We read these lists because we have strong feelings about films and as social creatures, we like to see our opinions validated. When allegedly respectable people disagree with us, we label their views as inferior. We express mock outrage because it’s fun to rip apart a writer on a message board or comments section. But ultimately, I think all of that misses the point. Lists, reviews, even news items: We should all read these things to be informed, not only about objective reality but also about subjective opinions. How else can our own opinions be refined and improved except in the presence of those that are opposed to ours? As the old adage goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” How boring, monotonous, and oppressive would it be if everyone just had the same opinion on every single film out there?
I still agree with this sentiment completely. Perhaps when I was younger and more foolish, I read lists to make sure that critics agreed with my own picks. But these days, I celebrate the fact that people have different choices. Maybe they’ll give me an idea for a movie to check out on the festival circuit, or maybe I’ll have more fodder to add to my ever-lengthening Netflix queue. Whatever the case, diversity in film opinion should be celebrated, not quashed. And when someone picks a film that you hate on their “Top 10” list, that should be more motivation to read their reasoning. Considering opposing opinions sharpens the mind, rather than dulling it.
I thought about that piece recently when I learned that legendary film critic Roger Ebert had commented on an article over at /Film. Ebert set the film blogosphere on fire when he tapped 24-year old writer/blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky to appear in his new At The Movies television show. Scrutiny of Vishnevetsky escalated shortly thereafter, a phenomenon exemplified by the comments in our piece listing his Indiewire ballot best films of 2010. Vishnevetsky’s choices were certainly unorthodox, but as I’ve already tried to explain, one’s justifications, reasoning, and criticism are more important than some arbitrary numerical ranking of favorite films.
Here’s what Ebert had to say about Vishnevetsky’s list:
I think it’s a good list. “World on a Wire” is a rediscovered Fassbinder. “The Father of my Children,” “Vincere” and “White Material” are on my Best Foreign Films List. I gave “Vengeance” 3.5 stars. Loved Jane Birkin in “Around a Small Mountain.” Didn’t see “Eccentricities,” but it was good enough for the official selection at Cannes. Do these posters know who its director is? I wager not.
The Romero I didn’t see. Every critic is allowed one weirdo title out of 10. It’s a tradition. All depends on *what he said about it.*
Bear in mind Ignatiy wasn’t seeing all the mainstream movies last year. Not his job. He went voluntarily to movies he wanted to see. This list suggests the extent of his knowledge and curiosity.
Some of these Slashfilm readers disappoint me. They criticize this list for (1) not rubber-stamping other lists, and (2) for, gasp, including films they haven’t seen! Typical of that conformist group I call the List Police.
I read the list and rejoiced that we had Ignatiy on the show.
Some of them disappoint me too, Roger. Some of them disappoint me too.
I’m obviously crestfallen that commenters displaying the intellect, manners, and capacity of middle schoolers are allowed to hijack such a conversation on our site (and that, on one of the few days of the year that Ebert ventures over to visit us, that’s what he has to see). But there are several factors that counteract my desire to throw my hands up in the air and just give up hope. Because, you see, I know that there are great deal of intelligent people reading our site, people who’ve written me e-mails containing thoughtful, lengthy discourses on the nature of John Woo’s violence, and on the merits of Martin Scorsese, and on the prevalence of chauvinism or masochism or hedonism in this film or that film. Their encouragement has been immeasurable to me.
I also know that we, as writers, can only do our best. And while some of the readers we are attracting may not leave the most respectful comments, we can all aspire to be better than we would otherwise be. It’s also possible, too, that one day our commenters will grow up and realize that there’s a great, big, beautiful world out there, full of people who hold different opinions than they do. Hopefully, we’ll reach that day soon.
[P.S. Mr. Ebert: If you ever get around to reading this, you should really check out The Tobolowsky Files. I think it’d be right up your alley.]