Many film blogs and websites are keen on ‘Top Lists’. They will ask readers to name their ten best, twenty best, even fifty best. This, of course, provokes a lot of debate and discussion, and hopefully increases traffic to their site. On rare occasions, these lists will reveal a Pandora’s Box of diversity. They will remind you of forgotten classics, little-known masterpieces, or of films that deliberately challenge the viewer, but are of great artistic merit. Unfortunately, as a rule they will contain the same titles of all the usual blockbusters, Hollywood stalwarts, and nerve-jangling horror movies.
I was once in a house in France, rented with friends for a holiday. After a long dinner, and flushed with wine, I was challenged to name my favourite film; to defend my standing as a film buff, or more likely to cement my real reputation, as a film bore. I asked if I could have my choice divided into categories. I wanted to choose by top war film, top Russian film, best gangster film, and so on. Under the rules imposed, I had to choose only one, to sum up a life at the cinema, and the collection of a house full of DVD titles. I came up with La Bonne Annee, a 1973 film from French director Claude Lelouch. This lightweight film starred one of my favourite actors, Lino Ventura, and was a simple love story, set around the planned heist of a jewellery shop. Nobody else had seen it, so my selection fell flat.
It goes without saying, that this would hardly be my favourite film of all time. It was high on my list that night though. I was in France, and thinking of French films. If I had been playing this ‘game’ in Germany, I might have come up with The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), or possibly Fear Eats The Soul, from the same year. If we had been on a Tuscan hillside, I would almost certainly have picked The Conformist (1970), backed up by Cinema Paradiso (1988). And if we had been dining in Barcelona, I would have offered Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), or perhaps All About My Mother (1999).
I could go on like this all day, circling the planet, selecting films from various countries, and still never be able to compile that list, or choose a real favourite. I was once asked what I thought was the best war film ever made. I immediately wanted to know if they meant a film set during a war, or one featuring actual combat. Would it be a modern war, an ancient war, a civil war, or one of the world wars? Did they want me to suggest a film in english, or offer other selections from world cinema? After a few minutes, the questioner lost interest, and probably the will to live.
How does anyone who is really interested in film and cinema genuinely come up with such lists? They have to change, surely. A list of favourite films made before the year 2000, would miss out on so many of the wonderful productions since that date. If I had decided on, and published a list around that time, it could not have included The Lives Of Others (2006), in my opinion, one of the finest films ever made. There would be no place for The Secret In Their Eyes (2009), or Bombon: El Perro (2004). Luckily, The Straight Story (1999) would just have made the cut, but I could not have even known about I’ve Loved You So Long, as it wasn’t made until 2008.
I know, I am hammering home the point. Top lists are impossible, unless you revisit them, and include more recent releases. A list that might seem fresh and important in 2010, cries out for the addition of later films, with talent and style that supersede those original ‘definitive’ choices. On a site like CURNBLOG, we are constantly reminded of, or introduced to many films that we have forgotten about, or never seen. If I had made such a list, I would have had to re-think it completely, during the last two years. Sure, we can all have a favourite western, and perhaps a cherished musical, or drama. It will have relevance on a personal level, remind us of a time or place in our lives. It might recall our youth, or that moment in time when we decided that we were more than just a cinema-goer. But I would argue that there is no place for these lists, at least in a film-oriented community that is open to change, and to new experiences.
Another film site that I frequent, and where I have had one review published, recently asked its readers to compile just such a top ten. I replied immediately that I didn’t offer such things, so regrettably would not be contributing. But it did get me thinking, and I started to jot down some titles in a notebook. I gave up after writing down thirty films. It was just not going to happen, and was in the ‘too difficult’ box. One thing that later interested me about my list though, was the gradual realisation that only three of the thirty films I had jotted down were in English. Twenty-seven of my potential favourite films of all time, were in a foreign language.