Back in 2010, inspired by Juliet, I set about doing 101 things in 1001 days. I had various levels of success, but one of the things I did complete was the aim of watching half of the IMDB Top 250. I didn’t stop at that point, but continued to work through it at a much slower pace until I realised that through the Queen’s library I had access to quite a few DVDs of things I was missing, and that it was perfectly possible to complete the list by the end of 2016. So I did.
I should point out that I didn’t set out to watch the list because I’m some massive film buff. It was more a mixture of watching things that I wouldn’t otherwise choose to, and also watching things I knew were providing cultural underpinnings to films I had already watched and enjoyed. That said, people have asked for some sort of write up when I was done. So here are some random observations, which are almost certainly not what they were looking for.
My favourite film is not in the Top 250
First question anyone asks is “What’s your favourite film?”. That depends a lot on what I’m in the mood for really, but fairly consistently my answer is The Hunt for Red October. This has never been in the Top 250 that I’ve noticed. Which either says a lot about my taste in films, or the Top 250, or both. Das Boot was in the list and I would highly recommend it (but then I like all submarine movies it seems).
The Shawshank Redemption is overrated
I can’t recall a time when The Shawshank Redemption was not top of the list. It’s a good film, and I’ve watched it many times, but I don’t think it’s good enough to justify its seemingly unbroken run. I don’t have a suggestion for a replacement, however.
The list is constantly changing
I say I’ve completed the Top 250, but that’s working from a snapshot I took back in 2010. Today the site is telling me I’ve watched 215 of the current list. Last night it was 214 and I haven’t watched anything in between. Some of those are films released since 2010 (in particular new releases often enter high and then fall out of the list over a month or two), but the current list has films as old as 1928 (The Passion of Joan of Arc) that weren’t there back in 2010. So keeping up to date is not simply a matter of watching new releases.
The best way to watch the list is terrestrial TV
There were various methods I used to watch the list. Some I’d seen in the cinema when they came out (or was able to catch that way anyway - the QFT showed Duck Soup, for example). Netflix and Amazon Video had some films, but overall a very disappointing percentage. The QUB Library, as previously mentioned, had a good number of DVDs on the list (especially the older things). I ended up buying a few (Dial M for Murder on 3D Bluray was well worth it; it’s beautifully shot and unobtrusively 3D), borrowed a few from friends and ended up finishing off the list by a Lovefilm one month free trial. The single best source, however, was UK terrestrial TV. Over the past 6 years Freeview (the free-to-air service here) had the highest percentage of the list available. Of course this requires some degree of organisation to make sure you don’t miss things.
Films I enjoyed
Not necessarily my favourite, but things I wouldn’t have necessarily watched and was pleasantly surprised by. No particular order, and I’m leaving out a lot of films I really enjoyed but would have got around to watching anyway.
- Clint Eastwood films - Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby were both excellent but neither would have appealed to me at first glance. I hated Unforgiven though.
- Jimmy Stewart. I’m not a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life (which I’d already watched because it’s Lister’s favourite film), but Harvey is obviously the basis of lots of imaginary friend movies and Rear Window explained a Simpsons episode (there were a lot of Simpsons episodes explained by watching the list).
- Spaghetti Westerns. I wouldn’t have thought they were my thing, but I really enjoyed the Sergio Leone films (A Fistful of Dollars etc.). You can see where Tarantino gets a lot of his inspiration.
- Foreign language films. I wouldn’t normally seek these out. And in general it seems I cannot get on with Italian films (except Life is Beautiful), but Amores Perros, Amelie and Ikiru were all better than expected.
- Kind Hearts and Coronets. For some reason I didn’t watch this until almost the end; I think the title always put me off. Turned out to be very enjoyable.
Films I didn’t enjoy
I’m sure these mark me out as not being a film buff, but there are various things I would have turned off if I’d caught them by accident rather than setting out to watch them.
- Charlie Chaplin. The Kid is the only one I really enjoyed. Nothing else did it for me.
- Italian films. La Strada and Nights of Cabiria in particular. Oh, and 8½. Hated it.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I just didn’t get it.
- Metropolis. Too damn long.
I’ve kept the full list available, if you’re curious.