Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Universally Beloved

A preface: This blog isn't about to get populist or mainstream, but I want to foster a dialogue and be accessible to new readers so here we go.

In a recent discussion with a friend I was asked to name my top five movies. I did my usual hemming and hawing about how it was like choosing a favorite child and blah, blah, blah. Then I named my five and perhaps not so surprisingly, she'd seen none of them and heard of only two of them. It got me thinking about the gulf between popular and good and the list in this article is an attempt to bridge that gulf where the two meet.

So what are the movies that everyone, critics and civilians alike, can agree on? What are the movies that everyone loves? I started thinking about this and have narrowed it down to a master-list of five. Obviously with millions of films to choose from I'm going to be stepping on some toes but that's part of the fun (and what the comments section is for). Before I get started here are some that I'm intentionally leaving off the list.

Any Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Super-hero film didn't make the cut. By their very nature these films create very niche communities, some of these communities can be large but has your grandma seen them? Your girlfriend? Your cousin? Your teacher? The same goes for musicals (again, not my choice but some people can't get around the major conventions-namely people breaking out into song and dance). Same goes for horror, some people just refuse to be scared.

I think the real reason for this list is to try to find common ground in the movies that unite us. I will proceeed each title with some good follow-up films that you can recommend to the not as adventurous viewer.

Here's what I came up with.
Ghostbusters-Funny but not raunchy, scary but not too scary and at the end of the day just plain fun. Everyone who watches Ghostbusters loves it and the workmanlike attitude gives the outlandish premise a solid foundation that anyone can plug into.
Princess Bride-Its sweet, but never sentimental, the frame-story prevents that from ever happening. There's romance, there's adventure and lots of comedy. That's a full meal of cinema right there.
Wizard of Oz-Musical yes, but the sheer innovation and universality of the story makes this a sentimental favorite for just about everyone. Whether you want to read it as a critique of the antebellum South, a young woman's journey to maturation or an appreciation of home and hearth, Oz resonates across all lines. It taps into the child in us all.
Back to the Future-Perfectly structured, charming and ironically enough timeless. The story of Marty McFly resonates because it echoes within us our desire to know where we came from and the desire to shape our destiny.
Annie Hall-The perfect romantic comedy. Endlessly inventive and innovative, some things are just so in their perfection. Even Allen haters need to give it up for this one.

Ok so where did I go wrong? What do you think qualifies in the universally beloved cannon? Put it in the comments.


Frank said...

For the record, the kids in my class CAN'T STAND Wizard of Oz. I feel like it might have something to do with overfamiliarity.

Also, sadly, I noticed there isn't a single black and white film on this list. Not surprising, seeing as how I'm constantly encountering film majors who are (exact quote) "shocked that 'Psycho' was so good. I've never seen a black and white movie".

Also, in accounting for the casual moviegoer, have you taken into account the opposite end of the spectrum, the elitist? I know a particular hot indie filmmaker whom I'll never name again who would openly dismiss three of the five on this list as populist dreck and would probably eliminate Wizard of Oz as being a trifle, albeit a buoyant one.

And what does it say that a majority of this list is made up of 80s films. Could it be a latent nostalgia factor influencing that every important 18-49 year old demographic? How is popularity measured? Another certain swearing, boot wearing film professor I know actively despises Back to the Future.

If we're talking overall crowdpleasers, I'm tempted to mention E.T., a film that even Spielberg's detractors can only manage to dismiss as "manipulative" (a criticism I myself have never understood). While many would point out that Jaws might be superior on a gut level, I suspect the whole "fear of sharks" thing would put a damper on its popular cache.

Adeo J said...

I would have to agree with Frank only only thing- this list of movies is (at least in my opinion)a very nostalgically influenced list. You look at these films, and they do remind you of "the good ole days."

But I feel like Frank is taking this list as the know-all end-all of beloved films. You didn't say this was the master list, that these were the top five of any movie-lovers list of favorite films. These are five great films on a list that could probably go on and on, knowing you. I would agree that ET should be on the list, and I am certain it is on the list, somewhere. But just because you didn't put it on here, doesn't mean that it's not a universally loved film.

I applaud this list. I thought it was great, well thought out, and has awesome choices. I may not be a director, producer, or film actor, but as a person who loves a good flick on a Friday night, I give this list an A+.


El Gigante said...

Hahaha, I thought Frank was about to say I noticed that there isn't a single black character in any of these films. Again let me say that these are film that the bulk of everyone loves (I long ago stopped including certain professor among "everybody"). Also we need to sidebar on the specifics of his anti-BTTF tirade.

People who instantly think black and white films are bad deserve a punch in the taint.

As to both Adeo and Frank's points about the list being nostalgia influenced, let me say that the fact that I put neither Goonies nor Monster Squad nor any other distinctly PERIOD 80's film speaks volumes.

Frank said...

Um...Winston Zeddemore, Mayor Goldie Wilson, Marion Berry and his band. 'Nuff said.

Football Chick said...

I agree that these are definitely the sentimental favorites of a certain generation/demographic, which is fine. A slightly older list might include It's a Wonderful Life, Rebel Without a Cause, Hoosiers, etc. Nostalgia plays a huge part in the movies that people love their whole lives, so I don't think there's anything wrong with it informing Rami's list.

El Gigante said...

I considered using It's A Wonderful Life but the movie but it wasn't so big in the (Jewish) circles I traveled in when I was younger. I suppose a It's A Wonderful Life/Ten Commandments split entry would not have been out of the question. Sports movies certainly make for solid sentimental favorites though they frequently alienate non-sports fans. Hoosiers is a solid choice, I would also say Field of Dreams.