Some time ago I decided not to read any more "ten best movies" lists that contains Citizen Kane, a movie that never made it for me and seems to get included on most lists simply because it's been included on most lists—sort of the same reason why Charles Nelson Reilly was famous (because he was). (Substitute Puff Daddy or another genial but inexplicably celebrated star of your own youth if you wish.) Everybody knows that The Godfather is the #1 American movie. (Although I prefer Goodfellas.)
Anyway, this list—the Fish List—refreshingly, is Kane-free. I'd give you my own list, but it's still not done. And I've been working on it for thirty-five years. I'd love to hear yours, or your nomination.
I'd especially love to hear John Camp's, since he said the other day that he owns enough DVDs to keep himself entertained for the rest of his life. I have lots of photography books, and a far-flung music collection in many morphing formats, but those preoccupations take up most of my allegedly "disposable" income, leaving not much room for other collections. I'm still shy of DVD #30, I think.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "Mike: That was actually me who remarked that my film library could easily keep me entertained for the rest of my life (in response to a comment made by John Camp...so you're really not losing your marbles). Honestly, and somewhat sadly frightening for me to now realize, I doubt that there would be enough hours left in my life to actually watch them all again.
"I don't think I would even take a swing a declaring only ten films the 'best.' Stanley Fish's is a very nice little list (but features two titles that that I can't stand), but it's at best a drive-by harvest of popular low fruit. The American Film Institute has a "10TOP10" section that lists what they consider to be the ten best works in various genres. Most of my picks would be found in there. But I also have quite a few films that are very special to me but perhaps not widely to others.
"When I read your remark about not taking a shine to Citizen Kane I immediately thought of all of the photographers and photographs that the photo art world considers great but who/which most of the general public consider unmitigated crap. I could easily list half a dozen of those with far greater ease than I could list the six greatest films!"
Featured Comment by Paul Ferguson: "The Fish list is about as interesting as anyone's favorite movie list, which is to say, not very. It tells me that Mr. Fish is probably in his late 60s or 70s (which agrees with his photo), and that he was influenced by the movies of his young adulthood. Favorite movie lists invariably reflect the era in which the list maker came of age, and this list is overwhelmingly skewed by that effect. It doesn't make the movies on his list any more relevant or important, in fact, it doesn't really speak about the movies at all. It only speaks about the list maker. I have seen almost all the films on Mr. Fish's list, and frankly wouldn't include most of them in a top 100 list, but then again, I'm from a different generation than he is.
"One reason Citizen Kane appears on so many top ten lists is that the list makers who get published have reached a certain age where people think their opinions matter. It's part of the myth that age equals wisdom. (At the other end of the spectrum, nobody cares what a twenty-something thinks the ten best movies ever made are—and with good reason!) Over the next few years, you will see fewer and fewer lists that include Citizen Kane simply because of demographics. Unfortunately, it may well be replaced by Weekend at Bernie's."
Mike adds: I think you're probably right, Paul. But the point of lists is the same as the point of awards: to draw attention to things.
I think your point is true of my own list, which I pieced together last night (resisting mightily the temptation to make myself look smarter or cooler than I am). I watched a lot of movies in my youth, and I hardly ever watch any now, for reasons I've never analyzed. I probably see the same number of movies in a year now as I used to watch in a week. Here's my list, for what it's worth:
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller
- The Seven Samurai
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- The Gods Must Be Crazy
- Zerkalo (The Mirror)
- American Beauty
- Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire)
- The American Friend
- She's Gotta Have It
- Das Boot (The Boat)
(I cheated a bit.) Not only are these movies with particular resonance for me, but I had significant experiences seeing them: I was "ready" for what they contained in some way, I was with a friend on an "occasion," I saw them more than once, etc. I've also dropped a few all-time favorites like Local Hero and Little Big Man because they just don't seem as rich or deep to me now as they did when I first encountered them.
Another thing that occurred to me was something Roland Barthes said about photography. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but he said something like, "Whenever anyone says 'photography is,' he is not talking about all photographs but the subset of photographs he has seen." (If anyone can find the actual quote, please shoot it to me and I'll put it up. Even if it's embarrassingly far from what I've written.) It's very obvious as I look over other peoples' choices—many of which I haven't seen—that any list-maker is also sifting through the raw material of the films he knows. And that's never "all of them."
I need to watch more movies, though....