Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cocoon is not my 20th favorite film

You may have noticed a couple weeks ago that I added a feature to the column on the right side of the page: My top 20 films of all time, according to the rankings I continue to tweak in Flickchart ( The feature was intended to keep you up to date on my endless project of ranking and re-ranking all the films I've ever seen, as described here and here.

I've committed to updating this top 20 every Monday, as I gradually move toward an ever-more-perfect and ever-more-precise list of not only the upper echelon, but all 2,541 films (and counting) I've seen that are in Flickchart's database.

Only problem is, there hasn't been much movement in the top 20 recently. In order for a contending film to make its way to these hallowed heights, it must randomly come up against one of the films already in the top 20, and be better than it. With 2,541 films to rank, films like Run Lola Run and Raising Arizona don't always come up against the heavy hitters, which is why they currently stand at #116 and #165, respectively. On average, they should come up slightly less than ten times in every 10,000 duels (which comprises 20,000 titles). And when they do come up, they're just as likely to come up against Freddy Got Fingered (to use a favorite punching bag) or White Chicks as they are against ...

... well, against Cocoon.

There's nothing wrong with Cocoon. In fact, it would stand to reason that I consider Cocoon to be a very good film. Otherwise, it could never have landed in 20th place, reaching as high as 19th, in the first place.

But I don't want Cocoon to speak as loudly for my tastes as I am making it do now by listing my top 20 films. As much as it provided a sense of wonder and was truly touching to the early teenage version of Vance, there's probably something a bit cheesy about it as well, making it seem like a bit of a punchline. I mean, Steve Guttenberg was the star, after all.

But the brilliant thing about Flickchart, as I've described before, is that you aren't consciously shaping one giant list. You are making your decisions based on thousands and thousands (and thousands) of individual duels. And I remember exactly how Cocoon got where it was. It came up against Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, a film I like very very much. But Bottle Rocket is ultimately a slight and inconsequential film -- many Anderson fans probably haven't even seen it. And in that moment when I was pressed for a decision, I decided that Cocoon had had more of an impact on me than Bottle Rocket. Done and done.

What I didn't expect was that Cocoon would follow me around for the next three weeks, pesky and unwilling to drop out of the top 20. I found myself second-guessing the duel, based on this telling little reality: I felt comfortable with Bottle Rocket in my top 20, but did not feel comfortable with Cocoon there. Isn't that some kind of proof positive that I like Bottle Rocket better?

Could be, or it could be that I am more comfortable publicly admitting that I like Bottle Rocket better. After all, Bottle Rocket is the first film by a guy who has turned into one of our most hip filmmakers, and I still think this is his best film. I believe this was also the first time I became aware of Owen and Luke Wilson, Owen having written the script with Anderson. And Cocoon? It's directed by Ron Howard, who has come to symbolize the mainstream (despite making some undeniably great films), and it stars a bunch of old people who leave in a spaceship at the end. There's plenty of opportunity to make fun of me for liking it.

But I think that this also gets at one of the best truths about Flickchart: It should be used as a tool for you, for the way you really feel. If you like White Chicks better than Citizen Kane, Flickchart should be your confessional, where all your secrets are between you and whatever almighty power you may or may not believe in. I may have to de-friend you if I ever find out, but at least I will respect you for having the courage to use the tool as designed.

I have these dilemmas a lot when I rank films on Flickchart. Namely, "I know Film A is a better film than Film B. But for whatever reason, I enjoy Film B better." And that's ... okay (imagine me doing a Stuart Smalley voice). If you think about it, there's no point to Flickchart at all if it's not personal to you. If you are simply trying to recreate AFI's top 100 films of all time, what value is there in that?

So for now, Cocoon stays. It's in the top 20 until something I genuinely like more can defeat it in battle. Or, until something I like better than one of the 19 movies ahead of it can indirectly nudge it out of the top 20. It has earned this position, and far be it from me to begrudge Cocoon what it has earned. (Especially now that I've undermined it with this convenient little disclaimer.)

And it's kind of exciting, on the whole, that things are no longer as fluid as they were when I first got started. I'm excited for the idea that ranking my movies is a long-term project, one that will occupy me for years to come ... or until their servers get permanently overloaded.

If that means a film I like a lot, but don't love, lands in the top 20 and takes root, so be it. It'll be all the more exciting when the correct film really does, one day, displace it.

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