If I were to ask you to name your favorite movie, would that be easy for you to do? I feel like for the general populace, the answer is either easy, or “I don’t know.” But for a film buff the answer becomes a lot more difficult. At least, it does for me. I tend to change my answer depending on a number of factors, including the identity of the questioner, the way the question was phrased, and who the audience is. Here are some of my favorites, and why I will sometimes give them as my “favorite movie.”
If I’m in a situation where I’m being completely honest, my answer is usually that Hook is my favorite film. It’s my de facto favorite movie, as it were. It’s the movie that means the most to me, and that I connect with in a way that surpasses all others. I think it’s a brilliant and remarkable movie, with some of the best sets ever created for the screen. I could (and probably will) write an essay about Hook’s brilliance, but I’ll save that for another time. I feel like Hook has been unfairly maligned through the years (it has a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes), though it does have a cult following. Even Spielberg has said critical things of it. I’m pretty defensive when it comes to Hook, because it does mean so much to me, so I often will name something else if I feel like there’s going to be an argument about it. On the other hand, I like defying expectations, and for a film buff to pick a critical flop from the 90’s as his favorite film often surprises people. I give this answer a lot when people who know that I’m a film buff ask me the question. But it is, in fact, my favorite film, even if it’s not always my answer.
If Hook is my de facto favorite film, then Star Wars is my de jure favorite. Star Wars is responsible for my love of film, and it has the most important place in my own personal history with movies. I consider all of the Star Wars films to be part of one giant film, so when I say Star Wars is my favorite movie, I mean all 6 of them. I enjoy defending the prequels, because there’s such a ridiculous animosity towards them that it can be a fun debate. I like telling people that the first of the saga that I saw was Return of the Jedi, and then I watched the rest of the original trilogy in reverse order. I love how it’s one man’s vision, and that he made exactly the films he wished to make. Star Wars is a good default answer to give when people aren’t really interested in the answer. It’s common enough that it doesn’t get strange looks or derisive comments, and it’s something that doesn’t invite a lot of conversation. It’s the sort of answer I’ll give at a party when people are making small talk, and it’s a good way to let my geek flag fly.
Sometimes people asking for my favorite movie are really asking what I think is the best film of all time. I try to anticipate this, but usually I don’t realize they were asking until they respond with something like, “You really think Hook is the best movie ever?” In my opinion, Schindler’s List is the best film ever made, so I’ll occasionally claim this as my favorite just for simplicity’s sake. Again, this film has been unfairly treated; people love to dismiss its sentimentality, especially in today’s film climate. It’s not dark or edgy or cynical enough for some people. But for me, there’s no denying either its filmmaking perfection or its storytelling power. I remember watching it for the first time, and after the sequence where the trainful of women are sent to Auschwitz and run through the gas chambers only to be saved after all, I collapsed to the floor in a fit of sobs and laid there unable to do anything else for 20 minutes. I’d never had any film hit me in that way, and it’s forever cemented the film for me as the greatest ever.
Occasionally I’ll name other films as my favorites. If I’m feeling particularly artsy I’ll say it’s Apocalypse Now. If I’m rebellious it’ll be Serenity. If I want a film that should have changed the world, I’ll go with WALL-E. On occasion I’ll name something designed to start a conversation. For example, when I’m with a group of guys who are praising “macho” movies (Gladiator, The Dark Knight, etc.) I’ll choose Lost In Translation (or maybe Mamma Mia!, the most watched film in our household), a film that spoke to me at just the right time in my life. I hate the idea that people are supposed to like specific films based on their gender, age, race, or any other characteristic society chooses. So whenever I’m in a situation where a particular type of answer is expected I’ll do everything I can to subvert those expectations.
For the record, if asked to name my top 5 films, I’ll refuse and instead give a top 6:
2) Star Wars
3) Apocalypse Now
4) Schindler’s List
5) (tie) WALL-E
5) (tie) Serenity
Surely I can’t be the only one who gives different answers? Do you have different options depending on the situation? Do you also hate the way people are expected to like certain types of movies depending on society’s definitions? What’s your favorite movie? Let me know in the comments!