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More or Less: My Favorites

First off, welcome to the site! This is my first posting, so I figured I would introduce myself by listing my favorite movies for you. That’s a tricky proposition, for me, though. Ask me that question in person, and I’d probably laugh nervously. Why? It’s an overwhelming choice for me. There are too many movies to choose from, and there are many that I love, but often for very different reasons – sometimes for reasons I can’t explain.

Some of the movies I love don’t necessarily fit into the standard “greatest film ever” category. They’re all good movies, don’t get me wrong! But greatest ever? Maybe one or two of them could be considered, but the others? I couldn’t necessarily rationalize for you why I choose them over, say, mega-classics like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, or The Wizard of Oz. All I can say is that it’s a gut reaction, an emotional response. Perhaps that’s another article I will write some day, but, for now, all I can say is that, personally, these are some of the movies I enjoy the most. In no particular order…

Even if you haven't seen this awesome movie, you know this scene.

Singin’ in the Rain — I guess I should start out with one of my favorites that also happens to be a strong contender for the title of “Greatest Film Ever” and often finds itself on such lists. That’s possibly because this is also very likely one of the most entertaining films of all time. This movie represents the best of what musicals had to offer at the time, and, even today, remains one of the most captivating film presentations you’ll see. The film stands up to modern musicals like Moulin Rouge in terms of spectacle (they both reused pre-existing songs, too), and yet they didn’t have the digital magic afforded to modern movies, either. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with visual effects (as you’ll see), but take into account that the famous rain sequence and the seemingly unrelated 14-minute-long “Broadway Melody” sequence (featuring an extended cameo from the legendary Cyd Charisse) were all done nearly half a century before Moulin Rougeand you’ll understand only part of why this movie is so impressive. It’s also a hilarious send up of Hollywood and the film making process before that was really a thing, using the 1920’s transition from silent films to talkies as a backdrop. Gene Kelly is also pretty awesome, a quadruple threat as an actor, singer, dancer, and co-director. Co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds are also fantastic co-stars, with O’Connor in particular holding his own alongside Kelly, making up for whatever little technical skill he lacks in comparison with his comedic timing and acrobatics. Then there’s the Oscar-nominated Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont the pampered, dim witted starlet with a shrill voice. As a villain, she’s more of an annoyance than serious threat to the characters, but Hagen’s performance isn’t so broad as to be a joke in itself, and she ultimately provides the film with most of its laughs. With the original film negative having been destroyed in a fire, it’s a shame that we may have a while before a faithful high-def restoration of the film is produced, but the 2002 digital restoration on DVD features a transfer that makes the film look like it was filmed just yesterday.

Star Trek — I don’t want anyone to come under the impression that I’m a film snob. When it comes down to it, I like entertaining summer movies just as much as I like the complex character studies — sometimes even more so. You should know, I’m a huge geek, and, as such, it should come as no surprise that I love Star Trek. Unlike most fans, though, my favorite film in the franchise isn’t The Wrath of Khan, nor the too often overlooked sixth entry, The Undiscovered Country, either. No, my favorite happens to be the one that started it all… over again. There’s just so much to enjoy in the 2009 quasi-reboot, whether you were a fan of the franchise before or not. Director JJ Abrams and writing duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did the seemingly impossible when they moved the series forward in the real world by moving the setting focus back to the original crew’s early adventures. The most genius move, however, was the creation of an alternate timeline for the movie. This allowed the filmmakers to move freely within their story without disrespecting and negating all that came before, and it emboldens them to take brave new choices that likely would’ve incited the wrath of Trekkies everywhere had they done it within the original timeline while hooking in new fans who would’ve possibly never touched the franchise in its original form before.The film also features a strong cast. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana succeed at leading the new cast as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, and Uhura, carrying the weight of familiarity  while making the most of this chance to make the characters their own. The supporting cast, including a welcome familiar face, is great, too, with Eric Bana perhaps being the only standout, having not been given nearly enough time to develop the brooding Nero into anything more than a plot device, though that’s hardly his fault.

Shaun of the Dead — Love zombie movies but wish there were a little more romance to the proceedings? Love romantic comedies but wish there were a little more gore? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have you covered with this “romzomcom” — the romantic comedy with zombies. More a tribute to than a parody of zombie films like Dawn of the Dead, this British mishmash of the two genres is the antidote to the more pessimistic and cynical stuff you normally see on TV during the month of October. The movie has a lot of fun with dialogue, repeating  phrases in different contexts to give them different meanings (“You’ve got red on you.”) and working in the obligatory references to classic horror films, old and new (“We’re coming to get you, Barbara!”). Shaun of the Dead proves that it’s possible to have some dumb fun with a genre’s tropes without being insulting to the audience like so many other parodies. Pegg and Frost’s Spaced collaborator Edgar Wright rightfully earned more global recognition with this film (though it wasn’t his first), and went on to direct the second entry in this planned “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”, Hot Fuzz, the brilliant but tragically overlooked comic adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and is slated to direct the upcoming third entry in the trilogy, The World’s End, which sounds like it’ll be a no-doubt equally fun tribute to the familiar disaster movie genre. Put simply, if you love films, as Pegg, Frost, and Wright seem to, you’ll most likely enjoy Shaun of the Dead. It just so happens that it also inspired my best Halloween costume, too…

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind— The title may sound esoteric, and, well… yeah, the movie may be a bit, but get past the hipster vibe and what you’ll find is a typically bittersweet examination of romantic relationships delivered in an atypical, sci-fi package. The movie is a valiant effort in emphasizing the importance of remembering, enduring, and learning from pain almost as much as it comments on the importance and need for love. Jim Carey, more here than even in the stunning Truman Show, is also in atypically calm, even demure form here as the dull, melancholy Joel and seemingly taps into his own well known issues with depression, turning his character into what will likely be one of his best performances of his life. Kate Winslet is also in atypically unglamorous form as Clementine, whose sweet-sounding name doesn’t match up with the character’s mood swings and coarse language, further emphasizing the bittersweet nature of life director Michel Gondry’s film portrays, and whose memory Joel seeks to literally erase from his mind after she does the same to him. Filling out the cast are Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, and Elijah Wood — all portraying scientists with their own set of related troubles at the memory-erasing company Lacuna, Inc. — as well as David Cross and Jane Adams as the forever fighting other couple, who are seemingly the only friends Joel has. Just as much stars of the film are the dreamlike special effects and a script by Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, and Piere Bismuth that ignores the laws of time and perception yet remains absolutely comprehensible, if you afford it your complete attention. And, really, why would you want to do anything else butwatch this when it’s on? Again, please don’t let the film’s title get in the way of you watching it. I guarantee it’ll be one of the most unique and moving films you’ll ever see.

Pixar — Is this cheating? It’s cheating, isn’t it? … Yeah, it’s cheating. But let me explain! What will quickly become apparent to you is that I absolutely love animated movies, handdrawn or CGI, Disney or not. I think it’s a shame that animated films are still thought of as being primarily a child’s medium, when animation provides so much more value to attentive viewers of all ages, possibly even more to adults! And, possibly even more than Disney itself, Pixar has worked to advance the medium (not genre!) of animation to levels of sophistication that few, if any, studios have even managed to come within grasp of. With the exception of the cash cow that is the Cars franchise, everything Pixar has done has been astoundingly entertaining and, with each new release, even more beautiful to immerse yourself into. And, yes, even Cars and its sequel have their redeeming qualities — Cars 2, for all its Larry the Cable Guy-ness, gets an unfair amount of bashing and could’ve been much worse all things considered, and the recreation and reimagining of scenes like the Monaco Grand Prix are shockingly gorgeous. Forget the easy targets, though, and you have ten more films to consider — films that are each unique, absolutely moving experiences from top to bottom. A countdown of Pixar’s own films is worthy of its own post (and I plan to do one someday, too!), and recently Pixar announced several more films are in the works for the coming future: the surprisingly promising prequel to Monsters, Inc. called Monsters University, their first movie with a female lead, Brave, an untitled project that shows how life would be like if dinosaurs were alive today, and another, very high concept film that takes you on a journey into the mind — a concept that will likely have just as much heart as brains if masterpieces like Finding Nemo, Up, and Toy Story 3 are any indication. Pixar is rarely matched in its efforts to craft entertaining yet artistically sound films, and, despite the recent misgivings about Cars 2, as with films that came after the first, there’s no reason to think that they’ll stop.

And, so, there you have it. My most immediately thought of favorite films of all time… more or less. Ask me again a year from now, and who knows what would be here. Perhaps, should this blog last as long, this should become an annual feature — reassessing my favorite films? Hmm… In the meantime, though, please let me know what your favorite films are and, even more importantly, why they are, and I hope that you’ll continue to read this blog as I delve further into my film fandom!

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  1. Bill Gentrup
    September 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Good show, C. J.! (pun intended). A very good launch of the site with some good writing (no sloppy typos or grammatical and punctuation errors) and good facts and good observations. What a wide variety of taste in genres! Musicals, sci-fi, horror, animation, and whatever ESSM is. Very impressive. I hate horror and I haven’t seen ESSM, but I’m in agreement about everything else. Except the only Star Trek movie I really loved was “First Contact.” The Borg have always been my favorite plot line in that franchise (also Q). Has there ever been a more frightening enemy of humanity? Have you seen the Borg-plotted finale of the Deep Space series? Fantastic. Keep up the good work.

    • CJ Stewart
      September 21, 2011 at 1:08 am

      Thanks! I do my best! I tried to pick from a wide variety, but I still can’t pick just one film, and even now I’m wondering, “Are some of these really my top favorites? Well… not so much Pixar, but … well, see what I mean?

  1. October 8, 2011 at 9:28 am
  2. October 8, 2011 at 9:36 am
  3. November 3, 2011 at 8:45 am
  4. November 12, 2011 at 6:34 am
  5. January 7, 2012 at 1:27 am
  6. January 17, 2012 at 12:44 am
  7. January 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm
  8. May 30, 2012 at 12:24 am
  9. February 16, 2013 at 2:32 am
  10. May 1, 2013 at 12:58 am

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