Saturday, August 16, 2014

EMPIRE STRIKES OUT (OR DOES IT?)


EMPIRE, a British film magazine, ran a list of the 301 greatest movies of all time in their July, 2014 issue. 301? Keep in mind that this behemoth of a list is the result of a reader's poll. It does not represent the viewpoints of professional film critics, reviewers and scholars. The poll is an expression of their readership's tastes in film and is not necessarily endorsed, approved or sanctioned by the editorial staff of the magazine. Every movie that made this massive list is someone's favorite film and that's all well and good but I still think 301 films is 201 films too many.

However, the poll tells us much more about said readership than it does about the 301 films listed. Judging from the films selected (especially the film occupying the number one slot), I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the readers who responded to this poll were almost entirely male. And I'll go a step further and suggest that those men are almost all entirely under the age of fifty with the average age of the typical poll respondent clocking in at forty-six years of age (give or take or year).

How do I know this? It's purely conjecture on my part but I don't believe I'm too far off on this hypothesis. Consider: the number one film in this poll is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, which was released in 1980. Let's assume that the majority of EMPIRE readers probably saw this film on first release at their local cinemas. They were most likely between the ages of 10-12. As such, it instantly imprinted itself onto their pre-adolescent psyches as the greatest film they had ever seen, better even than STAR WARS, which came out three years earlier in 1977. The readers would have been 7-9 years old then. While few people are sophisticated film watchers at the age of twelve, their tastes and likes in film are pretty well formed. In other words, they know what they've seen and they know what they've liked and disliked.

For instance, I was twelve years old in 1968. If I had somehow managed to be polled by a film magazine that year, I would have listed my favorite films as JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, GOLDFINGER, THE GREAT ESCAPE, IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, THE DIRTY DOZEN, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, PLANET OF THE APES, COOL HAND LUKE, BULLITT and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Last year, at the age of 57, I compiled my own list of top 100 films and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY came in at number nine. Obviously, my tastes have changed since I was twelve years old but not to a very large extent. I still love all of the other films listed above and many of them made my list of top 100 films.

Making a list of 100 films is hard work. I know. I did it. And I set some guidelines for my list including no musicals (I don't care for them) and no films made in the 21st century (it's far too early to tell which films will stand the test of time). My top ten films: CITIZEN KANE, THE GODFATHER, CASABLANCA, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, VERTIGO, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, SEVEN SAMURAI, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and SUNSET BLVD.

Lists of "best" and "greatest" films by their very existence are arbitrary things. Your list is different from mine and my list is different than the list of EMPIRE readers. But different doesn't always mean wrong. I do believe that 301 is a ridiculous number to list because after one hundred films things start to get pretty desperate in my opinion. At that point, it's not so much a determination of quality film making as it is popularity and "oh-yeah-that-was-a-pretty-good-one" criteria. I also think there are entirely too many 21st century films on the EMPIRE list (including several films that were released last year).

But I don't begrudge the forty-something (and younger) men who took the time to respond to the poll their choice of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as the greatest film of all time. As I said, that selection says far more about them than it does about the respective merits of the film itself (it's a great film but I don't believe it's better than STAR WARS).

After all, when I was twelve, I thought JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS was the greatest movie ever made. In some ways, I still do.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I could ever do a "top 100" list. Even if I limited it to something like "Favorite 100 Films I Own" I'd have to sort thru maybe a couple thousand movies and I'd be hesitant to rate it without rewatching and then....

    I'd also have to be sure and designate it as a 'favorite' film list and not a 'best' film list, because I love a lot of cheesy, low-budget stuff.

    Surely, my top five-ish would be a dead give-away to my age: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, HIGHLANDER, THE HOWLING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, ALIEN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and STAR EMPIRE JEDI (yes, I always cheat The Trilogy into one spot for my lists) will probably always be in the top spots, but after that it's very much dependent on the mood I'm in when making the list.

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