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|Written by Joe Lipsett|
|Sunday, 04 January 2009 19:00|
The end of the year – and the start of a new one – brings with it numerous ‘top film’ lists. This is, of course, encouraged by the fact that it has become standard studio protocol to release year end award-baiting films in time for Oscar consideration. As cinemas fill with must-see films, it’s hard not to look back on the year that was and anticipate the new year’s cinematic offerings. Unfortunately, this also means having to face the question that, as a film critic, I dread the most:
When I think back on my film going experiences as a youth, I always recall the summer long obsession I had with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992. It was by no means the first movie I ever saw or even recall seeing, but the extent to which I coveted paraphernalia from that film remains unparalleled to this day. I purchased the novelization to read on my family road-trip across Canada, and forced my parents to stop at every conceivable McDonald’s in order to purchase the collectible plastic cups featuring scenes from the film. Even as a pre-teen, I was aware that Batman Returns wasn’t perfect (I still classify Danny DeVito’s performance as the Penguin in the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ category), but that film was the first to truly capture my imagination by making me believe in the world on screen.
As I moved through my teen years and into adulthood, I took on many cinematic lovers. The films I viewed the most times in theatres are Mortal Kombat and Stardust (three times each), but they barely manage a blip on the radar when compared to my home movie watching where Scream and Shakespeare in Love hold the record. During the month of December 1997, I alternated between the two films with such intensity that I broke my VHS copy of Shakespeare.
Not that I mean to suggest that quantity of viewings is the singular indicator of favourite film status. There are countless films that standout for a variety of other reasons.
One of my most visceral movie going experiences was Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s film not only reduced me to tears, but drove me to spend the rest of the day in a state of emotional distress.
A similarly visceral experience was Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. It was one of the first films I saw upon moving to Ottawa in 2000. Exiting the Bytowne Theatre into the freezing rain, after experiencing the emotional toll of the film, forever imprinted the movie in my mind.
One of my most thought provoking film experiences came out of Eli Roth’s Hostel, which kept me up all night thinking of the dichotomy between the first and second halves of the film, while simultaneously reinforcing my decision to refrain from backpacking in Europe.
The truth is that any kind of reflection on favourite films is a matter of context and personal taste. I’m sure most of us have a Titanic related experience – whether we fall into the camp that saw it thirteen times, or stayed away out of protest over the hype. There are those who contest the superiority of Star Trek over Star Wars, or prefer the romantic antics of Julia Roberts to those of Meg Ryan and Reese Witherspoon. I could list all the films I believe other people should experience, from the delightful whimsy of fantasy epics like The Princess Bride and Willow to the increasingly gruesome French New Wave horror films such as Ils and À l’interieur, but these may or may not mean anything to you, depending on your personal taste.
After recently dining with a friend, I began to ponder just what cinema means to me. He jokingly suggested that the worlds of film are all imaginary, and, therefore, have no role in people’s actual lived experiences. I contested his claim on the grounds that the worlds of film are not imaginary, so long as people interact with and incorporate them into their lives.
People don’t need to embrace (or even like) all the films they watch, but as long as they have favourite films – whether it be due a experience surrounding the film, the actor(s) in the movie, or the company at the screening – suggests to me that film plays an important role in all our lives.
So as a new year approaches, I do like to reflect on the films that have contributed to my life, and I hope to add to that list in 2009.
Just don’t ask me what my “favourites” are, unless you’ve got a few days to spare . . .