My Favorite Movies: 2012 List Update

In 2004, I made my first Top 100 list of favorite films. I loved the idea of putting definite measurements on my experience with the medium, judging each film in relation to every other film I’d seen. Every June since then I’ve made changes to the list in an attempt to improve it and add movies I’d seen more recently. This has not been as easy as it sounds. Fifty-three movies that made my original list are still in my Top 100.

Now, the intervening eight years have surely been valuable. My understanding has expanded tremendously. A mere six or seven years ago, when I was also toiling away on a list of the “greatest movies ever made,” it frustrated me immensely to notice that critical opinions could be divided on movies even at the top of the list. I have since made peace with the lack of perfect consensus; in fact, it’s a beautiful thing. Today, I look to a wide variety of sources, hoping to get various perspectives on films, not hoping to determine once and for all whether one is “good” or “great.”

My own perspective on films is a great deal more nuanced and interesting than it was eight years ago. I can now claim better reasons for appreciating those fifty-three films that remain near the top of my list. Nevertheless, my standards are far from objective. An autobiographical aspect has always been present. Movies have made my list because I loved them as a child and my family enjoyed them together. If I watch one again today and determine that it’s no good, its fall will be precipitous. Otherwise, it may very well cling to the upper reaches of the list like a barnacle.

But I realized from the beginning that this work would never end; the list would require updates every year, never reaching perfection. My method is certainly not perfect. One problem with revisiting the list every year is the continuity. If I were to take a ten-year break, wholesale changes might be easier. Instead, the list remains tethered to my childhood, but the ties are gradually slacking. I do see improvement in this latest incarnation.

2009 was a watershed year for this list. I had joined Flixster at the end of 2008, and for the first time I had fully committed myself to assigning star ratings to films I’d seen. These ratings were, and are, entirely subjective. I decided that “four stars” was the cutoff point — any film that received four, four and a half, or five would make my list and be among the films that I hoped to own someday (I have recently begun building my library accordingly). Consequently, the list expanded far beyond one hundred films. The current number is four hundred forty-two. Keeping track of the movies on the threshold of the list has certainly improved its accuracy. And an accurate picture of my current tastes remains the goal, so that each list can become a time capsule for my experience with movies.

So here’s the latest version. As always, I pride myself on the wide variety of styles, genres and time periods represented. I will not be pinned down as liking only this or that kind of movie. On the list you will find widely acclaimed masterpieces placed awkwardly next to much smaller films and even a few flops. I make no apology for any movie I include, but I readily acknowledge that there are films on this list I will probably outgrow.

I have one arbitrary rule: no film from the current year can make the list. Even though I saw The Avengers before I saw Rope and The Player, the latter two were eligible for an initial placement and the former will have to wait until next year. Something about “the test of time,” I suppose. Anyway, I’m sticking to it. Related to this rule is a hesitancy I have regarding putting newer films too high on the list. My current impression of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is that it stands a better chance of being my favorite movie of all time than any other film I’ve encountered in the last several years. But I’m going to wait and see. The film’s current placement is something of a compromise, acknowledging how powerful my first impression of it was, while holding it back from the highest level. Looking back on my previous lists, I see that Pulp Fiction was ranked #36 in 2004 and #15 in 2005 before reaching the top spot.

One of my favorite things about this list is how I can make changes gradually and thoughtfully. The resulting list is a testament to my, perhaps excessive, thoroughness and love of order.

Well, that’s quite enough ado. The list will now become a permanent feature of my blog, accessible from a link at the top of every page, and also here.

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