Thursday, November 4, 2010

IMDb Top 250

While I started this blog primarily to chronicle my quest to watch every Academy Award best picture nominee, the idea behind "movie vegetables" is much larger. It is the continual search for great, worthwhile, relevant, original, and classic movies. Everything you're supposed to watch because it's good for you.

No list of great movies is perfect. The idea of ranking and rating movies is flawed from the beginning. There will never be an accurate, objective way to rate movies on a scale as if they were earthquakes or something quantifiable. It's like at the beginning of Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams has them read from their text how determining the greatness of a poem can be calculated mathematically. "Excrement," is how Williams describes such a theory.

Here's the way I look at it: Any person or group compiling a list is going to overlook some great films. It's inevitable and even infuriating at times. But whether it's the Academy, AFI, or IMDb, they can at least give you guide that offers a better place to start than what made the most money at the box office last week (currently Saw 3D, by the way).

The IMDb Top 250 has long fascinated me. It wasn't decided upon by IMDb staff. It is simply a list of the highest rated movies by the site's users. IMDb has even taken the time to calculate a formula that gives each film a weighted rating to ensure each film has received a sufficient number of votes before breaching the Top 250. Voters who only give films "10" or "1" have their votes discarded. It's far from perfect, like any list. But, even though I tend to disagree with the general public on what's good, this list has always had a wonderful mix of old, new, foreign, and independent movies. It has lost some credibility lately. I believe The Dark Knight (which I love) brought thousands of new voters to the site as TDK climbed the charts vying for the #1 all-time spot. When the dust settled, The Godfather, that had been the site's #1 for years, surrendered the top spot to The Shawshank Redemption. TDK now sits at #10. The result seems to be that newer "cool" movies are way overrated. I like Inception, but it is NOT the 4th greatest movie of all-time. But, again, no list is perfect. Inception is worth seeing and the old, foreign, and indies are still represented. I don't regret seeing any movie on this list, which at the moment, I have seen all of.

I'm writing this post because last night I re-tackled the Top 250. As of about six months ago I had seen them all, but the list is constantly in flux and I had fallen behind by a few movies again. By recently watching How to Train Your Dragon, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3, I thought I had done it again. I pulled up the ol' list to confirm this. I found that it will now track for you what you've seen on the top 250 by showing you the ones you haven't rated yet. I don't tend to rate movies on IMDb for the reasons I stated above about it's futility (ironic, because if no one did, there'd be no top 250 for me to go by). So I had to go through and rate them all, some of which I hadn't seen in years and just gave it my best guess from what I remember. Then I unexpectedly hit one I had never heard of. Mary and Max, a 2009 Australian animated black comedy. Netflix had it available on live streaming, so I watched it immediately.

This highlights the entire reason I'm doing what I'm doing with the IMDb Top 250 and the best picture nominees, etc. There are just too many movies out there and most of them are crap. Mary and Max is a GREAT movie that 24 hours ago I hadn't even heard of. Maybe it will magically be eligible for the Oscars this year (stranger things have happened with foreign movies), but probably not. So to plug IMDb some more, I say, USE IT. Browse, sort, rank, search. Regardless of your tastes, it is an invaluable tool in looking for your own movie vegetables.


  1. In 1940 a German man named Veit Harlen made a movie called Jud Suss (or Jud Sub). I'm sure you haven't heard of Mr. Harlen or his movie, as it doesn't touch the production quality of the films in IMDb's Top 250 and didn't win any awards (full disclosure: it's a 5.4, but keep reading). I mention this film--and recommend that you see it--not because it is a great film, but to make a point about cinema in general.

    While I enjoy reading great movies lists and am always looking to watch the best of the best, I view cinema as more than just entertainment or even art. Or perhaps I should say I view cinema as entertainment and/or art that often is much more than what meets the eye. Cinema offers us a window into the settings and, more importantly, the worldviews of old. Jud Suss is a mediocre film starring no one you've heard of. And it isn't high on my list of German movie recommendations, either . But you should watch it because it was commissioned by Nazi Germany as a propaganda film. I learned more about the tactics and goals of the Nazis in this film than I had in any book or class prior. The film offers a portrait of what Nazis believed and the emotionally persuasive tactics they used to accomplish their goals. While I certainly don't agree with the film, and simply detest what the Nazis stood for, understanding their position allows us to better understand mankind and better enables us to keep such atrocities from happening again.

    Films are made in the spirit of their time. If we look to these details--filmmaker's intention, political climate, cultural movements, etc.--that surround a film's production, we can utilize films as a key means of understanding different times, cultures, and peoples. I'll continue to watch the acclaimed movies, and most movies I won't watch, but I'll also keep an eye out for movies that, while not of the highest production quality, still offer a valuable and worthwhile perspective.