This will likely create a stir among the film critics in my audience, but it must be said.
I’m looking through a list of the top 100 movies of all time. These lists vary depending on where you look, but the basics are the same, and the following concerns apply across the board when it comes to such lists.
You’ll notice that among 100 great movies, there are only 7 that were released in the year 1990 or later.
Many would look at this and fervently declare, ‘This is evidence that there are no good movies anymore! It’s all explosions and boobs and there’s no art in the cinema anymore!’ They will then angrily adjust their beret and mumble about consumerism.
There’s some truth to this, but really? There haven’t been any good movies since the mid-90’s?
I’m not a movie critic or expert in the field, so I’m not going to turn this into a, ‘why didn’t So-And-So make the list?’ kind of post. I do, however, take issue with the fact that the main determining factor of whether or not a movie is good seems to be, ‘Was it groundbreaking in its own time?’
Citizen Kane, which will is in the number one slot for almost every list you look at, is a good movie. I enjoyed it when I watched it. But was it the best movie ever? Hardly. For its time? Could be. It changed the industry in many ways.
But so what?
Does that mean that today, in 2010, with so many really remarkable movies being released every year (yes, there are good ones among the bad if you look, even if the majority are yawn-fests), nothing has ever topped Kane, Rosebud, and friends?
Of course not.
Unfortunately, criticism within cinema and many other fields is steeped in tradition. Anyone who talks down about the holy of holies is breaking an unspoken rule or assumed to be trying to rabble-rouse and should not be taken seriously. Citizen Kane is the shit and therefore will always be the shit, hallelujah amen.
This can be said about almost any field wherein there is no objective measure of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
When it comes to books, people flock-to so-called bestsellers and call them genius, while a truly genius piece of work languishes unread, spine-forward on some dusty shelf in the back. Are there good books on the list? Of course! Should you assume the best thing available just because they are there? Of course not.
Tradition is not the only thing that trumps individual opinion. Other people’s opinions are just as important when forming a judgment.
We’re more likely to trust hundreds of strangers over ourselves when forming an opinion because we assume they probably know more than us. But when it comes to opinion, no one can know more than you. It’s your frickin’ opinion.
We’re afraid of being considered low-class or out-of-touch for liking what we like, and so we do our best to blend in. We may go for abstract, indie flicks over the mainstream, but the foreign films we end up seeing are the ones that the critics who specialize in that kind of cinema recommend. Same practice, smaller niche.
The point is this: it’s easy to fall for statistics and sentimentality and mass opinion over what our own brains tell us, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on what we like because we may be criticized for not falling into line.
There are many movies on that top 100 list that I don’t think belong there, and I believe the only reason they made the list is because we’re all too afraid to move forward and evolve our standards.
If we romanticize the past, we handicap the future. If everything good has already been made, why even try to do better? No one will ever topple Citizen Kane, so why should I strive to be number one? May as well just make another crappy popcorn flick.
Screw public opinion. Be yourself. Don’t limit your exposure and thoughts based on the prejudices of others. ‘Best of’ lists are outdated as soon as they’re published.
Update: February 1, 2017
I still get flak when I tell people I don’t think Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I truly do understand the historical significance, and in context it’s a very impressive film. I just don’t think we should give extra weight to things because they were done in an earlier time, and did something (or even many somethings) first.