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Greg Wolfe

Top 25 2011: Horror Films: Nomination (Closed) and Discussion

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The helicopters at the beginning, the surfing scene, the tiger, the shooting on the boat, the war-like ending -- you can't say Apocalypse Now doesn't have as many moments that are thriller/adventure as it also has that are horror.

Well, as I said, someone is going to have to provide definitions of "thriller" and "horror" that distinguish the two, because as far as I'm concerned, there's a lot of overlap in those categories, so much so that it's hard to make a meaningful and clear distinction between them. Now, I can see "adventure" as applied to APOCALYPSE NOW; the exoticism of it all seems to fit it, even though the film doesn't seem particularly interested in the "spirit of adventure" which usually characterizes these stories. It's dark, brooding, and uncanny, and that's demonstrated in many of the moments you cited. The surfing scene, in particular, is outright chilling (a little funny, too, but pretty unnerving). And then there's the ending, which is a deeply creepy, nightmarish finale centered around pagan sacrifice; if any sequence makes me think of APOCALYPSE NOW as a candidate for the horror category, it's that final section of the film where everything has completely descended into madness.

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Wow. I really have almost nothing to contribute to this. I think I can count the number of horror films I've seen on both hands. Does "Yogi Bear" count?

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The helicopters at the beginning, the surfing scene, the tiger, the shooting on the boat, the war-like ending -- you can't say Apocalypse Now doesn't have as many moments that are thriller/adventure as it also has that are horror.

Well, as I said, someone is going to have to provide definitions of "thriller" and "horror" that distinguish the two, because as far as I'm concerned, there's a lot of overlap in those categories, so much so that it's hard to make a meaningful and clear distinction between them. Now, I can see "adventure" as applied to APOCALYPSE NOW; the exoticism of it all seems to fit it, even though the film doesn't seem particularly interested in the "spirit of adventure" which usually characterizes these stories. It's dark, brooding, and uncanny, and that's demonstrated in many of the moments you cited. The surfing scene, in particular, is outright chilling (a little funny, too, but pretty unnerving). And then there's the ending, which is a deeply creepy, nightmarish finale centered around pagan sacrifice; if any sequence makes me think of APOCALYPSE NOW as a candidate for the horror category, it's that final section of the film where everything has completely descended into madness.

I agree with you on this. Apocalypse Now is beyond genre classification in my book. I can see the horror elements, but to classify it as horror really limits what it actually is -- Beyond.

Wow. I really have almost nothing to contribute to this. I think I can count the number of horror films I've seen on both hands. Does "Yogi Bear" count?

Nominate it. If it gets Seconded, you've contributed! :)

Edited by Persona

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I think it's quite important to respect the horror genre by limiting the list to definite horror films.

I'm curious, Why? I think "respecting the genre" makes for a less interesting list.

I think a list promoting "The Top 20 Horror Films" should be made up of 20 outstanding horror films, and should not be used as an attempt to redefine the genre.

For the uninitiated (ie. non-horror-fan) coming to the list, I think they are more likely to linger with it if there are some outsiders they've seen.

For the horror fan, I think it will spark more interesting thoughts and conversations to have a few oddballs there

I don't think making the list attractive to the uninitiated is a good motive. I think the motive should be to name 20 of the best horror films that have exceptional artistic and/or religious value.

And as a true horror fan, if I saw a top 20 horror film list which included titles that are more demonstrative of another genre, I would be likely to dismiss the list altogether. But that's just me.

Here are some examples (using currently ineligible films) of why admiting non-imdb sanctioned horror films is a good idea:

Winter's Bone rightfully would never be labeled horror, yet it has perhaps the most disturbing/moving horror scene I've ever watched (quasi-spoiler alert: the scene involving hands, if you're wondering).

Von Trier's Antichrist on the other hand is more than horror, but it is still, in my non-expert estimation, definitely horror. IMDB labels it Drama. It certainly starts out that way but that's not how it finishes.

You make a good point. Winter's Bone doesn't belong on any top horror film list, but Antichrist certainly could belong there. After reading this, I looked up Se7en, which is not listed as horror, but I think should qualify.

I retract my IMDB suggestion, but I do think that if a film belongs more firmly in a genre other than horror, it should not be included.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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I think it's quite important to respect the horror genre by limiting the list to definite horror films.

I've been thinking about this some more. Is it that important to "respect" the horror genre?

It's very important. I don't think anyone will mind unfamiliar or unexpected choices, as long as they are horror films, and not films that are better categorized in a different genre. A "Top 20 Horror Films" list is not the place to apologize for the genre by reaching for films outside of it.

And that brings me to this point: I think all of us who participated in this list really need to think over what does make horror valuable, what separates the commendable achievements from the schlock. Scott has nominated some Argento films, and they provide an interesting case as far as I'm concerned. While I'll commend Argento's visual inventiveness, I find films like SUSPIRIA and DEEP RED to be rather lousy, lacking conviction and coherence, indulging in carnage with a distasteful exuberance. Perhaps Scott can provide a spirited defense to make me think otherwise, but as of now, I'm ruling that they fall into the category of beautiful schlock.

Perhaps I'll write a spirited defense of Susperia in the new year (as it is my favorite of the two), but for now I'll simply say that the combination of high art aesthetics with the truly horrible result in the ineffable -- a cinematic space where the viewer can experience the merging of beauty and terror. The carnage you mention isn't distasteful -- in fact, it's deliberately artificial; an intentional artistic expression. It does not lack conviction and it is not schlock (which I think by definition is not beautiful). It is a surreal and deranged fairy tale. The influences of Susperia include German Expressionism, Jean Cocteau, George Melies, Grimm Fair Tales, Snow White and M.C. Echer. I think there is much more to it than you are recognizing.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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How, Scott, would you define the purpose/limits of the horror genre? I would suggest that the "horror" category refers to a mode of storytelling in which the story is designed to invoke a feeling of terror or, well, horror in the viewer. I have a hard time getting more specific than that, especially given the fairly broad boundaries of the genre as it has been understood historically.

What I would have to adjust in your definition, is that horror is designed to primarily invoke a feeling of terror or horror.

A horror film is dominated by the elements of the horrific, the terrifying, the grotesque, and/or the macabre...

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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Title: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Director: Roger Corman

Running Time: 89 minutes

IMDb

My favorite of all Roger Corman's Poe adaptations.

Title: The Company of Wolves (1984)

Director: Neil Jordan

Running time: 95 minutes

IMDb

YouTube

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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I don't think anyone will mind unfamiliar or unexpected choices, as long as they are horror films, and not films that are better categorized in a different genre.

Naturally. But what films are better categorized in a different genre is ultimately up for the community to decide. Whether something like APOCALYPSE NOW makes the list or not isn't going to make or break the list for me; I'm much more concerned that we get the likes of FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on the list. But I very much hope this film tests the boundaries of the genre. There's no point in making just another list, in a world where there's so many, just for the sake of a list; what matters is the rationale, the thought process behind it. And I'd say a list like this is as much for the sake of us, the Arts and Faith community, as it is for a broader audience.

The carnage you mention isn't distasteful -- in fact, it's deliberately artificial; an intentional artistic expression.

Just because something is deliberately artificial or intentional artistic expression does not necessarily keep it from being distasteful. SALO OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM is full of deliberately artificial, intentional, artistic expression, but it's still utter rubbish. As far as I'm concerned, anyway.

It does not lack conviction and it is not schlock (which I think by definition is not beautiful).

Is schlock, by definition, not beautiful? I think you can certainly have something that's beautiful on the surface, but as soon as you probe deeper, it's rubbish. Maybe that's SUSPIRIA, maybe it's not, but I think that kind of category exists.

The influences of Susperia include German Expressionism, Jean Cocteau, George Melies, Grimm Fair Tales, Snow White and M.C. Echer.

Sure. And Argento's numerous influences did interest me in my viewings of his work. But the fact that a work may have high-grade influences doesn't make artistic work of value. It's how they are integrated into the work that matters. Which I'm sure you know, and I hope to read up on your thoughts as to how these influences come together into something satisfying and enriching once you get your SUSPIRIA defense together.

A horror film is dominated by the elements of the horrific, the terrifying, the grotesque, and/or the macabre...

Now we're getting somewhere. But even by those terms, I'd still argue that APOCALYPSE NOW fits. ;)

Anyway, thanks for being part of the conversation, Scott. Many of us here aren't true-blue horror fans, and for us, a list like this represents a bit of a reach (which is what made it appealing to me, at least). Happy New Year.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Title: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Director: Roger Corman

Running Time: 89 minutes

IMDb

My favorite of all Roger Corman's Poe adaptations.

Title: The Company of Wolves (1984)

Director: Neil Jordan

Running time: 95 minutes

IMDb

YouTube

Seconded.

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I second Re-animator, which Nick nominated.

And I nominate:

Title: The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

Running time: 85 minutes

IMDb

Title: Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi

Running time: 84 minutes

IMDb

Title: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Director: John Carpenter

Running Time: 102 minutes

IMDb

Title: Carrie (1976)

Director: Brian De Palma

Running Time: 98 minutes

IMDb

Title: Near Dark (1987)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Running Time: 94 minutes

IMDb

Edited by Christian

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Nominating the same films I did before, but doing it properly this time.

Title: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Running Time: 91 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Running Time: 91 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: [REC] (2007)

Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Running Time: 78 min.

Language: Spanish

IMDB

Title: Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Running Time: 111 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: The Mist (2007)

Director: Frank Darabount

Running Time: 126 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning

Running Time: 64 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Eyes Without A Face (1960)

Director: Georges Franju

Running Time: 88 min.

Language: French

IMDB

Title: Re-Animator (1985)

Diretor: Stuart Gordon

Running Time: 86 min/95 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1993)

Director: Wes Craven

Running Time: 112 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey

Running Time: 78 min.

Language: English

IMDB

...

adding one more that should've been there from the start:

Title: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Director: Charles Laughton

Running Time: 93 min.

Language: English

IMDB

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Title: Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Running time: 113 minutes

IMDB

Edited by Cunningham

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Seconded for Curse of the Demon and I Walked With a Zombie

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My brief thoughts on Apocalypse Now:

I can very well see it as a horror film. But then I can see Dante's Hell as a horror tale as well. And Apocalypse Now is very much the same genre. My recollection of the film (it's been a few years) has places that I could almost point to as zombie film.

I think a list that we put out should be willing to expand definitions (one of the reasons for my suggesting An Inconvenient Truth.)

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Title: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Running Time: 91 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Running Time: 91 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Running Time: 111 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning

Running Time: 64 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Re-Animator (1985)

Diretor: Stuart Gordon

Running Time: 86 min/95 min.

Language: English

IMDB

I thought I had seconded these, but I guess not. Seconded.

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So Richard Brooks' Lord Jim and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God were heavily influential on Apocalypse Now, would those films be categorized as "horror"?

I think we could come up with quite a large number of action/adventure films whose primary purpose seems to be to inspire a feeling of fear or horror in the audience. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Robert Rodriguez's Sin City? Panic Room, Flightplan, Disturbia, The Terminator, etc.

Ryan said that he's advocating Apocalypse Now essentially because he's interested in testing the boundaries of the horror genre. The problem is if we are going to start making a number of short lists here to go along with the Top 100 list is, well, that they're short. 20 films is not very many. So the more we are testing the boundaries of what everyone else considers horror films, basically that's the more films we're trying to stuff into the list. And for every Apocalypse Now or An Inconvenient Truth put on the list, that's a Dracula/Frankenstein/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Dorian Gray/Hunchback of Notre Dame/horror classic knocked off the list.

As something new, I guess I'm personally more interested in a list that creates a discussion on how horror films are supposed to be valuable to questions of faith and Christianity in the first place, not so much a list demonstrating how a group of Christians can redefine what everyone else considers the "horror genre" to better suit them.

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And for every Apocalypse Now or An Inconvenient Truth put on the list, that's a Dracula/Frankenstein/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Dorian Gray/Hunchback of Notre Dame/horror classic knocked off the list.

I'm OK with that. How many monster or Satan's minion films do we need? Breadth I think is central, especially in a small list.

Keep in mind that inclusion on the ballot still means that most of those voting (which I won't be since horror isn't my genre) have to give it decent marks to include. If Apocalypse Now outscores Whale's Frankenstein (and I'm not suggesting that it should) it will reflect the community's assessment of those films as horror films. Trust the community.

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So Richard Brooks' Lord Jim and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God were heavily influential on Apocalypse Now, would those films be categorized as "horror"?

I think we could come up with quite a large number of action/adventure films whose primary purpose seems to be to inspire a feeling of fear or horror in the audience. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Robert Rodriguez's Sin City? Panic Room, Flightplan, Disturbia, The Terminator, etc.

Ryan said that he's advocating Apocalypse Now essentially because he's interested in testing the boundaries of the horror genre. The problem is if we are going to start making a number of short lists here to go along with the Top 100 list is, well, that they're short. 20 films is not very many. So the more we are testing the boundaries of what everyone else considers horror films, basically that's the more films we're trying to stuff into the list. And for every Apocalypse Now or An Inconvenient Truth put on the list, that's a Dracula/Frankenstein/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Dorian Gray/Hunchback of Notre Dame/horror classic knocked off the list.

As something new, I guess I'm personally more interested in a list that creates a discussion on how horror films are supposed to be valuable to questions of faith and Christianity in the first place, not so much a list demonstrating how a group of Christians can redefine what everyone else considers the "horror genre" to better suit them.

I absolutely agree with your point.

And I would add that the reason Apocalypse Now, Apocalypto, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Sin City, Panic Room, Flightplan, Disturbia, and The Terminator do not qualify as horror films is that their primary experiential/emotional intention is to THRILL, not to HORRIFY. None of those films mentioned are predominantly horrific experiences. Apocalypse Now is the closest, but Coppola didn't want to make a horror film, which is why he said this in Hearts of Darkness:

"This movie was not made in the tradition of Max Ophuls or David Lean. It was made in the tradition of Irwin Allen. I made the most vulgar, entertaining, action-filled, sense-a-ramic, give them a thrill every five minutes, sex, violence, humor, because I want people to come see it."

As I said before, Apocalypse Now one of my three favorite films of all-time, but it's not a horror film and doesn't belong on a very limited top 20 horror film list.

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Apocalypse Now and An Inconvenient Truth are not horror. That datum is more secure than any theories or definitions that might be used to analyze, explain or dispute the datum in question.

I do hope we will consider some unusual or genre-bending possibilities. I mentioned Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and will re-nominate it properly when I get a chance.

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Title: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Running Time: 91 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning

Running Time: 64 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey

Running Time: 78 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Title: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Director: Charles Laughton

Running Time: 93 min.

Language: English

IMDB

Second.

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So Richard Brooks' Lord Jim and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God were heavily influential on Apocalypse Now, would those films be categorized as "horror"?

Haven't seen LORD JIM. I've contemplated nominating AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, but I have other favorites that I'd sooner nominate instead. Like the remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or the Corman FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and LIGEIA. If I pick a slightly more "unconventional" nominee, it will probably be Polanski's THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (which, truth be told, isn't really all that unconventional; if Corman's Poe flicks count, Polanski's MACBETH certainly does).

I think we could come up with quite a large number of action/adventure films whose primary purpose seems to be to inspire a feeling of fear or horror in the audience. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Robert Rodriguez's Sin City? Panic Room, Flightplan, Disturbia, The Terminator, etc.

None of these films--which I've seen, anyway--function like APOCALYPSE NOW, which is fundamentally concerned with existential terror. APOCALYPTO and TEMPLE OF DOOM, in their own ways, dip into gruesome moments, but they privilege action thrills and exhilaration over any commitment to inspiring horror (in the same way, BEETLEJUICE privileges laughs over terror, and for that reason, I don't support it for the list). SIN CITY is dark, but it's mostly about being "cool" and "bad-ass" in a dark way, not really about scaring anyone. PANIC ROOM? Well, in intention, perhaps, but in execution it's such a lame film that it's not even worth mentioning. Haven't seen FLIGHTPLAN or DISTURBIA. And, personally, I think THE TERMINATOR probably would make for a decent nomination, though it's borderline.

So the more we are testing the boundaries of what everyone else considers horror films, basically that's the more films we're trying to stuff into the list. And for every Apocalypse Now or An Inconvenient Truth put on the list, that's a Dracula/Frankenstein/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Dorian Gray/Hunchback of Notre Dame/horror classic knocked off the list.

Sure, sure, sure. But our obligation isn't just to recycle the classics--we need the classics in the nomination pool to choose from--but to evaluate them as cinematic art, as rewarding ventures, and then choose which make it onto our list.

I personally am willing to allow for something like APOCALYPSE NOW on the list (I am not, however, willing to allow for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, but I appreciate it being introduced to the conversation). I think it's hard to create a definition of horror that well and truly excludes it, particularly since the horror genre has many different forms. I ask this: is APOCALYPSE NOW really so different than say, an Edgar Allan Poe story like "The Masque of the Red Death," which seeks to create a feeling of existential dread through consistently bizarre, grotesque, dreamlike imagery? Of course, Coppola's imagery is more rooted in the "real world," but otherwise, they don't seem to be operating in entirely different ways. And, if we're going to nominate something like BEETLEJUICE or CORPSE BRIDE, I have to say that APOCALYPSE NOW is probably a truer fit for "horror" than either of those films. Those films wear the accoutrements of horror, but in essence, they're nothing of the sort.

That doesn't mean APOCALYPSE NOW has to make it on the list. The community is free to vote as it sees fit in this matter. Frankly, since I'm not too bothered whether or not it makes it on the list or not, I'm growing tired of arguing in its favor.

As something new, I guess I'm personally more interested in a list that creates a discussion on how horror films are supposed to be valuable to questions of faith and Christianity in the first place, not so much a list demonstrating how a group of Christians can redefine what everyone else considers the "horror genre" to better suit them.

Can't a list that seeks to explore the boundaries of what "horror" help inform a conversation about how horror films can be valuable to questions of faith? And, given the bulk of the nominees so far, I hardly think that the A&F community is wholesale redefining the horror genre.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Breadth I think is central, especially in a small list.

Agreed.

Keep in mind that inclusion on the ballot still means that most of those voting (which I won't be since horror isn't my genre) have to give it decent marks to include. If Apocalypse Now outscores Whale's Frankenstein (and I'm not suggesting that it should) it will reflect the community's assessment of those films as horror films. Trust the community.

I guess the concern here is that, judging from all the A&F community's threads on different films, horror isn't really our genre. Looking at all the films nominated so far as the definitive horror films that somehow resonate with faith and Christianity, we have threads for what? less than 10% of them?

Thus, if we start putting films not traditionally considered horror films on the list (just because they are such great films, which they are), the likelihood of those films making the list increases simply because of the film viewing preferences of this community. Or, we can make a list collectively that stretches each one of us individually to explore the worthwhile and valueable parts of a particular genre that many of us have not spent as much time in.

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I guess the concern here is that, judging from all the A&F community's threads on different films, horror isn't really our genre. Looking at all the films nominated so far as the definitive horror films that somehow resonate with faith and Christianity, we have threads for what? less than 10% of them?

Thus, if we start putting films not traditionally considered horror films on the list (just because they are such great films, which they are), the likelihood of those films making the list increases simply because of the film viewing preferences of this community.

I understand, but given the outspoken reaction against such nominees as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and APOCALYPSE NOW, I don't think you have much to worry about. I see very little liklihood of this list being dominated by unconventional choices.

But this does bring me to this question: when will we actually vote on this list? I hope nominations stay open for a while. Since horror cinema is not this community's strength, we need time to catch up on some of these nominees, and a rush into voting will almost certainly botch things.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Right. I know that I'm deficient in the Univeral horror classics, and Val Lewton's stuff. Judging from the nominees so far, it looks like our list of nominees is going to be heavy on black-and-white horror films of an era before most of us were born. This would be a great impetus for me to finally see those films, which somehow have eluded me for 40 years.

Whatever the case, I hope people who vote will do so based on the films they've seen, and not on the reputation of certain films as being classics.

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