What is it that makes somebody a movie fan? What moviegoing experiences shape and inform their favorites? Their genre preferences? Likes? Dislikes? Everybody has them. I like to consider myself a film geek. I watch a ton. I write about them. I spend countless weekend night hours in a theater. But one thing I've noticed over the years is that no matter how much you think your tastes resonate with everybody, that just isn't true.
Case in point. A few weeks ago, a good buddy at work was going to see one of the 3-5 movies he and his wife see in a theater each year. He asked for my recommendation. I told him to go see Super 8, obviously. Did he take my advice? No. He was set on seeing The Hangover Part II, a movie I despised, giving it only 1.5 stars. At that point I thought, what am I doing all this for (the blog, the reviews, watching everything) if a good friend seeking my "expert" (that term is used loosely) advice won't even listen to me?
But then I had another thought, hey - maybe we're just cut from different cloths. The movies that transformed me into the person I am today may be completely different from the ones that shaped my friend's moviegoing preferences. So how did I get to this point? What movies have directly impacted the way I view movies? Respond to them? What am I a sucker for? What do I find funny? Where do I draw the line? All of the answers to these questions (and more) can be found by tracing these 15 transformative moviegoing experiences in my life:
- The Secret of Nimh - the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I think I was 2. I was freakin' terrified of Nicodemus (those warty hands!) and the spooky Owl, but I was enthralled at the same time. An addict is born.
- Return of the Jedi - I didn't get to see Star Wars or Empire in the theater. I jumped right to Return of the Jedi, my first Star Wars movie. So began an obsession with Han Solo, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader that continues to this day. It wasn't until later (senior year of high school - 1997, when the special editions were released) that I realized that Empire Strikes Back is actually the best film in the Star Wars canon. I can't wait to watch them all again with my son when they hit Blu-Ray in September.
- Three Amigos - all of my recent favorite comedies can be traced back to the absurdist comedic style of Three Amigos. From Wet Hot American Summer to Anchorman, all have a little bit of Three Amigos in their DNA. I loved it back when I was 7, and I find it even funnier today. Steve Martin and Martin Short forever endeared themselves to me with this one. It took Chevy Chase to do Community though to get back in my good graces.
- Innerspace - this high-concept, hugely entertaining action/romance/adventure/sci-fi/comedy is pretty much the quintessential John Hammerle film. It's smart, rapidly-paced, exciting, funny, and offers something for everyone. It is pure popcorn entertainment done right. One could argue that Mission: Impossible III (my favorite movie of all time) uses the same mix of ingredients as Innnerspace.
- Second Sight - back in the day, every movie you saw was great and worth watching again and again. You didn't know bad from good. But there's always that one movie that offers the "There Is No Santa Claus" moment. For me, it was Second Sight, an utterly forgettable (except by me, apparently) "comedy" starring Perfect Strangers' Bronson Pinchot and John Larroquette. This is the first movie I can remember thinking, "Wow. So, that sucked." Also falling into this category and around the same time period: Hot to Trot and Nothing But Trouble.
- The Bear - I hate The Bear. I think it's the first movie I actively hated. Sure, Second Sight sucked and all, but I didn't mind watching it. Looking back on it, I can see why I hated the movie. It kind of symbolizes certain movie attributes that I can't stand: arty, pretentious, glacially paced, extraneous shots of nature... As you can probably tell, I'm not a Terrence Malick fan.
- A Few Good Men - my first R-rated movie in the theater. I remember doing the research on it, and making the pitch to my parents: "Mom, Dad - it just has language. That's the only reason it's rated R. I've heard all those words before." A Few Good Men broke the seal, and officially made me an adult moviegoer at the wee age of 13. This was quickly followed by seeing the R-rated Cliffhanger in theaters with my Dad, and I haven't looked back since. I don't think it's due to the R-rating, but A Few Good Men remains one of my all-time Top 5 faves.
- Jurassic Park - Pure fandom. I think I saw an advance screening of Jurassic Park the day before it came out. Back in '93, there was no Internet, no spoilers, nothing. I was floored after seeing it. I would go on to see it another 5-6 times in the theater. I went back and read the book. Twice. I bought the t-shirts. The hats. Hell, all the merchandise. We went to Universal Studios in Orlando that summer and it was like Jurassic Park-nirvana there. My first real, uncontrollable geek-gasm. I would have many more. Just ask Julie about all the Tron: Legacy shit in our house, on my son, and in my office.
- Pulp Fiction - Pulp Fiction opened my eyes to things I'd never even seen or considered seeing in a movie. The dialogue, the style, the music, the hard R-rated subject matter, the narrative jumps in time. There was so much to analyze here, and Quentin Tarantino, who taught himself the art of film while working at a video store, created a new student in me. And man, Pulp Fiction made me thirsty for knowledge. I still think it's the objectively best, most influential movie of the past 3 decades. Pulp Fiction was an endless conversation piece for me and my friends. Also right up there with it: David Fincher's Seven, released just a year later.
- Crash - the first movie I ever walked out of. No, not the Best Picture Oscar winner from 2005, but David Cronenberg's dark, kinky, fetishistic drama from '96 about people who get off by getting in car crashes. I felt so dirty watching it that I had to go see Liar Liar again to wash the bad taste out of my mouth. This is now the barometer for leaving a theater mid-movie for me, something I rarely do.
- The Matrix - I will never forget my first time seeing The Matrix. It taught me a very important lesson, one I've often failed to remember: go in with no preconceived expectations and just let the movie do its thing. I expected nothing from The Matrix. It came out in April of '99 - typically, a cinema dead zone - and starred Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishbourne, of all people. It looked vaguely reminiscent of Dark City. And yet, as we all now know, it freakin' ruled! The climatic action sequence was a magical moment for me. I just couldn't believe it. Where did this movie come from? Why is it so amazing? And why didn't it have any buzz? 4 years later, everybody walked in to Reloaded and Revolutions with huge expectations and left disappointed.
- Magnolia - I didn't care too much for Magnolia when I saw it in the theater. Too long. Too abstract (raining frogs? Really?). Did I mention it's length already? But then I bought the soundtrack. I watched it again on DVD. And then again. And again. And I grew to love it. Magnolia is one of my top 5 favorites now. Tom Cruise is brilliant. The lesson here? Some movies demand to be seen more than once. The same holds true for another P.T. Anderson movie, There Will Be Blood. It's this theory that will get me to check out Bridesmaids and Hanna again, movies that underwhelmed the first time, but that I think I would like.
- Mulholland Drive - Then there's Mulholland Drive. David Lynch drew rave reviews for this confusing hodgepodge of dark, twisted Hollywood melodrama. I just didn't get it. Hated it in the theater. Hated it on DVD. People continue to try and defend it. I'm not buying. Sometimes, the critics can be wrong. Dead wrong.
- JFK - I didn't see JFK until 10 years after its release, watching it at home alone on my bean bag chair in the middle of a work day. The movie is 3 hours long, and I was watching it on a rinky-dink 17 inch television, but I was utterly transfixed by it. Say what you will about its politics or conspiracy theories, but the filmmaking itself was stellar. I applauded after it was over. Literally, applauded. All by myself. A good movie is a good movie, no matter where you see it: big screen, TV, iPod, computer, etc.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Or...how I had my heart broken. I could have used some of that Matrix lesson here - no preconceived expectations!!!! Too late. I had been reading about Indy 4 for ten years. All of the various scripts that were commissioned and then thrown away. The rewrites. Early casting. Plot leaks. I followed it all. I was wholly invested in Indy 4 being a good movie. Spielberg had matured as a filmmaker, and I was interested in seeing his take on the Indy franchise at this stage in his career. I trusted him completely. And I have never been more let down. This one really did break my heart, and made me question my allegiance to Spielberg - one of my idols. Even the most promising movies can still suck. Nobody is infallible - not even you, J.J. Abrams (cough - Gone Fishin' - cough).
So, those are mine. What are yours? Comment and let us know!