The Washington Times - October 6, 2008, 11:58AM

I’m generally resistant to statements like this one, by Woody Allen:

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People are always talking about the dumbing down of the country. Now, it’s hard to believe that they could be dumber now than they were in my time. Theoretically that can’t be. But when you look around at Broadway theater and films, it’s hard to argue with the fact that we’re going through a period of coarsened public taste. And yet you don’t want to be caught saying that because then it seems like you’re one of those people saying, In my day, it was great.

Later in the interview, he notes with sadness that today’s generation can’t appreciate the greatness of Fellini and Bergman. Leaving aside the relative merits of pretentious Scandinavians and inscrutable Italians, I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Allen’s comments when I saw Empire Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest films of all time, especially the top 50. Empire’s website is basically unnavigable, so I’ll instead ask you to check out just the top ten percent, collected at Slash Film. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s hard not to read that list without a twinge of sadness. “The Shawshank Redemption” at number four? “Pulp Fiction” and “Fight Club” coming ahead of “Chinatown”? “Back to the Future” clocking in ahead of “Dr. Strangelove”? “Citizen Kane” at 28, followed closely by “Die Hard” at 29?

Empire’s list doesn’t resemble a collection of the greatest films of all time as much as it mirrors IMDB’s Top 250, one of the most depressing collections of general ignorance and tastelessness known to man. I mean, let’s be serious, people: I enjoy “The Shawshank Redemption,” and if I happen to turn on TNT I’ll watch until the next commercial break, but to rate it the best film of all time? Really?

Maybe Woody is on to something…