After reading Ebert's wonderful essay on his favorite movie, I had to ask myself: What is my favorite movie? I don't know, for several reasons:
If I told you what my favorite movie was right now, I'd probably be obliged to give you a different answer in five years, because I wouldn't be the same person in five years.
I have different criteria for what movies I like vs. what movies I would recommend to others. This isn't an attempt to mislead — just an acknowledgement that I need to balance my own tastes against what I feel are things that are best for a movie in general.
But that doesn't mean I can't try, and to that end, here's a quick rundown, right now, of some that I love the most. They are the movies I can put in every day of the week and feel excited about, that if I'm channel-surfing and I come across one of them I'll stop right there and watch them through, even if I came in somewhere in the middle.
In no particular order, here are the first five. I'll post more in the days to come. Click the star for my review.
*The Seven Samurai.Yes, but for all the little touches as well as the great big ones: the way the eldest samurai has his head shaved before he does battle with the criminal in hiding (and rubs the close-cropped head throughout the film); the moment where the villager recognizes his wife has shacked up with the bandits; the amazing Toshirō Mifune monologue where he berates the other samurai for the villagers' plights; and endlessly on. I don't think I've seen the movie without discovering something new in it or having something new about it pointed out to me. (And look fast for Tatsuya Nakadai in a walk-by shot!)
*Blade Runner.No other film before or since seemed better at being about the future, in the future and of the future — certainly not all of those things at once. Even my first viewing of it, crammed onto a tiny 14" TV screen, was an eye-opener, and watching the recent 5-disc ultimate restoration was like finally being able to enter and claim a castle you always knew was yours but couldn't find on the map. It is one of the few films I have owned in just about every video format I had access to, and probably always will.
*Oldboy. Hitchcock would have been damned proud of this gloriously black-hearted thriller, where human emotions are just so much silicone putty to be shaped and squeezed in the fists of the gods. It's one of the best examples I know for how the movies are essentially empathy machines: the film works because we are put through the same wringers as the hero. And the "side-scrolling" corridor fight scene is already the stuff of legend, but anyone with access to YouTube knows that already.
*Gojoe. A criminally-underrated samurai movie, not just for its phenomenal imagery but its remarkable use of Buddhist moral and eschatological conceits on top of a twisted retelling of one of Japan's most shopworn warrior legends. Fans of Tadanobu Asano who are just coming off Mongol, for instance, will want to loop back and check this one out.
*Spirited Away. Picking only one Miyazaki movie is like picking only one of Shakespeare's plays: of the ones that are good, they're all so good that narrowing it down to a single choice feels criminal. This one is at the same time the most accessible and fanciful, starting on a very concrete note (little girl at odds with her parents in a new neighborhood) and mutating by degrees into something so grand and wild with imagination that the corners of the frame can barely contain it.