Tuesday, July 18, 2023

About the best films

The critic Derek Malcolm has died, which inevitably draws us back to 2001 and his shamelessly highbrow farewell gift to The Guardian, his 100 best films; any reader of his work would have a pretty good idea of the directors that would appear, although some might query the specific movies. (The Bitter Tea of General Yen for Capra? Really?)

The fun starts when his fellow reviewers are asked to review his list. Most respond with respect, while quibbling with the details; David Thomson despairs of the whole idea. And then there’s Nick Fisher from The Sun (who also died in the past few months), who gives a lovely display of performative philistinism: 

This is a buff's list, not a punter’s list. Where's Erin Brockovich and Men In Black? Where’s American Beauty or American Pie or American Movie, come to that? Long films with dense subtitles are not my cup of rosie. I think Derek and me would be hard pushed to ever pick a Saturday night out at the flicks together. Does he even eat popcorn? I think I read down to Kes before I even recognised any of these names as movies. Kinda smells of pretension to me. But hey, without buffs there would be no poncey foreign film festivals. And we know how important they are. Not. Kes, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull and Night At The Opera... yep, I go along with all of these as firm candidates for any Top 100. But, as for the other 96 titles, you're on your own Del. 

Two thoughts. First, although Malcolm might seem to be in thrall to the canon emforced by Sight and Sound, Cahiers du CinĂ©ma, Film Comment and so forth, surely Fisher’s reference points are similarly unsurprising, playing the same game, but shorn of the “dense subtitles”. (Too many words, my dear Godard...)

The other is the frame of reference. Malcolm had almost certainly seen most of the films Fisher cited, and decided from a position of knowledge that they didn’t merit inclusion; could Fisher have said the same about the 96 he objected to on Malcolm’s list?

PS: And for what it’s worth, I’d probably agree with about a dozen of Malcolm’s choices. And I don’t like popcorn.

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