Monday, January 5, 2009
Something fishy about this list
A reader asked what I thought about a recent blog entry at the New York Times Web site. Here goes: Stanley Fish Sunday listed what he regards as the 10 best American movies ever. According to the Times' biography, the compiler of this particular list serves as the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami. Fish also has taught at other prestigious universities and has authored a book on higher education.
No real qualifications are necessary for making 10-best lists. If you've stumbled upon this entry consider yourself invited to contribute your own. I'm going to refrain from reciprocating, however, and out respect for Mr. Fish's impressive credentials, I won't list my 10 favorite American legal decisions or even 10 ways in which I believe higher education could be improved. OK, I know of only one, awarding me a tenured chair that requires no teaching and only occasional appearances on campus.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing terribly wrong with Fish's list, aside from its inclusion of "Groundhog Day." I liked "Groundhog Day" a great deal, but remain unconvinced that Harold Ramis could have directed one of the 10 best American films ever. I mean we are talking "ever," as in "everything up until now." An unusually generous critic couldn't even get Ramis in the top 15. I'm a committed Billy Wilder fan, but I wouldn't have included two Wilder movies on my list. Fish opts for both "Sunset Blvd." and "Double Indemnity."
I won't repeat Fish's entire list here, but I will mention some notable omissions. OK, I'm being totally predictable, but for a splendid reason: "Citizen Kane" belongs on such a list. It remains a great movie, possibly the greatest American movie. Other candidates: "The Godfather." "Casablanca." The "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and "The Searchers." And those are just some suggestions from the classics division. Fish anoints William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives" as his best American movie. It's a fine piece of work, but I'd have a difficult time boosting it into first place.
And, no, I'm not gong to make my own list. Lists give me headaches. Besides, lists never should be taken seriously, unless you happen to be talking about a list of Power Ball winners and then only if your name appears on it -- at the top, of course.