Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Become a Film Connoisseur

There's not a filmmaker or actor who hasn't seen this film.
The movies are to Americans what the Louvre is to the French.
Film is the expression of the American soul, our triumphs, our defeats, our fears and our hopes, our ever-changing moral codes and our never-changing values of who we are and what makes us Americans.
Film does all that.
This was one of those I didn't want to see but watch every change I get.
It's not only all-American and patriotic to be knowledgeable about movies, it deepens your enjoyment of films so that when movies are referenced within movies, you are so there with them, you are the implied audience, the informed viewer, and if movies are important to you, being able to talk about movies and why you enjoy them is essential.
Just as a wine connoisseur is someone who has drank a lot of wine, so a film connoisseur is someone who has seen a lot of films. That's the beginning. By virtue of having drank a lot of glasses--including some bad ones--you develop a "taste" for what makes a good one. In film, the more you've seen, the easier it is to recognize the conventions, the breaking of conventions, the homage to great directors who came before, and the opposite: why something doesn't work, why they should not have tried it that way, etc.
When this list first came out in 1998, I had only seen 32 of them; that's not even a decent "F" grade. I made it my mission to see every single film on this list, and it took five years to do it (because it was before online movie watching).
"All About America" in the 1950s.
But I did it.
There were movies I didn't want to watch, but I did it anyway, and there are movies that I never would have watched had they not been on the list, but I am grateful that I did because I loved them! And there are movies that, even now, I would remove from the list if I had the chance, but my personal taste isn't the point, that's why I wouldn't remove the films or give you my own list of what I THINK a great movie list should be.
Besides, watching these movies is a fabulous group activity.
The perfect movie, and I will prove that to you in my upcoming series on Science Fiction films of the 1950s which will follow the British Imperialism series.
Why this list and not someone else's?
The 1, 500 members of the American Film Institute who voted on the 400 films nominated have seen, been in or worked on all those movies nominated, and these are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the movies that those who make movies are most proud of. Start out seeing these films, think about them, question them, challenge them, see some more films, bounce them off each other and see how they hold up, then, when you find a great film, you will have a context in which to root it, to compare it to the great films that have come before it and--like someone with a glass of Pinot--you will be able to discuss the narrative, the camera angles, the references and how and why Hitchcock had to come before Tarantino, and Spielberg's debt to David Lean, etc. because you have seen them!
Wow, I love it, and so did Orson Welles.
When you are going over the list, be honest, make sure you have seen the whole film, and not just the highlights or lots and lots of the same scenes over and over again. You should be able to give a plot summary of it to check it off the list. Don't be ashamed of how many you have seen, like I said, I only saw 32 of them.
Once you see it you will find references to Yankee Doodle Dandy everywhere in America.
Lastly, why am I promoting the 1998 list instead of the 2008 list?
Call it honesty. I think the original 1998 film was done without any self-awareness, that people answered honestly without considering what writers would get upset that their favorite films weren't on the lists and more of these have withstood the test of time. But, above all, these are the movies that have made other movies possible, because all films exist and are created within a context, and this list, better than any other, establishes what that context is!
Every filmmaker references Citizen Kane at some point in their career.
The American Film Institute's 1998 List of Top 100 Movies
1. Citizen Kane
2. Casablanca
3. The Godfather
4. Gone With the Wind
5. Lawrence of Arabia
6. The Wizard of Oz
7. The Graduate
8.On the Waterfront
9. Schindler's List
10. Singin' in the Rain
11. It's a Wonderful Life
12. Sunset Boulevard
13. Bridge on the River Kwai
14. Some Like It Hot
15. Star Wars
16. All About Eve
17. African Queen
18. Psycho
19. Chinatown
20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
21. Grapes of Wrath
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
23. The Maltese Falcon
24. Raging Bull
25. E.T. The Extra-Terrestial
The standard of a great love story.
26. Dr. Strangelove
27. Bonnie and Clyde
28. Apocalypse Now
29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
30. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
31. Annie Hall
32. The Godfather, Part II
33. High Noon
34. To Kill a Mockingbird
35. It Happened One Night
36. Midnight Cowboy
37. Best Years of Our Lives
38. Double Indemnity
39. Doctor Zhivago
40. North by Northwest
41. West Side Story
42. Rear Window
43. King Kong
44. Birth of a Nation
45. A Streetcar Named Desire
46. A Clockwork Orange
47. Taxi Driver
48. Jaws
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarf
50. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
It's not the best western ever made, but it has all the best elements of westerns that are necessary for a film to be classified as a "western."
51. The Philadelphia Story
52. From Here to Eternity
53. Amadeus
54. All Quiet on the Western Front
55. The Sound of Music
56. M*A*S*H
57. The Third Man
58. Fantasia
59. Rebel Without a Cause
60. Raiders of the Lost Ark
61. Vertigo
62. Tootsie
63. Stagecoach
64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
65. Silence of the Lambs
66. Network
67. The Manchurian Candidate
68. An American in Paris
69. Shane
70. The French Connection
71. Forrest Gump
72. Ben-Hur
73. Wuthering Heights
74. The Gold Rush
The first "talkie" in motion pictures.
75. Dances With Wolves
76. City Lights
77. American Graffiti
78. Rocky
79. The Deer Hunter
80. The Wild Bunch
81. Modern Times
82. Giant
83. Platoon
84. Fargo
85. Duck Soup
86. Mutiny on the Bounty
87. Frankenstein
88. Easy Rider
89. Patton
90. The Jazz Singer
91. My Fair Lady
92. A Place in the Sun
93. The Apartment
94. Goodfellas
95. Pulp Fiction
96. The Searchers
97. Bringing Up Baby
98. Unforgiven
99. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
100. Yankee Doodle Dandy
One of the greatest villains of all times, and a great indicator of what the men of 1935 were doing to the ordinary people during the Great Depression. Mutiny on the Bounty.
You probably want a copy of the list that you can print, don't you? Just Click Here for the List and it will take you to all the AFI top 100 lists that they have put out (the 1998 list is at the very bottom because it was the very first list put out).
My personal favorite movie of all time.
Becoming a film connoisseur is like becoming a wine connoisseur: you have to drink wine, you have to watch movies. The more films you see, the more you will understand what you like and what is important to you; the more good films you see, the better you will understand why bad films are so bad, and that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. Another dimension of being a connoisseur is seeing all the films within a particular set: all the films your favorite actor has done, all the films a favorite director has done, all the films within a certain genre, etc. I know that focusing on all the films Dustin Hoffman has made led me to some wonderful films.
This was Hitchcock's least favorite film he did.
Once you are done with this list, you will have a better idea of where you want to go to continue your quest for great films; I, personally, went to the films that had won Best Picture at the Oscars; then I went to all the films that had been nominated for Best Picture then I started watching all the films that had gotten the Best Actor and Actress awards (and not all of them are still available). My next list I am going to tackle is the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films (because I love the British, I'm like 85% British myself).
I have also seen all fifty films that Alfred Hitchcock made over his long career, and seeing all the works within a director's or artist's oeuvre, is also a great way to add to your own oeuvre of film.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with lists that you will find on, or Rotten Tomatoes, or Facebook, but if you are going to be a connoisseur, you should respect the knowledge of those in the business, those who have seen the films we have yet to discover, and give them two hours of your time to try and persuade you that, yea, this is a great film and then, others will come to you and ask you for your list of great films.