Ten Reasons Why I Love You

Posted on August 30, 2010


Ignoring the dearth of comments for Once a Great Notion and pausing for a moment to point out that of the 165 visits to this site so far the greatest number has been to the afore-mentioned non-discussed post, I am reminded once again of people’s reticence to stick their heads above the parapet and state happily for the record that it bothers me not a jot. There is joy in the writing and training in the toil, and while the to and fro of discussion and offered opinion are clearly the desserts of reward, the main course and its preparation can be enjoyed alone or in any sort of company, just like our favourite films.

What I hope to accomplish with this week’s post is the beginnings of a discussion at a level we can all enjoy, and the gradual reclamation of some of those films that we truly love but don’t often get to air. By that I mean that the eleventh film you remember when asked for your Top Ten can often be the most interesting choice that you make. A few weeks ago my wife said that one of her favourite movies, if not her favourite, is Night of the Hunter, but it has been years since she last saw it (we think eight or nine at least.) Now, one of my favourite movies is Do the Right Thing, a testament to my brother’s exquisite taste, even as a kid, and if you clicked on the links to each movie you can see another way they are linked. Both films often appear in the lower reaches of some of the ‘best of’ lists and they often feel as if they are included as afterthoughts but is it possible that they better represent what people actually enjoy as opposed to what people think they should respect? There are many links contained at the end of this post and the supposition may be that I am telling you what to watch or what you should have watched by now, but I’m not and furthermore that’s where most lists actually fail. If you have already seen most films in the top ten or twenty, as most of us predictably have, then you get a nice feeling of self satisfaction but are never actually encouraged to seek out something different or given the route to something new.

Such notable institutions as the American Film Institute, and the British Film Institute’s international critics’ poll regularly place Citizen Kane at the top of their lists while other frequent high fliers include Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, etc. Most of us have seen most of these films so what do we learn from this peri-millenial rehashing of old standards?

In the recent past, results from seven different notable sources (the AFI 100, the American National Film Registry, the BFI International Critic’s poll, the Academy Awards, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Society of Film Critics (USA), and the New York Film Critics Circle) were pooled into one overall meta-list in order to better judge the greatest movies and their span across the years. Unsurprisingly, Citizen Kane still tops the polls but then things get a little strange. The 1939 classic by Jean Renoir, La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), appearing in every BFI top 10 since its inception in 1952, comes second on this ‘meta-list’ without a single appearance or mention anywhere else throughout the other six voting sources. The Battleship Potemkin and L’Avventura follow Renoir’s film into the meta top ten by no other virtue than a continued, albeit fading presence on the BFI Top Ten. Looking more closely at the meta list, the one movie that appears more often throughout the seven source lists than any other is Schindler’s List. Other films with a wider spread to their appeal include Annie Hall, On the Waterfront, All About Eve, The Best Years of Our Lives, and, West Side Story. Critics seem to be fatally falling out of love with Charlie Chaplin who once dominated polls with City Lights and The Gold Rush ranking second and third respectively in the BFI’s 1952 list, while at the same time they finally seem to be ready for Buster Keaton’s The General, made around the same time as Chaplin’s classics and every bit as worthy of recognition. (Please do watch this link, if for no other reason than to see the insanity of early film-making.)

So what I hear you say? Well for one thing, Schindler’s List is the most recent movie to be afforded such canonical status but at almost twenty years old would anyone really say that it is the BEST MOVIE SINCE 1993? And this is the nature of lists and polls that deal with greatest this and thats and all timey things. It takes a long, long time before it even begins to be appreciated by the people who are paid to watch movies as opposed to the rest of us who get to pay for the privilege. Popular movie magazines such as Empire regularly report Star Wars and Lord of the Rings near the summit of reader polls and most interestingly, The Shawshank Redemption has now begun to top them. Will it be long before Shawshank appears on more luminous polls like those of the AFI and BFI?

Well I wouldn’t hold my breath as it appears to not just be about the film but also the director and their overall contribution. Alfred Hitchcock made Vertigo in 1958 but it did not appear in the BFI Top Ten until 1982 since when it has steadily risen to be ranked second only to Citizen Kane in the most recent 2002 poll. Similarly, the Godfather didn’t appear on the BFI poll until 1992, again some 20 years after it swept the Academy Awards and if it really takes twenty years before a film finally soaks into our souls, resonating at a frequency we can understand and respond to, then what chance for non-English language films in all of this? Except for a brief honeymoon in the 60s when Italian Neo-Realism (Bicycle Thieves) and French New Wave (A Bout de Souffle, Jules et Jim) were immediately taken to the collective critical breast, two of the four foreign language movies included in the BFI 2002 Top Ten were made in the 1920s or 30s (The Battleship Potemkin and La Regle du Jeu), and two in the 1960s (8 1/2 and Tokyo Story). So what chance do films like 2006‘s The Lives of Others and 2002‘s Russian Ark stand? To my mind they have already disappeared from public consciousness and as time moves on their chances of inclusion diminish even further despite saying more to me today than Casablanca ever has.

Maybe the retention of bygone classics is in part created by the design for each institution’s polling systems, the BFI has published their poll every ten years since 1952, the AFI also seems to have fallen into ten year spring cleanings (last one in 2008), the Academy Awards is obviously annual and the National Film Registry only considers American films for inclusion that are at least ten years old. I ask myself what would be our favourite movies if we could only choose from the last twenty years? Aren’t those the movies that speak the most to us anyway? Sure, I might include The Godfather but you can be damned sure that Pulp Fiction would be up there as well. What would our favourite movie lists look like if we excluded those made in English? What a horrible list I hear you say. Well last night I rented Il Divo, Un Prophete, Mother, and Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) all of which were made LAST FLIPPIN’ YEAR.

To round off my thesis on the sometime futility and occasional idiocy of the lists and polls shoved down our throats, the AFI recently posted its Ten Top Tens online, or as they refer to it, America’s 10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres (yet again confined to American or English speaking films, ‘cos it’s not like the French actually invented film or anything). Snow White is the best animated movie, City Lights the best romantic comedy, The Searchers the best Western, Raging Bull the greatest Sports movie(!), Vertigo the greatest Mystery, The Wizard of Oz the best Fantasy, 2001: A Space Odyssey the best Sci-Fi, The Godfather the best Gangster movie, To Kill A Mockingbird the best Courtroom Drama (what?), and Lawrence of Arabia the best Epic. Wait a minute, where is Citizen Kane in all this? Does it defy such easy categorizations or has Citizen Kane become un- American all over again?

Either way, I’m already having fun coming up with alternative winners for each category (show me better than Toy Story 1-3, I dares ya) and tonight I will be dreaming of lists. I’m checking them twice and asking you to come up with suggestions for lists of your own, lists with twists (a personal fave is movies you want to watch when you’ve just been dumped, and speaking of which, what is with the massive under-representation of women throughout this post and the polls I have looked through?). Let’s get thinking and if the mood fits let’s get watching. There’s a lifetime of movies out there and by my count there are 45 mentioned throughout this post; I have included some links below to give you a flavour of some of the movies mentioned. If you feel like looking them up by all means do and let us know what you really think. I’m not sure what my favourite film of all is, I’m not sure I can pick just one and I don’t think too many of the usual suspects would make it onto my personal list but during the week I am going to think hard on it and come up with a list of films that honestly highlights my movie watching experience to date. And I can tell you now it won’t be a nice round number like ten. Since when does the decimal system get a say in what we like?

Consume, enjoy, discuss…


Posted in: Film, Top ten lists