UM's "Required Cinema Screening List," and my reactions
As attentive readers know, I've recently started an M.F.A. program in film. What you guys don't know (yet) is that, as a requirement for my M.F.A. program, I'll have to take a "cinema literacy" test at the end of my two years.
I'd heard about this test, and the huge list of films it tests on, over the summer, but only yesterday did I get the actual list. It's been revised and expanded (emphasis on expanded) since last year, and now includes nearly 200 films. YIKES. That's a lot. But it's okay, because a lot of them are really good. Well, all of them are supposed to be really good, but a lot of them are things I already know and love, or in some cases, things I've been meaning to see forever.
The list includes all the usual suspects, those old films that all the straight, white, male critics of America typically revere. You know, the classics: Citizen Kane, 2001, Casablanca, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, etc.
It also includes many of those "essential" silent films that first established cinema as an art form: Grand Illusion, Un Chien Andalou, Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, Birth of a Nation, Voyage to the Moon, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc. (The Passion of Joan of Arc was sadly excluded).
But what I found most interesting is which contemporary films made the cut. A mere FOUR films from the year 2000 or later managed to place. And they are:
Amores Perros (2000)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
City of God (2002)
Interesting that all four of them are foreign. I guess they figure we've all seen most of the notable American releases of the past few years. But couldn't they still have found room for, say:
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Far From Heaven (2002)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
...and other similarly groundbreaking films of the past few years? I KNOW that not everyone in my program has seen them. But I have, so I guess it doesn't matter for me.
In fairness, there are several great films on the list that I didn't expect to find there, and others that I sort of expected to find but am nevertheless pleased to see. Some examples:
Thelma & Louise (1991)
YES. I really wasn't expecting this, so when I saw it, my heart swelled with joy.
Annie Hall (1977)
Always a good choice.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Dancer was probably too controversial, but at least this one made it.
Singin' in the Rain (1952) and All That Jazz (1979)
The people who created the list don't seem to have much respect for musicals, but thankfully these classics made the cut.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Yay for David Lynch.
Imitation of Life (1959)
Almost every great contemporary film left out at least has a similar predecessor that made it. If they couldn't add Far From Heaven, I'm glad they added this.
The Graduate (1967)
Yay, Mike Nichols!
Do the Right Thing (1989)
There were other Spike Lee films as well, as I recall; they like him.
The Piano (1993)
Jane Campion's classic, given its due... and no Schindler's List in sight.
Who's Afraid of Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I think the only Zemeckis that made it; good choice.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
I adore Gloria Swanson.
There were also some straight-up bizarre inclusions. For example: both All About My Mother (1999) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) are there. The former is a given, and a great choice, but the latter? Obviously Volver is too recent for this list, but why not Law of Desire or Talk to Her instead? Or maybe they could've put only one Pedro film, and freed up space for a Haynes film? Weird. Devil in a Blue Dress (1999) also made it... to which I say, "huh?". Ditto Wallace and Gromit in the Wrong Trousers (1993).
Anyway, there are also lots of films I haven't even heard of that are there, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe they're all good. But there are still some exclusions that are hard to fathom (no Wizard of Oz? no West Side Story? no Kaufman?).
I must say, the single best call, IMO, was Thelma & Louise. What a great choice. LOVE that movie.