Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some Thoughts on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They (TSPDT) Movie List

As some of you know I’m a lists person.  I’ve compiled my own lists of films to see, and referenced ones from many other sources.  I’ve also completed quite a few different lists, including the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, all the AFI lists, both the 2012 Sight and Sound Critics’ Top 250 and Directors’ Top 100 lists, the Top 100 Movies of all time lists from Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, and every single film that has been on the IMDB Top 250 at every year end since 1998.

In fact, my Lists from Chip site was an extension of all the tracking lists I had compiled.  I figured “Why not share them with others?”

At the moment I am working my way through the films in the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  This list, commonly referred to as “TSPDT”, has been issued on a mostly annual basis by Bill Georgaris since 2006.  He consolidates and weights lists from critics on what the best films are.  The result is, in theory, the 1,000 most acclaimed films of all time, in ranked order.

Of course, the exact way the lists get compared and ranked is something he understandably keeps to himself.  What is known is that Georgaris gives more weight to some critics and less to others, and he writes that there are a lot of judgment calls that get made.  I’m willing to bet that, being human, he weights critics he tends to agree with higher than ones he tends to not agree with, even if it’s only subconsciously.  The sheer number of source lists (over 3,000 from more than 3.300 critics) would seem to help reduce personal bias that may or may not creep in, though.

Because of the source of the data, and because Georgaris is always looking for more lists to add into the mixture, my first observations of the TSPDT for you are that it is extremely heavily favored toward “critics’ films”, that it is a lot more volatile list than any other I have worked from, and that it concentrates more heavily on fewer directors than any other list I have seen.

Critics’ Films:

First things first, when I use the term “critics’ films” that is not really a positive description.  I tend to be a little cynical when it comes to professional critics naming the best films, since it seems that there is sometimes an “I am more of a cinephile than thou” contest going on with attempts to name ever more obscure and hard to find films.

To be sure, the TSPDT list of 1,000 films includes the usual suspects (i.e. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Seven Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, and, yes, The Usual Suspects), as well as a selection of popular, modern films (i.e. Groundhog Day, Back to the Future, The Road Warrior, Terminator 1 and 2, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard, etc.)

But then there are the entries that would get a “WTF?” reaction from anyone except a professional critic.  One example is Arnulf Rainer (1960).  It’s six minutes and forty seconds of, well, you’ll see.  Prepare to be stunned and amazed……by how the hell this, whatever it is, is the 902nd best movie ever made – right after Donnie Darko at 900 and The Adventures of Prince Achmed at 901, and ahead of Pickup on South Street (904), My Man Godfrey (906), Before Sunset (924), Gilda (930), Lost in Translation (935), The Blues Brothers (936), American Beauty (944), A History of Violence (955), Ed Wood (967), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (991), and every single film that didn’t make the Top 1,000.

List Volatility:

In regards to the volatility of the list, in just a few short years there are already 409 films that have dropped off it to be replaced by others.  That’s an astounding turnover rate of (let’s see, factor the predicate, carry the one, multiple by Planck’s constant), 40.9% in only eight years.  Georgaris himself refers to the latest list as “a little dull” because it has only 34 new movies in it.

And even when films do not drop off or get added in, they sometimes move large amounts up or down within the rankings.  In the latest list Placido (1961) rose 279 places and four others rose at least 124 spots.  On the flip side By the Bluest of Seas (1936) dropped 169 places and JFK dropped 101. 

Looking at the films that appeared or disappeared will often give an even greater shift.  Titanic went from not being on the list to being in 661st place.  Three other entries appeared in the 700s after not being on the list at all.  And the dropouts include Empire (1964) from 619th place to no place and Das Boot (1981) from 794th place to completely gone.  (WTF?!)

Concentrating on Fewer Directors:

When I completed the 1,001 Movies list I wrote a post with my thoughts and observations.  Among those was the high concentration of a relatively few directors, in some cases.  I’m here to tell you that that list has nothing on the TSPDT list.

Professional movie critics are, by and large, what I refer to as “director groupies”.  Once they like a couple of movies from a director it seems like that filmmaker can then do no wrong.  Almost every film they made becomes one of the greatest movies of all time, in the eyes of that critic.  This unfortunately crowds out other deserving movies when critics make “best of all time” declarations.

In the latest version of the TSPDT list there are two directors that have 16 films apiece (Godard, Ford), one with 15 (Bunuel), three with 12 (Bergman, Hitchcock, Renoir), three with 11 (Hawks, Kubrick, Lang), and four with 10 (Bresson, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ozu).  Just thirteen directors make up 156 of the 1,000 entries.

Continuing on, three directors have 9 entries, six have 8 entries, fourteen have 7 entries, eight have 6 entries, sixteen have 5 entries, and seventeen have 4 entries.  Combined with the double digit directors, only 77 filmmakers are responsible for 525 of the 1,000 movies on the list.

Finishing it off, there are 49 directors with three entries, and 67 with two, for a total of 806 entries from 193 directors that appear more than once.  Only 194 films out of the 1,000 total are from directors with a single entry in the list.  And those one-timers include people like John Woo, The Wachowski siblings, Paul Verhoeven, John Sturges, Oliver Stone, Bryan Singer, John Sayles, Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes, Rouben Mamoulian, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Peter Jackson, Todd Haynes, Lasse Hallstrom, Jonathan Demme, Danny Boyle, Peter Bogdanovich, and Darren Aronofsky – all of whom could make a case for more than one film of theirs being worth making a Top 1,000 Movies list.

That’s the list itself, now what’s it like to work your way through it?

First, it’s not actually as big a challenge to do in terms of scale if you’ve completed other movie lists, especially the 1,001 Movies one.  I was somewhere in the 600s for entries I had already seen when I started on it.  As of this writing I have watched 863 of the current top 1,000 and I’m approaching 1,100 of the 1,409 that have ever been on the list. 

Unlike the 1,001 Movies list, though, I’m not that interested in what used to be on it, especially with the high rate of turnover.  I’m not saying I’ll never work on the former films on the list, but I will consider myself done when I have seen whatever the current 1,000 are at the time I finish.

Finding the films:

That’s not necessarily an easy task.  Like the 1,001 Movies list there are a number of entries on TSPDT that are hard to find.  In fact, I was able to track down versions of the 150 or so films on the 1,001 Movies list that are not readily available from Netflix.  There were a handful of entries in the 2013 TSPDT list that I simply could not find, no matter what.  I appealed for help, and through the generosity of a person who wishes to remain anonymous, I was able to acquire all of the remaining ones I needed.

Since then, though, the 2014 list has come out, and some of those hard to find ones have rolled off and have been replaced by three films that a cursory search could not locate (1951’s The Man in the White Suit, 1952’s Bienvenido Mr. Marshall, and 1956’s There’s Always Tomorrow).  In addition, Netflix has turned 1973’s The Last Detail from Very Long Wait to Not Available.  That was on the 2013 list, too.

I may sit down and take the time to do a seriously thorough search for them, or I may wait for the 2015 list and see if some or all drop off it (probably the former even though I am guessing the 2015 list will come out before I complete the current version.)

If anyone reading this knows of a non-torrent source for one or all of those four films, please let me know.  If you’re not comfortable leaving a comment here regarding this, you can email me at with what you know.  Thanks.

And just to put it out there, the other films I have remaining that I have to rely on Netflix for, and that have been listed as Very Long Wait for months, are 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad, 1954’s Touchez Pas au Grisbi, 1993’s Abraham’s Valley, 1966’s Yesterday Girl, 1966’s War and Peace (the version on Youtube has no subtitles and is not downloadable for me), and the 1984 TV miniseries Heimat.

October 4, 2014 edit - a deep dive search did yield mostly positive results.  Of the four I couldn't find, and the six Very Long Waits, I have now been able to see or acquire all except one.  Heimat continues to elude me.  The first disk is the one Netflix won't send, but all the rest are useless without having seen the first episodes of the miniseries.

One entry from the 2013 list I could not find and that I chose to compromise on was Stan Brakhage’s The Art of Vision because all it was comprised of was the pieces of his film Dog Star Man played in every order combination for four hours.  Since I had seen all of Dog Star Man I called it good.  Purists might disagree and insist that watching every minute of Brakhage’s four hour version is the only way to consider it seen, despite the fact that it repeats itself over and over.  As it turns out, the question has gone away for now since this entry dropped off the 2014 list.

Lengths of the entries:

Another bonus is that four 4 hour plus entries I had not yet seen dropped off the 2014 list.  That doesn’t mean that the TSPDT list has only short movies on it.  Critics being critics, the longer they can claim to have sat and watched something the more points they earn among their peers.

The current list has 63 films that are at least three hours long, 20 of which are at least four hours long, 11 of which are at least 5 hours long, 10 of which are at least 6 hours long, 9 of which are at least 7 hours long, 6 of which are at least 9 hours long (I didn’t skip 8 – all at least 8 hours were also at least 9), and the longest three are: over 12 hours; just under 15 hours; and just under 16 hours.  I have only six entries of at least three hours left to watch, but most of them are ones I either cannot find, or am having trouble getting from Netflix.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, there are 32 entries that are less than an hour in length, 19 of which are less than 30 minutes, 7 of which are less than 15 minutes – and you watched one of them already earlier in this post.  The shortest entry is 49 seconds – 1895’s Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat by the Lumiere Brothers.

Quality of the films in the list:

What about the overall quality of the films in the TSPDT list?  I’ve had at least one comment to a monthly status post that said it didn’t look like this list was really worth doing since I had only liked three of the fifteen films I had seen from it that month.  I replied that I am probably giving a skewed impression because of the way I have come to it.

Since I had already seen every film on several other movie lists that meant I had watched the large majority of the movies that are in the consensus for the greatest films ever made.  As a result the 300+ I had remaining on the TSPDT list when I started it were, while not the dregs of movie making, certainly less obvious choices to be among the greatest films.

In addition, my criterion for saying that a film was good was whether or not I would recommend it to others (a 3 star rating).  I have seen many films on the TSPDT list that I consider “just okay”, which is the equivalent of a 2.5 star rating.  These are ones not quite good enough to recommend, but also ones that I neither disliked, nor felt I had wasted my time by watching.  So in the example above even though I only liked three of the fifteen, a sizable chunk of the rest were probably “just okay” movies.  And since I tend to be a little stingier with my ratings than some other bloggers that might very well mean that they would be at least 3 star films for others.

When do I think I might finish off this list?

I already alluded to the fact that I am figuring I will still be working on it when the next list comes out in early 2015.  Those folks who remember how I blew through more than half the 1,001 Movies list in about 18 months, and who saw me write about the more than 100 films I saw one month, may be wondering why I wouldn’t have the TSPDT list done in just a couple more months.

First, I am working a full time job again now, so my time available for movie watching is reduced by 10-12 hours per day.  (I know, “Boo hoo, welcome to the real world”, right?)

Second, I am more reliant on Netflix to see the remaining entries than I would like to be.  I just counted and I’ve got 30 films, comprising 38 DVDs, in my queue.  I’m getting them one at a time, too.  While I could certainly bump that number up, I prefer to keep a mixture of TSPDT films and regular films coming in from Netflix.  Right now I’ve got the 3 hour and 37 minute long Heaven’s Gate sitting on my coffee table and it may sit there for a while since I’m not looking forward to slogging through this one.

Finally, as you’ve probably been able to tell I am not as enamored of critics’ films as the professional critics are, so there is always the possibility that I will simply decide to put this effort on hold at some point and decompress with some “normal” films.  Earlier this year I had been working on the list of all movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  I got to about 60-70 left and went on a hiatus while both adjusting to my new job and while publishing my latest genealogy.  When I once again had the time and mindset to work on a movie list I found that the Oscar nominees didn’t interest me that much, even though I was close to completing them.  (As of this writing I have 57 out of 512 left to see.)  I therefore have to acknowledge that the same thing may happen with the TSPDT movies.

I should wrap this up.  I’ve run on long enough.  If you have questions about the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They List and I didn’t address them in this post, leave me your questions in the comments and I will try to answer them.

And in case you would like a look at the list, here it is.  Note that there are multiple tabs that present the information in different ways and that there are more columns if you scroll to the right.  You can also download this list if you want.


  1. I watched about 20 seconds of that film and quit. Too many flashbacks to Dog Star Man and the like, thank you.

    My personal definition of a "critic film" is that they are the sorts of films that critics give raves to that almost everyone hates. Further, it's films like those and reviews like those that make people stop trusting and listening to critics in the first place.

    1. I completely agree with your definition. I haven't trusted critics' opinions on movies for a long, long time. About the only one I might check out was Roger Ebert's and even then you could tell when he was in a bad mood. He completely trashed Kick-Ass (a movie I loved) and then turned around and praised Hanna for the very same reason - an adolescent girl in violent situations.

  2. I've seen 49% of the TSPDT’s List, although I don't actively try and complete those film lists(except the ones I compile myself on letterboxd).

    Arnulf Rainer (1960) is unwatchable, I wonder who actually gets a kick out of that?
    Endless Sleeper by The Raveonettes has a similar style. I see it as a provocation that dares you to sit through it.

    1. If that reminds you of the one you mentioned I don't think I'll be searching it out. Sorry.

  3. Thanks for the information on TSPDT's list (from one listophile to another!). I don't know if I will ever seriously attempt the list, but I do enjoy the satisfaction one gets from ticking/ crossing off an entry on any list.

    Just wondering if you had gone through Empire magazine's top 500 (and their revised top 300). They got their's from readers' votes and input from a number of critics, so it is an interesting mixture of popular and critical favourites.

    1. You're welcome.

      Yes, I have a tracking sheet for the Top 500 on my Lists from Chip site on the Publications post. I've seen 468 of the 500. I don't have a tracking sheet built for the new Top 300, but that's because there were only four films on it I had not already seen.

      I've also got sheets for Empire's Top 100 World films (I've seen 96 of the 105 listed on it) and Empire's Top 100 British films (I've seen 80 of the 100 listed on it.)

  4. The Last Detail appears to be currently on YouTube, in HD, no less. You'll probably need to hurry!

    1. First, thank you very much.

      Second, I swear to God I checked for all those films on Youtube right before I posted this. I literally had the thought, "You'll look pretty stupid if one of those films has become available on Youtube when you post saying you can't find them." The Last Detail has been there for 2 months according to Youtube. I have no clue how I didn't see it.

  5. Your post makes me so happy that I chose the 1001 MYMSBYD list instead of TSPDT. Comparing the lists 1001 MYMSBYD generally seems to contain more quality and fewer stinkers.
    I am not entirely adverse to "critic's films", though I understand what you mean. I actually use critics reviews to find movies outside the mainstream when the usual feed gets too brain numbing. That said I can certainly think of a few films with high praise that almost killed me (think Limite, Zemlya etc.).

    1. Oh, the 1,001 Movies list had its share of stinkers, too. (You gave two good examples. Wait until you get to the 1960s - Vinyl anyone?)

      At the time I originally completed the list I had 70 entries that I gave one star ratings to. There were only 650 that I gave at least a 3 star rating to. That left 382 that I either disliked (2 stars) or thought were just okay (2.5 stars). I wasn't distinguishing between the latter two ratings at the time.

  6. FYI, The Man in the White Suit is available somewhere. I know because I've seen it on disc. Scour your local library for it--there's a boxed set of Ealing comedies that includes it, The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and a few others.

    1. Thanks. In looking more closely at Netflix pretty much all of Alec Guinness' Ealing movies are not available, but are shown. This usually means that they were issued on DVD at one time but Netflix does not have them. I checked Amazon and they had some people selling used copies of it for 5 bucks plus 3 bucks shipping. The info was that it was issued in 2002, so it could very well have gone out of print before Netflix even started up. If I remember right, I watched The Lavender Hill Mob on Youtube for the 1,001 Movies list because Netflix didn't offer it back then (about 2-3 years ago.)

      I'm afraid I don't have a local library like yours. It's very tiny, concentrates on books, and only offers the few movies that have been donated to it. And they don't do interlibrary loans for movies, only books.

      I will probably do a deep dive search for it at some point. Right now I haven't looked beyond Netflix, Youtube, and TCM's schedule.

  7. Thanks for your commentary on this. I've largely ignored TSPDT and have been slowly working through the 1001 Movies list for about a year now (focusing primarily on foreign and female-directed films). Bumping up The Rules of the Game and adding Placido to my personal list now.

    1. You're welcome.

      The Rules of the Game is probably the most famous film from Renoir. While I did like it, I'd pick his film La Bete Humaine as my personal favorite from him.

      And Placido was one of the pleasanter surprises for me from the TSPDT list. I had never even heard of it before watching it. I looked and the director had another film on the list - The Executioner - which I also ended up liking, although not quite as much as Placido. And in confirming the info in this paragraph I just realized that a new film to the list this year - Bienvenido Mr. Marshall - is also from the same man. I'll have to check it out soon.