I love lists. I can’t stop making them. If I have trouble sleeping, I think up new ones. Favorite movies, favorite bands, favorite food and so on. This being the case, I sometimes contributed to one of those top ten list websites. You know the type. Readers are invited to post comments about the list to get a debate going. This particular site has a high standard and if a writer makes a mistake, the site’s fans pounce like a pack of wolves. My lists always met with a pretty good reception until I compiled my Top 10 War Films list.
Some of the comments were supportive but 99% of them were torrents of anger, hostility and bewilderment. What was my transgression? What crime against humanity had I committed? I did not include “Saving Private Ryan”. Yes, I can hear some of you groaning now. Some people were frothing at the mouth with rage at my omission. If I had received a death threat, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Even my editor had tried to persuade me to include it but I stood my ground.
Ok, this is what happened. I had kinda anticipated this and in order to hold off a barrage of negative comments, I tried to explain myself in the introduction to the list. I think that the first 20 minutes of the film are magnificent and the most realistic depiction of battle ever seen. It’s just that the rest of the film was an anti-climax for me. I was bored. Frankly, I didn’t care if they found Private Ryan or not.
The lists on the site are allowed to be subjective up to a point, as long as they have a factually correct framework. The criterion I used was to pick films that have stood the test of time and received critical acclaim. I didn’t fare any better in the real world either. When I told my friends that I had left “Saving Private Ryan” out, they reacted as if I’d just confessed to drowning a puppy. Jeez, it was just a list!
The other reason I incurred so much wrath was my choice for number one, “The Thin Red Line”. It came out in the same year as “Saving Private Ryan” and was overshadowed by it, publicity wise. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The comments I got were: ‘it’s too slow’, ‘it’s boring’ and ‘I’ve never managed to watch it right to the end.’ There was utter astonishment that I had included that and not included you know what. To me, Terence Malick’s epic is one of the most extraordinary movies ever made, for its beauty, its poetry and its exploration of the light and darkness in our souls. It is also brutal and savage, and has remarkable combat scenes of its own.
Don’t get me wrong. I really admire “Saving Private Ryan’s” opening sequence of the storming of the beach. It takes your breath away and I have the utmost respect for Spielberg. I particularly like the scene when a soldier is pinned down by all the bullets flying around and a sergeant is yelling to him to advance. He can’t move. This soldier isn’t a coward; he simply knows that it would be practically suicide.
So, I ask the question. Have you ever given an opinion of a movie that was contrary to popular feeling? What was the reaction? Were you shot down in flames? Did you regret putting your head above the parapet? Personally, I have no regrets and I intend to have these words engraved on my tombstone: ‘The Thin Red Line is the Greatest War Film Ever Made. Deal With It.’ Ok, do your worst. I’m ready!