Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Idiocy of "Best" Lists

Assembling rosters of "Best Whatever of All Time" is a losing assignment in almost all circumstances. Like for instance:

The American Film Institute (AFI) tonight revealed the 10 greatest movies in 10 classic American film genres in AFI's 10 TOP 10 ... A jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians named the following films as the very best in the following genres:

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Science Fiction), CITY LIGHTS (Romantic Comedy), THE GODFATHER (Gangster), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Epic), RAGING BULL (Sports), THE SEARCHERS (Western), SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (Animation), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Courtroom Drama), VERTIGO (Mystery) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (Fantasy).

Most everybody can wade through the films above and immediately object to any of the selections. Like, why The Searchers? Why not Stagecoach or Red River or even My Darling Clementine?

Don't get me wrong, The Searchers has become a darling of Hollywood movers and shakers, and it was a profitable, relatively well-reviewed film in its year, and I like it fine. But it's a league or two from being director John Ford's best Western. Personally, I like a number of his other offerings way better, but then I'm not a member of the AFI's selection committee.

But forget Westerns, or Sci Fi, or Gangster movies. Let's focus on the "Animation" winner Snow White. The picture was ground-breaking, the amount of money it made in its year was record-shattering ($8 million in 1938), and it set the mold for every animated feature that followed behind it.

But the best? Really?

Mystery novelist Raymond Chandler once wrote on a related topic:

"There are no "classics" of crime and detection. Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can hardly be surpassed. No story or novel of mystery has done that yet."

--Raymond Chandler, Intro to The Simple Art of Murder

Okay, so substitute "best" for Chandler's word "classic". Is Snow White an animated feature that "exhausts the possibilities of its form and can hardly be surpassed?"

I don't think so. I think there are a number of animated features that have surpassed it in the "Best" sweepstakes during the seven decades that have come between Snow White's release and June 18, 2008. (Although sure, Snow is a "masterpiece" as we generally define masterpieces. But that's a different issue).

My vote is for ignoring "Best Of" lists. My vote is for going about our daily business in a happy, healthful way, and when somebody comes up to us with a legal- sized parchment inscribed with "The Ten Greatest Films of All Time" we read it with reverence and respect, then shove that person over the nearest cliff.

11 comments:

Larry Levine said...

My choice for the greatest animated feature is Pinocchio, followed closely by A Boy Named Charlie Brown which IMHO is a very underrated masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the point of this post was so everyone could chime in and give us their "best of" lists. I think he was trying to show how silly these lists are.

Anonymous said...

All these lists and books are a device AFI started using to remain solvent when their conservatory lost its federal funding. They also serve to raise the prestige and profile of the institution. The very fact that we all take the time and trouble to agree/disagree with them shows that they succeeded. Personally, I found the talking heads far more interesting than the lists themselves.

Larry Levine said...

Anonymous #1:
That was my point, whose to say AFI's choices are better than my own or anyone elses. Except for "The Wizard of Oz", I disagree with the rest of the toppers.

Anonymous said...

I think the term "best" as applied to this list is misleading. I think, judging by their selections, they meant the best over-all movie in terms of general main stream values, and the most influential films that happen to have been made in a particular genre rather than the best or purest example of the genre. Now "Snow White" "Godfather" "Lawrence" "Mockingbird" and "Searchers" make a lot more sense. No one could argue that "Snow White" didn't have the biggest impact on the genre.

Jeff Massie said...

For what it's worth (and that may not be much), here's the AFI Animation Top Ten:

1. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
2. PINOCCHIO
3. BAMBI
4. THE LION KING
5. FANTASIA
6. TOY STORY
7. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
8. SHREK
9. CINDERELLA
10. FINDING NEMO

Now, the biggest problem is that they are, by definition, rating feature movies only ... and thus excluding much of the best U.S.-made animated films, those made in the shorts format.

But these are the same people who ended up with TOOTSIE and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER on their original Top 100 while overlooking Buster Keaton, Preston Sturges or Fred Astaire.

If you must know, here's the complete list.

Anonymous said...

WHY ISN'T OLIVER & CO. ON THE LIST???!!

ROBBED AGAIN!! WHEN WILL THIS CLASSIC FINALLY BE GIVEN ITS PROPER RECOGNITION BY THE MEDIA ELITES WHO CONTROL OUR COLLECTIVE RATING OF ANIMATED FEATURES?

Steve Hulett said...

WHY ISN'T OLIVER & CO. ON THE LIST???!!

I'll tell you why. Because O & C was the last Disney feature on which I worked. And AFI is out to screw me personally!

Damn them! Damn them all to hell!

Papageiena said...

Gracious. O.o I can appreciate 'Snow White' for the achievement it was at the time and the awesome acting and animation for the Queen, but THAT'S IT. You'd have to strap me into the Clockwork chair to get me to watch the whole thing.

I like these lists just so I can see other people's perspective on this, but Snow White? Really?

Larry Levine said...

"You'd have to strap me into the Clockwork chair to get me to watch the whole thing"

That's how I feel about Snow White & The 3 Stooges.

Anonymous said...

Why is "shrek" even ON the list at all? Whew...what a stinker. Funny at the time, but stale 5 minutes after it was released. And man, is it ever ugly.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" definetly deserves to be on top of the list. It's a towering achievement, and still works. Pinocchio and Bambi may be overall better films, but "Snow White" is Walt's biggest achievement.

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