Earlier in my life I used to love making lists of my favorite movies, records, books, and other art works—but especially movies. During college I’d sit in class and re-arrange the likes of Star Wars, Rear Window, or other titles occupying my top ten, top twenty, or even my top 100.
Of course these lists are all around us now, which takes away from their luster. Top ten lists are a ubiquitous part of so much media, from the Countdown nightly news show on MSNBC to David Letterman's Top Ten. But there is one list I started following many years ago that I still respect.
Every ten years Sight & Sound magazine polls top film critics from around the world on the ten greatest movies ever made. It started in the 1950s, and I believe the first time around The Bicycle Thief was ranked #1. For decades, though, Citizen Kane has of course enjoyed that distinction. Anyway, in college the Sight & Sound list got me watching films I’d never heard of, like L’Aventura, Persona or Ugetsu.
In 2000 The American Film Institute also came out with a list of the top 100 American movies, which Valarie and I had pinned to our bulletin board for awhile, checking off movies we’ve seen. But I disputed a lot of that list, and indeed: the further you get from the Sight & Sound list, the more questionable the selections become.
This morning I came across Time magazine's new list of the top 100 movies. Compiled by the magazine’s two longtime critics, Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel, the list had plenty of familiar masterworks like Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Singin’ In the Rain. But there were plenty of surprises.
Even at first glance I found a number of movies you’d expect to be on the list but weren’t: Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo. And their places were taken by some movies that are, while certainly very good, in my and most people's opinion not among the 100 best of all time: Amodovar’s Talk to Her, Finding Nemo, City of God, Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly.
But there were also some inspired choices on the Time list, like Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as well as landmark martial arts films like Drunken Master II and A Touch of Zen.
But the subjectivity of such a list as Time's is typified by the fact that Purple Rose of Cairo is the only Woody Allen film to make the cut. To me Cairo isn’t even among the five or six best Allen films, let alone the very best. How can anybody possibly think it’s better than Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hanna And Her Sisters, or Annie Hall? Personally, I’d also put Broadway Danny Rose, Husbands and Wives, Deconstructing Harry, Zelig, Love and Death, and Sleeper ahead of Purple Rose of Cairo, if not more.
But I known dissention and debate are what these lists are all about. Is that why I like them, or why I hate myself for liking them? It's attractive to think of a canon of films we can all agree are great, but in reality there's a lot of deliberation that has to go on, a lot of campaigning for and against the merit of certain movies. Ultimately that's a good thing.
And just in case you're wondering, right off the presses is a new top twenty list of my own, subject to change perhaps as soon as an half-hour from now. But here goes:
(1) Star Wars; (2) Le Samurai; (3) 2001: A Space Odyssey; (4) Pulp Fiction; (5) Taxi Driver; (6) Manhattan; (7) Citizen Kane; (8) Apocalypse Now; (9) The Limey; (10) The Royal Tenenbaums; (11) 8½; (12) Koyaanisqatsi; (13) My Own Private Idaho; (14) Lost Highway; (15) The Empire Strikes Back; (16) Vertigo; (17) The Conversation; (18) Murder, My Sweet; (19) Beau Travail; (20) The Searchers.
Feel free to share a list of your own.