At the end of 1999, I began my attempt to compile my personal “100 Best Films” list. But by 2003, all I had managed to accomplish was a “123 Favorite Films” list. The difference between the two is that a valid “favorites” list is something anyone can make, but an actual “best” list—well, you have to possess a truly in-depth knowledge for that list to mean anything. In the process of identifying, ranking, and writing about my favorite films, I soon realized I was not nowhere near qualified for such an undertaking, and so began the Film5000 Project.
The list on the left of my current 125 favorite films is not ranked in terms of each movie’s greatness or its importance to film history. It is a subjective list of the films I most like to watch, ranked in order of how deeply they have inspired, moved, or entertained me. As the years have passed, some rankings have shifted, and some former favorite titles have been replaced by newer ones. In 2012, I began writing essays about why each one made the list and why some share a spot.
You learn some surprising things about yourself from a project like this. I learned how mainstream my tastes are. Almost all my favorite films were made by big Hollywood studios or their modern-day equivalents. My list included no silent films, only two documentaries, and only five non-English language films. Of the 125 films on this list, there are eight from the 1930s, twelve from the 1940s, nine from the 1950s, fourteen from the 1960s, twenty from the 1970s, and fourty-two from the 1980s.
Were the 1980s the best decade for cinema? It might be fun to attempt that argument, but more likely the 1980s were simply the decade when I came of age and when I watched the most movies. It's not surprising to me that the majority of the movies on this list are from the time when I was the most impressionable—grade school through high school. Only fiffteen films from the 1990s (when I was actually studying film) and only five from the new millennium (when I started to write about films) made my list.
If there is anyone who could write a definitive case for the 1980s being cinema's greatest decade (and there do not seem to be many people vying for this honor), it might be me. The prevailing perception of the '80s as a vacuous, uncreative time for film is best exemplified in Peter Biskind's books about Hollywood, Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, about the 1970s and Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film about the 1990s. In both of these entertaing but factaully questionable volumes, Biskind makes a case that the '80s were an age where corporate greed ruled and artists become powerless. After reading both books, I imagined writing my own treatise about the 1980s, called Terminators, Purple Roses, and Doing The Right Thing: How the 1980s Not Only Did NOT Suck But Were Perhaps Cinema’s Greatest Decade. I would generate controversy and skepticism with that title, but it might inspire people to go back and reconsider those three films and the hundreds (literally hundreds) of other great films from that much-maligned decade, starting perhaps with the fourty-two on my list.