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August 01, 2007

Some thoughts on The Online Film Community's Top 100 Movies

flim flam man.jpg

The list of online film critics to determine the top one hundred films turned out to be less interesting than I hoped it would be. I am trying to view the list with some perspective as some of the films named reflect the sensibilities of film bloggers and critics younger than me. I would also add that the list may also reflect what older films are, or are not, available on DVD, as well as which older films are getting shown in classes or cable.

Back in 1975, in conjunction with the bicentennial celebrations, a film archive in Brussels invited various film scholars to list the greatest American films. One of my teachers was able to make me one of the contributors. I figured most of the people making lists would name the usual bunch of films and directors - Griffith, Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock being the most revered, followed by Capra, thanks to his autobiography. I decided to weigh my list with a bunch of relative newcomers, some of whom had maybe one or two features behind them.

Among the directors and films I listed were Francis Ford Coppola, for The Rain People and The Conversation; Martin Scorsese for Taxi Driver; and George Lucas for THX 1138 and American Graffiti. I also listed Steven Spielberg for Sugarland Express. Coppola was the most established director on the list. The directors, if not all of the films I listed, may seem like obvious choices thirty years later, but that was not the case at the time.

Among the films and filmmakers I listed that some might still find questionable were Monte Hellman for The Shooting and Two Lane Blacktop, Ralph Bakshi for Heavy Traffic, and Noel Black for both Pretty Poison and Cover Me, Babe. I vaguely recall also including Brian De Palma, John Milius, Melvin Van Peebles and Dennis Hopper in my list. I was also big on Robert Altman at the time. The most heated reaction to my list came from an acquaintance, not a film scholar of any kind, who acted as if I committed a crime against humanity because I failed to include Singin' in the Rain.

I did include some relatively older directors films in my list, with work by Samuel Fuller, Nicholas Ray, Richard Lester, Anthony Mann and Donald Siegel. I even included a few films by Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks, Griffith and Capra.

How this relates to the list I just participated in is that while I don't share the enthusiasm that the younger writers have for the original Star Wars trilogy, or Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy, I respect the craftsmanship of the filmmaking. I admit discomfort with a list that includes Ridley Scott and James Cameron at the expense of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, I also have to recognize that critical evaluations are subject to constant shifts. I refer to Herman G. Weinberg's dismissal of Nashville, Day of the Locusts and Shampoo on my sidebar as a reminder that whatever it is that constitutes a classic film will always be subject to discussion, if not heated arguments.

Of the films that made the top ten, I would hope that the love for The Empire Strikes Back would inspire some of these younger film journalists to treasure the other films by the otherwise forgotten Irvin Kershner. The uncredited Roger Corman produced Kershner's debut feature, the wonderfully titled Stakeout on Dope Street. Most of Kershner's films were about characters who lived on the margins of society. One of the best, sadly denied a DVD release, is the uproarious Flim Flam Man with con man George C. Scott teaching the tricks of his trade to Michael Sarrazin and Sue Lyon. Kershner's best films are linked by his interest in human nature which is at least partially to explain why, of all of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back is the one with the biggest heart.

Posted by peter at August 1, 2007 08:53 AM

Comments

That "online film community" list really seems to have been put together by white American guys under 30. I've gotten into trouble commenting about it in someone else's blog so I'll try to refrain from saying much here but I do think the so-called "online community" is so much more rich and diverse than that list shows. One reason I enjoy chatting about films online with others is because I meet people from all over the world of all ages and both sexes.

Anyways...

I did want to add that I love Flim Flam Man! It's one of those great movies that really needs a DVD release. I haven't seen it in years but I really like it. That film poster you shared is terrific.

I've been reviewing some early Irvin Kershner films over at Cinedelica.com and it's given me new insights into his work. I watched A Fine Madness recently and even though it didn't totally work for me, it did have some fascinating stuff going on it. Kershner is an interesing guy.

Posted by: Kimberly at August 1, 2007 04:49 PM

I think the way that we picked our movies really shows. I'm not faulting the organizers I think they did a great job but it was left very wide open as to what the criteria was for creating the list.

My list is based purely on entertainment value. As much as I like older movies and try to track down foreign film my favourite movies from an entertainment value are usually the more modern ones. There are a few exceptions but to tell you the truth while I appreciate the importance of skill shown behind Citizen Kane (just as a basic example) I did not get as much from it on an purely entertainment level as I did from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Perhaps next time we should really all decide beforehand what the criteria should be.

Posted by: John A. at August 1, 2007 05:50 PM

Hi Peter. I don't know If I qualify as 'younger' (I'm sure I do, being a child of the mid-1970s). I contributed to this list myself and was somewhat shocked at the lack of foreign content on the list. The fact that the list is a tad genre heavy, I think that is the nature of the beast when the average age of the list was probably cut their cinematic teeth well past "Jaws" in the age of the multiplex.

I tend to agree with you in that for a list of folks that blog on films, the Top 100 looks eerily similar to the IMDb Top List. Maybe that is just list-making by committee here.

For the record (say part narcissism, part to hopefully to represent another side of us non-film school bloggers outthere that are under 40) I'll include the top 15 of 100 contributed to the OFC list.

1 Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1968)
2 Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
3 Conversation, The (Coppola, 1974)
4 Maltese Falcon, The (Huston, 1941)
5 Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
6 L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960)
7 Alien (R. Scott, 1979)
8 Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975)
9 Aguirre: Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)
10 Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)
11 In the Mood For Love (Wong, 2000)
12 Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang, 1991)
13 Dr. Strangelove or: How ILearned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)
14 Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

Posted by: Kurt at August 2, 2007 09:18 AM

Peter: I share your disappointment with the OFC 100, and I'll have some thoughts of my own if and when I get to publish the list on my own site soon. But I wanted to say that I'm sure none of us who participated, younger or older, expected there to be any kind of defining vision for the list. It is, as you say, one that features many films I wouldn't have put in my top 500, and one that will surely be in constant flux as the participants gain more experience with some of the directors and films that you and I and many others were dismayed to see numbered so low, or not represented at all. Ultimately, the benefit of any list of this kind his how it triggers responses in readers to investigate other films and directors that may never have otherwise crossed their radar. If, by some odd chance, someone seeks out The Flim Flam Man or Loving because Irvin Kershner's name is on The Empire Strikes Back, then the list was, it seems, in some small way worth doing.

Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at August 2, 2007 01:16 PM

The list is the work of tourists.

Posted by: Flickhead at August 2, 2007 02:24 PM

Honestly, I think the list is a bit underwhelming due to the number of comic-to-film focused sites contributing to the list. I mean, these are the types of guys that thought Batman Begins was filmmaking at its finest.

Posted by: Chris at August 2, 2007 07:28 PM

I agree that the "problem" was the people chosen to making the list. I'm sure they're all very nice people, but I just don't agree with most of their funadamental assumptions about what makes a great movie. I am disappointed that the resulting list is meant to represent the "online film community," of which I feel a part, since my list looks so radically different.

Posted by: Dave McDougall at August 3, 2007 01:09 PM