Roger Ebert vs. Roger Ebert.
Roger Ebert is a man who does not makes movie lists: “No, I won’t be making out my list of the 10 Best Films for Halloween this year.” (Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.)
Roger Ebert is a man who does make movie lists: “Ten great films about horror.” (Rogert Ebert’s Journal, a few days earlier.)
Granted, the list at his Journal has some films that are traditional Halloween fare (Frankenstein, Nosferatu) and some that are not (The Third Man, Detour). (Check out his site not just for the list but for each movie in its entirety along with links to Ebert’s reviews.) But it seems that Ebert is of two minds when it comes to lists.
I don’t blame him. He’s been doing it longer than just about anybody, and I imagine every critic doesn’t at some point gets sick of making lists. Lists at best are a snapshot in time, subject to change, and from another angle are reflections as much about the people making the lists as the films themselves. The usefulness of movie lists is inversely proportionate to their number, and that’s part of the problem today. Movies lists are out of control. Their count has metastasized beyond what anyone would consider a healthy number useful for intelligent discourse about movies. In fact, I’d say they’ve contributed to a lot of lazy thinking about film.
I had done a post on movie lists a few months ago, contrasting the lists at two popular sites. It’s mind-boggling. I am a fan of They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (and their approach with the TSPDT list of 1,000 Greatest Films). On the other hand, the IMDb 250 list is pretty silly. (IMDb pretends to be democratic but the cross-section of voters must not be like any cross-section of moviegoers that I know, and the results are highly skewed. The same could be said for our so-called political democracy.)
Here’s Ebert on the IMDb list:
“Citizen Kane” is only No. 37, and some critics suspect that’s because some online fanboys won’t watch black-and-white movies. (Anyone who will not watch black and white should be locked in a closet with mice, but that’s another subject.)
(Ebert also gets in a much-deserved dig at websites that require ten clicks to view their lists of ten movies. I thought the idea of the web was to make it easier for people to get information. Some sites must have missed the memo.)
One old item about movie lists that I had intended to write some time ago: the big one. As movie lists have proliferated, the lists have grown longer and longer. Top Ten lists don’t seem adequate, even for end-of-year recaps (again, see Ebert). Lists of a hundred or a thousand movies are not uncommon. How about a list of 10,000 movies?
That’s been the quest of a modern-day Quixote named Brad Bourland. This June the indefatigable Mr. Bourland topped the 10,000 mark on his ultimate ranking of films. He calls it “THE MOVIE LIST—THE FINAL CUT: The 10,000 Best, Most Beloved and the Most Important English Language Films of the 20th Century, In Order.” You can get all 219 pages of it at his site, themovielistonline.com. (A New York Times profile of Bourland is here.)
I wouldn’t normally quibble with a monumental effort like that, but he’s got Patch Adams (1998) at #5681, several spots ahead of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), at #5695. What the hell was Bourland thinking?