*Welcome to the second installment of Constant Conversations — a column in which I invite other writers, artists and friends to discuss whatever we find odd, interesting or just plain fascinating in the world of movies and random geekdom. To me, monologuing is boring, and sometimes the best ideas, theories and opinions emerge through simply talking about whatever it is you find just so entertaining today.
Top Ten lists are tough to make. You essentially have to try and subjectively rank the best out of the best of the plethora of films you’ve seen in any given year. Most of the time, you end up cutting movies you love to make room for those you adore…just a little bit more. How does one go about this arduous (and seemingly superfluous) task? And really, once you’re done and that list is locked for the rest of the Internet to see (and meticulously pick apart)…who really cares what YOU think are the Top Ten (or Fifteen or Twenty or Fifty) Films to come out of any given year?
JQK: The tentative title is “The Cruel Tyrrany Of Year End Lists” and my first question really is: do you guys even like reading/making them? I’m personally a guy who hates lists in general, but LOVES (lurves!!!) EOY Top Tens. And that seems to be a general consensus amongst a ton of movie fans.
Why do we love these things so much?
MM: The interesting thing is that, by and large, I find comprehensive lists utterly dull. I don’t care what a group of critics or a website agree are the “best movies of the year”. Those lists are just a hotbed for comment fights and stupid arguments where people try to make objective statements about subjective things.
That said, I appreciate individuals’ lists as an insight to what a person feels about their FAVORITE movies. I’ve always recommended to people who don’t read a lot of movie stuff to find a writer they like more than a site to read or checking Rotten Tomatoes, because film (and all art) is inherently individualistic. Seeking someone who shares your taste, or even can just explain their stance in an interesting way, gives you way more information than the ‘best of’ lists ever do.
Also, lists are a great way to discover movies you might have overlooked. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have at least one movie that makes most readers scratch their head a little. Championing the interesting is a great use of EOY lists.
KT: I find End of the Year lists entertaining to read, but their ranking inessential. Last year (or rather, this July) I made my first “Best Of” list for my blog, primarily because it took me so long to see enough films. That said, I prefer just a list of favorite or “as objective as possible” films to be done alphabetically. I find the idea of ranking fairly arbitrary as a whole. Lists with themes are interesting to read, and I enjoy personal lists.
As Matt said, lists are better for recommendation than merely to champion one film, or ten films, or twenty-five films, as the best. Worst films lists, though, are a lot of fun to read. I have a terrible sense of schadenfreude when I do.
JQK: I agree that personal lists are far more interesting than “consensus” lists from websites or Critics Circles (though Critics Circles are great indicators of what films are going to be nominated come the Academy Awards, the importance of which is another conversation ENTIRELY). Oftentimes, many of the “consensus” lists feel like critics aligning their opinions more than championing them, resulting in a kind of odd ego stroking I’ve always found hilarious.
But Kyle (and Matt), I gotta ask: what’s fun about reading Worst Of lists? I personally find them to be one of the lowest forms of film writing, as they’re either critics shitting on films we all knew damn well were going to be horrible in the first place OR swipes taken at movies deemed critically “worthy” for the sake of shock value (the latter of which also contains a weird, dick measuring “you all got it wrong!” quality).
MM: I’d be curious about that myself, because I have no idea what Worst Of lists do constructively outside of generating hits. Even if someone wanted to talk frankly about where movies went wrong, is a list the place for that? I don’t need spectacle in my movie writing when there’s already too much of it on the screen.
KT: Maybe I’m an awful human being, but I just get a kick out of them. I find them, if not ethically written in terms of critical discourse, just really amusing to read. They don’t add anything, perhaps, but I find the humor that is sometimes imbued into the style entertaining. It’s just a personal thing, I guess, but I just find them kind of funny. I’m sorry.
JQK: I think I should add that I do like Worst Of lists if they’re coming from someone who usally writes with a more comedic edge (BAD’s Evan Saathoff immediately comes to mind), but that’s about it. It’s OK Kyle, we forgive you. You’re still young and starry-eyed, after all.
Changing tracks, I’d like to ask you guys how you determine what lands on your own personal lists. What’s your own personal criteria?
MM: To be incredibly reductive, it comes down to a simple question: when I sit down and make up the list, which movies come to mind first?
I see a lot if movies. Not like actually paid critic levels, but way more than someone in my situation should. And in that hustle what matters to me isn’t a strong solid outing, but movies that dare and excel and dig deep in my mind and stick with me. Genre and theme and acting are all really secondary to that gut arbiter of relevancy. If I can’t remember I saw it, I don’t care how good it is, it’s not a part of my conversation (looking at you LOOPER, sigh).
Which leads to things where I pick movies I’ve thought a lot about that I think are relevant that aren’t even good by my own metric. JOHN CARTER is going in my list this year. At my most generous I’d call that movie an interesting mess. But I loved that Stanton made a huge, sprawling CG epic that is, at its core, an Errol Flynn swashbuckling adventure. That takes chutzpah. And chutzpah is everything to me.
KT: I guess I’m boring and by the book in that, depending on my list, I pick my favorites of the year. The ones that moved me and stunned me. That said, I leave rooms for the films that I think are innovative or may be, as someone said it, film maudits. Something that might be important and become part of the cinematic canon. I’m a sucker for theme, though, and what a film has to say, and those two criterions (hehe) sometimes make or break a movie for me (see: KILLING THEM SOFTLY). I have something as interesting and innovative as GIRL WALK // ALL DAY and SOUND OF NOISE and stuff that is as pedestrian and loved by the consensus like HOLY MOTORS and SKYFALL on my list this year. That said, I honestly don’t get out enough or have my license to have as wide and nuanced of a breadth of 2012 film knowledge as I would like to, and there’s a lot of films I wish I had seen. What I am left with, however, I think is more than enough to satisfy a mildly unique list.
JQK: What about rewatchability? I get a ton of shit from people because that weighs in huge when trying to both decide what films make the list and how high said films rank.
How about you guys: is ‘replay value’ something you factor in when making your own lists?
MM: The idea of rewatchability is a strange thing to judge by. A watchable movie and a favorite movie can be two different things. TREE OF LIFE was one of my favorite movies from last year. I have no desire to rewatch it. Some movies I do, like last year’s ATTACK THE BLOCK. But it has no correlation with how it appears on my list.
To be honest, I just don’t rewatch movies in general. There’s so much I haven’t seen and so much out there that sitting down to watch something again seems like a terrible use of my time. I watch a lot of movies a year, and 98% of them are first viewings.
KT: Quite agree. Rewatchability has little to do with it, but I do like to rewatch my favorite films. That said, I haven’t rewatched anything lately because, like Matt said, there’s so much to see and so little time. I had THE TREE OF LIFE on my list as well, though I did watch it a second time. MELANCHOLIA topped my list last year, and I’ve seen it five times, at least, but I wouldn’t be keen to watch something like MARTHA, MARCY, MAY, MARLENE again, which was also on my list. Some of the films on my list this year I have no intention of seeing again, despite how much it may have moved me and despite how new or innovative they may be.
MM: The real question I have is how does one determine how rewatchable something is when we’re talking about movies we’ve only seen in a theater probably a single time? Do you have to go twice? Is a movie you only watch twice lesser than one you watch four times? I mean, no list survives time and changes in opinion, but why should it? We carry with us a living history of favorites we return to, but year specific lists are a snapshot of a single moment and a single version of us, opinions set in stone to someday hopefully be used against us by angry film nerds.
KT: I think one has a gut feeling about that kind of thing. Sometimes it takes two viewings, but generally I can tell when something is worth my time again. I know, for instance, that SKYFALL is worth seeing again in a theater, but I also know that KILLING THEM SOFTLY is so not. But I wish I had gotten to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES once more in theaters before I gave it a middling review, because I wanted to like it, but couldn’t. Sometimes I like to give things a second chance, or at least see something again so I can see if I missed anything. Which reminds me, I need to bring my notepad to the movies more often.
JQK: I think its a need to see it again, more than anything, that drives me to go back to movies. And that’s really what I mean by “re-watchability”. Do I want to go back and revisit the film, and maybe even show it to all my friends? Its just a different way of being moved by a movie.
I like the idea of a list being almost like a marker in your life; something you can look back upon and go “huh, I really liked that then” (plus or minus a question mark on the end of that statement). But I also like the idea of finding mainstays; movies that you will come back to time and again like old friends. Judging from this exchange, I can see that I re-watch movies WAY more than you guys do, so I guess it just shows how each individual values art and movies in their own way.
Final question: you’ve got two movies vying for the final spot at the end of the list — #10. They’re peers in technical merit and you were equally moved by both. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE, SOPHIE?
KT: Who’s Sophie? (Just kidding.) Probably whichever got me closest to weeping. Or I flip a coin. OR, I cheat and add an honorable mention, which is what I’ve done before. Or I cheat EVEN WORSE and have a thematic double feature somewhere in the top ten so I can squeeze everything in. I’m the worst.
MM: Ultimately I ask myself a real easy question: I look at my list with one or the other, and wait to see which idea I regret more. The one that feels wrong gets the cut. Not very scientific, but I go almost entirely on intuition anyway. My list takes me about 2 minutes to plot out and then three weeks to write every year, but that’s how it should go, I think. If I’m torn between two I’m more liable to think neither of them deserve it rather than both. These choices should never be hard if you know yourself and your taste.
KT: Disagree on that last note. I don’t think it’s inherent that if “you know yourself and your taste” the choice is lickety split easy. I think it makes it harder, actually, if two things really appeal to your taste/who you are. I think it fluctuates. I know my taste pretty well, but I often find myself stumped as to what to pick.
MM: I can only speak for myself. I just know that considering lists too long makes for dull lists, in my opinion.
JQK: What makes it hard for me is that I try to put value on these weird, unquantifiable feelings different types of films give. “Movie A was so technically accomplished and cerebrally engaging BUT Movie B made me want to run nine miles and punch twelve guys at the end!” (Ahem…THE RAID…)
Which one of those feelings do I enjoy more or put more stock in? I don’t know. So yeah…it usually comes down to flipping a coin, picking out of a hat, etc.
In the end, I look back at my list (usually in about seven months) and love half the choices and then shake my head at the other half. That’s where I agree with Matt most: it’s a snapshot in time that basically tells you what you were into at that specific moment.
KT: I’m a novice, so I really haven’t made many best of lists. The one I did make I still stand by. But, you all do have a point regarding the snapshot thing. I think putting down what you like or what films meant the most to you at a certain time is that anyways, formally or in an informal, casual manner. I believe something as pedestrian as telling Guy A you liked so and so is as much of a snapshot of “you” at a certain time as making the list, because you have a very specific mindset when saying it. I guess subjectivity and time are double edged swords.
MM: So here’s a silly question to finish up with: what entry from last years list do you regret the most and why?
JQK: I don’t know that there were any from 2011 that I regret having on my list, but there were certainly questions about certain films’ placements. For example: I have YOUNG ADULT, TREE OF LIFE and TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY all in “honorable mention” slots, but somehow HUGO made the Top 10? What kind of crack was I smoking when I thought that was a good idea? (answer: really, really good crack)
But then I see something like THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER in my Top 10 and go, “yeah, I fucking NAILED that one”. So…it’s all relative.
KT: I would still watch every film on my top ten list from last year multiple times. I mean, I wouldn’t be keen on some, but I don’t regret what I put on there.
MM: Well, this exercise was a failure. I guess you have unassailable taste.