To begin the new year and my first year of blogging, it seems apt to share my answers to one of the most thoughtful and intellectually satisfying movie quizzes currently circulating on the net. It originated over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule on Christmas Eve. If only the bulk of film criticism were as insightful and creative as the content of this holiday game.
1) Your favorite opening shot
The film student in me cries out, “Touch of Evil!” But for sheer dramatic impact, the shot that most resonates with me is from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The bold cut from the main credits (over a black screen) to a blinding shot of the Sonora Desert is musically matched by an orchestral crescendo. As the music takes shape, you are compelled to listen more intently, especially when the credits have ended and Spielberg leaves the screen black for an additional few seconds. Nothing beats the visual/sonic “blast” that follows this eerie moment.
2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?
Mia Farrow, simply for putting up with Woody Allen all those years.
3) Name a comedy youâ€™re embarrassed to admit made you laugh
Clifford (1994), an all but forgotten Martin Short/Charles Grodin stinker, where Short plays a ten-year-old. It had its moments.
4) Best Movie of 1947
Crossfire, starring Robert Ryan.
5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. Whatâ€™s your movie handle?
My movie handle? McFly.
6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?
Vaughn, no doubt about it. He convinced me that Kalfus and Nachman represent the best personal injury legal team in Virginia.
7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you’ve seen a movie
Most unusual place was the basement “theater” of a college professor, whose outdated equipment and uncomfortable chairs made a viewing of Gloria virtually unwatchable.
8 ) Favorite Errol Morris movie
The Fog of War.
9) Best Movie of 1967
Bonnie and Clyde.
10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment youâ€™ve had courtesy of the movies
The immolation scene in Schindler’s List (1993) left knots in my stomach, and still makes me numb.
13) Best Movie of 1987
14) Favorite movie about obsession
15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature
A Christmas Story (1983)
Die Hard (1988)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?
17) Favorite Les Blank Movie
Can’t say that I’ve seen any of his films or even heard of the man. And yes, I still consider myself a cinema buff even without this knowledge.
18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: â€œIn many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.â€ Your thoughts?
Perhaps if film criticism was as self-reflexive and honest as Monsieur Ego, then my own favorite films and filmmakers would get the respect and attention they deserve.
19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?
On DVD, sadly it was the tepid fourth installment in the Die Hard saga. In the theater, it was the overly ambitious but still satisfying American Gangster.
20) Best Movie of 2007
Having not seen many new films this year, I don’t want to sell short the slew of potentially excellent movies that have been released in 2007. Out of the handful that I saw, Zodiac impressed me the most. In fact, it continues to linger in my mind months after first seeing it.
21) Worst Movie of 2007
Transformers. Not even the creative genius of ILM practitioners could save this one.
22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia
2-8 years old – My parents insist that the first film I saw was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the theater. I was two years old and apparently sat quietly for two hours and just stared at the screen. And with that, my love of the movies was born. From there, I saw Superman: The Movie for the first time on home video and wore out a few copies. By the time I was six, Back to the Future caught my attention and I was officially a movie geek. While I had no real concept of narrative or film style, there was something about flying supermen and flying cars that piqued my interest.
9-12 – I never lost interest in fantasy films during this period, but my taste began to shift to the horror genre, as I discovered John Carptenter’s Halloween (1978) late one light on network TV. I soon began directing my own short videos with school friends, and borrowed heavily from the visual styles of Spielberg, Carpenter, and Hitchcock.
13-18 – The local video store was a treasure trove of old, dusty VHS tapes, which served as the tools of my real cinema education. While Spielberg’s 1993 double-header of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List ignited my fondness for the bearded-one’s style, this “stage” was ultimately informed by my discovery of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Steve Martin, Preston Sturges, and Roger Corman’s AIP catalogue. There was nothing like finding a worn-out copy of a forgotten ’70s exploitation film in the basement of Bonanza Video.
19-Present – My cinema studies education at the University of Toronto refined my understanding of film history and theory. My undergrad was spent arguing against the love of Godard and Resnais, and discovering my love of Fellini and the post-war Italian filmmakers. As I continue with my PhD, I find it difficult to fall in love with movies as easy as I once did. But the spark is still there.
23) What is the one film youâ€™ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?
Without a doubt, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). For the last time: Kubrick’s vision INCLUDED the final act where 30th century robots discover David and shut him down.
24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?
Rita Hayworth, because she survived studio mis-treatment.
25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?
The contrast in sound as Danny rides his tricycle over carpet and wood floors in The Shining (1980).
26) Favorite Documentary
American Movie (1999).
27) Favorite opening credit sequence
Superman: The Movie
28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?
I always wanted one of Marty McFly’s puffy vests. Never got one. Then, years after I outgrew the fascination with Coast Guard life-preservers, I find out that The GAP sells them to tweens and high school ski bums.
29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?
30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards
I hold out hope that there will be an awards ceremony this year, despite the continuing and worsening writer’s strike.
31) Best Actor of 2007
Haven’t seen enough performances to justify an answer. But I hear Daniel Day-Lewis was pretty, pretty, pretty good.
32) Best Actress of 2007
It’s even sadder that I can’t even think of a best actress contender.
33) Best Director of 2007
I’d give it to David Fincher, if only because he took a crime procedural with no real outcome and turned it into nearly three hours of riveting entertainment.
34) Best Screenplay of 2007
35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007
Homer Simpson unleashing his middle fingers on the angry mob, then using them to dig his way out of the sink hole.
36) Whatâ€™s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?
I join the denizens of fans who are hoping that Indy 4 sucks as little as possible. Can I get an “Amen”?