The BBC 100 Greatest Films list presents a learning opportunity

The BBC 100 Greatest Films list presents a learning opportunity August 24, 2016
"Mulholland Drive"
“Mulholland Drive”

I love lists.

I know that’s not the critically correct thing to say — most critics go to great pains to say how much they hate compiling lists and how ranking art is futile, even as they regularly churn out their own best-of lists each year. And, of course, they’re right. Ranking art as “best” is silly. In any given year, there are great comedies, moving dramas, superb genre pieces and whimsical animated experiments. How do you determine which of those has more value than the other?

But “best-of” lists are fun for discussion, and I think it’s fascinating to peek at critics’ personal lists to see their favorite films each year. Earlier this year, the BBC polled 177 critics from around the world to determine the best films of the 21st century so far. The list was released this week and is available online. Here are the top 10:

10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

It’s a great list, and I’ve had fun looking at some critics’ own personal lists (which are on the site as well). Many of those films in the top 10 alone are films I love, some of which I count among my favorite films of all time. And, as with any list, there’s controversy. No Dardenne brothers, which (rightfully) infuriates some. I would have easily switched out Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and “Inherent Vice” for “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Magnolia,” and while I am happy to see “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” regarded as a Spielberg masterpiece, the list ignores him otherwise, when some of his best work has been done in the past 16 years (“Minority Report,” “War of the Worlds” and “Lincoln” are among his best films). There’s a poor representation for comedy, and I have no idea how the fine-but-slight “Brooklyn” got on there. But that’s the fun of lists — the opportunity to argue about what they got right and what they got wrong.

Does the list matter in the end? On one hand, no. You’re still going to love the films you love, and we’ll still argue about them for years. If we can’t agree about whether “Vertigo” or “Rear Window” is the better Hitchcock (although the answer is “Rear Window”), we’re not going to agree on the best PTA. That’s the fun of talking film. We argue, we revisit, we reassess and we don’t really come to a consensus. On the other hand, yes, it counts. In this day, any idiot with access to a computer can be a film critic (hi!). But the critics surveyed for this are the cream of the crop; the noted experts around the world. And this tally, based on their votes, is a way of establishing a canon of essential films for this  century. These are the films to pay attention to if you love cinema. They’re the films that critics believe will remain in conversation for the next few decades. Some will switch spots, some will disappear, others will take their place. But this, right now, is the list of films that film experts say you should know.

And looking at it, I have a lot of work to do. In the top 10 alone, I’ve only seen half of the movies. On the entire list, I’ve seen 58. There’s a lot of catching up to do.

This list comes at an interesting time for me. In two weeks, I’m going to begin graduate school. I’m going back to get my master’s in communication with an emphasis in media studies in order to make me a better writer, critic and cultural commentator. That’s obviously going to take up a great deal of time, especially since I’m doing it in addition to my full-time job, some side work my wife and I are doing, and with two young kids at home. In order to make the time, I’m going to be pulling back on current release film reviews. I’ve stopped doing one of the podcasts I’ve been hosting and, for the first time in nine years, I’m not participating with the Detroit Film Critics Society. I just know that I don’t have the time to devote to voting, catching up with screeners and attending screenings without sacrificing family time.

But one or two films a month? Yeah, I can swing that.

So, you’re going to see a bit of a change here in the coming months. My posts will probably pull back to two a week. There’s probably going to be less discussion of new films (although I’ll write about what I see) and more discussion of older ones, television programs, and more theology and culture talk. And one part of that discussion will be my attempt to go through the BBC’s list from beginning to end, looking at all 100+ films (there were several ties at the end) from number 1 to number 100. We’ll start at the top with “Mulholland Drive,” which I’ve never seen, and work our way down (basically, this allows me to put off watching “Requiem for a Dream” again for a long time). I don’t know how regularly they post, how long each post will be or how long this will take. My guess is it’s going to take the length of my master’s program, and the postings and lengths will vary. But that will keep things interesting.

This should all start in September. For now, we’re moving like regular through August. I have a review of a film I really dug hitting on Friday, and we’ll wrap up the month next week! Thanks for reading, and I look forward to this new shift coming!

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