Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film At Eleven

Last weekend, my dad brought up the topic of "best movie ever." Not favourite movie, which is different - favourite movie totally has more wiggle room. You can see the point of all different kids of serious, high-brow, important movies, but still cop to loving Back To The Future more than any other flick (as I unabashedly did. "Dad! George! Hey! You on the bike!" is probably the best line ever filmed). There are tons of favourites that are silly,

In 1998, the American Film Institute published a list of what they considered the 100 best movies of all time. Only eight were released after 1985. After Schindler's List, which came in ninth, Silence of the Lambs led the pack in 65th place. The top ten were all classic movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Gone With the Wind, both of which always seemed like gigantic snores to me. There are some late-model movies on that list - for example, I enjoyed The Graduate immensely, and Pulp Fiction is great.

But most of those movies evoke a different era. Not just the majority were produced before I was born. The humour is different, the pacing is statelier and the styles have changed. I'm not saying that they're bad or anything; I'm maybe pointing out that festishizing the past, especially in the arts, ain't no way to get any juicy new geniuses out there.

I mean, sure: Tarantino and his generation are good filmmakers, but they're mostly reinventing the wheel. David Foster Wallace has pointed out that true imagination doesn't always get rewarded - mention Blue Velvet, and there's a 50-50 chance someone will shudder in horror - but it seems like the ability to take interesting, difficult work and transform it into a quotable exercise in esthetics (which Tarantino does) will net you serious cash. Someone like Wes Anderson has done this a half-dozen times: assemble a bunch of quirky characters, sprinkle with nostalgic name-drops (The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Jacques Cousteau and A Charlie Brown Christmas, for starters), and serve to an adoring audience.

Actually, I do adore Wes Anderson movies: he has a gift for creating (or, you know, re-creating) gorgeous visual tableaux. His characters aren't so much characters as they are costumes...and that's kind of okay, you know? It's just not great film-making.

If movies are going to reach past entertainment and strive for the status of True Art, critics and audiences both need to stop reaching for easy 99-minute stretches or digestible facsimiles of challenging work as the height of American cinema. (As far as Canadian cinema goes, forget it. Quebec has a successful film industry, but Canadian movies are either Toronto dressed up as Boston or Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which, like, no.) I'm not saying there's anything wrong with presenting movies like Requiem for a Dream or Annie Hall as interesting entertainment, but art? Really?

Which is why the "best" movie is such a tough question. Do we judge on entertainment value? Avant-garde vision? Use of film stock? Use of Bruce Willis (and has anyone checked out the insane shoot he did for W magazine?)? The AFI's criteria was based mostly on outside influences - awards, cash and praise - and less on what the films attempted and how successful they were.

My favourite movies change daily - I can usually find a soft spot for The Big Lebowski, though, because that movie is awesome. My most-loathed movie is fairly constant: The Heart of Me was a wretched failure, starring Helena Bonham Carter's pitiful and emotionally unstable haircut. Someone else (someone blind, probably) loves that movie, and thinks I'm a loser who "doesn't get it." Fine. There are people who don't understand the humour of Harold and Maude, the visual glory of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the sheer gee-whiz coolness of Toy Story, the wackadoo weirdness of Being John Malkvotch. None of those movies really falls under the "art" banner, though. Fine! I'm not asking for the best movie of all time - I'm asking for the next favourite way to kill 120 minutes.


  1. Watch "One Week"
    It's awesome and Canadian. I know those don't belong together but it's true.
    Also it celebrates a lust for adventure, Canada, all of our weird giant landmarks (I sat in that giant chair too!) and our awesome Canadian indie music (what up Wintersleep)
    and that Dawsons' Creek guy is pretty hot.

    I loved it just sayin'

  2. I saw it! I also loved it. It was both totally lame and very awesome.