The Trouble With Lists

Posted on 07 February 2007 by Rich Drees

Well, I guess I can die then…

The Houston Chronicle’s tech writer, Dwight Silverman, has posted on his blog a list of 15 films he considers essential film geek watching. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen all films on the list.

I’d also have to say that I’m not that impressed with his choices overall. Sure, I’ve enjoyed every film named to one degree or another and 12 of the titles sit on my DVD shelf at home. But Silverman’s list is an awfully narrow slice of science-fiction, fantasy and horror genre films that arguably are pretty well known to the general public. I mean really, two Star Trek films? Even a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan like myself is wondering at the inclusion of 3 of his films. Likewise, Sam Raimi gets two of his films named to the list with Silverman even admitting that Army Of Darkness is “a more mainstream and approachable film” than the first two Evil Dead flicks. How, exactly, can a movie be both “mainstream and approachable” and worthy of being placed on a list of “geek films”? It seems to me that the two are mutually exclusive.

In an effort to provide some more geek film titles for his readers, Silverman also links to another blog that contains the title of 81 geek movies “that do not suck.” While this new list does traffic in roughly the same science-fiction/fantasy/horror milieu that Silverman’s list, it does deserve some credit for trying to expand things a bit with the addition of the “Obsessive Nerd-Chick Stalker Geek,” “Cult Film Geek” and “Nostalgia “I was a nerd kid in the 80s” Geek” categories.

But still the list is problematic. There are a few titles – An Evening With Kevin Smith and Children Of Dune – which aren’t films but made for DVD specials or television mini-series. There also seems to be a lot of padding on this list- naming both Spider-Man films, four separate Star Trek films (though the original Star Wars trilogy gets grouped as one entry), and films like Constantine and Swordfish. Swordfish?!

Ultimately, while both lists attempt to be something that starts discussions among film fans (See, we’re doing it here), they fail in that their scope is limited to however the writer chooses to define “film geek.” In both instances here, the writers clearly think that geekdom (Geekatude? Geekosity?) is clearly confined to a few narrow genres. But what about those people whose unabidding love is the movie musical or westerns or silents? Don’t they get their geek lists too?

No art can be judged in a vacuum and if one only exposed themselves to films considered “classics,” one would rapidly loose any standard by which to judge said films. It’s much better to have knowledge of a wide range of films from all genres in order to be able to better appreciate any movie they may watch. Soderberg’s recent The Good German invariably invites the viewer to draw comparisons to Casablanca. But how are those comparisons tempered when the viewer also factors in the Pam Anderson film Barb Wire, which also drew inspiration from the Humphrey Bogart classic?

I’ve always tried to steer clear of “Best Of” or “Essential” lists here at FilmBuffOnLine. It’s not that I’m afraid that someone is going to disagree with my choices. It’s that there are too many choices to narrow a list down to manageable levels. That’s why if pressed for a list of movies that one absolutely must watch by friends or family, I always answer “As many as you can.”

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