Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Favorite Movies: A Reluctant List

Au Revoir Les Enfants

A friend emailed me recently with a list of his favorite movies. We’re both movie fanatics, so I understand the impulse to make such a list, and I appreciate receiving it. I like to peruse other people’s favorite movie lists for films I might like to see, especially if the writer is a critic I admire or a friend with either similar or admirable taste. So I feel compelled to warn people that my own list, posted below for your perusal, is not useful in the same way.

I have to admit I would hesitate to recommend some of the movies on my own list. First of all, some of my favorite movies come from critically despised genres. Zoolander, for instance, is intentionally stupid. I like it because I like really stupid comedies, and in the stupid comedy genre it shines, at least for me. Other movies are favorites because they appeal to me for personal reasons or because of excellent cinematography. Signs is not even director M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie, and while I love the movie I don’t care so much for the ending, even though the ending is probably supposed to be the profound part. The first two Batman movies are simple action-hero stories, but I had trouble not adding even more Tim Burton movies for the same reason: I love the way his movies look.

On the other hand, I intentionally didn’t add many critically acclaimed movies to the list because, however much I admire them, they just aren’t my faves. I admire Citizen Kane, for instance - what serious film snob doesn't? - but I don’t enjoy watching it all that much, probably for the very reasons it’s such a remarkable movie. Citizen Kane is complex, even at the technical level, and that makes it difficult for me to simply sit back and enjoy it without analyzing it to death.

As for a movie like The Birds, a film most people would acknowledge as excellent, Hitchcock obviously made better movies. But I must have been about eight years old the first time I saw The Birds on TV, and not only did it scare the crap out of me as a kid, it left a lasting impact. It’s impact changes depending on my age, but every time I’ve watched it since, it seems a different and remarkable movie. It's also no coincidence that many parts of Signs can be viewed as a tribute to The Birds.

In short, my list of favorite movies is in no way equivalent to the movies I would put on a list of the most excellent movies, and I don’t necessarily claim to love each of them for rational reasons. Actually, my admiration for these movies isn’t even internally consistent. For instance, some of the movies on my list are complex, like Citizen Kane, but somehow they still grab me and engage me in a way that Citizen Kane cannot.

One last warning for anyone who might want to see some of these movies. I’m not even willing to stick by my list, or at least not for much longer than a day. Some of these movies, like The Birds and The Wizard of Oz, I’ve liked since I was a kid, and I will no doubt still love them years from now. Others I began to doubt shortly after adding them to the list. I saw Y Tu Mama Tambien for the first time quite recently, and I’m not yet sure if it’s one of my favorite movies of all time or just another excellent movie from Alfonso Cuaron. So here is my list, which simply shows my favorite movies as of March 1, 2008.

The Wizard of Oz
Wings of Desire
Eyes Wide Shut
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Wild at Heart
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
Mountains of the Moon
Dersu Uzala
Say Anything
Moulin Rouge
The Grifters
The Shining
Breakfast at Tiffany's
The Birds
Nights of Cabiria
Y Tu Mama Tambien
A Little Princess
True Romance
Dark City
Batman I and II
Edward Scissorhands
The Fisher King
American Beauty
Prospero's Books
Night on Earth
Children of Heaven
Terminator 2
The Quiet Earth
Shaun of the Dead
Donnie Darko