Posted by gregferrara on March 12, 2014
In the comments of my last post, the 1964 comedy Father Goose came up in the conversation. Directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Cary Grant and Leslie Caron, I responded that it was a favorite of mine. That got me to thinking about my favorite Cary Grant movie and my favorite Leslie Caron movie. This wouldn’t be my favorite Grant movie but it would be my favorite Caron (yes, even over An American in Paris which I like but I’m not crazy about it). My favorite Cary Grant movie would be Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House followed closely by Gunga Din. With both of these actors, I feel I’m expected to have different favorite movies for them than I do (for Grant, I feel like I am expected to list North by Northwest or Notorious as my favorite but, sorry, they aren’t, though I love them both, and for Caron, I feel like it is expected to be the aforementioned An American in Paris, but, sorry again). We often pigeonhole ourselves into what we should like best from any given director or actor and when we don’t we feel like we’re liking the wrong movie.
One of the biggest standouts for me is Francis Ford Coppola. My favorite of his, which I’ve written up here just in the last few months, is Tucker: The Man and His Dream. I feel like it should be one of the Godfather movies or Apocalypse Now but, honestly, those don’t even come in second. That position goes to One from the Heart, his vastly underrated, to my mind, epic romance from 1982. And The Conversation is a movie I have a ton of respect for but it ranks so far down my list of favorite Coppola movies I sometimes forget the damn thing was directed by him.
Then there’s Martin Scorsese. This one I’ve talked about (on Facebook, at least) many times before so to certain people who know me, it should come as no surprise. I think Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and goodfellas are Scorsese’s top three movies but my favorite, by far, is King of Comedy, which is, to me, a small wonder of a movie, observing a loner in a manner so disturbing it makes me cringe every time I see it. When I see Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in his apartment in Taxi Driver while I hear his crazy diary entries on the soundtrack, I think, wow, this guy’s nuts. When I see Rupert Pupkin (De Niro again) recording himself in his basement like he’s on a talk show or showing up at Jerry Langford’s (Jerry Lewis) house like he’s a guest, I feel uneasy and embarrassed. I feel awkward and anxious. Who knows, maybe I actually think this is Scorsese’s best movie but I’m not ready to admit it to myself. Whatever the case, it’s definitely my favorite.
With actors, it’s even worse. I feel like a worthy cinephile’s favorite Bette Davis movie should be All About Eve because, hell, it’s got everything that makes Davis Davis, right? But I’m afraid I’m a much bigger fan of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane than that movie probably deserves. I love Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the ghastly gothic horror of Bette Davis’ appearance in that movie draws me into the movie in a way I can’t describe.
Joan Crawford? Mildred Pierce would be the expected title. Or maybe Humoresque? Daisy Kenyon? But it definitely shouldn’t be Strange Cargo, should it? And yet it is. And I didn’t even mention Straight Jacket, which ranks near the top for me as well.
Marlon Brando? Should be On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, or The Godfather. It should not be, under any circumstances Reflections in a Golden Eye. Absolutely not. Um… moving on.
How about Kirk Douglas and Fredric March? Why did I lump the two together? Because they’re both in Seven Days in May, one of my favorite movies ever and, therefore, my favorite Douglas and March movies, instead of, say, The Bad and the Beautiful or The Best Years of Our Lives, respectively. Why not Burt Lancaster, too? Because Atlantic City is my favorite Lancaster, that’s why.
Other actors and directors I’m not really sure what should be the favorite. I know Planet of the Apes is my favorite Charlton Heston movie by a long shot, followed by The Omega Man, and Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments are way down the line, somewhere after The Naked Jungle. Touch of Evil is the greatest movie Heston ever made but not as much a favorite as those other two, even if it’s clearly better.
But I worry that such a listing will be misinterpreted. I can see it now, people describing this as “guilty pleasures.” It is NOT guilty pleasures! (sorry for the emphasis there but I wanted to make sure it was understood). I find all of my favorite movies to range from very good to excellent, they’re just not the expected favorites. It’s also not an all-inclusive list, as many an actor and director I’m not listing here are not listed precisely because my favorite movie of their’s is exactly what you’d expect. For instance, Jimmy Stewart favorites are It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo. Vivien Leigh is Gone with the Wind. Rosalind Russell is His Girl Friday. Gene Kelly is Singin’ in the Rain. Jean Arthur is Only Angels have Wings. Norma Shearer is The Women. Christopher Lee is Horror of Dracula. Peter Cushing is Curse of Frankenstein and Brides of Dracula. Maggie Smith is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Clark Gable is Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night. Claudette Colbert, too. And on it goes.
It’s just that sometimes, the movies we like best from an actor or director aren’t their most celebrated movies. With Dustin Hoffman, for me, it’s Marathon Man. But when I say that, even though I think it’s a terrific thriller, I feel like I’m in trouble because I didn’t say The Graduate or Midnight Cowboy or Kramer vs. Kramer or Tootsie. And it’s not just a personal favorite, I think it’s some of Hoffman’s best work as an actor. But it’s not what I’m expected to say so it feels wrong even though it shouldn’t. The idea of an actor or director’s greatest success automatically becoming the movie we should all put at the top of our lists feels like herding to me. And that’s fine, I agree with the herd a lot of the time but it doesn’t mean we should feel bad when we veer off the path. Standing our ground on personal choices should always be a favorite activity, no apologies necessary.
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