Quentin Tarantino’s new list of the 12 greatest movies raises some questions

One of the things that seems to be part of being a lifelong film nerd is the making of lists. Obviously, I publish a list each year of what I consider the best films I’ve seen during the preceding 12 months, but I’ve also published lists that have to do with specific genres or that deal with something like my favorite films in a decade or even of all time.

In an interview I did with Edgar Wright yesterday, he talked about how as a kid he kept lists of all sorts of things. Films he wanted to see, films he’d seen already. I did the same thing, and I’ve known many film geeks over the years who have had their own lists at the ready. Quentin Tarantino was a hardcore film fan before anyone knew his name as a filmmaker, and one of the things that was clear going to see his various film festivals in Austin or Los Angeles over the years is that he is a omnivorous film consumer. He’ll watch anything, hoping for a gem or a discovery, and he’s shown me many movies that I never would have otherwise seen, some of which have become favorites of mine now as well.

He was asked recently to submit a list of his favorite films to the “Sight & Sound” poll, and it’s been picked up by a number of outlets this week. As if to say “gotcha,” several places have also re-run a handwritten list that ran in “Empire” a few years ago to Empire, and since the two lists don’t match, people are acting like Tarantino is in some way dishonest or confusing.

That’s just silly. The truth is, most of us find our tastes constantly shifting or evolving over time, and if I made a list of my ten favorite films every five years throughout my life, I would imagine that list would change dramatically over time. There are films that seem to dissipate when I return to them, and other films that only grow stronger as I explore them repeatedly. That doesn’t mean I’m inconsistent, it just means that I’m not the same person each time I come back to a film. New experiences, other art, and even further work from the same artist might change the way I feel about something, and the dishonest thing would be to just pretend that things are set in stone and that my initial judgment is always exactly right.

Here’s the list of 12 titles that Tarantino just called the greatest of all time:

“Apocalypse Now”
“The Bad News Bears”
“Dazed & Confused”
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”
“The Great Escape”
“His Girl Friday”
“Pretty Maids All In A Row”
“Rolling Thunder”
“Taxi Driver”

That is one seriously eclectic list of titles, and I would imagine the inclusion of “Pretty Maids” would irritate or confuse many people. I’m not surprised to see it there. When he screened it as part of one of his festivals, he seemed delighted by the opportunity to introduce it to new viewers.

Now look at the older list he ran:

“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”
“Rio Bravo”
“Blow Out”
“Taxi Driver”
“His Girl Friday”
“Five Fingers Of Death/King Boxer”
“Pandora’s Box”
“Unfaithfully Yours”
“Five Graves To Cairo”

Only five films appear on both lists, and the two lists have different films at the top. I’ve never seen “Five Graves To Cairo,” and until I read the list, I’ve never even heard of it. It’s a Billy Wilder film written by Charles Brackett, though, so I feel like that’s something I should change as soon as possible, and that is the reason lists like this actually matter. I don’t think QT’s taste is the end-all be-all endorsement, but I do think that he’s shown me enough films I’ve enjoyed that hearing he ranks something so highly is reason enough for me to track it down.

The same thing is true of the lists I publish. I’m not telling you that my opinion is the only one that matters or that you have to agree with my choices. The reason I make lists is so that I can hopefully encourage people to try something I love that maybe they haven’t heard of before, or something that they skipped for whatever reason.

Tarantino’s lists both demonstrate which filmmakers are most important to him, and when you see exploitation movies on both lists that other people might look on with total disdain, it’s obvious that he’s not a movie snob. He loves what he loves without hesitation or apology, and that is the model that I would love to see more filmmakers or more film writers follow. Don’t worry about the consensus. Don’t worry about what is or isn’t considered a classic. Love what you love and share that love with people as often as you can. And if you’re enthusiastic about different things at different times, congratulations, you’re human.

Now let me see if I can find a copy of “Five Graves To Cairo” to watch tonight.