100 Best American Films lists

From Atlantic Refugees:

Chris D: The guy who wrote the linked piece by Noel kinda supports my theory above, especially towards the end. But he doesn't quite make the connection.

Films that have broad appeal, i.e. are 'universal,' can often seem dull and uninteresting to various individuals. When discussing various directors, he often seemed to prefer the more personal films (like Kundun and The Conversation) over the widely accepted ones. He just highlights my points.

With that said, I don't have a huge problem with the AFI list, sure it contains some clunkers, but no matter who makes a list, it will include some clunkers, it's expected. The AFI list was made with a broad spectrum of interests represented, and you have to realize it was made from a list of 400 films that wasn't extremely adventurous to begin with.

I had a couple of friends determined to get through all 100 films on the AFI list (a dubious task, in my opinion) and they soon discovered they had an affinity for Billy Wilder and they went on to check more of his films, and then this helped them find various actors they enjoyed and so on. I relate this semi-anecdote, because that was the purpose of the list, to encourage people to check out some films that many consider to be great. It encourages people to explore films they would otherwise skip. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I'd encourage people to check out Rosenbaum's list, with even more worthwhile films that don't have some dinosaur institution trying to promote them (at least half the films on the AFI list are in no danger of being neglected). That would be even better.

I don't think someone sharing some of your choices some of the time is all that bad; not everything about film watching is subjective. There are classic rules for drama, and basic techniques on filmmaking, and ways most people mostly agree are good; and if such rules or techniques are bent or broken, the better films usually have good reasons for doing so.

And when I say mostly and usually, my point would be this: there's no absolute means of saying what's good or not, but there's a general range of agreement among informed people what constitutes a good film, and what that list of films would be.

It's obvious what's wrong with saying that film viewing is totaly objective: it's just not true. No two people will totallyagree on a list. On the other hand, the weakness of saying it's totally subjective is to say that nothing, not the ideas of people who think about or make or watch films, means anything. If everything is meaningful, nothing is meaningful. There has to be some kind of balance.

Instead of precise rules and precise lists, I would present a continuum that shades towards the very worse and very best at either end, where maybe not all (knowledgeable) people might agree, but many would.

And how to identify that balance? How to more or less objectively set standards? Well, in the case of film critics (just to keep this at manageable length), look at the people and what they write. If they seem to be wide-ranging in their interests, if they don't condemn any single genre outright, if they consider both past and present films, silent and sound, from various countries, if their arguments are sound (and if not, if they admit that they're writing from a bias), if they know film history and have a good number of films under their belt, I'd say they're credible, and their opinion would count for something.

There's no magic number or formula for determining this, but you can follow what they write, and after a number of articles it often surfaces. Read enough such people and you can determine whether or not a film is considered good by people who know what they're talking about.

Now, the opinions of people who aren't as aware of film history or who haven't seen as many films or aren't as varied in their diet don't count for nothing--their emotional responses and personal experience brings something to their reactions, of course. But if they aren't fully or even slightly aware of what's been done and what's out there, I'd say their reactions are valuable for just that much, what personal experience and emotional makeup brings to the table. That's not nothing, but that's not everything.

The method I've outlined is not a 100% sure guarantee either, but I'd say it's the best method out there, and better than, oh, following the AFI list.

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