I don’t know why but when I read “best of” lists, I tend to put more stock in lists made by directors (good ones, anyway) than critics. I guess I assume that good directors would be able identify good films. Perhaps, that’s sound reasoning, but there may be a reason to reconsider this point of view. In a recent thread, we discussed the way people of certain professions (e.g. a doctor, plumber, etc.) would perceive a film through lenses colored by their profession. For example, an English teacher might be extra sensitive to the grammar and overall writing quality of the dialogue. Their perception of onscreen depictions of children might also be more acute and particular versus viewers that don’t work with children for a living. In some ways, this type of bias would cause us to take their judgments with a “bigger” grain of salt. For example, the English teacher might condemn a film because of grammatical errors even though these errors weren’t critical to meeting the overall objectives of the film. The English teacher may not be able to see beyond their biases.
Perhaps we might question directors’ judgments in a similar way. Here’s an example that came to mind (which also inspired this thread). I get the sense that many directors like films dealing with voyeurism, especially involving cameras. I’m thinking of a film like Peeping Tom. I never really understood the praise for that film (and my impression was that a lot of directors seemed to like the film), and I wondered if the praise stemmed from something other professional directors could appreciate or relate to. (Cameras are an important tool, after all). That’s just one example, but I suspect there are other examples of films that directors love because of their unique perspective and bias as filmmakers—e.g., maybe the film succeeds at solving challenging problems that only a director (or someone very knowledgeable about film-making) could appreciate. If this is true, should we put less weight on the films directors identify as the best or favorites? What are some other reasons we should consider not putting so much stock into a director’s judgments about film?
Jazz what directors are you referring to?
They’re usually trying to break the fourth wall.
It’s almost always spin whenever directors publicise their favourite films.
Putting stock in someone else’s opinion will generally have a downside. I don’t like bringing him up here, because Mubi just tears him to shreds, but I read a list last year about Tarantino’s favorite films. Among them were Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. I hate that movie. And I mean really hate.
It’s not just the bias of their craft, but the bias they hold as regular people. Steven Spielberg told Michael Bay that TF2 was the best film Bay had ever made (assuming he wasn’t giving him a veiled insult). Said he really liked it.
There’s a personal bias that comes with, well, perspective. That’s what makes it difficult to follow these lists.
Siddiquo, that was Tarantino favorite films of the year, not ever. His top five favorites ever are The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Rio Bravo, Taxi Driver, Blow Out, and His Girl Friday.
But how do you know if Spielberg liked the film just from personal preference versus bias as a director. If anything, I would attribute Spielberg’s assessment to his perspective as a director, more than just his personal taste. (But who can say for sure?)
I was just thinking of good directors in general, no one in particular. Some of the films they like surprise me and I just wonder if they’re selecting the film based on their specialized knowledge and perspective, although, again, it could be just their individual taste.
Here’s another potential factor: directors liking (or supporting) a film made by a friend. Here I’m thinking of the American directors that came on the scene together in the 70s (Lucas, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, etc.), although I’m sure it happens with directors outside of this group. I think something similar happens with authors. You know how authors write reviews or blurbs about another book? When I find out that the authors are friends, I take those comments with a grain of salt.
To me, you can’t make a legitimate generalization one way or the other. I would need another coordinate to triangulate a position about any such list. Namely, if I’m familiar with a particular critic’s taste, I generally would proceed with the hypothesis that this is a “better” (as in, better for me) list than one by a critic whose taste doesn’t mesh with with my own. So, for example, I’m likely going to value a list by Kent Jones over a list by Armond White simply because I have a sense of the contour of the taste of both and my own aligns better with the former than it does with the latter. Same principal would hold true for directors’ lists, except then I would most likely be basing it on the films that each respective director had made, so I’d value a list by Richard Linklater more than . . . I dunno . . . Alex Proyas or Quentin Tarantino.
Also, I just wanna say . . . from the perspective of a viewer, I don’t think that director’s necessarily have any special insights into film just because they make them. In fact, I think if you compared directors’ lists vs. critics’ lists, the directors’ are generally going to be the more conservative of the two groups, and also less up on contemporary cinema. Therefore I can’t agree that directors are better equipped to identify “good” films than are critics.
I pretty much agree with everything Parks said. Right on.
“… the English teacher might condemn a film because of grammatical errors even though these errors weren’t critical to meeting the overall objectives of the film. The English teacher may not be able to see beyond their biases.”
First of all, lists don’t mean anything. They’re a subjective judgement (even those done by organizations such as the AFI based on “grading criteria”) and only hold weight in the eyes of those with similar taste. Nevertheless, I don’t see how a person’s occupation could colour their judgement. I think it’s pretty ridiculous to say that an English teacher would dislike a film because a character spoke in vernacular. People are not what they do. It’s rather the opposite, what people do is a (vague at best) reflection of who they are.
In Grammaphone magazine last year there was a list of the greatest classical recordings as chosen by 30 or so classical artists. In one of the editors write-up preceding the list, he suggested that many of the performers might favor certain artist’s recordings because they demonstrate weaknesses which the performers share. In other words if performer x has a tendency to favor incorrectly (i realize this is subjective) tempi, they will gravitate towards performers who share this tendency.
Therefore, if Martin Scorsese tends to favor excessive melodrama, he will recommend some of Fellini’s excessive works over more restrained, and possibly better works of another director.
I tend to think there’s some truth to this but I suppose one could also say that the critics or viewers or listeners who favor certain works only favor them because the works reflect their own personal weakness of personality. This line of thinking might be slippery slope from which we end up dismissing every opinion because of possible bias, which I think would be unfortunate.
I prefer directors lists because directors are fans of movies. Directors have an uncomplicated love for cinema, and aren’t afraid to pick their genuine favourites, even the ones with blemishes. Critics on the other hand seek perfection and are thus more reliable for aesthetically sound films. But directors are far more interesting.
Every list is based on personal taste. I think that’s the whole point of making a list of favorites on any subject, to expose your taste to others. That’s what I’m thinking about when I make a list of my own and that’s what I’m trying to figure out when I see someone else’s list. I would say it should be an essential quality to every list, especially the ones made by filmmakers and critics. I think a lot of people nowadays seem to undervalue filmmakers and film fans that actually have a very specific taste, that know what they like and don’t like about cinema, what they look for in films and their humility in expressing just that. They get dismissed as biased and judged as limited and narrow. They’re not biased. They just know what they like and I respect that very much.
No, you don’t have to like and recommend every type of film out there to be a good filmmaker or be considered a “true cinephile”.
Scorsese actually made an interesting list of his favorite “guilty pleasures” printed in one issue of Film Comment (or Cineaste?) many years ago. I know Dassin’s ‘Night and the City’ was one of them, along with ‘The Uninvited’, ‘Giant’ and one ‘Station 6 Sahara’ or something juicy that stars Carroll Baker.
Damn, I wish I saved it!
I really like Scorsese’s favorite horror films list. A lot of the movies he included happen to be my favorites as well. If you find a filmmaker who has a similar taste to yours, when they make a list it helps you find other films that you know you will probably enjoy and that you wouldn’t normally search for. It’s pretty much like talking to just another film fan, who happens to make films that you enjoy. It’s always cool to find out where a filmmaker’s influences are and where they took much of their style from.
I like reading the Sight & Sound Top 10 lists by individual director and individual critic. Several of the critics from Latin and Asian countries have really interesting lists.