Nearly ten years ago I was given a proposal from my old partner on the movie review program we did on college radio from 1990 to 1993. He suggested we each concoct our respective lists of the top fifty films of the nineties, adapting the traditional yearly top ten to a larger scale. While it had been years since we’d done the radio show together, we’d each remained avid moviegoers. In fact, we’d each taken little spins with movie reviewing and Academy Award analysis on other radio stations during the intervening years, he much more notably and productively than I. We felt reasonably well-qualified to weigh in on the ten-year moviemaking span about to close. This was entirely a personal exercise, the capsule reviews we wrote up being exchanged only with one another via email with perhaps an extra friend of two copied on the digital dispatches.
A few more calendars have been hung, flipped and discarded, and another arbitrarily defined era of cinema is a few months away from closure. In the last year of the zeroes, with the tens looming on the horizon, I’ve thought a lot about that old list. Naturally, I’m helpless, completely unable to resist the urge to repeat the endeavor.
The first question, entirely reasonable, is why start this now? Half of 2009 is still to come, and, assuming studios follow the release pattern that they’ve stuck to for year and years, the very best films of this year are likely to be loaded into that second half. In part, I’m starting now as a churlish compensation for the fact that my yearly top tens, by necessity, come out weeks, even months after everyone else on my Google Reader page has already weighed in. I want to be the one who starts early for a change. Another motivation for the July start involves simple math. If I start now and post about two entries per week, I’ll be able to finish up with number one right around–or, hopefully, precisely on–New Year’s Eve. Besides, under the terms of the list’s construction, more recent films have a slight disadvantage anyway.
I’m following the little challenge, the guideline, the fresh shading that my cohort suggested back then. He and I each took the yearly top ten practice very seriously, trying hard to make certain that whatever films we selected and ranked really represented the best of the year. We didn’t modify our opinions to only include elite works or important efforts–just during our few years on the air, we each had plentiful moments where we proudly defended films that others were quick to dismiss as pure junk–but I think we were both mindful of having final tallies that could stand as accurate representations of the year’s most sterling achievements. As I recall, the theory behind compiling the top fifty was that loosening up a bit was advisable, taking advantage of the added hindsight afforded by passing time. We should give extra value to the movies that had aged well for us, the movies that we kept revisiting, the movies that we truly loved. “Best” was certainly a factor, but the very different designation of “favorite” should carry some added sway. Older films have already faced the test of time (if only a fairly preliminary test). Newer ones still carried some uncertainty about their lasting impact.
That noted, I’ll allow myself a cheat here and there if I feel it necessary. Should I see something that merits inclusion before the project is complete, a number with a 1/2 attached just might show up to help me accommodate it.
Since I’ve brought up the notion of cheats, I’ll concede to one that’s coming right up. When I created my list representing the nineties, I found it fairly easy. I’d been a fervent keeper of my previous top tens, tinkering with them through the respective years. Pulling them together and making modifications for this project created its own agonies (I remember that precisely where The Silence of the Lambs should settle near the top of the list was an especially contentious debate with myself), but I had a generally strong sense of which filmsneeded to be there and approximately where they belonged on the list. Picking a film to designate as number fifty proved surprisingly difficult, however. No matter what title I wrote into that slot, my mind would immediately counter with three or four films of similar quality that I couldn’t bear leaving off if that film remained. So instead I wound up slotting in a movie predominantly because I wanted to write about it, specifically how, as good as it was, it could have been easily modified to make it more clearly worthy of inclusion on such a list.
In that spirit, my selection for number fifty on this new list undoubtedly isn’t really the fiftieth best film of the past ten years. Truthfully, I may not even rank it in the next fifty. On the other hand, it’s probably the film that I’ve sat through from start to finish more often than any other that was released between January 1, 2000 and now. That, it seems to me, should count for something. So that film is number fifty, and tomorrow it will help kick off this cinematic countdown.
(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)