Reconsidering the 100 Greatest Movies Project

It’s been a while since I talked about my 100 Greatest Movies Project, my attempt to create the definitive list of the greatest movies of all time by combining all the lists that have come before. In fact, I haven’t talked about it very much in over three years, back when I was still on Blogger. I haven’t done anything with it because I’ve wanted to get someone else on board to help write essays in praise of the movies on the list. If you’re interested, e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com.

If you’ve been following the project (and you probably haven’t), and you’ve seen the list of all the lists used for the project since we moved to the new site, you’ll notice that when we made the move, I added a bunch of lists to the list without announcing it. Everything from on down, except imdB, was added to the list back when we moved to two and a half years ago. Everything from on down I added Monday night. (And I finally found the list Australia’s Channel 9 created in 2006, only to find it wasn’t suitable for my purposes.)

One of the principles I used when structuring the project was to split all the lists into “critics’ lists” and “people’s lists”. That is, I drew a distinction between those lists that were composed by a panel of experts, and those lists that were composed by polling the people. My intention was to supplement the Overall List with separate Critics’ and People’s Lists, making the numerous and obvious differences between the two different classes of lists more readily apparent.

But while scouring the Internet for these new lists, I saw the critics/people distinction start to break down. The list taken by the UK’s Channel Four c. 2001, the most famous list there, apparently had the actual movies on the list determined by a panel of experts, but left it to the people to rank them. Empire magazine’s 2008 Top 500 list was composed by both a readers’ poll and a poll of experts, with no indication of how the two were weighted (the experts themselves were divided into “Hollywood’s finest” and film critics), and at least one other list was composed similarly.

And then there’s the effort put forth by the people at They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? This one, quite simply, gives me a headache.

On the one hand, it’s a pretty straightforward critics’ list, amalgamating lists taken from various experts at various points in time. On the other hand, some of the lists they have come from polls taken by the Village Voice, Time Out,¬†and Sight and Sound, polls whose results I already have, which means they would effectively be double-counted. On the other hand, many of the lists included are not otherwise counted, often because they are unranked or are individual critics’ lists not used to create a larger list, except this one.

On the other hand… ultimately, this list is really trying to do the same thing my list is: compose a list of the greatest movies of all time by combining all the ones that came before. In other words, it could very well render my list unnecessary.

On the other hand, even by the standards of a critics’ list this list is artsy. Eight of the top 25 are from Europe (not counting British movies with enough of an American flavor to make the AFI lists); I’d be surprised if my final top 100 contained that many from anywhere outside the United States. At least one and maybe two of the top ten are likely not to even make the overall top 100, or the critics’ top 50. Ladri di Biciclette is #14 but might not even make my top 100 critics list. While the focus is on what the critics think, it’s clear that this list completely abandons any notion of kowtowing to what the hoi polloi think, and is ultimately more of a film connoisseur‘s list. In that sense, maybe my project still has a niche to fill. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it’s a consensus list for the 99% – I’m certainly not ditching the critics’ lists – but it’s worth noting that the balance of lists, when the new lists are considered, leans decidedly towards the people’s side (though I might throw out a number of people’s lists to get the balance back in line).

What do you think? Should I include TSPDT, leave it out, create my own offshoot of the list for my own purposes, or abandon the whole Greatest Movies Project? And what should I make of Films101’s effort?

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