Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Favorite Movies and How They've Changed

I enjoyed reading Kyle Cupp's series of posts on his favorite movies made during his life time.

One of the things that struck me as making Kyle's list particularly interesting is that it's not simply a list of what he thinks are the best movies, but rather the movies which he enjoys watching most. However, thinking about this, it occurred to me that my list of favorite movies, in this sense, has changed a lot over the last 5-8 years. This is not generally because I've changed my mind about whether or not movies are good, but rather that what movies I feel like watching (and certainly which movies I feel like watching again) has undergone a shift.

Aristotle, who was a bloke who knew a thing or two, argued that the purpose of tragedy is to make us feel pity and fear, and that through experiencing these emotions intensely while watching (and participating as an audience member in) a drama we purge ourselves of our pent up feelings and thus arrive at the end of the play refreshed and calmed.

The thing is, I find myself a lot less eager put myself through excess pity and fear these days. Perhaps because, these days, on reaching the end, I'm more likely to feel tired than refreshed or calmed. 8-10 years ago, when I was a serious movie watcher, I truly enjoyed a well made movie that thoroughly put me through the wringer. These days, while I continue to recognize some of those movies as very good, I have much less desire to ever actually sit down and watch them again. Many of the movies I bought back then now sit quietly on my shelf, unlikely to be watched again any time soon.

This is not to say that I only want to watch pop-corn movies, but looking over some of my old favorites that I no longer want to watch, I recognize a certain sort of artistic brutality -- not necessarily movie violence, though some of them were indeed very violent movies, but rather some sense in which they were movies that treated their audience to the more extreme ends of the human experience. While these days, I seldom feel so venturesome.

Also, I find it simply impossible to stick to only movies made during my lifetime, as some of my very favorite movies are more than thirty-one years old.

In an effort to give some sense of what I'm talking about, while also imitating much of what I found fascinating about Kyle's list of movies, I will list off "favorite" movies (in the sense of movies that I not only think are good, but enjoy watching -- desert island movies, if you will) of which one list will be movies made during my lifetime, and the other before. I'll also list some movies that I would once have listed among my favorites, but would no longer, even though I continue to consider them very good and well made movies. (I was going to do ten of each, but precision and discipline failed.)

Favorites From My Lifetime
Gosford Park
Princess Bride
Spirited Away
Henry V
Babette's Feast
Wag the Dog
My Neighbor Totoro
A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
O Brother Where Art Thou
Apocalypse Now

Favorites From Before My Lifetime
The Third Man
Lion in Winter
Big Country
The Thin Man
The Godfather
All About Eve
Palm Beach Story
Barry Lyndon

Former Favorites (Again, I mostly continue to think these are very good movies -- I just don't plan to see them again any time soon.)
Pulp Fiction
The Funeral
The Addiction
The Passion
Being John Malcovitch
Thin Red Line
The Mission
Rob Roy

Bonus Round: A few guilty pleasures These are movies that for one reason or another I do not think are actually great movies, but which I could (and often do) watch again and again with pleasure:
This Is Spinal Tap
Office Space
Tropic Thunder
Master and Commander
Independence Day
Men in Black
Mission Impossible


Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

It's weird. As I went through Kyle's list, all of the films (with one exception) are ones I've enjoyed. Then I get to the number one spot and it's Magnolia, a film I walked out of. Talk about a twist ending!

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

Here is a rough list for myself:

Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
The Big Lebowski
The Princess Bride
Crimson Tide
High Fidelity
The Village
The Spanish Prisoner
American Beauty
Office Space
Life of Brian
The Postman
Zero Effect
Gran Torino
500 Days of Summer
Oceans 11
Out of Sight
The Secret of NIMH
The Shawshank Redemption
Minority Report
Before Sunrise
O Brother Where Art Thou

One thing I noted when making the list is that Comedies and Action/Sci Fi tended to rank higher on a "favorities" list than they would on a "best" list, whereas dramas scored lower. I thought Crimes and Misdemeanors was a great film, but truth be told I'd probably rather rewatch Manhattan Murder Mystery.

Darwin said...

I can kind of see how one would end up walking out of Magnolia -- though somehow it ended up being worth it to me in the end. Enough so that when I returned the copy I'd rented to Blockbuster I immediately bought a used copy there.

At this point, though, it's in the "That was a movie I really liked -- that I don't think I particularly want to see again" category.

Darwin said...

When you list The Postman, do you mean the Kevin Costner adaptation of the Brin novel?

I hadn't seen that (based on a generally well earned bias against Kevin Costner movies), but if you recommend it, maybe I should give it a try.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

When you list The Postman, do you mean the Kevin Costner adaptation of the Brin novel?

Yes. The movie had few hokey parts, to be sure, but overall I thought it was quite good, and that it wasn't really given a chance because of the Costner connection.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Good lists, Gentlemen!

Loved Brazil, Gattaca, Bladerunner, Sprited Away, Godfather, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, The Mission, Office Space, Tropic Thunder, and Men in Black.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Walked out of Magnolia, eh Blackadder? I wouldn’t have been able to marry you, but I don’t suppose you’ll lose any sleep over that fact!

Mary McMenomy said...

Curious. I've definitely noticed a similar trend in my own viewing habits, especially when I'm in a particularly stressful phase of work or real-life stuff: I just don't want to come home and watch something emotionally excruciating.

At the same time, my capacity for meritless fluff has *also* diminished: I used to watch a certain amount of totally mediocre romantic comedy, etc., and I guess I still do now and then, but it's with greater and greater impatience, wondering why I'm wasting my time, and not feeling especially relaxed by the experience. And I rewatch things less, again because of an impatience about what I'm getting out of it this time around.

Net result, it tends to take me a lot of looking around netflix or itunes rental to find something I actually want to watch next. Old Cary Grant movies are often good value, but there's a limited supply. Maybe I should be pacing myself.

Anonymous said...

darwin, you list Spinal Tap as a guilty pleasure. Have you seen Anvil! The Story of Anvil? It's similar, but with the difference of being entirely true. You would probably like it.

Rick Lugari said...

I'm not a great film buff so my list is kind of narrow and is more of "the movies I will repeatedly stop and watch when flipping through the channels:

Band of Brothers - miniseries, I know, but probably my favorite production of all time.

I love WWII movies in general and will always give those viewing preference (everything from Patton to the somewhat cheesy Kelly's Heroes).

Goodfellows and The Godfather I, II. (I enjoy III, but wouldn't rank it as high.) Classic productions and always worth watching.

Most comedies, no matter how hilarious when they came out, aren't able to bring much entertainment after many years and viewings. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the exceptions (surprised it wasn't listed in any of these lists). there are however a number of comedies that while they lost a lot of their edge are worth watching again. i.e. National Lampoons Family Vacations, A Christmas Story, and many John Candy movies, etc.

Matilda. Great kid's movie and I can not only manage to sit through it over and over, I can enjoy it too.

Art Deco said...

I think I can enjoy just about any 1950s Technicolor pic about an exotic location. I can also take an interest in films shot during the period running from 1929 to 1941, to gawk at period props, clothes, and idioms. Anything in French. Most silent films are unwatchable, however.


-The African Queen
-M. Hulot's Holiday
-The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
-David and Lisa
-A Boy Ten Feet Tall
-Nine Hours to Rama
-May Fools
-Tatie Danielle
-My Mother's Castle
-Ghost World
-The Station Agent

Former favorites:
-Three Stooges shorts. I get antsy watching them nowadays.

nicole said...

I love looking at movie lists. I also think Spinal Tap IS great, not just a guilty pleasure. ;)