Making lists is very satisfying. Organizing things into a pile and ranking them based on their relative value sends a rush of dopamine toward wherever dopamine goes (I am not a scientist) and helps of make sense of the chaos of the universe. It forces us to decide exactly what a particular item means to us using a very personal system of qualitative judgment. And no matter how much education we’ve had in a field, that system always comes down to our particular taste. My Top Five Movies, for example, aren’t my choices for the best movies of all time. Only The Pope of Film is qualified to make that list. Mine is subjective. They’re the films that have soaked into my bones and come to define me as a human being. I’ve got the first four down: Jaws, Back to the Future, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Princess Bride are my Top Four, for sure. But since Western society is built on base ten — making “top four” sounds absolutely ridiculous — I need your help selecting #5. And bear in mind that while films like Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, and Die Hard are incredibly important to nearly every thirty-something white male cinephile, they don’t necessarily feel unique enough to me to put on this list. With that in mind, I present these candidates for my official Number Five:
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, Dir. James Cameron)
big screen last week was the impetus for this column. For a long time, this was my all-time favorite. It was the first film I ever owned on VHS and the first indication that my parents trusted me way too much when it came to making my own decisions about appropriate viewing. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I saw it before I saw The Terminator or that I’ll always prefer it to that (probably superior) film. What I love most about T2 is that it keeps growing with me — as a seven year-old, I loved the cool action and special effects. As an adolescent, I found solace in John Connor’s anger with the world and his search for a father figure. As an angsty teenager who read Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson, I championed its bleak deconstruction of the human condition. Now, as a father and teacher, I find it to be a defiantly hopeful film about humanity's eternal potential for good. Furthermore, the sound design is etched into my brain: I hear Arnie’s grenade launcher’s thunk and the T-1000’s insect-like screams in my sleep, and Brad Fiedel’s iconic score will haunt me as long as I live.
2. That Thing You Do! (1996, Dir. Tom Hanks)
3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)
On the other hand, my memories of Clue are all about me and my best friends cackling at the top of our lungs at Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, and the rest its brilliant ensemble cast. I loved seeing Doc Brown play a scumbag. I loved trying to catch the little variations in behavior that led to the multiple endings. I loved the way Clue flowed, the way its staging and dialogue gets more and more frenzied as it builds to Wadsworth’s tour-de-force final exposition. The screenplay (by Lynn and John Landis) is like a Jenga tower built to rise and fall in infinite variations forever. It’s just brilliant. I once even designed a house in The Sims based on the mansion from Clue, complete with hidden hallways and trap doors. You know what? I’m beginning to see why my grandmother hated me. Anyway. Moving on.
5. Apollo 13 (1995, Dir. Ron Howard)
So, what do we think? Any thoughts about any of these? Any alternatives? Which one did I make the best argument for? My life is in your hands!