Sunday, January 3, 2010

Me Versus 100: The Warm Up

The Goal? To watch all 100 titles listed on TIME Magazines "ALL TIME 100 Films" list from 2005.

Why? I really do love movies, but only the ones that I love. To clarify that circular statement, I need to say that I'm not like Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, or any of the other special film makers or professional critics who are true movie junkies. They must have spent nearly half of their waking lives watching movies. Such people can find the merit in, and appreciate, the positives in a vast array of films. Not me. Some of the stuff that those people love and laud are things that I couldn't be paid to sit through, even if I can acknowledge the skill required to make them. However, the movies that I love are things that will stay with me until the day that I die. The stories they tell, the characters they reveal, and the visual medium can be things of power, beauty, and so many of the other things that we can experience through film alone.

What Are Your Credentials, Son? My own history with films has been one of slow growth. I wasn't suckled on "artistic" films. Like most Americans of my generation (I was born in 1975), I was happy with my steady diet of massive, star-studded blockbuster films. A handful of these movies are still true classics and I still love them, but most of them have become dated, their stories tired or no longer relevant. At some point, I started discovering the slightly off-beat stuff: Monty Python/Terry Gilliam, Sergio Leone, and the Coen Brothers (remember, I said "slightly off-beat"), to name a few. Over time, I slowly continued to dig for other directors that may not have had tremendous commercial success, but whose movies I liked all the same.

"It's the End of the World! Start Making Lists!!" Then came the end of the millennium. With the coming of the year 2000 came and endless array of "Best of the Century" lists. I happened upon the American Film Institute's Top 100. When I looked at the list, I noticed that, while at the time I considered myself a film buff, I had only seen about 25 of the films on the list. It was an interesting mixture of smash hits like Jaws and Gone With the Wind, and some more daring, innovative films like The Graduate and Raging Bull. Most of them were movies that I'd heard of but never seen, all ones that the "experts" proclaimed to be important for one reason or another. So, I got to work. Over the course of the next year, I worked my way through the rest of the list. Some of the films were ones that I couldn't stand (I've learned that, with very few exceptions, I hate musicals and screwball comedies), and some have become my absolute favorite films (I may not have ever seen Network or MASH if not for the list). And these were just American Films!!

And this is the reason that I'm using another list. I do better when I have some kind of guide. The guide may not always be right, but will usually show you at least a few spectacular things along the way. For a while, I set myself the ambitious task of working my way through the entire Criterion Collection series, which is a phenomenal gathering of foreign & independent films. When I started, there were around 350 films in their catalogue. Since then, they've been adding anywhere from 2 to 10 every month, a rate that is moving faster than I can watch them (I do have a job and a social life, after all). Currently, there are over 500 in their list, with more being adding all of the time. I got through about 150 of them, but had to give up on that monumental task and seek something more manageable.

So, about a week ago, I stumbled across TIME's list from 2005. In perusing it, I noticed an interesting mix of films from all over the world, and from many genres. The list doesn't give too many slots to any one director (Scorcese has 3, a few others have 2), and even the ones that I've seen (the majority of the list) are ones that I saw when I was much younger. Back then, I was less patient and unused to the different pacing and techniques at work in older, foreign, or independent films. In the end, it looks like a list that will give me an excuse to do several things at once: (1) Give myself a healthy, if not exactly exhaustive, stroll through film history. (2) Give myself an excuse to re-watch some films that I love, and (3) Possibly discover some previously-unknown (to myself) cinematic treasure from the past.

Just How Obsessive/Compulsive Can a Man Be? Pretty OCD, but not over the top. The original list was not ranked in any way. Much to my delight, the compilers made no attempt to place one film ahead of another. They simply listed them in order of their release date. In keeping with this, I will be watching them in chronological order. This means a few silent films first, then into the talkies, then color, with all of the other major and minor innovations popping up along the way.

And now, here's a preview of what will be my first review, hopefully coming within about a week or so, Sherlock, Jr. (1924). Check out this awesomely "yesteryear" show bill:

I'll see if Buster Keaton is any happier in the film than on this poster.