Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Completed the Entire 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die List

I thought about paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty I am free at last!” but I figured some people might be upset by me using the closing of one of the greatest speeches of all time for something as relatively trivial as my completion of a list of movies.

Do I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment?  I wish I could tell all of you still working on this endeavor that the answer is a resounding “yes”, but it’s not.  Frankly, I’m just glad it’s over.  Quoting Jon Krakauer from his book Into Thin Air: “I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months.  But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care.”  For me, my state of mind is more akin to College Finals being over – burnt out and a little numb; happy to a certain extent, but probably not yet in a state of mind to really appreciate it.

Of course, I invested less time on this than most of you reading this post.  When I started to actively work on the list 17 months ago I was already almost halfway complete just from my prior movie watching.  Had I been at it for years I’m sure I would feel more emotion.  In addition, and I honestly think this makes a BIG difference, I am not reviewing every single entry like most of you are doing.  Writing more than a thousand reviews would definitely be something that would make me feel like I accomplished a lot more.  Also, this is not the first list I have ever completed, nor is it even the second.  It is the most “critic biased” list I have done, though.  The others I have completed have had a larger percentage of mainstream movies on them.

Do I regret having done the entire list?  Not at all.  I’m a lists kind of guy anyway, as evidenced by my having done others, and I’ve enjoyed being able to share thoughts with some of you on your sites as you also work on the list.  While I did see a bunch of movies that I wouldn’t ever recommend to anyone – a few not even to someone I hated – I also saw some very good ones that I never would have watched were it not for this endeavor (see below).

Here Is My Timeline: 

2003 – I bought the first edition and checked off about 300 titles that I had then seen.
2003 - 2011 – A few times a year I checked off additional ones I had happened to see.
Around January, 2012 – the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club is brought to my attention by Michael Parent at Le Mot du Cinephiliaque.  I learn that there have been subsequent book editions and that dozens more movies have been added.
Feb 7, 2012 – I did my first 1,001 Movies related post.  It was on the book that started it all, as well as the Blog Club.  If you’d like to know more about either, please click on the link.
Mid February, 2012 – I decided to actively work on the list.  At this point I had seen 520 of the 1089.
March - May, 2012 – I actively sought out hard to find titles and then shared them with those bloggers who mentioned they were looking for ones I had tracked down.
May 11, 2012 – Launched my Lists from Chip site to share downloadable tracking sheets for dozens of different movie lists, including the 1,001 Movies.
June, 2012 – After discussions with Steve Honeywell at 1001plus and Adolytsi from Adol’s CinematoBlogoWebboScreed on having a common location for places to get the hard to find entries, a wiki dedicated to the 1,001 Movies was started by Adolytsi and then greatly expanded by Adolytsi and me.
July, 2012 – passed 600 entries seen
July - September, 2012 – Tracked down all the other editions of the book published since the first in order to answer lingering questions on what had and had not been added/removed and when those changes were made.  Created a Books section on the 1,001 Movies wiki to present this information. 

October, 2012 – passed 700 entries seen
November, 2012 – 14 more entries added to the list in the latest book edition bringing the total to 1,103.  I passed 800 entries seen.
March, 2013 – passed 900 entries seen
May, 2013 – passed 1,000 entries seen
July 9, 2013 at 5:43 PM EDT – completed the entire list of 1,103 entries by watching the almost ten hour long TV mini-series The Decalogue.

Ratings Breakdown:

Five stars out of five: 42 entries
Four stars out of five: 186 entries
Three stars out of five: 422 entries
Two stars out of five: 382 entries (note: this includes 2.5 star “it was okay” ratings)
One star out of five: 70 entries

It’s impossible for me to name absolute bests and absolute worsts from a list this large.  The big films you most often hear named would likely be the best, and you can’t go wrong with The Princess Bride (1987).  If you are interested in seeing the list of my 42 five star movies, let me know.

Among the worst, most anything labeled “Experimental” would apply for me.  Vinyl (1965) readily comes to mind.  In addition, some of the extremely long entries are like slogging through 100 miles of mud on your hands and knees.  Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) and Satantango (1994) – all seven hours, fifteen minutes of it – come to mind.  I recommend making judicial use of the Fast Forward button for these.

Thirty Best Discoveries from Doing the Entire List – These are the films that I would probably never have watched, or in some cases would never even have heard of, were it not for actively completing the list.  I had already seen almost all of the great films that also happened to be on this list, so finding something to add to those was a rare occasion.  All of these are four out of five star films, except where noted.

18 I never heard of or would never have watched:

Napoleon (1927)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Queen Christina (1933)
The Story of a Cheat (1936)
The Heiress (1949)
Whisky Galore! (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Gimme Shelter (1970) – only new 5 star film I saw
Real Life (1979)
Man Bites Dog (1992)
The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride (1995)
The Barbarian Invasions (2003)
The Best of Youth (2003)
Head-On (2004)
Live and Become (2005)
In the Loop (2009)

Another 12 I had heard of, but may or may not have watched:

Nanook of the North (1922)
Seven Chances (1925)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Captain Blood (1935)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
White Heat (1949)
Shaft (1971)
Day for Night (1973)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
A Very Long Engagement (2004)
Volver (2004)

Discussions of what should be added or dropped can be found in my post on the 2013 edition.

Five biggest “Wait a minute.  That’s [fill in famous person’s name]” moments

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Long Goodbye (1973) – I noticed that the bad guy had a really muscular henchman, then a minute or so later I saw him in close up and realized, holy shit!, it was Arnold.  It turns out it was his second movie ever.
  2. Audrey Hepburn in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) – Unlike Arnold, I recognized her right away.  She was playing a South American prostitute who comes up to the main character and asks to be paid.  She had only one or two lines.
  3. Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – I immediately recognized Marilyn, too.  She plays the girlfriend of the bad guy.  It was her first real speaking role.  The same year she was also in All About Eve and her career was launched.
  4. Tony Curtis in Winchester ’73 (1950) – He has a small role as a soldier.  Also in this movie is Rock Hudson playing a young Indian chief.  I didn’t even recognize him.  After I saw his name in the cast list I watched his big scene again and still wouldn’t have recognized him had I not known it was him.
  5. Several famous TV show faces – DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy from Star Trek) plays an Earp brother in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957); Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island) plays the friend of the lead in Secret Beyond the Door (1948); not to be outdone, Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island) plays a district attorney in Angel Face (1952).  These are just a sampling.
Many Movies Refer to Other Movies

I noticed way too late that a lot of entries refer to other entries in the book, either by explicitly mentioning them, by showing them on a movie or TV screen, or in some cases by re-creating or spoofing scenes from those other films.  I wish I had been taking notes from the beginning because it would be interesting to track how many of the movies in the list do this and which ones get referred to the most.

What’s Next?

I’m not going to abandon either the 1,001 Movies wiki or helping others find obscure titles.  I will pick up the 10th anniversary edition and update the tracking list and wiki.  I may need to discuss a new numbering system with the major players at that time, depending on how much the book is altered.  We will see.  And of course there will be some new entries in this edition that I will not have seen.

In regards to movie lists, I am still working on the Oscar Best Picture Nominees list.  I’m more than 86% complete on that, with 69 movies left.  After that I have another Oscar list I built with all the winners of every directing and acting category.  Since these winners do not necessarily come from a Best Picture nominee this gives a different spread of films from any given year.  I’ve seen 271 of the 341 films that have had an Oscar winning performance in them, which leaves 70 to go.  Further down the line there are also the Golden Globe winning films, as well as the Oscar Best Foreign Film and Best Documentary winners I could do.  All of these tracking lists can be found here.

I may not work on any new lists for a while.  I might just take the radical direction of watching only the movies I want to watch, when I want to watch them. I used to re-watch movies a lot more often.  And if I stop seeing so many movies every month I might have time to go back to commenting on all the blogs I follow instead of the relatively few I have been doing the last several months.  I used to spend 6-8 hours some days on other blogs before I had to cut way, way back.

When it does come to working on another list, I will probably start with some “low hanging fruit” – those lists that I am already almost complete on.  I have only 12 movies left to finish Time Magazine’s 2005 list of the All Time Top 100 movies (actually 106 with the way they had multiple entries as one.)  I have only 43 movies left to complete the 2012 Sight and Sound Critics’ Top 250 (282 actually, with ties) and only 3 movies left to complete the 2012 Sight and Sound Directors’ Top 100 (106 actually, with ties).

From across the pond, I’ve got three different lists of the Top 100 British movies of all time, one from BFI, one from Empire, and one from Time Out.  I’ve got 34, 22, and 48 films remaining from those, but many movies are common across lists.  Related to these I’ve also got Empire’s 2008 list of the Top 500 films, with only 44 left to go, and Empire’s Top 100 World films (105 actually), with only 12 left to go.

All the tracking lists mentioned in the last two paragraphs can be found here.

There are other lists related to the 1,001 Movies.  There is a Danish/Swedish edition of the book that swaps out 17 entries for ones specific to those two countries.  I’ve only seen two of the seventeen (My Life as a Dog and Fucking Amal), leaving fifteen to complete them.  I don’t know how readily available they will be in the U.S., though.

There are also six different 101 [genre] Movies You Must See Before You Die books put out by the same editors as the larger 1,001 Movies books.  Those genres are Action, Cult, Gangster, Horror, Sci-Fi, and War.  There is some crossover with the main list, but among the combined 607 entries (Action has 102), 348 are unique.  Of those I have seen one more than half – 175.  Of the remaining, I have already tracked down all but five of the ones I need to see.  I might also just do the genres I am more interested in, such as Sci-Fi (20 unseen) and Action (17 unseen), and maybe leave the rest for another time.  All of these lists can be seen here.

Perhaps you were expecting me to mention the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  That is probably the other really well known large movie list.  After completing the 1,001 Movies I find that I’m not that thrilled to tackle another list that is even more heavily weighted to movies only critics can love, and from relatively few directors.  As it stands right now I have seen 688 of the 1,000 in the 2013 list.  I’ve seen 850 of the 1,395 that have ever been on a TSPDT list.  It would be larger endeavors to knock those off, so I don’t see myself working on them anytime soon.  I might knock off the highest ranked ones I have remaining, though.  I’m only missing one film from the Top 100 (1949’s Late Spring) and eleven from the Top 250.

No, when it comes to larger lists that I might tackle I’ve got the New York Times Top 1,000 Movies list.  This seems to have slightly more mainstream films on it.  I’ve seen exactly 666 from this list.  [Feel free to make your best Number of the Beast jokes.]  Right now I feel I’d be more likely to spend time on that than the TSPDT list.

Before either of those, though, I am very intrigued by the 600 films that have been chosen to be permanently preserved by the United States’ Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.  Up to 25 new entries can be added each year, but they have to be at least ten years old.  They should also be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to the United States.  This list includes 409 Narrative Features, 80 Documentaries, 113 Shorts, and assorted other entries from News Reels, Serials, and other forms of video.  I’ve seen only 349 of these 600, leaving almost half to go.  I don’t know how many of these I will be able to locate, but I think it would be interesting to find out.  Especially interesting to me are the 50 pre-1920 entries, including 6 that are pre-1900.

Anyway, to those of you who read this entire post, I’d like to say thanks for sticking with it all the way.  That’s almost as big an accomplishment as mine.  I’ve had a lot of thoughts while I’ve been working through the list and I wanted to share the ones that seemed most relevant.  (Believe it or not, I left out some.)  If you are interested to see what films from the 1,001 Movies list that I have recommended so far you can click on the “Movies – 1,001 Movies” tag at the bottom of this post.


  1. Congratulations on that accomplishment. I might do something like that one of these days soon.

    1. Thanks. It will certainly introduce you to a bunch of films you probably would not otherwise see.

  2. Thumbs up!

    Oh My God!

    High Five!

    That's worthy of applause!

    Dance Party!

    Blogger won't let me post images directly in the comments because it's stupid. Otherwise we'd be having a major gif party here.

    I am planning on tackling Satantango this summer, and your comment about the fast forward button was not lost on me. :)

    1. Thanks for all the gif(t)s. I hadn't seen them before and I really liked them (especially the cat giving the thumbs up.)

      Not to steal his thunder, but I think Steve referred to Satantango as a "sandwich movie" meaning that you could leave it playing while you went and made yourself a sandwich and you wouldn't miss anything. That made me laugh quite a bit, especially because it's true.

      The opening of the film is ten minutes of cows meandering through a village, so it's not like it doesn't let you know what you're going to be in for. A little later we see two people literally count every single bill from an inches high stack of money. Later still a kid is running through the woods towards the camera in close up for what seems like at least a mile, if not two. These are all fast forward moments. I would estimate there's about 2 hours of actual activity in the 7 plus hours of the film.

  3. Congrats Chip! You are through. I will hopefully join you in, huh, 17 years.
    I hope you take up writing about the movies from the list. I would love to read your take ón particularly the old ones. Maybe as blog club contributions.

    1. Thanks. I actually have reviewed 83 of the movies from the list so far. You can see them by clicking on the "Movies - 1001 Movies" tag. Fourteen of them are in the range of movies that you have reviewed (1902 to early 40s). Twenty-eight of them are also ones that the Blog Club has done, so I have submitted them to Squish for that.

      I don't write reviews for films I would not recommend, though, so that is where I would not be doing them for about 450 of the films on the list. That still leaves more than 650. When I do a new category I brainstorm to see what films from the list I might be able to include in it.

  4. Hell of an achievement, and one I hope to duplicate in approximately a year's time, if I do one a day (I've got roughly 350 remaining, including the upcoming edition's new entries). I'm working on the Compendium right now; after that, I'll probably (reluctantly) tackle the 3+ hour movies I have left, and then go from there. Actually, I've been using to pick the Compendium movies for me, and I might continue to do that with the main list now that the flow of entries from TMC and AMC I haven't seen has lessened significantly.

    Sio- Seriously, Satantango is an exercise in frustration. The entire first reel of the film is a single shot of cows just milling around a field, and nothing else. That should give you an idea of what the film will be like.

    1. Thanks. Working on the not-available-from-Netflix films as soon as you can is a smart strategy. You never know when something will become unavailable, even from the wiki.

      Not only watching a film every day for a year, but writing a review for it, too, would be quite an achievement. I did almost a post a day for the first couple years I did this blog, but that was always movies I liked, hence why I was writing a recommendation for them. I also didn't necessarily have to watch it again before the review if I remembered it well enough.

  5. You, sir, are an inspiration. Congratulations on getting it all done. I am more than pleased to have you standing at the finish line waiting for me.

    And yes, Satantango, Jeanne Dielmann, parts of Solyaris...all ripe for sandwich making. A few, like Jeanne Dielmann, offer enough time to rotisserie a chicken. I'd forgotten about the money counting scene in Satantango (blocked it out is more likely). I do remember watching people dance for 10 minutes, and then seeing the same thing from another camera angle a few hours later.

    1. Thank you very much. You're the inspiration to me for being able to keep up your almost daily pace of watching and writing full reviews of the list films for years.

      Who knows, you'll be close to done when the new movies are announced and maybe you will have seen a lot more of the new ones than me and you'll beat me to the finish of the expanded list. I'm making a guesstimate that I will have seen 20 of the 50 new entries.

  6. Congratulations! And many thanks for Tips from Chip. It's been invaluable. If you are interested in some of the more obscure National Film Registry titles, many of them are collected in the Treasures from American Film Archives sets, Volumes 1-5.

    I'd love to read your impressions of The Decalogue.

    1. Thanks.

      "If you are interested in some of the more obscure National Film Registry titles, many of them are collected in the Treasures from American Film Archives sets, Volumes 1-5."

      Big thanks! I don't know if I would have thought to look for a collection like that, as opposed to the individual entries.

      "I'd love to read your impressions of The Decalogue."

      I wrote a short, very general summary at my Letterboxd account:

      If you are perhaps wondering which episodes I liked the best those would be Ep 7 (Thou Shalt Not Steal), Ep 6 (Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery), Ep 8 (Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness), and Ep 4 (Honor Thy Father and Mother), in that order. Least favorite would be Ep 2 (Do Not Take the Lord's Name in Vain), Ep 3 (Keep the Sabbath holy), and Ep 9 (Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's wife), in that order. Ep 1 (Thou shalt have no other god before me) I liked for a while, but the heavy handed ending lowered it for me. Ep 5 (Thou Shalt Not Kill) was well done, but I had seen too many similar things for it to really move me. Ep 10 (Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's possessions) was amusing in places, although the kidney thing was a bit much.

  7. Congrats, that's an achievement! You have reached max level now.

  8. Congratulations! My wife got me the book for Christmas last year, so I am only now at the beginning of my journey. Hopefully I can make it to the finish line one day.

    1. Thanks.

      It's an interesting journey. I spent almost 10 years not really watching movies because they were in the book, but rather watching the movies I wanted to and later seeing which ones were in it. It was only when I found a number of other bloggers who were actively using it for movies to see that it inspired me to do the same.

      The key to using it as a guide on what to see is that it is not a list of the BEST movies of all time, but rather the MOST IMPORTANT or MOST INFLUENTIAL. For example, some entries were made behind the Iron Curtain and were daringly critical of the situation. That makes them important, but doesn't necessarily mean that they are entertaining to watch.

      One note, and one that you've probably already realized, but just in case: the book almost always has spoilers in each of the movie entries. It assumes you've either seen it, or do not mind knowing what is going to happen in it. I would read an entry in the book only after I watched the film. Amusingly, though, there was a small percentage of them that inaccurately described what happened in the movie, showing that the "experts" didn't always do re-watches before writing.

  9. Congrats, Chip. I am not far behind you. The big question is this: have you reviewed all 1103 titles?

    1. Thanks. How many do you have left?

      "The big question is this: have you reviewed all 1103 titles?"

      Not remotely. As I mentioned in my post my goal was to watch them whereas reviewing them would have given a greater sense of accomplishment upon completion. I've reviewed 83 so far, but even if I did only 1001 Movies reviews I still wouldn't do 1,103. I only review movies that I would recommend to others, so that means I'd max out at around 650 of the movies on the list. By the way, you can see which ones I have reviewed by clicking on the "Movies - 1001 Movies" tag.

  10. I'm totally sharing this with others. Thanks Chip.

  11. Thanks Chip. you are a little crazing,and i want to be.
    i will make a list like your,maybe just 100 movies.
    i want to says you are master in movies.

  12. Congrats Chip! That's quite an achievement. I haven't counted them up recently, but the last time I checked I was still a little below half of them. I do have the version with Black Swan on the cover at home, and I look at it when getting my marathons together. So I'm slowly covering some of the titles.

    1. Thank you. You're doing what I did for several years - using the book more as an interesting resource rather than an assignment.

  13. You did it! Amazing! I'm still going (approaching no. 400) and it's a thrill and an inspiration to see you've actually achieved the goal. So let me just add my belated congratulations here at your "wake" and say, that I hope this is not "Goodbye, Mr. Chip(s)" :)

    1. Thank you.

      You know, I've toyed with the idea of writing a last post for this site for my family to upload in case I die of something unexpected. My twisted sense of humor led me to decide that if I did write that post I would use the quote "Goodbye Mr. Chips" from the movie of the same name.

      I guess great minds think alike. :-)

  14. Congrats man, what a feat! I got one of those books too and hope to someday knock out all 1001 movies from my edition's list. But don't expect that anytime soon, I am barely at half.

    Way to go.

    1. Thank you very much. You know, I was at just under half seen when I made the decision to actively work on the remaining films, so if it's something you decide to do, it's well within reach.

  15. Congratulations Chip! This is a great accomplishment and I think that getting the fuel to do a task like this is quite something.
    I'm also glad I highlighted the club for you!
    It is clear that you are a list guy and like your thematic series of reviews this is what makes this blog unique!
    Good luck on your future tasks!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and thanks once again for pointing me in the direction of the Blog Club.

  16. So it seems I took an unplanned break from blogging (and subsequently reading other blogs), and in doing so I missed your major milestone. Congratulations sir, well done on this truly momentous occasion, and apologies for the belated-ness of the celebration.

    1. Thank you very much, and there is never a time limit on congratulations.

  17. Hah, you had a very similar experience to me then. The Into Thin Air quote is very apt, although at least with climbing Everest you would be expecting the struggle! I imagine all of us who get to the end feel the same - satisfied yet frustrated and drained by the whole experience. Like you I'm glad I didn't try to review each film as I went along, so time consuming and I would have been much more likely to give up if I'd tried that. You're right about the New York Times book, I started that a couple of weeks ago and the difference in the types of films included is really noticeable, there's definitely going to be a much longer list of favourites come the end of that one. Congrats on finishing it and all the other editions, at least you only have to watch the bad films on the list once :)

    1. In regards to the New York Times book, I have a list of their Top 1,000 movies (actually containing 1,002 names). It's also on my Lists from Chip site. It is from the Second edition in 2002. It's alphabetical only, not ranked. I got it from their website years ago so I was not aware that they had published a physical book. Is your edition a newer one? The list I have appears to have been compiled from their yearly Top 10 Movies lists, or at least to have used them as a starting point. (Lots of movies that were big the year they came out, but that have faded into obscurity now.) I've currently seen 733 of those. I'm not actively working on this list, but still mark some off as I do other lists that happen to have some of the same entries.

    2. There is a 2nd edition of the book in print, published in the UK in 2004 - At the back of the book there is a list of all the top 10's that the newspaper published each year as you mention, though the book states that these are included as an extra and not the same as the 1000 in the main list (though there is plenty crossover). With over a decade since it was published I'd have thought it would be due a new updated version by now.

    3. Thanks for the info. So it sounds like I've got the same list, just not the physical book. After having done the 1001 Movies and TSPDT lists I'm working again on smaller lists before I try to tackle another one thousand long one.

      Just a heads up - I periodically search for films from lists I may do in the future and there are a chunk on the NY Times list that I haven't run across yet. (i.e. I found A Taxing Woman, but not the sequel A Taxing Woman Returns.). One note - I don't do torrents so that limits me in this respect.