So many people love writing and sharing their Top (10, 100, etc.) Movies list(s). Whether it’s “Best Films Evar,” “Favorite Actresses,” “Supreme Auteurs,” or “Stuff I Love,” many of us get pleasure or feel obliged at some point to rank and announce our results. I’ve created a list or two in my time, but they’re always specific (eg Who’s Your Marlowe) and they rarely last without a desire to shuffle, add, or otherwise edit.
And that begins to explain why I’ll never have a true “Top Movies” list of any kind. Here’s some more about that:
- “Top” or “Best” is far too vague a criterion. It’s too hard to compare a comedy I love sentimentally to a noir with amazing visuals to a powerful social message film that blew me away but I’ll never watch again. I know I get to define terms, but that’s part of the problem too. Is “Best” about technical mastery, compelling performances, historical moment, epic theme, amazing director. I know I get to define terms, but that’s part of the problem…
- If I make a list, I’ll probably make ten lists. For each qualification, there’s a splitting into two or more possibilities (usually more). So let’s say I decide to write up my Top Ten Noirs, with “Top” referring to perfection of classic style elements (eg visual imagery, moral ambiguity, complex narrative structure, character types, etc.). That then makes me want to do one list for A films and one for B because I don’t watch them the same way. And then there’s those I respect vs. those I watch over and over. You see where this is heading: madness.
- I’m fickle. Or, better put, my perspective changes. A film I adored twenty years ago may have fallen far from grace in my eyes as I’ve come to understand more about film history or certain actors or cinematography, etc. There is no objective perspective for “greatness,” but life isn’t a static proposition where one never changes one’s views or learns new things that inspire new perspectives. Take Double Indemnity, for example. It was at one time one of the only noirs I knew well, then I loved it, then I poo-pooed the weak chemistry between MacMurray and Stanwyck and other facets of the film, then I saw many, many more noir pictures and studied the style and classic cycles, then I read Eric Lott’s “Whiteness and Film Noir” reading of race in the film and enjoyed it in new ways. Now I see its importance to the cycle, enjoy it, and retain my critiques. And fitting it onto a list is less interesting to me than ever.
- Finally, there’s the pressure issue. People I know who create Top lists either constantly talk about them (“Oh, that’s on my list”) or tweak them every chance they get. If that makes them happy, awesome. But it feels more like a burden to me. And a pointless burden. I’d much rather recommend a film, analyze a film, or watch a film than put it into a list. (Apparently, I’d rather write a list of why I don’t write lists.)