Many who left comments on the Huff pointed out that Spike's list is HIS list. He's not saying it should be YOUR list. Well, yes, but if you're a bright eyed young film student at NYU and your famous teacher presents such a list -- your grade may improve if you take the next A-Train to Netflixville and catch these classics. I've attended NYU and brown nosing works just fine there.
Women film types will see something immediately, though it's not what I'm talking about. Article author Matthew Jacobs names it as a "dearth of women included." True. There are no women on the list, and that's -- of course -- thanks to a predominantly male dominated industry within a global patriarchy. (Don't get me started.) And so it follows that since men have directed almost all movies, they've directed almost all of the best ones.
That's not the overall peculiarity of this list, however. That's par for the course. What's strange is that this isn't an essential films list at all. Right? This is a list of essential movies by essential directors. There's a difference. And a related bias.
We know this is a list of great films by great directors since the movies are listed by directors. Not alphabetical by title. Or chronological by release. If you think I'm reading too much into this, listen to how Spike describes the films --
Spike Lee is a member of The Main Man Directors Club. The first rule of The Main Man Directors Club is to always praise fellow club members. Not their films. Not the stories. The directors.
Over a decade ago I made a list of my favorite films. I didn't list directors. I listed film titles, the best at the top. Since I'm a screenwriter, the successful production of the story matters more to me than... how the director contributed to the history of film direction helming said story. See the difference? You could drive a Star Wagons trailer through it.
For example, Spike lists BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN by Terrence Malick as essential. I'll agree with Spike that these are the only two Malick films worthy of grand praise. DAYS OF HEAVEN is in my top ten films, after all.
BADLANDS didn't make my top 200 films. Why? BADLANDS is a rather common story that Malick directed extremely well, but it pales in comparison to his own DAYS OF HEAVEN. It also pales in comparison to essential films Lee omitted by directors within his very club, like LAST EMPEROR and BEING THERE.
I'm my book (blog?) an essential film is so extraordinary you absolutely must own it. You will watch the film again almost every year. If it's a very sad film like DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, you buy it and... you hate yourself you don't watch it more often. To make my point a different way, I think most would agree WINE AND ROSES eats BADLANDS for breakfast.
My essential problem with many of the films celebrated by The Main Man Directors Club is that they simply don't need to be seen again and again and again. TAXI DRIVER? RAGING BULL? The first two GODFATHER films?
These are extremely well executed movies, no doubt. Groundbreaking and influential, no argument. But their stories, to this screenwriter, aren't so essential. As an Italian American I can't help but feel the GODFATHER pictures aren't much more than masterfully executed snuff films, with the grace of a ballet and the precision of Cirque Du Soleil. I'd burn DRIVER, BULL, and both GODFATHERS to save DOG DAY AFTERNOON, a film that is less about male prowess and more about the human condition. (I am pleased to see DOG DAY on Spike's list.)
Let's face the fact that many Main Man films are... well... boys being boys cinema. Guns, violence, butter -- oh my.
NOW, VOYAGER and ALL ABOUT EVE leave BADLANDS and MAD MAX in the dust -- essentially -- but since the former films are girlie melodramas where the latter films are temples of testosterone -- the choice is clear for any real Main Man.
I'm sure most of Spike's list can help young directors learn countless things about the history of direction, but great films are not meant to merely be classrooms for film students. They are meant to be visual literature for the world as well. In fact I'd suggest that until a film reaches the latter status can the former interest be addressed.
Let me end by noting Spike omitted DO THE RIGHT THING from his own list, which is a crime, because it is essential.
And that's the triple truth, Ruth.