Friday, March 09, 2012

What makes a movie a favorite?

This week marked the one-year anniversary of “Lost in Movies,” my show on Valley Vision Channel 3 in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire. In honor of the occasion, I led a discussion about favorite movies. This begs the question: What makes a film a favorite rather than just a film that one really likes?

For a film to reach the stature of being a favorite it must speak to the viewer in a way that feels personal. Perhaps the movie states your world view better than you ever could, or maybe a film simply reminds you of what it is like to hang with your friends.

A favorite film doesn’t need to be a good or even a great film. It can just be a movie that when you first saw it made you laugh so hard that now, whenever you feel down, it is the film you watch to lift your spirits. Then there’s always the nostalgia factor associated with films. The films we watched over and over again in our youth tend to stay with us forever.

Often films, like any art, help us figure out who we are. Those films that make that kind of impact become signifiers of a time and place. This is part of the reason we become offended when someone dismisses a film we adore. The film in question is more than just another movie — it is a part of you, so in a way it feels like you are also being dismissed.

As a kid, I primarily watched sci-fi, fantasy and adventure films. The films I watched on loop were “Back to the Future,” “Ghostbusters,” “Indiana Jones,” “The Neverending Story,” Labyrinth,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Star Wars.” These films stirred my imagination.

I used to run around my yard pretending I was in a Delorean traveling through time. My first day of kindergarten was made less scary when I found two kids playing “Ghostbusters” and they let me join them. Sure, they made me be the geeky Egon, but at least I had been accepted. It is these sorts of memories that make a film a lifelong favorite.

In my teen years, I entered my Mel Brooks phase. Things started off with more recent films like “Spaceballs” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” but then that led to exploration of his earlier work. It was also around this time that my love of films started to become more substantial and I started making deeper connections and observations.

As I watched more Brooks films, I noticed a drop off in quality. I’ll always cherish “Men in Tights” and “Spaceballs,” but they pale in comparison to “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles.” Brooks stumbled upon a film parody formula that worked for him and he continued to repeat it, but with less originality each time. This became my first assessment of a director's body of work and every time I watch Brooks it is a reminder of why I love to analyze film.

In college, my love of Brooks led me to harder stuff: Woody Allen. Allen’s earlier films such as “Take the Money and Run,” “Bananas” and “Sleeper” were in the broader tone of Brooks’ films, so it was a natural transition from one filmmaker to another. The difference is that Allen grew out of his slapstick era and I was able to grow with him.

Allen’s more mature comedies such as “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” explored relationships, faith and art in ways that were smart, funny and sophisticated. These films made me laugh, think and feel. While I’m certainly not a neurotic Jew from New York, I could relate to many of the plights of Allen’s characters.

With films like “Annie Hall,” Allen basically created the modern romantic comedy. Without Allen, we wouldn’t have films like “When Harry Met Sally,” basically any Hugh Grant movie, or TV shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld.” I’ve always had a love for romantic comedies, so much so that I was branded by a family friend as only liking “light and fluffy” films. In a way, that all ties back to Allen.

As I look back on my favorite films, it is clear how they each helped shape who I am today. I highly doubt I’d have become the quirky, goofy, analytical guy I am today if it wasn’t for the likes of people like Brooks and Allen, Cameron Crowe, John Hughes, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. So, thanks guys. We should hang out soon.

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