THE SMOKE's 50 FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 90's: WRAP-UP

FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 90'S: THE FINAL WORD

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'s 41 - 50>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 36 - 40>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 31 - 35>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 26 - 30>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 21 - 25>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 16 - 20>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 11 - 15>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 6 - 10>>>

<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 5 - 1>>>

 

  CHRISTOPHER FUNDERBURG

John, before we print this final wrap-up, don't you think we should discuss our methodology with the readers? I think how we ended up with this list deserves at least a little explanation, right? For example, the basic idea of how the list was assembled was fairly straight-forward: the five participating writers would rank their 75 favorite movies and depending on where the film was ranked it would be assigned a whole-point value, the values descending on a thuddingly linear scale: The #1 slot was worth 75 points, the #2 was worth 74 points, the #3 slot was worth 73 points...the #73 slot was worth 3 points, the #74 slot was worth 2 points and the final 75th ranking was worth a single point. The points each film received on each individual ballot would then be combined and, voila, A Brighter Summer Day (which ranked #5, #6 & #52 on the ballots for which it was chosen) would be given 70+69+23 points for a total of 166 points. Very simple and orderly.

But you initially started with the idea of a tiered system where the number of ballots on which a film appeared was first considered; and then the point values were tallied up. So, the films appearing on all five ballots would constitute the top tier - and that tier would then be organized by the same point-value system I just discussed. Then the next tier would be films appearing on 4 ballots, then 3 ballots and so on (theoretically, a film that was only featured on 1 ballot but had a #1 ranking or something could have even ended up on the list.) My objection was that this system valued consensus over passion and that that was the opposite of what we wanted - it seemed weird to me that because I had ranked The Celebration #75 (and threw it on my list at the last moment, having jettisoned my sentimental pick (Clerks), that ranking would cause it to be propelled over films that had more overall points. Additionally, the list would have ended up with a lot of films ranked highly that none of the writers particularly cared about - John, think of how hard it was to decide who would write about Toy Story (a film we all like but didn't have anything to say about) and then imagine a bunch of those movies creeping into the Top 20. I didn't want this list to parrot the consensus, I wanted it to reflect the passion of its creators - that's more worthwhile to me and the basic over-riding principle of the site in general. Anyway, that's also obviously why we called it "50 Favorite Films of the 90's," eschewing the more traditional "Best of" titling. Eventually, I convinced you to drop the idea of a tiered system.

Finally, a battle I lost: I hated the idea of an arbitrary endpoint, namely a "Top 50." Our Years in Review are explicitly not "Top 10" lists because I think that ordinal rankings of art are pretty bullshit in general (I'm sure you remember my irritating resistance to participating in this Top 50 balloting at all) and rankings that assign nonsensical cut-offs are even worse: if there are 12 outstanding classics in a given year, I'm writing about all of them. If there are only 4, so be it. There's nothing to be gained by adhering to a set number of 10 and, in fact, I think those kind of constraints are antithetical to useful analysis of art. In their very essence, predetermined sets of ordinal rankings make for stupid writing. So, the idea of a Top 50 irked me - instead, I wanted to either A) do a list of every single film mentioned on all 5 ballots, even if it ended up being the Top 283 or B) identify a noticeable drop-off point in terms of the points. That is, if Unforgiven had 150 points at #63, then Three Kings had 145 points at #64, but The Gun Betty Lou's Handbag had only 75 points at #65, then the our list would simply be a "Top 64 movies of the 90's." Again, if there ended up being no clear drop-off point, then we would just list every film. I obviously lost this somewhat silly battle. Once I accepted the idea of a ballot of 75 and only 75 films, I had already accepted an arbitrary cut-off and just needed to let it go.

What do you think, my friend? Are you disappointed Unforgiven got the boot after we nixed the "ballot consensus" method or happy that movies you and I, the site's founders, personally hate (like Buffalo '66 and Pulp Fiction) made the list because of the enthusiasm of their advocates? Does my truly inexplicable unwillingness to put Matinee on my ballot still stick in your craw? And what about my quixotic quest to put short films on my ballot (in the Top 20 no less!) despite the fact that no one else included short films? Are you as disappointed as me by the list's inability to account for experimental work (no Lewis Klahr or Barbara Hammer is a hot load of shit)? Do you think our list is needlessly iconoclastic or frustratingly conventional? Aren't you glad we don't have a comments section for this one? I know I am, after reading the response to the AV Club's Top 50 Movies of the 90's list (which appeared a month or so after we began publishing our list in installments) and they got assaulted for their totally reasonable lack of Shawshank Redemptions and Silences of the Lambses. I personally found myself surprised by how much I liked our final list, even if it is disappointingly Henenlotter, Wiseman and wuxia pian-free...

 

  JOHN CRIBBS

The tiered system was my flimsy attempt to calculate the five lists more mathematically, similar to how they tally the votes for the Academy Awards. I thought it should mean something that a movie ended up on all five lists, or got mentioned by four different people. Our #2 pick, for example, was placed highly on 3 lists but only ended up on 4 total: did it deserve to be placed higher than films that were recognized by all five contributors? I struggled with that, but ultimately it proved too complicated and didn't work out quite right: hence the decision to just use the point system and let 'em stand where they were. Was it the right choice?

Well personally, I think the list rocks. Especially compared to other rankings of 90's movies on the internet - the most recent example of course being the aforementioned A.V. Club compilation - our choices ended up being both satisfyingly eclectic and masterpiece-heavy. It certainly shames Slate Magazine's tame reactionary "alternative" list to the A.V. Club's selections, which prided itself on singling out films by minorities and women only to become yet another in a long line of would-be canonizers to exclude Chameleon Street. It also makes me proud that Gremlins 2 made our Top 12 - somebody please make Mr. Dante hip to that fact before he goes off praising the A.V. Club's "also ran" placement of his awesome movie. Even the titles that make appearances on most 90's lists fit pretty well: while I don't think our list is overly nostalgic, my own concession to the importance and influence of movies like Boogie Nights, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Pulp Fiction makes it seem right that they made the final cut.

I think we put a lot of thought into these selections. We spent weeks before the voting process started arguing over whether movies made for television like Surviving Desire and Lessons of Darkness counted, and whether movies that technically weren't released in the U.S. until the early aught's (Audition, Beau Travail) should be recognized. The results were interesting. I think a little bit of all five of our personal tastes ended up fairly evenly spread out on the list: assigning writing duties every 10 movies based (when possible) to whoever ranked each title the highest actually worked out great. Only five films ended up on all 5 lists and some of the 4's - as you pointed out - didn't even make it into the 50 due to low ranking on all four lists. Could we have handled the voting differently? Maybe allowed everyone a full Top 100? I can't imagine it coming out any better than it did.

As to the arbitrary ranking of a "Top 50"...you gotta have an ending point for these things or else they could conceivably go on forever. Honestly, if I had an infinite amount of free time and the opportunity to do this again, I'd actually want to go down everybody's list one pick at a time and have all five of us comment on the selections. It would be interesting to see who agreed with who, who hated what (maybe even allow the power of veto-ing other people's choices), what insights we had into each other's selection process, if and how our picks would have changed in light of the other lists. But since I robbed you of your dream 50+ list, below this intro the reader will find, revealed here for the VERY FIRST TIME!, the 14 titles that make up the extended list following the 50 we featured. To determine this extended list, I made the drop-off point right before the highest rated movie to have only 1 actual vote. That would be Ian's #1 choice, An Angel at My Table, its solitary yet high placement garnering it 75 points, and since Angel ranks at #65, by a strange coincidence the number you randomly selected above as a potential drop-off - 64 - is exactly where the drop-off occurs! Weird, huh? And Chris...you will be heartbroken - nay, devastated, to see where Svankmajer's Faust, your #2 pick, fell!

In the end, the reason I wanted to do this was to hear more from some of the 'Smoke collaborators whose opinions about movies I am truly interested in reading, and I just want to thank Ian, Stu and Marcus again for all the hard work. To me, these kind of things are worth doing just to motivate folks like these to write about movies they love. Pinn, I hope you aren't too miffed over the exclusion of Goodfellas, but I honestly like the idea of this list inspiring a reader to seek out Naked or A Brighter Summer Day rather than be the 10,000th website to recommend that film.

 

THE EXTENDED LIST

51. The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen - 2 votes, 96 points)

52. Faust (Jan Svankmajer - 2 votes, 94 points)

53. Hana-bi (Takeshi Kitano - 3 votes, 92 points)

54. Cemetery Man (Michele Soavi - 2 votes, 92 points)

55. Ed Wood (Tim Burton - 3 votes, 90 points)

56. Se7en (David Fincher - 2 votes, 89 points)

57. Three Kings (David O Russell - 2 votes, 89 points)

58. Happiness (Todd Solondz - 2 votes, 88 points)

59. The Quince Tree Sun (Victor Erice - 3 votes, 83 points)

60. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh - 3 votes, 82 points)

61. The Eel (Shohei Imamura - 3 votes, 81 points)

62. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese - 2 votes, 78 points)

63. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino - 2 votes, 78 points)

64. See the Sea (Francois Ozon - 2 votes, 75 points)

 

SO HOW'D IT ALL BREAK DOWN?

CLICK HERE FOR ALL FIVE INDIVIDUAL LISTS!

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