Back in January, when we assembled our respective end-of-the-year lists, I had a spirited discussion with Franz about the merits of such list-making. Franz enjoys making them, but he doesn’t always enjoy the ranking aspects, as he fears it’ll create a debate about where a film is placed on the list, when we should really be discussing why it merits a mention. I see his point, but I guess I have a somewhat more relaxed attitude toward it. That’s perhaps because I always construct my list with an eye to the hierarchical. I mean something by it when I put a movie at #1 and not at #4. But the hierarchical ranking isn’t the only starting point for a debate about the quality of movies. Even I know that the ranking itself might draw distinctions that become less rigid once we get down to the details. That is where Franz and I meet.
I don’t know what Franz thinks of Flickchart, but the site, which lets you rank movies across genre, years etc., is something of a gift for listmakers like me. The idea is simple: You register, and then you have to pick a favorite between two ramdomly selected movies: Is Lost in Translation better than Toy Story 2? Do you prefer Coyote Ugly or Antichrist? How about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The White Ribbon? You get the picture. When you’ve clicked a number of times, the site starts to compile a constantly updated list of your favorite movies. It’s dangerously addictive.
Of course, the lists won’t match your personal canon perfectly. Popular movies like, say, The Matrix, tend to come up more often than arthouse favorites like Mysterious Skin (my #1), and there’s a bias toward Anglo-American movies. But if you’ve clicked as many times as I have (more than 9,000) and also singled out particular movies in order to give them a bump up the list, after a while it will at least start to resemble your list of favorites.
But although I’m a hierarchical movie guy, Flickchart also has warmed me to Franz’s position. In the end, the joy of Flickchart isn’t about whether Happiness is necessarily a better movie American Beauty (and those are movies that share some thematic ground, making a comparison fairly easy), but it’s fun to think about how movies have held up over time, to weigh against each other, or to discuss with yourself how you could possibly declare a winner between the two of them. It’s the getting there that’s the point. Although you have to choose one (I’d go with Happiness), that doesn’t mean that I don’t admire them both for their respective quality. Often, the result rather is that I’m reminded of what I love about both of them. American Beauty has an iconic score, beautiful cinematography and an underrated thriller aspect, whereas as Happiness is worth remembering (and rewatching) for its frankness in dealing with a touchy subject, its twisted sense of humor, and its backhanded humanism.
Before you narrow it down (to, say, choosing between your top 100) most matchups will be quite lopsided. I will never have trouble picking a favorite between The Breakfast Club and The Ghost and the Darkness (I’m with the former) or between You’ve Got Mail and Wonder Boys (the latter). But aside from these lopsided matchups, and what we might call the clash of the titans (say, The Social Network v. Stand By Me), there is a third category. I won’t make much of a difference in your top 100, but how do you choose if you don’t have any clear preference for either of your choices? Let’s say you were faced with Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, or Valentine’s Day v. Dear John? I hated all four of them intensely, but I had to make a decision. Even if it’s just me who gets to see what I’m doing, I don’t like the thought of making a half-endorsement of any of them, so most often I just decide to go with the ones I’d least hate to see again. In this case, that’d be Percy Jackson and Dear John. At least Percy had Logan Lerman, a shorter running time and some (mostly unintentional) humor sprinkled throughout. Dear John ekes past Valentine’s Day for some of the same reasons. It too is unintentionally hilarious (I mean, the way these people meet!), and at least it has a much smaller cast of totally loathsome characters than the one it’s up against. A couple of thousand such inconsistent yet deeply personal decisions later, maybe your Flickchart will start look like something you could show your friends. If you’re really lucky, and you if know when to stop, you might even get a fresh way to think about movies and why you love them.
My Flickchart Top 20, as of today:
- Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
- Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
- Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
- The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
- Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
- Imaginary Heroes (Dan Harris, 2004)
- Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)
- Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998)
- Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
- The Godfather, part I (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
- Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)
- Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)
- The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2004)
- The Lion King (Roger Allers, 1994)
- Titanic (James Cameron, 1998)
- Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003)
- Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2003)
- Igby Goes Down (Burr Steers, 2002)
- Once (John Carney, 2007)
- Apocalypse Now! Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001/1979)