Sunday, January 09, 2005

My Favorite Movies

I was about ten, taking a sick day, sitting in my parents' backseat on the way to Grandma's apartment. I began to flip through the stack of New York magazines beside me and stopped at the mini reviews of movies. It's been years since that day when I began reading about movies, but my relationship with films and words written about them lives on.

Here are some of my favorites, in case you were going to ask.

1. My Favorite Year - While part of me would rather have something artsier (like any of the titles that follow) fill the number one spot, I won't lie about this. The first time I rented it (actually I was visiting my parents, in from Israel in around 1987. My dad rented on Saturday night and returned the next day.) I watched it late at night and then early in the morning. Part of the connection is my affinity for comedy writing. It's also the way the film balances serious and funny. Iwatch it repeatedly and remain glued to the screen every time.

I was once dating someone and we rented a movie to watch together with her friends. This film was my choice. They didn't appreciate it. Right in the middle of a great line one of them whined, "when is this going to get funny?" and led a vote to turn it off. And I learned that just because I loved something doesn't mean others will. (This reality also struck me when I recommended the Delmore Schwartz story In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, thinking others would love it as much as I enjoyed it. Finally, I realized that it worked for me in a way that it wasn't going to for anyone else).

There's no gurantee that anyone else in the world will value this as much as I do, although others have liked it. Still, I atand by my placing it at my number one.

As a branch off I recommend Laughter On The 23rd Floor, a well done film of a similar genre. Both movies were directed by Richard Benjamin. And they compliment eachother in the picture they paint of Sid Caesar's writing staff. And they each present a well developed picture of the sad and funny world we all inhabit.


2. Ordinary People - I first saw this as a teenager and my reaction then was that it was like looking inside people's lives. In graduate school we watched this in a class about family systems. It's amazing how much detail and insight regarding families this movie contains.

I read the book soon after I saw the film. I think it was this book and movie that set the standard for how I handle the bookVS movie dilemna. People are inevitably disappointed when they see the movie after having rad the bok. I suggest doing the opposite. The book serves as a commentary, expanding on the book. I still remember the thrill of first hearing these character's thoughts after having seen their actions in the film.

Roger Ebert's review:

3. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - A dear friend lent me the video and I hijacked it because I was so taken by this movie and wanted to be able to rewatch it any time. As with Ordinary People, I wouldn't say that the book was better, rather that the movie and book compliment eachother in a major way. The insight into human nature! The characters! The portrait of a family and the workings of that unit!

My first major assignment in the Wurzweiler School of Social Work was to write about the meaning of "self". The paper was to focus on a character from a book and/or film, as well as ourselves, and to weave the two together. I wrote about Francie Nolan and compared some aspects of our lives. It was easy to dig deep because I was so enthralled by the book and movie.

If anyone would like to see that paper I could probably find it (even though it predates my use of computers, so it's an oldfashioned yellowing, stapled term paper.

4. Annie Hall - I luff this movie (with 2 efs). I am indebted to my parents for taking me to see it in a hoity toity Long Island theater right after it opened. I vividly remember watching and scribbling down the lines, so I could share and show them off to friends. This movie was ahead of its time, as well as ahead of my time. Still, like the academy, I appreciated it. While I was a big fan of Woody's earlier works, when I saw this I knew that it was more sophisticated than his previous work. I recall being at a high school party explaining to a classmate, why even though Mel Brooks was funny, it was wrong to equate him with Woody Allen, as Woody's movies were smarter. I stand by that comment. This movie was the begining of a time when Woody no longer felt he had to hide behind endless gags and could be more straightforward about the serious themes he had been dealing with, as a subtext of the slapstick, all along. This film masterfully combines a coherent plot with subtle, clever hummor. It is funny, insightful, and touching.

I recommend almost any of his films, although recently there have been some serious disappointments. I think Radio Days is an under appreciated masterpiece. It has themes I appreciate: a touching portrait of family and of growing up. And it deals with it's subjects in a compassionate way.


That completes my list of all time favorites.

And now my vote for best film of the year:

Million Dollar Baby - Understated, and amazing. Beatifully done in every way. A riveting story, that unravels at a slow, captivating pace. It is NOT about boxing. It is about people, relationships, families. For once, Clint throws in literary redemption at the end, because ultimately it's about redemption.

The critics have been good about not giving away about the turns this movie takes. While, I liked Finding Neverland, it didn't pack the punch that this film does. Nothing this year did.
See it and we'll talk.


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