Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just Great

With summer’s traditionally brain-dead movies dribbling out the door, and the big spit-and-polished films that studios are praying will get rimmed with Oscar glory being held back until year’s end, the change of seasons usually creates a lull in big screen entertainment. Since that leaves nothing on the immediate horizon for film magazines to get themselves in a sticky lather about.

To fill their pages, we can always rely on Empire to come up with some fool poll. Earlier this year the magazine rather pointlessly ran “The 50 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time!” Now they’re back, reeling off “The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time,” based on votes from “10,000 Empire readers, 150 of Hollywood’s finest and 50 key film critics.”

As much as these kinds of polls usually leave me shaking my head in disgust at the results, their siren call still fascinates me. After all, what really makes a great film? Is it simply a combination of acting, writing and direction all working at the top of their game? Or does it require technical innovation added to that, like Citizen Kane or Toy Story?

Does a great film have to be universally liked? I can appreciate Raging Bull for all its expertise but quite frankly find it uncomfortable to watch. But, if we simply went on box-office returns, that would leave it in the hands of the chumps crowding into the multiplexs on Friday nights, which is always a bad thing. Even Best Picture winners have been occasionally suspect over the years.

Another factor in any poll is that it depends on what those casting their votes have seen. Nobody seems to want to watch old films anymore. Nobody seems to know about old films any more. Occasionally I’ve caught the quiz show Eggheads and when younger contestants catch a question relating to a movie from the 1940s, 50s or 60s they generally announce, “This is from before I was born.” How is that any excuse? It’s a good job they didn’t get thrown a history question.

Anyway, the full list of “The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time” starts here. If you can’t be arsed to go through the whole lot, the top 20 are:

01. The Godfather (1972)
02. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
03. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
04. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
05. Jaws (1975)
06. GoodFellas (1990)
07. Apocalypse Now (1979)
08. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
09. Pulp Fiction (1994)
10. Fight Club (1999)
11. Raging Bull (1980)
12. The Apartment (1960)
13. Chinatown (1974)
14. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
15. The Dark Knight (2007)
16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
17. Taxi Driver (1976)
18. Casablanca (1942)
19. The Godfather Part II (1974)
20. Blade Runner (1982)

The Dark Knight? Really? Going through the full 500, you can pretty much see which titles were put forward by the industry insiders and critics. Whether it’s Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (36 on the list), Jean Renoir’s Partie de Campagne (165), or Lubitsch’s marvellous Ninotchka (255) and The Shop Around The Corner (384) or the quintet of classic Powell & Pressburger films – the highest of which is A Matter of Life and Death (75) – I very much doubt they came from the average readers.

Instead, I suppose, they are the ones we have to thank for such entries as Back To The Future Part II (498), Superman Returns (496), Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (475), Batman (458), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (453), Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (449), Dumb And Dumber (445), and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (330). Maybe they mistook it for a list of films that needed to be pissed on from a great height. Or it may be that these are the kind of films they watch because they don’t know any better.

It’s a shame the major channels are only interested in buying up recent blockbusters to screen, knowing they’ll have a guaranteed audience, rather than make an effort to screen the movies of Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges or F.W. Murnau or any of the other great filmmakers from the early half of last century. They probably wouldn’t be to everyone’s tastes, and people shouldn’t be bullied into watching them, but if all everyone wants is the next utterly vacuous Tarantino film, who’s going to be left to remember the real greats?


At 5:06 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

REVENGE OF THE SITH? For fuck's sake. Why do we even bother with these lists anyway when it's all subjective -- but even a mentalist knows how crap that is, surely? Though gotta admit I've never watched it, the trailer looked arse and I was going on the basis of PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES being total arse. LOL

At 6:11 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Darling, I feel your pain, I really do. I think these lists only work when “experts” are polled rather than the great unwashed because you get the likes of these awful Star Wars films. They even have Return of the Jedi at number 91. And that was just as pants. But that’s because gormless fans vote.

I’m not saying that only be very noble and highbrow films should make the list, but there should be some criteria involved rather than all this empty CGI-filled nonsense that adds nothing to the human experience. Oh, and one other film on the damned list, at number 113, is the gormless Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. That’s just wrong.

At 9:32 pm, Blogger English Dave said...

'Some Like It Hot' 'The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp' and 'White Heat' not in the top ten? Fuck 'em.

At 11:31 am, Blogger John Soanes said...

I guess Dark Knight's so high because of the whole 'recent memory' thing - the same reason that, a decade or so ago, Pulp Fiction was voted the greatest film of all time ever ever ever in an Empire poll.
Now, though? Not sitting quite so high in the chart...


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