It’s January and that means it’s time for lists. Lists of last year’s bests, the last decade’s bests (which shouldn’t come out until the end of the new year, right?), resolutions for next year and the next decade, lists of all the things I didn’t do over the holidays, lists of things I could do instead of all those things, lists of how to make better, more effective lists.
I like lists but they’re tricky. For instance, over the holidays, two people – a teenager and a septuagenarian – asked me to provide a list of the top ten movies they should have seen. Those lists can’t possibly be the same, can they? I majored in film (roughly) in college and have seen far more peculiar and probably a broader range of movies than most people really should. Also, I have strong opinions about “good” and “better” and the canon in general, so I would seem to be a solid candidate for generating lists of things, especially directive lists.
Sadly, not so.
I sink early: do you want a list of the absolute best movies? Because you probably won’t like a lot of them and then you might take it out on me later when I’m trying to have a nice cup of coffee with you and you’re bent on revenge because I made you watch that bit where the weird man cuts the girl’s eyeball with a razor blade. What you probably mean, when you ask for “the movies I should have seen” is “the movies you think I should have seen that you think I will like.” Which is, as I’m sure you know if you think about it for a second, a very different list.
Or maybe you mean a list of my favorite movies, which are certainly not the best movies ever made or ones which you might enjoy and, unless you’re my therapist, will probably just confuse you. Then I’d have to provide explanations with each one about why it made the list so you don’t think I’m a standard-less idiot for loving French Kiss but not The Godfather.
Any of the above will expose me to censure. If it’s a list for just you and I choose titles you don’t like, you may very well end up thinking I don’t know you at all. If it’s a list of my favorites, you may end up thinking you don’t know me at all. If it’s a list of best overall, you will either lose respect for me because I omit a film you worship or you will think I am a snob/deranged/unfeeling because I include things you have not seen and, after you have seen them, wildly dislike.
See? It’s kind of a lose-lose for me. (Also clear: I’m a little neurotic. Just a little.)
Let’s start with a set you’ll find hard to judge: I’ll list the top ten movies I can think of right now that I saw at exactly the right time and to which I have irrationally attached myself. I guess that makes this my Top Ten Favorite Movies list. Of course, I reserve all available rights to change my mind immediately when I think of other movies I like, my mood alters, the weather alters or whatever else alters, so don’t get all worked up if I left something off: it might make the revisions round.
- 8½, Federico Fellini, 1963, with Marcello Mastroianni . Even after doing a frame by frame analysis of one of the scenes, on a VCR no less, I still loved it. See it some rainy Saturday afternoon: you’ll need daytime levels of focus and the time afterwards to have a nice dinner and calm down your crush on Mastroianni.
- The Grass Is Greener, Stanley Donan, 1960, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Flawed but hilarious and brilliantly written romantic comedy. An oddity really: starts with them already long-married + no melodrama around the infidelity (hers, no less).If it feels a little jagged and talky, it’s because it’s from a play – just go with it.
- French Kiss, Lawrence Kasdan, 1995, with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. Again with the excellent script. Again with the romantic comedy. Also again: not your usual path to the altar, thank God.
- The Imposters, 1998, Stanley Tucci with Oliver Platt, Stanley Tucci and 1000 other fantastic actors. You have to see this movie. Old-school clever, ridiculous, bizarre and possibly my all-time favorite movie. On the strength of this film, I will go see Stanley Tucci act in a dumpster for the rest of my life if I have to.
- Nobody’s Fool, 1994, Robert Benton, with Paul Newman. A near-perfect film, narratively speaking. No pyrotechnics, no groundbreaking cinematic techniques. It’s all story and acting. Cemented my hope that Newman would finally leave Joanne and marry me.
- Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997, George Armitage, with John Cusack and Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd and Joan Cusack. Whoever doesn’t want to attend your high school reunion, raise your hand. If I were an assassin, I’d go though. Really.
- Monsters, Inc., 2001, Peter Docter. I didn’t see an animated film until I was 23 but R has converted me to the cause. I keep this on my iPhone to watch when I’m so jetlagged I can’t sleep. Beautiful writing, fantastic story, amazing tech (watch the blue fur move in the air).
- The Philadelphia Story, 1940, George Cukor with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. You could watch it or come by and I’ll quote you the entire script. Your call. The classic romantic comedy to trump all others.
- My Blue Heaven, 1990, Herbert Ross, written by Nora Ephron, with Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack. Not a masterpiece but definitely what the rest of Steve Martin’s films should have looked like. Quirk and laughs. Thank you, Nora Ephron.
- When Harry Met Sally, 1989, Rob Reiner, written by Nora Ephron, with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. It’s a little harder for me to love Meg and Nora and Billy these days as they’ve headed for schlockier waters, but this movie is a monument of romantic comedy. Can’t be helped: must be on the list.
See? I told you: you think there’s something wrong with me now, don’t you? No Star Wars on there. No Godfather or Ghandi or Lawrence of Arabia. Remember though that a.) I’m a writer, so James Cameron and George Lucas types irritate me, despite their strides for the industry, and b.) these are the movies that have been important to me, not the ones I think have been important for a large population or the general advancement of cinema. Those are different lists.
On that subject, A.O. Scott wrote up an excellent piece in November here. Click through to his Movies of Influence list and Movies of Quality list. He’s pretty on-track, with the exception of Shrek on the former (what the what?!) and Gosford Park (possibly the most boring movie ever) on the latter.
At the very least, none of the above will bore you. Movies are supposed to entertain, after all, right? Right. So enjoy. Maybe I’ll produce a ton of lists in 2010 and you can wake up each morning and sputter into your coffee as you read through my Top Ten Bedspreads and Top Twenty Picks for UN Ambassador to Paraguay. It’ll be fun.