A Brief Explanation, by Jim Rohner

26 Sep


So, a little while ago (checks calendar, shakes head in shame) Okay, so, two years ago I accepted Tyler’s invitation to take part in a project that would allow me to blog about the analytical and personal nuance of each film that made up my Top Ten Favorite Films. The distinction, if you remember, between what I was classifying as my Top Ten Favorites and not Top Ten Best was that the former was almost entirely informed by personal, emotionally, and chronologically subjectivity – what some would call “intangible factors” – whereas the latter was and is completely beyond my knowledge and exposure to even contemplate attempting. Titles on this list would not necessarily contain those to which the AFI or AMPAS would hand out awards, but would contain titles that I return to again and again no matter where I am in my life geographically or emotionally.

Thus, in November 2014 I began my list with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film widely considered a classic of its genre, albeit a genre that is largely still looked down upon in traditional critical circles. What followed was a partially completed list distributed sporadically across 11 months that took an indefinite hiatus after my seventh favorite film, John Carpenter’s The Thing. Where was the rest of the list? Why the delay? What happened?

The Bridge on the River Kwai happened.

You see, my blog on The Thing was posted in October 2015, one month removed from covering the late David Lean on my podcast, I Do Movies Badly. That month I covered The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but it was Bridge, ironically, that dammed me up. As assured as I was of my approach to my Top Ten list at the outset of writing, Bridge made me wonder if my planning and preparation for the list had been comprehensive enough. For those who haven’t seen it, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a good film. Like, REALLY good. Like, one of the best films OF ALL TIME good. It was so good that I began to wonder, “should this be my list?” and I wondered it often enough that I put my list on hold. The seed of doubt was planted and the more I watered it, the more it sprouted questions that I couldn’t answer, the roots of which made it absolutely impossible for me to even consider writing something that at first seemed so simple, yet now seemed so arrogant and naïve. If I include Bridge, where on the list does it go and what else gets moved around or left off? If it was good enough to be included on the list, then what else is out there that could possibly be included?


My initial doubt was catalyzed by what I hadn’t seen, but it soon began to infect my recollection of the films that I had seen.  Was there something I hadn’t properly considered? Was I forgetting a film that hadn’t immediately come to mind when I initially made the list?  Did I have a favorite in college that I’m forgetting about now? I was paralyzed, terrified that I had dug myself too big an intellectual hole, convinced that I wasn’t able to complete such an undertaking and that I never should’ve taken on the task in the first place.

Months went by and my thoughts sporadically turned to taking up the list again, if not reworking it, then at the very least completing it as I had initially structured it. “It might be disingenuous,” I thought to myself, “but it’ll be done. And the very least, I can return to it next year and revise it if need be.” So, I went back to my list, looked it over and realized something strange: with one exception, I was once again quite assured that the 10 films I had settled on were indeed my favorites. What happened?

Not The Bridge on the River Kwai.

You see, in the months between quitting the list and revisiting its completion, I realized that while I had rewatched or discussed some of the films on it either in part or in whole, I had not returned to The Bridge on the River Kwai again and I probably wouldn’t for a while. Why? Because it’s not one of my favorites.

Yes, it’s a fantastic film, truly one of the greatest things ever captured to celluloid, and if I were to ever attempt a Top Ten Best Films list, there’s a good chance it would be included. But best and favorite are two different labels that imply two different goals and somewhere along the way, I got the two of them confused because I got intimidated. Being exposed to such a great film made me realize that there’s so much about cinema that I still don’t know, that I still need to learn, and – sparing you too many details about my own insecurities – uncertainty in myself spread into uncertainty in my opinions and rather than focus on what I love and what makes me up, I began to worry about what I should be loving and who I should be.

The “should” is an illusion, of course, but it took me a while to come back around and realize that, to be comfortable enough in who I am and what I like to realize that going against consensus or coming at things from a different angle is precisely the point of opinions! If I worry too much about what others think, then what do I add to the conversation? If I worry too much about what a film means for the big picture of cinema, then how much focus will I lose on what a film means for me personally? Perhaps the most important question I asked myself though, is what titles do I return to time and time again? After a lot of thought and reflection, I realize that it’s the 10 that will appear on my list. Not because they’re the best or because they’re even necessarily the ones that I recommend to people, but because I love them, because they’re my favorites, because they’re mine.

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