Again, not a Top Ten. It’s a Top Seventeen. So, I’m good.
As I came to the end of the Criterion Collection’s box set, I realized that I had written a lot of 4-star reviews. I went back and counted, and there are seventeen of them. Seventeen of thirty-nine films received 4-star reviews. That’s incredible. So, I’ve ranked them below. As a warning, though, there’s not a whole lot of difference in quality, in my opinion, from one to the next. We’re talking about seventeen movies that I love. It’s like picking favorite children to a certain extent. Click on the links for the reviews of them all.
Is The Passion of Anna really less great than Shame or Autumn Sonata or Summer with Monika? I wouldn’t say that. All four are great, perhaps equally so, but the listicle gods must be appeased.
- The Passion of Anna
“All of this is highly intellectual, an exploration of fantasy overriding reality in different forms, but how does it play as a movie? The answer is very well, of course. Bergman was, among other things, a great filmmaker in general. His relationships with actors allowed to extra very raw performances. His knowledge of what to film, whether extremely tight closeups of his actors’ faces or subtle combinations of images to create the illusion of multiple suns in the sky is fantastic. Bergman uses all of his skill to tell this intellectual story intimately and on very human terms.”
“It’s sad and gentle and angry and vicious all at once. It’s also engrossing and a marvelous sendoff from a master of the form.”
“I don’t think that the movie is a call against war, I think it’s a call to leave Bergman alone in all this war stuff. He just wanted to spend his time in Sweden making movies about topics that mattered to him, and the war didn’t matter to him artistically. If it did, he would have made movies about Vietnam explicitly, instead he made a movie about two artists where the war comes to them. It has to be a metaphor for Bergman’s artistic output.”
- Cries and Whispers
“But the moment ends, and the strangeness begins as Agnes’ dead body speaks to Anna, begging for comfort. She is dead, but she cannot sleep. One after another, the two sisters and then the maid converse with the corpse. Karin expresses pure disgust. Agnes is dead, and this is an abomination. Maria tries to understand, but when Agnes embraces her, Maria reacts in horror and runs away. It is only Anna, the loyal servant, who holds Agnes’ rotting corpse affectionately (leading to the very famous image below).”
- Autumn Sonata
“Eva has never had Charlotte’s talent, it’s obvious, but she is Charlotte’s daughter. So, when Eva finishes her rendition of the piece, Charlotte should speak with warmth and affection towards her daughter’s efforts, shouldn’t she? She can’t, though. Instead of, perhaps, insincere appreciation, Charlotte offers a textbook critique of form and intent, breaking down Eva’s failures as though she were just a student. Maybe Eva could use this critique in the event she were training for performance, but she wasn’t. She was only trying to share in her mother’s art, but her mother couldn’t have it.”
- The Magic Flute
“You’d think that Bergman had spent his whole career making nothing but light fare instead of existential explorations of the soul. By all accounts, Bergman himself was a happy man who made life on set a delight for his actors. It’s nice to have a movie that is so successful and seems to reflect the man behind the camera so well.”
- The Silence
“I’ve seen most of Bergman’s work, and I think it’s safe to say that this is his most esoteric and impenetrable film. It’s intentionally so, though, so there’s a need to engage with the oddness on display to have the appropriate conversation with the film and figure out what on earth is going on.”
- Through a Glass Darkly
“I see Through the Glass Darkly and Alien in a similar light. They both begin in the mundane and end with a tour de force that shakes the audience in different ways. I loved it thoroughly.”
- Winter Light
“These movies are intelligent, touching, and difficult, but they are also extremely rewarding to the patient viewer willing to give the films a chance.”
- Summer with Monika
“Monika is no heroine. She’s selfish and placed her own sense of nostalgia over responsibilities she willfully entered.And the movie is great.”
- Fanny and Alexander
“Fanny and Alexander is really one of Bergman’s best films. Emotional, complex, and insightful, it’s the appropriate way to end a retrospective of the man’s work. “
- Wild Strawberries
“It’s a wonderfully humanist tale from a director who is more well-known for existential dread and stark images rather than a gentle touch.”
- Brink of Life
“This is a great, almost completely forgotten Bergman film. Made in the middle of his existential period, it feels like it should have been made ten years later or ten years earlier. It has a weird spot in the timeline of the filmography, but that shouldn’t diminish its greatness. I adored this film.”
- The Seventh Seal
“Here we have Bergman’s best known movie. The one movie that broke through the cultural consciousness to leave an imprint most people take for granted. The vision of death playing chess, as said in the movie itself, was a common enough medieval subject for paintings, but our modern culture’s image and the source comes straight from Antonious Block challenging Death to a game to extend his life.”
“And that’s the other key to Persona‘s power. It’s so rich that it allows for this kind of exploration across multiple viewings. I remember reading a comment from someone on a message board about how a movie that didn’t grab him on a first viewing was unworthy of a second. I’m so glad I don’t subscribe to that line of thinking. If I did, I would have seen Persona once in college, not understood it, and never bothered to revisit it at all, much less twice in one week more than a decade later.”
- Scenes from a Marriage
“Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage contains sights and sounds of such brutality as we watch that marriage collapse. Everything comes out. Her disdain for sex, both of their inabilities to communicate, and his boiling anger at all manner of disappointments in his life (both professional and personal). The absolute magic of the film is that both characters are so clearly realized and feel so real. Even though we do sense the unhappiness under the surface, we also see actual happiness. Despite their brewing troubles, they do love each other, and we spend the first two episodes with that version of them.”
- The Virgin Spring
“This has long been my favorite Bergman.”
23 thoughts on “Ingmar Bergman’s Best Movies Ranked: The Definitive Ranking”
I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t seen near enough Bergman as you…but, as a tyro, I’d have put “Smiles of a Summer Night” in there somewhere.
“Shame” is one of those movies that I appreciate on many levels…it’s a relationship movie, it’s a comedy, it’s a tragedy, it’s bleak and unforgiving. “The Passion of Anna” is another that I thought worked really well in the ending, but before that…well, as mentioned I’m a tyro.