The Science of Cinema

Compared to the amount of blogging I've done about music, books, comics, and sports, the amount I've written about movies must seem relatively small. To some degree, that's probably because movies generally don't loom as large in my personal pop-culture universe as the others do. I mean, music and books are something I encounter daily, while comics and sports have been fields where I've devoted insane amounts of time over long periods of my life, even if I don't pick up a copy of Swamp Thing or Astonishing X-Men whenever I go to the bathroom or check scores on ESPN every day.

Movies, though, are much more occasional. Sure, I've seen every James Bond film ever made, and I revere a classic Chuck Jones short more than a sane human being probably should, and Katharine Hepburn is still on The List even now, but I doubt I go to the theater more than a dozen times in a typical year. I watch the majority of the films I see through some other method--DVD, Netflix streaming, occasionally even an old VHS tape. And though I have taken one film criticism class (and won its Oscar pool, thanks very much) I'm not a cinephile in any true sense of the word. I don't watch a lot of foreign films, I've ignored many of the medium's classics, and there are whole genres (particularly biopics) that simply hold no interest for me. Maybe there's a reason you don't see a lot of movie talk here.

But talk is one thing that I very definitely get from movies. My conversation (not to mention my writing) is peppered with catchphrases and vocabulary gleaned from films of all sorts.
"We're gonna need a bigger boat."
"Never tell me the odds."
"Well, ain't that a geographical oddity."
"It is only wafer-thin..."
"I am shocked, shocked..."

Heck, the number of times I'll quote Ghostbusters or Airplane! in a typical day is probably in the dozens. If not for movies, I literally wouldn't sound like myself.

And that's probably true for a good many people today. Our common parlance in the past was built primarily on the rock of the Biblical allusion, with a certain well-read native of the West Country providing words, words, words. But for the modern American, these are not necessarily areas of common experience; instead, we rely on something we've all heard said by James Bond, or Michael Corleone, or Yoda. And eventually, even people who've never seen the movies begin to know the phrases, just as non-Christians and non-Shakespeare fans still say "Hallelujah" or speak of thing vanishing into thin air.

With all that cinematic information flying around, then, it's natural that any modern individual, even one who's not a serious student of film, would have a set of ten favorite movies. My particular set, however, may not be seen as exactly natural.

For one thing, the films on my list aren't set in stone. Well, to be honest, some of them are. Like a scientist considering the theory of gravity, I must allow for the possibility that new evidence MIGHT persuade me to change my mind about the validity of this long-tested theory, but I recognize that the odds of that evidence appearing are infinitesimal. So yeah, I have a top ten list, and it's possible that it may change over time, but I can say with confidence that four of the films on it are never going to be kicked off it.

DSC02767.JPGIn alphabetical order, the four permanent members of the PC Cinema Council are Brazil, Local Hero, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Raising Arizona. I've loved each of them too long and watched each of them too many times to have any doubt. Holy Grail in particular is a foundation of my speaking habits and my sense of humor, and an appropriate (usually) quote from it is never far from my forebrain. In addition to being just bloody hilarious, Raising Arizona is a fantastic exercise in storytelling and characterization, with Nicholas Cage's best performance ever holding the center. Brazil is an amazing work of imagination, where every visual pushes reality farther and farther away even as it drags the film's theme closer and closer to the viewer's life. And Local Hero remains in some ways my Platonic ideal of a movie, with gorgeous scenery, distinctive characters, sparkling dialogue, plaintive music, and a wistful, inspiring tone; there's a reason I insisted on taking Kelly to Scotland on our honeymoon.

But there are six other spots. What's in those?

Teetering right on the edge of the top five is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love it, and when I've rewatched it I've been reminded again and again of how good it is. But I haven't seen it enough to be completely confident that it should sit at #5.

The second half of the top ten is tricky. There are movies that have had a major impact on me over decades, and movies that have given me untold delight, and movies that I quote regularly but don't actually like that much, and movies I remember loving but not enough to buy the DVD, which suggests I don't love them that much. But if I had to put five more films on the list to fill out the top ten for today, the alphabetical list would look like this:

Arsenic and Old Lace
(terrific on so many levels, but mostly just Cary Grant)
The Empire Strikes Back
(the best of the Star Wars movies, and I just can't ignore Star Wars)
(I love music, I love animation. Why wouldn't this be a favorite?)
The Man Who Would Be King
(an old-fashioned classic)
A Mighty Wind
(a movie this funny shouldn't be this touching)

That leaves a lot of favorites out--Airplane!, Blazing Saddles, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, GalaxyQuest, Ghostbusters, Gregory's Girl, The Impostors, Much Ado About Nothing, Pinocchio, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toy Story--but they've all got a shot at rotating into the top ten at some point. As long as they bring the evidence.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 27, 2015 11:02 AM.

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