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Reintroducing The Film 100

Why lists?


Scott Smith’s 1998 book, ‘The Film 100,’ offers essays on 100 cinema greats. (Cover art, Zeke Zielinski, cropped)

As the eleventh month collides headlong with December, there can only be one certainty. Perhaps two. Two certainties. First, as winter approaches, you will begin to reflect on the prior quartet of seasons and try to make some futile assessment about all that went wrong (or, ideally, right) with the year. But second (and far more problematic), you will soon be inundated with lists. Lists of every sort. Every permutation. Lists about everything and, more frequently, lists about nothing at all.

I have no great fondness for lists. I would note that I “hate” lists but I reserve such severe feelings for more consequential things. However, other folks—most folks—adore lists. It would be reasonable to say that humanity has a certain obsession with list-making. In that spirit and despite my better judgment, the next thirty-one days will be devoted to lists. Big lists. Little lists. Year-end lists. Nearly every sort of list that you could imagine! And maybe a few that you couldn’t imagine.

The catalyst for this effort is the Keyframe republication of Scott Smith’s seminal book, The Film 100, a remarkable attempt to rank one-hundred indispensable individuals in the world of film. The purpose of his effort was to elicit entirely different lists from readers and, while there was much discussion when the book was first published about who was included and who wasn’t, Smith only ever received one entire list of 100, re-selected and re-ranked. That list was from me.

I met Scott Smith at the Sundance Film Festival right around the turn of the century. One of his short films—the innovative noir-ish period piece Carny Taleswon an award there in 2002. We even made a film together in the mid-2000s (and you could read considerably more about that elsewhere). He knows much, much more about the motion picture business and its history than just about anyone you know. He gravitates toward intelligent, well-written and well-made films (such as Delmer Daves’ The Badlanders, a western based on W.R. Burnett’s novel The Asphalt Jungle). While I generally share his appreciation of such films, we have had many long conversations about my preference for meandering and admittedly dull films. Conversations that, occasionally, resembled lists.

As clever notions go, the “Film 100” spawned other “100s” in other categories. But “film” and its aficionados are particularly well-suited for such lists. Now, on the occasion of its decade-and-a-half anniversary, we’re honored that Scott Smith is allowing us to give the “Film 100” a new home where the discussion can begin all over again. We will be featuring Smith’s original essays throughout the month of December (one each day) and continuing with further essays over the early months of 2013. To supplement that massive effort, there will be additional lists each day as well. Some related. Some not.

The Film 100
1. W.K. Laurie Dickson
2  Edwin S. Porter
3. Charlie Chaplin
4. Mary Pickford
5. Orson Welles
6. Alfred Hitchcock
7. Walt Disney
8. D.W. Griffith
9. Will Hays
10 Thomas Edison
11. John Wayne
12. J.R. Bray
13. Billy Bitzer
14. Jesse Lasky
15. George Eastman
16. Sergei Eisenstein
17. André Bazin
18. Irving Thalberg
19. Thomas Ince
20. Marlon Brando
21. Louis B. Mayer
22. Greta Garbo
23. Robert Flaherty
24. Lon Chaney
25. Anita Loos
26. George Méliès
27. Adolph Zukor
28. John Gilbert
29. Max Fleischer
30. John Ford
31. William Fox
32. George Lucas
33. Linwood Gale Dunn
34. Eadweard Muybridge
35. Katharine Hepburn
36. Winsor McCay
37. Stanley Kubrick
38. Buster Keaton
39. James Agee
40. Fritz Lang
41. Marcus Loew
42. Cedric Gibbons
43. James Cagney
44. Ben Hecht
45. Ingmar Bergman
46. Humphrey Bogart
47. Leon Schlesinger
48. Louella Parsons
49. Roger Corman
50. Edith Head
51. Bernard Herrmann
52. Gary Cooper
53. Mike Todd
54. Ernst Lubitsch
55. Sidney Poitier
56. Saul Bass
57. Billy Wilder
58. Bette Davis
59. Erich von Stroheim
60. Max Factor
61. Auguste and Louis Lumière
62. Woody Allen
63. Clark Gable
64. David O. Selznick
65. Gregg Toland
66. Lillian Gish
67. William Cameron Menzies
68. Lucille Ball
69. Samuel Rothafel
70. Akira Kurosawa
71. Marilyn Monroe
72. Vittorio De Sica
73. Natalie Kalmus
74. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
75. Willis O’Brien
76. Shirley Temple
77. Yakima Canutt
78. Sam Peckinpah
79. Jackie Coogan
80. Federico Fellini
81. Leni Riefenstahl
82. Steven Spielberg
83. Sam Warner
84. Jean-Luc Godard
85. Robert De Niro
86. Fred Astaire
87. Francis Ford Coppola
88. Ted Turner
89. Clint Eastwood
90. Dalton Trumbo
91. Dennis Hopper
92. Richard Hollingshead
93. Melvin Van Peebles
94. John Chambers
95. Mack Sennett
96. Martin Scorsese
97. Karl Struss
98. Busby Berkeley
99. John Hubley
100. John Cassavetes

Whom would you add? Whom would you remove? In what way(s) would you change or revise the order? Let the punishment begin.*

*Which, as it happens, is a not-so-subtle reference to the first episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz, one of the greatest mini-series ever made for television. I wager there is a list in that….

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  • Kenny says:

    At last someone has recognized WKL Dickson as the genius behind, or instead of Edison. I would put Griffith ahead of Wells.

  • I don’t quite get it. To what end this list has been put together? Why are there (almost) only Hollywood people? Because they were the most influential? That’s a laugh.

  • John says:

    Edison should be removed…he was bad for the movies..

  • John says:

    Add Sergei Leoni

  • John says:

    Sorry…make that Sergio Leone

  • Kerry says:

    I was surprised to see DeNiro’s name ahead of Scorsese’s, and happy to see Roger Corman’s. I think I might add Ray Harryhausen and William Castle to this list.

  • Dan Humphrey says:

    Glad to see some love for Ingmar Bergman, who hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves by a good number of cineastes in recent years. There will be those who hate you for having Godard lower than, say, fifteen. I would say he deserves a spot in the top 50, easily.

  • James L. Neibaur says:

    I like the bold choice of Dickson at number one, but believe Chaplin should be 2, not 3, and Griffith at 3, not Porter, who would be fourth. I think Buster Keaton should be in the top ten, Harry Landgon and Harold Lloyd should be included, and that Lucille Ball (she had little impact on film) and Siskel and Ebert (huh??) should be excluded. I also believe Jerry Lewis belongs on such a list before Woody Allen is considered and might place Spencer Williams in place of Mario Van Peebles, and omit Ted Turner for Rossellini or Murnau

  • Eric Soderlund says:

    Good list but am I missing Preston Sturges?

  • Todd Holmes says:

    100 filmmakers and only 1 Asian on the list? Shaw Brothers? Yasujiro Ozu? Satyajit Ray? Bruce Lee?

  • Marlow says:

    If I can locate it, I’ll eventually post my somewhat out-of-date version of the 100 as well. Many great suggestions here! Preston Sturges was definitely on my list (as was F.W. Murnau, Satyajit Ray and Yasujiro Ozu) along with Chris Marker, Agnès Varda and others yet to be mentioned.

  • Fredie Bartholemu says:

    Clint Eastwood should be Listed Much Higher, as well as Scorsese, John Cassavetes for Practically Inventing Independent Film, Fulchi for Horror and Zombies, Michael Curtiz for adapting so well to German Expressionism and Wrangleing in one of the most Un-Heralded Actors of All, Mr. Errol Lesly Thompson Flynn who should have won 3 Oscars for Robinhood, Dawn Patrol and the Charge of the Light Brigade. MORE LATER!

  • aramaziz says:

    no KAZAN?! Really? And Judy Garland…

  • Adrian says:

    This series is the most appalling exercise in ignorant misinformation about cinema I have encountered in years. Every entry I dare read is full of disgraceful errors, mind-boggling omissions, ridiculous assumptions and spurious opinions. It is not authoritative or interesting, it is absolute garbage. How can FANDOR justify the publication of such a series ?? It’s bringing the brand-name down !!

  • John Bradford D'Ambrosio says:

    I would think that Bette Davis would be higher up on the list due to not only her abilities, but also her achievements as a woman in a male dominated and owned Hollywood! It is well noted that she was paid less than other actresses and took on Warner Brothers and when she left she instantly came back into stardom with another studio. Not an easy thing to do in those times.

  • Midnighter says:

    I hate moaning over lists, but…

    The likes of a Scorsese on a list that does not include Bresson, Tarkovsky or Bunuel… Shocking.

  • kapu s prabhakara says:

    i am surprised there is no mention of laurence olivier.

  • Nonlocal says:

    No Altman? Hmmm.

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