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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Favorite movies

Last weekend, I had an interesting conversation with Mark and Sally about favorite movies. I get asked for my favorite films a fair amount, given my professional interest. It's a surprisingly tough question to answer. First, there's the distinction between films that I admire as great art, and films I actually watch over and over for entertainment. Then there's the challenge of selecting the films. There are plenty of movies, like _Citizen Kane_ or _Rules of the Game_, that I recognize as revolutionary to the medium and yet can only appreciate in an intellectual way. Moreover, at whatever point you think you've come to a conclusion, three more movies crowd their way into the list. Finally, there's the slight feeling of arrogance, to look at over one hundred years of filmmaking and while fully aware of my own ignorance of important films and filmmakers, to say these are the great films. Still, there's something really fun about making the list and putting it out there, and inevitably, a few films show up on that list over and over. So after that lengthy preface, here is my current list of films that I think are great, in no particular order.

* _Touch of Evil_, Orson Welles, 1958. I first became aware of it through Robert Altman's _The Player_ (also a good film), where a naive screenwriter attends a screening before being killed by an amoral studio executive. I found the film, watched it, and was blown away. Charleston Heston plays a straight to the point of ridiculous cop on a border town surrounded by fascinating characters developed by some of the most skillful writing in film, over all of which towers Welles' own portrayal of a crooked cop shambling toward a bad end. The 1998 "alternate version" that cuts closer to Welles' original vision for the film cemented this as one of my favorites of all time.

* _Blade Runner_, Ridley Scott, 1982. I first saw this film on home video as a kid back in the early 80s, when laser discs still roamed the earth and the major studios were hesitant to release their big films to video for fear of cutting into box-office proceeds. In effect this meant that in the little town where I grew up, there were a limited number of movies to watch on video, and I saw most of them repeatedly. This one always stood out. Setting aside the endless debates about Deckard, is he or isn't he, this movie is just beautiful to watch, from the splendid decay of the future of Los Angeles to Rutger Hauer's avenging angel Roy Batty. There are probably more lines from this film that show up in my regular vocabulary than any other movie I've seen.

*_The Celebration_, Thomas Vinterberg, 1998. The greatest film most people haven't seen, and my first Danish entry. Striking a balance between bourgeois satire and grand Greek tragedy, the film is simultaneously hilarious, devastating, and reassuring. I've taught it numerous times over the past few years, and it always sticks with students in ways few other films do.

*_Wild Strawberries_, Ingar Bergman, 1957. While _Seventh Seal_ is a more striking film and does more to present Bergman's genius at a young age, this is the film that stays with me and pleases me more. An old man faces mortality, successful and yet full of regrets: Bergman transforms a typical Scandinavian depression-fest into a meditation on the important moments in life.

*_Unforgiven_, Clint Eastwood, 1992. In a way, this revisioning of the Western genre makes an interesting companion piece to _Wild Strawberries_, as both revolve around regret and the means, not the possibility, of redemption. Eastwood doesn't get enough credit for being a wonderful director, and by that I mean not just the kind of director that wins Oscars (which historically doesn't mean a whole lot), but the kind of director that makes lasting films. Another nice companion to this film is _High Noon_ (Fred Zinneman, 1952), starring Gary Cooper as a very human lawman faced with an impossible situation.

*_Steamboat Bill, Jr._, Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner, 1928. While _The General_ is more well-known, I think this is the best showcase for Keaton's physical comedy and has the best gags. It also has some of his most well-known sequences, such as him battling a storm through the streets of a small town as it collapses around him.

Those are the movies that make the cut right now. As soon as I hit "publish post" I'll think of several more. Of course, there aren't the movies I watch repeatedly for fun. Now that I've got less to prove professionally as a "serious scholar of film," I can freely admit that the three films I watch most frequently when bored are _The 40 Year Old Virgin_, _Notting Hill_, and _Jackass_.


  • Mikelle and I tried to put together a list of our favorite directors. I think we ended up with 30-40 "in no particular order" since we couldn't decide. It's hard--Although we both agreed that Michael Bay was #1--just kidding :)

    By Blogger Tin Foil Hat, at 10:01 AM  

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