Best Film of All Time & Favorite Film of All Time-The Difference?
I have been fascinated by the world of film all my life. No surprise that I decided to start spewing my opinion on the matter for free for the last few years, huh? For the longest time, I always felt that a movie someone considered the "Best Film of All Time" were the same as "Favorite Film of All Time." I mean, if you consider something your favorite, that has to mean its the best right? Can those two terms be that different? Don't they walk hand and hand?
No. Yes. Well, maybe. It depends on who you talk to. I have read critics and movie fans alike make two different lists when discussing the films they love most, A Favorite List and Best List. Others have said to simply state that a movie is better than the other is arrogant, and all they can really divulge are their favorite films, the movies they resonated most in a given time period. Movies are art, and art is subjective. So can there really be a "Best Film of All Time?" What makes a film better than another? I have consulted friends on this matter today. Because honestly, I have struggled putting my feelings together on this. I know its the most important issue in the world, but since I run a movie blog, I decided to discuss it today. Since I have never discussed it here before. Several online voices have tried to break down the difference between "Favorite Film" and "Best Film" and there have been debates over it all over the internet as well. So I wanted to throw my two cents at the matter.
Based one what I have read and what people have said about it, there are things I agree with and things I may not necessarily agree with. I would agree that there are varying levels of greatness, even when it comes to great movies. I don't think that every movie has to be a technical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual achievement in order to be a great movie, simply because not all movies are designed that way. I love the movie "Independence Day" which is a "B-Movie" style alien invasion film from 1996. It is clearly inspired by the 1950's alien movies that came before it, and lots of stuff goes boom in the film. There is funny material and adventurous material. But its not a technical nor is it intellectual. It doesn't bring anything particularly new to the genre. But does that make it a bad movie? No. But how does it compare to say, "Citizen Kane?" I have a hard time putting "Independence Day" above "Citizen Kane," but then again, why would you be comparing those two at all?
If you look at the AFI Best List, or the Sight And Sound Poll that happens once a decade, or the Best Films of All Time List that the late, great Roger Ebert published before his passing, you will see while some of the same films show up across these lists, you will even see them on other lists too. Anybody who truly loves movies has taken a stab at creating a "Best Films of All Time" list, and while films like "The Godfather," "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "2001" and "Singin' In The Rain" have all appeared in those lists, the order is different and it doesn't seem any film critic or film historian or film analyst can agree on what the truly best film of all time is. Most of those lists are based on votes anyway, which means the placing on the list is based on the most votes. Which means we really don't know just how many people are in consensus on the best of all time.
But why is it generally the same movies in same "Best of" discussions? Why when there is a massive world of film out there that expands by each weekend? Who decides what movies are the best? A bunch of film analysts and cinema snobs? How can you honestly become an expert on something that is, by design, subjective? It seems when people discuss films like "Casablanca" and "The Godfather," they consider them the best because they are culturally important, influential to the greater language of cinema, they change the world of movies in some way. I can absolutely agree with that. Some movies are more important, more influential to cinema, and change the game of movies as we know it. Not all movies do this, but there are some that have. Its part of what makes those movies great. But does that mean something that isn't a game-changer or isn't influential is suddenly not great? Absolutely not. Like I said, there are varying degrees of greatness. I think more than anything, the lists presented by AFI and Sight and Sound are more measures of influential and important films, rather than the best films.
I say this because, movies are art. I don't think there is anything scientific or mathematical about movies. I don't know if you can honestly say that a movie is the best in stone cold fact without sounding like a snobbish asshole. If you mix the colors blue and red together, you get purple, that is a fact. The Allied Forces defeated the Axis Forces during World War II. That is a fact. Those things are backed by the scientific method and primary sources proving them correct. But how do you take a movie is the best by fact? Sure, there are a handful of movies considered the best. But that's the thing, they are considered. They are considerations, not law. And when people discuss and list the "best films" there is even disagreement in the ordering of the films themselves. No two people ever agree.
This is why I am convinced that "favorite films" and "best film" go hand-in-hand. All people are different and what we get out of movies are so different. They are also art, and art has always been subjective. The way people react to art is so complex that the mere way of listing a group of movies and ranking them over others is hard to distinguish. I would agree that there are varying degrees of greatness and I would say that if I made a list of my favorite films of all time, and the films that I believed are the most important, or movies that I feel have changed cinema the most, those lists would look different. I would probably put films like "Citizen Kane," "Apocalypse Now," "Casablanca," and "Gone With The Wind" on that list. Sometimes my lists wold overlap, like with my favorite film, "The Maltese Falcon." I love Humphrey Bogart, and he gives the best performance in that movie which I have ever seen him in. I think the characters and the music and the story and the actors fuse together in a way I find obsessive and brilliant. But I feel the movie is also important because it gave birth to an entire film genre...the film noir. A genre we still feel the affects of today. How can it not be an important film? How can "Pulp Fiction" not be an important film? For completely affecting cinematic output from 1994 until today. For putting independent cinema on the map in a huge way and pretty much keeping it there now. For showing just how well you can tell a good story un-chronologically. But neither of those movies come up as much as they should, because the critics don't put them there.
That's the tricky thing. Listening to those critics. Yes, I will say that the average critic is much more informed in film that the average Joe Schmoe who likes film. I try my darnest to cram as many films I haven't seen before, new and old, into each year. I treat it like a goal every single time our calendars reset. I get lucky if I come anywhere close to 200 titles. The average critic sees 300-400 new films a year, that's a lot of new movies each year. So yes, a critic is well informed. Maybe that is why they are much better at picking the "Best" films of anything. But even the decisions they make are personal decisions, so much of picking the good and the bad of any type of art comes down to personal taste that I wonder if a best can really be picked.
So whether as you pick your end-of-the-year lists, and you wonder whether to call it a "favorites list" or a "best list," remember its up to you. I love movies for varying reasons. I re-watch lots of stuff for varying reasons. I love the crazy carnage something like "Braveheart," or "The Expendables" or "The Rock" offers. I love films like "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Apartment" or "Taxi Driver" because I love seeing what inspired who to make movies and how it has affected the business, both good and bad. I love watching "Ghostbusters" because I love the way it blends special effects and comedy, and it has never been done on the level that you see there. I love "The Godfather" films because, even though they are romanticized, its an amazing journey filled with characters that I love. I love watching "Goodfellas" because its a more personal, more realistic take on the gangster movie, which lies its power. I love watching "There Will Be Blood" because of Daniel Day-Lewis. Yes, that film has many other technical accomplishments to its name, but Day-Lewis' performance is so amazing, it infects the rest of the movie like a virus. I love watching "The LEGO Movie" because its completely in love with being a movie. I love watching "Phantom of the Paradise" because...well...there is nothing else like it.
I think those movies are some of my favorites. They are also some of the best to me? They are interchangeable and what you think of the movies you watch depends on you.