The temporal distribution of masterpieces (plus annual film and book list)

Vaidas reminded me that today is the 5 year anniversary of my blog.  I had totally forgotten that, but somehow remembered the 5 year anniversary of the Mankiw/Krugman dispute. I feel burned out, so I’m going to relax today and do a file dump of stuff I wrote a while back.

Here are all the films I saw at the theatre last year, including a bunch that were made years earlier (warning; don’t see them based on my recommendation):

In the Mood For Love (Hong Kong)  4.0  This 2000 Wong Kar Wai film was voted by film critics the best movie of the past 20 years.  Indeed one of only two recent films to even make the Top 50 of All Time list (along with Mulholland Drive.)

Fallen Angels (Hong Kong)  3.9  A 1995 film from Wong Kar Wai’s golden age (1991-2004.)  How many modern directors produced 7 masterpieces in a row?  One of the coolest films ever made and just a blast to watch on the big screen.  I enjoyed it more the second time, as I went in understanding there wasn’t much plot.

Her (US)  3.8  Thought-provoking on many different levels. Almost flawlessly directed.  The one must see film of 2013.

Sunless (French) 3.8   A 1982 Chris Marker philosophical meditation on Iceland, Africa, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, cats, Vertigo, and above all Japan.  How good is it?  The narrative is dense and elliptical and comes at you fast.  Enough of the ideas hit home with me to make it work, but it would take a much brighter person (Tyler Cowen?) to review this film properly.

20 Feet from Stardom  (US)  3.5  A very enjoyable documentary about backup singers.  Was Merry Clayton’s singing on Gimme Shelter the high point of 1960s rock?

Post Tenebras Lux  (Mexican) 3.5  Less than the sum of its parts, but the parts are occasionally sublime.  Especially the intro.  Had very vivid dreams after this film—is there any higher praise?

American Hustle  (US)  3.5  Perhaps because I’m nostalgic for the 1970s (which may go down in history as the decade of “peak privacy”) I really enjoyed this film, despite its Hollywood formulaic style.

The Grandmaster  (Hong Kong)  3.4  I tend to get bored with kung fu fight scenes, but this was better than most.  We’ll have to wait ten years for the “director’s cut” to find out how good this film actually is (I either under or overrated it.)  Its length was sharply reduced for American audiences and it shows.  Like Post Tenebras Lux it is less than the sum of its parts, but it does have some glorious parts.

Inside Llewyn Davis (US) 3.3  A typical Coen brothers film. Made with great skill, but more interesting as a concept than in execution.

Stoker  (Korean/American) 3.3  Nowhere near as interesting as Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” but skillfully directed.  Spike Lee remade Oldboy?  I think I’ll pass.

Design for Living (US)  3.3  A Ernst Lubitsch comedy from 1933.  Not as good as his best work.

Bad Blood  (French)  3.3  Leos Carax’s second film, from 1986.  The director gave a very interesting talk after the film.  Very good at using visuals and sound to create certain moods.  He was strongly influenced by silent films.

Like Someone in Love  (Japanese/Iranian)  3.3  Kairostami continues to do films in non-Iranian settings.  A few echoes of Ozu in this intriguing film set in Tokyo.

Spring Breakers (US)  3.2  Almost a campy masterpiece, but the film gradually ran out of steam.  I don’t think the director had a clear plan.  But maybe that’s for the best, as it was an entertaining ride.

The Enforcer (US)  3.2  This 1951 noir was the first film to use mob terms like “contract” and “hit.”  The NYT review in 1951 called the film extremely violent, which seems almost laughable today.  There is virtually no violence at all! I knew that 1950s people would be shocked by the sex in modern movies, but they’d be even more shocked by the violence.  What would shock us about the films of 2075?  Raoul Walsh actually directed, but someone else was credited.

A Touch of Sin  (China) 3.2  A bit of a disappointment considering the director.  It’s hard to make a movie work when it is a collection of mostly unrelated short stories.  Only a few directors can pull that off, and Jia Zhangke doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Oblivian  (US)  3.2,  Very nice visuals, and reasonably entertaining, but it’s still a sort of “tweener.”  Way too derivative to be a creative Sci-fi breakthrough like 2001 or Solaris, and not nearly as entertaining as Star Wars.  Watch on big screen or not at all.

All is Lost (US)  3.1  Somewhat interesting story of a man lost at sea.  I would have preferred an ending like Bruegel’s painting “Fall of Icarus”, but that’s not feel good enough for Hollywood.

L’Amour  (French)  3.0  I could never get interested in this film, despite the fine acting and direction.  Everyone else thinks it’s a great film, so I suppose it is.

The Wolf of Wall Street (US)  3.0  Shows how the power to make any sort of film a director wants gradually leads him to indulge in filming mindless drug-fueled orgies with beautiful actresses because . . . because he can.  Also about corruption on Wall Street (not just Hollywood), although it’s not really clear in the film exactly what these guys did wrong (in a legal sense.)  Presumably insider trading and unethical marketing practices.  Martin Scorcese could make a 3.0 star film in his sleep, and he did.  At least it’s never boring.

Night Across the Street  (Chile)  3.0  A highly intelligent film but it never really connected with me.

Upstream Color  (US)  2.8  The director of Primer has another intellectual sci-fi effort, but the final product just doesn’t seem as interesting as the concept.

Museum Hours  (Austrian)  2.8  It seemed like a film version of a Max Sebald novel.  But not nearly as good.

The Man With a Camera (Russian)  2.8  This “classic” silent film from 1929 left me cold.  It seemed too much like single stunt stretched out to 90 minutes.  Number 8 on the all time best film list””and rising.

Level Five  (French)  2.8  An old Chris Marker film/documentary on the Battle of Okinawa, where more than 200,000 Japanese died.  Convinced me that dropping the bomb on Hiroshima was the right move.

Blue Jasmine  (US)  2.7   One of Woody Allen’s weaker films.  The characters were not at all interesting, and the plot was somewhat predictable.  I don’t recall any great lines.  Some nice music and the lead actress was excellent.

Anna Karenina  (British?)  2.5  Probably even worse than 2.5, but since I’ve never read the novel, and the acting was pretty good, I was somewhat interested in what was transpiring.

The Hobbit, pt. 2  (New Zealand)  2.2  A big disappointment.  While watching this I found it hard to remember why the LOTR was so good.  The director got almost everything wrong.

I don’t have much time anymore for serious reading, but I did get through two long biographies of artists (Cezanne and Titian, two of my absolute favorites).  The most noteworthy novels I can recall reading last year were My Struggle (pt. 2) by Knausgaard, The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias, and Correction by Thomas Bernhard (an older book).  All four authors have very distinctive voices, but I’d say the Knausgaard was my favorite. Can’t wait for the rest of the volumes.

In an earlier post I made an off-hand comment about the explosion of pop music creativity between 1963 and 1969, and got a lot of criticism.  Let’s take a look at the Rolling Stone top 50 pop songs by year:

1955-56:  5

1957-58:  2

1959-60: 2

1961-62:  zero

1963-71:  34

1972-74:  zero

1975-1991:  7

1992-2013:  zero

I don’t know why they didn’t include songs from an earlier period, perhaps it was just meant to be top pop songs from the rock era.  So there’s a burst of creativity about the time Elvis bursts on the scene, then a slack period, then an explosion around the time the Beatles/Dylan/Stones show up (plus lots of Motown songs, etc.)  BTW, I believe the artists of today are at least as talented as those of the 1960s (probably more so)–that’s a different issue.

This is common in the arts, although not usually quite so pronounced.  Here’s the top 50 films of all time (actually 52), according to a poll of 846 film buffs:

1925-34:  7   (these are all silent, 5 are from 1925-27)

1939-41:  3

1948-49: 2

1950s: 12

1960s:  15

1970s:  7

1980s:  1

1990s:  3

2000-01:  2

2002-13:  zero

So in both cases the 1960s dominate, but much more in music.  That’s partly because the film list is global—different countries had their artistic peaks at different times.  The music list just looks at English language songs. It’s partly because the music list ignores the period before 1955.  But both lists have very few modern works.  Is that just boomer nostalgia?   Partly, but not entirely.  To me it’s also the “Renaissance phenomenon.”  When there are cultural and technological developments that open up vast new vistas of artistic possibilities, and economic conditions that allow people to explore those places, they fill up rapidly.  De Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, etc, quickly “invented” or “discovered” all the best picture ideas (Borges says the two words have the same meaning), forcing their successors to work in the margins (hence “mannerism.”)  David Lynch (the most recent director on the film list) is a sort of mannerist.  So is Radiohead.  The first flowering of film was the peak of the silent era, 1925-27.  The next was the post-WWII explosion of stylistic possibilities.  And then with Apocalypse Now and Stalker in 1979 it all ended.  Maybe that’s why Coppola burned out.  He saw there was no future.

Didn’t Kurt Cobain say he’d been born too late? (The good songs were taken.)  Right before killing himself?  He’s got the most recent song on the list.

Be careful what you wish for.  I’m in the slightly embarrassing position of having my favorite song and film top the two critics lists.  You’d think that would be great, but now that it’s happened I’d much rather pick some unconventional choice; an obscure film from Taiwan, Thailand or Turkey. Or a great schlocky film like Titanic.  Or a quiet modest film like Local Hero that others overlook. But I can’t, I’m as boring as that composite face generated by averaging 1000s of faces on a computer.

PS.  I saw Tarkovsky’s Mirror for the second time at Harvard last night.  It will probably top my 2014 list.



32 Responses to “The temporal distribution of masterpieces (plus annual film and book list)”

  1. Gravatar of John Hall John Hall
    2. February 2014 at 08:35

    I wonder how the average age of the people in the poll influences what they think is great. If the average age of the people in the poll is in their early 60s, then it wouldn’t surprise me that they have a preference for media popular during their youths.

    In addition, a film or album from 2013 has to compete for viewers attention against all the other films and music that came before it. Alternately, there’s more competition for viewers attention nowadays. There’s more choice in music these days. A song has to be much better to become popular than would have been true in the 50s or 60s.

    With respect to Rolling Stones’ list for pop songs, my recollection is that they took the poll originally several years ago and then tried to update it with new songs without re-doing the entire thing. So it makes sense that the more recent years are under-represented.

    The same can be said for Sound & Fury. Film critics are very slow to update lists or anything like that. Vertigo is a great example of that. It took a very long time to get to the top of the poll, let alone be recognized as Hitchcock’s best.

    I actually think that music has steadily gotten better since hitting a low in the late 90s. More competition means more opportunity to find good stuff, if you look for it. 2013 was also a very good year for film (though I don’t think film ever hit a low in terms of quality the way that music did).

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. February 2014 at 09:05

    John, All good points. But I still think there was a wave of musical innovation after 1963, which was very pronounced.

    A poll taken in another 30 years will still show many songs from that era being strongly overrepresented, even though the original listeners will be dead.

  3. Gravatar of Dan S Dan S
    2. February 2014 at 09:33


    Where do you find out about all these foreign films, and how do you watch them?

  4. Gravatar of Frank Somatra Frank Somatra
    2. February 2014 at 09:35

    The Harvard Square theater? I thought that closed a couple years ago.

  5. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    2. February 2014 at 09:47

    I can relate to your #1 , “In the mood for love”. That was one great movie.

    I am divided on the ‘best of’ list issue. I do agree that the 60s had a great burst of innovation in rock music. But much of that innovation has been refined to much greater heights later on. It wasn’t getting any badges however, because you get that for the prototype more than for the refined product. Say, to take an earlier example. Robert Johnson is lionized as a great innovator on the blues, in the 30s. If you listen to his recordings though, they don’t sound easy to our modern ears at all, and the contemporary covers of his songs are highly derivative, and often more complex than the originals. Now if you tell me that rock music has followed an S-curve whereby, after first innovations, it hit an explosion in diversity and experimentation in the 60s, that later plateaued at a high level, that I can agree on. But I wouldn’t say it’s any “lesser” today than it was. It’s just that the “first use of…” slots are indeed taken now.

    And It seems we haven’t even reached a plateau at the technical level of playing ability, which seems to be going just up and up. Not just in rock music mind you, pieces that only Chopin or Paganini could play at all in their own times are now played by many a classical performer.

  6. Gravatar of Dan S Dan S
    2. February 2014 at 09:47

    Also congratulations on five years! I’m sure there were times that it was difficult and draining, but I can honestly say you’ve really changed the way I think about macro, money, money vs. credit, demand as NGDP, demand as not interest rates, inflation, not reasoning from price changes, and countless other things that I’m not thinking of off the top of my head, and I think you’ll be more and more vindicated as time goes on.

    Have a great super bowl today, if that’s your thing!

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. February 2014 at 11:43

    Dan, Usually at either Harvard University, or the Museum of Fine Arts, or one of the smaller movie theaters that specializes in foreign films.

    And thanks for the comments on the blog.

    Frank, See above.

    mbka, I certainly agree that there are more naturally talented people around today. But getting there first is a huge advantage. Given the massive growth in population, education, opportunity, etc, I don’t doubt that there are dozens of people as talented as Dante, Shakespeare, Bach and Edison. But AFAIK, no one is producing poetry, plays, music, or new inventions at the level of those figures.

  8. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    2. February 2014 at 12:43

    Thank you for the list of movies.

  9. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    2. February 2014 at 12:51

    Off Topic.

    Tyler Cowen sends us to a new paper by Nicholas Crafts (“What was the scope for British Keynesian policies in the 1930s?”).

    Rearmament to the Rescue? New Estimates of the Impact of “Keynesian” Policies in 1930s’ Britain
    Nicholas Crafts and Terence Mills
    December 2013

    “We report estimates of the fiscal multiplier for interwar Britain based on quarterly data, time-series econometrics, and “defense news.” We find that the government expenditure multiplier was in the range 0.3 to 0.8, much lower than previous estimates. The scope for a Keynesian solution to recession was less than is generally supposed. We find that rearmament gave a smaller boost to real GDP than previously claimed. Rearmament may, however, have had a larger impact than a temporary public works program of similar magnitude if private investment anticipated the need to add capacity to cope with future defense spending.”

    On Page 11 it says:

    “…So where did recovery come from? Insofar as it was stimulated by policy, the initial phase was based on leaving the gold standard and ‘cheap money’. The policy stance was developed quite fully by late-1932. It entailed low nominal interest rates and a commitment to raising the price level, underpinned by an exchange-rate target of a 25 per cent nominal devaluation compared with the gold-standard parity, which was enforced through intervention in the foreign exchange market.53 In terms of the overall expansion of real GDP (25.8 percent between 1932Q2 and 1938Q4), our estimate indicates a contribution from rearmament of about 30 per cent, building up mainly after 1935.54…”

    An examination of Table 5 reveals that defense spending did not increase significantly until 1935Q4.

    The RGDP data comes from Table 2b of Mitchell and Solomou (2009):

    Between 1932Q2 and 1935Q3, a period of 15 quarters, RGDP increased by 14.4%. Between 1935Q3 and 1938Q4, a period also of 15 quarters, RGDP increased by 9.7%. In other words the rate of RGDP growth decreased *after* the defense buildup commenced.

    Hmmm. Sounds like yet another example of monetary policy offsetting fiscal policy at the zero lower bound.

    “Oh where, oh where has the liquidity trap gone?
    Oh where, oh where can it be?
    With its interest rates low, and fiscal multipliers high,
    Oh where, oh where can it be?”

  10. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    2. February 2014 at 12:58

    Excuse me, 13 quarters.

  11. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    2. February 2014 at 14:14

    I echo John Hall’s comments…I am saddened at the repulsive violence in film…secretly I like all the sex…
    You can watch Ray Charles “Drown in My Own Tears” on youtube for a window into the pre-1960s feel…
    Congrats on 5 years!

  12. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    2. February 2014 at 14:39

    The blogger “agnostic” at Dusk in Autumn (now renamed Face to Face) attributes trends in great artistic achievement to whether violence is increasing or declining.

  13. Gravatar of 123 123
    2. February 2014 at 15:39

    I am not a movie guy. My favorite movie Brazil is 588th in critics poll, 322nd in directors poll. My second favorite movie Spaceballs even not in the list.

    I don’t know what my favorite song is, but Pink Floyd Shine on You Crazy Diamond is in my top 10 – it is not in Rolling Stone 500, although there are three other Pink Floyd songs in the somewhere between 300-400.

    There is no Ozzy Osbourne in the top 500 – a serious omission.

    #57 is A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967), but this 2004 cover version is much better, all these years in between were not wasted:

    I guess that in my personal top 50 80s would be the leading decade. Hey, my favorite Meat Loaf album was published in 1986! 80s were also a golden age of Italian pop music (honorable mention to Vasco Rossi), there is rap, there is electronic pop. Wikipedia says hard rock has reached a commercial peak in the 80s – this should be the key argument for market monetarists who like rock and try to measure creativity.

  14. Gravatar of Squarely Rooted Squarely Rooted
    2. February 2014 at 19:14

    The 60’s dominate because these lists are measures of influence, not “pure quality” per se, if I can be allowed to distinguish briefly without explicating. “Influence” peaked in the 60s because it was a time when social liberalization, political radicalism, mass flourishing, institutional decay, and globalization combined to encourage a vast amount of artistic experimentation with the relatively new formats of recorded music and cinema that was largely difficult earlier when these industries were dominated by a handful of institutions and both production and distribution costs were higher, as well as social repression and pressures for conformity in the West more intense and successful. The reason fewer recent films since then top these lists is that they haven’t had the opportunity to maximize their influence, simply because the next few decades haven’t happened yet. Additionally, there is a bias within the circles of film criticism towards citing older films and foreign films to distinguish themselves from even knowledgeable casual moviegoers. For example, Pulp Fiction is not on the linked list even though it clearly belongs there in terms of quality, influence, and its ability to stand in for an entire movement in cinema, yet it is not there even though there are FOUR Godard films on that list, THREE Tarkovsky films, TWO Ozu films, TWO Fellini films, THREE Dreyer films, TWO Hitchcock films, and TWO Kurosawa films. And frankly even if you set all these as a quota those selections are debatable – no Solaris, no Ran or High and Low, no North by Northwest, no Weekend, etc etc. But this list is basically about indulging the myopia, biases, and groupthink of a certain kind of critic rather than a broad survey designed to challenge, engage, and provoke. And frankly I will argue that many of these films represent true navel-gazing, including Vertigo, which is of much less interest to people who aren’t interested in watching films almost totally for metatext, and The Searchers, which is a dull racist mediocrity which has been rehabilitated and enshrined for reasons counfounding; other choices are just confusing, like Apocalypse Now, which is great but almost self-evidently the worst of the four great films Coppola made in the 1970s. And…and…and…oh, never mind. /rant

  15. Gravatar of Gordon Gordon
    2. February 2014 at 19:21

    Congratulations on 5 years, Scott! Your blog has been very educational and thought provoking. I appreciate the time you take to respond to comments. Even though I’m not an economist, I would bet that market monetarism will gain broader acceptance over time much in the same way that floating exchange rates gained acceptance.

  16. Gravatar of Al Al
    2. February 2014 at 20:12

    I definitely agree with Her being the most memorable American movie of 2013. Interestingly, almost everyone I talk with anthropomorphizes the AIs.

    The 21st century has been very good for movie lovers. Departures, A Separation, Lust Caution, The Hunt, and Undisputed 3 are examples of masterpieces released since 2007.

  17. Gravatar of ChrisW ChrisW
    2. February 2014 at 21:26

    Re: American Hustle: That insight about the 70s being the decade of
    “peak privacy” may be the most profound thing I’ve read in I don’t know how long.

  18. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    2. February 2014 at 22:22

    I’m afraid that if Rolling Stone is your metric, then it is almost entirely Boomer nostalgia.

    Need to watch many of those films, thanks Scott! And happy 5th anniversary.

    What do you find Mannerist about Radiohead? And how did you like the new video for Like a Rolling Stone? Same reaction as everybody, I guess.

    I’m sure you’d have fit right in with the hipsters if you’d been born a few decades later.

  19. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    2. February 2014 at 22:54

    I would say that the distribution of the BFI top 50 by decade says more about the BFI than it does about the quality of movies by decade.

    If you went with the AFI’s top 100 of its 1st 100 years(rleased 1998) they like the 50s more than the 60, and the 70s a lot more than the BFI.

    If you went with IMDB, they favor the 90’s

    My tastes happen to line up with the editors of Rolling Stone, but Rolling Stone’s list is a reflection of rolling stone.

  20. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    3. February 2014 at 00:17

    Noah Smith has a good Abenomics post:

  21. Gravatar of Tom Tom
    3. February 2014 at 04:34


    Sir, your tastes deserve a medal in this day and age!

    Seriously though, while not quite the fan of Spaceballs as you are I’m in shock that Brazil is so low on the all-time list. For my money it’s the best representation of a dystopian future I’ve ever seen (at least as an original work; Big fan of 12 Monkeys as well despite its adaptation roots)! To think, Gilliam almost got to direct Watchmen as well…*sigh*

    The Ozzy snub is a bit ridiculous as well, but I guess it doesn’t surprise me quite as much; that kind of metal/rock will never get full praise since it’s a little more love/hate…

  22. Gravatar of Tod Tod
    3. February 2014 at 04:57

    I call it the Bell Curve of Top ### lists. Too old, too soon, just right.

  23. Gravatar of whatsthat whatsthat
    3. February 2014 at 07:55

    You mean burst in pop creativity for the US, english singing crowd.

    There are other countries where musicians exist you know.

  24. Gravatar of Chris S Chris S
    3. February 2014 at 11:01

    Availability bias.

    The period 1962-1971 was very good musically, but also the means of production and distribution were much more centralized. This leads to a large filter, as well as a smaller base, so highly concentrated critical acclaim and greater “peaks.”

    2000-present (give or take) any fool can make a recording on equipment a professional in 1968 could only dream of, and many do. Then the cost of distribution is virtually nil. Smaller filter, larger base, more diffuse distribution of critical acclaim.

    The “experts” at Rolling Stone are not immune to this bias. I bet that although the 1960s era has higher peaks, the area under the curve is much greater in post-2000 with a very long tail.

    BTW, loved this:

    The Wolf of Wall Street (US) 3.0 Martin Scorcese could make a 3.0 star film in his sleep, and he did.

    IMO, the review, cut to that length, is much superior to the original.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. February 2014 at 12:19

    Thanks Major.

    Mark, Funny how it always seems to come back to monetary policy.

    Thanks Ben. You were a big help.

    TGGP. Interesting, I’ll take a look.

    123, I don’t have good taste in music, so I’m reluctant to comment. I know nothing about Italian pop music. I liked Brazil.

    Squarely Rooted, As I said, my taste tends to be boring, aligned with these reviewers. I love Vertigo for reasons having nothing to do with “metatext.” The Searchers is neither racist nor mediocre. But its (ambiguous) hero is certainly a racist, however.

    But I agree that Pulp Fiction is great, and I’d guess it will show up on the top 50 within 20 years. Ditto for Blue Velvet.

    Thanks Gordon,

    I like Departures, and I liked Separation and Lust, Caution even more. Didn’t see the other two. But I believe film quality has dropped off in recent years. Or maybe I’m getting old.

    Thanks ChrisW.

    Saturos, I’ve never seen a “Like a Rolling Stone” video. The version I like is the live version from 1966. BTW, did you know Dylan did a US TV commerical yesterday, telling people to buy American cars (by which he meant Italian cars made in America.) Money doesn’t talk, it swears.

    I don’t buy the boomer nostalgia argument, at least not in its entirely (it’s partly true.) I think in 30 or 40 years the period from 1963-71 will still totally dominate the decades before and after in polls. But the boomers will be dead.

    Is the Renaissance also boomer nostalgia? Cycles happen.

    Doug, Again, consider this post a prediction of future polls. There is “no dispute on matters of taste” (of course there is) but there is dispute on matters of what polls will look like when boomers are dead.

    whatsthat, What would a poll in France look like? Interesting question. Would French bands from the 1960s poll ahead of the Beatles/Stones/Dylan? I doubt it, even among French critics.

    ChrisS, Good points, and thanks.

  26. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    3. February 2014 at 13:02

    The critic’s top movie list has the problem I expected — the contempt for genre. The only two SF films are 2001 and Metropolis, both self-consciously “high brow”.

    When I saw zero entries for 2002-13, I thought “really, no Dark Knight?”.

    This contempt for “not serious” genres is a problem in fiction as well. As a best-selling crime novelist friend of mine noted in a speech recently, if a “serious” writer wanders into genre, they get praised to the skies for doing stuff that is typically neither path-breaking nor a good version thereof.

    Compare the reception of Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” (1985) with the apparent complete ignorance that Heinlein had been-there done-that with the lead story in “Revolt in 2100” (1953) originally published as “If this goes on” (1940). Heinlein picked up the danger of Protestant fundamentalist politics way before the intelligentsia noticed. Just has he managed to have a Hispanic hero in “Starship Troopers” (1959), which proved too hard for Hollywood to manage with the stunningly less intelligent 1997 film.

    Back to films: the IMDB ratings have rather more of the “wisdom of crowds” going for them, though they likely also have a stronger recency bias.

    And I enjoyed “The Hobbit”. I speak as a long time Tolkien buff. When you say “got almost everything wrong” do you mean “wrong for putting a children’s tale on the screen?” (because that is not what Jackson was trying to do, he was doing the prequel to “Lord of the Rings”) or “wrong for a rollicking good time in the cinema”? In which case, not according to the market.

  27. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    3. February 2014 at 14:05

    “This contempt for “not serious” genres is a problem in fiction as well.”

    I find it impossible to separate the very word “genre” from the establishment of a hierarchy of genre. The word is snobbish.

  28. Gravatar of 123 123
    3. February 2014 at 14:26

    Maybe mannerism works better in music than it did in Renaissaince paintings.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. February 2014 at 06:05

    Lorenzo, Most would view “Stalker” as sci-fi, but I agree with your point that the elite is often biased against genre pictures, books, etc.

    I thought the Dark Knight with the Joker was excellent, but not top 50 level.

    Jackson had a great book to work with in LOTR, not so with the Hobbit. I enjoyed the first episode, but in the second he seemed to be trying to do a LOTR type film without the material (narrative) required to pull it off. It ended up a mishmash of action scenes with nothing to make you care about was what happening in the scene. Also it lacked the “realism” of LOTR, because the action scenes were so over the top you just wanted to laugh. You never laughed in LOTR. BTW, I think LOTR is one of the top 50 films of all time. I view it as a single 11 hour film.

    He probably should have stuck to the book. Most movies of books are too short, this is the first I can recall that was too long.

  30. Gravatar of o. nate o. nate
    4. February 2014 at 18:29

    I’m not suggesting we ignore critics and just go by sales as a measure of quality. On the other hand, if you ask someone what they think the best albums of all time are and you compare to what they actually listen to most of the time, the two sets may not line up exactly. Most people have a pretty good idea of what music is supposed to be considered “important” – the old stuff. And the oldest decade that most people today can remember music-wise is the ’60s. This is admittedly unscientific, but if you look at release dates on Wikipedia’s list of best-selling albums of all time, you’ll see that the ’80s are in first place, closely followed by the ’90s and the ’70s, with the ’60s a distant fourth.

  31. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    5. February 2014 at 01:41

    “Didn’t Kurt Cobain say he’d been born too late? (The good songs were taken.) Right before killing himself? He’s got the most recent song on the list.”

    When/if Cobain made this point, was he expressing admiration of the songs from the 1963-1971 era? I’m no Cobain Authority, but even I know that he’s known for championing obscure artists from well outside the 1963-1971 window. I don’t think you can use Cobain to buttress your point, I think he stands in opposition to it.

    Also I wonder about debating whether the RS list reflects boomer “nostalgia” when the obvious point is that it reflects (with Krugmanesque subtlety) boomer loss of interest in music. Great artists from after 1971 may not get to do many Super Bowl halftimes or Grammy telecasts now, but I wouldn’t be so sure that they’re going to overlooked by the critics of the future.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. February 2014 at 07:16

    o, nate. I don’t agree. I think the sixties would dominate a poll made 10, 20, or 30 years ago just as much as today. It’s not merely a generation cohort effect.

    anon, I wasn’t using Cobain’s statement to buttress my claim for the 1960s, I think you misinterpreted it. I was making an “anxiety of influence” claim.

    Off topic, I’d guess that a list of the greatest paintings of all time would be dominated by the 1500s and 1600s. It’s not a generational issue.

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