Thursday, October 27, 2022

About best films

I just discovered David Thomson’s biting-the-hand-that-feeds-him takedown of the Sight and Sound poll that tells us which films we should be seeking to unseat from their canonical position for the next decade. He sagely points out the distinction between “best” films and those one would actually choose to watch and rewatch if the mythical desert island became a repository for celluloid rather than vinyl:’re all alone with perfect projection, so what are the ten pictures you want there simply in the name of pleasure? Don’t be shy of that hedonism, but think about your viewing habits day by day, year by year, especially during Covid. Under that shadow, what did you want to see again, and then again? 

I know what he means. There are some films (off the top of my head, Requiem for a Dream, Festen, Come and See) that I admire greatly but have only ever watched once, and I’d be fine if it stayed that way. They might make their way to my to my S&S list but not to my island.

Thomson also admitss that, once one gives up the Quixotic search for some kind of universal “best” (Most accomplished? Most innovative? Most influential? Most important? To whom?) film or book or record or painting or building, then all criticism ultimately become autobiography, even when it’s not explicitly acknowledged:

I hope voters will attest to their allegiances more than make a list of pictures for their résumé. But that leads to one more modest proposal. Thinking about my life with movies, and talking to others who have trod the same path, I find this common feeling: that the films we saw between the ages of four and about 16 are vital and embedded. We grow up to understand that some of those films are mediocre, fantasies that caught us at the right immature moment. But I’m not sure the screen ever meant more or gave us the secret about what a sensational and impermanent medium it is that we now try to make Ozymandian.

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