My Top 3 Posts about Awards and Lists, Part 2

Bugs list

Doctor Zhivago? What’s UP, indeed, Doc?

Having addressed the issue of Awards in Part 1 of this series, I will now proceed in true Hollywood fashion to present you with a sequel which no one asked for.

Related to the notion of awards is that of lists. As I discussed before, narrowing the criteria, especially chronologically, for honoring films, can lead to problems. For example, some years there just aren’t any films that really deserve the type of recognition that suggests that they stand in the pantheon of other exemplars of cinema. And so, the list is born.

Lists of course have their own set of problems. Really, all lists are bad in some way. If they are composed by surveying a group of respondents, even experts, then they are necessarily compromises. They are an average of some sort, which can lead to some aberrations. They will also lack the personality of an individual’s list, the sense that the list is curated by someone who cares about the subject. So let’s look at the difficulties with the alternative to a committee-created list.

I told you, I am not a committee!

Individual lists can be filled with obscure or idiosyncratic choices, which can be either positive or negative. In some cases, such as this most-likely-Troll-listing claiming to be the *cough* DEFINITIVE ranking of Disney films, they are an offense to the sensibilities of all people of good will.

Recognizing the inherent limitations of the project of listing, does not mean that I consider it pointless. I owe a lot to the guidance and suggestions provided by some lists, and to the compilations found in such books as Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies,” which are a type of list. Lists are good at compiling and documenting the critical consensus within a particular community. Lists can be a great guide to someone looking to broaden their experience with film. And even when, inevitably, you disagree with the rankings or inclusions on a list, they are a great conversation starter. It’s important to not grant a “definitive” status to any list, nor to treat any “ranking” as the total measure of relative artistic worth. Just as a baseball player can’t be appreciated merely by a list of his statistics, a film cannot be appreciated by looking at its placement in a list. Lists are the beginning of an argument, not the conclusion of one.

More like 83 Years…100 Movies, but who’s counting?

The first list of importance to me personally was the American Film Institute’s “AFI’s 100 years…100 Movies” list, which arrived in 1998. I came across it in a magazine, which I probably still have somewhere. I thought that I would count how many of them I had seen, ant it was likely around thirty-something. And then I embarked on a project to watch them all. It took me about 10 years to do it. Remember, this was pre-Netflix, and many of the films on the list were not even readily accessible on home video format. So I saw most of them by borrowing from the local library, and through rentals at Blockbuster (RIP) or Hollywood Video (RIP).

I found that as I watched the movies, I didn’t see the appeal of many of them, but I did greatly expand my horizons. I watched many films I otherwise would perhaps never have seen, and some which have become favorites, like Network, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Duck Soup. I was given a context from which to appreciate other films, and an education in what was considered by “more than 1,500 leaders from across the American film community” to be the greatest films our nation has produced.

Just as I was completing my journey through the original, AFI released a 10 year anniversary update of the list. I felt that this list was markedly superior, and had some key changes that I thought were significant. Viewing some of the films on the original list, such as Pulp Fiction, and possibly Fargo was what led me to formulate the idea that lists of this type should in principle exclude films of too recent vintage. Those films, while arguably made with considerable skill, seemed too fresh to really evaluate in the context of a century’s achievements. The second version was not immune from this temptation, and perhaps upped the ante by including 4 films that were made in the years since 1998, the year of the first list. On the other hand, Fargo, (present on the original list, but absent in the sequel) was released only 2 years before the list’s publication, while the second list’s most recent release was from 2001, when six years had passed.

THE SEARCHERS at #96? That’ll be the day.

Again, I resonated much more closely with the second list. The additions of Buster Keaton’s The General, Robert Altman’s Nashville, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner are to me, unquestionable improvements over Giant, Dances With Wolves, and Wuthering Heights. In the rankings, too, there are some significant reassessments. City Lights, Chaplin’s most moving silent film, jumped up 65 ranks, for example, while John Ford’s complex masterpiece The Searchers, jumped an astonishing 84 spots. These are welcome changes in my view, as is the demotion of Ben-Hur.

All this talk of awards and lists was brought to mind by another recent list on the same topic which was released by the BBC a few weeks ago. That list, along with some other interesting lists for discussion will be the topic of post 3 in this series, coming soon to a blog near you.

Criterion Blogathon

Well, I’m going to be participating in the Criterion Blogathon, hosted by Criterion Blues.

Criterion Banner FINAL

Not a bad choice…it was Col. Potter’s favorite film after all!

What will I write about? Will I choose one of Wes Anderson’s films, or Orson Welles’s? Or something altogether unexpected?

Come back in November to find out! And hopefully some time before then too.

You Know What I Did This Summer

This blog post will be lost in time like….

Here’s a list (I think complete) of all the movies I saw this summer (since May, which counts as Summer in Houston). Movies with an * were first time viewings.

Close-Up*

Hot Fuzz*

The Lady From Shanghai*

Sansho the Bailiff*

The Kid With a Bike*

Harold and Maude*

Bicycle Thieves*

The 400 Blows*

Tokyo Story*

Diary of a Country Priest*

The Ruling Class*

L’Avventura*

Breathless*

Stagecoach

Rome, Open City*

A Prairie Home Companion*

The Avengers: Age of Ultron*

Taste of Cherry*

Hiroshima Mon Amour*

The Rules of the Game*

Rio Bravo*

Shadow of a Doubt*

Gremlins

Red River*

Love and Mercy*

Black Narcissus*

Sullivan’s Travels

The World’s End*

The Leopard*

Atari: Game Over

The Stranger*

St. Vincent*

Dead Again*

La Dolce Vita*

Hitchcock*

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

A Separation*

The Player*

Grand Illusion*

RoboCop

Children of Paradise*

Jurassic Park

8 1/2*

Ninotchka*

The Purple Rose of Cairo*

Ant-Man*

Frances Ha*

Kicking and Screaming*

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

The Black Stallion*

Barry Lyndon*

Watership Down

Three Outlaw Samurai*

Song of the Sea*

Two Days, One Night*

Shaun of the Dead*

The LEGO Movie

Blade Runner

Best in Show

King Kong

I may have missed a few, but I can’t remember any more. All in all a pretty varied and interesting set of movies, with many I had never seen before. Do you see any of your favorites on the list?

My Top Three Posts about Awards and Lists, Part 1

The award goes to…

How many times have you watched the Oscars and thought….”that movie??” Despite the disdain that many of us now hold for the gaudy spectacle of the Academy Awards, there is no denying its perennial appeal to the masses, much like the appeal of the auto wrecks along the daily commute. You can’t help but pay attention to them, if for no other reason than that everyone else is stopping to stare.

And yet, it seems that there should be some means for recognizing great achievements in film on a regular basis. I suppose some people are opposed in principle to the idea of rewarding or judging works of art, but I think most of us are just disappointed in the way that it is done currently. The Academy Awards, as everyone knows, are much like American politics; that is to say, they are a popularity contest swayed by the money and influence of powerful individuals and corporations. I don’t think it’s cynical to point that out, and certainly that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some very worthy films nominated and awarded each year. But I think that as the years go on, the track record for picking the “Best” picture of the year seems to be getting more and more shaky.

An important problem with the current system is that there is a lack of sufficient critical distance. Surely many of the movies that came out last year were great, but are we sure which ones just yet? We really need time to let these works of art seep into the consciousness of our critical faculties, to get some perspective on where they stand in relation to the other films that year. We need time to allow the overhyped but ultimately shallow film fade, and to let the hidden gem be found, unearthed, and polished so that its beauty can be fully appreciated.

So how could this be made to work better? Of course this would never happen, but I think there should be an award for the Best Picture of 10 Years Ago. A decade is just starting to be enough time to let that critical appreciation develop, and not be a tidal wave of popular sentiment. These films are not usually still making a lot of money for the studios, so the financial motives for campaigning for a film will not be as influential on something that is supposed to be awarded for technical and artistic merit. Additionally, the timing of the film’s release would not any longer be a factor. It is of course irrelevant to a picture’s worthiness whether it was released too early in the year to be remembered, or too late to build enough buzz, but that is supposedly how these things work. Evaluating a movie 10 years later would eliminate this consideration completely.

Of course, if we were to really have a new type of retrospective award, attempting to make a purer and more merit-based system, it begs the question to define what the award would be for. In one sense, there can’t really be a “best picture” of the year. How can I truly compare the relative virtues of 2005’s Batman Begins and Munich? Both films are excellently crafted and I love them both, but they set out to accomplish very different things artistically.

This however leads me to consider that ranking or awarding films within a particular year is a pretty arbitrary criterion anyways. There are solutions to that, such as expanding the award to a longer time period, (maybe no films deserve a big award in any given year…) or awarding by genre, etc. This may open more problems than it is capable of solving, though. It seems intuitive that silent films of the 1920s should not be judged against films of the 21st century…or should they? But the broader you make your parameters, whether chronological or otherwise, you begin to leave the realm of awards and approaching the realm of listmaking. Lists such as “The Best Foreign-funded American Movies of 1969-1987,” or “The Top 50 Romantic Nature Documentaries of All Time.” And that, friends, is the subject of Part 2 of this discussion, coming soon to a blog near you.

In the meantime, comment below: what do you think of awards? How could they better reflect the desire to appreciate excellence in film art and entertainment?