Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An unintentional Flickchart hiatus

Remember how I used to write about Flickchart twice a month?

You know, the website where you rank all the movies you've ever seen (as far as you care to go toward that goal, anyway), via a series of one-on-one duels to decide which film is better?

I'd have been writing more, but I took an unintentional hiatus.

When we last left off, I was involved in a project to re-add all my films to the database using what I considered a more accurate way for giving them an initial ranking -- the "by title" method, which ranks new films against films in the database until it lands in a position directly above a movie it beats and directly below a movie that beats it. The "by title" method of ranking was a new feature that trumped Flickchart's previous method of ranking new films, so I felt it was important for me to start over from scratch.

That project was satisfying and yielded interesting results. I still had movies that seemed out of place, but I think that's just because of the variability of how we'll apprise a film on a given day of the week. It's also inevitable when your personal database consists of more than 3,000 films.

It was a much more rote and banal project that actually got me hung up, leading me to go nearly four months without ranking a single film on Flickchart.

See, one thing I like to do with my Flickchart is to take "snapshots" of it -- pause at certain junctures and copy the results into an Excel spreadsheet. I guess this is my way of making sure that the work I've put into this never gets lost if Flickchart's servers one day go off line. But it also helps me track changes over time to see how much closer I'm getting to my "definitive" list. I've now got a new method for doing that which will make the snapshots easier, and use them to better determine how much closer I'm getting to Ranking Nirvana.

I won't bore you with those details right now -- I suspect the non-initiated among my readers are already growing impatient -- but I did want to say that the actual process of typing the films into the Excel spreadsheet felt very tedious this time, and led to really long periods of inactivity. Oh, and I guess I can use the excuse that I also went on two vacations during this time, one in April and one in June. See, I can't start ranking anew until I've finished the snapshot, because then the spots of the movies shuffle again, and the snapshot itself becomes meaningless. So finishing this tedious Excel project was paramount to resuming my Flickchart activities.

Anyway, the point is, I'm ranking again. And it feels great. And I want to write about it on my blog.

So this will be the first in a series called "Flickchart Tuesdays," where I analyze some aspect of my personal movie rankings and write about it. If you aren't into Flickchart, don't worry. I won't be talking archaic minutia about how the site works, at least not much. More likely, I will use the process of Flickchart as a background, to help me write posts like "My top 10 comedies." The nice thing about Flickchart is that it takes away some of the agonizing that arises when you try to make best-of lists just from your noodle alone. You know you'll forget certain movies that belong on the list. But if you've done your rankings properly on Flickchart, you don't have to worry about that -- you've arrived at big decisions, accurate decisions, over the course of thousands of small decisions.

Anyway, enough about the machinations of this website. It seems appropriate to start with the 20 films Flickchart has determined are my favorite, as a result of this painstaking process of reloading. They've been listed on the side of my blog, but time to delve into them (very) briefly and determine if where they ended up feels accurate.

I will start by saying one thing: Of these top 20, only seven are films I've actually watched within the last five years. I don't mean watched for the first time -- I mean watched at all. What this tells me, and the following will bear this out, is that I can absolutely love a film but not be compelled to watch it at regular intervals. Sometimes its greatness is just so obvious that it barely even requires additional viewings. You'd think this would make me doubt the results, but it doesn't. It just made me realize that we revisit films for different reasons, irrespective of their absolute quality.

Vancetastic's Top 20 Films, According to Flickchart:

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg). Example #1 of the previous phenomenon would be Raiders. Soon after I started this process, I realized that Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of only a few real contenders to end up as my favorite movie of all time. The thing is, I haven't seen it since 2005 or so, and even then I'm not sure if I saw the whole thing. I'm also not the type of guy who goes around gushing about Raiders, though I have a couple friends who do. Even more noteworthy is the fact that I don't own it -- repeat, I don't own my favorite film of all time -- and when given the opportunity to ask for it for Christmas, I asked for other movies instead. It would be very easy to have no idea that it was my favorite film of all time. I only know because of Flickchart, which made me realize that its just part of the fabric of my being. Its greatness does not even need to be discussed.

2. Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis). The other most serious contender for my #1 spot. Perfect script, perfect escapism, perfect movie. My only quibble: Why, oh why, didn't Marty just go back more than ten minutes early at the end? Good thing Doc was wearing that bullet proof vest. Again worth noting: I don't own this movie.

3. Raising Arizona (1987, Joel & Ethan Coen). And at #3 we finally get to a movie that not everyone in my generation would have in their top 5. This has always been my favorite Coen film, and it held my top spot under the old ranking system. It was worthy of it ... just not as worthy as Raiders or BTTF.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino). I have long thought Pulp Fiction was the best film of the 1990s, and this confirms it (for me personally, anyway). It feels a little cliche to have it this high, but come on -- it redefined cinema in many ways. It's also the movie I've seen the most number of times in the theater: four. Given that, #4 seems like an appropriate spot.

5. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner). In a way it feels wrong to have my first Star Wars movie be this low, because I ate, drank and breathed Star Wars when I was a kid. But if I'm ranking right now, which I am, I have to put these other four films ahead of Empire. If I get a duel between Pulp and Empire tomorrow, who knows?

6. Toy Story (1995, John Lasseter). This was the other film that spent a significant amount of time at #1 in my old rankings, until it was unseated by Raising Arizona. Clearly my favorite animated movie of all time, Toy Story has probably only "suffered" (#6 is "suffering," apparently) by my not having seen it in awhile, and the fact that I didn't love (but liked a lot) Toy Story 3. Unfair? Perhaps -- but this is still a lot higher than it would be ranked for almost anyone else I know.

7. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles). I just couldn't make "the greatest film of all time" my greatest, though there was a time when I wondered if I would. It's that good. Watched it two years ago and fell in love with it all over again. One of the rare times when a film being excessively hyped -- I always knew of it as "the greatest film of all time" -- didn't mean I'd like it any less.

8. Star Wars (1977, George Lucas). Is Citizen Kane better than Star Wars? I don't know. According to me, it's one better.

9. Fargo (1996, Joel & Ethan Coen). And the Coens make their second entry into the top 10. Bow down.

10. A Fish Called Wanda (1988, Charles Crichton). Charles who? Most obscure director in my top 10, but wow. I'd call this my favorite comedy of all time if Raising Arizona and (depending on how you want to categorize it) Toy Story weren't making a liar of me. Absolute genius from start to finish. Apparently this is also my favorite "foreign" film.

11. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley). James who? I usually dislike David Mamet, but this is just a tour-de-force in every way you can imagine -- writing, acting, and yes, directing. Least expensive movie on the list so far, to be sure. I just got this back from a friend who had borrowed it, and I'm looking forward to watching it again -- soon.

12. GoodFellas (1990, Martin Scorsese). Come on, people. It's GoodFellas.

13. Ghost (1990, Jerry Zucker). I never would have guessed I'd rank this so high -- it felt like the equivalent of having Titanic in my top 20. But watch this movie again. Not only is it absolutely transporting from an emotional perspective, but the script is so ... damn ... tight. And it's got that incredible Whoopi Goldberg performance. I was in love with this film when I first saw it, and after a number of years when I didn't think much about it, the love is rekindled.

14. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly). Would have probably been higher if I didn't love it slightly less on my last viewing. Still, an absolute cinematic mindfuck that also gets you emotionally. My favorite movie of the 2000s. Richard Kelly, what has happened to you since?

15. Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron). My newest movie in the top 20. I've seen it four times since I first saw it in January of 2007, making it my most watched film during that period. For good reason. Great story and some of the most ridiculous camera work you've ever seen.

16. Run Lola Run (1999, Tom Tykwer). See here. I cry when I watch it, and not even during the parts that are supposed to be emotional. That's how much I love this movie. Highest ranked foreign language film. Its five labels on my blog may also make it my most discussed individual film on my blog, even if some of the references were fleeting.

17. When Harry Met Sally (1989, Rob Reiner). Best romantic comedy of all time, even if I did recently discover that it's at least an homage and possibly a ripoff of Annie Hall, when I watched Annie Hall again.

18. The Princess Bride (1986, Rob Reiner). Second Rob Reiner in a row. Yep, this ranking is quite "conceivable."

19. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Frank Darabont). One of only two films (the other being Dumb and Dumber, which is currently at #36) that I tell people I watch all the way to the finish if I come across them on TV. I don't know if that's true, but Shawshank has roped me in more than once. Recently bought it but haven't watched my copy yet.

20. Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood). Best western of all time. Just got the BluRay for Christmas. Must watch. Soon.

And in case you're wondering what just missed:

21. Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam)
22. WarGames (1983, John Badham)
23. Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
24. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer)
25. The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird)
26. The Bicycle Thief (1948, Vittorio di Sica)
27. Bound (1996, Larry & Andy Wachowski)
28. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam)
29. National Lampoon's Animal House (1978, John Landis)
30. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, Mike Newell)

Thanks for indulging me. Back next Tuesday with more exploration of my movies. But back before then with other stuff, of course.


Travis McClain said...

Wow. Suffice it to say, our top 40s do not feature a lot of overlap. I haven't seen several of your list, but I dig most of what I have (just not as much as you, apparently!). I did not like Ghost much at all. I guess it's been about fifteen years since I saw it. Maybe I would respond differently today.

As for getting the Flickchart lists "just right," I'm not terribly concerned about it. I try to add movies as close to when I see them for the first time, which of course means those first ten rankings are prone to a distorted emotional state. I can be particularly generous if I enjoyed the movie, and almost hateful if I didn't. Eventually, that fades and those movies start losing (or winning) more matches until they settle into a more appropriate space.

My taste and predilections are constantly evolving. I'll find myself burnt out on a specific film, or actor or even a whole genre and then I stop having much enthusiasm for them. Braveheart is the only Mel Gibson movie I consistently still pick. Face/Off is the only John Travolta movie I can bring myself to pick since he chose to let his own son die to appease his Scientology cult master. I know I shouldn't let those kinds of external factors influence my assessment of a film, but the truth is they do.

So my Flickchart is constantly changing, every time I visit the site. I'm not terribly bothered by it because I figure if I die right now, whatever my Flickchart shows is the most accurate snapshot of my taste in films at the time of my death.

If it tells someone something about me that I felt Disney's animated Robin Hood (#90) was better than the classic 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood (#92), so be it. (In case you're wondering, #91 is Raiders of the Lost Ark, just to reinforce the point that our taste--while similar in themes and tone--is markedly different.)

Vancetastic said...

I think both of us having Raiders of the Lost Ark in our top 100 makes us at least somewhat similar.

Ah, you say our top 40s are very different, but I only shared 1-30 -- so maybe 31-40 are identical? ;-)