I am hoping that my editor recognizes the importance of this article and puts it out there because I feel a tad attacked for my recent DGA article and my placement of The Artist on my ten best list.
The ten best list has always been just that to me, the ten best films I saw in that particular year.
The top film might be a masterpiece, though not always, while the others in declining order could be equally great to good to down as far as average, it depends on the given year. I found 2011 wanting in great films, though there were several good to average films, some of which made my list, others missing by a hair. This is normal for me and has been since the eighties!! The last year I can think of when the list was crammed with truly great films was 2007, and then we had such works as There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Away from Her, Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd and others populating the film year. The difficulty that year was arranging them in the right order after There Will Be Blood because it was simply too challenging!!
Other years, yes, I have included average films because they were the best of that year!! Does anyone really believe that there are ten genuinely great films released every year?? Look at 1984 when the very best was Amadeus (1984) followed by Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and then several very good to average films!! Worse was 1987 when only Empire of the Sun (1987) would qualify as a great film, the rest good, again, to average. My God, 1996 was a tricky year because my choice as the years best was Trainspotting (1996) followed by The Crucible (1996) neither of which I would hail as a masterpiece, but indeed the best films of that particular year.
The shock over The Artist being on my list as an average film came as no surprise to me because I felt the year in general to be a very weak one, with just a trio of films to be hailed as truly great. And what is truly great?? For me when I select a film as great it is a film I believe will still be discussed fifty years from now. Of course I might be wrong, just as the Academy has been wrong in choosing the best of the year.
Time is the great enemy of all films. It erodes, chips away, exposes weakness, and fades the perceived greatness of some films. Remember Gandhi (1982)? Just one year after winning eight Academy Awards, I remember talking to Academy members who were ashamed they were sucked into believing that was the best of the year!! “We honored the subject, not the film” one of them said to me.
Is the same not true right now of Slumdog Millionaire?? Once thought of as ground breaking and revolutionary, on second viewing it became clear the film was an old fashioned romance set in India with subtitles? Now even members of the Academy scratch their heads as to how the film won Best Picture.
You might get three truly great films a year. Three, not ten, rarely ten, though it can happen. 1974 was loaded with greatness, The Godfather Part II, Chinatown, The Conversation, Badlands, Lenny, Young Frankenstein, A Woman Under the Influence, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Scenes from a Marriage all easily qualifying as great films. Yet to even begin to think each and every year is loaded with such greatness is just naive and silly. I freely admit to placing average films on my ten best lists since I began compiling them because in many cases, the average films outside of the top three were often the best of the year!!