Ten Plus One of my Favorite Films (Part 1)

I know, I know:  favorites lists are supposed to be of even numbers; eleven is odd.  Unfortunately, eleven films demanded to be on the list, not more, not less.  I suppose I could come up with a couple of dozen were I to give it sufficient thought, but this is how it is for now.  I realize that such a list is idiosyncratic; your list might not contain any of these films.  And I am not judging these films according to their inherent worth from a technical or critical point of view.  I am including them because they mean something to me personally, and they affected me in a personal way.

I love films, and I have loved them from an early age.  I used to watch many more than I have time to watch now, but even now I try to fit in one or two every weekend.  From the beginning, even before I knew I wanted to be a writer, as I watched I analyzed the plot and the characters and tried to imitate the style in my play.  For a time one of my brothers and I used to keep a notebook in which to rate each film that we watched with numbers of stars; back then we specialized in horror and science fiction films.  Later, as an adult out on the road, I always tried to catch a film now and then whenever I could.  As a result, I have watched movies in theaters in many countries:  Greece, of course, but also exotic places like Turkey, Iran, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other countries too numerous to name.

I am faced with the dilemma of in which order to present these films.  I can’t really do it in order of preference; I think I will present the early ones first, and then the more recent.

And so, without more ado or preamble, here is the list:

1.  “Doctor Zhivago”.  This was my first great film love.  It was enthralling from the moment the splendid musical overture filled the theater.  The cinematography, acting, sweeping epic story, directing, and so on were all first rate.  When it came out I saw it at least four times at the cinema, and then when it began to appear on TV I always made sure I watched it again – and again and again.  At the Academy Awards it won five Oscars but I was dumbfounded that it lost Best Picture.  Even now it’s hard to beat as a grand historical epic love story.

2.  “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.  This took over my primary affection (film-wise) when I was a teen.  I enjoyed the banter, the flippant disregard for danger, the comradery of the main characters, but also the perfect cadence of the script and the affinity of the actors and actress.  I watched this one nine times at the cinema and could have watched it more.  Several years ago I purchased a two-disc DVD, and I am still enthralled with this humorous, action-packed, one-of-a-kind western.

3.  “Star Wars“.  By this I mean the original Star Wars trilogy which includes “A New Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “The Return of the Jedi”.  I returned from India for a visit home in the late 70s and I must have been one of the few souls in the universe ignorant of the existence of Star Wars.  Or, if I had heard of it in passing, it didn’t register as anything significant.  So when my mother offered to take me to “A New Hope” I had no idea what I was in for.  I had a marvelous time.  I can’t describe how much fun it was; the film was adventurous and spectacular and full of great courage and honor.  It was one of my most memorable cinematic experiences, not only for the movie itself but for the companionship of my mother and appreciation for her insight in sensing that I would enjoy it.  At my next visit home from India, coincidentally, “The Empire Strikes Back” had just come out, and she took me to that one.  By that time her cancer was already diagnosed and she was undergoing treatment.  This was one of the last special activities we did together, and as such is precious in my memory.  As for the film itself, it was darker than the first, resplendent with alien imagery, and with that dynamic ending when Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father.  I had to wait until years later to watch “The Return of the Jedi”.  Someone got a hold of a pirate copy in Bangladesh but the sound and picture both were so bad that it was unwatchable.  I don’t think I saw a decent DVD of it until a year or two after my family and I had moved to Greece.  Anyway, I greatly enjoyed “The Return of the Jedi” as well, with its extreme alien grotesqueries and its ending with complex battles on many fronts and the ultimate defeat of the evil emperor.  A terrific iconic trilogy.

4.  “Gandhi”.  I first saw “Gandhi” while I was living in India, and it resonated with me not only for its accuracy in depicting the Indian experience, but for the obvious love and care the filmmaker (Richard Attenborough) had invested in the project.  Personally I feel that Gandhi is idealized in the film, but that doesn’t detract from the ambition and scope of the project, and the fact that it is still one of the best historical films ever made.  Every little detail is fascinating to me, having lived so long in the Indian experience myself, but more than that:  though I don’t agree with all that Gandhi believed in or espoused, I respect him as a man of integrity with the courage to stand up for his convictions and try to change the world, or at least his part of the world.

5.  “Parenthood”.  My wife and I agree on this one:  it’s our all time favorite comedy.  Some might find some of the situations exaggerated, but as the parents of five sons we have been through situations that have been at least as or even more extreme.  Whenever we are getting weary in well-doing as parents we tell each other that it’s time to watch “Parenthood” again; it always gives us a boost.  Because as traumatic as it gets, in the end the film still extols the fulfillment and value of being a parent.  We watch it at least once a year; sometimes more.  I recommend this one to any parent who sometimes wonders if it’s worth it all.  Take it from me, it is.

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