Lists of Fury

Joel Bocko of The Dancing Image recently asked, “What are 100 (of Your) Favorite Movies?” As soon as I read the question, I knew I had to answer. I’m a list junkie: I love reading, collecting, and composing ’em. I just can’t get enough lists. And, with Sight & Sound’s seventh “greatest films” poll being released in September, there’s been a lot of “list” talk in the air. Roger Ebert wrote about his contribution to the new S&S poll; Criticwire’s Matt Singer asked critics to replace a film in S&S’s top 10; and Film School Rejects’ Cole Abaius announced a 10-best list “according to the Internet.” So lately I’ve been pondering the politics of listmaking… (If you just want to see my 100 movies, skip the next few paragraphs.)

So: the favorite/best dichotomy. “Favorite” means it’s a movie you have a personal passion for; “best” implies the existence of a broader standard, beyond the scope of your personal opinion, by which said movie is great. “Favorite” is inarguable: I can make a list of top 10 “favorites” where every entry is Showgirls, and you can’t contradict me. “Best,” meanwhile, is fodder for debate. It’s a critical evaluation, a value judgment. “Favorite” is less aggressive, coming as it does with an implicit “IMHO,” whereas “best” is an assertion. It’s an attempt to externalize your personal opinion, to make an argument on the basis of your critical subjectivity. So which one, as Edgar Wright asked on Twitter, should be referenced when participating in “greatest films” polls?

First of all, I think people (especially on the Internet—surprise, surprise) exaggerate the gulf between “favorite” and “best.” This corresponds to the popular conception of cinema as Fun Entertainment Movies vs. Serious Art Films, with the former describing what movie lovers actually want to see (and list) while the latter represents a set of viewing/listmaking obligations, chores, vegetables. So, for example, we get plenty of participants in the Film School Rejects poll making faux-apologies for their “populist” choices, or (to quote one voter) for their lack of “superiorly-crafted dramas chock-full of Academy Award winners.”

This vision of listmaking postulates favorite/best and art/entertainment as a series of never-the-twain-shall-meet propositions. But when drawing up my own lists for Joel’s challenge, I found these categories muddled and entangled. The movies I saw as “best” had only revealed themselves to me through repeated viewings, growing and deepening each time I experienced them, to the point that they were my favorites. A handful of the movies I gravitated toward are kitschy, hacky, or just “bad,” but I don’t see that as mutually exclusive with their power, meaning, or brilliance. In an expanded S&S-style poll, I’d eagerly advocate for every movie on my list.

Because for me, one of the lessons of this exercise is that personal taste and a film’s quality react together in startling ways. It doesn’t matter how closely your list matches the consensus, or how radically it deviates. A film critic is only as good as the eloquence of their defenses and the strength of their loves. The list below is a big, silly snapshot. It’s populated by some of my “favorites” and some of my “bests,” but for the most part these are 100 films I really like and would encourage folks to watch. Which, I think, is ultimately the best use of a list: it can be a picture of you as a moviegoer, yes, or a gesture toward canon-building, but fundamentally it just says, “These movies are pretty good. If you haven’t, check ’em out.”

My 100

Starting out, I decided to craft my own if-I-were-polled-by-Sight-&-Sound top 10. In alphabetical order, they are: Cría Cuervos, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Meshes of the Afternoon, Mulholland Dr., Nashville, The Night of the Hunter, Persona, Sunset Blvd., Sunrise, and The Third Man. They contain some of my favorite performances—Ana Torrent! Ronee Blakley! Gloria Swanson!—and some of my favorite images: Maya Deren plucking a key from her mouth, Shelley Winters’ hair floating like seaweed, Harry Lime’s flickering grin, etc. These are ten movies I could not do without. (And for the record, my answer to the Criticwire poll linked to above is “replace 2001 with Sunset Blvd.”)

[Another lesson gleaned from this process: it doesn’t matter. Narrowing my favorite movies down to 10 or even 100 doesn’t mean I love any of the left-off movies any less, because 1) it’s all so arbitrary and 2) it’s not like I have a finite amount of movie love. If you asked me tomorrow, I might overhaul my whole top 10. A lot of different movies are great for wildly differing reasons.]

So where do you go from there? Well, I went through the usual listmaking procedures. I pored over and cherry-picked preexisting lists, trying to stick to a one-film-per-director rule. (Four exceptions slipped through, though. Challenge question: who are they?) I inserted some beloved horror movies, comedies, musicals, melodramas, and film noir. Some statistical fun: approximately 1/3 of these movies were produced outside of the United States. 1/20 of them were directed by women. 2/5 were made after 1970. But before I bore you, let me just say: These movies are pretty good. If you haven’t, check ’em out.

···

American Psycho (2000) · Annie Hall (1977) · L’Atalante (1934) · Beauty and the Beast (1946) · Bigger Than Life (1956) · The Birds (1963) · Bonnie and Clyde (1967) · The Brave Little Toaster (1987) · Breaking the Waves (1996) · Bride of Frankenstein (1935) · Bringing Up Baby (1938) · Cabaret (1972) · Carrie (1976) · Cat People (1942) · Un Chant d’Amour (1950) · Un Chien Andalou (1927) · Chopping Mall (1986) · Citizen Kane (1941) · Claire’s Knee (1970) · The Conversation (1974) · Cría Cuervos (1976) · Detour (1945) · The Devil Is a Woman (1935) · Double Indemnity (1944) · Dr. Strangelove (1964) · Duck Soup (1933) · Election (1999) · The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) · A Face in the Crowd (1957) · Female Trouble (1974) · The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) · The Fly (1986) · Forbidden Planet (1956) · Force of Evil (1948) · Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) · Glen or Glenda (1953) · Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) · Häxan (1922) · The Heartbreak Kid (1972) · The Heart of the World (2000) · Heavenly Creatures (1994) · Hellzapoppin’ (1941) · I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) · Ikiru (1953) · Imitation of Life (1959) · It Happened One Night (1934) · It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) · Jeanne Dielman (1975) · Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) · King Kong (1933) · The King of Comedy (1983) · Kiss Me Deadly (1955) · Koyaanisqatsi (1983) · The Lady Eve (1941) · Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) · The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) · Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) · The Manchurian Candidate (1962) · The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) · Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) · Metropolis (1927) · Modern Times (1936) · Mulholland Dr. (2001) · Nashville (1975) · The Night of the Hunter (1955) · Pandora’s Box (1928) · Paris Is Burning (1990) · Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) · Persona (1966) · Phantasm (1979) · Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) · Playtime (1967) · Punch-Drunk Love (2002) · Repo Man (1984) · Repulsion (1965) · RoboCop (1987) · The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) · Rules of the Game (1939) · Sherlock Jr. (1924) · Spirited Away (2001) · The Story of a Cheat (1936) · Sunrise (1927) · Sunset Blvd. (1950) · Sweet Smell of Success (1957) · Talk to Her (2002) · The Thing (1982) · The Third Man (1949) · The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) · Tokyo Story (1953) · Ugetsu (1953) · The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) · The Unknown (1927) · Velvet Goldmine (1998) · Week End (1967) · What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) · White Heat (1949) · The Wicker Man (1973) · Wings of Desire (1987) · The Wrong Trousers (1993) · Zodiac (2007)

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Lists of Fury

  1. I’m considering doing my own favorites post, not so much to show off what I love as to create a kind of time capsule to myself to see how vastly my tastes change even over the next five years, to say nothing of a whole lifetime. I think if I submitted a S&S poll mine would look like:

    2 or 3 Things I Know About Her
    2001: A Space Odyssey
    A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Chimes at Midnight
    The Double Life of Veronique
    Playtime
    Ran
    The Red Shoes
    Sunrise
    The Tree of LIfe

    But this leaves out so much that I might at lest try to do a top 50 some time this year.

    • Great list! Happy to see we have a mutual love for Tati and Murnau, and I’m certainly a fan of the rest, barring Chimes which I haven’t yet seen. (In fact, it kind of pained me not to list a Kieślowski movie, but I couldn’t pick between Blue and Véronique.)

      And the “time capsule” effect was part of my intent as well; I’ll be very curious to see how many of these stick around over the next few years. I’m betting “most of them”… but who knows?

      • I’ll probably start listing my top 100 in chunks next week (I can never just list things so I imagine I’ll have blurbs) and God am I already driving myself crazy trying to narrow things down.

  2. themike31

    I know I shouldn’t look at this and have the first thing that jumps out at me be CHOPPING MALL. But dammit….it is. And it’s awesomesauce.

    Only thing I’d rib about is that you’re one of those people who has The Birds atop their Hitchcock list. Those people scare me.

    I used to have a running Top 100 list. Maybe I’ll revive it if I ever finish my Top 50 horror list.

    • Don’t worry: the amusement value of Chopping Mall lying squarely between Un Chien Andalou and Citizen Kane was very much intentional. But I rewatched it the other night, and what can I say? It’s one of the most get-what-you-pay-for movies I’ve ever seen, promising Killbots and delivering them in great measure. Add in cameos from Bartel, Woronov, and Dick Miller, and I’m very willing to call it one of my favorites (if not one of the best…?).

      As for The Birds, it was neck-and-neck with all my other favorite Hitchcocks (Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, maybe The 39 Steps, Rope, or Rebecca) and honestly, I could’ve populated a big chunk of this list with his work. So while I wouldn’t call it my clear favorite, it is a favorite and one that I think doesn’t get its fair due. I’m curious, though—why is that scary?

      I’d love to see your list of favorites! (And as it is, I’m really excited to see where the “50 horror favorites” project goes.)

      • themike31

        I dunno, I really like The Birds. I think it’s just that I’m such a huge Hitchcock geek that I want to make them all my favorite and The Birds is one I’m sure isn’t my favorite and thus it gets voted down. Sort of like The Fog and John Carpenter – I love it, but it’s not favorite enough for me.

        It takes a real nerd to backlash against movies he likes because he doesn’t like them as much as others…but I am that nerd.

        • I’ll probably write more about this in the future, but I will mention right now some of the reasons I love The Birds so much: it feels like such a pure horror movie—no explanation, no messy story logic, no need for it—with such a ghastly sense of humor. And the drama half of its narrative, like the performances that fill it, seems so alien and almost self-parodic in a distinctly ’60s Hitch way. For whatever reason, those traits really get to me in a different way than most Hitchcock.

  3. Not a fan of post-70s Asian Cinema? Or you just haven’t seen enough of it?

    Good list all around though!

    • I am a fan, so it’s really the second reason: I haven’t seen nearly enough. I’m totally blind to huge swaths of Asian cinema: India, the Middle East, the former USSR, etc., and have a lot of catching up to do with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Southeast Asian filmmakers.

      However, if I were to have included more relatively recent Asian films, these would’ve been among them: Vengeance Is Mine, Ran, Akira, Raise the Red Lantern, Chungking Express, Audition, Yi Yi, Millennium Actress, Oldboy, Tropical Malady, and The Host.

      Thanks a lot for asking! I’m oblivious to so much of world cinema and definitely need to be reminded of it from time to time.

  4. Pingback: This Week In Links 5/25/12 | Paracinema

  5. Sam

    Ace list, and it’s nice to see some comedies on there like Kind Hearts and Coronets, which is brilliant. I always struggle to think of lists like that, although I may have to try one in the future.

  6. Ah boy. Sorry I missed this first time around but thrilled I get to catch up with it now. To wit:

    Love to see Mulholland Dr., Meshes of the Afternoon, but especially Cria Cuervos in your top 10. That film made it just under the wire, placing in the 90s on my own list but it’s such an underrated gem and needs more love. As far as 70s Spanish films starring Ana Torrent go, Spirit of the Beehive is certainly gorgeous and wonderful, but it’s Cria Cuervos that connects the most deeply with me.

    As for the 100 – great, fun list. The entries that made me grin the widest: The Brave Little Toaster (probably #1 in this category), The Bride of Frankenstein, Claire’s Knee, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Force of Evil, Gremlins 2 (even though it wouldn’t make it anywhere near my own lists – maybe I need to see it again and rectify that, I do remember loving this as a kid – oddly enough I didn’t see the first Gremlins until a year or two ago), Haxan, I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Make Way for Tomorrow, Pandora’s Box, RoboCop, The Royal Tenenbaums, White Heat, The Wicker Man, Zodiac. Ironically, very few of these films films made my own list! Not sure what that says. (Time for Round 2, perhaps?)

    Stats-wise, I’ve seen 85 of these. The multiple auteurs are Hawks, Capra, McCarey, and Wilder.

    This would be a fun list to look at organized several different ways: by director (since most have only one entry), chronologically, by genre etc. But then I guess that’s true of all lists…

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