Top 100 Movies A Conversation on Lessons Learned. For the past year? I have been trying to do a weekly write-up on one of the widely held top 100 films in Hollywood’s history. Mainly because I was trying to understand what makes a movie “truly great.” I definitely have had a blind spot wrt the type of movies that the Oscar Community believe define a great movie, and I thought I would have a lot to learn. But the things I’ve learned so far, after a year or so of doing these movie watchings and reviews, are not what I would have thought I would have learned. And it’s funny, Lisa, out of the blue, started asking detailed, wide-ranging, questions after my latest Raging Bull movie discussion – which turned into a really intriguing roll up of the lessons learned to this point so far. At least it was eye-opening to me anyway… so I’m compiling it into a thread for my own benefit later. But I would love to hear your thoughts on this discussion as well! Chime in in the comments below.
Lisa: “I often think how through 80s having child brides was not so taboo in film or actually in life! This would be a completely different film now. I think about how many Woody Allen films portray really young girls as just completely dippy things but I have my own strong personal feelings toward that guy I’ll refrain from posting here.
“Anyway, I was looking through a list Shelby posted recently on Discord which had IMDb rankings of all the previous Oscar winning films and I noticed that many of the much older films were further down the list. It made me wonder if we are easier on films now in regard to reviewing or if they are actually better. I still don’t know. There’s so much more that goes into film-making now. But what I do know is that when I watch a film I previously thought as a great classic it often doesn’t resonate with me as much as it did in the past. The only one I can think of that really stands the rest of time for me is Amadeus.
“What do you think? Has watching these films had the same effect on you as when you first saw them for the ones you have seen before?”
Taylor: “That is a really great question actually. And it’s one I’ve been thinking about in variously nuanced ways. A) What does the zeitgeist of society at large have to do with it? B) What does it say about us today as people? Are we more complex? or jaundiced, or nuancedly intricate? C) What does the style of the times have to do with it vs. the styles of today?
“Let me extrapolate… because filling in a list with more lists is my super power! hahah. I, at first, thought that maybe the ideas of the generation – what mattered to them, was being reflected in their movie making. And while that is obviously true, it isn’t overwhelmingly different. I mean, look at Licorice Pizza… a movie that could have been made today, or yesterday, and it is loved equally well in either generation. The overwhelming things that movies were made about then, are being done today. So generally speaking, similar chords are being hammered on. (War, Peace, love, justice, humor… like, these are universal ideas… mannnnnn.)
“But what about that second point? Are we intrinsically more complex? Or dark, or jaundiced? I doubt it. I just don’t think humankind as any more or less complex psychologically. But we are infinitely more technologically complex (see point three.) But ultimately, people are people.
“Now, what about this third point? Modern styles? Could it be that society’s tastes are really what it is all about. Hell, in the 70’s, someone, at one time or other, thought it was a brilliant idea to craft orange shag carpet, and sell it to other human beings, who also thought it was a great idea to purchase it. I mean… come on. That literally makes no sense. And could it be the same way with movies? If you don’t think there are extreme stylistic choices that film makers make from generation to generation, you are kidding yourself. But is it that big of a deal?? Single word answer? YESS!!! Think about this for a second… when was the last time, in a modern movie theater, you saw the credits at the front of the film? It’s been decades. Why? Because modern movie viewers will not suffer a film’s self important bloviation prior to seeing it. Yes, we understand you guys care that you made the film… but we do not. A better example? Editing styles. Fast cuts, hand-held cameras, drone shots, etc., etc. Better (worse?), a movie’s shot length has declined from around 12 seconds a shot down to … wait for it, 2.5 seconds in 2010. Who knows what it is today! .5 seconds a shot? hahaha. Why? Well, to hold the viewer’s attention, that’s why. And kids today, when they watch an older film they feel the interminably of it. 12 seconds staring at our heroine?? As she hints that she knows the real killer’s identity by fiddling with her eyebrows? Are you kidding? We get it in 3 seconds max. And that still leaves a second left over for checking that Instagram notification.
“So, yeah – I really do think it all comes down to cinematic maturity. Which, also explains why perfectly good movies keep getting remade. Modern audiences can’t cope with slow edits, molasses long takes, and pedantic acting. Not to pat myself on the back with that point – but YES! Pedantic acting… thank you, may I have another? Gah, acting styles have dramatically changed more than any other single detail about movie making. Subtlety, that is the name of the game these days. But during the era of silent movies? They had zero room for nuance. There were too many technical hurdles to overcome. Right? In my re-watching of these older movies, that is a really huge take away that regularly makes me groan…
Now, to your specific question… the only movie I have watched from this list that has really blown me away… or surprised me? Is Taxi Driver. And I haven’t even gotten to it yet in the list. We did it as a Patreon Movie Watching thing, and I was just GOBSMACKED by how that movie ended. It was such a mature screenplay choice. Politically risky. And just amazingly brilliant. Especially seeing as though the film seemed to be heading in a totally other direction. But otherwise? It really hasn’t been too great of a list. Nothing shockingly good anyway. I mean, we are still down in the Holy Grail, Lion King, and Avatars of this 100 long movie list. So, who knows… it might better eventually? I really don’t know. I am looking forward to the timelessness of Hitchcock… Those should be interesting to re-watch.
Lisa: “Wow. OK. I guess you have been thinking about this as well watching the films on this top 100 list. But think about it- in 20 or 30 years people will laugh at our style choices of today much as we laugh at the shag carpets of yesteryear. Our films will also be dated to the next generations. Taxi Driver is a pretty extreme film for a number of reasons!
“You mention timeless and I rarely find this to be the case when I watch an older film. Even films like Godfather 1 and 2 seem just dated to me now.
“As for credits? Yeah. We fast forward through them at the beginning of a film or show and rarely stay to watch them at the end but usually when I watch something I’ve already been down the Google rabbit hole and already know who made it and who stars in it.
“I often wonder if as a society we are so used to the extreme right now that this is also reflected in our film and tv choices. Anyway, thank you for the extrapolation and I’m thinking about this even more now!
“What I found interesting is that Taxi Driver was made on a budget of 1.9 million dollars in 1975 I believe? The actors had to take pay cuts for some reason. Raging Bull a few years later- 18 million. And The Irishman just a few years back? 159 million. Yes, you read that right!
“So, does a big budget make a film better? Not for me. Of these 3 films, Taxi Driver stands out as the best even with the paltry budget. I liked The Irishman but not enough to think 159 million dollars was worth it! The Departed budget- 90 million in 2006, Goodfellas- 25 million in 1990. Goodfellas is one of my personal favorites but I think that’s more because of when it came out. I’m sure it would seem dated to someone watching it for the first time today. Anyway, do you think big budgets make better films? Please extrapolate as much as you wish!”
Taylor: “Budget carries a hype factor to it that is its own sort of snowball momentum. But that momentum can go one of two ways… good, and really bad. Think James Cameron’s Avatar movies. That goes well for him generally. Bad? Nick Carter maybe would be a good example?
“Flip this conversation on its head… the budget actually doesn’t matter much in my opinion. Sure, the DFX need to service the story, and it needs to seem believable. But MORE importantly? Is the screenplay. A perfect example in this sort of sci-fi world of ENORMOUS budgets, is Arrival. I think the film was like $45 or $50 million. And it brought in $200 million. Why? Because the screenplay was an impossible Gordian knot to solve, and Eric Heisserer solved it. It was about characters that mattered to the viewing audience, even in spite of the aliens on the screen, and the military. And when that reveal at the end made everything clear? It was because of the glorious brilliance of that screenplay that it hit out of the park. NEVER MIND that Eric had to sell the studios on a female lead (come on, the screenplay required it!) and had to convince the money to take a chance on original IP. Once they did though, and they made their money back multiple times over, it made sense. (Side note, it was Arrival that allowed Eric to start to take on some really cool stuff on his own e.g.: – Shadow and Bone anyone? Season 2 is out now!).
“A better – more extreme example than even Arrival (which some would say $50m is not a small budget) would be Infinity Chamber. $125k budget. I think Travis Milloy told me that he created that prison chamber in his grandmother’s garage? Or parent’s? I can’t recall. He spent his last few dollars to finish it in order to sell Christopher Soren Kelly on the idea. But that movie was 100% screenplay. One guy in a prison cell, talking to an AI prison guard? I mean… some consider it too heady. But whatever. Primer is the most famous example, but well-worn and overused. Look at that screenplay though – most mistake it to be a time travel movie… no. It’s a movie about what power, what capability, would cause a perfect friendship to break? And that is why that movie is so good. Not the time travel or special effects (of which there aren’t any! haha.).
“It is more expensive to make, and release a movie today. Of course. And our viewing tastes will not allow for lame special effects. I would argue though that budget really doesn’t matter for pure viewing pleasure. Look at Hippopotamus, or other closed box films. They are doable, for cheap, with a great script. All the budget, all the sci-fi wizzbangs though, are not going to solve a bad script. Nope. Not going to happen. And that is why, if I get a chance to interview someone on a movie, I always try first for the screenplay writer. If they are also the director, GREAT! But it’s the guy with the idea I want to talk to.
“I will say that in reviewing these top 100 movies, that I have come to appreciate why movies are remade now. I didn’t before. But I do now. A lot of these movies are good ideas. And are good scripts. And the acting is decent. But the cutting, and the aesthetics? Just come off as really tacky and dated. There’s that 70’s shag again! hahaha. But if you give them a modern color palette, and a quicker cut style? Money!”
Edited by: CY