Ultimate Film’ allows you to keep your Sunday nights free.
It gets a bit worrying when you see the surname of the person who writes the foreword is Ross but, thankfully, it’s Paul’s slightly more credible brother Jonathan. From there it’s chronological list of the films from 1-100. Each is given a synopsis, a review from the time oh the film’s release from the Monthly Film Bulletin/Sight and Sound and – where appropriate – a contemporary review. Then there’s classic quotes, trivia bites (did you know that Cecil B. DeMille cast Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments because he reminded him of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses) and reams of Box Office information.
This is the kind of book that you dip into to read when you’ve got a few minutes to spare. From looking some of the original reviews (it’s amusing to read the lament for Gone With The Wind which states "It is … a matter of regret that film conceived on such epic proportions should deal only with the life-story of a hussy.") to enjoying the plethora of stills and poster reproductions on offer, to marvelling at the fact that more people went to see The Blue Lamp than Superman (that’s right, it was not Kryptonite that defeated The Man Of Steel: it was Dixon Of Dock Green). The Ultimate Film is a coffee table book to thumb through at your leisure. However, thanks to the pedigree of writers for the MFB and Sight and Sound there’s also slightly more intellectual meat here than you’d find in many books of this ilk.
Perhaps one of the most commercial releases from the publishing arm of the BFI in quite some time, it’s a fun and undemanding dip into the tastes of the UK film-going public from the past few decades.