Archives For Close Encounters of the Third Kind

If you’re not already a regular reader of Matt Singer’s Indiewire Criticwire blog, you’re seriously missing out. Every day, Matt posts amazing content and commentary about the state of film criticism and film appreciation. Some of the best film discussions on the net begin or end up at Criticwire, which makes it an invaluable source for cinephiles today. But what about those budding cinephiles out there? What about the kids who aren’t yet exposed to the wider world of film? Well, Criticwire has that covered this week with the latest entry in the Criticwire Survey column. Every week, Matt Singer poses a question to a selection of online film critics and then posts the responses. This week he had a particularly interesting question submitted by contributor Rania Richardson.

“I mentor a 14-year-old from Harlem and nothing would make me happier than to have her enjoy ‘art house’ movies. She goes to Hollywood movies in chain theaters, and doesn’t particularly like what she sees. Of course, the fact that she’s African-American makes it even harder for me to find movies that I think would speak to her. She is sophisticated and would probably not mind some subtitles and nontraditional narratives. Help!”

It’s a really great question. What “art house” movies could you recommend to a kid about 14 years old who hasn’t yet had much exposure to films outside the Hollywood norm? The answers were varied, and in some ways quite indicative of the people recommending. Particularly interesting to me were the responses that I couldn’t imagine subjecting a kid to. Click to read more.

First, I have to apologize. On Monday I published a piece that, first and foremost, was poorly written. I should not have published it for that reason alone. It sparked discussion, both here, at Alex Thompson’s blogJames Ewing’s blogs, and on the Filmspotting forum. Worse still, I wrote a post specifically designed to draw a reaction without consideration of the meaning of my words. The idea was to write an article that James could then respond to, thus starting a bit of a back and forth. I certainly succeeded at this, but I staked out a position so extreme that it lacked any semblance of logic or reasonability.

This is where the retraction comes in. Many of the things I said in that piece, most notably the idea that only narrative films are “real” films, were not representative of what I truly believe. I was playing provocateur, and doing so poorly. I was pushing some legitimate views to a disingenuous extreme, like a cinephilic Mitt Romney selling out my integrity to sound like a Tea Partier. It was stupid, and I take it all back.

Well, not quite all of it. There were, of course, kernels of truth to which I can still attach myself. Primarily, the power and importance of storytelling in cinema. Now, let’s see if we can go ahead and talk about it reasonably. Continue Reading…

Because you can’t do a blog that focuses mostly on movies without having some sort of “Best Films of All Time” list.

Except, I have a love-hate relationship with those types of lists. I find there’s something terribly artificial and arbitrary about them. I love reading them, and disagreeing with them, or find out about new films from them, but I hate writing them, and ultimately I don’t value them as true representations of how anybody actually feels about the films they watch.

I think in the last year alone I’ve mentioned over 100 films as being in my “Top 100”, and this is despite never in my live having compiled any such list. I have attempted to compile a Top 20, but beyond the first ten it’s usually a wash, and even the rankings within that first ten are all over the map.

And then there’s another problem entirely, which is the Best vs. Favourite dilemma. In my mind there are two ways of considering a film’s quality. They definitely overlap, and they can be nigh impossible to separate, but I still find that I have to make a distinction. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that my favourite movie of all time is Back to the Future. I love it to death and I have watched it more times than anybody should probably watch any movie. But is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? Can such a distinction be made? I have held for many years that the best movie ever made is Apocalypse Now (and I’m one of those crazy people who prefers the Redux).

What does that mean? Would it be more correct to say that I think Back to the Future is the best movie ever made simply because it’s my favourite film to watch? Should I call Apocalypse Now my favourite film simply because I think it reaches heights of artistic expression not equalled by any other film I’ve seen? I’d say that the distinction must be made, but cannot be properly defined. This only makes the process of creating a ranked Top 100 even more frustrating and more arbitrary, which renders the actual rankings inherently meaningless.

All this is to say that I have decided to completely forgo a Top 100 list in favour of something very different. I’m calling it ‘The justAtad Essentials’.

The justAtad Essentials will be an ongoing collection of films that I consider essential viewing. These are the films that, if I had a Top 100 or 200 or 300, would likely make the chart. The way I’ll be breaking the list up is quite simple. The first entries will form a list of twenty films that I would generally consider my “Top of All Time”. These will be a mixture of that “favourite” and “best” that I was talking about, and they will be left unranked.

Following those initial entries, I will continue to post unranked lists, but instead of simply throwing them up on the blog under the ‘Essentials’ title I will place them into categories. The categories will be thought up as they come to me, but examples might include ‘Essential Westerns’, ‘Essential Adventure Films’ and ‘Essential Romantic Comedies’. The categories will likely get more specific and esoteric as I go along, but don’t get too invested in them. I’m not using the categories to necessarily delineate the very best films of a particular genre. I’m simply using these categories to create lists of films I consider essential viewing while also connecting them by recognizable themes or features.

Alright? Everything settled? Let’s get started then! Click to see the list.