Thursday, October 09, 2008


Since I'd mentioned a few days ago an attempt to compile an honest-to-God list of Favorite Movies, I thought I should get down to it. Some problems keep cropping up, however.

For instance, what kind of list is this? Is it a Best list or a Favorite list? There's a difference. I mean, by any rational standard, Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films ever made, a continuing source of awe, revealing new aspects with each fresh viewing. And it's certainly one of my favorites, but not one of my top-tier favorites, in the sense that it has a great deal of personal meaning for me. I watch it periodically, but I respect it more than adore it, if that makes sense.

On the other hand, there are a lot of movies I love and will watch over and over again, but I can't make any claims for their quality. I mean, do you know how many times I've seen The Poseidon Adventure? Okay, it's mostly because of the numerous glimpses of Stella Stevens' panties (and the memory of what that sight did to my eight-year-old self), but still. Honestly, it's a somewhat better movie than its reputation, but it's not really something you want to put on a list, to claim as your own. On the other hand, if this list contains seminal film-going experiences, this certainly qualifies. It was the first movie that caused me to find an isolated spot in the theater so I could appreciate in splendid isolation the unexpected warm fuzzy feeling in my pants every time Stella's panties were flashed. And yeah, I realize that's way more than you need to know about me, but the point is, I learned something from watching that movie, no matter how routine the surrounding material.

Clearly, rules had to be set. It had to be a list of movies that mean a lot to me that I also happen to think are great movies in and of themselves. Though my definition of great may be highly idiosyncratic, there's nothing I can't justify.

Also, everything listed needed to be a theatrically released feature. Though the temptation to include anything preserved and shown on film certainly reared its head, I knew I couldn't do that, or the list would become unmanageable. Unfortunately, this means there are gaping holes. My all-time favorite filmmaker is Chuck Jones, but his greatest work is made up entirely of seven minute cartoons. Their absence is nearly unforgiveable, but man, they would have skewed the curve. (If I had included them, Feed The Kitty would be in the number one spot, followed almost immediately by Rabbit Of Seville and The Hypochondri-Cat and A Bear For Punishment, which, come to think of it, really is the purest comedy bliss ever put on film, an exercise in sheer perfection.)

And what about TV? Steven Spielberg's Duel is as fine as any film he's ever made, but if I included it, would I be opening up another door best nailed shut? Couldn't the case be made that The Sopranos, for instance, is one long, long (and quite extraordinary) film? But if it's included, should episodes of other episodic TV shows? (Consider the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show , or the episode in which Lou Grant's wife leaves him. Lou's quiet, desperate, "I love ya, Edie," as she walks out the door is as emotionally shattering, as perfectly written, directed and acted as anything I've ever seen anywhere.) Again, no. This list is already stretched to the snapping point as it is. But by leaving off American TV shows, I thought it was only fair to leave off anything originally made for TV, which made me feel better about the fact that Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from A Marriage isn't on this list.

Okay...then what? That still leaves a lot of movies. Trying to pare the list down to twenty or thirty essentials (ten isn't even a reasonable number), I'm stunned by what doesn't make the cut. As I said the other day, no Star Wars(!), but also no Godfather or A Hard Day's Night, no Kurosawa (not even Seven Samurai, which...Really? How could I leave that out?) or Anthony Mann or P.T. Anderson (unless Boogie Nights sneaks back in, which is possible) or Bertolucci (not even The Conformist, which seriously begs the question of what the hell is wrong with me?).

On the other hand, William Friedkin will be there, and Blake Edwards. (At least I think they will. This list still isn't finalized. Yes, I'm taking this way too seriously.) I know these guys aren't on the level of Kurosawa, but they're certainly solid craftsmen, and when the elements came together, they created works that just connect with me. What can I say? I like what I like.

Anyway, the point is, I hope this will be an illuminating and entertaing list. For me, mostly, because by seeing what resonates the most with me, what is most aesthetically pleasing and morally challenging, or even what plain old makes me happy--all this, hopefully, will give me some better sense of who I am. Isn't that, finally, why we love movies?