Is there anything guaranteed to cause as much of a critical ruckus as a best-of list?
The New York Times has released its second list of the 1000 best films.* All lists like this are a challenge.
First, how many of the films have you seen? A quick count-up shows that I’ve seen 275, including only those I’ve seen from beginning to end and can specifically recall seeing (which rules out several of the westerns, which I would probably recognise as having seen before if I watched them, as well as Topsy-Turvy, in which I fell asleep). That’s over 1 in 4: not too shabby, particularly as there’s a whole bunch of supposed classics that I’ve completely missed: Godfather II, The Sound of Music, Get Carter.
The next challenge is to see how far the list is ’standard’ and how far it is idiosyncratic. To this end, bear in mind that 1,000 films is a very large sample; around 10 for every year that cinema has existed. Try to think of 10 must-see classics from 2002. See? You do get the feeling that the list should contain pretty much every great film you could name.
You would, of course, be wrong. Looking down the list we find some extraordinary sideways choices.
For a start there’s the bargain basement comedy of Airplane!, Clueless and Naked Gun, but barely any Marx Brothers, no Monty Python and no sign of the grandaddy of the lot, Hellzapoppin!
Worse is the great tranche of middlebrow arthouse flicks, grotesquely overrepresented by the likes of Little Women (the 1994 version), The Piano, Driving Miss Daisy and Howards End.
Then there are the curious selections from a director’s work. Peter Greenaway is represented by the sly Drowning by Numbers and the awful Pillow Book, but why no Draughtsman’s Contract? Karel Reisz gets in the list with one of his least films, the deeply eccentric Morgan A Suitable Case for Treatment (as well as the must-have Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), but why not The French Lieutenant’s Woman? The Coen brothers are represented by Fargo (yes) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (no, no, no). Hitchcock inevitably appears throughout but who, honestly, could say that his late, feeble Frenzy is one of the best films ever made? For every challenging selection (Mike Leigh very well represented, including the little-seen High Hopes) there is an oddball omission (nothing by Ken Loach, not even the impossible to dislike Kes).
I could go on: Broadcast News, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Risky Business but no Passion of Joan of Arc, no Sunrise, no Metropolis, no Magnificent Ambersons, no Burnt by the Sun, no Spirit of the Beehive, nothing at all (unless I overlooked it) by Eisenstein, Tarkovsky or Kusturica.
Ah, best-of lists. The most fun you can have with consecutive numbering, and no mistake.
* Actually, the NYT calls it “The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made!”, which is ugly in oh so many ways, not least the redundancy of “ever made”. It’s like saying “the 100 most beautiful statues ever sculpted”.