Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Know Who I Am Through My Seven Favorite Movies

My seven all-time favorite movies, as ranked, are:

1) Mary Poppins
2) The Remains of the Day
3) The Jungle Book (1967)
4) The Swimmer (1968)
5) The Fabulous Baker Boys
6) 84 Charing Cross Road
7) My Blueberry Nights

What's not on the list is as much indicative of who I am. The James Bond series is my Star Wars, but holds no place here, nor does Demolition Man, which I believe is a rather intelligent action movie (and also imparts the great pleasure of watching Wesley Snipes have a lot of fun in his psycho role), nor Tron: Legacy, which I love, love, love for its imaginative dystopian setting, the same reason I'm also a fan of Blade Runner.

Given a choice of movie, I don't lean toward action or violence. If violence serves the plot of a movie well, as it does with Tron: Legacy and the Bond series, as well as the Bourne movies, then I'm ok with it, but I'm not going to choose it all the time.

These seven movies have a lot in common with who I am. They take in their settings slowly and appreciatively, sometimes to haunting effect. Mary Poppins has the Banks house, Admiral Boom's roof with the time cannon, the park and the chalk pavement pictures which leads Mary, Bert and Jane and Michael into that world, Mr. Banks' bank, various streets of London, a view of the London skyline, the streets of London, and of course at the beginning of the movie, all of London when Mary Poppins is sitting on a cloud. The Remains of the Day has Darlington Hall and also where Stevens the butler (Anthony Hopkins) travels to in the Daimler, The Jungle Book has the jungle, The Swimmer has the neighborhood swimming pools that Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to use to swim home, The Fabulous Baker Boys has some of Seattle, and parts of Los Angeles made to look like parts of Seattle (The locations don't matter as much in this one, but the settings are so evocative, and I love the scene in which Jack, Frank and Susie take a road trip to their New Year's Eve gig), 84 Charing Cross Road has the bookshop and some of New York City in the late '40s on, and My Blueberry Nights sees Norah Jones in a relatively quieter part of New York City, then on to Tennessee, and then to Las Vegas.

I love exploring wherever I am. It's why my favorite memory of attending classes at College of the Canyons was every Friday afternoon at 3:50, after my cinema class was over, when the entire campus was empty because it was Friday. After walking around the second floor and some of the farther parts of the campus, including the Student Center to see if anyone was in the cafeteria, I walked out of the main campus and along the sidewalk, next to two of the parking lots, and at the one nearest to the large double digital signboards, there were people setting up for that weekend's car and RV show. Every Friday, I'd always see many cars parked there for show.

My list also boasts of many unique characters, Mary Poppins chief among them. Stevens the butler in The Remains of the Day sets aside his own hopes and desires to be the most upstanding butler he can be for Darlington Hall, and when he vaguely taps into those hopes and desires, it's far too late, because life has moved on without him, and he missed his chance years before, though didn't realize it until the trip he takes. Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book is one of my fictional heroes, because of how easygoing he is in his life. Ned Merrill in The Swimmer is unique in his pursuit, though it leads to dark, dark corners of his life. Jack Baker, one half of the Baker Boys piano duo, just goes through the motions of performance with his brother, while his real passion is playing jazz piano in a club. Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road is an out-and-out bibliophile, and naturally a writer, and her correspondence with Frank Doel of the Marks & Co. bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road is what makes her one of my heroes. She exudes pure love of books, and it shows in every single letter. And I still don't know what made Norah Jones take the role of Elizabeth in My Blueberry Nights, but it shows why she should find other movies in the same thoughtful vein. Elizabeth endures a painful one-sided breakup, and decides to travel, finding work as a waitress at a diner and a bar in Tennessee, and then as a cocktail waitress at a dumpy casino in Las Vegas. She's not the only most interesting character, though; Natalie Portman plays another, a poker player who believes in not trusting anyone, emotionally closed off from the rest of the world, but who finds a kind of kinship with Elizabeth.

Most important to me: These movies take time to tell their stories. Now, I usually prefer books over movies because I want to be completely enfolded in the stories told. I want to see what characters see, know what they know, and sometimes know what they know, only to learn that what they know is not actually true. I get the same feeling with these seven movies. Mary Poppins is 2 hours and 19 minutes, because any longer would be overdone and any shorter would be criminal because Walt Disney's London (filmed entirely on soundstages) is one that I love to explore. It's the same with The Fabulous Baker Boys. I never get tired of the gradually strained dynamic between Jack and Frank Baker because there's so much to explore within it, from appearances, to their piano-playing styles, to Jack's piano skills versus Frank's, to where they perform and where they live.

I don't take time in my writing, because if I did, this entry would be so many pages that you'd click off in frustration. That's what editing is for. But in my life, I love to take time to look around me, to look closely at small flowers in shopping center parking lots, to admire the community of birds and crows that swoop down after brunch and lunch at La Mesa Junior High to pick at whatever the kids have littered the grounds with. And that's while I'm looking at the school building directly across from the office, imagining myself in New Mexico, because that building feels like architecture that would be in New Mexico.

This list hasn't changed in three years and I doubt it will in the years to come. These movies fully represent who I am and how I live my life, and any movie to be added to that list would have to be what these movies are to me. Since I watch less movies than I used to, none of these are in danger of being upended.


  1. I read The Swimmer but never saw the movie and never heard of My Blueberry Nights. I thought Wizard of Oz was on your top list.?

    Janie, now on twitter

  2. I like The Wizard of Oz, but it's never been even two miles from my list.