This post is probably not what you think. There are no LOLCats, no Rage Comic stick men bellowing about the superiority of The Dark Knight and Inception. It’s not really a love letter to modernity.
But it’s also not Sight & Sound‘s decennial Top Ten List. That prestigious publication has done great work since even before polling critics in 1952 to name the best movies of all time. They’ve recreated the experiment every ten years since (with filmmakers included in 1992), and their 2012 list is due out soon.
However, there is certainly overlap. The FSR poll includes only 37 critics (and 4 filmmakers), but we’re young and have moxy, and none of us were even asked by Sight & Sound for our considerable opinion.
That’s what’s fascinating here. The films nominated by those invited by S&S have the air of critical and social importance to them. They are, almost all, serious works done by serious filmmakers attempting to make serious statements. This list, by contrast, is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the “greatest.” The results might be what you expect.
But probably not.
It’s important to note two things. One, there’s a stigma attached to writing online that will exist for quite some time. Print has had centuries to establish itself with a sense of professionalism and gravitas. That sense is false (as anyone who’s spent any time with 96% of print critics can attest to), but it’s still very real. On the other hand, the online world might be made up of the same writer ratio, but it’s still the new kid on the block – having yet to prove itself worthy of the kind of lofty notions that ink-covered hands effortlessly provide.
Two, in setting up the parameters, I’ve done nothing to avoid that conflict. I didn’t instruct the movie writers to come up with “the most important” or “the most enduring” movies. The question of giving the ten best was left intentionally vague so that they could all decide on their own factors.
In the end, they all submitted a list that they were confident putting their names next to, and that’s what matters. After all, even a list of “The Most Influential Films” is based on subjectivity. All lists are. That’s part of the fun. As an aggregate list, this belongs to everyone who voted and to no one. The final master doesn’t reflect anyone’s singular choices, but all contributed to build it. As such, it’s a kind of groping toward quality movies that at least demand to be part of the conversation.
A Quick Note on Methodology
I’ve asked for a full top ten from everyone in an attempt to make things statistically significant. The point system is a simple one. If a film is #10 on the list, it gets 1 point; if it’s #1 on the list, it gets 10. Lather, rinse repeat all the way up and down the list.
As for my own list, I locked it in before any others came in to avoid any ability to sway the tally later on in the process.
The main point system results in some interesting situations. For example, some films that were mentioned the most, weren’t mentioned high enough on lists to get enough points to break into the top ten. Still, breaking into that tier was difficult considering there were 214 movies nominated, and … all of this is boring, right? We should just get to:
- Citizen Kane (73 points)
- Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (61)
- The Godfather (57)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (53)
- Casablanca (48)
- 8 1/2 (44)
- Back to the Future (44)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (43)
- Bicycle Thieves (41)
- Vertigo (40)
All the links go to IMDB entries in case you want to or need to learn more about them.
So what does this list say? For some – I know of at least one voter who thought it reflected poorly on the online community’s seriousness – it confirms all the fears of the old guard. As the person who watched the voting come in (which is more exciting than I feel comfortable admitting), this list is a bit heavy on the late 70s and 80s, but it’s also an interesting mixture of classically lauded time-beaters and newer movies that earn consideration for a spot at the adult’s table. At any rate, by not placing a specific label on it, a lot of voters provided movies that were personally connective.
The other interesting thing about this process was that many of the voters complained about top ten lists, agonized over their creation and offered them up with the grains of salt that we all recognize. This process isn’t objective, no matter what any class of movie analyzers may claim. Like all human constructs, the bizarre beast of the arbitrary is at work in some degree. After all, The Wizard of Oz wouldn’t be the revered, influential movie it is today without yearly plays on television, starting 17 years after its theatrical release thanks to CBS and the Ford Star Jubilee. It might have languished in obscurity, which makes you wonder what other incredible works are out there in the shadows.
For some context, the S&S list from 2002 includes (in descending order): Citizen Kane, Vertigo, The Rules of the Game, The Godfather I and II, Tokyo Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Battleship Potempkin, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, 8 1/2, and Singin’ In the Rain. (It wasn’t until this year that they disallowed voting for trilogies as a single entry, a practice this list didn’t allow either.) That’s 5 movies that make both lists.
And since this is the internet – a place that argues constantly about lists – here are the movies that almost made our cut:
- Lawrence of Arabia (39 points)
- Aliens (39)
- Goodfellas (38)
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (37)
- The General (35)
- Fight Club (31)
- Rear Window (28)
- North By Northwest (25)
- Network (25)
- The Graduate (24)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (24)
- Jaws (24)
What does all this mean? Who the hell knows. What does the S&S list mean? It’s been hailed as an important arbiter of significance, and it’s a popular gauge of definitive yet flexible superiority, but it’s also a giant statistic created by a massive list of names that most people have never heard of. That’s not meant as a dig, because the S&S list should be applauded (and because this list is similar). It’s a reality check.
A list of “The Best Movies” from anyone is little more than trivia. At best, it’s a solid tool for filling your rental queue, and perhaps it’s a reasonable standard for what movies are remembered as vital, but it can never be more than that. If you hate Citizen Kane, no list can convince you that it’s the best. It might be able to argue effectively that it was important and influential to other filmmakers, but the ghost of personal choice will always haunt processes like this – even if they wear a monocle and have a fist permanently lodged on the chin.
Continue to Meet the Voters, See What They Voted For and Find Out Why…