Monday, 20 December 2010

The point of making arbitrary lists...

I'm a serial list-maker. There is an obsessive compulsive part of my personality that enjoys sorting things into groups and thrives when it comes to forming arbitrary lists, especially when it comes to film. In the last few weeks I have given a lot of thought to my own end of year list, which is now veering towards being a "top 30" due to the fact that I have seen just over 130 new films so far this year. But what, you might ask, is the point?

Can one good film ever be definitively said to be "better" than another? How do you go about comparing works as different as 'Pinocchio' and 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Apartment' and 'Jaws'? What possible use is there in making these sorts of lists? Aren't these lists just cheap and easy disposable articles in an age of lazy journalism?

I understand - and even slightly agree with - those academics like David Thompson who routinely ask those questions, yet I am ultimately still drawn to these lists. For one, I find them fun to compile. There is a simple joy I get from taking an otherwise abstract concept like "taste" and making it something tangible or even quantifiable. A second reason why I enjoy these sorts of lists is that they are great starting off points for discussion. On an annual basis I find myself discussing the results of Sight and Sound magazine's end of year critics' poll with friends. A list like that can also encourage you to seek a film out that you might have overlooked. For instance, off the most recent S&S poll I haven't yet seen 'Carlos' - a French-made biopic about "Carlos the Jackal" - and its inclusion on the list will almost certainly result in my seeking the film out.

Perhaps that is the most compelling reason for the existence of these lists. They can perhaps inspire others to seek things out that they may never have even heard of, or may even have dismissed out of hand. I avoided 'In Bruges' (above) on account of its incredibly naff poster and it wasn't until I saw the film popping up in a few "best film" lists in 2008 that I tracked down a copy on DVD and subsequently discovered that I loved it.

Sometimes these rankings don't hold up over time. A look in an old notebook drew my attention to the fact that I once felt 'Garden State' was one of the best films ever made. I don't even like that film anymore. Likewise, my end of year list will doubtless contradict my earlier list, made in July, of "the best of 2010 so far". I'm sure if I return to my final 2010 poll in twenty years I'll have grown fonder of a few films and perhaps developed a dislike of others. All any personal list like this can do is provide a snapshot of a moment in time.

Accepting for the sake of argument that these lists are relevant and interesting (if only to me), I need to decide on a format for my 2010 "best of". Last year's list didn't include 'Ponyo' and 'Micmacs' even though I loved them and saw them at last year's CineCity Film Festival. The logic behind this was that they hadn't been officially released in the UK at that point. But making that judgement poses a few problems to the list-maker further down the line. For starters, both those films might have placed highly on last year's list, whilst they were fresh in my memory, whereas now they feel "old" to me. There is a reason the prestige pictures come out in the run up to awards season and not a year before the Oscars are nominated.

There is also another less fickle reason why I might have done better to include those films in last year's list. If I restrict myself only to films released in the UK in 2010, doesn't that mean I can't include films that are unlikely to get a UK release at all? In Venice I saw several good Italian films that won't receive any sort of release over here and I think I will include at least one of them in my final poll at the end of this month. And what about re-releases? Should I consider 'Rashomon' and 'Breathless' and 'Five Easy Pieces' too? Probably not, or this could get messy.

Considering all of this, I will draw my "best of 2010" list from every new film I have seen this year. I won't consider re-issues, but I will consider 'Micmacs' and 'Ponyo' from last year and I will also likely award places to films scheduled for UK release next year, such as 'Black Swan'. Expect to see the top 30 up on this blog as we get closer to the new year.


  1. As the Guardian highlighted today, the posters for Black Swan are excellent:

  2. They are awesome (and so is the film). If you live near a Pitcurehouse cinema, drop by and there are these really nice little art card sets that have those four posters on postcards. Very nice indeed.

  3. Or I could drop into Duke of York's.


    When I'm in Brighton having a beer with Sean.

    Just casually mentioning that there...