I’ve been making and remaking this list for ten years now, and I’ve been sharing it with the world for three. These accompanying blog posts make for a convenient “year-in-review,” so I think I’ll keep doing them. The list itself, on the other hand, just keeps getting bigger, so I’ve decided to make a change in its presentation. The top 100 will remain accessible at the link on the top of this page, but that’s about as much as any reasonable person should be expected to scroll through. The full list (now containing 512 movies — just under a third of all the films I’ve seen) will be up on Letterboxd some time this weekend, for the especially curious. For everyone else, here’s a snapshot look at my past twelve months of movie-watching, and what that experience did to my list.
My Letterboxd account has actually been the primary factor in determining what to watch for the past year. That website’s diary, ratings, and reviews are handy features, but the list-making feature proved to be the most galvanizing. I set about two separate and occasionally dovetailing tasks. First, I started ranking films by individual directors, with the stipulation that I had to have seen everything in a director’s filmography to date, and that he or she had to have directed a minimum of five films. So I set to work on some of my favorite directors, many of whom made at least one or two films I hadn’t seen yet. I checked off the debut films by folks like Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton, and Alfonso Cuarón. This project led me to pick Steven Spielberg as the subject of my “mega-marathon” for 2013, since he directed about a dozen movies I needed to catch up with. That marathon caused some changes to Spielberg’s standing on the main list, but nothing too drastic. He remains one of my two or three favorite filmmakers, but he still only has one film in my top 100, and that one just barely.
The second project involved ranking films according to their year of release. I’ve always had films arranged this way on a Microsoft Word file for personal reference, but I decided it was time to share them as well, with the stipulation that I needed to be able to come up with a top ten for each year, going back to 1930. A movie would merit placement on these lists if I gave it at least three stars out of five. Easy, right? And indeed, no work needed to be done for any year in the past two decades. I only needed to see a few films from the 80s, and only a few more each for the 70s, 60s, and 50s. Beyond that, it became more of a challenge.
At least among some of the people I know, I feel like I have a reputation as someone who loves old movies. It’s a good reputation to have, and to some extent it’s accurate. But the numbers don’t lie. Even today, after spending the good part of a year on older films, I have seen more movies that came out after my date of birth than before. Over forty percent of my all-time favorite movies were released during my lifetime. And when I set about making a top ten list for every year from 1930 to 1949, there was some painstaking work to be done. The “work” was watching movies, though, so I can’t complain.
The last time I updated my list of favorite movies, I had seen 58 films from the 1930s and 78 from the 40s. One year later, I have now seen 119 and 111, respectively. Obviously, that’s still not enough to justify calling these mini-lists “Top tens” — more like “ten movies that I thought were at least okay.” But it’s definitely a healthy step in the right direction. I’m ready to take a break from this project, though, even as I expect to make lists for the 1920s at some point. The main trade-off to spending so much time looking through an Academy ratio window was that, when the Oscars aired in March, I had only seen two of the nine Best Picture nominees for 2013, nor have I found time for any of the others since then. Here we are in June, and I already have movies from 2014 that I need to catch up with, so who knows if I’ll ever get around to seeing Dallas Buyers Club?
“McConaissance” notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn through the 30s and 40s. I’ve seen enough now to suspect that there’s a lot more to see. My prejudiced attitude toward the 30s in particular — that it was dominated by mannered performances, stagy technique, and an overreliance on literary adaptations — has been pleasantly upended. Those stereotypes do fit major Hollywood productions to some extent, but then there’s Josef von Sternberg, Rouben Mamoulian, Jean Cocteau, and of course, my beloved Marx brothers.
In short, this past year was a wonderful experience. A total of 52 films joined the list, which I believe is the most for any year since I started. Meanwhile, I decided that four films weren’t as good as I remembered, so they’re gone. The list improves as my understanding and taste improve. I realize that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cinema. At times, that’s discouraging — like the fact that this new edition of my favorite movies list looks a lot like the old one in some places. But in general, it’s exciting — like the fact that my list continues to mature and expand a little bit at a time, with all kinds of room to grow.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Class of 2014 (and, to their right, the dropouts).
|506. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)|
|505. Insomnia (2002)|
|504. Dark Passage (1947)|
|501. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)|
|500. Down by Law (1986)|
|499. La Ronde (1950)|
|494. The Docks of New York (1928)|
|492. The Lady Vanishes (1938)|
|488. The Blues Brothers (1980)|
|486. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)|
|485. College (1927)|
|483. Swing Time (1936)|
|482. The Blood of a Poet (1930)|
|478. Holiday (1938)|
|470. Queen Christina (1933)|
|469. Band of Outsiders (1964)|
|467. Duel (1971)|
|466. Panic Room (2002)|
|465. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)|
|464. Jezebel (1938)|
|462. The Clock (1945)|
|456. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)|
|455. Five Easy Pieces (1970)|
|454. Libeled Lady (1936)|
|453. How Green Was My Valley (1941)|
|445. The Parallax View (1974)|
|442. Top Hat (1935)|
|437. Terms of Endearment (1983)|
|427. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)|
|422. Tabu (1931)|
|416. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)|
|410. Stoker (2013)|
|409. Carrie (1976)|
|393. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)|
|391. Bull Durham (1988)|
|389. Nightmare Alley (1947)|
|388. The Grandmaster (2013)|
|384. Alphaville (1965)|
|383. Babe: Pig in the City (1998)|
|380. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)|
|379. The Trial (1962)|
|373. Midnight (1939)|
|368. Broken Flowers (2005)|
|362. For All Mankind (1989)|
|355. Computer Chess (2013)|
|354. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)|
|328. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)|
|281. The Scarlet Empress (1934)|
|278. Gravity (2013)|
|257. Frances Ha (2012)|
|230. Children of Paradise (1945)|
|92. Before Midnight (2013)|