Going in the Wrong Direction
While working on a project, I came across an articles that was bewildering. Actually, I came across a couple, but one leaped out, in large part because it came from a respectable source.The article was a movie-related list.
And I know such things are all “personal opinion,” so there was nothing important to it, but there still are levels of standards and this reached the inexplicable. Yes, I know it's just a list of movies. So, it's hardly a critical issue. Nor does it reach the level of "This is an outrage! An outrage, I say!" It's a list of movies, after all. But if you're going take the time to put together a list of...well, anything, you no doubt want people to take your opinion seriously.
The article, which you can read here, was from 2009 in Film Comment magazine, a perfectly respectable source. It was about the “The best movies made by actors who direct.” They listed their choice of the top 50, as decided on by the film critics and authorities who participated and were noted up front.
The thing is, I don't even begin to understand the list, even granting the concept of "personal opinion." There were a lot of quirky little films, some of which had a good reputation, some not so much, but I'm not even including those in what made the list so bizarre, in part because they were little-known, so their names wouldn't mean much to most people reading this, who might consider their unfamiliarity part of their charm. More notable are the movies that were known -- not that they weren't good (some were, some were just passable), but surprising in that they were considered among the 50 best ever. But most of all what leaped out is the movies that weren't there -- shocking, even giving wide swath to the concept of "personal opinion."
Starting ruminating in your mind the greatest movies you've seen that were directed by an actor. Got a few set now? Okay, let's jump in and take a look at what Film Comment came up with.
On the top-50 list were Sharky’s Machine (Burt Reynolds), The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller), Quick Change (co-directed by Bill Murray), and The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, okay, I had to include one here that I'd never heard of). The list also included as the #28th best film ever directed by an actor Hickey & Boggs, highly anticipated at the time in 1972 because it re-teamed the mid-'60s stars of I Spy, Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, that Culp directed. The #5 best movie of all-time ever directed by an actor was Bulworth (Warren Beatty -- ahead of his excellent Reds), along with several other big head-scratchers, as I mentioned.
But as head-scratching as all that is, it's all personal taste, so...fair enough, I guess. The thing is, the head-scratching pales in comparison to the movies left off this list. Movies that the experts didn't consider the equal of Quick Change, Tropic Thunder, Actresses or Drive, He Said. And that's the main point here. Not those included, but the ones left out among the 50 best movies of all time directed by actors.
Among the movies omitted were -- Oscar-winning Best Pictures Ordinary People, Gandhi, Unforgiven, Dances with Wolves, and Singin' in the Rain (no, really), along with (wait, are you ready...?) Citizen Kane, On the Waterfront, Modern Times, The Maltese Falcon, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Bicycle Thief, as well as Laurence Olivier’s version of Henry V and Cabaret (both nominated for Best Picture), and other Oscar Best Picture-winners Annie Hall, Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa and Million Dollar Baby.
(To be fair, since it's all personal opinion, I'm not including omissions such as The Great Dictator, Casablanca, The African Queen, The Producers, White Heat, Becket, The Third Man, Midnight in Paris, The General, A Woman Under the Influence, All That Jazz, City Lights, A Beautiful Mind, This is Spinal Tap!, Big, Much Ado About Nothing, Umberto D., On Golden Pond, Norma Rae, Easy Rider, Rachel Rachel, Of Human Bondage, or The Treasure of Sierra Madre. After all, one man's Casablanca is another man's Sharky's Machine.)
Once again, bizarrely, that list was in Film Comment magazine. Not a list that some guy, BusterFilm36, cobbled together for the Comments section of the iMDB website. And again, yes, I know “personal opinion” and all…but seriously???
To be clear, this isn't about if the included Throw Momma from the Train was fun. It was. Or if Scarlet Diva was good or mediocre. I have no idea (though its rating on the the iMDB from people who did see it is just 5.2 on a scale of 10.) That's all, as I said, personal opinion. And fair enough. No, what this is about is -- what on earth thinking goes into leaving off Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, Modern Times, and The Maltese Falcon, forget all the others for the moment, from a top 50 list? Not a "top 50 movies of all time" list (on which they might well belong), but just the 50 best movies that were directed by actors???
The only explanation I can think of is that the film critics and experts who participated just decided to be holier-than-thou and intentionally thumb their noses at the most-recognized classics, simply to be contrary. How else do you explain including The Two Jakes and omitting Citizen Kane? How do you explain including Quick Change and leaving out A Streetcar Named Desire? I would love to hear their argument. Then again, I'm not sure I would. Life is too short.
Being Film Comment magazine, I'm certain that all the people deciding had a stature in their field. Of them, I myself only recognized one name from the list, Dave Kehr, who used to be the film critic of the Chicago Tribune. And knowing his involvement is a step towards confirming my theory. Mr. Kehr was a knowledgeable guy who seemed to like to be pretentious and contrary just for the sake of being contrary. (I'm going to guess that he is not one of those who voted to include Iron Man or War of the Roses, though he's more likely to have wanted The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things over .
I know, too, that often when people put together a list, they specifically want to invoke controversy. Well, yeah, swell, okay. But invoking controversy is one thing, and losing all credibility is another.
One thing I do know from the names of those who were doing the rating. If I saw them reviewing a movie, I'd be reticent to trust their judgment.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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