Like on an actual film set, a film ranking or list will result in many takes.
Sorry, I had to.
Sight and Sound asked 1,639 participating critics, programmers, curators, archivists, and academics to submit their top 10 ballots, and the winner this year is Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
It's a big-time upset and shake-up. It's a changing of the cinematic guard. The list also didn't include regulars like Casablanca and The Godfather—even in the top 10!
Paul Schrader, who penned Taxi Driver (number 29 on the list) took to his active and fiery Facebook account to express his feelings.
There is a lot to unpack here. Accusations of Sight and Sound cheating may be chief among them!
First off, I respect Schrader a great deal. I enjoyed speaking with him on the No Film School Podcast (check it out below) on his own critical role in cinema history, and how the characters he's circled and crafted over and over again have become such a huge part of society in general.
But... right now he sounds a little like one of them. And not in a good way.
Railing against "woke" culture is beneath a man like Schrader. It's a dog whistle for bigots.
The strict definition of "woke" is "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination." There is nothing wrong with things being woke, there is only something wrong with things that aren't.
But we also don't want to get derailed by Schrader's misstep here because he has something of value to say. First off, he makes a clear, articulate point about how this ranking on list could serve to undermine the movie itself which he considers great.
And I would frankly like to stay more on that point, because it's the real gem here.
Whatever you think of any of the movies on anyone's ballot, you might hear about some movies you haven't seen before and it might inspire you to see them and they, in turn, might inspire you to see the craft, and maybe even the world, a little differently.
Isn't that the real gift of a list like this?
Isn't that the real purpose?
What I would hate is for people to reject Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on principle now. If anything my hope would be... that people might check it out!
Over the last week, many of the individual ballots have hit Twitter, including Ti West's, which took a lot of heat and almost became a meme unto itself for being so—for lack of a better word—"basic."
The joke is either that West didn't understand the assignment or understood it too well. Most ballots featured films from a variety of eras, nations, and filmmakers of differing backgrounds. West is going strong with the old guard of white men, the classic films of the 1970s and earlier.
But to criticize a list someone makes of favorite movies is an even more pointless exercise than making a list of best movies in the first place.
It would be better to call the list "100 movies everyone should see" and continue to revise it. It doesn't even mean there aren't 200 movies everyone should see (there are) it just means that this poll of this group prioritized this list.
This is what Schrader, I think, fails to grasp in his complaint. Nobody can really submit a list of the 10 best movies ever made. It's an impossible task for multiple reasons. Do any of us truly even know within our own minds what the best movies ever made are?
The more movies I see and the older I get the more my own list changes and shifts over time. There could easily be 20 best movies I've ever seen... or more. There could be 10 different favorites on any given day.
There is a way to create value out of this list and use it to expand who we are and what we do, and there is also a way to use it to limit us, and to limit the scope of our understanding.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Schrader's take is that he seems upset that more people are voting. He suspects foul play, and I'm in no position to comment on that either way, but what I can say with confidence is that if he likes the concept of democracy he should like the idea of more people voting. The politically correct rejiggering as he has stated is a reflection of the actual society of filmgoers and filmmakers we live in.
Is it a reflection of me personally?
But I'm a white cisgender straight male, born in 1981. My list looks a lot more like Ti Wests or AFI's 100.
That's because for the first, what? Eighty years of cinema? Most voices were drowned out. Most types of people hardly got a turn at bat. There are a lot of years of great movies made by people like me! For people like me! About people like me!
Same for Mr. Schrader.
I don't think Mr. Schrader, Mr. West, and I need to worry that The Godfather and Casablanca have fallen in prominence. I think those movies and their legacies are gonna be fine.
Instead, let's celebrate the inclusion of some lesser-known classic works by different filmmakers, present here finally because the voting pool was expanded, and with it, one hopes, are our horizons expanded as well.
Author's note: I will NOT be including my Sight and Sound, as much as this article tempted me to do so. But I'll just say a list of 100 movies that doesn't include Airplane! (1980) is absolute hogwash.