Film literacy

[Kotke]( has listed and annotated the “102 Movies You Should See Before You Consider Yourself to be Movie Literate.” He has seen 40 of the 102, or 39%. Want to see how I do? (Sure you do!)

**The List**

(I have italicized the films that I have seen.)

* 2001: A Space Odyssey
* The 400 Blows
* 8 1/2
* Aguirre, the Wrath of God
* Alien
* All About Eve
* Annie Hall
* Apocalypse Now
* Bambi
* The Battleship Potemkin
* The Best Years of Our Lives
* The Big Red One
* The Bicycle Thief
* The Big Sleep
* Blade Runner
* Blowup
* Blue Velvet
* Bonnie and Clyde
* Breathless
* Bringing Up Baby
* Carrie
* Casablanca
* Un Chien Andalou
* Children of Paradise / Les Enfants du Paradis
* Chinatown
* Citizen Kane
* A Clockwork Orange
* The Crying Game
* The Day the Earth Stood Still
* Days of Heaven
* Dirty Harry
* The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
* Do the Right Thing
* La Dolce Vita
* Double Indemnity
* Dr. Strangelove
* Duck Soup
* E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial
* Easy Rider
* The Empire Strikes Back
* The Exorcist
* Fargo
* Fight Club
* Frankenstein
* The General
* The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II
* Gone With the Wind
* GoodFellas
* The Graduate
* Halloween
* A Hard Day’s Night
* Intolerance
* It’s a Gift
* It’s a Wonderful Life
* Jaws
* The Lady Eve
* Lawrence of Arabia
* M
* Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior
* The Maltese Falcon
* The Manchurian Candidate
* Metropolis
* Modern Times
* Monty Python and the Holy Grail
* Nashville
* The Night of the Hunter
* Night of the Living Dead
* North by Northwest
* Nosferatu
* On the Waterfront
* Once Upon a Time in the West
* Out of the Past
* Persona
* Pink Flamingos
* Psycho
* Pulp Fiction
* Rashomon
* Rear Window
* Rebel Without a Cause
* Red River
* Repulsion
* The Rules of the Game
* Scarface
* The Scarlet Empress
* Schindler’s List
* The Searchers
* The Seven Samurai
* Singin’ in the Rain
* Some Like It Hot
* A Star Is Born
* A Streetcar Named Desire
* Sunset Boulevard
* Taxi Driver
* The Third Man
* Tokyo Story
* Touch of Evil
* The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
* Trouble in Paradise
* Vertigo
* West Side Story
* The Wild Bunch
* The Wizard of Oz

That’s 59/102 for me, or 58%. Better than Kotke, but still failing. And, I was a drama major in college; many of these are films I saw (and didn’t enjoy) during class.

The orignal list comes from Roger Ebert’s site, and is compiled by Jim Emerson. He says that the list contains:
>the movies you just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They’re the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat “movie-literate.”


>…I tried to represent key examples of all important genres, movie stars, directors, historical movements, and so on — like an overview of the 20th century in […] movies.

There are some great movies on this list and almost no snoozers. And I think I agree with Emerson’s concept of films being the “cultural currency” of our time.

At my first full-time teaching gig, the NY Times crossword puzzle was a big deal. The office staff would photocopy it each morning and students and teachers carried it around all day. There was a copy on the table in the Teachers’ Lounge and, by the end of most days, this communal faculty copy would be completed.

Janet, a colleage of mine (and the finest English teacher I’ve ever known), grew increasingly frustrated over the years I was there by what she perceived as an increase in the “silly” clues in each day’s puzzle. She said that, every month, the puzzle included fewer and fewer references to history, opera and more “classical” areas of knowledge, and more and more references to modern film, The Simpsons and South Park.

She was right about the puzzle, but I’ve never been sure if she was right to be frustrated. The fact of the matter is that, nowadays, people don’t stand around the water cooler talking about what was on Masterpiece Theatre last night. Instead, they sit at their desks and blog about what was on The Family Guy.

One could argue about whether that’s a good thing or not, but I don’t think we can any longer deny that film and television define much of American culture. Between Survivor, The Apprentice and American Idol, you’ve got something in common with 98% of the American population. It may not be important, but you could discuss it if you had to.

I think this list of films works in the same way. You want to sit and have a serious discussion about American cultural expression with me? Consider many of these movies to be pre-requisites to that conversation. If you haven’t done your homework, you’ll have less to say.

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