Wednesday, October 8, 2008
My Favorite Movie is the Same Movie as The Best Movie of All Time
This is rather long-delayed response to a post over at He Shot Cyrus, "What's Your Favorite Movie." In that post, Scott (arguing what I think is the majority opinion) lays down the law on people like me, who hold the minority opinion. His first nightmare scenario, when asked about his favorite movie, is: "Scenario#1: This guy can't distinguish between favorite and best. Is The Warriors the best movie or my favorite movie? When I tell him my favorite movie is The Warriors, he tells me I'm wrong and then proceeds to explain to me the artistic mastery of Peter Jackson."
Well, like Scott, I'm frustrated by the "favorite movie" question and I understand all of his frustrations; if you say anything besides the list he mentions (Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, something in the last 6 months, etc) you get confusion. After trying to explain Bridge on the River Kwai and The Searchers too many times, I've reverted back to my high school answer: Gladiator (which is still one of my favorites). Casual cinema fans always know the movie and almost always like it; Crowe-hating cinephiles have steam come out of their ears, and try to explain the greatness of The Searchers to me.
But unlike Scott, I make no distinction between "best" and "favorite" movie. I've actually discussed this several times with people, and have only found one who agrees with me. But here goes:
I have absolutely no criteria for judging a movie beyond how much I like it. How could I? One person I knew who argued that Citizen Kane was the best movie ever made but not his favorite tried to do so under the banner of technical competence. And yeah, Citizen Kane is probably the best made movie ever made. But why should that make it the best movie ever made? Saving Private Ryan is also one of the most technically impressive movies ever made, but I considered it a hokey piece of patriotic bullshit. Being well-made doesn't make it the best movie I've ever seen; me liking a movie a lot makes it the best movie I've ever seen.
The main point I have here is that I don't believe that there's any sort of universal or external criteria for judging movies. There just aren't. There's absolutely no way to sit in front of a movie screen and watch a movie and then say "That was one of the best movies ever made, but I didn't like it that much." If you can say that, your judging criteria are broken, and you're going to go see a lot more "best" movies that you don't like very much. Even I sometimes offer up the cheesy chestnut "I admired the movie but didn't like it that much," but that qualifies it for neither favorite nor best - just impressive in some manner that didn't really appeal to me.
I personally think that most people who make the favorite/best distinction do so for personal protection. There favorite movie is Dumb and Dumber, but they tell people Pulp Fiction, because they know Dumb and Dumber won't pass muster, so they distinguish between "favorite" and "best" disingenuously. I've just never found a reason to do that. I'm happy to tell people that Breathless, The Third Man, and Citizen Kane share space on my favorite/best film list with Zoolander, Knocked Up, and Sin City. Sure, those last three didn't win any Oscars, but fuck that. They're awesome! The bottom line is: each individual person can only judge a movie based on what they thought of it. There's no reason to hide what you felt about a movie from other people, and there's no reason to think that you're qualified to judge a movie based on any criteria other than how much you liked it.
Scott actually seems to offer up a different way to distinguish between favorite and best movies in a later post: Even back in high school, he says, "I knew the difference between "best" and "favorite." These were my favorite films, the ones you could put on anytime, over and over, and I'd watch them."
This is totally different from the distinction between personal favorite/universal best that I hate so much. Scott doesn't offer up a definition for best here, but he does offer up one for favorite: your favorite movies are the ones you can and do watch most often and always enjoy. Maybe I'm really weird but, again, this distinction wouldn't work for me personally. Sure, there are some films that I consider best/favorite that I've only seen two or three times (Citizen Kane, Third Man, etc). And there are others (Hellboy, for example) that I've watched many times and don't consider among the best I've ever seen, although they might qualify for "favorite" approval. But most of the movies on my favorite/best list are the same ones that I watch over and over again; Zoolander, The Departed, Lost in Translation, Royal Tenenbaums The Philadelphia Story, Sin City, The Searchers, Meet John Doe, Gladiator, pretty much every Coen Brothers movie...all of these films will make any top movies list I make, and I will watch them multiple times. For me, in almost every case, favorite=best=most watched and most rewatchable.
Irony Caveat: There's only one place where I will distinguish between favorite and best, and that's when one of my favorite movies sucks in whole or in part (complete or partial irony). I take things like my favorite movies and top films list much too seriously to ever put this kind of movie in those categories, but I watch at least part of, say, Red Dawn, almost every time it comes on. I don't ever watch all of it, because it's a horrible movie and I get tired of it, but Ifor a while, I enjoy its horribleness. Only when I love a movie for being bad would I be willing to distinguish between favorite and best.
As always, I want to know what you guys think. Do you have a different way to distinguish between favorite and best? Am I weird that Scott's definition of "favorite" movie doesn't eliminate many of the "best" movies I've seen? And of course, tell me what your favorite and/or best movies are - especially if the answer is Blade Runner. I would especially like to hear from Scott, but I don't even know if he reads this blog, so we'll just have to see about that.