Way back in 2011, I had a list of ten movies that I believed were the best of all time. In 2012 that list changed a bit, with the arrival of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, but after that, the list remained static for four years. I would think, subconsciously, “oh yeah, those are my top ten,” even as I would rarely ever revisit them and wouldn’t think of them all that often. In my mind, I had done the work of ranking them, and that was that. That is, of course, ridiculous.
2012 through to 2016 were, by any reasonable consideration, the most transformative years of my life. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on the subject of how transformative 2009 through 2012 were (shout out to the Stanton Class of 2012 for making me a way better person through our shared experience in IB, that fiery crucible in which the only true heroes are forged), and I’ve spilled a fair amount more on how incredibly transformative the four following years were. But despite that, I never really sat down to think: how has this changed what I value in movies?
To be sure: those four years were years that constantly demanded self-examination in this regard. They demanded of me, constantly, the sort of self-examination to lay bare my inspirations and vision for the projects I was creating. They demanded of me the ability to articulate what I valued in a movie to my classmates, so to better guide them in the crafting of their own projects. While it is to my peers to decide how successful my films were, in the sense that I was able to think critically and substantially about what I valued in films and then articulate that in a constructive way, I think I was successful.
This is a lot of words to get a very simple point: in four years, I never really considered how my changing tastes and values – change that I was necessarily cognizant of and able to articulate – had changed the films that were most important to me.
That is what I would like to do now. But before getting to that salacious bit where I expose for all the world to see the films that have touched me most deeply, I’d like to talk briefly about the philosophical shift from the 2011 list to this new one.
I have spent a lot of time and effort talking about what I think the purpose of art is, and while a lot of that gets into some pretentious patter and quoting Tarkovsky, the core of my thinking there is simple and constant: to generate empathy within a person, and in so doing open them up to meaningful change. I’ve become better at wording that particular idea, but the kernel of truth at its center has remained unchanged.
The crisis it reveals, naturally, is the subjective one: how do we evaluate art along such lines as “best work of art” when the purpose and goal of art is an inherently subjective enterprise that will result in wildly different experiences and success levels based on the individual viewer? This is where my thinking has shifted. In 2011, I would have said that in practice this means there is no meaningful difference between “best” and “favorite” – the works of art that most affected one on an emotional level were therefore the “best” works of art from that person’s perspective. And while I don’t think this thinking is necessarily wrong – and I do continue to think that people should have the courage of their convictions and feel willing and confident enough to hold up their favorite films as contenders for the best films – I don’t think it went far enough.
The conclusion I ought to have reached in 2011 was not that one’s top ten favorites are therefore the top ten best, but rather that ranking favorites and bests is completely useless. It is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. For every list of a filmmaker’s favorite films, there’s a comments section beneath it filled with people asking why there was “no love for [commenter’s favorite film]?” For every aggregate list of top ten films of a given year, there’s at least fifty other films equally deserving of praise that go unseen and unnoticed.
We are a culture that thrives on discussion and conversation, and list-making has become an essential part of how we engage in that. I do not mean to dismiss list-making as a pointless task, but rather to disparage my own hubristic glee in attempting to proclaim that a list assembled with admittedly minimal thought (it was far more governed by impulse) was somehow meaningful in any real way.
It was not. The question of “what movies are best,” and even “which movies are my favorite,” is moot. There are far more interesting questions to be answered.
This list of ten films, one of which I will be posting a discussion of once a day for the next ten days (shades of my Best Games of All Time series, a series I stand by as being way more in keeping with what I’m trying to do here versus what I was doing in 2011), is not a list of what I consider the “best” films, or even my “favorite” films. These are the ten films that I believe are most important to me.
When thinking about this list, I asked myself the following questions:
- What films do I think about when I’m writing? What films do I think about when I’m storyboarding? What films do I think about when I’m creating, in general?
- What films do I think about in my life outside of filmmaking? Are there any films that I find myself thinking about daily?
- What films routinely make me smile when I think of them? What films never fail to reduce me to tears?
These are in three broad categories: inspiration, consideration, and emotion. These are the guiding principles of this new list, because these are – more or less – the things I value in movies at this point in my life.
I’m not going to reveal the full list (although eagle eyed Constant Readers will notice that it was briefly on my Letterboxd), but rather I am simply going to post each discussion one at a time over the next ten days. It’s important to note that, unlike my past list, this one is unranked – this is not a one through ten, “number three is better than number four” list. This is simply a list of ten films, in any order you so choose, that mean the most to me.
The first post in this series is about Edgar Wright’s sci-fi comedy, The World’s End. It’s already up — you can find it right here.