Monthly Archives: January 2017

Sean Osborn: Celebrity Guest Lister

Make Lists, Not War is proud to announce that celebrated American classical clarinetist and composer Sean Osborn – a visitor to the website – has provided us with some of his favorites – below are two lists he made: one is Best Operas and the other is Best Clarinet Concertos.  For those who want to know more about Mr. Osborn’s music, check out the following:

His website: http://www.osbornmusic.com/
His recordings: https://www.amazon.com/s?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=music&field-artist=Sean%20Osborn
His compositions: http://www.osbornmusic.com/workslist.html

BEST CLARINET CONCERTOS (a list by Sean Osborn)
1. Carl Nielsen, Clarinet Concerto, op. 57 (1928)
2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 (1791) (tie)
2. John Adams, Gnarly Buttons (1996) (tie)
4. Aaron Copland, Clarinet Concerto (1949)
5. Carl Maria von Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, Op. 74 (1811)
6. Gerald Finzi, Clarinet Concerto, Op. 31 (1949)
7. Magnus Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto (2002)
8. Jean Françaix, Clarinet Concerto (1968)
9. Carl Maria von Weber, Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73 (1811)
10. William Bolcom, Clarinet Concerto (1992)

BEST OPERAS (a list by Sean Osborn)

Personal Favorite
IL TRITTICO (1. Il tabarro; 2. Suor Angelica; 3. Gianni Schicchi) (1918) Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Masterpieces
LA BOHÈME (THE BOHEMIAN LIFE) (1896) Composer: Giacomo Puccini
OTELLO (OTHELLO) (1887) Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (TWILIGHT OF THE GODS) (1876) Composer: Richard Wagner
WOZZECK (1925) Composer: Alban Berg
LE NOZZE DI FIGARO (THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO) (1786) Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Some Near-Masterpieces
TOSCA (1900) Composer: Giacomo Puccini
PETER GRIMES (1945) Composer: Benjamin Britten
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979) Composer: Stephen Sondheim
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
 (THUS DO THEY ALL) (1790) Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
CARMEN (1875) Composer: Georges Bizet

The Making of a List – The Best 200 Movies of All Time – Using a New Method

This post introduces a new “Top Movies” meta-list that I compiled using a completely new methodology.  Those of you familiar with my lists know that I usually make all my meta-lists the same way: I collect “Best of” lists on a specific topic from the Internet, books and magazines and give one point to an item for every list it is on.  You also know that, for complicated mathematical reasons explained HERE, I treat all lists equally, no matter how long they are (a top 10 list and a top 1000 list are not weighted differently, as long as the total number of items in the classification is much higher than 1000), and no matter where an item is on the list (in the case of a top 1000 list, for example, I treat the item at Number 1 exactly the same as the item at Number 1000).  Don’t fret – it all works out.

NOTE: The links to the new list are at the bottom of the page if you want to skip the methodology and analysis information below.

Because my traditional method for making meta-lists does not take advantage of the more complicated rating schemes available on certain websites (particularly those involving film), I thought it would be fun to use those websites to see what kind of a film list they would create.  Here’s what I did:  First, I took the top 250 movies (as rated by the public) on the website IMDb.com (the Internet Movie Database), along with the 1-10 rankings for each movie.  I then added the top 100 movies on the Rotten Tomatoes website, as determined by the site’s Tomatometer score, which uses an algorithm based on critics’ reviews.  I added to that the top 200 movies as rated by the members of the Rate Your Music website (which rates films as well as music), along with the ranking (RYM rates on a 1-5 scale, so I just doubled each score to get a 1-10 rating). To put my personal opinions in the mix, I then added every movie that I rated 10/10.  I then added all the films on the most recent Sight & Sound Magazine polls of film critics and directors (100 movies on each list, from 2012).  To get a ranking, I assigned numeric values on a 1-10 basis (10 for the top 10 movies, 9.95 for the next 10, and so on).  I took that list of nearly 500 movies and looked up for each movie the average critic score from Rotten Tomatoes (which is calculated differently from the from the Tomatometer score and tends to be lower), my personal 1-10 rating (if I had seen the film) and the critics’ rating from Metacritic.com, if available. (Metacritic doesn’t rate most older movies unless they were recently re-released or reissued.) This gave each film the possibility of up to eight 1-10 ratings.  To avoid skewing the data, I then deleted any film that did not have at least three of the eight ratings, which reduced the total number of movies on the list to 376.  Using Excel, I calculated the average rating for each movie.  The top film had a 9.67 rating; the film at the 376th spot was rated at 6.25.  I then somewhat arbitrarily selected the top 200 films on the list as the best of all time (the 200th film’s rating was 8.67).

The result is definitely not your typical best movies list: for one thing, there are quite a few very recent films; some perennial favorites are missing and some unusual selections have made it. The list sometimes rates less well-known films of a director higher than the film usually considered the director’s best.  Using my personal ratings means that many of my favorite movies are on the list (and movies I gave very low ratings did not make the cut: so long Forrest Gump, Inception, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Up and WALL-E!).  But don’t think of this as a list of my favorites.  If anything, the Sight & Sound movies received the most weight, since they are drawn from hundreds of respected movie critics and directors. Many of my top-rated movies were cut because they didn’t have a minimum of three ratings out of the eight potential sources.  So, for example, I have never seen the top three movies on the list – Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist – although you can believe I’m pushing them to the top of my Netflix queue.

I have examined the new list a bit and came up with some interesting tidbits about it, as shown in the analysis below:

MOST FEQUENTLY LISTED DIRECTORS AND THEIR MOST-LISTED FILMS

6 Films
Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo)

5 FIlms
Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt)
Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander)

4 Films 
Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar)
Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai)
Federico Fellini (La Strada)
Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey)
Luis Buñuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie)
Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd.)

MOST COMMON COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN AND TOP FILM FOR EACH COUNTRY

United States: 107 films (Top Film: The Godfather)
France: 27 films (Top Film: Au Hasard Balthazar)
United Kingdom: 19 films (Top Film: A Hard Day’s Night)
Italy: 16 films (Top Film: The Leopard)
Japan: 9 films (Top Film: Seven Samurai)
Germany: 8 films (Top Film: Aguirre, the Wrath of God)
USSR: 5 films (Top Film: Battleship Potemkin)
Sweden: 5 films (Top Film: Fanny and Alexander)
Denmark: 3 films (Top Film: Gertrud)
New Zealand: 3 films (Top Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) (co-production with US)

DECADES WHEN FILMS WERE PRODUCED AND TOP RATED FILM OF EACH DECADE

1910s: 1 film (Intolerance)
1920s: 12 films (Top Film: Battleship Potemkin)
1930s: 16 films (Top Film: The Rules of the Game)
1940s: 19 films (Top Film: Open City)
1950s: 33 films (Top Film: Anatomy of a Murder)
1960s: 36 films (Top Film: Au Hasard Balthazar)
1970s: 27 films (Top Film: The Conformist)
1980s: 11 films (Top Film: Shoah)
1990s: 15 films (Top Film: Pulp Fiction)
2000s: 18 films (Top Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2010s: 13 films (Top Film: Boyhood)

TOP-RATED DOCUMENTARY FILMS
Shoah (France, 1985) Dir: Claude Lanzmann
Man with a Movie Camera (USSR, 1929) Dir: Dziga Vertov
Capturing the Friedmans (US, 2003) Dir: Andrew Jarecki
The Act of Killing (Denmark, 2012) Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
Grizzly Man (US, 2005) Dir: Werner Herzog
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Canada/US/France/Germany/UK, 2010) Dir: Werner Herzog
Man on Wire (UK/US, 2008) Dir. James Marsh
Hoop Dreams (US, 1994) Dir: Steve James
Stop Making Sense (US, 1984) Dir: Jonathan Demme

TOP-RATED MUSICALS
Singin’ in the Rain (US, 1951) Dir: Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly
A Hard Day’s Night (UK, 1964) Dir: Richard Lester
The Wizard of Oz (US, 1939) Dir: Victor Fleming
Nashville (US, 1975) Dir: Robert Altman
Once (Ireland, 2006) Dir: John Carney
La La Land (US, 2016) Dir: Damien Chazelle

TOP-RATED ANIMATED FILMS
Anomalisa (US, 2015) Dir: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Toy Story 3 (US, 2010) Dir: Lee Unkrich
Spirited Away (Japan, 2001) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Toy Story (US, 1995) Dir: John Lasseter

So now that I’ve piqued your interest, you probably want to see the new list.  Click on the links below for two versions: one is organized by rating/ranking, the other is chronological.

Top 200 Movies – By Ranking
Top 200 Movies – Chronological

The Sound of Silents: The Best Films from the Years Before Talkies

Silent films were never silent.  At the first official movie screening by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in December 1895, a guitarist accompanied the presentation of 10 short films, including the first documentary, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, and the first comedy, The Sprinkler Sprinkled.  In the U.S. it was more common for a pianist or – in the case of major films in big cities – a small orchestra, to accompany early films, which due to lack of the requisite technology had no synchronized soundtrack.  The musicians began by improvising or linking together popular melodies to illustrate what they saw on the screen, often adding sound effects for galloping horses, thunderclaps, ringing bells and other actions. In 1908, the first fully-composed film scores appeared in France (by Camille Saint-Saens) and Russia.  The first major U.S. film to have a score was D.W. Griffith’s racist blockbuster The Birth of the Nation, with music composed by Joseph Breil, in 1915.  The giant movie theaters built in the 1910s and 1920s often incorporated immense theater organs that allowed for musical accompaniment, which usually involved a combination of following the score as well as improvisation and elaborate sound effects.  The switch to synchronized sound after the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, a change that permitted the actors to speak their dialogue and allowed moviemakers to incorporate music into the film itself, put thousands of movie theater musicians out of work.

Modern audiences often have difficulty watching movies from the “silent” era.  The acting style necessary to communicate without spoken dialogue – essentially a form of mime – seems histrionic and over-the-top to many now.  (Even some contemporaries agreed. When Charles Chaplin made A Woman of Paris in 1923 – one of the few Chaplin films that did not star The Little Tramp – he specifically instructed his actors to adopt a more subdued acting style than was the norm. As a result the film seems more modern than many other silent films.)  The stilted, corny or moralistic tone of some of the intertitles can also be offputting to modern audiences.  On top of these substantive concerns, there are also physical problems with many silent films – many were badly preserved.  In fact, we are lucky to have any silent films left at all – it is estimated that 70% of all feature films from the pre-talkie era have deteriorated beyond repair or were deliberately destroyed after the switch to the new sound technology.

But these difficulties should not dissuade movie buffs from checking out some of the classic silent films, particularly those made in the 1920s.  It was during the silent era that filmmakers developed the basic visual vocabulary of moviemaking. By the mid-1920s, studios around the world were turning out high-quality films, some of them with dazzling visual technique and inventiveness.  In fact, the first years of sound movies, which required the noisy film cameras to be placed in soundproof (and immobile) boxes and anchored the actors to the location of the nearest microphone, saw a decrease in the cinematic inventiveness and overall quality of films. Look at many sound films from the late 1920s and early 1930s and you will see film returning to the days when everything looked like a filmed play – no moving cameras, few or no tracking shots – everything static.  The transition period is lovingly parodied by Betty Comden and Adolph Green in their screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain, the 1952 musical directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Because there was no dialogue, and intertitles could easily be translated into any language, silent film was a more international art than film after the introduction of sound. Germany during the Weimar Republic was a particularly strong producer of high-quality films in various genres: horror (Nosferatu), science fiction (Metropolis), crime thriller (Dr. Mabuse – The Gambler), and drama/social commentary (The Last Laugh; Pandora’s Box).  Several of the best German directors – Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg – brought their expertise to Hollywood in time to produce silent film masterpieces on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps the most accessible of the silent films to modern audiences are the comedies. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and other comic geniuses created personae that appeared in film after film in one outrageous fix after another.  The relative critical reputations of Chaplin and Keaton have see-sawed over the years.  At times, the sublime mix of comedy and pathos that characterizes Chaplin’s best work receives top billing; then the pendulum swings to the unsentimental acrobatics of the stone-faced Keaton, who never asks the audience for its sympathy.

I urge you to take another look at silent films, many of which are available online either free on YouTube or through a streaming service.  Or take the DVDs out of your local library.

To give you a selection of the best silent films that have been preserved, I collected 10 lists of “Best Silent Films” and made two meta-lists.  One organizes the movies by rank, that is, with the movies on the most lists at the top.  The other list is chronological.  Enjoy.

Best Silent Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
Best Silent Films of All Time – Chronological