Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Let's Make a List! Or, Screw you Entertainment Weekly

Entertainment Weekly’s recent list of “the new classics” has, as planned, sparked quite the debate amongst concerned film nerds everywhere. It’s hard to take the endeavor too seriously, given EW’s demographic and emphasis on publicity as opposed to reportage. But I’m not here to bury them – I’m surprised that so many half way decent movies got included on the list. And, as a friend pointed out, the list isn’t proclaiming “the best” or even “the most influential” (although the moniker classic would seem, at least to me, to imply both of those things). I’ve always said that if list making is to have any value, there should always be some kind of pedagogic function. Part of the reason most people have never heard of any of the films on my list is that publications like EW won’t talk about them in the first place. So, in the spirit of engaging in friendly debate, I offer the below list, not as any sort of corrective to the more mainstream leanings of glossy magazines, but simply to put them out there and hope that somebody might be interested. I might add that there is no real rhyme or reason to the list and there is no attempt at ranking. They’ve simply been written down in the order in which they came to mind. I’ve also included two or more films from several filmmakers simply because it was too hard to choose only one. Besides, there are no rules to list making. Also, while I try not to throw around the term “masterpiece”, I would say that if there is one thing all of the below films have in common, it is a certain level of cinematic mastery (if you’ll excuse the semantic shenanigans). Most of the films listed had a very active life on the festival circuit before arriving stateside, and as any frustrated cinephile already knows, there is a huge difference between a film opening in NY/LA and eventually making its way to Chicago. Fly over indeed. To keep things simple, all of the dates below are directly from IMDB – not always an accurate source, but useful enough for our purposes here.

1. Histoire(s) du Cinema (Godard, completed ‘98)
2. Passion (Godard, ‘82)
3. Sans Soleil (Marker, ‘83)
4. The Case of the Grinning Cat (Marker, ‘04)
5. One Day in the Life of Andre Arsenevitch (Marker, ‘00)
6. Trouble Every Day (Denis, ‘01)
7. The Intruder (Denis, ‘04)
8. Offside (Panhai, ‘06)
9. The Wind Will Carry Us (Kiarostami, ‘99 )
10. Ten/10 on Ten (Kiarostami, ‘02/’04)
11. Days of Being Wild (Kar Wai, ‘91 )
12. 2046 (Kar Wai, ‘04)
13. Bright Future (Kurosawa, ‘03)
14. Rosetta (Dardenne Bros, ‘99)
15. Satantango (Tarr, ‘94)
16. Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr, ‘00)
17. The Puppetmaster (Hsiao-hsien, ‘93)
18. Millennium Mambo (Hsiao-hsien, ’01)
19. Code Unknown (Haneke, ‘00)
20. Bad Blood (Carax, ‘86)
21. Pola X (Carax, ‘99)
22. Regular Lovers (Garrel, ‘05)
23. The Holy Girl (Martel, ‘04)
24. Calendar (Egoyan, ‘93)
25. The Eel (Imamura, ‘97)
26. L’argent (Bresson, ‘83)
27. Heat (Mann, ‘95)
28. Miami Vice (Mann, ’06)
29. The Addiction (Ferrara, ‘95)
30. Divine Intervention (Suleiman, ’02)
31. Woman is the Future of Man (Sang soo, ‘04)
32. The Uncertainty Principle (de Oliveira, ‘02)
33. Irma Vep (Assayas, ‘96)
34. Demonlover (Assayas, ‘02)
35. A nos amours (Pialat, ‘83)
36. Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Tscherkassky, ‘05)
37. Alone, Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Arnold, ’98)
38. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Ming-liang, ‘03)
39. The River (Ming-liang, ’97)
40. Platform (Zhangke, ‘00
41. Unknown Pleasures (Zhangke, ’02)
42. Colossal Youth (Costa, ‘06)
43. Casa de Lava (Down to Earth) (Costa, ’94)
44. George Washington (Green, ‘00 )
45. Inland Empire (Lynch, ‘06)
46. Clean, Shaven (Kerrigan, ‘93)
47. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, ‘99)
48. The Killer (Woo, ‘89)
49. Morvern Callar (Ramsay, ‘02)
50. The Decalogue (Kieslowski, ‘89)
51. Yeleen (Brightness) (Cisse, ’87)
52. Mysterious Object at Noon (Weerasethakul, ’00)
53. Tropical Malady (Weerasethakul, ’04)
54. Invisible Waves (Ratanaruang, ’06)
55. Up Down Fragile (Rivette, ‘95)
56. La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette, ‘91)
57. La Ceremonie (Chabrol, ‘95)
58. Betty (Chabrol, ‘92)
59. Moolaade (Sembene, ’04)
60. Camp de Thiaroye (Sembene, ‘87)
61. Eureka (Aoyama, ‘00)
62. Porto of My Childhood (de Oliveira, ‘01)
63. Berlin-Jerusalem (Gitai, ‘89)
64. Moloch (Sokurov, ‘99)
65. Russian Ark (Sokurov, ’02)
66. Barres (Moullet, ‘84)
67. A Brighter Summer Day (Yang, ‘91)
68. Yi Yi (Yang, ’00)
69. Commingled Containers (Brakhage, ‘97)
70. The Mammals of Victoria (Brakhage, ‘94)
71. Election 1 and II (To, ‘05/06)
72. Sweetie (Campion, ’89)
73. Chekhovian Motifs (Muratova, ’02)
74. Passions (Muratova, ’94)
75. Dead Man (Jarmusch, ’95)
76. Bamako (Sissako, ’06)
77. The Fly (Cronenberg, ’86)
78. Naked Lunch (Cronenberg, ’91)

Looking over the list, it’s clear that there is some kind of common thread running throughout – almost none of them have any stars in them, and only a few could be called “genre” films. Almost all of them eschew normal narratives in favor of a more elliptical approach to storytelling, and quite a few of them (particularly the Godard’s, Costa’s, Kiarostami’s and the Panhai) freely mix narrative and documentary elements while striving for new ways to capture reality in all its complexity. I’m particularly interested in this approach to filmmaking, which to me suggests an interest in imbuing fictional narratives with some of the weight we associate with docs. Also, I hope you’ll forgive the nominal mention of only a few experimental films. Simply put, I just haven’t seen that many, and if most of the films above are rarely screened, try seeking out films by Brakhage – an almost impossible endeavor. But there they are, on the off chance that they might come to a repertory screen near you. (If you must know, the last 12 entries that would have rounded off this “top 100” list are titles that I agree with on the EW list. There seems to me no way to make a case against Blue Velvet, Die Hard, Crumb, Do the Right Thing, Rushmore, Aliens, Children of Men, The Piano, Unforgiven, Evil Dead II, Breaking the Waves, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A thought occurs...

Star Spangled???