There are movies and then there are films. The former is the kind of throwaway experience that fills rainy afternoons; the latter is a treasure we revisit time and again. Whether they make us laugh, sigh, or even long for a certain seductive usherette, the truly great films live on in our lives long after the credits roll. We asked five of Westchester’s most knowledgeable cineastes to name their own all-time favorites.
Art on Screen
By Marshall Fine
Whenever I’m asked for the name of my favorite film, I say Chinatown because I still think, after 30-plus years and numerous viewings, that it’s a perfect film, one of complexity, astonishing performances, and gut-wrenching emotion.
But I’m tired of answering that question, so I’ve decided to modify this particular assignment and name my favorite film of the past decade. That would be Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lee is a poet of longing, a cinematic artist who loads each frame with repressed feelings that reach out of the screen and grab you by the heart. Anyone who saw his Brokeback Mountain knows that to be true. And it’s also the case with this astonishing film, which blends amazing action sequences with unspoken feelings and a complex story that mixes magic, realism, fable, and fairy tale. The performances of Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat are achingly good and physically outstanding. It’s a movie that never fails both to thrill me and to bring me to tears at every viewing.
Marshall Fine is film/TV critic for Star magazine and the author of Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented American Independent Film.
Kinski’s Divine Madness
By Steve Apkon
It is so hard to choose a favorite film, because so much depends on when you catch me, but today, I would have to say Aguirre: the Wrath of God. This 1972 masterpiece by Werner Herzog represents the best of moviemaking in that it creates a document of a 16th-century Spanish expedition in South America that feels completely authentic. From the opening sequence, in which the expedition winds its way downward through the mountains of Peru toward the Amazon River, to the great Klaus Kinski’s ultimate madness, Aguirre mines the depths of human emotions and actions in a devastating way. Herzog is an extraordinary filmmaker, with a real understanding of the most extreme characters—and none are more extreme than those in his films with Kinski. Along those lines, Kinski’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) is another one not to miss!
Steve Apkon is the founder and executive director of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.
Cary, Kate, and Baby
By John Farr
My favorite flick? It has to be a comedy, since I believe great comedy is rarer than great drama. I also think picking a favorite movie should go beyond present judgment to include warm, early memories of first seeing it, then seeing it again.
So my all-time favorite has to be Howard Hawks’s quintessential screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby (1938), a wacky romp combining urbane characters and settings with relentless doses of slapstick and lightning-fast dialogue.
Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) leads a studious life and is engaged to a proper, like-minded young woman. Then, by chance, he runs into daffy heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who’s immediately smitten with the handsome, bespectacled scientist. Used to getting what she wants, Susan simply won’t let David go. Before long, Huxley’s life gets turned upside down, as Susan kidnaps him to her starchy aunt’s Connecticut estate, along with her explorer brother’s recently arrived present, a tame leopard called Baby. The comic mayhem escalates from there.
Grant and Hepburn are both in rare form, with Grant wholly convincing as the nerdy, befuddled victim, and Kate on fire as a flaky but determined lass who’s finally found true love. Dated touches and all, Baby remains a rare gem, shining through all those formulaic, low-brow vehicles that pass for comedy today.
John Farr is the founder and editor of www.best moviesbyfarr.com, which helps people find movies on DVD. He is also the co-founder of Stamford’s Avon Theatre and a regular film columnist for the Stamford Advocate.
Thrills and Chills
By Lea Emery
I like movies that start out in an unassuming way. Opening credits. Music. It all rolls along. You imagine that you’re about to watch a “regular” movie with “regular” characters. But then, slowly, you realize you’re not. You’re on an odyssey you hadn’t counted on, and it’s thrilling and terrifying and throat-clutching. Think about the experience of watching Hitchcock movies like Rear Window and Vertigo. It is impossible for me to single out one, definitive, all-time favorite film, but among my favorites are Scorsese’s After Hours, the Coen brothers’ Fargo, and David Fincher’s The Game.
Lea Emery is the newly appointed Executive Director of The Picture House in Pelham.
The Flick I Never Saw—and Love So Much
By Harlan Jacobson
Countless times, I have been asked, “As a film critic, what is your favorite film?” I usually answer with the following story:
It was probably late March in ’63 in Toledo, Ohio. It was a Saturday morning. The day was raw, and I was 14. My mother was going downtown to shop in a department store that looked like a tombstone. She insisted on taking me, so I negotiated my going to see How the West Was Won at the nearby Loews Valentine, a dying movie palace in a dying city, while she attempted the impossible—to find something worth buying in a place called Tiedtke’s.
Now, 1963 was a pretty good year, judging by the Oscar nominees in various categories: Tom Jones (which cleaned up), Hud, 8 1/2, The Leopard, The Birds, Irma La Douce, The Cardinal, America America, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, even Cleopatra—which I recently saw again on TCM, before which I had forgotten how jaw-dropping a film could be.
The troubled How the West Was Won had four legendary directors—John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and the uncredited Richard Thorpe—along with an omnibus roundup of talent put together by MGM in its death rattle. The cast included Karl Malden as Zebulon Prescott, schlepping the family across all the major points of Manifest Destiny, plus Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, plus a host of other stars.
Being a kid entering a completely empty theater, I set off for the third balcony, where I came upon an usherette, wearing a little gray uniform with white piping, a pillbox hat, white high heels and hot-pink lipstick, so hot it frosted to white in the middle.
“May I show you to a seat?” she purred, in short little Marilyn breaths, punctuated by cracking gum. And she took my hand, without waiting for an answer, and led me into the third balcony. Nobody had been here since Shane. Then she conducted a brief biographical inquiry in case, I guess, she needed a legal defense. Where’d I go to school? What year? Did I know three football players? I didn’t think eighth grade would cut it, so I said 11th (good move) at a rival school, and the football players were my buddies until I switched to basketball. A complete tissue of lies.
End result: I never saw the movie. I got the gum. And that was How the West Was Won. And that’s why it’s my favorite movie.
And, by the way, I am incapable of turning off It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World whenever I stumble into it on TCM. So maybe it’s my favorite.
Harlan Jacobson, who can be heard reviewing films every Friday morning on WFUV, hosts Talk Cinema sneak preview-and-discussion series (www.talkcinema.com) at the Performing Arts Center in Purchase.