Sunday, August 9, 2015

Listing to Starboard Addendum

A few days after they published the results of their critics' poll list of the 100 Greatest American Films on their website, BBC Culture asked its readers what they thought of the list by making their own suggestions. Predictably, many readers took exception to the critics the BBC consulted - particularly to some movies that they utterly ignored. Here are the published results. I have included in parentheses the number of critics polled by the BBC who voted for each film.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (0)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird (0)
3. Blade Runner (1)
4. On the Waterfront (2)
5. Inception (0)
6. The General (1)
7. Saving Private Ryan (0)
8. The Maltese Falcon (1)
9. Rear Window (0)
10. Platoon (1)

Honestly, compared with what the BBC's sixty-two chosen critics came up with, this isn't such a bad list. It reveals something a bit more plainly than the critics' list does, namely that it was made by movie fans rather than critics.

Film critics have an advantage over the average filmgoer that is sometimes easy and sometimes hard to overlook: they have seen many more movies, probably thousands more. In my lifetime of filmgoing, I've managed to see practically every film that, at one time or another, film critics or scholars recommended. Having seen them has at least given me the chance to make up my own mind about them. The search was rewarding in many cases, but disappointing in some others.

That said, I still can't understand how anyone who has seen thousands of films can think that, to mention just a few,  Eyes Wide Shut, The Conversation, Back to the Future, The 25th Hour, The Dark Knight, or Gone With the Wind belong on any list of great American films. It suggests to me that the critics who voted for them have been pushed into the deep end of fandom. A film fan isn't the same as a film buff - he is not an aficionado as much as he is an idolater - someone who uses films as an opportunity to rub shoulders (even in effigy) with stars like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, for whom the Red Carpet is as important as film itself. 

The people who responded on Twitter and Facebook to the BBC's request to add their own two cents' worth weren't critics, but the films they voted for most were just barely the result of ignorance. They managed, after all, to point out to the sixty-two card-carrying critics that they shouldn't have neglected to put great American films like On the Waterfront, The General and The Maltese Falcon on their lists. The Shawshank Redemption and Inception may not be great American films by a long shot, but neither are Psycho, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather(s), Touch of Evil, etc.

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