Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Lust for Lists

In 1991, whilst wrapping up my first year as a self-financed clock-punching grown-up, I was working my first theatre job when I noticed a big leftover stack of large-sized postcards promoting the U.S. release of Luc Besson's LA FEMME NIKITA. I also noticed they were big enough to be run through the office copier, and could thus be "customized" to have a message on them.

About that time, I had also received my first alumni directory for my high school. Feeling a bit nostalgic for the body of folk I had spent my pivotal years with, and wanting to play upon my reputation as Finder of Cool Films, I turned them into ersatz Christmas cards and sent them en masse, with a greeting and an exhortation to rent the film, since I felt not enough people knew about it.

About a week and a half later, I had a ridiculous workplace accident where, whilst changing some decoration in the lobby, I fell through a glass display case and made a huge gash in my left leg, the raised scar that resulted still visible to this day. It was the first big injury I had ever had - previously I'd never experienced a black eye or a broken limb or any sort of body pain to match it. As I was lain out at home with the leg raised and immobilized, I was jokingly saying okay, now this entitles me to some sympathy and fawning.
That's when I got the phone call from home: one of the very classmates I had sent this tossed-off card to had just died in a car wreck. In fact, the only reason his parents even thought to inform mine about the tragedy and request my presence at the funeral was because he had just received the card days before. Aside from the obvious sorrow of losing a friend, I was struck and haunted by the fact that had I not sent that card, I could have gone years not knowing about this incident because we were so out of touch. And when I was taken to the memorial service, besides the curious stares I received for the large white immobilizer on my leg, many people talked about receiving my postcard. My friend's untimely passing became the inspiration for an unproduced screenplay, and more importantly, the decision to make a yearly Christmas card. The notion of maintaining a small but noticeable place in the loop of lives of people I liked was important to me, lest my life turn into Harry Chapin's "Taxi".

Over time, the format of the Christmas greeting varied. I first tried a two-tiered system where people I had little contact with got the sterotypically formatted (if unconventionally written) "year in review" letter while people I had regular contact with just got a card with a message. Both were just done on simple white paper folded up in threes, and both featured something that I would become synonymous with - a Best Movies of the Year list. A somewhat hard task, considering that Columbus was a good but not prime hub for the kinds of movies that make those lists, and I held myself to strict Academy Awards-qualification standards, primarily because since people so often complain that the movies that make the Oscars are ones they've never heard of, there would be the fighting chance that my friends would know about them because I mentioned them first. In 1994, it being such an incredible top-to-bottom year for great movies, I made the fateful decision to expand the list from 10 to 13 because there were just too many I was proud to list. Eventually, the letter format went away because I was growing sick of my own self-congratulatory blather -- another one of the reasons why I've long resisted a regular public blog -- and time and finances necessated the reduction of the card to tiny postcard size. But I kept at it for years, and eventually the recipient list would grow to over 150 people. I skipped doing it in 2002, because I was caught up in a one-two punch of collaborating with my TV co-stars in organizing a live version of the show to take to colleges in a last-ditch attempt to boost our profile and save us from being axed by the then-new regime at Comedy Central, and my car had been stolen and stripped like a Thanksgiving turkey, necessitating me to deal with the police and go hunting and pricing for a new car.

Then, 2008 happened. Without going into messy detail, I was too broke and too depressed to do the cards. Period. Even with my poverty-level presentation on white cardstock model, I could not afford the time, paper, and postage, plus a good fifth of the 2007 cards had come back Return to Sender, and I just could not muster the energy to try updating all those addresses or face the prospect of throwing money at more potential non-deliveries. And I am sorry to say this year has not been much better for my checkbook or my ego. I may still resurrect the card next year, for the simple fact that I'm an obstinate cuss who believes decades go from 1 to 10 and not 0 to 9, and consequently next year would be the date for my "Best of Decade" list. Thankfully, Facebook and other media has allowed me to keep that loop presence I first aspired to keep with many, if not all, of the people that the card was initially meant for, so it hasn't been quite the fail that it could have been. But I still get people who tell me they miss the card. Trust me, I do too.

Which brings us to another reason why I chose to launch this blog over Christmas -- that damned list. There are always two lists, actually: a ranked Top 13, and an alphabetical "Nobody saw this but me" list of honorary mentions (though obviously, now living in a movie-centric city with similarly-obsessed friends, that term is a bit more tongue-in-cheek). It's a carefully thought-out balance of the brain and the gut, of the technical achievements that must be respected and the personal favorites that stuck in my brain and never left. I like to suggest that if aliens came to Earth and wanted to know the palette and possibilities that movies can encompass, my list would be a good overview of that spectrum.

So, working upwards...

10 worthwhile films nobody saw but me:
The Baader-Meinhof Complex
Bajo la Sal
Big Fan
The House of the Devil
Not Quite Hollywood
Sin Nombre

And now, phone the neighbors, wake the kids, The Top 13 of 2009:




10. UP










And since this essentially appears in space in lieu of greetings in print, whatever holiday you are celebrating, or if you'd sooner celebrate the end of sanctioned holidays, just make it as pleasing as you can, for yourself and your fellows.


  1. I am glad that Precious and Up made your list! I enjoyed both of those. Merry Christmas Marc. From Laura Watson

  2. Pretty much all the ones on this list that I've seen, I agree with. Big props for mentioning Adventureland, Ponyo and Anvil!

  3. I'm very happy you're blogging, Marc.

    I saw all those films nobody else saw, too, except for FANBOYS.


    As for PRECIOUS -- yes, a really great flick.

    Not with you on AVATAR, though.

    Keep the blog cumming.

  4. I liked Up a lot, even though some of the matter was a bit darker than expected. Anvil was great and I still have to see Avatar and Precious.

  5. "Moon" very very very reccomended....loved it! ...
    saw it 2 times and want to see again:))))
    ur top 10 i'll leave with no comments:) ...number4 didnt see but want to!


  6. I see you caught the Avatar bug. Sorry to hear it. We'll talk at length about it I'm sure, let's just say its not in my top 10 for now. Here's what is:

    1. Up In The Air
    2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    3. The Brothers Bloom
    4. A Serious Man
    5. Up
    6. The Hurt Locker
    7. Inglourious Basterds
    8. Precious
    9. In The Loop
    10. Black Dynamite

    and if I'm playing along with the 13:

    11. Adventureland
    12. Drag Me To Hell
    13. Sugar

    Still haven't seen White Ribbon, A Prophet, Dr. Parnassus, Crazy Heart or Nine. Saw Single Man, Broken Embraces and Sherlock Holmes all in the last few days. Enjoyed them all, Single Man the most. I'd put that one in my top 15 along with An Education to round it out. Sweet list Marc (aside from the Avatar thing)!

  7. Lots of movies I need to be adding to my Netflix que, looks like.