Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Prelude to a Top 10 List: The Pre-Ramble

Posted by CinemaPsycho on January 16, 2011

Greetings and salutations everyone! This is not my actual Top 10 list. That will be coming in a couple of weeks. I’ll explain the reasons for that in a minute. I wanted to get some of this out of the way beforehand, so that when I do post my Top 10 I can just get right into it and not have to explain anything. This will be my first Top 10 list in the new blog format, and if I wrote everything in one blog post, it would be a long damn read. No one wants that. So I thought I’d break it up into two posts, one with all the introductory stuff and then one with the actual list. Make sense? OK then.

For the uninitiated, the reason I wait until late January/early February to write my list is simple. You see, where I live we don’t get a lot of the Oscar-bait films until January when they go into wide release. Some of them we don’t get at all, and I have to catch up with them on DVD. Therefore, I give myself an extra month to see as many films as I can that could possibly make my list. I’ve spent much of this month catching up with a lot of 2010’s films, both theatrically and via Netflix, and I still have several more to go. Obviously I can’t see EVERYTHING by that deadline; as I said, many interesting films (especially indie/foreign) don’t play here theatrically at all, and they aren’t released on DVD by the end of January. So, either I wait until freakin’ June to make out a list, or I don’t make one at all. There’s only so much I can do, you know? I blame the distributors, frankly. If you want people to see your film, get it out there! Give it a decent release. Don’t blame the audience for not seeing your film if it hasn’t played anywhere near them. There are several films that I really want to see that will probably get left off the list because they aren’t available to me, and all I can say is… oh well. Not my fault. Now, obviously I’m not expecting something like Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void to play at a cineplex near me, but at least IFC is releasing it on DVD at the end of the month, so (Netflix’s wait lists permitting), I may actually get to see the thing. I’m not even going to mention the films I don’t get to see; they will just be absent. I’ll eventually catch up with them, but I’m not going to re-write the damn list every time I see a movie. Once the list is up, it’s done and I’m moving on. Life is too short. I made the effort, and I’m satisfied with that.

Besides, I actually think of my list as being more representative of the best films people actually see in a given year than most critics’ Top 10, for exactly that reason. I’m always baffled when critics fill their lists up with three-hour Iranian goat-herder films that maybe 12 people actually saw in a theater. Not that those films aren’t worthy of mention, but come on; are these the movies you’re actually going to remember from that specific year? When you look back on the best films of 2010, the ones that really kicked ass and blew people away, will you be thinking of some obscure film that literally nobody saw? Or will you be thinking of the movies that really knocked out audiences? When I think of ’99, for example, I think of movies like Fight Club, The Matrix, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, American Beauty, etc. I don’t think of something like Felicia’s Journey (although that is a really good film, and people should see it if they haven’t). Maybe I should, but I don’t. It would probably be like 49th on my list of films from that year. No disrespect intended to it, it’s an absolutely worthy film. It’s just not one of the films that really knocked me out that year. Do you see the difference? It’s one thing to draw people’s attention to underrated and underseen films; I’m all for that. But to fill up your “Best of the Year” list with them is just kidding yourself. There is a difference between “really worth seeing” and “absolutely awesome”, and the latter is what should make your list. If you want to do a separate list of “underrated films of that year”, fine. But your Top 10 should be made up of films that blew your hair back, if you know what I mean. Films that you actually loved, not just admired.

I’ve been giving this whole Top 10 list thing a lot of thought lately, probably more than I ever have. I’ve been questioning the whole point of even doing one, when it seems like so many so-called critics (particularly online ones) just seem to use it to stroke their own egos. For me, the point of it is to direct the readers to the best films (in your opinion) of that year. Period. It should be a guide for them to check out these ten particular movies. That’s why it frustrates me when I see so many critics put films on their list that they saw at film festivals that weren’t actually released in that year. It kinda pisses me off, actually. I’m a bit anal-retentive about things like release dates, granted. But there’s a reason why – because any list of films from a certain year is simply not accurate if the films weren’t actually released in that year. Just because you saw them doesn’t mean squat if they weren’t available to the general public. They were films you managed to see early. Good for you. But if no one else can see them, who cares? What these critics are basically telling their readers is, “here are the 10 Best Films I saw last year – and you can’t see half of them! Ha ha, poor sucker!” Screw that noise. Most moviegoers don’t get to go to film festivals and see films before they’re released. To include films that people can’t see is simply an insult to your readers – whether you have 5 or 5 million, the principle is the same. What you want is for people to go and seek out the movies you put on your list, whether in theaters or on DVD. If the films on your list aren’t available to them, then what good is the list? Whenever I see someone do this, it immediately invalidates the list for me. It’s not legitimate. Some of the films on these lists are tiny indie and foreign films that never get any kind of release in this country. They’re sitting on a shelf somewhere, forgotten by the world. If you want to draw attention to them, in the hope they’ll get some kind of release someday, great. Just don’t call them films from that year, because that’s not what they are. Let me put it this way: would you make a list of the Top 10 DVDs or Blu-Rays from 2010 and include discs that weren’t released until 2011? Or not at all? Of course not. Just because you managed to score a copy somehow doesn’t mean they were on the market. How about Best Albums, Books, TV Shows, Pornos, anything? No, if something wasn’t released in that year, you wouldn’t include it on a list of Best of That Year. Period. Movies shouldn’t be any different. Just because 30 people got to see something at a film festival doesn’t mean it’s a film from that year unless it got an official release. This is not to denigrate film festivals, because I think film festivals are great. I just don’t think they count. It’s an advance look at something that may (or may not) get a release in the future. If you happened to get an advance copy of the new REM album in 2010, that doesn’t mean it’s not a 2011 release. Same principle applies to movies. I’m sorry to ramble on about this, but this practice just makes me angry as a moviegoer and as a critic. It’s disrespectful to the readers and it’s not an accurate measure of that year’s films.

Ultimately, I do think a Top 10 list should be a personal thing. It should reflect not just your tastes but who you are as a person. Of course any list of the films you love would reveal something about you anyway, whether you intend it to or not. What it should not do is just follow the party line, to the point where everyone’s lists look the same. You’ll most likely see some films on my list that won’t be on most others, and you won’t see some movies that every other critic puts on theirs. This is as it should be. It’s not because I’m intentionally trying to be contrarian – I just love the films I love. The thing that most critics won’t admit (to the readers or to themselves) is that every such list is subjective. No one can say with absolute authority what the best films of the year are – they can only say what their personal favorites are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Beware of anybody who thinks their opinion is the end-all and be-all – that’s how cults get started. And just because a film doesn’t make my list doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t like it. It’s just that there’s a difference between like and love. I can tell you two films that won’t make my list – David O. Russell’s The Fighter and the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. They are on everybody else’s lists, but not mine. I liked them both, thought they were “pretty good”, but they each had flaws that kept them from being truly great. To me. Others disagree, and that’s fine. I think they’ll both get plenty of Oscar noms, and that’s fine with me too. They just weren’t among my favorites of the year. I admire and respect Russell and the Coens, and I always look forward to their films. These just didn’t do it for me personally. I could spend a few paragraphs tearing them apart, but why bother? They’re not bad films, they’re better than most of what Hollywood put out this past year. People like them, and I’m glad. I just don’t see either of them as the masterpieces that everyone else seems to (I actually haven’t heard a convincing argument for True Grit’s greatness other than “it’s a Coen Brothers film”). If that invalidates the list for you, then I’m sorry, but too bad. It’s my list, not yours. Most likely you’ll look at my list and go, “what the hell is that doing there?” That’s fine too. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I’m just telling you what I loved. Do with it what you wish. I hope you’ll see the films on my list if you haven’t, but I can’t force anyone to do so. Unlike the Jeffrey Wellses of the world, I don’t wish to force anyone to share my opinions, only to say what I think needs to be said and hopefully direct people to some good films. You can lead a horse to water, and all that.

As usual, I won’t be doing a Worst of the Year list. Since I don’t get paid for this, I don’t have to see every movie that comes out, and I try to avoid the obvious stinkers as much as I can (and there are some movies you literally couldn’t pay me to watch). Therefore, I usually don’t see 10 films in a given year that I really hate. I know some people get off on listing the worst films out there, but I think intelligent moviegoers know what really looks like shit, don’t we? I will say that the worst movie I saw in a theater this year was probably Skyline, which should have been titled Douchebags vs. Aliens. Wow, did I hate that fucking movie! Skyline is proof that all the expensive FX in the world can’t save a horrible script with profoundly unlikable characters doing incredibly stupid things. If these were the last people left on Earth, I’d say let it die. Throw in an ending that even Edward D. Wood Jr. would call ridiculous, and you’ve got one awful movie. After the godawful Alien vs. Predator: Requiem and now this disaster, the Brothers Strause need to give up on directing. They just haven’t got the knack. They’re effects guys, and they should not quit their day job. Runner-up would be the complete mess called Jonah Hex (which I only saw because my nephew wanted to see it, mostly for Megan Fox I think). Seriously, giving a supernatural comic-book Western to the director of Horton Hears a Who was not the best idea. The reshoots apparently didn’t help either. It’s a movie that’s so disjointed and absurd that it’s actually worth seeing for aspiring filmmakers to learn how not to make a movie. The editors seem to have stitched a bunch of random scenes together and crossed their fingers that it would make some sort of sense. Then again, one could say the same thing about Transformers. Jonah Hex was at least a little better than that, which is probably the kindest thing one could say about it.

So that’s all I have to say for now. Again, my Top 10 list will be coming soon. I’m already looking forward to all the cinematic treats in store for 2011, and I can’t wait to get started on them. Talk to you soon.

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