Sunday, November 14, 2010

The best of the letter A

Okay, Vance. Now you've gone off the deep end. Ranking your favorite movies by alphabet letter?

Not exactly, though this is the one moment when it will actually work out that way.

No, what I'm actually doing is re-loading my Flickchart alphabetically. And I thought I'd stop after the 159 movies I've seen that start with the letter A, to see how I'm doing.

If you don't know what Flickchart is ... well, go back and read my previous 13 posts on the subject. And if you don't want to read more about Flickchart, stay tuned, because we'll be discussing films tangibly rather than abstractly in just a couple paragraphs.

In my last post, I told you how Flickchart had made some major site upgrades that would help you rank your movies more accurately within your overall list. Each time you add a new movie, instead of dueling it three times to get it in the general vicinity of where it should go, you duel it the exact number of times it needs to get to its exact right spot. So when you're adding a movie for the first time, its first duel is against the title that's in the exact middle of your list. If it beats that movie, then it fights the movie at the 75th percentile; if it loses to that movie, it fights the movie at the 25th percentile. And in this way the rankings keep halving themselves until the movie in question reaches the exact right spot, smack dab in between a movie it lost to and a movie it beat. In my last post I said this could require 10 to 15 duels, but I actually think it may be no more than 12. I've heard that no piece of paper can be folded in half more than 12 times, and the same may be true here. If you're "folding" the list each time, it should arrive at the exact right spot by the 12th duel at the latest. Right?

As I discussed in that post, this is a revolutionary way to add new films. But on Flickchart discussion boards, a much more revolutionary type of revolution was being discussed. The hot topic was whether it would make sense to reload one's entire list using only this method, on the theory that, brick by brick, you would build your perfect rankings.

A couple brave souls were willing to try it. Others worried about losing all the rankings they'd already accumulated by clearing their rankings. I was a bit worried about that too, but my bigger concern was that it wouldn't work. I thought that without the existing movies to help you, you'd have no basis for ranking new films. I argued that you needed the current list to help figure out where the new movies should go.

However, I later realized the fallacy of my own argument. You'd build that reliable base as you went along. If A was better than B, and C was better than A, you'd be sure that C was better than B without actually having to stage that particular duel. And once you have A, B and C ranked correctly, you can confidently rank D while only needing to have the minimum number of duels to get D to the correct spot. It would continue onward this way infinitely, until the list was theoretically perfect.

A theoretically perfect list. You've got my attention.

I had been a purist in my own method of ranking to this point. But I also have a scientific mind, so it was my scientific duty to go forward with this experiment.

But I was still worried about throwing more than 94,000 rankings into the garbage by clearing my rankings. So I did the next best thing. I started a new Flickchart user account for the purposes of this experiment only. I would consult my master movie list, the one I've been keeping in an Excel spreadsheet for 20 years, and re-add all my movies on this new account. And then I'd have two lists of slightly less than 3,100 movies to compare to each other, to see which was more accurate. I was already salivating at the prospect, and I dug in for the long project ahead.

This was about a week ago. I got distracted for a number of days in the middle as the guys at Flickchart worked out a bug or two, but have been back at it the last couple days, re-adding my movies in down moments at work and home. Tonight I reached the end of the As, all 159 of them.

Only slightly less than 3,000 more to go.

To see how I'm doing, I thought it would be fun to show you how I've ranked these 159 movies, from first to 159th, and add my comments about whether this system is working as it should be. The variable, of course, is my own whims about how to rank films at a particular moment in time. My sometimes arbitrary determinations about the relative strengths of films is bound to shift depending on moods etc., so even these rankings may not be perfect perfect. Then again, since our feelings about the movies we love and hate also undergo changes, based on repeat viewings and the natural contemplation of time, close to perfect is as close to perfect as I'm ever going to get.

Shall we take a look? I'll stop after each ten to make comments. Oh, and for those of you who are anal about style, I'll be dropping the italics I normally use for movie titles, in deference to the large quantity of them I'll be discussing.

1) Almost Famous
2) Adaptation
3) Airplane!
4) All About Eve
5) Apocalypse Now
6) All the President's Men
7) Agora
8) Apollo 13
9) Annie Hall
10) Away From Her

A pretty solid top ten. Almost Famous takes top honors and rightly so. I think Away From Her might have snuck in ahead of some worthy candidates in the next ten, but I can't quibble with what's here, based on my own affection for these films.

11) Alien
12) Apocalypto
13) Amelie
14) Atonement
15) Awakenings
16) Away We Go
17) About Schmidt
18) American Movie
19) The Apartment
20) Amores Perros

It would be fair to argue Alien into the top ten -- I know people who have it in their top ten movies, period, let alone their top ten of the letter A. I also have gone back and forth on Amelie but think it could be higher. But I can't deny that these next ten are consistent with the judgments I made. Whether these are the choices I would make again, they do indicate that the system is working so far.

21) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
22) Arachnophobia
23) Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
24) Airplane II: The Sequel
25) Aladdin
26) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
27) Audition
28) Alpha Dog
29) The American President
30) Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Some great comedies in this most recent set, eh? You could argue that Airplane II is close enough in quality to Airplane! to be higher, but I'm okay with this. Hey, I watched Ace Ventura three times the first time I rented it. Leave me alone.

31) The Aviator
32) American Psycho
33) The Anniversary Party
34) Another Day in Paradise
35) Antz
36) American Beauty
37) Aguirre, the Wrath of God
38) Across the Universe
39) Apt Pupil
40) About a Boy

The Aviator was the movie my wife and I saw on our first date, so it should probably be higher. Some solid selections here. American Beauty, like many best picture winners, seems to be more a function of the moment it existed in than an enduring classic, and this ranking recognizes that. Love American Psycho and would like to see it again soon. Will probably be seeing Across the Universe a second time soon with my wife.

41) Aliens
42) Au Revoir Les Enfants
43) Affliction
44) Amadeus
45) Auto Focus
46) Adam's Rib
47) American Pie
48) After Innocence
49) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
50) Antonia's Line

Aliens could be higher. It's a very fun movie of course, but I haven't seen it in eons. American Pie misses out on the comedy royalty accorded the likes of Airplane, Austin Powers and Ace Ventura.

51) The Addams Family
52) Adventures in Babysitting
53) Angel Heart
54) Army of Darkness
55) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
56) Along Came Polly
57) American Splendor
58) The Andromeda Strain
59) Australia
60) The Amateurs

Fond feelings for The Addams Family because I saw it on a date in high school with a girl I liked. Army of Darkness could be higher, but its first 15-20 minutes is really the best part. Liked Australia more than most people.

61) Angela's Ashes
62) And Then There Were None
63) The Abyss
64) Abre Los Ojos
65) Amreeka
66) All of Me
67) An American Werewolf in London
68) Avatar
69) Air Force One
70) The Ant Bully

Others like Werewolf more than I do. I was surprised to see the relative rankings of the two James Cameron movies, The Abyss and Avatar -- I'd have thought it would be the other way around, but maybe Avatar really is not that good.

71) Atlantic City
72) Alfie
73) The African Queen
74) The Apostle
75) As Good as it Gets
76) Angel-A
77) Aeon Flux
78) Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
79) All About My Mother
80) Aquamarine

The African Queen is a movie I don't love, though I recognize others do. I know I liked Aeon Flux and Aquamarine more than most, the first because I saw an advanced screening at the studio. Aquamarine is really sweet.

81) American History X
82) Amistad
83) American Graffiti
84) American Gigolo
85) The Aristocats
86) American Pimp
87) All Quiet on the Western Front
88) After Hours
89) Ali
90) The Accidental Tourist

Things are starting to get more mediocre. American History X lets me down a little bit. I used to like The Accidental Tourist a lot more until I saw it again this year and really did not like it very much.

91) Anaconda
92) Akira
93) Always
94) ATL
95) Arlington Road
96) American Dream
97) An American in Paris
98) Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights
99) Amazon Women on the Moon
100) American Pie 2

Even though it's a best picture winner, An American in Paris left me cold. Anaconda could actually jump up into the next ten -- it's fun. Akira is an anime classic, but I don't like anime that much, so this ranking is appropriate. Eight Crazy Nights is more fun than you would think.

101) American Teen
102) All Over the Guy
103) The Aristocrats
104) Alien Resurrection
105) After the Sunset
106) American Gangster
107) The Astronaut's Wife
108) Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
109) Ali G Indahouse
110) Anger Management

A couple possible mis-duels here -- American Teen should be higher, After the Sunset should be lower. But, I can live with it. This is a somewhat accurate reflection of my feelings on American Gangster, which I did not like when I first saw it, but liked better on a second viewing.

111) A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
112) Against the Ropes
113) The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
114) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension!
115) Antichrist
116) All About the Benjamins
117) Alien 3
118) Arthur
119) Are We There Yet?
120) The Associate

A.I. gets points for effort, but it's just not as good as it should have been. Munchausen and Buckaroo Banzai may both be cult classics, but I'm not in that particular cult.

121) Awake
122) At First Sight
123) Austin Powers in Goldmember
124) Arthur and the Invisibles
125) Ask the Dust
126) Any Given Sunday
127) Aspen Extreme
128) Arctic Tale
129) Around the World in 80 Days
130) Absolute Power

There's a pretty big drop-off between the third Austin Powers and Arthur and the Invisibles. Not much to say about the others.

131) Astro Boy
132) All the Right Moves
133) American Outlaws
134) Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
135) The Answer Man
136) The Astronaut Farmer
137) Armageddon
138) August Rush
139) American Buffalo
140) American Dreamz

Things are getting sour here. Astro Boy was one of the most depressing children's movies I've ever seen, and not in a good way. Armageddon is craptastic, and not in a good way.

141) Are We Done Yet?
142) The Amati Girls
143) Accepted
144) Adventureland
145) Addicted to Love
146) Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
147) Analyze This
148) Albino Alligator
149) All the Real Girls
150) Annapolis

Getting into the basement here. I know most people like Adventureland a lot more than this, but I found it to be misanthropic and sad. When Nature Calls is no Pet Detective.

151) Alex & Emma
152) An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn
153) The Air I Breathe
154) Air Bud
155) An American Haunting
156) All the Pretty Horses
157) Almost Heroes
158) An American Carol
159) Art School Confidential

The worst of the worst. My hatred for Art School Confidential rears its head again -- I mean, worse even than Almost Heroes and An American Carol? Apparently, yes. Flickchart doesn't lie.

And because I'm so confident in that basic idea, I'm super excited about where this project may lead. If this sample size is any indication, the perfect list is attainable in our lifetime.

Now, on to the B titles.

Only 256 of those.

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