Friday, September 28, 2012

What do I have to be embarrassed about now?

The biggest blind spot on my List of Shame had been Sunset Boulevard, as determined in this post.

It took me nearly two years since the date of that post, but this past Sunday, I finally watched it.

Loved it, but discussing Sunset Boulevard is not why I'm writing today.

The point of this post is to figure out what movie should now take over as The Film I Am Most Embarrassed I Haven't Seen.

I could just choose one of the remaining eight films on the list I gave you previously (I tackled Spartacus last year). To refresh your memory, they were Gandhi, The Last Emperor, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, Platoon, Rocky, The Ten Commandments and West Side Story.

But I decided that since the year 2012 has seen a newly minted list of the best films of all time, I should draw from the Sight & Sound list for my new list of contenders for this (dis)honor. (And I promise I will stop talking about Sight & Sound after this.)

The problem with the Sight & Sound list is that many of the choices are very obscure, at least for your average film fan. I consider "your average film fan" to be a person who likes to see, in this order: a) most prominent new releases, b) the important older films that will deepen their perspective on the history of cinema, and then c) anything else they can get their hands on. As much as I might like to imagine myself having more pretentious ambitions than this, this is basically the type of film fan I am.

So you could say that I might be more "embarrassed" about not having seen a popular film like West Side Story or Rocky. After all, isn't this sense of embarrassment supposed to be derived from not having seen something you think you should have seen? I'm never going to be embarrassed that I haven't seen Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

So here is another one of those posts that I'm starting before knowing where it might go. What I'm going to do is go through the Sight & Sound top 250 and see which films I can legitimately describe as being embarrassed I haven't seen, then listing them below for your (and my) consideration, in the order that they appear on the list. If there's any overlap with the previous list, chosen from the more populist list of the films I haven't seen that are ranked highest by Flickchart's users, then that might really tell me something about what is "truly" my greatest blind spot.

1) Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau). The first best picture winner (sharing the award with Wings) is supposed to be an astonishing achievement. Its #5 ranking on Sight & Sound means that I should be embarrassed about not having seen it, if I'm not already.

2) Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman). I haven't actually spent that much of my mature life as a film fan with Persona even on my radar. Maybe that's the most embarrassing part. In the past couple years, the film has come up continually. As a huge Bergman fan, I have to see it.

3) Rio Bravo (1958, Howard Hawks). This is another one that's been coming up a lot for me in the last couple years. As a man generally disinclined toward Westerns, I have not gravitated toward this film previously. I'd say it's definitely the Western I'm most embarrassed not to have seen, but there are actually others that I won't name here, in order to keep my shame at a minimum. 

4) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone). And speaking of Westerns I haven't seen ... this one is up there as well.

5) Intolerance (1916, D.W. Griffth). Griffith was a racist m-er f-er, but I still feel like I should have seen this.

6) Once Upon a Time in America (1983, Sergio Leone). Wait, these are both by Sergio Leone? I didn't realize there was a connection between them, and in fact, I think I confuse the two of them. I'm sure they will cancel each other out, but I will list them both.

7) King Kong (1933, Merian Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack). This was actually one I thought of before I started going through the list. Probably one of the most iconic films I have never seen, if not the best. 

8) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy). Heard that this is wonderful. I guess it doesn't really scream out "embarrassing" if you haven't seen it. I guess I am still including it here.

9) The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks). This has come up a lot recently for me, especially since I just saw another incarnation of Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye.

And Sight & Sound yielded exactly nine unseen choices I thought would qualify as embarrassing, falling short of the ten I wanted. Of course, none of those titles cross over with the titles I considered previously. Which I guess demonstrates either a) my previous success at watching the populist films on the Sight & Sound list, or b) the list's true divergence from what is really populist (as determined on such sites as Flickchart).

Which kind of brings me back to square one.

So, I really need your help. Not only do I want to find the one of these 17 choices that is my new Greatest Blind Spot, but I also want to develop a pecking order, so I don't need to keep pointlessly revisiting this topic time and again. In fact, one of the main reasons I revisited it this time was that it did take me nearly two years to watch Sunset Boulevard. Once we figure out which of these movies I need to see most, I might end up watching it two weeks from now, instead of two years.

What say you? The choices again are:

The Big Sleep
King Kong 
The Last Emperor
Mary Poppins
My Fair Lady
Once Upon a Time in America
Once Upon a Time in the West
Rio Bravo
The Ten Commandments
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
West Side Story

Of course, I've also made this as murky as possible by drawing a distinction between "the best movies I haven't seen" and "the movies it's most embarrassing I haven't seen."

Make of it what you will. That's the great thing about loving movies. Not only can we rarely agree on the best movies, we can rarely even agree on the best terms to discuss those movies ...


Don Handsome said...

I've seen a lot of the films on this list, but I'm picking Sunrise because I haven't seen it and I'm hopeful that I could right that wrong along with you.

Of the films on your list that I've seen, I would say that you should see The Big Sleep as its one of the best noirs out there and must be appreciated. Also Once Upon the Time in the West (not a huge fan of OUATI America) is something that needs to be seen, though I'm not sure how ultimately important I think it is.

So any of those three.

Mark said...

I've seen all of these, and my vote would be for Rocky. It's the film from the list with, by far, the largest impact on the pop culture of the last 40 years, and I'd also add that in the wake of all the sequels, it has been forgotten how good it actually is — and how emblematic of the wonderful grittiness of 70s movies.

From there, one could make an argument as to why each of the remaining films needs to be seen. But to me, it's Rocky that stands out. And as a disclaimer, I hope it goes without saying that I'm not arguing that it's the best film on that list.

Nick Prigge said...

Oh boy. As much as I utterly adore the fireworks of Bogey & Bacall in "The Big Sleep" my vote goes to "Once Upon A Time In The West." In my admittedly rudimentary, totally subjective and personal Top 5 Best Ever that one makes the list.

Travis McClain said...

I've seen and loved Sunrise and Persona. I can't say that they're particularly "embarrassing" blind spots, though, since they're not nearly as recognizable as, say, Rocky. Joe Sixpack hasn't even heard of Sunrise or Persona, so he doesn't care that you haven't seen those.

If you live near a Cinemark, they're going to screen Mary Poppins on 17 October. I personally hate the movie, but that's hardly relevant.

Oh, and the answer to your title's question is: you're a Red Sox fan. That never goes out of style as something to be embarrassed about.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks for all the feedback!

Despite the several mentions of OUATITW and OUATIA (love those abbrevations), I think I am most convinced by Mark's argument about Rocky (seconded by Travis). It's easiest to put it in the form of this incredulous question, asked by whomever:

"You mean you haven't seen ______????"

Rocky fits there better than any of the other choices.

I will have to think more about the pecking order after Rocky, but Rocky is the winner here. Maybe Mary Poppins next.

Travis, well played on the Sox wisecrack -- we are especially vulnerable at the moment. I'd make a similar crack back to you, but my bold and totally random prediction for this postseason has Cincinnati beating Baltimore in the World Series. If that happens, you read it here first.