Okay, So What Exactly is the Set of 400 Anyway?

As avid readers of this space or eager hackers of my Google Drive are already aware, I’ve got a bit of a list problem. When it comes to movies specificially, though, it’s something I’ve been doing for a long while – the first time I remember making a list of this sort was in 1992, when I was twelve. I’m not sure how many movies comprised it – twenty-five maybe? Fifty? – and I don’t know for sure if Batman Returns had supplanted Batman as my young self’s top film, however temporarily, but I’ve been ranking movies by my own ill-defined personal preference ever since. In recent years, just to kill time, I started tallying how films would enter or fall off a Top 100, with rises and drops tracked like NASDAQ futures. So this cockamamie plan has been a lifetime in the making, in one form or another. 

Next week, I’ll begin sharing the current, terrifyingly extensive, thoroughly exhaustive ranking of my 400 favorite movies, all with separate posts, incorporating beloved schlock from my childhood straight through to the nonsense I enjoy today. You may ask – What sort of qualifications do I have, so that this lengthy barometer of my preferences and whims holds any weight, or should be given the slightest attention? Well, I’ve gotta admit, not many. Sure, movies are basically my religion at this point, but besides a brief flirtation with this as a college major – subsequently abandoned for the likes of writing, theater, and whatnot – I’ve only made a novice’s study of film and film criticism. More than your average person, probably, but I’m hardly a scholar.

In our long running Oscar prediction contest, I’m running about even with the wife, who does not profess to spend any extra time thinking about movies whatsoever. We are also both involved in a five-man Box Office Pool, which I’ve won slightly more than the other participants – about a third of the time over the last eleven years. I own something like 1900 movies on discs, plus some stray laserdiscs and VHS tapes I no longer have the machines needed to view them. Plus, I see something like 60 movies in theaters a year.  So…that’s something, right? Sheer exposure and the investment of apartment real estate qualifies me, doesn’t it?

So, back to the list – there were a few parameters I wanted to put in place before starting. First, I felt like a movie needed to live in my consciousness a while before holding it up against the vast history of the medium, so I set a cut off date of January 1st, 2014 – nothing released after that point was considered  (but be sure to check back in ten years to see how Roman J. Israel, Esq. fares!).

I also didn’t include any non-fiction films – no documentaries/no concert films – which seems unjust but I felt that the storytelling was too different to accurately compare with fictional motion pictures. I also excluded TV movies, but I don’t have a great reason why. I think I would’ve been tempted to stretch the definition to include mini-series, and then what is the duration cut off for that? Four hours? Hell, Gone With the Wind pushes four hours. So they all got axed.

Tough luck, Wild Palms

To be clear, this will not be a ranking of what I think are the best movies, these are just my personal favorites. There is a pretty distinct difference. I’ve never attempted a list of what I’d consider the most superlative films – maybe I’ll pencil that in for 2021 – but this is not that. I’m entirely aware that Teen Wolf is not an empirically better movie than the ten of thousands of films this list presupposes are behind it.

In my life, I’ve written more about Teen Wolf than any other single topic

One of the main reasons I’d bother putting something like this together is that it provides an opportunity to compile a TON of statistics. In case you didn’t realize or previously bother to ruminate on it, 80% of the reason I’ve run a Death Pool for a third of my life is because it creates piles and piles of numbers to crunch and lists to formulate. And this massive enterprise does much the same. Some things I can share right from the beginning – the majority of these movies were made in my lifetime – 70% released in 1979 or later, which just makes sense, right? The exposure to new movies would clearly be higher as you’re growing up, and many just got lodged in the rotation forever. Still, 75 different years get represented on this list, across something like 229 different directors. There are also a disproportionate number of comedies compared to all other genres, which kind of surprised me, but basically every video store category got some recognition – Action and Horror and Sci-Fi and even a few Foreigns and Silents sneak in.

To any Knowingly Undersold readers who might be caught off guard by this temporary but abrupt shift in content, know that while this is ostensibly a pointless breakdown of decades of largely English-language cinema, it will mostly be about me, as everything in this space ultimately is. How does this movie relate to me? When did this thing enter my life? What personal satisfaction can you take in knowing that I admit to liking Titanic this much? It’s a win-win for all of us, really, plus hey, it’ll only go on for a little north of a year.

Yes, even with Fabrizio

And let’s face it – I’m not exactly pumping out content lately, which is the other main reason to do this – I needed a solid, deadline-driven excuse to write a ton, so strap in for (at my current estimate) 225,000 words of blathering cinematic clichés and mildly educated opinions! Doesn’t that sound fun? Come on, it’ll be like five minutes of your day! You can spare it!

#400 arrives on February 25th! See you then!

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Why the Hell is the Set of 400 a Thing?

In less than a month, the world will be treated to movie-based hubris like it has rarely seen before – 400 posts detailing my 400 favorite films, one every work day for a solid year and a half. Which begs the question, seriously, what is the point of that? My 400 favorite movies? That’s something that will interest people? Who in the hell do I think I am? Well, I’ll tell you – it springs from two things:

1) Last year, there was a brief phenomenon on various internet locales where people would post a still from their favorite movies for like ten days, with no context, explanation, or the name of that movie. This, to me, felt insanely lazy, and sort of confusing, considering one of the first five questions I ask everyone is “What’s your favorite movie?” Or, if I’m at a movie theater and the employees are wearing this on their name tags, I’ll ask “Is Kung Fu Panda 2 really your favorite movie?”

Not buying it, Josh. No way.

And then, these folks would challenge their friends to post their ten favorite movies, so timelines got flooded with movie frames and no additional information. I did not care for this, and not just because no one asked me to participate.

2) But here is the key reason – besides the Death Pool, I haven’t been writing a ton lately, and as anyone will tell you, in order to write better you’ve gotta write more. So instead of mindless journaling or filling notebooks with lists of bullshit, I thought I should kick awake my decade old blog and hurl some content on it. Merging these ideas, I came up with this thing. So, while on the surface it will be me spewing hundred of thousands of words about a bunch of movies you’ve likely already seen, it is actually my very time-intensive plan to jump start some writing, and hopefully finish long-languishing half-formed projects. Fingers crossed it works, and I don’t need to move onto the, like, Set of 400 Songs of the Sixties, like some goddamn Time-Life operator.

Which is totally still available at timelife.com, by the way

They’ll be more details about the actual list making process before the posts start rolling out on February 25th, but I thought it best to preface all that with all this, because I’m not likely to mention again that this is all just a writing exercise. So, enjoy?

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Letters From the Knowingly Undersold Mailbag!

While rummaging through the junk drawer today, looking for uncorroded AA batteries with which to get the Tickle Me Elmo cavorting again, I came across this ol’ blog, tucked squarely beneath the program for a lackluster staging of The Glass Menagerie I dragged friends to in the summer of 2014. Oops! Sorry, folks! I was totally gonna run for president last year and everything! Completely forgot! Could’ve saved us all a lot of trouble!

But I’m more ashamed of how I let the mailbag fill up in these years away, mostly spent in failed experiment to get a solid Twitter following going and then bilk those jokers with $1.99 miracle cures for balding/impotence/senility/strict Bible interpretation guides. Didn’t work! Still broke, and the world still suffers, albeit with cash still in pocket! Continue reading

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The Knowingly Undersold 2013 Year in Review!

The author, listening to the wisdom of the ornaments

The author, listening to the wisdom of the ornaments

Hoo boy! It has been one whirlwind of a year, choked full of excitement and wonder, and cookies and vomiting! At this time of the year, I feel it is best to reflect on the triumphs and epic follies of mankind through the prism of myself, because what is more mortal than making it all about yourself? Come with me, will you, as I trek down the memory lane of our shared experience as human beings in this grand and majestic two-thousand thirteenth year since something or other happened that banished poor B.C. forever!

January!

What 'chu talkin' about, Reaper?

What ‘chu talkin’ about, Reaper?

Okay, so, January was a long time ago now, so I can’t really be expected to remember every little detail from eleven months ago, can I? Jeez. The only distinct thing I recall is that we lost one of the brightest lights in the entertainment firmament – Conrad Bain left us too soon, at the age of 89. Goodbye, Mr. Drummond! Continue reading

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Paul Walker’s Death Named Most Ironic Ever in Overnight Polling

Paul-Walker-Fast-and-Furious-WallpaperThe world (or maybe just my collection of Facebook friends) was stunned and saddened last night by the fiery, car-crash demise of actor Paul Walker, famous (pretty much solely – let’s face it) for riding shotgun in the series of Vin Diesel Fast and the Furious films. Not surprisingly, this instantly vaulted him to the top of the hastily re-polled survey, “The Most Ironic Deaths in the History of Everything.” Congratulations, Paul Walker!

Previous title holders include:

Redd Foxx, who suffered a fatal heart attack on the set of his early ’90s sitcom The Royal Family. Foxx famously would imitate a heart attack in his role as Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son, so the cast and crew present at his demise thought this was a gag. Continue reading

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No Eyes On Pete!: A Short and Gruesome Mystery

electronic-blinking-eyeballs-xl“Look over here, sarge.” Flopkens crouched by the dead grass. “Here are the poor bastard’s eyes.”

Sergeant Pearson waddled over, all three hundred pounds of gut and toupee, and peered down. Sure enough, there on the green – blue eyes. Two of them.

“What the hell.” The sergeant moaned and plopped down on the sod. “What sort of perverted monster takes a man’s eyes?”

“Well, they’re here. They weren’t taken very far, anyway.”

“We don’t know that. Where’s the rest of…” The sergeant checked the notes. “Pete? He was a caddy, correct?”

“That’s what that dumb pro shop guy Curt told me. Pete Pearl. 22. Syracuse. He’s probably under the cart.” Continue reading

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The Landmark 1926 Stand-Up Act of Slappy Shineman

The Regular Tomato in its heyday

The Regular Tomato in its heyday

Here we present the long lost transcript of Slappy Shineman’s historic stand-up routine from the opening night of The Regular Tomato – the nation’s first comedy club, which occupied the building at 18th and Buchanan from 1926 to 1959. It changed hands frequently over the next thirty years, most recently serving as a Planet Hollywood (closed in 2009), and in a disregarded basement closet thought filled with rats and cholera, a treasure trove of dated comedy was discovered! Enjoy!

(October 8, 1926 – Full audience, opening night, full bar hidden on second floor, bulls not giving us any malarkey tonight. Sidney Jefferson Abraham MC)

Sid: Hello ladies and gingersnaps, welcome to opening night at the Regular Tomato! Continue reading

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