Wednesday, June 27, 2007

By way of introduction...

At the dawn of cinema, films were less than a minute long. Cameras were simple and held only a small amount of film, and films usually documented real-life happenings. Of course, when you consider that so many people buy video cameras only to use them to record kids' baseball games and birthday parties, have we really come so far?

As cameras became capable of holding more film, movies got longer, and eventually directors began to connect individual shots. The shots had a progression, which gave birth to cinematic narrative. Finally, in 1903, the Edison Company made THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, an 8-minute film often acknowledged to be the first feature film. One hundred years later, there are music videos longer than THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, and the generally accepted duration for feature films is somewhere around two hours. Still, it's easy to see the progression that has taken place in the past century.

I kicked off this list in 2003. Along with the centennial of the feature film, 2003 marked the year in which I turn 25. That's fully one-fourth the age of the feature film, for those of you keeping score at home. To commemorate both my personal milestone and the larger cinematic one, I decided to compose a list (with commentary) of my 100 favorite feature films.

How did I go about making this list? What I ended up doing was to make a long list of every film I've seen that I considered even remotely worthy of a list of this kind. Both acknowledged greats and sentimental favorites made the list. And then I made a few criteria by which to pare down my list. To begin with, since I was making a list of feature-length films, every film I chose had to be over 45 minutes long, to accommodate the slimmer running times of the silent era. Also, I limited myself to a maximum of two films per director, so as to spread the wealth, and since some personal favorite directors (Hitchcock, Godard, Bergman, etc.) would've eaten up quite a bit of valuable list space otherwise. After I used those criteria to cut out some of the films (quite a few, actually), I had to knuckle down and ask myself which movies I couldn't bear to part with, and which I could (with some trepidation) give the axe.

I managed to confine myself to 100 selections for my original 2003, but even then I knew that I wouldn't be able to leave well enough alone. So rather than setting it in stone I decided to keep it constantly evolving, to add new titles as they sprung to me, and move existing ones around as I saw fit. Who knows? Perhaps I'll eventually include every masterpiece I've seen.

In short, I wanted the films on the list to reflect the double-edged nature of my cinematic appreciation. On the one hand, I consider every film on this list to be a masterpiece, fascinating on an intellectual and aesthetic level. On the other hand, I love every film on the list. I've seen each film I've included a number of times (a number larger than 1, smart-alecks), and each has a special place in my mind and in my heart. These are the films that play in my memory.

Some thoughts on films I haven't included. There are a number of "important" films that get talked up in film courses and textbooks but didnt make my list because I dont really feel especially strongly about them. For example, yeah, I see why OPEN CITY or BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN are great and influential films, but if I'm browsing the shelves at the video store, I'm not going to stop and say "ooooooh, OPEN CITY!" and reach for the box. Conversely, there are certain films I enjoy greatly but don't really qualify as "masterpieces" in my book, such as DIE HARD or DUMB AND DUMBER. And then there are the movies for which I just didn't have enough room.

Aside from those films shoved aside due to my two-films-per-director limitation (which I'll mention when I comment on the directors films which did make the cut), I imagine the following omissions will be glaring to some:

- THE GODFATHER / THE GODFATHER PART II- I really like these, particularly the first, but it came down to a choice between this and another Coppola film, so out it went.

- STAR WARS trilogy- call me crazy and revoke my geek license, but I really don't enjoy these that much anymore. Sentimental value just wasn't enough of a reason to include this.

- GONE WITH THE WIND- this movie has never- NEVER- done it for me. Something in my genetic makeup just won't allow me to like this. Which is fine by moi.

- RAGING BULL- I respect this, but it just doesn't hit me as hard as the Scorseses that did make the list.

- THE WIZARD OF OZ- I saw this again recently, and realized that it just didn't grow with me. See the "nostalgia" comment for STAR WARS.

- SOME LIKE IT HOT- lots of fun, but drags somewhat for me in the second hour. Not as tight as the classic comedies which did make the cut.

- PULP FICTION- for a long time, this was a big and important film for me, but now just a pretty damn good one, and there just isn't room for pretty damn good.

- SCHINDLER'S LIST- one of Spielberg's better movies, but not quite one of his masterpieces. Sue me, I like the entertainments more.

- THE GRADUATE- never really shared everyone's love for this one. Bancroft's pretty great, but Ben and Elaine don't really hold much interest for me.

- THE EXORCIST- plays great in the theatre, on the big screen with surround sound, but the films I've included on the list carry over their impact to a more intimate home viewing, while this loses much of its effectiveness on video or DVD. In other words, watching a film in a theatre is ideal, but a masterpiece is a masterpiece no matter where you see it.

So there you are. I believe this list is a reflection of the breadth of my personal tastes in, and experience with, cinema. Hopefully, to read it will help you better know me as a movie lover.

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