Sunday, 10 May 2009

1001 Films To See Before You Die

Years ago, when I was churning out films reviews for the magazine, I stumbled across a book: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I pulled the list from a website and started crossing off the ones I'd already seen. That was 100 down: these were common films, like Star Wars, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Princess Bride, although there were a few, like Dog Day Afternoon and The Sting that fell outside the mainstream.
I began to mix foreign films in with my regular rentals: Caro Diario, Ran, Tokyo Story.
After a while I started to recognise films from the list when they appeared in film festivals and special screenings: The Battle of Algiers, The Son's Room, Our Hospitality. I sometimes saw films that weren't on the list (Twentieth Century) just because they were old.
I started working my way through entire oeuvres: I have now seen every feature film by Woody Allen (there are 40), Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. And I still have gaping holes in my list: I haven't seen From Here To Eternity, The Jazz Singer, or There Will Be Blood.
I've only just now passed the 300 mark and it is becoming more difficult to find the 701 outstanding films. Even Videon comes up short on the 1922 print of Le Souriante Madame Beudet (although it will gladly supply Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.) I torrented The Wages of Fear, complete with subtitles.

I have some new favourite films from the list ('favourite' being Top-20 rather than Top-5): Kind Hearts and Coronets, Glengarry Glen Ross, Duck Soup; although many of my favourites on the list were firmly in place before I knew it existed, while others (Love and Death) I discovered on tangential paths.
Of course there are many films that I don't think deserve to be in the top 1000 at all, like Gangs of New York and Meet the Parents, while some, while worthy, I watched only as long as I could bear: Leni Riefenstahl's documentary/propoganda piece Triumph of the Will was both as bombastically impressive and as gallingly repetitive as I've heard Mein Kampf is, and I may go to my grave having only seen part of Last Tango In Paris.

None of this has helped me recall actors' names. I sometimes triangulate to the point where I've constructed half a Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon before I remember that, yes, that guy was Tim Roth who was in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and played Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs, and no, he wasn't in Braindead, that was a Kiwi actor who looks like him who was in Mercy Peak and probably Shortland Street for years being a doctor or something. Then I wind up on IMdB for half an hour and discover that, holy crap, Jake Busey was in The Frighteners and I'd had two actresses mixed up in a '90s B-movie since I first saw it.

It is impossible to watch two hundred old movies without forcing other people to do so alongside you. Ikiru was a particular surprise, while Dead Man really required a more alert audience than it received, and I challenge anyone not to like It Happened One Night.

1 comment:

BR said...

I watched Kind Hearts and Coronets a couple of days before our flat got evicted (that was coincidental, I think), and Dead Man when it came out. I thought both were great... But Meet the Parents... WTF?? How did that get on a top-anything?