Choosing the greatest films I've seen is quite a simple process. They are the ones that have made the biggest impact, the ones I enjoyed watching the most.
Let me expand on my approach towards and criteria for selection...
A work of art cannot be objectively great. Each person's opinion is fact enough. In any case, why try to create, from different perspectives, a vanishing point too far away to be embraced by any one individual? Objectivity is a phantom. My 'objective' analysis would be different from yours. Everything is filtered.
Some say that technical brilliance, or rather technical proficiency - the ability to manipulate the resources and materials of film-making as you wish - is absolute and that such craft alone could qualify a film for praise and inclusion in lists like this. Yet there is a gulf between technical proficiency and a fine artistic product. Art is magical; it has a soul as well as a body. An expert in the tools of film may not have anything special to say and show with them. Why is a ten-minute tracking shot necessarily wonderful? Who decides on these rules?
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Anton Chekhov once said "I divide all literary works into two categories. Those I like and those I don't like. No other criterion exists for me". My favourite films are the ones I consider the best ever made (writing "to me" or "in my opinion" is unnecessary). These are films I would recommend in the hope others will enjoy them as I do rather than films one 'should' see to have an overview of cinematic history or a familiarity with what has been canonised.
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It is sad when people apologise for what they like because it goes against the grain or the tyranny of the accepted : "I know it's no masterpiece but...", "guilty pleasures" etc.
Sometimes you don't know why you like something. That does not make what you think invalid. An opinion such as "this film sucks" or "this is awesome", though more interesting to others if it can be explained intelligently, does not need to be 'backed up'. Each person's opinion should be respected and cherished. I'm excited when I read someone say that they love an unpopular film or a film I don't like because I'm shown a different way in which it can be seen.
This is a sort of objectivity, the open-ness to allow others' experiences to bleed, often subconsciously, into your own.
There's a never-ending battle to be honest about what you like (even to yourself), to not pick something that you'd like to like or that would make you look knowledgeable. You also have to try not to smuggle in a left-field choice to flaunt your (therefore non-existent) open-mindedness.
I hope my Top 50 is entirely honest.
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I decided that a film doesn't have to 'bear repeat viewings' given that so much of what makes a story is the surprise and freshness of the big sweep and the small details.
For this reason films that I enjoyed as a child would not have to pass another test in adulthood. One's impressions of films change without seeing them again and as long as that memory of that impact is still strong now then that is enough. In this sense there is an element of something standing the test of time, though less in terms of being dated in style or politics or theme and more in terms of maintaining its grip on the imagination.
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Why make a list at all?
It is amusing when so many books and lists of 'Great Films' openly shy away from ranking their choices. They say 'how can you coldly and crudely separate films that are all brilliant in their own right? How can you reduce art to lists or to a rude contest?' They are more than able to separate the wheat from the chaff but then balk at separating the best from the even better.
If you evaluate more than one thing it's hard not to compare them, and once you've compared it's even harder not to rank them. It's natural.
The next post will be films 50-41.