It's been getting much too grim and serious around here. So, for fun, here is a list of movies that I have claimed were my favorites, at various points in my development as a pretentious movie fan.
Age 6: "Dumbo" - I have watched "Dumbo" countless times, and it is imprinted upon my subconscious to such an extent that I really don't know how I would have turned out without it. I can trace so many things back to this movie - my love of stories about outcasts and loners, a fascination with the cool, brain-warping psychedelia of the Pink Elephants sequence, and of course the tearjerker "Baby Mine" number, which impressed upon me that it's perfectly okay to have moments in movies where you're supposed to feel sad. Looking back, "Dumbo" was a perfect kids' movie. It runs barely over an hour, the hero is a silent character who is universally relatable, and it summons up so many primal emotions about parents and separation. Oh, and of course "Dumbo" cemented my life-long love of cartoons. I'll never, ever be too old for them.
Age 12: "Beauty and the Beast" - The Disney Renaissance happened right around my preteen years, and living in Southern California, it was all Disney, Disney, Disney until well into high school. But then, everybody back in the early 90s was in love with these films, the way people love PIXAR films today. AMPAS gave "Beauty and the Beast" a Best Picture nomination in 1991, and many critics thought it had a serious shot at taking home the statuette. I think that might have been the first time I seriously followed the awards race. Twenty years later, upon subsequent rewatches, I'm always impressed at how unapologetically romantic the movie is, while modern animated spectaculars are more reluctant to get all touchy-feely. I don't think it matches up to the older Disney films anymore, but "Beauty and the Beast" was definitely the high point of the studio's comeback.
Age 15: "Edward Scissorhands" - Ah, Johnny Depp. We have a history, he and I, chronicled more fully in this blog post over here. I was never an alienated Goth, the audience "Scissorhands" is stereotypically linked to, but these were my artsy weirdo teenage years, and I had my share of angst. My brain full of wonky hormones, I declared dreck like "Newsies" and "Hook" my favorite films. And then came "Edward Scissorhands." Moody. Weird. Awesome. I didn't see "Scissorhands" in theaters, but only much, much later on television. I made a VHS copy that I played over and over again, not realizing that the broadcast version was edited, and missing key scenes. Today, there's a lot in the film I dislike. The satire of suburbia is too garish and mean, and Winona Ryder was terrible as the female lead. Depp's still great though. And Vincent Price. And all the Tim Burton-y visuals.
Age 17: "Amadeus" - This remains my mother's favorite. She's a classical music lover with a thing for stories about composers. I must have seen "Amadeus" a dozen times growing up, even though we didn't have a copy in the house until I bought my mother one. The soundtrack is incomparable. The performances are iconic. The production design is astonishing to look at. When people talked about epic films, this is the one that I always thought of, though the action rarely leaves Vienna. And in my head, it was a serious and important film. So at the age where I decided I wanted to be serious and important, I started telling people "Amadeus" was my favorite movie. I think it was really still "Edward Scissorhands" for a couple more years, but I liked "Amadeus" perfectly well too. F. Murray Abraham's Salieri is such a lovable misanthropic bastard, and one of my secret heroes.
Age 21: "Amelie" - Notice something about the previous entries? Aside from "Beauty and the Beast," none of these films were new releases by the time I saw them. My parents rarely went out to movies, so I rarely did either. That changed when I got to college and turned into a raging cinephile. I wanted to watch everything, all the stuff I'd been reading about and hearing people talk about for years. I saw new releases in theaters regularly, and was lucky enough to also go to several college preview screenings. One of these was for "Amelie," Jean-Pierre Jeunet's fantastic, loopy film about love and Paris. It was the right film at the right time, and I was swept up in hype and euphoria. I was topical! I was current! I was watching movies in French! I was pretentious and there was no turning back. I still enjoy "Amelie," and think it's the best thing that Jeunet ever did.
Age 25: "The Princess Bride" - Here's where I started getting a little diplomatic. People don't want to know that your favorite movie is some foreign obscurity that they've never heard of or a downer indie from the last century. They want to know that you've got something in common with them, a cultural touchstone that you can both agree on. "The Princess Bride" is a fine and wonderful movie, and a great antidote for a bad mood. It's also the one that practically every woman of my generation acknowledges as worthy of adoration, along with "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost." With the men of a certain age, I'd talk up "The Blues Brothers," and "Fight Club," but "The Princess Bride" was also acceptable because of the fight scenes. Every guy secretly wants to be Inigo Montoya. In actuality, my favorite movie around this time was probably Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru." So, still pretentious, but I knew when to keep it to myself.
So what's my favorite movie now? I honestly have no idea. I like a lot of films an awful lot, new and old, foreign and domestic. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is high on the list. So are "Mon Oncle," "Brazil," "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "The Shining," "The Devil's Backbone," "My Fair Lady," "Spirited Away," "The Trial, the 1944 "Jane Eyre," Kurosawa's "Ran," and many, many more. What can I say? I'm fickle and I don't want to commit. There are too many great films to have just one favorite.