The first time I was hired to write a screenplay in Hollywood I almost blew the gig.
The meeting had gone great, I’d shaken hands with the producer, it was all smiles, and I was on my way out the door when he asked, just in passing, what my favorite movie was.
Without a blink I told him: Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. This French, nearly silent black and white comedy is not that unknown. But here’s the really scary part:
I wasn’t kidding.
Well, this is not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear when you are making a "teen empowerment" comedy and I saw it in the producer’s eyes -- a sick-at-the-gut sensation that he just made a terrible, terrible mistake.
I had not said it to impress him with my eclectic taste. I love Tati. Love Mr. Hulot. Still do. But there you have it. Clearly the correct answer in that situation
is: The Breakfast Club. And if I had a time machine, that’s exactly what I’d say the next time. But it does pose a good question. What do your favorite movies tell about you? And, if a lot, then what are you willing to admit to?
It’s a tough call. Naming your favorite movies is a popular question asked of celebrities, a great ice breaker at parties, and the idea of being cast away on some desert island with only your five or ten favorites is one of those eternally intriguing aesthetic dilemmas. If you’re asking me theoretically, I have one list. But if you’re asking me practically, when it comes to desert islands, I think I’d simply take the five or ten longest epics I could find.
What do we mean by "favorite" anyway?
Are these the ones you want to tell people about so as to give them an x-ray of you? Or is it the guilty pleasures only you appreciate when left to your own DVD devices?
My test for the latter definition of my favorite films are the ones that, when I accidentally tune into them on cable, I can’t tune away from. Usually, because I love "the words" of a movie, the phrases, and the way certain lines roll off actors’ tongues this is what keeps me hooked, like:
All the President’s Men
Lolita (the James Mason version)
These are films I can’t stop watching and still see, like some A.D.D. basket case who likes to be read a bedtime story over and over again, no matter how many times I’ve heard it: "Colonel Bat Guano. If that’s your real name..."
And then there are the guilty pleasures, bad movies, popular releases or purely silly ones, that for some reason -- a memorable hangover, a sad breakup, being twelve and having the flu -- once gave comfort, and oddly, still do:
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (starring Don Knotts)
7th Voyage of Sinbad (Ray Harryhausen in full
Monsieur Beaucaire (starring Bob Hope)
The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis)
Nowhere is the topic of one’s favorite movies more crucial than in the wooing of women. And here I’ve met with results, across the board, as disastrous as the Tati thing.
See, my problem, or one that I had for a long time, was using the in-home movie date as a test. I love Preston Sturges for instance, I also love screwball comedies like The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. So, what better opportunity to see if your date is in sync than to run these black and white classics and find out if she agrees? Well, I hate to tell you, but what happens is almost worse than anything you can imagine when you start this experiment.
One time, for instance, I decided to show my blonde date The Palm Beach Story, perhaps my favorite Sturges comedy. Love this thing. Love the Ale & Quail Club and William Demerest. Love Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea. And Rudy Vallee as John D. Hackensacker III -- hilarious. On top of being funny, it’s sexy. So there you are twenty minutes in and your blonde date turns to you and says: "I don’t get it."
The date’s not only over, but so is your life.
And maybe it’s you who didn’t pass the test?
So the next time you try to anticipate this. How about something a little more modern -- I’m sensing some resistance in the black and white arena. And I understand; my taste is weird. I get that. So how can anyone go wrong with Vertigo? It’s Hitchcock for Christ’s sake, it’s Jimmy Stewart, it’s Kim Novak, the sexiest woman in movies. So you try that one.
"It’s the same girl," says your new date who’s never seen this movie before but has seen every episode of CSI and is way ahead of both Jimmy Stewart and Hitchcock. And you.
I keep getting older and the girls -- and the producers -- keep getting younger. And nowadays I just ask them what their favorite movies are and keep my own picks to myself.
"I really like The Rock," says my latest girlfriend. "Especially his early work."
And I just sigh.
Was that The Rock’s early work before he won the Palme D’or?
Somewhere Jacques Tati is crying.
And trust me, he looks really funny doing it.