Watching Movies is a collection of interviews featuring famous film personalities watching their favorite movie and talking about why it’s important to them. It’s a simple idea, but the result is often surprising and occasionally shocking. For instance, Kevin Smith’s favorite film is A Man For All Seasons, a movie about Thomas More, while Woody Allen’s favorite is the western Shane. Other surprises include Quentin Tarantino choosing a Roy Rogers film and Michael Bay picking West Side Story. The mind boggles.
Of course, I’m not one to talk; my own favorite film is The Matrix. Movies are one of those things where any choice is the correct choice, but seldom the same choice we ourselves would make. This makes the book a wonder. I’ve seen most of the films discussed and I still found many of them odd choices. Ron Howard picked The Graduate and talked about what a brilliant comedy it was. Uh, really? Sure there are one or two laughs to be had, but I would have put this sour little story of a college age loser more in the drama/tragedy department. I was shocked to discover that none other than Roger Ebert called it the best comedy of the year. Must have been a crappy year for comedy. But that’s the point of the series, to take a deeper look at a film you may have thought you knew, but really didn’t.
There are no bad films here. No one picked Plan 9 From Outer Space or Peter Jackson’s King Kong or Matrix Revolution as the film that changed their lives. But then, almost all the essays talk about The Glory Days of the 1970s and how Jaws and Star Wars sounded the death knell to real cinema by showing that a film can make a gazillion dollars and not be all that great. I tend to think of the 1970s as a movie wasteland filled with terrible movies that was rescued from its deathbed by Jaws and Star Wars.
The fun part of Watching Movies is seeing what movies people choose. John Travolta picked one of my own all time favorite films, Yankee Doodle Dandy staring James Cagney. Brilliant film on all fronts. Wolfgang Petersen picked the classic western High Noon. Brian Grazer picked a slightly different western, Blazing Saddles, which I saw when it came out and had slightly mixed feelings about. I was channel surfing not too long ago and found Blazing Saddles playing, but they bleeped ‘nigger’, which is kind of like bleeping ‘god’ from The Ten Commandments. Political Correctness strikes again.
One thing that was said over and over again, about films as diverse as Cool Hand Luke and A Man For All Seasons and Blazing Saddles, was that you couldn’t make this film today. The reason current movies suck is that there are too many people who want to piss in the pot. Too many lawyers that want the script to be worded a certain way. Too many Studios that want the perfect formula story. Too many writers that are more than happy to bang out scripts that meet these oddball standards. And sadly, too many movie goers that hand over a billion dollars to watch Avatar and its clones. But one person said the movie they loved couldn’t be made today because the Director who made it was dead. I like that.
Watching Movies reminds us that the great films are still around. That we don’t have to watch the latest CGI gorefest. And maybe if enough people continue to stay home and watch Dr Strangelove or The Shining or High Noon or All The Presidents Men, the Studios will start to make great films again. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll just keep looking for the next Avatar.
No one sets out to make bad films. Lucas was giddy as a child when he was promoting The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks, clearly he didn’t see what everyone else on earth saw. The Wachowskis’s gushed about how much money they had spent on the car chase in Matrix Reloaded, as if anyone gave a damn how much the car chase cost.
There are still good movies being made, but as always, very few great ones. The films talked about in Watching Movies are great ones.
Watching Movies: The Biggest Names in Cinema Talk about the Films that Matter Most was a fun read that made me stop and think once or twice and re-watch one or two films I hadn’t seen in a while.