Checking the lists

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Like High Fidelity’s Rob Gordon, I love a good Top-whatever list. If there is anything more exciting than itemizing your preferences in any particular category it’s the debate that’s sure to follow. Yes, I am aware of that sentence’s high nerd factor.

Top 3 nerdy things I’ve said/written today

1) “If there is anything more exciting than itemizing your preferences in any particular category it’s the debate that’s sure to follow.”

2) “I love a good list.”

3) “Tyrion Lannister is Willow’s superior in every way.”

I’ve never been terribly interested in a list constructed in order of importance, but I find them, overall, to be fine ways to share, especially within the realm of pop culture. Roger Ebert, it seems, is not so fond of lists. Well, most lists. He does mention a certain, mostly nostalgic affection for Sight & Sound magazine’s Greatest films of all-time list, for which many critics, directors, writers and scholars are polled every ten years. That’s about as legit as a pop culture list can get. But Ebert’s argument that lists are mostly filler is surely a vocational one. When it comes to mainstream publications (Hello, Time Magazine), lists do to tend to be largely fluff.

Top 5 weird Top 10 lists that I’ve dug up today

1) Top 10 Craziest Concepts by Mad Scientists

2) Top 10 Worst Celebrity nose jobs

3) 10 Weird vending machines

4) Top 10 list of people with weird qualities

5) Top 10 weirdest colors you’ve never heard of

I could go on and on, but let’s not lose focus. I’ve got my own fluff to get to.

Shortly after reading Ebert’s piece I took a look at the 2002 Greatest Films list (They don’t have 2012’s up yet), broken down by voter category:

Critics’ top 10 films of all time

1) Citizen Kane (Welles)

2) Vertigo (Hitchcock)

3) La Regle du jeu (Renoir)

4) The Godfather & The Godfather pt. 2 (Coppola)

5) Tokyo Story (Ozu)

6) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)

7) Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

8) Sunrise (Murnau)

9) 8 ½ (Fellini)

10) Singin’ in the Rain (Kelly, Donen)

Directors’ top 10 films of all time

1) Citizen Kane

2) The Godfather & The Godfather pt. 2

3) 8 ½

4) Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)

5) Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick)

6) Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)

7) Raging Bull (Scorsese)

8) Vertigo

9) Rashomon (Kurosawa)

10) La Regle du jeu

11) Seven Samurai (Kurosawa)

Yes, there are 11 films listed in that Top 10. That’s because there was a three way tie for 6 and 9 and I couldn’t be bothered.

Forgetting that all of these films are certainly worthy of being at least considered “great films” (“Greatest of all time” is a bit grandiose for me), when considering its source, how interesting is a list like this, really? As stated, Ebert pays attention to it mostly because he always has. But isn’t it far more interesting to get a subjective list from someone specific you admire rather than a respected panel? To me, the answer is yes.

Roger Ebert’s votes for greatest films of all time

1) Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)

2) Apocolypse Now (Coppola)

3) Citizen Kane

4) Dekalog (Kieslowski)

5) La dolce vita (Fellini)

6) The General (Keaton)

7) Raging Bull

8) 2001: A Space Odyssey

9) Tokyo Story

10) Vertigo

I find Ebert’s opinion to be enlightening, even when we aren’t in total agreement, and I am far more apt to find use in a list from him because of that. Instead of compiling a list from multiple film makers I would much rather see lists from some of my favorites because it might provide insight into where they’re coming from artistically as well as expand my own horizons. As a matter of fact, I’d rather see a top 10 list from a really good, smart friend. It’s even better when the listmaker knows you and can make recommend specific to you!

Here’s a list I compiled for a friend recently when she requested 10 must-see films from me:

1) Beginners (Mills)

2) The Royal Tennenbaums (Anderson)

3) The Proposition (Hillcoat)

4) Mon Oncle (Tati)

5) Once (Carney)

6) McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman)

7) L’Enfant (Dardenne)

8) Paris, Texas (Wenders)

9) City Lights (Chaplin)

10) Miller’s Crossing (Coen)

If pressed, I might put a few of these flicks on a “Greatest films” list, but I’d have to be pressed pretty hard to make a “Greatest films of all time” list anyways. The subjectivity of art makes that difficult for me, and I’m not just talking about taste. I’m talking about emotion. That list is for that friend, specifically, because I believe these particular films will impact her one way or another. There’s no better reason to make a list than to share experience.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with a good piece of fluff either. Like, say, an article about lists that’s full of lists? How meta is that?

Kevin Mattison is co-editor of The Idler, and a filmmaker and videographer. You can follow him on Twitter at @kmmattison.

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