Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Agony and Ecstasy of Lists

Time and experience have made me skeptical of lists. Of course, I say that as a young blogger with only a modest amount of freelance experience. Still, I don't think it takes much to reach that conclusion; just spend a few minutes on Rotten Tomatoes sometime. That's all you need to realize that even the freshest or most rotten movie has its respective detractors and supporters.

So what should we think of something like the top 10/top 50 list released by the reputable Sight & Sound last week? Like a reclusive artist or eccentric tycoon, the once-a-decade list from Sight & Sound has a romantic aura around it. In the eyes of many cinephiles and critics--including Roger Ebert--it's the only one that matters.

But as authoritative as it might be, film criticism is still a slippery business. Even where there's a consensus there are still varying degrees of agreement. After years at the top, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane was finally unseated by Hitchcock's Vertigo, a great movie--but the best of all time? My Facebook newsfeed begged to differ.

Not that we should get rid of lists, though, and especially the one by Sight & Sound. The movie world has never had a canon the way the world of literature has, so if nothing else, it's like a guide for movie lovers, young and old. It's instructive and foundational. "Start here," it says, "and just see where the road takes you next."

In that light, it doesn't matter if Sight & Sound got it "wrong" or "right." What matters is whether you engaged with it and if you know why you disagree. That kind of attitude--one that's open to new stories, new styles, new experiences--is what any list worth its salt invites. By that measure, that puts Sight & Sound at the top of its class.

1 comment:

  1. The precise numbering (often subject to evanescent causes) of the list matters much less than the promotion of the beginnings of a canon. Even though the art of film is approximately only a century old, there is value to be found in distinguishing mastery from mediocrity.