Re-thinking best of lists

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Re-thinking best of lists

Postby A » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:09 pm

As I was watching Roman Polanski's Frantic (1987) the other day, something happened which has always been the aim of all my film watching. I connected with the vision on screen, I had the feeling that I understood what the filmmaker was trying to communicate. This happens regularly of course, but it's not always the case that I can associate myself completely with an artists vision, sometimes even rejecting it.

My personal rating system has evolved over the years, and while I am an unapologetic adherer of personal and subjective views, interpretations and evaluations, I also firmly believe that there have to be a personal set of "objective" rules by which one judges all films, be it a feeling from the guts, an analytical, aesthetical or political standpoint, or what ever else - personally I always try to consider all my feelings and responses to a film, the encompassing and unique (!) experience of it, which means to accept the fact that our opinions on film change as much as we do. What I mean by objective in this context, is some kind of unifying whole that in your opinion relates your inner world to the outer you perceive with your senses (e.g. film). I don't know if I can communicate here what I'm trying to say properly (what in a foreign language), but maybe we can call it some kind of reflexive identity (with all the hazy interpretations and definitions this term conjures).
Until now, I had always thought that the films I rate the highest, meaning the ones I consider the best, are the best in all possible ways. A personal favorite was indistunguishable from a cinematic masterpiece. I haven't abandoned this approach entirely, as I still think that you cannot think a film great without admiring it, but I have given in somewhat to affective responses to film. What i want to say is that i discovered that I actually admire many films as a whole which I don't consider entirely successful and which are in my opinion sometimes far from a masterpiece (Frantic is such an example), but which speak to me in a way that makes them favorites nevertheless.

I have thus decided to re-do my best lists on our board to include movies which I don't necessarily consider to be some of the greatest in film history as a whole, but which speak to my soul in a way that makes them highly anjoyable and valuable to myself.
If I try to explain this process in regards to my experience with Polanski's Frantic, my rewatch of the film made me aware that I love the film very much even though I don't consider it to be one of Polanski's best. Meaning that my "objective" evaluation of the film marks it as nothing special, while I have an outstanding personal affection for it. Thus I have to admit that my favorite films no longer correspond with the best.

Maybe I have struck a note with some of you and we can discuss this matter at greater lengths
If you're curious to know some of my other favorite films you can look up the revised best of lists

Re: Re-thinking best of lists

Postby wpqx » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:46 pm

I haven't really distinguished these two categories. Everyone is partial to their personal favorites, and films good and bad speak to us on different levels. As I'm sure is the case with you, many films transport us to a different place, not just the film itself, but within ourselves. Big Trouble in Little China conjures up all kinds of memories. Planet of the Apes reminds me of my summer of '96 when I had no cable but had all the Apes movies and proceeded to watch the cycle on an average of every other day. Great music does much the same for me as well, and some albums and bands that might not seem great to some people hold a special place for me based on my associations with it. Yesterday I heard Van Halen's "Can't Stop Loving You" on the radio and was a little stunned to think the song is 12 years old. I remembered when the song came out, when the video premiered, where I was at, and what particular girl seemed like my eternal love at the time. Some movies can do this as well, and I've already found myself growing nostalgic for films that I've even recently seen.

Lately I have gotten a chance to re-visit some of those classic films from my childhood, including Big Trouble and Major League. I found that these films may reveal different nuances to me, I still find them immensely enjoyable even if neither film is regarded as anything close to a classic (outside of major league baseball players). I'm not sure how your perspective of film has changed, but last quarter in class a professor made a point that I agreed with. He said that he and I have a different eye when watching film. We watch films not just to be taken in by the spectacle, but we're consciously aware of what the director is communicating to us, and more specifically we watch every film wondering how they shot certain scenes. Perhaps a curse of knowing too much about film. A film rarely seems just a "film" to me anymore, and everything is a personal vision expressed, a moral or political agenda trying to be conveyed, and a constant advancement.

As far as my film lists, and something I've tried avoiding lately, is to resist my film snobbery. Shortly after getting into "real" movies I found myself condemning all my old favorites, but today I can watch these films and realize that Dawn of the Dead, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and even Predator are really damn good movies. I can't wait until our generation are the head writers for film magazines and newspapers. The corpus collossum of film cannons needs to change, and it will eventually.

Re: Re-thinking best of lists

Postby A » Thu Jul 19, 2007 10:25 pm

Yes, I also get that feeling of Nostalgia very often. With music, it happens instanteniously, but with films there's also plenty of it if i dig deeper. When I was re-making my best lists the last couple of hours I was not only getting a tremendous urge to watch hundreds of classics (or discover new ones) but also the feeling that I had to watch some recent films again. When I put in Orson Welles' Macbeth into my Laptop yesterday, I wanted to let it play as a backdrop to the great sunny weather we have right now in Germany; I didn't watch it but the use of it as a kind of video installation was very tempting. I also like "sampling" films from time to time, putting in dozens of DVDs and watching bits and pieces out of them. That's quite similar to music.

I also had a phase of film snobbery, when I discovered that I didn't like my childhood favorites anymore (e.g. Conan, Batman, Predator), and I didn't like Hollywood, but the last two or three years I began to rediscover the greatness of some of those films again. I think the most interesting thing, and what makes me want to see a film again, is not re-living the moment in time when I first (or last) saw them, but finding new and different meaning under different circumstances, the wish for a film to constantly change and never stop doing so (similar like you wish for people you love). To kind of add to your experience and understanding of the film from a different position/place in time.

The analysing is of course from time to time very frustrating to some fellow viewers , but when i see a film, I always notice the editing, acting, cinematography, directing, set-design, etc. etc. This has increased over the years, and while it made me more critical towards certain films it has also made me appreciate others. I think what you describe is a normal process, like a musician who is more and more into music, and over the years sharpens his hearing and learns to appreciate different things in music. As a cineaste you kind of "advance" over the years through studying the art of cinema in a way that widens your appreciation for all kinds of things. Anyone who isn't moving into a wider field of diversity imo isn't really "watching" films. I believe if you do everything in life with a sense of awarness it leads to spiritual growth. That's what i expect from movies (or anything else).

I love it when I see that I can nowadays appreciate such different films as Yu Wang's "One-Armed Boxer" (1971), Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Climates" (2006) or Jonas Mekas' "Zefiro Torna..." (1992), and even consider them quality-wise to be at approximately the same level (I know some people would disagree, but those are the people I want to talk with, and not somebody who doesn't (want to) know neither of those ).

I have the feeling that this has become quite rare among movie enthusiasts (or what is considered as such), so I'm glad that I'm part of such an open-minded community here. Usually you either have the "arthouse" crowd who watch Godard all the time, or the trash fanatics who only watch the obscure genre flics (I won't speak of the people who are interested in films in the "normal" way - there are thousands of those). Both are elitists, and somehow I think neither really appreciate certain films but rather see what they want to see.

But I'm not as optimistic as you when I think of our generation "taking over". I think people like us are rather the exception...

Re: Re-thinking best of lists

Postby wpqx » Fri Jul 20, 2007 3:30 pm

Well if our generation ever does take over, expect Mulholland Drive to top the Sight and Sound Poll some day. I actually owe my openness in film to the somewhat narrow AFI list. As I was initially going through it, there were a few films I had no intention of watching. Singin' in the Rain is in actuality the film that broke the wall along with Yankee Doodle Dandy. I had no interest in musicals at all, and I had a passionate hatred of Disney (for political/ideological reasons mostly). However after watching Yankee Doodle, and later that day Singin' in the Rain I realized that musicals despite my prejudice actually could be great films, and I pretty much decided I would go all out and see all 100. The point is I learned not to hate on a film I hadn't seen because it was a musical, or western, or featured someone I hated.

You mentioned Jonas Mekas who's a filmmaker I'd like to see. I've only seen some of his footage of Andy Warhol, but am curious to see more, I'm certainly a fan of his somewhat eccentric criticism. Unfortunately though I probably would consider Mekas one of the supreme film snobs and his hatred of nearly anything conventional is well evident.

I know what you mean about certain films lying around. My giant box of DVD's that I picked up last year is still almost completely full, and lord only knows how many films recorded from TV I still have to watch.

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