Wednesday, March 29, 2017

47 Movies

This idea about picking your favorite movie for every year of your life has been going around, and one of my friends posted hers. Since I’m a jerk I felt the immediate need to ridicule a couple of her choices so in the interest of fair play I created my own list which she can mock.
What started out as a goofy time waster actually turned into something more interesting as I put it together. There is a good chunk of mine that would appear on almost any critic’s best of the 70s-90s list, and a lot my choices are painfully obvious.  (On the other hand was I really gonna get cute and say that The Godfather wasn’t my favorite movie from 1972?)  Things get a little weirder after 2000 though, and I started thinking about whether it was me or the movies that changed.  The answer: Yes.
It also forced me to really think about what my ‘favorite movie’ meant.  Favorite isn’t necessarily the best, and I have several choices where I freely admit that there were better made and more meaningful movies available.  They just weren’t the ones that I enjoy watching the most.  
Still, we all like to think that we’ve got good taste, and if my fave won that year’s Best Picture Oscar then I feel validated.  Or if one of my picks was a huge blockbuster that has remained in the public consciousness I can also justify it. However, the flip side of that is that I would start to worry about what the choices I was making would people think about me.  Didn’t I want to be hip and have some offbeat picks?  Did I want to seem lowbrow and admit how many comic book movies I really love?  The natural tendency is to start reviewing your choices and start tailoring them to project the image you want.
I tried to fight this by setting a couple of rules for myself.  First, I stuck to one a year.  No ties allowed because I found that if I had a bit of wiggle room I started adding in a critical indy darling along with the big blockbuster to show how much range I have as a person.  Second, I asked myself what was REALLY my favorite. Not the ones that I think are great movies, but that I've only seen once or twice. Instead what was actually the one for every year that I’ve watched countless times already and will still stop and watch it if I come across it while flipping channels?
There’s a few off years when the movie I chose probably wouldn’t make a straight up list of my favorite 47 movies, and there’s several years like 1995 where I had to cut several that would definitely be among my all-time greats.  By sticking to the rule of one per year it forced me to be honest, but the arbitrary nature of the format introduced an X factor that kept it from always being obvious choices.
And the winners are:
1970 – Patton
1971 – The French Connection
1972 - The Godfather
1973 – The Exorcist
1974 – The Godfather 2
1975 – Jaws
1976 – All the President’s Men
1977 – Star Wars: A New Hope
1978 – Halloween
1979 – Apocalypse Now
1980 – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982 – Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
1983 – WarGames
1984 – Ghostbusters
1985 – Fletch
1986 – Aliens
1987 – Full Metal Jacket
1988 – Die Hard
1989 – Major League
1990 – Miller’s Crossing
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
1992 – UnforgIven
1993 – Groundhog Day
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1995 – Seven
1996 – Fargo
1997 – LA Confidential
1998 – Saving Private Ryan
1999 – Fight Club
2000 – Memento
2001 – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2002 – The Bourne Identity
2003 – X-Men 2
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
2005 – Serenity
2006 – Casino Royale
2007 – There Will Be Blood
2008 – The Dark Knight
2009 – Star Trek
2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
2011 – Moneyball
2012 – The Avengers
2013 – Pacific Rim
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road
2016 – Captain America: Civil War
So what does this say about me?  The obvious conclusion here is that I’m a middle-aged nerd with a taste for crime, action, sci-fi, and comic book movies with a few other things like war films and comedies sprinkled in here and there.  I’m also sure that a cinema snob would look at this list and lament that it illustrates how film has fallen steadily downhill since the days of The French Connection and All the President’s Men to the point where 3 out of my last 5 picks are Marvel comic book movies.
It’s true that my list seems to go from the true classics to giant blockbusters, but I also think that part of this is the natural filter that occurs over the years.  I didn’t go see The Exorcist in the theater when I was three years old.  I caught it years later because it’s a classic that has stood the test of time. That’s why my ‘70s list is pretty much nothing but well known critical darlings. There’s a similar filter on the ‘80s and ‘90s stuff where I was going to the movies, but I’ve had twenty or thirty years of re-watching these too so that I know what’s worn the best.  It's no real surprise that the better regarded and well known movies are often the ones that I still enjoy the most.
So it stands to reason that the recent ones are less ‘refined’. (For lack of a better word.)  As an example, I’ve only seen one of 2016’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, and that was Arrival.  I liked it a lot, but I’ve only seen it once so I can’t really say that it’s passed the long term favorite test so far.  Yet, I have seen Captain America: Civil War several times already because I’ve already got the Blu-ray, and it’s been out on Netflix for a few months.  So I’ve already established that I will go back to it, and that’s why it’s my pick at the moment.  Maybe I’ll watch Arrival twenty times when it hits cable and change my mind, or maybe something like Moonlight will eventually work its way to that level the same way that it took a decade for There Will Be Blood to become the favorite of 2007 over No Country for Old Men and Zodiac which are two movies I love that seem a lot more typical of me based on the other choices. 
Of course, there’s also just the fact that I’m a big comic book nerd, and that we’re living in a time where the technology can make those movies work.  They’re also the big moneymakers at the moment so that’s where a lot of the resources are going, and I can only like the movies they make. Again, we’re in the middle of this trend so it’ll probably be a few years to see if my enthusiasm for them holds or shifts to other things.
It does look like my list functions as a high level overview of trends in Hollywood.  The ‘70s were full of groundbreaking films in several genres, but the modern blockbuster was invented with Jaws and the first Star Wars.  That led to the ‘80s being all about trying to repeat that formula, and they had a lot of success while doing so.  However, things changed to a more cynical view in the ‘90s which you certainly see on my list where even the comedy I picked during that decade is about Bill Murray being trapped in a version of hell.  Since the turn of the century things have cycled back to be about escapism and spectacle.  The golden age of television that started about then have also shifted the dynamics with best drama and characters now on the small screen while trips to the theater are primarily saved for the big splashy movies that justify the cost and hassle of leaving my living room.
If you’re not tired of my navel gazing about this list I’ve also posted a version with the other finalists and some notes about them here.

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