by Nick Rocco Scalia (@CinematicNick)
Inevitably, if you make it known to the world that you’re a “movie person” – or, if you want to get all Cahiers du Cinema about it, a cinéaste – you’re going to have to field that dreaded question: “What’s your favorite movie?”
It’s a deceptively simple thing to ask, and for some, maybe, a simple thing to consider. It might even be a one-word answer: Jaws, Vertigo, Rashomon, Gigli, etc. However, for many of us, selecting a favorite movie is akin to picking which one of your children you’d save if they were all drowning – if you had, say, a few hundred or so kids, and you were crushed by the very thought of letting go of the French ones, the silent ones, or the ones who’ve had Pee-Wee Herman in them (alright, maybe we ought to walk back that metaphor a little bit…).
The point is, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one movie to enshrine as a “favorite,” and while making a list of 50 favorite films should, in theory, be easier (or, at least, a whole lot more inclusive), I’m sad to report that this isn’t the case at all. Certainly, it is a little easier to choose a number one when you get to also name the close-second that falls right behind it, but then you’re on to the close-48 behind that, and before you know it, you’re beginning to question your entire relationship to the cinema, and maybe even – if you’re like me – the person you were when you saw those films in the first place. On my list of 50 are at least five films that I’d at one time or another have named number one; not on my list are at least five others that would have been number one at other times (sorry, True Lies, but there did once exist a sixth-grade version of me that thought you were just incredible).
And what constitutes a favorite film, anyway? Is it the one that moved you most on an emotional level? An intellectual level? The one that best represents the incredible aesthetic and dramatic capabilities of the medium of cinema or the one in which Ben Stiller gets his dick caught in his zipper? When making a list such as this one, is there some responsibility to balance out the guiltier pleasures with more “nutritious” viewing experiences? Is it fair to not include more recent films because there simply hasn’t been enough time to let them sink in? If you love a director’s entire canon, do you overload your list with his or her work, pick the most representative films, or just simply go with the ones you love the best, even if they happen to be The Life Aquatic (I like The Life Aquatic. Get over it.). And, of course, let’s not even get into the discussion of trilogies, franchises, two-parters, etc. – you already gave nearly 10 hours of your life over to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, so does it really have to take over a whole six percent of your list, as well?
Now, let’s back up a little. I get that it’s all about personal taste, that I don’t have any kind of cinematic “street cred” that needs to be protected, and that in the end, maybe it’s all a little bit meaningless anyway. Yes, I’ve seen more movies than a lot of people have, but just because I’ve spent more time fixated on a glowing screen and less time having productive social interactions with the human race, that doesn’t mean my opinion is any more valid than anyone else’s (maybe less so, depending on how you feel about The Life Aquatic). But, all the same, this list is important in an intrapersonal sense – I’ve always been one to believe that the movies we love have everything to say about who we are, what we care about, and how we see the world and everyone in it. So, in some sense, my top 50 isn’t just my list of favorites, it’s me. And all of a sudden the question of whether Raiders of the Lost Ark is better than Apocalypse Now becomes no longer about whether I simply prefer Spielberg to Coppola, a beautifully crafted bit of escapism over a deeply personal, agonized-over epic, or lots of Harrison Ford versus just a smidgen of Harrison Ford; it’s about what aspect of my being that’s reflected in each of these films, both of which are on my list, takes precedence over the other in how I imagine myself and, thus, exist in the world.
So, go ahead, ask me what my favorite movie is. I’ll give you one, but I’d rather give you 50. And, along with that, you’re also going to get some rather irritating philosophizing, you’re going to get George Clooney as a stop-motion animated fox, and you’re going to get a clearer picture of what constitutes me than I could ever express in any other way.
Or, I could just lie and say Scary Movie 5. Maybe that’d be easier for both of us.