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As a professor teaching film at New York University, Spike Lee hands out to students a list of what he considers “the greatest films ever made.” He sees these as required viewing for those who want to become directors.
He’s now put that collection of esteemed titles out on the Internet. Which only means one thing: We can now pick apart his choices. After all, isn’t that the fun in seeing lists like this?
Lee’s compilation does hit on some of the works that are inevitably part of any film studies course: “Breathless.” “8 1/2.” “Mean Streets.” “The Bicycle Thief.” “Rashomon.”
But he throws his share of curveballs, too. Orson Welles is there ... but for “Touch of Evil,” not “Citizen Kane.”
And get this: Lee includes in this distinguised list the Mel Gibson directorial effort “Apocalypto.” (Maybe he just has a soft spot for Gibson; Lee finds room for both “Mad Max” AND “The Road Warrior” in this greatest-ever grouping.)
It’s the more recent releases where Lee lets his freak flag fly. He mentions “Bad Lieutenant” and “District Nine.” The latter is a good movie ... but among the best ever made??? The former? Well, let’s just say everyone must have their own definition of greatest.
But the spots for 1990s films “Hoop Dreams” and “Boyz in the Hood” are well earned.
I have a couple quibbles with Lee. First, as with most people who construct a best-films-ever list, he gives short shrift to comedies. Thank goodness the Coen Brothers earned a mention for “Raising Arizona,” but Christopher Guest was absent? And Woody Allen is only represented by “Zelig”?
I noticed, too, that there is a distinct lack of female-focused films here. If women are co-leads in these movies, they tend to still take a backseat to the men — think “Bonnie and Clyde” or “Some Like It Hot.”
Mostly, this is a decidedly male-centric list. Game-changers like “Norma Rae” and “Thelma and Louise” are absent. Meryl Streep is nowhere to be found in any piece here. None of the films Lee mentions are directed by women; sorry, Kathryn Bigelow and “The Hurt Locker.” I guess you can console yourself with that Oscar, though.
What did you like or dislike about Lee’s list? What would you add?