The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films
by Jay Carr
A review by Georgie Lewis
Every home that owns a video or DVD player should have a movie guide. However, there does come a day when trusty Leonard Maltin's cover falls off and the dog-eared, coffee-stained, and creased-cornered pages cease to invite perusal. And when this day comes, as happened to me just recently, redemption is here in the form of The A List. I now proudly own a guide that, should I watch two movies at home per week, will provide me with all the necessary information to make me a walking Pauline Kael in just under a year.
Editor Jay Carr, film critic for the Boston Globe, and his colleagues at National Society of Film Critics have formulated this list of 100 films the Society deems "essential" for anyone interested in film and film history. Each film is chosen for its "intrinsic merits, its role in the development of the motion picture art, and its impact on culture and society." And each film has an accompanying essay by one of the forty-one contributing members of the society explaining just why this film is regarded as exemplary. The films selected are diverse, ranging from The Wizard of Oz to L.A. Confidential to The Decalogue, and, as Carr says in his introduction, this is a list "that admits — OK, invites — dissent."
Some of the choices seem unusual, but, as you might expect, the critics are persuasive. Jailhouse Rock was, Carrie Rickey explains, "the most eloquent record of two seismic events that rocked 1950's America: The Rise of the Teenager and the Elvis Phenom." Roger Ebert writes that The Battleship Potemkin "has been famous for so long that it is almost impossible to come to it with a fresh eye," but then goes on to describe how he indeed managed to do just that one night in Michigan.
The history of each film and its social context is all here, along with the films that vied for each critic's attention. But the best thing about The A List is that the two page reviews capture film critics at their most passionate. The love of the moving picture and its ability to make us laugh and cry and drop our jaws in awe is evident in all of these essays. It makes for intensely addictive reading.