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Cinema Scope Top Ten Films of 2009
1. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu)
2. Everyone Else (Maren Ade)
3. To Die Like a Man (João Pedro Rodrigues)
4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
5. Sweetgrass (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash)
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
7. Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine)
8. Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio)
9. Vincere (Marco Bellocccio)
10. Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
For some reason a rumour has started that I am antagonistic to lists, but I want to be specific: I hate compiling lists, and I hate polls. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that the democratic process is in great need of fixing. Besides, debating over which James Benning or Bong Joon-ho film is better than the other is for losers. And I don’t like being made to process my movie-going assessments on the basis of the Gregorian calendar. I do not bow down to any Pope.
In fact, you see a list directly above, an annual tradition that bows down to the cinema community’s requirement of “canon formation.” There’s indeed a second list, plastered in all of its glory in the middle of page 33, if you are reading it in print, or on a separate link on the website, presenting the editorial compromise on the greatest films of the last decade (and I’m talking specifically to you, David Davison of Ottawa, Ontario).
But this is what you really get on the decade in Issue 42: over three dozen pieces, some of which are annotated top tens, some profiles; some films you’ll read about are obscure, others too well-known. Writers were given complete freedom to choose their topics, though it was suggested that they avoided concentrating on films that were covered in depth in past issues (where every film in the Cinema Scope Top Ten and honourable mentions garnered detailed analysis). The result is an accurate representation of the diversity of content found in a typical issue, in a free-for-all fashion that actually comes together—especially for the couple of hundred of you who will read them in order—and shows that lists are no substitute for critical thought.
But back to lists. The problem isn’t with the idea of lists, it’s how lists venture into the world and remain out there like satellites, forever orbiting. On the occasion of his curating a show at the Louvre about the place of lists in culture, Umberto Eco opined, “We like lists as we don’t want to die,” a sentiment with which most of us surely would agree. The same man, however, also said about the mutability of his lists, “If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.”
I’ve struggled the past months of trying with no success to put together lists for decade-end polls in other magazines, and have avoided it because of not only the arbitariness of such an endeavour, but also because canon formation leans towards the mean, even amongst snooty “elitist” critics, to films most people of a certain taste set can settle on. The Cinema Scope lists are as guilty as all the others else on that account. One could argue that the variation between lists is what gives a particular magazine its, shall we say, auteurist flavour: the Cinema Scope lists were the result of editorial selection, compiled in the same still-flawed manner as the year-end list above.
Yet the lists of colleagues and contributors, in all of their glory, are to be found on www.cinema-scope.com, in a handy downloadable and printable PDF, so that those list lovers out there can indeed print up those phantoms, staple them to the magazine, and complete the decade’s end ruminations with your own personal gesture. And yet there’s more! Due to the last-second vagaries of magazine design, some entries appear in longer form on the website, which also provides the opportunity for keen readers to second-guess their insomniac editor.
I hope that the end product of these unique developments for this 96-page spectacular is that you’ll pay closer attention to the words that our regular contributors and special guests have devoted to their favourite, underrated, and overlooked films and filmmakers from the past ten years. And that we can put this decade stuff to rest.