I just thumbed through Empire magazine’s latest issue – a list of the 300 greatest movies! I was just scanning it to count how many of the film’s I had seen, and I came up with what I felt was a pretty respectable number: 158. That means there’s a lot I’ve seen, although there is a fair amount I’ve missed. Of course, not surprisingly, the list–apparently a reader poll–didn’t perfectly reflect my own well-considered opinions on the high points of cinema. But then how could it? I mean this is a list that includes Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Skyfall?
Really, Skyfall? I mean, I liked Skyfall, but we honestly couldn’t come up 299 films that were better than Skyfall?
But really…what can I say? I mean, I’ve actually seen all the movies I’ve mentioned, and even been basically positive on this blog about them, even though there are probably lots of others that are lots better that I’ve never given the time for. For surely, no matter how high-brow I’d like to be, I can’t avoid the fact that popular appeal will have some impact on my “favorite films” lists, even if it’s just that I am more likely to have seen it.
And when I look over my personal list of favorite films (never formally codified), there are a bunch of project that, if I’m honest, I know are not all that good. But they are favorites of mine, for whatever reason. Maybe they just showed me something that I’ve never seen before, or that I was seeing for the first time. Maybe it had to do with whatever was going on in my life at the time that I first encountered it. But it’s like these movies get a bit of a “free pass” onto my list of favorites, no matter how good more recent projects might be, it’s like something is going to have give way to allow these particular projects a place of honor.
So, five movies that may always be considered part of my all-time favorites, even though I know they aren’t actually all that good.
Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
This was Jackie Chan’s breakthrough Hollywood performance, and the first one time I really encountered the comic martial arts athlete. The movie is supposed to take place in New York, obviously, but a less convincing New York I have rarely seen.
And rarely a more flimsy plot I have viewed as well: Jackie Chan plays a guy who visits New York and earns the ire of a local hooligans by fighting them off when they cause trouble at his sister’s grocery store. The next day, he’s walking around when he bumps into them again. “Hey, there’s that guy!” they yell, and then chase him into a spectacular action set piece highlighting all of Jackie Chan’s athletic prowess. Eventually, they kind of beat him up, but he gets away. And then the next day, he’s walking around and he bumps into them again. “Hey!” they yell again, “it’s that guy!” and then chase him again into an even more spectacular action set piece highlighting Jackie Chan’s athletic prowess. And then, the next day…
And on and on. Eventually some gangsters show up forcing Jackie Chan and the hooligans to team up and steal a hovercraft.
It’s an embarrassing story with just about no characterization, but still somehow a lot of fun because of just how spectacular those action set pieces really are. As someone unfamiliar (at the time) with Jackie Chan and his talents, the movie was a bit of a revelation
OK, I know that in real life, Tron isn’t all that great of a film. It has a lot of simplistic and hokey dialogue, and it’s pretty choppy in its editing. Yet, somehow, I still have a sense of delight and wonder when I think back to the 1985 film about someone entering a pre-internet computer system and finding a living culture in there. Maybe it was the strength of having Jeff Bridges leading the fun cast in what turned out to be a bit of an iconic role as Kevin Flynn. Maybe it was David Warner’s dignified but snarky villainy. Maybe it was the religious imagery of persecuted believers suffering under an atheistic system that appealed to me. Maybe it was the electronic score and the wildly inventive sense of design. Whatever the case, there was something about this film with all of its faults that has just stuck with me ever since.
It thrilled me no end when Tron re-entered the mainstream consciousness for a short while with its high-budget sequel a few years ago, even if I was a bit disappointed by the results. And it got my juices flowing when I heard that Tron 3 was going ahead a while ago, just as much as I was disappointed when that turned out to not be the case after all. I enjoy a lot of science fiction / superhero media, but I’d happily trade in the next couple of Star Wars installments if it meant I could see a bit more Tron. I know, color me crazy.
The Muppet Movie (1979)
I’ve written about this one before as well, at least referring to it when The Muppets came out. I’ve seen this film recently and a lot of the cracks in the magic of the Muppets that grabbed me so much when I was a kid are definitely showing. But still, I’d count this film as one of my favorites, rating higher with me than any subsequent film featuring Jim Henson’s puppet characters (though maybe not as highly as the original Muppet Show.) The humor found within pushed my little child’s understanding of how you could make things funny, with its use of big gags mixed with sardonic wit. And it had some pretty impressive Muppet effects (Kermit riding a bicycle). And some nifty songs. And I think it might have been the first time I saw a film that was as meta / fourth wall breaking as this one was (at one point they figure things out by reading the film’s screenplay).
David and Lisa (1962)
Huh? What’s David & Lisa, I hear most people who have kept reading this far wondering. Well, it’s a film from 1962 that is based on a play about two young people who meet each other in a mental institution, and find something akin to friendship and love with each other. It’s a small effort with some dated elements, but earnestly performed by Kier Dullea (the main guy from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and Janet Margolin. Dullea’s David, who is pathologically terrified of being touched, is especially impressive.
A Christmas Story (1983)
If you’re not American and about my age, the intense love that exists in some circles for A Christmas Story may leave you baffled. I’ve discovered this in my conversations and circles. And I can see why: the movie is a bit less sophisticated than I remember, and the humor in it can be interpreted as broad and hokey as much is it can be seen as inspired and clever. Yet I will always remember it with great fondness, sort of like The Muppet Movie above. This was a film that made me laugh at things that it never occurred to me to laugh at before, like the Old Man’s ignorant delight at his “major award” or the kid’s nightmarish visit to Santa Claus. But it also made me cry a little at the honestly of young Ralphie’s emotional meltdown in the face of being bullied.
And so, like the other film’s on this list, it gets a bit of a free pass into my list of favorites.
That’s the list! Surely there are probably others, including those that I don’t recognize as not actually being all that good, that other people would mock and laugh at and deride. I was tempted to mention Summer Time Machine Blues – but no, I’m still convinced that was one is truly great. But what are your examples–the movies that you consider to be amongst your favorite, but really, deep down, you know are not actually all that good?