I love a good list, but I really love taking a good list and tearing it apart. So seeing as Empire Magazine recently published the results of their readers poll, it’s time for me to tell you why it’s wrong.
The readers voted for their 300 favourite films of all time (I’ve seen 225 of them) and you can see the full list here (though strangely it’s slightly different to the printed version). But in the meantime …
Where Was …?
First, let’s look at the omissions. Personal favourites Ringu, Coraline, Serenity and Men In Black were all missing in action, but perhaps those were long-shots anyway. More shocking, was the absence of The Sixth Sense and This is Spinal Tap.
Sure, we all got sick of M. Night Shymalan over a decade ago, but it’s sad to see that people have forgotten just how fantastic his breakthrough was. Perhaps many of us only remember the twist ending, but if you re-watch it you’ll find that the twist is just a small part in the brilliance of the overall film. And then there’s Spinal Tap – the quintessential mock-umentary and the funniest film about music ever made.
This But No That?
Some personal favourites rated poorly or didn’t make it, yet lesser films by the same director were high achievers. Tim Burton scored highly but there was no Ed Wood or Nightmare Before Christmas, George Romero got a look-in but for the somewhat-silly Dawn of the Dead rather than his original masterpiece (Night of the Living Dead), Darren Aronofsky’s pompous mess was there (The Fountain) but no sight of the poignant simplicity of The Wrestler, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was one of his highest rated films (no doubt helped by Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death) yet Punch Drunk Love was nowhere to be found.
But most upsetting for me was the absence of Adaptation in the list – the amazing Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman effort about love, life, loss, creativity, depression and Nicholas Cage’s receding hairline. Instead, the only Kaufman films to make it were Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at #78 (hooray!) and Synecdoche, New York at #197 (what?!). I mean, I like Synecdoche, but honestly it’s not even half the film that Adaptation is. Sadly, I think this might be another case of the recently-dead-actor effect, as Synecdoche was another showcase of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s talents.
What’s This Doing Here?
Now for the flicks that just had no place being in the list. Most of them can be explained away by their new-ness. Avengers 2, The Hobbit Part 1, and Captain America 2 will surely lose their place when this poll is rerun in a few years time. But I’d argue that older films, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, are in there only because people have mistaken nostalgia-value for quality. I rewatched both quite recently and I can confirm they aren’t nearly as good as we remember.
Some Sacred Cows Need to Be Slaughtered
This is the section that’s most likely to upset people so let’s get it over with quickly. It’s like a band-aid that has to be ripped off fast for your own sake.
Long-story-short; Jaws, Watchmen, Skyfall, The Social Network and Drive, aren’t as brilliant as people think. They’re all very good films but either; they have pacing issues that everyone overlooks (Jaws at #8), they aren’t nearly as good as the source material (Watchmen at #153), they’re outclassed by other instalments in their series (Skyfall at #45 while Casino Royale only made #160), or I’ve just never been able to understand why people went quite so insane for them (Social Network at #148, Drive at #49).
And while we’re at it, does The Dark Knight really deserve to be called the 3rd Greatest Film of All Time? Again, it’s a movie that I liked a lot but despite seeing it twice I feel like I must have missed something. It’s so intensely loved by so many people that every second person must have been thinking “OMG THAT WAS THE BEST THING EVER” as the credits rolled, yet my thoughts were more like “Well, that was quite good. What time’s lunch?”.
But On The Other Hand …
Despite all this, I’m generally very happy with the list. Personal favourites that I thought were seen as cult films without much mass appeal fared incredibly well, particularly The Big Lebowski at #24 and Donnie Darko at #84. Despite being such an oddity, Lebowski seems to pick up more and more fans as time goes on, and I’m happy to see that Darko’s reputation hasn’t been tainted by the fact that director, Richard Kelly, hasn’t made anything of much worth since.
A number of movies that I’ve rewatched many times finished in the top 100, namely There Will Be Blood, Gravity, Clockwork Orange, Memento and Back to the Future. I was also pleased to see Back to the Future Part 2 make it at #294, which I count as one of the best sequels ever made.
And speaking of incredible sequels – what about that number 1 (Empire Strikes Back)? This is the first time I’ve seen it top a poll like this (more commonly it’s The Godfather or Shawshank Redemption) but I think it deserves a turn in the premier position. It’s possibly the film that has impacted pop culture more than any (you can hardly go a day without seeing some kind of reference to it) and though Star Wars may have given us the modern day blockbuster, Empire gave us the modern day blockbuster with a sad ending – showing that movies could be true popcorn-fodder while still having depth and not always following a predictable formula. Of course, as a big Return of the Jedi fan I’m always a bit baffled by the fact that Jedi isn’t nearly as well loved but at least that made it into the list as well at#120.
So, I suppose you did a pretty good job, Empire readers. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even forgive you for leaving out Spinal Tap.
Agree? Disagree? What are your own favourite films? If you need something more to get you angry enough to comment, how’s this? – Dark Knight is really terrible and Heath Ledger was an awful Joker.