Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

The BBC has published a list of the 100 best films of the 21st century, compiled after consulting academics, cinema curators and critics -- and, as you'd expect, it's almost comically dull. The list contains numerous turgid meditations on the spiritual void at the heart of western civilisation by obscure European 'auteurs' and not a single Hollywood comedy. It's as if the respondents mistook the word 'best' for 'boring'.

To give you an idea of just how absurd the list is, it doesn't include any of the billion-dollar blockbusters from Marvel Studios -- no, not even Guardians of the Galaxy -- but does have two movies by the impenetrable Danish director Lars von Trier. Nothing featuring Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper or Robert Downey Jr, but three films starring Joaquin Phoenix (although not Gladiator , obviously).

Jennifer Lawrence, the number one box office star in the world, doesn't get a look-in, while Michael Haneke, the miserable Austrian director, appears three times. If an actual cinema confined itself to showing just the films on this list, it would go bust within a month.

Don't get me wrong. I know commercial success isn't a guarantee of quality -- look at Mamma Mia! , for heaven's sake -- but nor is it the mark of Cain. The cineastes who've compiled this list have fallen into the old trap of assuming that any film that makes over $100 million at the American box office must be garbage. It's the same snobbery that's responsible for the dismissal of genre fiction -- even though literary novels are every bit as formulaic as historical romances and spy thrillers -- and primetime TV shows. The view that popular equals bad is no more defensible than popular equals good. Genuine artistic value is as likely to be found on ITV2 at 4 a.m. as it is at the Royal Opera House. It's a random variable.

To be fair, some commercial filmmakers have been allowed to sneak on to the BBC's list. But they are the usual suspects: Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese. And in every case, the panel of experts haven't chosen their best films. Tarantino, for instance, gets the nod for Inglourious Basterds , which isn't a patch on Django Unchained , and Christopher Nolan is recognised for Memento rather than The Dark Knight Rises . …

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