I am fortunate in having a daughter who asks the sorts of questions that occupy my mind for weeks. Her latest?
“If you were able to pick one movie as your movie, the film with which you identify most completely, what film would that be?”
Not my pantheon of greatest films, the list endlessly debated by cineastes and regularly revised as new masterworks appear. That list is director heavy and affected by the impact that the film has had on generations of later filmmakers. It is also a list that reflects my visual sensibility, recognizing that Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood moves a bit deliberately, and that Scorsese’s Taxi Driver presents some questionable attitudes. If you haven’t seen Apocalypse Now, buckle up and don’t watch the Director’s cut. I’ll talk about Schindler’s List in a bit, but it’s in my pantheon. Oh, and a lot of folks have trouble with Lolita. Mad Max – Fury Road? The Black and Chrome print?
And, I’m not talking about the list of equally visually interesting films that don’t always hang together, but which have scenes that knock me out. Those include the films produced by Val Lewton, creepy and dark, any of Wes Anderson’s pastel compositions, Manhattan, any of the plot-impaired films by Terrence Malick, In the Mood for Love, Barry Lyndon (maybe just the candlelight scene), Blade Runner.
And it’s easy for me to crank out the list of films that I encourage or make people see – the “Wait! You haven’t seen THAT?” list. Obviously, the audience for some is different from the audience for others. I mean the sorts of films that have found a permanent place in the culture (or ought to have). A colleague once asked me how me might catch up on films that seem to have a life beyond their first release. He didn’t want the cult films, so I didn’t pass on Eraserhead, Repo Man, Freaks, The Warriors. You know, I probably should have included The Warriors.
Not all of these are my faves, but here goes:
Princess Bride, Breakfast Club, Ten Things I Hate About You, Goodfellas, LA Confidential, Memento, Terminator, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Die Hard (I,II,III), Love Actually, Brokeback Mountain, Annie Hall, Groundhog Day, Some Like It Hot, The Matrix, This Is Spinal Tap, Back to the Future, the Star Wars trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, Singin’ in the Rain, Clueless, Spirited Away, Silence of the Lambs, The Producers, Toy Story, Mean Girls, Shaun of the Dead, Waiting for Guffman, There’s Something About Mary, Fight Club, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Dark Knight Rises, LIttle Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin, Perfect Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Forest Gump, Seven, Batman Begins, Inglourious Basterds, Grease … and … whatever additions come to mind. Operators are standing by to take your call.
But, my daughter has asked the harder sort of question, one that demands serious thought and considerable imagination. She suggests that the choice of a single film tells some part of your story or speaks to some part of your soul. There’s a huge difference, for example, between picking a film that would be screened at home as a lark and a film that has been inscribed on your driver’s license as that sort of significant identifier.
“License and Registration Sir – Hmmmm. 5’8, 145 lbs. Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
Yeah, that could be a problem.
I’ve put it off long enough. Two of these personal films are from another, perhaps simpler, time: Ball of Fire – Bookish professors encounter gangster’s moll/ lovely characters and each changes, The Court Jester – Timid tag-along (Danny Kaye) discovers his inner-Errol Flynn, Groundhog Day – Insensitive cynic learns karmic lessons and is transformed, Field of Dreams – Father and son, baseball, magic.
Finally, Schindler’s List is a moving, terrifying, beautiful film. I’ve seen it at least twice a year. for a decade. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” No other film has so moved me. So, Schindler’s List for me.
And for you…?