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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Filed under humor, Movies

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