The Trouble With Rankings

I started off this blog with a ranking of my favorite movies from the 2010s. A sweeping ranking list allowed me to toss out my thoughts on 35 movies at once. It introduced my Tiered Ranking system. There are a few thoughts I have about this choice.

First,rankings teach me broader trends about my cinematic taste. It isn’t the most scientific method, but as I wrote, the flow of words became my guide for ranking the movies. As words poured out of me to celebrate Inside Out and Lady Bird, I knew where they would go. I knew as I sat and stared at my blinking cursor to write about Get Out and John Wick: Chapter 2 that they could only go so high. When I finished writing about M:I – Fallout and A Star is Born did I realize that there were four movies that I felt more strongly about. 
And in the end, I found a common theme in all the movies: personal change at the center of the story. Inception wasn’t only a heist movie, but a fable about finally facing grief. Lady Bird perfectly bottled up the angsts of senior year to knock me on the ground. Annihilation is a magnifying glass examining guilt and moving beyond it without self-destructing. And The Social Network focuses on an unlikeable protagonist who changes as the years go by, and as his power grows he becomes the harbinger of seismic cultural change.

Which says quite a bit about who I am, and how I view movies and how I digest them. 

But I also contributed to the destructive practice of assigning objective worth to pieces of art. 

Ranking art is of little inherent value. Declaring one film to be in another Tier than another doesn’t do much. I draw an arbitrary line in the sand for the qualifications of art and what makes it worthwhile as if I am the judge of that. Clearly, I am not, and should not be. 

Pretending to be places me in a crowd of white, middle-class, and heteronormative men who have dominated conversations around art for centuries. They’re an unnecessary class of gatekeepers that don’t promote beauty in the world, but limit it. To assign binary worth to art is to silence the creative voices of people considered less than for the most superficial and despicable of reasons. 

Piling on to that destruction, reading a ranking isn’t interesting. I see the list, get the gist of who the person is and probably get rankled or soothed by where they place my favorite movies. I may breeze through their writing, though I don’t truly care for it. 

And that likely happened with my own ranking series. What interesting things did I say in that entire piece? I joined the masses in declaring The Social Networkand masterpiece. I joined in the zeitgeist by slotting in three MCU films. I planted a flag on a culture way hill by placing The Last Jedi in the list. The same as many, many other people. 

I imagine there will be a Future Jay Dubs who looks back on all of these lists and rankings with distaste. I hope there is. I hope I grow enough to free myself of ranking and assigning value to things which are indefinable. 

For now, though, I find that rankings help. Not because they are sexy right now, but because I find value in defending and discussing and debating films. I do not fully buy into the Kumbaya feeling of avoiding rankings. I still find it more interesting to stir the pot a little bit, only enough to get discussions going. 

I recall writing a history paper in college, a final for a class, about United Fruit and the Guatemalan Coup of the 1950s. In it, I argue quite forcefully that United Fruit pushed the country into revolution. I argue that United Fruit was behind just about everything to do with the coup: from exploiting a country to enticing the CIA to intervene in a Communist coup. My history professor docked me a half grade because I put too much of the blame on United Fruit, and as a historian I should be careful about assigning so much responsibility to one party. 

The reaction I still have to this day about that is “Well, isn’t it more interesting that I did?” 

I firmly believe that planting a flag proudly on a hill is better than watering down the message to appease the academics, or the crowd, or whomever. Essays are meant to provoke, not to pander. Hopefully the essays provoke more thought and respectful discussion than emotions and fights, but nonetheless essays are about constructing an argument and arguments are provocations. 

Personally, I don’t fully believe everything I wrote in that paper. But I do believe that my paper was more interesting because I took an aggressive stance. In daily life I hold much more nuanced, and centrist thoughts about most things. When I write an essay, I am making an argument, and writing a centrist, middle of the pack argument isn’t evocative or interesting. 

And yet, that’s the genesis of my blog. Followed up by a self-indulgent post examining my own posts. Which, honestly, if you have gotten this far I truly appreciate you and how amazing you are. 

I look forward to watching each of these movies, writing about them, and looking at my past entries to see how I have changed. 

And I hope in many ways that I don’t agree with those original posts.

Featured Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash

Favorite Movies of the 2010s: Tier 1

Hail and well met! Thank you for reading my blog. This post concludes my Favorite Movies of the 2010s series. If you’re curious what else made it, you can read Tier 4, Tier 3, and Tier 2. If you have read them all, I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read my sophomoric writings and ramblings.

Within each tier, the movies are not ranked because they are all equal to each other. Instead, the movies are listed alphabetically. Each movie will get a whole bunch of words followed by my favorite quote.


SOCIAL NETWORK

The greatest tragedy was this picture not sweeping every award at the Oscars1. It is undoubtedly the Movie of the Decade.

This movie could have been so boring. It could have been a mundane biopic, or a sleepy courtroom drama. As a case study into the man responsible for the biggest invention of the 21st Century, I expected something saccharine. Then the Social Network became so much more than that. 

Sorkin and Fincher put their fingers on the important attributes of Silicon Valley and the rise of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things, and Social Network focuses on his social anxiety, low-level misogyny, pettiness, anger, and insatiable ambition. And he became the archetype to follow for the Silicon Valley industry, which has dominated the 2010s. From ‘Fuck You’ Hoodies, to the new class of rich, awkward computer engineers beginning to dominate culture and the marketplace. The ripples of Facebook are everywhere. 

Simply from subject matter alone, this movie defines the decade. Though the dialogue surrounding the film mirrored the public’s shift about Facebook: we went from “wow, this movie is way too hard on Zuck” to “why doesn’t this film go harder on Zuck?”, succinctly becoming a helpful guide to understanding the 2010s. 

Many were enamoured with the wonderful new toy that Zuckerberg presented us, we loved it and therefore we loved him. Then, slowly, we saw how Facebook was corroding us, and became disillusioned with the man at the helm, who was exposed to be morally irresponsible (sorta) Much like Mark falls in love with Sean Parker, only to discover the costs of that love. How Sorkin was able to put his finger on all of that before anyone else is amazing.

Beside its cultural impact, The Social Network is a cinematic masterpiece. In this series, I have attempted to avoid gushing superlative praise. I can’t help it this time. 

From the astounding Sorkin script to the economy of David Fincher’s obsessive filming to every actor batting 1000% in every single scene, and being perfectly cast for their roles to boot. All backed by an exquisite Trent Reznor soundtrack that creates a sense of beauty and of portending doom.It’s rare that every single part of a film comes together in a perfect way, each piece on its own spectacular and amazing, fitting together exactly as it needs to with the rest of the puzzle. 

The Social Network takes my top spot not only because it has immense cultural significance these days, but because it’s highly rewatchable. Fincher’s attention to detail and perfection allows for repeat viewings to unearth something new every single time. On the first run you won’t catch all the semiotic brilliance, and you won’t catch the wonderful faces of Joseph Mazzello in the background. On the third viewing, the brilliance of the rowing analogues comes to the surface. Even after that, I notice more and more small details come to light. Which only ever propels me to restart the movie to watch even more closely this time.

In the midst of the worldwide fire, it’s nice to take refuge in the fact that we have a miracle like The Social Network. It’s truly worth celebrating.

Favorite Quote: 

You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

If you’ve made it to the end, let me say again that I genuinely appreciate you. I’ve enjoyed writing this series because it’s honestly help me begin to define what I love about movies, what themes I am drawn to, and what I ultimately want to say about them.

If you have any constructive criticism or want to discuss anything, please do leave a comment below or email me at jaydubswrites@gmail.com

You can also find me on Letterboxd, as well as this list.