I had lots of lofty ideas and hopes in high school. I wanted to date my long-term crush Rosalind, visit Europe, catch an Eddie Izzard performance, and see a lot of great movies. Still haven’t made it to an Eddie Izzard concert yet…
My need for organization made the viewing of great cinema very list-based. I’ve talked before of my pre-Netflix film lists; this was no different. The first list I ever accomplished was Bravo TV’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Though some of those movies were instantly forgettable, a handful shocked the living daylights out of me. At the same time, I had a couple lists of American Film Institute’s 100 Best lists on my computer. As I saw a film or was in the mood for a classic, I’d reference the necessary list. On and off again I flirt with seeing all the Academy Awards’ Best Picture winners, but some of those films are real stinkers in my opinion.
Of all the lists, there has always been one that I’ve longed to complete. The Holy Grail of movie elitism and exploration: The Internet Movie Database’s (IMDb) top 250 films of all time. Based on an algorithm I don’t care to understand, ratings of films are calculated and given a total score on a 1-10 scale. The higher the number and the more votes it has, the more likely it makes it on the list.
In high school, during my pre-Netflix film list days, I decided to count how many of the films I had seen. My memory is a little hazy, but the highest I ever got was seeing 85 of them. Which wasn’t problematic except the list was living. Every day the list updated and recalculated. So my total would fluctuate through no fault of my own.
Since then, I would occasionally glance at the list and see what new films made the cut and add a few I’d not seen to my to-do list. That was, until last year.
Despite having a lot of family and friends nearby, I was eternally broke working for an insurance company right out of college. With the guilt of buying anything weighing on me, I turned inward. Fortunately I didn’t reach for the bottle, I reached for the computer. With IMDb’s list in front of me, I began my assault.
It slowly escalated. First it was adding one or two to my Netflix queue. Then it was clear that the movies I wanted to see and the rest of the list was quickly favoring the latter. So, I’d select five or six and go through them over the course of a month. If some were on Netflix Instant (and in English), I may put it on as I drove long distances to see my parents or my girlfriend. But then the number started to dwindle. As the list grew closer to 30, it became increasingly difficult to keep track of which I had missed. I almost blew past High Noon and Judgment at Nuremberg. So I started at the top and just worked my way down, but that wasn’t easy either. Littered along the bottom 50 were films that would test my patience and better managed free time from my exponentially improved job. I’ll admit, some of the films didn’t get my full attention, and a few I even skipped Act III, but I don’t have to fret over it anymore.
I’m completed the list.
As of this week I have seen every film on IMDb’s top 250 list. Through this marathon of celluloid, I’ve learned to adore Hitchcock whodunits, tolerate Japanese full-length cartoons, and witness the beauty of films in languages I have no intention of discerning. As I’ve explored this list of brilliant cinema, I realize that not all great films are included, nor are all films on the list truly brilliant. Many just don’t have the legacy that merits inclusion.
Of all the films I saw, some made me fall in love with cinema and others were merely educational. The ones that resonated with me changed how I viewed the moving picture. Below is a list of films from the 250 I watched solely to cross it off the list that wowed me.
Amadeus (Milos Forman) 1984
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg) 1967
Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen) 1981
Dial M For Murder (Alfred Hitchcock) 1954
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel) 2007
The Elephant Man (David Lynch) 1980
The General (Buster Keaton) 1926
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean) 1962
M (Fritz Lang) 1931
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick) 1957
Seven Samurai (Director: Akira Kurosawa) 1954
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman) 1957
Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam) 1995
Now, other movies caught me off guard. Some even blew my mind and shattered my world. I had almost no intention of watching many of the 250, but sticking with it gave me these aforementioned classics. Thank god I was wrong to skip them and gave them a chance.
If you look at the list, you’ll see it covers a pretty wide range of film history, from silent era to modern film. And many of them aren’t even in English, emphasizing my push for everyone to experience more foreign cinema.
With this list done, I can scarcely think of anything that would expose me to more films that have this diversity. And frankly, I’m ok with that. All those movies now ingrained in my memory will only make me a more appreciative cinema lover. Film is better discovered first, analyzed second. And I’ve discovered a great deal.