Tag Archives: Films

You Don’t Know How Good Every Painting Is Until They’re Gone

They say all good things come to an end. In the case of podcasts and online video series, I suppose you don’t know how good a thing is until it’s gone.

So it was with some sadness that I took the time to read the postmortem by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explaining how their YouTube series, Every Frame a Painting had come to an end. A friend and fellow fan of the series sent the essay to me and I had to pause before going through it in depth.

Yes, this is still a “Motivation Monday” post. Stay with me.

If you haven’t stumbled across this series before, it’s a lovingly obsessive look at the craft and technique that goes into making movie magic done by some lovingly obsessive creative folk.

I first got to know about the series with their piece on Akira Kurosawa:

 

Another favorite is about the “Spielberg Oner.”

Even though I’ve been a cinematographer for only a few projects, I know how much work can go into making moves like these look so organic and effortless. That makes me love them all the more.

And it also motivates me to go out and make something extraordinary. If you’re a filmmaker, go on and watch a few yourself. See if it doesn’t inspire you to approach your next project with more verve.

But don’t forget to read through the postmortem. It shows what level of love and dedication it took to make what these “nutrient-rich” videos packed full of insight. And it explains why they decided to move on.

But the motivation remains. Kudos to Taylor and Tony — and I know I speak for many when I say I hope we see you online again sooner rather than later.

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!

The VHS Tapes We Left Behind

Growing up a cinemaniac, there are, quite naturally, a number of actors and directors and screenwriters I would like to meet. However, I daresay I would not shake the hand of any of them so vigorously as I would the hand of film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin.

Maltin’s indispensable and always entertaining movie guide was a fixture in our household. Not only did we get each annual edition, but we held on to the old ones, noting the films that were added and removed… and occasionally the edits to the various capsule reviews. Prior to the Internet, this was an invaluable resource for all sorts of films, including knowing whether they were available on VHS, DVD, or even laserdisc.

Time marches on, of course, and the guide bowed out in 2014, as the print reference guide just wasn’t the go-to reference for a generation raised on checking for info online. I made the switch too. So did Leonard Maltin: he’s found new ways to talk about films and introduce people to all sorts of cinema they might not otherwise learn about.

But it’s in that spirit of wistful remembrance that he writes about the energy put into various VHS movie collections… and how many of the offerings coming out on DVD or Blu-ray are not nearly as artful, comprehensive — or even exist!

I imagine many of us have a treasured film or series that has yet to make the leap to a more modern format.

Feel free to mention any collections of films you’d like to see break out of the “only available in VHS” in the comments.

RIP, Robert Osbourne

Growing up in the DC area, my dad made full use of all the free film series places like the National Archives, Library of Congress, and East Gallery would provide. And, of course, he’d take us along. It was at these places that I first saw such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Fort Apache, and Gone with the Wind.

“It was TCM before TCM,” I explained.

Earlier this week, the man who epitomized Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Robert Osbourne, passed away at the age of 84.

Online, I commented that it’s hard to think of him as 80-something. The energy and enthusiasm he brought to his film intros leapt off the TV screen. The joy he exuded while sharing cinema minutiae made you feel you were in for something special — even when he cautioned you that the something special was not the best of films.

Another film historian, Leonard Maltin, has a great remembrance of him. And writer and pop culture historian, Mark Evanier, has a nice anecdote too.

I like what Maltin said that Robert Osbourne was “on a mission.” He will be missed, but I daresay he succeeded in his mission.

My 50 Favorite Films, 2016 Edition

It’s time, once again, for my biennial 50 Favorite Films. Okay, granted I’ve been doing it offline intermittently for about 30 years, but for comparison, you can also see my 2012 list and 2014 list. You can also read about how I rank the films via a pairwise comparison sort based on the criteria of quality, watchability, and personal resonance.

There were significant changes this year, something that convinces me this is a fun exercise to continue to do every two years or so. Many films plummeted in the rankings and there were even some shake-up in the top 10. I should point out, however, that just like in previous years, this list –like all highly subjective lists– is incredibly well-reasoned.

I find your lack of Star Wars disturbing

Yeah, well I made this list before seeing Rogue One. We’ll see if that makes the cut in 2018. Anyway, here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Straight Story
49) Rear Window
48) Stray Dog
47) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
46) Zootopia
45) Groundhog Day
44) The Lego Movie
43) Heat
42) Sense and Sensibility
41) To Kill a Mockingbird
40) Amadeus
39) Tangled
38) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
37) The Namesake
36) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
35) Captain Horatio Hornblower
34) When Harry Met Sally
33) Ben-Hur
32) Rob Roy
31) The Dark Crystal
30) Guardians of the Galaxy
29) Field of Dreams
28) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
27) The English Patient
26) The Blues Brothers
25) Once Upon a Time in the West
24) The Incredibles
23) Ocean’s Eleven
22) Black Hawk Down
21) The Princess Bride
20) Galaxy Quest
19) The Count of Monte Cristo
18) 2010
17) The Empire Strikes Back
16) Jaws
15) The Lives of Others
14) Unforgiven
13) E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial
12) The Godfather, Part II
11) The Court Jester
10) Das Boot
9) North by Northwest
8) Schindler’s List
7) Ran
6) The Shawshank Redemption
5) Amelie
4) Raiders of the Lost Ark
3) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
2) Casablanca
1) Singin’ in the Rain

And, as before, here are some…

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 479
  • Total Comedies: 11
  • Total Dramas: 33
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 17
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 18
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 12
  • Total Musicals: 5
  • Total Animated Films: 4
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 3
  • Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1986
  • Decade with the most favorites: 1980s (12 films)
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#479): The Exorcist
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Airplane!

Thoughts? Films I should be sure to watch in time for the next cycle? Leave them in the comments below.

In the meantime, there’s some things I noted…

Long-term Franchises Fell
Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings… all of these have been perennial residents of the top 50 for over a decade, and all took a hit. For example:

  • Fellowship of the Ring went from #2 to #28
  • Two Towers went from #10 to #47
  • Return of the King went from #11 to #38
  • Empire Strikes Back went from #13 to #17
  • Star Wars went from #16 to #69
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan went from #44 to #65

Incidentally, for further trivia, the highest rated James Bond is Casino Royale at #78. The highest Monty Python film is Life of Brian at #109 (though the “Python adjacent” films Time Bandits and A Fish Called Wanda come it at #68 and #79 respectively). The highest ranking Space-Opera-set-Primarily-on-a-Desert-Planet is Dune at #119 — and it’s not in danger of being displaced by any other Space-Opera-set-Primarily-on-a-Desert-Planet anytime soon.

I’m wondering if some of the fall in franchise films is because any itch that a film franchise used to scratch is now being scratched by various TV series. Science fiction and fantasy still play a big role. There are 18 in the Favorite 50, with Raiders of the Lost Ark being the highest at #4. And also, the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly counts as a franchise, and it has an entry in Guardians of the Galaxy at #30 rocketing up from #121 in 2014. Still, there feels like a fundamental shift in what I look for in feature films this year.

There’s a slight uptick in animated films
It’s more than just having 4 films in the top 50 versus 3 films two years ago. There’s 23 films in the top 200 versus 16 films two years ago. And then there’s Zootopia. It’s a 2016 film that’s also in the top 50. Even the impressive Arrival didn’t do that (coming in at #63).

Zootopia had a good shot at entering the top 50 anyway because it was both an excellent film (quality) and is also the first film we saw in the theater as a family (resonance). However, it certainly has been helped by being on streaming Netflix this Fall, and I’ve seen it a couple dozen more times thanks to my kids requesting it… and just like the Toy Story films, it holds up remarkably well on repeat viewing (watchability). And that’s the thing: my wife and I do get to watch films Not-Safe-For-Kids (NSFK), but we get a lot of kids or family programming. When I’m able to watch some PG and PG-13 films more frequently, I wonder if that will change. That leads to…

Frequency is a factor
If I were really wonky, I suppose I’d try and figure out the number of times I had watched each film, including partial views and views-in- completion — and also include the date I last saw the film. Then I could take those data and start hypothesizing on how the quantity and time of viewing influences rankings.

But seriously, this whole exercise is pretty nuts as is.

For right now, it seems sufficient to note where there are strong rankings and revisit films that rank highly and see if they still hold up… or if I’m clinging to memories. I re-watched long-time favorites Miracle on 34th Street and Like Water for Chocolate in the past year and while I still love both, they’ve both fell in the rankings. Miracle dropped so low that Die Hard is now officially my favorite Christmas movie! (albeit at #76)

Maybe I shouldn’t do quite so many films
Sometime, around recording the 250th film in the overall sort, I decided to curb my mania a tad in future sortings. I may still start with a sample size of 400+ films, but I’m probably not going to sort the first bottom half. The top 200+ films will just have to do. In other words, I assemble all 400+ index cards that seem like contenders, I pick the one card at random, and sort every film at either side of it (this year, the first pairwise comparison film was Kagemusha). Assuming my first or second pairwise comparison does elicit a stack of about 200 films on the bottom, I can merrily sort the top half, still getting the same thrill of seeing films race up and down rankings (and other stay steadfast in the Favorite 50).

Be a bit more rigorous on excluding films
Some films just aren’t contenders. I guess if I go ahead and don’t completely sort the bottom half of the stack of 400, this won’t be an issue, but I still think I should go ahead and be a bit more strict about booting films that don’t have a chance.

Readers with too much time on their hands will have noted The Exorcist ranked last in 2014 ranking as well. Yeah, I just don’t like this film, despite Max von Sydow. It’s getting the boot from the 2018 sort. There’s just no point in having it suffer any longer.

So, I didn’t think of a snazzy diagram last week, but this time I did. So the diagram below explains the film pool for the ranking, which is made up of films I love along with some films I’d like to rank. This often is the equivalent of a AA baseball team facing the New York Yankees, but the brutality is abstract, so I allow it. The pool of films is never meant to be “only the best films” — even the best films in their respective genres. And while I have seen a lot of films, there are many good ones that I have not seen, and good films I’ve seen, but do not love and will therefore not rank.

You have no idea how many bad films I’ve seen. So, so many…

For example, Apocalypse Now is a good film. Some might consider it a great film. I’m sure it’ll make it into many people’s Favorite 50. I’ve seen it multiple times, mostly in theaters with good prints, with every cut of the film there is to see. While there’s many parts of it that I admire –and I think it’s important we all remember that Charlie don’t surf– it will never be one of my favorite films.

It’s also interesting to see films rocket up the list or plummet, so I like adding “new blood,” but the comprehensive quality of the ranking dissipates after #250 or so. In other words, you might be able to say, “What about [Cool film not in the sort]?” and I’ll say, “I completely forgot about that.” But even so, the fact that I forgot about it means it won’t crack the Favorite 50 (I know this because I thought of 8 films after I began the sort this year and folded them all into the rankings — none fared too well).

There will be homework for 2018
In the run up to December 2018, I’ll look over this list and watch some films whose ratings I’m wondering about… as well as making sure to watch some films that didn’t rank and, again, some might rank high and some I just want to see where they wind up.

These films include:

  • Bloody Sunday – I remember it as a poster child for cinema verite docu-drama
  • Dave – It’s such a fun Capra-esque throwback. I wonder how it’ll land in the rankings
  • The Devil’s Backbone – I remember really liking this, but can’t remember much more than that…
  • Fearless – Exceptional performances and exceptional sound design
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – visually striking, but I thought of as emotionally disconnected when I last saw it
  • Ice Station Zebra – I remember it being interesting, but unremarkable. But hey, it’s a submarine movie…
  • Intacto – It has Max von Sydow and some really interesting world building. Maybe it’s a contender.
  • 1984 – It just might feel more relevant given our world of would-be Ministries of Truth
  • Omagh – This was a devastating docu-drama before I had children… so of course I need to watch it again now
  • Ronin – How will it have aged?
  • Time Bandits – Why is this not ranked higher?
  • This is Spinal Tap – Same question. Maybe if it was played in D minor…
  • Undercover Brother – I remember it having a high joke-per-minute ratio
  • The Visitor – There’s a special place in my heart for quiet films with great performances

Any other films that should be in the mix? Will Singin’ in the Rain finally be toppled in 2018? Tune in 24 months hence!

My 50 Favorite Films, 2014 Edition

Every two years, I do a sort to come up with my 50 favorite films. You can see the 2012 version here, and the 2016 version will go up tomorrow.

The actual pool of films I rank usually numbers in the hundreds. That’s because I’ve found that some films will dramatically change in ranking. For that reason –and the amount of time needed to do the rankings and write them all down– I only do the ranking every two years. You can read more about the pairwise comparison method I use for sorting films here.

What?!? No TV shows?

No, and quit trying to change the conditions of the test. Speaking of which, here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

Also, as previously mentioned for the 2012 edition, this is like any other highly subjective list: it is well-reasoned and eminently defensible. So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Court Jester
49) A Christmas Story
48) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
47) Ben-Hur
46) Captain Horatio Hornblower
45) Galaxy Quest
44) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
43) The Hunt for Red October
42) The Right Stuff
41) The Iron Giant
40) Big Fish
39) Toy Story 2
38) The Incredibles
37) The Milagro Beanfield War
36) When Harry Met Sally
35) Twelve Angry Men
34) Never Cry Wolf
33) Chariots of Fire
32) The Blues Brothers
31) Black Hawk Down
30) The Namesake
29) Miracle on 34th Street
28) Raising Arizona
27) Stalag 17
26) The Matrix
25) Minority Report
24) Das Boot
23) North by Northwest
22) Field of Dreams
21) Citizen Kane
20) The Lives of Others
19) Ran
18) To Kill a Mockingbird
17) Schindler’s List
16) Star Wars
15) Like Water for Chocolate
14) Children of Men
13) The Empire Strikes Back
12) The Princess Bride
11) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
10) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
9) Casablanca
8) Raiders of the Lost Ark
7) Rob Roy
6) 2010
5) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
4) Amelie
3) The Shawshank Redemption 
2) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
1) Singin’ in the Rain

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 457
  • Total Comedies: 15
  • Total Dramas: 32
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 10
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 23
  • Total Westerns: 0 (I’m not counting Milagro)
  • Total War Movies: 10
  • Total Musicals: 3
  • Total Animated Films: 3
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#457): The Exorcist
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: The Day the Earth Stood Still 

Comparing this list to the 2012 edition shows me how much the passage of time will change how I relate to a given film. For example, consider The Namesake, which I first saw in 2007. I always enjoy films that deal with the intersection of cultures, but besides that, this film has everything: coming of age, love, death, betrayal, hope, identity, and so on. And Norwegians may not get this, but when you’re an American named Bjorn, the weight of your name is palpable.

However while I still like the film, I haven’t seen it since 2007 — and the circumstances that gave it such personal resonance at the time have faded. Its rank was #16 in 2012 and is #30 for 2014. I suspect I will find something to reflect about in the film as I age, as I certainly do for films like Citizen Kane or Ran. The best films contain multitudes after all — and while these are my personal favorites, I think most in this top tier are also objectively good. Perhaps The Namesake will climb upward again, but maybe not. That’s why these biennial snapshots are so interesting.

I could see a music fanatic compiling a list of their favorite albums or songs or artists every few years to see what is moving them through the passage of time. In fact, you could do it for so much of the arts. I love books, but I’m not sure if I’d be up to doing favorite novels and authors — if for no other reason than it’s usually quicker to watch a feature film than read a novel.

So films it is. I’ll list my 2016 edition tomorrow.

My 50 Favorite Films, 2012 Edition

Earlier this week, I mentioned I spent last weekend sorting out my favorite films, circa 2016.

Some of your favourite things, you say?

Well, yes. And love ya, Dame Julie, but that film didn’t make the 2012 list.

Part of the fun of doing this biennial sort is to compare my current favorites to years past and see what has changed.

For that reason, I’m sharing both the previous sorts I did using my current sorting method of pairwise comparison.

As with any highly subjective list, it is naturally well-reasoned and eminently defensible.

I don’t think subjective means what you think it means.

Hush, you. Here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (though I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Godfather
49) Citizen Kane
48) Children of Men
47) The Thing (from another world)
46) The Straight Story
45) Little Big Man
44) Unforgiven
43) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
42) The Avengers
41) A Few Good Men
40) Amadeus
39) When Harry Met Sally
38) Alien
37) The Bourne Identity
36) Gunga Din
35) Alexander Nevsky
34) Never Cry Wolf
33) The Dark Crystal
32) 2010
31) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
30) The Court Jester
29) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
28) Midnight Run
27) Airplane!
26) Gattaca
25) The Wizard of Oz
24) Ghostbusters
23) Like Water for Chocolate
22) Field of Dreams
21) The Princess Bride
20) Stalag 17
19) Heat
18) North by Northwest
17) The Lives of Others
16) The Namesake
15) Rob Roy
14) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
13) Ben-Hur
12) Black Hawk Down
11) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
10) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
9) Raiders of the Lost Ark
8) Das Boot
7) Amelie
6) The Shawshank Redemption
5) Star Wars
4) The Empire Strikes Back
3) Ran
2) Casablanca
1) Singin’ in the Rain

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total films in sorting: 255
  • Total Comedies: 8
  • Total Dramas: 30
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 14
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 19
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 11 (I’d be shocked, Shocked, if people thought Casablanca doesn’t count)
  • Total Musicals: 3
  • Total Animated Films: 0
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 1
  • The film at the bottom of the list (#255): Jabberwocky
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: The Matrix

If you’re like me, you’re wondering why there aren’t more films with Liam Neeson in this list.  Then again, he has been in some stinkers that aren’t going to ever make the cut.

Also of interest: no animated films. Well, that will change in 2016…

I’ll list the 2014 edition on Monday and the 2016 edition on Tuesday. Have a great weekend. Perhaps go watch that new space movie.

How I Sort My Favorite Films

This past weekend I had some free time. What do project managers do with free time? Make lists!

Specifically, I decided it was time once again for my biennial Favorite Films sort. (you can find posts about the favorite film here).

Creating a list of favorite films has been something I’ve been doing since at least the late 80s, but my current method is something I’ve been doing since 2012 and have found easy –and not too onerous– to repeat every two years.

The Basic Method
I do a sorting method that compares each film as better or worse compared to another film. You repeat it and repeat it until all the films are compared and sorted. This pairwise comparison methodology is openly taken from Tom Vasel in how he comes up with his top 100 games of all time.

So, for example, I write the name of a film on an index card for every film that I like. I originally started my stack by creating cards for every DVD in my collection and then expanding from there.

Next, I shuffle them all up and pull one card out at random. Let’s say it’s Never Cry Wolf, a film I’ve enjoyed since first seeing it in the theater over 30 years ago… and not just because it’s a Disney film where the main character takes to eating mice!

I then take the next card from off the top of the stack and decide, “Do I like this film more or less than the first film?” In this case, the film is Airplane!, and while the mice-eating montage is funny and Never Cry Wolf itself is poignant, surely I must go with the high-jokes-per-minute film.

The next film in the stack is Twelve Angry Men, which I also like, but does not have the same personal resonance for me as Never Cry Wolf, so I put it below.

Now I need to go and compare every other film in that stack to Never Cry Wolf. I can then go ahead and sort all the resulting smaller stacks until every single film is ranked.

I like this method because it’s relatively fast and fun. The index cards also add a certain physicality to the whole exercise which keeps me engaged more so than if I were juggling numbers in some spreadsheet.

The Comparison Criteria
I realize people may not like the scientific rigor of the pairwise comparison method above (i.e., how scientific is it?). How do you deal with different genres and the radically different journeys that different films may take you?

I tried various quantitative methods in the early naughts and they were much less fun and lead to a lot of tied scores. In other words, even taking into account three different data points and trying to put each on a 100-point scale, there’d still be too many tied averages. I’d wind up having to do a qualitative judgement call anyway, so why not cut to the chase?

At the same time, I wanted to preserve some of the criteria I had come up with. This helps when dealing with films of different genres or any other particularly difficult comparison where you’re trying to figure out where to put that index card.

So the criteria are:

Quality: As objectively as possible, how good is the film? How well told is the tale? Put your film critic hat on and be honest. Some films are better made than others.

Watchability: This has been a Munson criterion since the 80s, when we knew darn well that kaiju films were not particularly good, but –for us– eminently watchable. Who doesn’t like monsters smashing cities… and other monsters? That has to count for something! Well, it did then and it still does today. Schindler’s List is an amazing film, but I’m going to sit down and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark more frequently.

Resonance: How much does the film mean to you personally? Perhaps there’s a character you identify with. Perhaps there were circumstances when you first saw the film. And how films continue to resonate –or don’t– is one of the main reasons I love doing the list. It’s clear what films I’m connecting with changes over time.

So there it is: Quality often lets you know how good the journey can be. Watchability speaks to how easy or enjoyable the journey can be — with “enjoyment” being tied to your mood. If you’re in the mood for a courtroom drama, A Few Good Men wins over Edge of Tomorrow for Tom Cruise movies. But furthermore, how often do you want to see courtroom dramas or find them watchable? (I’m thinking of one friend whom I’m pretty sure would always pick Edge of Tomorrow over A Few Good Men). Most of the time, I’m never in the mood for a horror film, so you’ll find few movies there — but I have to give credit where credit is due for good horror films. Finally, resonance speaks to how you feel at the end of the journey.

I find combining these criteria with the pairwise comparison method makes going through films of different genres and radically different journeys works. Here’s the proof: What happens when I go back and pick out all the animated films, or sci-fi films, or comedy films and ask, “do I like the highest rated comedy more than the next highest rated comedy in the list?” The answer is always yes.

The Favorite 50
Finally, there’s a question of how many films to list. For the past few years, I’ve gone through the trouble of sorting through about 300+ films, but especially as this started by looking at DVDs in my collection plus a bunch more favorite films, I didn’t think it would be comprehensive. After the first 200 films or so, I think a lot of the film rankings can get pretty fluid. Better to focus on the top picks, right?

But once I got done with the sort the first year, I realized I liked a lot of films and a lot of different types of films. I’d hardly scratch the surface if I only listed my top 10. 50 films seems to split the difference between a far-reaching list and not going on forever.

And I call it “Favorite” because, although I do feel I factor in quality, I also factor in personal resonance. I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is, in many ways, a better film than its sequel 2010. However, I enjoy watching 2010 far better, so I’m not going to place 2001 higher on my list. 2010 is well made, has some good performances, and still connects with me. It’s earned its place on my list.

I suspect you will find some films that fall into this category for you too. And that’s the fun of doing this list every couple years. Some films which I’ve revisited have fallen down in the rankings. Some new films have rocketed into my Favorite 50 (there’s one from 2016 and a couple from 2014).

It feels like I should close this with a film montage, so here’s a Chuck Workman’s 100 Years at the Movies.

Real Vikings Don’t Wear Horns

Being proud of our Norwegian heritage and an above-average amateur historian, our dad made sure we knew from an early age that real Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets.

But why do so many people think so? An article in Vox gets to the root cause. Dang costume designers.

Growing up, we didn’t have a wealth of Viking drama, so it was inevitable that the family would seek out what they could. That inevitably led to that 1958 saga, The Vikings, directed by Richard Fleischer… before 1985’s Red Sonja was a gleam in his eye.

Thrill to its 50s Epic Majesty!

Thrill to its 50s Epic Majesty!

Let’s face it, it’s a Hollywood epic from a certain era when the historical accuracy was inconsistent. On the one hand, get a load of them longships! On the other hand, Tony Curtis.

Sorry Tony, we like you better in "Some Like it Hot"

Sorry Tony, we like you better in “Some Like it Hot”

Indeed, the care and attention paid to the longships made for this film was so meticulous, that the longships went on to star in another picture. Okay, the company was probably just trying to amortize their costs, but they’re still wondrous.

My dad always said these were the real stars of the picture.

My dad always said these were the real stars of the picture. Well, both pictures really.

Both films served to be launching points for many conversations with my dad about historical Vikings, who did much more than simply raid ill-prepared monasteries. We talked of the Danelaw, the Normans, and, Leif Erikson: far more popular in our house than that Columbus guy.

Now, of course, we can seriously scratch that Viking itch with the Vikings TV series. It’s incredibly entertaining, as Michael Hirst’s work tends to be, despite some niggling historical inaccuracies. I am sad my dad is no longer with us to see the show, because although he would surely be the one noting those inaccuracies, there’d be a lot in the show for him to enjoy.

For one thing, these Vikings don’t have time for horned helmets.

vikings_sejati

Recommended Reading: Requiem for a Video Store

Reading a recent piece reflecting on the demise of video stores, specifically independent video stores, made me reflect on the demise of Video Vault, an indie film mainstay in Alexandria that supplied film fans for a generation. Mike Musgrove’s article in the Washington Post about the Vault’s closing gives one a good idea of the pressures that made it close.

That article is probably a good warm-up for the aforementioned piece on indie video stores. It’s a much more personal first-person recollection by Dennis Perkins in Vox about the last days of a Portland, Maine video store.

As much as I like Netflix (and I do), it is flawed in terms of its selection and it is lacking that curated experience you get from those enterprising humans. We see this again and again with libraries, game stores, comic shops and other locations of specialized interest. You can automate information, but knowledge and wise advice appear to be lost –or at best diluted– in the automation process.

At the same time, market forces being what they are, I don’t see any financial incentive for knowledge and wisdom. That’s one thing Perkins’ article touches on — though I don’t see a practical solution with how the economy is structured. I suppose the curated experience could be preserved in libraries with a whole new generation of reference librarians and knowledge workers, but alas, libraries themselves are not being invested in a way that makes me feel rosy about their future.