The Bottomless Well of Cinema

The other day, I was talking to my friend Ryan about lists. Ryan is a List Achiever (and proud we are of all of them). I have other friends who are also List Achievers. These are the people who find some sort of authoritative list of the 100, the 500, and even the 1,000 best of something–in this case, movies–and they feverishly assault the list. It consumes their movie selections until they can check off every last item. All of this led me to do a lot of thinking about the depth of cinema.

Let’s do some math for a second. Suppose for a minute that you have decided to watch every film on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Let’s also suppose that you are a total troglodyte and you haven’t seen any of these movies, at any point, in your whole life. This means you have to watch all 1,001 movies. Last but not least, we’ll say that you watch one movie every single day. It would take you almost three full years to complete the task. Three years! And that also assumes that you wouldn’t watch any other non-list movie. Whatever happens in your life can’t impede your one movie-a-day average. And even then, it’s nearly three full years.

Even Bollywood is a thing.

Where I’m going with all of this is that there is a bottomless well of cinema out there. You might be a hardcore cinephile, and yet still be completely unfamiliar with, say, samurai films, Italian Neo-Realism, or Magical Realism. Pick any genre or film movement. To truly understand it, you’re going to have to watch a healthy dose of movies to get a grasp on the subject. And there are millions and millions of films available to you.

I suppose this is what you’d call “one of those good problems to have”. And it’s true. The beauty of film is that there’s something out there for every single person. Everyone has a director, actor, era, or film movement that resonates with them. It would be amazing to know a little bit about all of these. But how much time does one person have? It’s almost a fool’s errand.

And that brings me back to the lists. I admire Ryan and my other friends because of their devotion to completing these lists. The same thing invariably happens every time I try to complete a list. I’ll complete 3/4ths of the list, and then some other facet of film history will pique my interest. I’ll run with the new interest, and the first list stays permanently frozen at 3/4ths complete. It borders on chaos because whatever goals I have stay incomplete. To be blunt, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with all of this. I suppose I’m just fascinated at how much is out there. The sheer volume is mind-boggling in a really wonderful way. I wish all of my problems were this enjoyable.


25 Comments

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25 responses to “The Bottomless Well of Cinema

  1. I enjoy writing and reading lists, but people sadly don’t often take note of the list or remember it, and like me, they never manage to watch all the films on a list they read. Unless they’re really devoted. I’m ploughing through the 1001 movies but I’ll probably be 30 before I see all of them, because some of them are quite rare and I’m not even at the halfway mark yet. Lists are often daunting, and I think they’re more useful as a guide rather than gospel.

    • It’s sort of the line between “completist” and “theorist” or what have you (not sure how to name that second category). If you really want to be a completist, there’s just so much out there. But I can see a small portion of something and get a general idea about it (theorist).

  2. The only list I’ve been following is the IMDB top 250, although I don’t only watch movies on the list I take my time completing it. I’m now around 200 (the list changes regularly) and set a goal for this year to add around 20 to it….

    Like you say, there are so many movies out there, which is a luxury I quite enjoy. So many choices to make! 🙂

    • That IMDb list is a lot of fun because there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit- stuff that’s really easy and fun to watch. I’m not actively trying to watch everything on it, but I find myself stumbling onto movies on that list all the time.

  3. This is something I think about a lot. Seeing as my movie addiction is fueled mostly by OCD, I get overwhelmed sometimes that I’ll never get around to seeing everything. There are still genres and film movements I have yet to even touch the surface of–Bollywood and anime–but I am glad that so much is still out there waiting for me to see.

    • I’m right there with you on both of those categories. I’ve made very weak attempts at anime and it just didn’t click, but I’m sure I’ll try again some day. I have no clue when.

  4. HA!

    Everybody loves lists, but they are the one thing I hate doing.

    Cos putting out a list of ten great yadda yadda I am always scared of getting shot down for being WRONG!! And that is generally the case, as I know very little about cinema and film, also as you say there is so much out there!

    Great article matey

    • My magic bullet a lot of the time- but not all of the time (see the recent drunk list I made)- is to say “Favorite” instead of “Best”. That way, if people say you’re WRONG!!!!, you can always point out that it’s your personal preference and not a hard line in the sand about what’s best.

  5. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I’m very much a list person. After college, the Modern Library came out with the top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and I started trying to read them all. After checking off 40 or so (some great books and others were on the list because they were different), I came to the realization that broad lists are trying to make everyone (fans of all genres) happy by including representatives from each genre. I also realized that there is a lot of great stuff that did not make the list. The same goes for the top-whatever movie lists. I came to the realization that there will always be a list that I haven’t completed. Besides, I will never recognize a movie list that doesn’t include Drive Angry starring Nicholas Cage or Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.

    • That’s definitely true about the criteria for selections. A lot of stuff makes lists because it was “important” at the time or something, but doesn’t necessarily age well.

  6. Phil

    I’ve been plowing through the lists, especially the aggregated They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? Top 1000 since 2006. After 6 years, I’ve gone from about 200 to about 550 seen. I’ll most likely never finish, but that’s okay.

    • Part of what prompted this article is that I’ve been using icheckmovies a lot lately (which you told me about, so big thanks for that). It’s making it easier for me to do the 100 Laughs list. Those 1,001 lists are so daunting. I don’t think I’m even halfway on any of them.

  7. Dan

    A few years back, I went through all of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies book (the first edition) that I hadn’t seen. There were some clunkers, but I also saw films I never would have checked out.

    Right now, I don’t really have the time or commitment to tackle such a large list. However, all the lists offer a great guide for checking out a wide variety of movies, particularly from a certain country or really specific genre. Sites like ICheckMovies are an excellent resource for looking at blind spots and focusing on different themes. That’s where I find the lists so valuable.

    Cool post. This is an interesting topic that I can’t talk about enough.

    • That’s a great point re: the blind spots and those lists.

      Prime example… I try to maintain a 50 Greatest French Films list. I update it each year on Bastille Day. There really aren’t many lists specifically about French film floating around. And the ones that do exist aren’t really authoritative. Thanks to icheckmovies, I found a really good authoritative list… and sure enough, there’s a lot on that list that I haven’t seen. I have my work cut out for me and it’ll probably be the next list I try to tackle when I’m done with the 100 Laughs list.

  8. Very nicely phrased post, John. Once I have the time and power I plan on conquering the imdb 250 list. That won’t take three years.

  9. Yea it’s amazing the number of movies you can watch, and how there is always more to see. I used to be one of those persons who only cared about recent releases and movies that were made in the past 5 or 10 years but becoming more of a film fan has allowed me to plumb the depth of the well a lot more than I ever thought I would. That’s one of the wonder of cinema I guess 😀

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  11. I am all about the lists. If a movie is featured on multiple lists over at icheckmovies.com, I will likely get around to it quicker than one that is not listed at all. I am pretty much all over the place in terms of which ones I follow, but I am getting a real kick out of the AV Club’s New Cult Canon right now.

    • Phil

      @Eric – I love the New Cult Canon list. Many of the movies aren’t very good, but they are all really interesting and entertaining. Scott Tobias is a great critic on the AV Club and he pops up occasionally on several movie podcasts.

  12. I think there really can’t be a list of best movies because of all the Genres and technology changes, but I am sure you could make a list of top movies by consensus.

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  15. mettemk

    I just love lists… the only one I’ve completed until now is the Top 50 shorts from IMDB, but at least that’s a start. Like most of us I try to get through the 1001 Movies, but my favourite lists are the 100 favourite films lists some bloggers have published. I really like watching those films, because it’s often a good mixture of indie gems and well-known movies I just haven’t managed to see yet.

    • I’ve had a lot of fun toying around with icheckmovies’ lists from the various genres. I haven’t finished any but I’m around 40 out of 50 on most of them. Crime and horror are each at 45.

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