More for posterity’s sake than anything, I thought it worthwhile to include a link to the list of my one hundred favorite films, which is available on MUBI as as list entitled, ironically enough, “The Obligatory Top 100.” As I noted there, my criteria were incredibly broad. So broad, in fact, so as to be arguably little else than the fact that these films bring me a great deal of joy. I imposed some arbitrary other criteria on my winnowing process, mostly because without arbitrary restrictions, I would never be equal to the task of narrowing my favorites down to a mere one hundred. As I explained to a friend the other day, there are probably at least four hundred films that could just as easily hold a place on my list, but since 100 is the conventional number for such a thing, it is the number by which I abide (with much grumbling, groaning, and other pouty noises).
My first criterion is one I’ve held for many years. No more than one film by any given director can appear on the list. So directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Chaplin, Wong Kar-Wai, etc. are done severe injury right off the bat. It’s a necessary step, though. Otherwise these lists tend to be dominated by a handful of canonical names or people with whose work I have a particular affinity to the detriment of other, equally worthy films that may only be left off the list on a whim or for the sake of “representativeness.” If I’m going to be whimsical and capricious, by God, I’m going to be downright ascetic! In almost every case, I picked the film by any given director that I happen to get the biggest kick out of, or have seen the most times. But in a few cases, I picked on that I felt exemplified what I like most about that director, as opposed to the film that is my personal favorite.
Yes. Revel in my capriciousness. Let it soak your skin like the dense swelter of a Florida summer.
Criterion #2 is one I stole from a Playtime colleague of mine, Tracy, who for her top ten films of all time (coming soon to Playtime!) decided to try to give each decade due representation. I liked that idea, so when I was assembling this revision, I started by doing a list of ten films for each decade from the pre-1930s through the most recent Aughts. After I’d done ten from each, I added one to each until I hit a hundred. I think the mix is more eclectic and contentious as a result, which is an effect I tend to enjoy in other lists of this nature.
A few films were left out entirely because MUBI’s database does not include them. For instance, Jackie Chan’s Robin B. Hood (directed by frequent collaborator Benny Chan) and John Fiorella’s masterful short film, Grayson, were left out. In their places I chose Inglourious Basterds and The Spirit. There are others, of course, but you get the idea.
(The idea being, most likely, that I have terrible taste in film. Ah well.)
From time to time in the future, I intend to revise my list, and I may even do it once a year — a sort of annual clearinghouse to help me clarify my own taste and keep track of how far I’ve come and how far I’ve yet to go. I think listmaking is something of a necessity for anyone who wants to organize his thoughts, and it functions as a useful shorthand in communication. You can tell a lot about a person from his lists.
On a final note (and I’ll return to this in the future), I’d like to touch on the idea of canonicity. Make no mistake: not for a moment will I argue that my own list is indicative of the best that cinema has to offer. But as Adam K. commented at the bottom of my list, my choices get more, er, eccentric as the list gets closer to the present. I’m not yet sure how to quantify it, but there’s a sense about older films that tends to be more established. Films that are still being viewed eighty or one hundred years after their release must have a bit of that ineffable “something” about them that makes them worthy of being included in these lists. You are, after all, far more likely to find a film by Pudovkin or Welles on a preponderance of Best-Of lists than you are to find a film by Satoshi Kon or Shane Carruth’s Primer.
That’s because older films that have remained part of the conversation for so long were deemed worthy at the time, or were repeatedly brought up within a generation after their release by people who had a different (or, let’s just say it better) perspective on them. When scholars write textbooks or diehard cinephiles make lists, the tendency is to investigate and consider films that caused some sort of stir; titles or names that were commended and recommended by other people that were thought to generally know what the hell they were talking about. History has its own way of marking out significance and erasing insignificance. One of the wonderful things about making lists is that, by announcing that you have arrived at a considered opinion, you are submitting for posterity the notion that whatever you have to say is, in turn, worthy of consideration.
Whatever the reasons are for Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans being remembered and the reasons for the particular names of, say, the “Our Gang” films being largely forgotten, I think it’s fair to say that a myriad of forces at constantly at work to condense the individual artifacts, people, and ideas that make up history into what we call heritage. I’m not a fatalist; I don’t believe that these forces are entirely beyond our control, though divine providence must have some hand in all of it. Though I have no illusions about the fact that my great-great grandchildren are highly unlikely to be discussing Grayson’s contribution to pop art, I think applying active intelligence and taste to an organizational, hierarchical process — like a list — is intrinsically worthwhile. Without active participation in the conversations that shape history, I honestly don’t see any point in having opinions or cultivating a sense of taste at all. My own list is certainly a meager, marginal contribution to this grand pageant, and I know that in time, all the particulars of everything I’ve said or done will be forgotten. That doesn’t mean that my efforts — or anyone else’s — should be given up. It means I shouldn’t apologize for making another list, or trying to make my voice heard in a concise way in the ongoing conversation that molds our cultural heritage. These are the words of a ghost, but they are being written nonetheless.
So for now, I offer up this list. I hope it’s enough to get some more discussion going.