A Little Knowledge: The Greatest Movies of All Time?

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My movie brain - the red bit has just seen Transformers 2, that's why it's angry

Having reached a personal milestone this year (I have equalled my own personal record for the number of movies seen in a cinema in a calendar year), I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I’ve achieved. I’ve seen a diverse range of movies, with plenty from each of the major types that I tend to see, I’ve lost four pounds during a movie convention and put on half a stone at a film festival, I’ve lost some of the feeling in my legs on a regular basis and I’ve asked embarrassing questions of a variety of famous and important people at Q & A sessions.

I do feel it’s important to make the best of such sessions – there’s few better opportunities to expand your understanding than to talk directly to those people in the industry itself. Where I do find myself feeling rather exposed is in my own understanding and knowledge of movies; while I’ve been a hardened addict for two to three years, and a big fan for a lot longer, it’s only really in the last three years that I’ve started to expand the breadth and depth of my knowledge, and this week I became aware of how much I’ve still got to cover in some areas.

The Guardian published, over the course of last week, the list of the greatest films of all time. In case you missed it, there was a supplement published for each day of last week, showing the top 25 movies in seven rather arbitrary categories: romance, horror, comedy, sci-fi and fantasy, arthouse and drama, crime and action. While all such lists are entirely arbitrary and open to criticism, this one struck as good a balance as most between the more selective arty crowd and the more crowd-pleasing, populist Hollywood field. It also demonstrated to me quite how much I still have to experience from the world of movies. For the actual number of movies I’ve seen from their lists is as follow:

Sci-fi and Fantasy – 16

Comedy – 10

Action – 9

Crime – 6

Romance – 5

Arthouse and Drama – 3

Horror – 3

That’s a total of 52 out of 175, or a little under 30%. Statistics and surveys like that do pose a lot of questions, including “When am I going to find time to watch over 100 more movies (on top of the 100 a year I already watch)?”, “How on earth do I think I have the right to impose my opinions on others when I know so little myself?”, “Why did I buy the paper every day when I have the app on my phone and I have the flipping internet?”, and “Is Chinatown really the best movie of all time?” (You guessed it; shamefully, I haven’t seen it, although I probably know the entire plot from all the film articles I’ve read over the last couple of years.)

It’s a little daunting to think how long it would take to get through that list (although I do have a plan to cover a fair chunk of it; more on that another time), but it also begs the question, “Is it worth doing?” In my view yes – I’m going to go with the view that such an education is extremely useful but not essential for someone like me, partly because that helps to justify the gaps in my knowledge, but mainly because there are probably about three people in the country who’ve seen every one of the 175 movies on that list. Movies are there to be enjoyed, to inspire thought and debate or to challenge, but they’re not an exclusive club and the new deserve as much attention as the old. So we all offer our perspectives from our relative positions of knowledge, and it may help you to know where I am at now, but believe me, I will continue to expand my horizons.

In the mean time, I will continue to make my cinema attendance a priority, although if any classics do pop up at a local picture house, then I will try to make the effort, because cinema remains the best place to experience movies, and if you don’t agree, then maybe you’ve just not found the right cinema for you yet. But I digress. If I’m going to start anywhere, it probably has to be with the last question on that list, and the first movie. In Chinatown.

One thought on “A Little Knowledge: The Greatest Movies of All Time?

    […] else, I’ll be taking the opportunity to catch this while there, as I attempt to improve on my desperately poor knowledge of classic movies. Jimmy Stewart is also one of the finest actors of all time, so to pass up the […]

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