Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Cinematic Art's 132 favorite(st) movies

[Update (8/21/08): I have officially enforced Edward Copeland's "Five Year Rule" with my own list, meaning that I've cut out anything released after 2003. Next Year I will begin filtering in 2004 releases, and so on. I think it's a good rule because it's very difficult to assess a movie's place in one's own personal canon if it hasn't been around for very long.]

Equally frustrating and attractive, Top 100 Lists or Favorite All Time Movies Lists are a reality. Back when the Academy Awards were televised in the Winter, I offered many criticisms of lists, awards, and anything else that attempts to quantify artistic quality (here and here), as if measuring art is quantitative process and that quality is a tangible thing. I have since remained steadfast in my feelings. But in wake of the recent update to the American Film Institute's Top 100, and so many writers'/critics' commentaries in response to it (e.g., Jonathan Rosenbaum's Alternative Top 100), as well as the countless amount of personal Top 100 Lists that have appeared on movie blogs, I have since come to see some kind of value to lists. I still think they're dangerous and that they can do more harm than good in shaping the collective consciousness to approach movies (or anything for that matter) from the simple perspective of ranking lists and claiming one movie is the best in an arbitrary and condescending category (Best Animated Film, Best Foreign Language Film). But they are a reality, plain and simple. As a community, myself included, we are obsessed with them despite some of us claiming to be above them. Moreover, the recent critical conjecture over canons is interesting to me not only for the content, but also because of the manner in which our film theorists, scholars, and writes conceptualize of film history and film culture.

Lists by committee, like the AFI list, intrigue me in this regard. But in no way do I acknowledge them to be an authority on anything. Though I do see the strengths of listing and ranking insofar that it can introduce those interested in the study and history of cinema to the subject. But the danger of it is that its status as such a starting point can shape cultural knowledge of cinema to fits its rather constricting and reductive mold of arbitrary ranking and assessment of quality. People may of course branch out beyond them, which and lover of film would obviously encourage, but something about very official tone of these list really gets under my skin. But I nonetheless think it's important to see this as a starting point for diving into cinema. After that, they are better ignored or seen for what they are... starting points. Great cinema exists in all forms and in all places of the globe. To have a definitive list of a certain kind of film and call it official is to misunderstand the subtle beauties of a various kinds of movies.

Despite this buil-in problem with list, I actually enjoy reading personal favorite lists because it provides one a sense of a particular critic/writer's cinematic perspective, if you will. Rankings and numbers (why must we settle on tidy numbers like 100?) don't interest me as much a list, however long, of films which one selects that brings together their cinematic experience. These lists should be unique and personal, exhibiting one's love of the art form and acknowledgment of its history and conventions. These lists shouldn't look the same, but rather consist of films that mean something to one's informed tastes and experiences. Obviously, there will be some overlap. There are undoubtedly agreed upon structural, stylistic, and narrative conventions which we deem good and others not. But if cinema has taught us anything as we now move into the digital age is that narrative is only the surface to the depths into which cinema in its many intricacies and eccentricities can explore. We need to constantly be shifting out sensibilities and pushing ourselves to grow as thinkers, theorists, and critics of cinema.

Art needs critics just as much as critics need art. It can grow based upon the dialogue between artists and critics and the discourse among critics and lovers of cinema. Lists and canons can potentially lure us into the trap of working from a given standard that is met by films on that list. Its design promotes exclusivity and sameness. But I say that we use that design against itself and construct lists based on a truly inquisitive and open perspective of understanding cinematic space and movement. But what's important to acknowledge in all of criticism is the bridge between the knower and the known and the relationship of the critic to that which she theorizes or writes about. In that sense, we must always be reflexive of the craft of criticism, scholarship, and even listmaking, because the structures that undergird them and guide our participation in them strongly influence our interpretation of the artifacts we study. That is why its so important to acknowledge the highly personal aspects of these lists.

My own list below contains 132 films that have shaped my experience with cinema. They are not the only movies that contributed to my movie life and overall self; there are far too many movies to mention for that. Any good movie I have seen has influenced me in some way, if not for challening my views or being grand narrativer statements, but sometimes for my watching them at a specific time in my life, in which a movie has helped take my mind off of current experiences or feelings or perhaps enable me to reflect on them. This can happen even when watching movies that aren't even particularly good.

And that's the beauty of cinema: all of cinema. We participate in a narrative, engaging our senses of sight in sound to experience feeling and thought. It can be an escape, a reprieve, or a world in itself into which we can delve and lose ourselves. A movie is capable of so much. I am both an enjoyer and critic of movies, taking the medium very seriously in attempt to understand the constitutive nature of narrative in our individual and cultural stance in lived experience. We are constructions of our own narratives to the extent that narrative -- in its signifying capabilities (like the language that constructs narrative) -- allows us as social actors to build an understanding of "the world" as we see it and participate in it in the unique ways that each of us do. I am not of the belief that there is an objective world "out there" for us to interpret. We interpret experience according to the narrative that we and others have constructed of it. To me, cinema represents a culmination and collaboration of so many kinds of narratives and aesthetic traditions that to coneive of it as a consumer spectacle is beyond my grasp. I watch movies and experience them for their small pleasures, the moments in which so much seems to come together in a moment of sublimity that all of us so often experience in our own lives.

These movies are my unique list of movies that mean something to me, for different reasons. Some of them represent maybe not so much an emotional connection to the material but a pure exhiliration of discovery in the medium - a discovery that I was not around for when it happened but can still oddly connect with in some way. Others are more recent and would not appear on many "Top" lists but mean something to me personally, representing an emotional connection. Some of these movies may not be structurally sound or critical darlings but may contain movements of complete transcendence, moments that snuck up on me and floored me in their emotional subtlty, provoking feeling and thought that I may not be able to verbalize or understand but which somehow affect me. I go to the movies for these nuances, and I think all of us have such experiences with narrative and in our own lives that, despite not being able to understand them, can feel them. These movies speak to me and my own narrative. I'm sure there are some I forgot to include, others that I may reconsider down the road, and others that I have yet to see which shall feature prominently. Of note, also, is that this list is distinctly slanted toward American cinema. I need to catch up on European cinema, both new and old, as well as Asian Cinema, but right I am content with this list reflecting that, since it representing "where I am" in my cinematic (and personal) life.

Although this is 102 over Jim Emerson's request for my 30 Favoritest Movies, I just couldn't bear to cut it down shorter and have my own narrative fit a pre-determined mold to a tee, despite the challenge (which I acknowledge is the point). So, without further pontificating, here is the list of my 132 Favoritest Movies. From here it will only grow...

"8 1/2" (Federico Fellini, 1963)
"12 Angry Men" (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
"The 39 Steps" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
"Aguirre, The Wrath of God" (Werner Herzog, 1972)
"A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
"Adaptation" (Spike Jonze, 2002)
"Alien" (Ridley Scott, 1979)
"Aliens" (James Cameron, 1986)
"All the President's Men" (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
"Annie Hall" (Woody Allen, 1977)
"Another Woman" (Woody Allen, 1988)
"The Apartment" (Billy Wilder, 1960)
"Beauty and the Beast" (Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, 1991)
"Belle de Jour" (Luis Bunuel, 1967)
"The Bicycle Thief" (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
"The Big Sleep" (Howard Hawks, 1946)
"Blade Runner" (Ridley Scott, 1982)
"Blazing Saddles" (Mel Brooks, 1974)
"Brazil" (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
"Bringing Up Baby" (Howard Hawks, 1938)
"Casablanca" (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
"Chinatown" (Roman Polanski, 1974)
"Cinema Paradiso" (Guiseppe Tornatore, 1988)
"Citizen Kane" (Orson Welles, 1941)
"City Lights" (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
"A Clockwork Orange" (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
"The Conversation" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1973)
"Crash" (David Cronenberg, 1996)
"Crimes and Misdemeanors" (Woody Allen, 1989)
"Dark City" (Alex Proyas, 1998)
"Dawn of the Dead" (George A. Romero, 1978)
"Do the Right Thing" (Spike Lee, 1989)
"Double Indemnity" (Billy Wilder, 1944)
"Dracula" (Tod Browning, 1931)
"The Empire Strikes Back" (Irvin Kirschner, 1980)
"E.T. -- The Extra Terrestrial" (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
"Eyes Wide Shut" (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
"Fargo" (Joel Coen, 1996)
"The General" (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1927)
"Ghost World" (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)
"Ghostbusters" (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
"The Godfather" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
"The Godfather Part II" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
"The Gold Rush" (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
"Goodfellas" (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
"Groundhog Day" (Harold Ramis, 1994)
"Halloween" (John Carpenter, 1978)
"Hamlet" (Kenneth Branagh, 1996)
"Hannah and Her Sisters" (Woody Allen, 1986)
"High Noon" (Fred Zinemann, 1952)
"The Hustler" (Robert Rossen, 1961)
"In the Bedroom" (Todd Field, 2001)
"It Happened One Night" (Frank Capra, 1936)
"It's a Wonderful Life" (Frank Capra, 1946)
"Jackie Brown" (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
"Jaws" (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
"JFK" (Oliver Stone, 1991)
"King Kong" (Marion C. Cooper, 1933)
"La Strada" (Federico Fellini, 1954)
"L.A. Confidential" (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
"The Last Temptation of Christ" (Martin Scorsese, 1987)
"Lawrence of Arabia" (David Lean, 1962)
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
"Lost in Translation" (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
"The Maltese Falcon" (John Huston, 1941)
"Magnolia" (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
"Manhattan" (Woody Allen, 1979)
"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (Peter Weir, 2003)
"Mean Streets" (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
"Metropolis" (Fritz Lang, 1927)
"McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (Robert Altman, 1971)
"Miller's Crossing" (Joel Coen, 1990)
"Minority Report" (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
"Modern Times" (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
"Mulholland Drive" (David Lynch, 2001)
"Nanook of the North" (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922)
"Nashville" (Robert Altman, 1975)
"Network" (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
"Night of the Living Dead" (George A. Romero, 1968)
"A Night at the Opera" (Sam Wood, The Marx Brothers, 1935)
"Nosferatu" (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
"Nosferatu the Vampyre" (Werner Herzog, 1979)
"Notorious" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
"On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
"Our Hospitality" (Buster Keaton, 1923)
"Patton" (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)
"Pinocchio" (Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen, 1940)
"Playtime" (Jaques Tati, 1967)
"Princess Mononoke" (Hayao Miyazaki, 1998)
"Psycho" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
"Pulp Fiction" (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
"Raging Bull" (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
"Raise the Red Lantern" (Yimou Zhang, 1991)
"Rear Window" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
"The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir, 1939)
"Schindler's List" (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
"The Searchers" (John Ford, 1956)
"The Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
"The Seventh Seal" (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
"Sherlock, Jr." (Buster Keaton, 1924)
"Singin' in the Rain" (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
"Shadow of a Doubt" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
"Some Like It Hot" (Billy Wilder, 1959)
"Spirited Away" (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)
"Stagecoach" (John Ford, 1939)
"Star Wars" (George Lucas, 1977)
"Steamboat Bill, Jr." (Charles Reisner, 1928)
"Strangers on a Train" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)
"Sunset Boulevard" (Billy Wilder, 1950)
"Suspiria" (Dario Argento, 1977)
"The Sweet Hereafter" (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
"Taxi Driver" (Martin Scorsese, 1979)
"The Terminator" (James Cameron, 1984)
"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (James Cameron, 1991)
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
"The Thin Blue Line" (Errol Morris, 1988)
"The Thing" (John Carpenter, 1982)
"The Third Man" (Carol Reed, 1949)
"Time Bandits" (Terry Gilliam, 1981)
"The Untouchables" (Brian DePalma, 1987)
"The Verdict" (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
"Vertigo" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
"Videodrome" (David Cronenberg, 1983)
"Wages of Fear" (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)
"Waking Life" (Richard Linklater, 2001)
"The Wizard of Oz" (Victor Fleming, 1939)
"Y Tu Mama Tambien" (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)
"Young Frankenstein" (Mel Brooks, 1974)


Damian Arlyn said...

Some great choices there, Ted. I see a lot of the same titles on your list as are on mine (as well as a number of films that I wanted to include but, for some reason or another, just couldn't Ghostbusters, Blow Out or Branagh's Hamlet). For someone not terribly fond of lists, you seem to be pretty good at making them. :)

Chris Stangl said...

You like DRACULA more than FRANKENSTEIN or BRIDE for-real?

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks, Damian.

And Chris: I am not as familiar with Frankenstein as I am with Dracula. I recall liking it a lot as a kid, but with a hazy knowledge of it now, I didn't feel right including it. I plan on seeing that and the Bride of Frankenstein sometime soon. Many other omissions, like the Searchers (another one I recall from a long time ago), are due to this reasoning as well.

But I still maintain that Dracula is a wonderful movie.

Adam Ross said...

Ted, I'm another huge Dracula fan and it made my list along with the two Frankensteins. I know Dracula originally was music-free, but the Phillip Glass score on the new DVD is so darn cool and adds another odd quality to the amazing visuals.

Glad to see "Dark City" on your list, it's one of my favorites and I learned a lot as a film fan listening to Roger Ebert's commentary on the DVD way back when. There's been a director's cut in the works for years, hopefully it'll see the light of day without the needless prologue.

Ted Pigeon said...

I love Glass' score for Dracula. I think the idea of rescoring old films is fascinating because of how it alters the composer's approach to the film itself as she or he writes music in acknowledgment of the film's release and influence.

As for Dark City, I saw that when I was 16 or 17 and found the experience utterly hypnotic. I have read Ebert's reviews of it as well as listened to his informative commentary, which has only increased my admiration for the film. It's images are striking and its sense of place is phenomenal. It's like being caught in a dream, recognizing certain buildings and alleyways, having both a total knowledge of every twist and turn of the city and yet knowing to little about it. That movie is a constant discovery each time I see it.

PIPER said...

Some good, bold choices. That makes a movie list that much more interesting.

Batman Begins. Miami Vice. Crash. All interesting choices.

I loved Batman Begins. It is not just a good superhero movie, it is a good movie.

Miami Vice. As a fan of Mann, I could not not love this. I was pleasantly surprised and very happy with this. And was amazed at how Mann could make digital look so rich.

Crash. Definitely a bold movie. Not a favorite, but I love Cronenberg and this is a very interesting movie. I myself picked his older work.

And Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are among some of my favorite movies of all time.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

Are you not a Terrence Malick fan?

Ted Pigeon said...

One of my many crimes as a lover of cinema is that I have not yet seen a Terrence Malick film. Some of the best writing I have read on cinema in recent years (especially about The New World) has been about his films, but amazingly, I have yet to see one. I know he hasn't made too many, but I should definitely make it a point to see at least one or two in the very near future. I'm hoping over the next year, especially in the Fall, I will sit down to watch three or four films by the many directors whose work I have seen too little of or not at all. These directors include Tati, Malick, Godard and Truffaut (although I did finally see The 400 Blows recently. I'm sure there are many others, but I'm planning this project as we speak.