Top Ten lists are among the ten worst things. They’re facile and reductive, they’re lazy journalism, and still for some odd reason they’re so tempting that I tend to check them out, only to come away annoyed, both with the list and with myself for having been lured in.
So without much further ado and completely unaware of the contradiction, here’s a Top Ten list for you to look at!
It’s not mine, of course, but over the last year or so I’ve become a bit of a fan of CineFix’s lists – not least because they avoid the pitfalls of your average listicle clickbait.
To begin with, it’s clear that these guys love film. Their repertoire is pretty conventional: it’s a mix of Hollywood greats, cult favourites and the traditional canon of world cinema, i.e. lots of Welles and Kubrick, Spielberg, Scott and Scorsese, Eisenstein, Ozu, Bergman and Kurosawa – but you could do worse than that canon, and the CineFix team isn’t unaware of more recent cinema made outside the United States. (I’m thinking of a video they did where they talked about the 2013 Polish film Ida, for instance.)
They also don’t subscribe to that silly convention of numbered lists that pretends there’s such a thing as linear quality with the best of the best: that #10 is just a teensy bit less good than #9, and #1 is clearly several cinemetres bigger, better and badder than #2 and beyond. Instead, they structure their numbering around themes or forms: in the case of the video above, it’s about props that are literal vs. props that are symbolic or props that become characters in their own right. It’s not just a fan boy countdown, it’s about actual analysis of how these features are used and to what effect.
What I like best, though, is that they undermine the core conceit of the Top Ten list: that they’re definitive. They always talk about the other films (or props, shots or any other feature) they could have chosen for a specific slot, and in doing so they get the audience’s mind going. These lists are not about being reductive, they’re about making you think about the films you’ve seen in these analytical terms: how do they use these features, and do they do so well?
The discussion is rarely as detailed and as deep as that of the best video essays on film, but CineFix does a great job at bite-sized videos that remind you of great films and why they’re great. They talk about the obvious – great performances, great shots – but also about things that might not be on your immediate radar, like great uses of silence in films or best end credits. And that’s why they’re easily the #1 on my list of top lists.