Rosenbaum's Canon of Film.

In his most recent book, Essential Cinema, Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum outlined 1000 films that, in his opinion, form a canon of cinema.

Although I highly doubt that it is possible to copyright a list of previously copyrighted titles, I’ll simply link to it in the interest of saving space.

Rosenbaum’s Canon.

I am currently in the middle of the arduous process of uploading all of the films to my My Movies at the IMDb, and I wondered what everyone else thinks of this list.
Overall it is a cosmopolitan and well researched list, grounded in the classics, but as Rosenbaum delights in, including obscure but brilliant titles. Challenging and unorthodox films are what Rosenbaum typically champions in response to the gradual dumbing down of the American film culture.

A few things do bother me, however. Notable omissions include Gates Of Heaven, some of Bergman’s more well-known works (being familiar is no reason to omit a deserving film, IMO) and Harold Lloyd. Keaton and Chaplin can kiss my ass as far as silent comedy is concerned, with respect to Lloyd.

I do appreciate the inclusion of several underrated Russians, Kuleshov, Pudovkin, etc. as well as the more common Dovzhenko films. I would definitely liked to have seen more pre-1910 shorts, though. Love, Actually makes the list, but only two pre-feature shorts are deserving of inclusion?
What do the teeming millions think?


I know it wasn’t as bad as its reputation, but, come on, be serious.

He includes it as an example of big-budget hullaballooza that isn’t that bad, but gets a bad rep. The songs are okay, too.

Sorry, you typoed: Lloyd can kiss Keaton’s ENTIRE ass.

::: barricades self :::

I’ve only seen The General. I didn’t like it.

The Kid Brother, on the other hand, or Girl Shy. There’s some silent comedy.

Ilsa_Lund writes:

> Although I highly doubt that it is possible to copyright a list of previously
> copyrighted titles . . .

Actually, it is possible to copyright a list if it involves creative choice. Rosenbaum’s list can be copyrighted because Rosenbaum had to make informed choices to produce it. A telephone book though can’t be copyrighted.

> Love, Actually makes the list . . .

Huh? No, it doesn’t.


Citizen Kane
Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Now I can retire and live off the damages from my lawsuits. :smiley:

I was confusing Love, Actually with Down With Love.:o

Your list isn’t long enough to be copyrighted. The fact that you came up with it in five minutes shows that you didn’t put any significant amount of creative choice into it.

Didn’t see Love, Actually, but I actually loved* Down with Love*; bought the DVD.

You need to see more Keaton, starting with rewatching The General. Pay attention this time; it’s a masterpiece.

While I respect Rosenbaum, I find the list a bit odd. I know of his liking of Asian cinema, and with so many obscure titles on the list, it’s hard for me to give an informed opinion.
Since I found 1941, Family Plot and Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia on the list (none of these could be said to be the best achievment by the respective director), I wonder what criteria has been used. Ilsa speaks of canon, and the link about ‘essential’ but that really doesn’t answer it for me. Essential for what? Is it his personal favorites? Largest impact? Artistically rewarding?

Bullworth? Tough guys don’t dance?

All of the above, I suspect.

For the record, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Bulworth, and Family Plot are (IMHO) vastly underrated, and I am THRILLED to find them on his list.

One thing to consider, Gasp, is that while it’s true that the titles you mention are not widely accepted as their respective directors’ favorite crowdpleasers, to the extent that that’s true this might be due in some part to their uniqueness among those bodies (to write the most tortuous sentence I’ve ever committed to pixels) of work. That uniqueness is probably a clue to what R’baum sees in them.

And R’baum doesn’t distinguish between obscure and Blockbuster, and rightly so. Good is good, availability is irrelevant. If his list inspires you to hunt it down, or drive to another city to catch it on some film society screening, then he’s done a tremendous service to you, and to capital-cee Cinema itself. I have always been well rewarded by such R’baum-inspired expeditions.

I tried to watch 1941 the other night. I remembered it being pretty good when I saw it back in the 1980’s. I was wrong. It totally sucked.

Lissener - yes, I agree. Most people would probably pick ‘The Wild Bunch’ as Peckinpah’s best effort. For me it’s ‘Cross of Iron’. ‘Bulworth’ was fun, but nothing special in the genre of political satire. I think ‘Bob Roberts’ should have been on the list.
Let’s just say I’m a bit surprised about some of the choices, which is why I asked about the criteria.

I also get a feeling that he’s more fond of movies from his youth, before he got jaded, as many critics do. Not knowing his age makes this a somehat shakey assertion, though.

He’s admitted that; he’s acknowledged that it’s weighted toward the fifties, but I imagine such would be the case for all of us.

And though Bob Roberts is brilliant, *Bulworth *might be worth another look, IMHO: it really is something special in the genre of political satire if you ask me.

And I think Garcia is a uniquely personal film, while Bunch is, I think, political.

I just looked through the silents – how could he have omitted both Birth of a Nation and The Jazz Singer? Both of those are considered not only classics, but epochal groundbreakers in cinematic storytelling techniques. BoaN is undoubtedly the most overtly racist film ever made, and JS has Jolson doing a minstrel act in blackface, but I don’t think this kind of decision should be guided by political correctness.

It’s not political correctness. It’s, to coin a phrase, holistic criticism. Rosenbaum does not divorce a film’s content from its context; the message of BoaN is legitimately subject to critical judgment. In the first place.

In the second place, until you’ve read his reasons, you can’t really criticize the list; for all you know he had perfectly valid artistic reasons for not including it. Just because it’s on everyone else’s list is utterly irrelevant.

And despite TJS’s historic importance, it’s a bad, bad movie, so there.

I’ve got a copy of the book right by my side. In the introduction, Rosenbaum says that he was a college freshman in 1961-2, so he was presumably born about 1943 and is about 61. The list is actually surprisingly even in the number of films per year from 1924 to the present. (The present, for this book, being sometime late in 2003, I think.) No year has less than five nor more than twenty-three films in the list. I could do a chi square distribution on the number of films per year from 1924 to 2003, if you’d like. (It’s a mathematical way to test whether something is randomly distributed.) Most people tend to overestimate the amount of evenness in a random distribution. They look at a bunch of objects (like films) distributed in a bunch of categories (like years) and think, “Oh, this can’t be randomly distributed. Look at how many more objects there are in some categories than in others.” But that’s what you actually expect. Random distributions look uneven.

Eyes Wide Shut? An awful, awful film. And no Shawshank Redemption. Thats just wrong.

I think RR’s list is full of hot air: pretentious, obscurantist, and willfully perverse in its inclusions, and betraying a deplorable tendency to confuse serious themes and PC statements with the myriad criteria of artistic merit. Like many an inferior cultural critic, he tends to dismiss popular genres and comedy as proper fodder for the aesthete’s delectation and approval.

OTOH, I loved his old Observer columns about his cat.

Wait a minute… Jonathan Rosenbaum?


I was thinking it was Ron Rosenbaum. Doesn’t matter, though – the list still sucks. I bet RR could put together a better one. Perhaps even his cat could.