I discovered the AFI’s list of the top 100 films when I was fourteen and looking for something to do. It was summer. Most kids went outside and played. I just stared at the wall. During the school year, I was deeply involved in my schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but even then, I didn’t really have anything to work toward. All of that changed when I discovered movies. Suddenly, my life had meaning. I began to schedule all of my activities around what movies were on TV that day. (This was in the days before DVR.) It didn’t matter that, as any proper movie buff will tell you, that list kind of sucks. It’s been updated since then, and that list kind of sucks, too. Like the Oscars, it plays things a little bit too safe. So many of the movies on one list, the other, or both are just not great films (Dances With Wolves, Forrest Gump, I could go on), and there are about a zillion brilliant movies that didn’t make either list. (Seriously, where the fuck is Night of the Hunter?) The point is that if you’re curious about movies and looking for a place to start, you could do a lot worse. There aren’t many films on the list that are flat-out awful. Most are comforting and entertaining without being transcendent. A good example of that is Yankee Doodle Dandy. It features a performance by James Cagney that may be one of the best I’ve ever seen on film, but I don’t think I’ll need to watch it again. It just doesn’t demand repeated viewings.
It didn’t take long before I began to branch out. I discovered foreign filmmakers like Kurosawa and Fellini, and before long, my goal was to see every good movie ever made. That, of course, is impossible in the course of a single lifetime, but I was determined to try. I watched everything from cult movies to French New Wave films to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. It didn’t take me long to discover that no matter how hard you try, people never stop looking at you and saying, “What you’ve never seen [insert movie here]?” There was no way around it. There were too many movements, genres, subgenres, and eras to work through. Basically, I got a crash course in most of those. That’s pretty much all I found the time for.
These days, I watch about one movie every week. I’m trying to branch out, trying to educate myself on TV, music, and of course literature. All of those present their own unique challenges, but movies hold an appeal that no other medium quite does. Or something like that. I guess they still hold a special place in my heart, and I can’t stop watching them until I feel like I’ve seen enough, if not for a lifetime, then at least for the time being. Since I know more about them than just about anything else, I know how many great films I have yet to see. My literary education, despite my English degree, is still in its infancy. I know about the towering masterpieces and little else. I can’t debate obscurities and underrated gems like I can with the cinema. Even then, I know people who have seen more movies than I have. But very few of them can debate with me. I know how to talk, is what I’m saying. That’s why I have a blog. I discovered a long time ago that I don’t have the energy to perform anymore, which is why I don’t have a vlog or a podcast. Writing is easier to walk away from, harder to lose myself in so completely that I forget who I am.
I’m not sure what to make of this movie. It’s based off of a book that I dearly love, but I’m not sure how it will translate to film. For anyone who hasn’t read it, Cloud Atlas tells six loosely connected stories, each with its own setting, style, and characters. Collectively, they convey the message that no matter the time or the place, people are basically the same. How one condenses that into several hours, I have no idea, but Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis are determined to try. Personally, I feel that this film is more likely to be an ambitious failure than anything, but I’ll probably see it either way. If nothing else, it will give me something to think about.
I don’t buy the notion that criticism can be “objective”. You like what you like. Likewise, I don’t distinguish between “best” and “favorite”. I do understand the need to distinguish something that’s truly brilliant from something that just makes us feel good, however. The title of this post is a sentimental favorite from my childhood. For those who’ve never seen it, it’s probably the best film Hugh Grant ever made–a touching, funny, if occasionally sugary tale about maturing through finding people who care about you. At the time I saw it, I was at a place in my life all to similar to Nicholas Hoult’s character. So it spoke to me. I’ve seen a lot of great films over the years. But they don’t always stick with me the way that I feel they should. Personal taste is funny that way. Movies are as individual as the people who watch them. And the only way to know how any two will go together is to put them in the same room and just see what happens.