If there is one thing we’ve learnt about pop culture it’s that it obsesses over making lists, just take one look on Imdb or Rotten Tomatoes. Last week, BBC released their list of “21st century’s 100 greatest films” with David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr taking the no.1 spot. What has followed is a stream of heated debates, ask anyone and they’ll tell you why a certain movie shouldn’t be there and why another movie should. Aside from creating a list that defines the 21st century, 16 years into the century, the list is somewhat problematic.
What exactly is it that qualified these films to make it into the list?
Is it academy awards? Despite many of the films receiving academy award nominations, under various categories, there are only three films on the list to have received the academy award for best motion picture.
So is it commercial success? We already know that critics and audiences don’t always agree, but considering the highest grossing movie of all time, James Cameron’s Avatar, failed to make the list it would not seem to be the case. Also failing to make the list were any of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings blockbuster trilogy, or anything from the Harry Potter saga, both of which have been influential franchises in the last 16 years.
As we’ve entered the 21st century, the grammar of film has changed significantly. Visual technology like special effects and CGI have become an integral aspect of filmmaking, yet we see no films like Gravity or Interstellar on the list, films that have exhibited mind-bending visual techniques and have exceeded the boundaries of cinema. So what was it that warranted these films to earn their spot as one of the 100 greatest films of the 21st century?
There is no justification for what these films have that other’s do not. The list was generated from a poll taken by 177 critics. That’s 177 opinions, out of everyone in the entire world, that chose, out of all the films that have been released in the 21st century, the 100 greatest films…
Making such a strong claim is not only reductive but the nature of claiming something to be so definitive is completely redundant in realm of pop culture. Pop culture boils down to perspective.
So it’s no surprise that since the release of the list, we’ve seen a mixture of delight and outrage, which has of course sparked some interesting discussions.
Among these discussions was the question of equality. While BBC’s list certainly showed a delightful diversity in the origin of these films, the list also exposed some of the larger problems that still exist in the film industry. First and foremost, the list is largely dominated by a male majority. Of the 177 critics that were chosen to participate in the poll, 55 of them were woman and that’s because currently, women only make up 27% of film critics. In the list, only 12 films are directed by females. But is this a problem with BBC’s list? No. The problem is seeded much deeper than the list, it is a problem that reflects what is clearly so evident in the film industry at the moment, that women are still having trouble breaking in. What is also very clear is that the critics are still heavily under the influence of the auteur. There were a number of directors that made more than one appearance on the list, Christopher Nolan appeared 3 times on the list while the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson appeared twice.
Film critics are here for a reason, they wouldn’t be critics if we didn’t value their opinions. They guide us in what is worth seeing and what to avoid. Their years of acquired cinematic knowledge should be respected, however it should never be accepted as anything more than a personal opinion. These lists give them too much credit. They do not hold an exact science for what makes a film worthy of becoming “the greatest film”.
List’s can be fun, they’re a great way of spreading the word about your favourite films, but it would be far more appropriate to call the list “100 great films” or “critics 100 greatest films”.