With my recent review of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, I have reached the end of my original IMDB top 250 list. It’s taken me over five years to complete the list and during that time I have watched, reviewed and given a personal score to every film in the original list. I say original list because the current version of the IMDB 250 has changed significantly over these years. Over eighty films have been added to the list during this time, with others removed. If you watched films at a slow enough interval you could go on watching the IMDB top 250 list for your entire life and never reach the end due to the degree of churn. Details of how the weighting system works and the attempts made to minimize unhelpful churn can be found here. My observation: it ain’t working. The list is about as stable as Mel Gibson after a pub-crawl through central Tel Aviv.
FOR ONCE, NO SPOILERS
Some people complain that the list has become too dominated by superhero films in recent years. Personally, I’m fine on any kind of film getting into the list so long as the spirit of the list is maintained. Genre films have received the lowest and the highest scores from me during this exercise.
Overall, I’d say there’s evidence of a kind of geeky male bias in the voting (considerably more films by Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan, Eastwood and Jackson than I would personally have included) and a populist tendency (Jean Renoir's La règle du jeu has long featured in the Sight and Sound top ten films, for example, yet does appear at all in the current IMDB 250 list).
Here is a graph showing the frequency distribution of my scores across the 250 films. I guess you could describe it as a sort of bell curve around the score of 8, but with a significant tail at the lower end. Of course a personal score is just that – personal. I generally marked a film with an 8 if I unequivocally knew I’d want to watch it again.
Review continues below...
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It’s a feature of the IMDB list that it contains plenty of films that are not to my taste – it’s an inevitable consequence of the way the list is compiled. But there was a certain grim pleasure in sitting through the films that scored 0 or 1, when I knew that there was a bound on the misery I’d have to endure – that’s the advantage of watching a list of a fixed length. One of my motivations for this exercise was to learn from the best films to help with my fiction writing, and a bad film is often just as useful as a good film in helping to figure out what does and does not work. It’s also interesting to watch films that passed the IMDB 250 entry criteria (which suggests that a lot of people enjoyed them) but which are different from my usual taste.
As well as watching films I read a list of books each year. I don’t bother scoring these because almost every one would be a 9 or a 10. Whether this says something about the relative quality of classic film and written fiction, I don’t know, or perhaps it’s has more to do with the fact that I self-select of my reading list. But 94 out of the 250 films got a score of 8 or more, so that’s not too bad.
In case you’re interested, the complete list of scores is at the bottom of this post.
The average score was 6 and this is pretty consistent across, say, the top 10, top 50, top 100, top 200, top 250 films. Many of my reviews are not online so if you’d like to see a particular one, let me know in the comments.
So what next? I could carry on watching the extra films that have come into the list. I could switch lists to the more hardcore critical Sight and Sounds list. I could make up my own list from favourite directors. I could switch to the recently published BBCArts list of the top 100 films of the twenty-first century.
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.