Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Five Films That Made Me a Critic

A few weeks ago, the hosts of the newly revamped At the Movies, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Christy Lemire, took a break from reviewing the latest flicks and spent the half hour discussing the five films that made them want to become a critic. The show was a riot, mostly because Christy insisted on picking obvious films (The Wizard of Oz, The Breakfast Club) and was almost embarrassed by her one excursion outside of Hollywood (Nights of Cabiria) while Ignatiy picked relatively obscure films, even from iconic directors like Jean-Luc Godard and D.W. Griffith. But, afterwards, the exercise stuck with me and I thought it would be fun to talk about here.

It Happened One Night The one that started it all was one of those happy, random moments that you can only describe as divine intervention. For some reason, I had been researching the greatest movies of all time and saw that this 1934 comedy had appeared on multiple lists. I remember being curious that a comedy--a romantic comedy, at that--was so widely beloved when, at that time, I perceived that dramas = quality. I decided that I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I went out and rented it. Having just been previously obsessed with old TV shows like I Love Lucy and The Jeffersons, watching old stuff wasn't anything unusual for me. Seeing It Happened One Night for the first time, however, truly changed my life. I adored the film so much so I watched it twice in two days. Having such a positive experience with Capra & company, I decided to start exploring other older films to see what they offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gone With the Wind When I first saw Gone With the Wind in junior high at my mother insistence, I had no clue that it would someday end up as my favorite film ever. I enjoyed the film but it was in no way life changing. Cut to a couple years later when I decide to start reading the novel on the spur of the moment. I start slowly but eventually I can't put the damn thing down. Then, one day during Spring Break, I'm tearing through the last couple hundred pages, crying like a baby the entire time even though I knew exactly what was coming. My love for the novel led me back to the movie and it instantly became my favorite. To this date, there are very few movies in my life I think I've seen more times than this nearly four-hour beast (Spice World and Aladdin quickly come to mind). If It Happened One Night ignited my passion for movies, Gone With the Wind cemented it.

Breathless I first saw Breathless in one of those undergraduate film survey courses that non-film major students bitch about because they are shocked we are studying 50 year old foreign films instead of Titanic and Adam Sandler's filmography. Breathless wasn't the first French New Wave film I had ever seen--I had seen and loved The 400 Blows twice by this point--but it was the one that ignited my passion for the movement. Watching the film was literally a revelatory moment before. Never before had I seen such an engaging film done in such an atypical shooting style. Breathless was the first film that opened my mind to the idea that films were much more than its story. A scant, nearly non-existent story could still make for a fun, fast, loose, cool film with the proper director setting the right mood through such simple things as non-linear editing and costuming.

Rear Window It took me many years to come to this conclusion, but Rear Window is easily the best film Alfred Hitchcock ever made. I never really got what this film was all about until my third viewing, which happened in my very first film course. Over the years, I literally saw it in every single film course I had in college and I loved it more and more every time. Even as I was getting slightly bored with my then-favorite Hitchcock Psycho, Rear Window offered something new and fascinating every time I saw it. The main reason I chose Rear Window is simply because this film proved to me that sometimes you need to watch a film multiple times to truly get what the filmmaker was attempting and that the best films are the ones that stand up to repeated viewings.

Kill Bill Volume 1 I spoke a little about my history with Kill Bill Volume 1 before and, looking back, I really see it as a turning point in my movie watching. Normally I would have been put off by Tarantino's gore fest, but I saw something unique and special in all the violence and gallons of blood. I'm still proud that, at 16, I was able to look beyond my own limited tastes and appreciate something out of the ordinary. It was a high point in the early stage of my cinephilia.

What about you? What were the films that turned you into a movie lover?


7640219c-49fb-11e0-8e4c-000bcdca4d7a said...

Seeing my first Linklater (Waking Life) changed what my perspective on film had been up until then. You could say he was what turned me onto movies, especially once I saw Before Sunset.

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