July 31, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

I thought about writing something about Mel Gibson today, but what's the point? Everyone else is writing about him. He joins Tom Cruise and Lindsay Lohan in the category of self-destructive celebrities. Gibson's problem is twofold: he's an alcoholic and an anti-Semite. The first problem he can get help for (as apparently he is doing). I'm not sure about the second. He has been contrite over the past few days, but one has to wonder whether this is heartfelt contrition over his sins, or sorrow that this has come into the public. Gibson is probably experienced at burying his anti-Semitism. How else could he have thrived in Hollywood for so many years? But alcohol has a way of stripping away barriers and letting things out. Gibson may have been working for years to overcome or surpress his anti-Jewish feelings, but they're obviously still there, just beneath the surface. We live in a society where we delight in raising up movie stars to the level of false gods, then tearing them down. Gibson has aided the latter process, providing not only the necessary rope for a hanging, but fashioning the noose and draping it around his own neck.

That's the extent to which I'm going to write about him, and one paragraph may be more than he deserves.

What I want to address today is my extreme boredom with compiled movie lists. It seems that every group in existence feels compelled to put one or more of these together. The Best 100 of this, the Top 100 of that, and the Most Extreme 100 of the other thing. The AFI is the biggest offender, but they're not the only ones. The film critics' group I belong to, the OFCS, is currently putting together lists. I have abstained from participating. Why? Because I find the project to be a waste of time and effort. And boring. Who wants to read a list put together by a committee?

Some might find this stance hypocritical, since I spent the better part of two years posting my own Top 100 list, and take time every January to revise and update it, as necessary. I also provide end-of-the-year Top 10s, as well as mid-year lists. My objection, however, isn't with individual Top 10s or Top 100s or Top whatevers. Those can be interesting, since they provide insight into the mindset of the person who compiled them. But I hate group lists. I don't find them useful or interesting or indicative of anything. Plus, there's no one to argue with if you strongly disagree with a selection.

I believe, though, that I'm in the minority. I think there's an endless fascination with lists of all kinds, and people don't care much who is responsible for putting them together. They are gratified if their favorites make it onto the list, and insulted if they don't. I have received numerous e-mails praising my choice of Movie X on my Top 100 and asking if I have lost my mind for not including Movie Y. People feel strongly about films and want others to feel the same. That's human nature.

I read other people's lists to figure out how closely their tastes match mine. Perusing a Top 100 list is a good way to make a first assessment. But when the list is the result of group voting, it has become a neutered, least common denominator grouping. It represents nothing. It's the mean of the bell curve with the quirky choices removed if they're more than one standard deviation away. That's why Citizen Kane is always called The Best Film Ever Made. It's a safe choice, and a good film. But it's a consensus pick that many individuals do not agree with. (Apologies to Roger Ebert, who sincerely believes it is the best film ever made.) It's possible for a film that isn't #1 on any lists to achieve that position on a group list, if it places high on enough lists to earn the most "points." In that case, how valid is this #1? Do even the people involved in compiling these lists care about the results, or are they doing it simply to have a new "project" to work on?

Does that sound cynical? Possibly. I have my cynical moments. But is it more cynical than the truth about one of America's most beloved actors harboring horrible, racist sentiments that will only earn him the brunt of the condemnation he deserves if his upcoming movie fails?