Saturday, March 1, 2014

My List is Better Than Your List -- and Vice Versa

With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, my thoughts turn lightly to the absurdity of the Academy Awards.

In my part of Facebook, over the past couple of weeks, people have been rating “Best Picture” Oscar winners; that is to say, what are the worst winners of that award. And, of course, this assumes that one gives credence to the Oscars as the final arbiter of film quality. The mere fact that Jennifer Lawrence alone has more Oscars than Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, and Peter O’Toole combined is enough to settle that matter.

Now, everyone is going to have a different opinion on this matter. My own list consists of “Cimmaron,” “Cavalcade,” “Gone with the Wind” (seriously),”How Green Was My Valley,” “Mrs. Miniver,” “Going My Way,” “Hamlet,” “An American in Paris,” “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “On the Waterfront,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Gigi,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “Oliver!,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Ordinary People,” “Gandhi,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Out of Africa,” “Dances with Wolves,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Forrest Gump,” “Crash,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Some of these are legitimately bad and some are just badly dated, but all of them are pictures I don’t need to see again.

Your list will differ. And that’s fine.

The impetus for this post was Kate Aurhtur’s (whose?) (exactly) personal ranking of all the winners on BuzzFeed. Now, obviously, she’s an idiot. Anyone who would rank “Wings” near the bottom of such a list and “Silence of the Lambs” near the top simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Farran Smith Nehme, “The Self-Styled Siren” (who is one of my favorite film bloggers), rushed to the defense of “Gigi.” While I can’t go so far as to agree with Farran’s assessment that it’s a good movie (I think it’s a hopeless bore, as are most M-G-M musicals after about 1954 and all Lerner and Loewe musicals), I’ll agree with her assessment that Aurhtur’s criteria are suspect.

But that’s also the thing about these rankings; they’re completely arbitrary utterly personal. Many’s the time I’ve tried to come up with even a Top Ten list of movies, and I can’t do it. Not only would it vary from day to day, there are just too damn many movies I love to limit it to 10. Of course, there are probably an equal number of movies I cannot stand that coming up with a Worst Ten list would be just as absurd.

And I’m not even talking “Plan 9 from Outer Space” type of movies. Movies like that are just inept, not bad. Just off the top of my head, I find pictures like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Being John Malkovich,” and “The Master” far worse; they had greater ambitions and fall far from the mark in many, many areas. I know those four are beloved by many, and again, that’s fine. I don’t understand why anyone would want to waste their time with them, but for every picture you love and I loathe, there’s one you can’t stand and I think is brilliant. There was a debate last week where I rushed to the defense of “Tom Jones,” a movie I think may be a little dated, but has more to recommend it than not. The bulk of comments came out against it, though.

I think there’s a natural tendency to want the things we like to be liked by others, and to defend our own choices, but I prefer to see such rankings as fodder for debate rather than definitive. As I said, my own choices are too fluid to set a list in stone, and even among many movies I dislike, I can see that they were influence. I mean, I can’t stand Chaplin as the Tramp or Stanley Kubrick after “Dr. Strangelove,” but understand their importance.

So when they open that envelope on Sunday, I’m sure I’ll roll my eyes at least once, but I know that the mere fact of someone hoisting that hardware (and those suckers are heavy) won’t change my opinion.

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