Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

About Film 5000

This website grew out of my enduring passion for watching and discussing movies. In 1999, when everyone was making "100 best lists" of everything, several of my cinephile friends asked me if I had written up a list of the hundred films I considered the best. I thought I could dash one off in minutes, but I quickly realized that a proper and thoughtful listing of the hundred films I truly believed were the greatest ever made would be a major undertaking. After a few days of thinking about it, I realized I was completely unqualified. I could make a list of my 100 favorite films (a project which in itself took years), but even though I've seen thousands of films in dozens of styles, I didn’t think I had watched enough movies to make a "Best" list that was worth a damn.

This realization raised several questions: How many films would someone need to see in order to presume to rank the top hundred? What should the criteria be for such a list? In his book, Outliers, British-Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell suggested that it takes most people roughly 10,000 hours or ten years to become an expert in a field or endeavor. Using Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule and figuring that the average length of a film is two hours, one could suppose that a person would need to see five thousand films in order to become an expert at watching movies. But surely there would need to be a higher standard than merely the amount of time spent gazing at a screen. Would all the films need to be seen in proper theaters? How well rounded would the representation of genres, time periods, and countries of origin need to be? And how much cinematic authority should come from reading and writing about films and discussing them with other film buffs?

Over the next decade, I enjoyed contemplating these questions in a casual way. However, by 2012, with the ubiquity of digital projection and many of my favorite theaters shutting down for good, I developed a sense of urgency about film-going. It seemed to me that I was seeing fewer and fewer great movies each year. It seemed that the act of enjoying theatrically released films in the way Americans have for over a century was going to change within my lifetime. The questions became more prominent in my mind, and my desire to go out and see films returned to a level I hadn't experienced since my teens.

Movies have always been the only form of entertainment I am truly passionate about. I’m not a sports fan and detest video games. I enjoy novels but am a slow reader. While I love live theater and quality television, I doubt I will ever get to 10,000 hours of either. I’ve always watched at least fifty movies a year, but this number now seems like a mere drop in the bucket. If my favorite medium is not going to last forever, at least in the form I love so much, then I want to get as much of it as I can before it changes for good.

I started the Film5000 Project as an excuse to watch more movies and to instill in myself the discipline of daily writing. My goal is to see well over five thousand films in my lifetime and to reach the point where I can select and rank the fifty greatest feature films from every one of what I consider to be the hundred prime years of cinema history: from 1930, when seeing feature-length sound films in theaters with an audience became the national form of entertainment, to 2029, when I assume movies will most likely have evolved (or devolved) into something distinctively different from what they have been for all of my life and the life of the medium itself. This project is about feature films. By that I mean films between sixty-five minutes and four hours in length. As much as I love shorts like Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou and Chuck Jones’s One Froggy Evening, and epic documentaries like Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Ken Burns's The Civil War, short and long works feel like they belong in a different category. Multi-part TV films also seem to be another form, unless they have also been theatrically released in feature-length versions (like Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and Oliver Assayas’s Carlos).

This website is an archive of my thoughts about all the films I’ve seen, as well as my writing about cinema in general. In addition to trying to see as many films as possible during their theatrical runs, I will continue to seek out films of all sorts from all countries and time periods, and do my best to see them under the most ideal conditions possible. I will always opt for seeing actual prints of films in movie theaters over digital versions at home, and I will always try to screen foreign films in the language in which they were made with English subtitles. There are many films considered to be classics or important works that I have still not seen and, in most case, I will hold out for the chance to see them first in a theater whenever possible. By 2029, I hope to be able to make a truly informed "100 Best Films" list. Until then, I plan to watch films, write about them, and engage in discussion with other film lovers.

What I Want From Film Reviews

When I watch a film for the first time, I prefer to have as few preconceived notions about it as possible. Accordingly, I do my best to avoid all forms of advertising, interviews, and trailers (thank goodness for noise-canceling headphones), and I never read reviews until after I have seen a film. I know most people don’t want to see as many films as I do, and therefore they rely on reviews and word of mouth to decide which movies to see. But because advertisers and critics tend to give away far too much about films, reading about a film in advance deprives the viewer of one of cinema’s greatest pleasures: the unfolding of a story you know nothing about.

Of course, after I've experienced a movie for myself, I do enjoy reading what the critics have to say. But almost all of them seem to believe that part of their job is to explain some or all of a film’s narrative to their readers. I do my best to avoid this practice in my own writing about film. I don’t think a critic needs to expound on a movie’s plot in order to make detailed observations about its merits. Also, in the digital age, when prospective moviegoers might want to read several of the hundreds of reviews available online, it seems ludicrous to provide the same plot descriptions over and over. The reviews that accompany my year-by-year rankings contain little or no plot description. Rather, I use these reviews to present my brief thoughts on each movie, its production history, its relationship to the greater world of cinema, and why I like or dislike it. I also tend to write as if my reader is a fellow film buff that has already seen the picture, rather than a faceless ticket buyer trying to decide whether or not to see the film.

How I Rate Films

Unlike the legendary film critic Pauline Kael, I do not believe that one’s initial opinion of a movie should be forever frozen in time as the permanent assessment of that film. Opinions and perspectives can develop and change over time and over the course of multiple viewings. The circumstances surrounding one’s experiences of a film and the format in which it is seen can have a major effect on the perception of that film. Sometimes, long after seeing a film I found merely enjoyable, I will watch it again with fresh eyes and bump it up to a higher rating. Likewise, as the years have passed, I have had to reassess many films that I loved when I was young. When I review a film, I try to evaluate it in the context of the time and circumstances in which it was made as much as from a contemporary perspective. Viewing films through the lens of history as well as through your own frame of reference is the only fair way to judge them, and it's only possible to do it properly when you have seen dozens of films from every decade. Therefore, in addition to the stars themselves, I also provide additional information to contextualize my rating system, explaining the venue(s) and format(s) in which I've seen a given film and the number of times I have seen it. I also provide a list of films I have not yet seen from each year at the bottom of that year’s ranked list.