Lists have always played an important role in my own film education, and over the last decade or so they've taken on an increasing importance in my writing. A polemic of mine entitled "List-o-Mania"--an angry response to the American Film Institute's poll of the 100 best American movies, which provoked me into drawing up an alternative list of my own--may be the most popular piece of mine that's ever appeared in the Reader. The many responses to it eventually inspired me to come up with a list of my 1,000 favorite films for my last book, Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons.
Lists of movie titles have become more important to cinephiles in recent years because of the need to make informed selections from the wealth of what's available on DVD. But nothing quite prepared me for the spadework behind the Web site They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, which presents a list of the 1,000 top films drawn from more than 1,300 previous lists (including mine). This is supplemented with a blog by filmmaker Kevin Lee, who's seen more than 900 of the films in question, and two appendices of sorts: a 276-page PDF file with titles from the master list grouped by "All-Movie Guide genres, keywords, themes and tones" and a 125-page performer index.
I recently had occasion to look through portions of the 276-page groupings, which the bloggers intend as a guide to selecting films from the 1,000 that "best suit your mood at any given time." If you're wondering, as I was, how these categories play out, here are a few strange factlets I've compiled. "Genres," stretching alphabetically from "abstract film" (five titles) to "world history" (just one title, Shoah), consumes 40 pages. "Keywords," proceeding from abandon (eight titles) and ABC News (just one title, Breathless) to zombie (four titles, including Eraserhead), covers 146 pages. "Style," omitted in the above summary for some reason, stretches from "allegory" (quite a few) to "TV miniseries" (just two, the Decalogue and Heimat) and takes up only two pages; "theme," from "actor's life" (22 films) to "zombies" (three films, excluding Eraserhead), covers 30. Finally, "tone," which goes from "affectionate" to "wry" (plenty of each, but more of the latter), takes up 56 pages.
Like me, you may be puzzled about how "world history" functions as a genre that Shoah belongs to or what the keyword ABC News has to do with Breathless. But I can see some of the other categories proving to be useful research tools.