“Cars. You know, the Pixar film?”
So began a conversation over lunch with friends that has been had a million times before. “What’s your favourite film?” asked one of the participants, of my good lady wife. While her answer is both unexpected and unusual, and it bests mine in at least one area: It exists.
It’s a question so often asked, and one so often pondered, yet I don’t even have a ‘safe’ answer, should my wife and I wind up on a game show in which we’re challenged upon how well we know one another. When attempting to answer the question I’m met with a labyrinth of caveats. Pierrot Le Fou was the go-to answer for a long time, but there are all manner of alternative answers these days.
There’s a certain provocation that comes in ultimates. The stating of anything as “Best X ever” will always wind someone up, be it in naming Pickpocket the best movie ever made, or referring to Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds as the best blockbuster of all time. That’s not to say that one should shy away from such honest declaration, but that to do so lightly can see a situation backfire quite easily.
In Tweet-form a few weeks back I suggested that “There’s a difference between blanket hyperbole and sincere passion”. It becomes noise, and a never ending game of one-upmanship. Things like the IMDB, Letterboxd and Twitter have turned watching movies in to a competition, with a peculiar kind of “gotta catch ’em all” sense of panic-induced binge-watching taking hold, enabled by unlimited streaming options such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video (formerly Lovefilm) and turning the act of viewing movies in to an infinitely-lasting box-ticking exercise. I’ve always viewed such a tactic as particularly impractical for achieving what it is that I’m trying to with cinema. Any real sense of context is all but entirely removed. The blending of one movie in to another, mainlined in a never-ending shift of film after film actually goes against my nature (but what do I know, it was Truffaut after all that said that any day in which 3 films were consumed stood as a good one).
In the land of the online discussion platform one’s “favourite working director” shifts several times a week, depending on who’s posing the question and/or reading the answer, while best-of lists are posthumously adjusted to imply a long-held appreciation. This fleeting, malleable form of film criticism is a by-product of the medium of the internet, with the world and his dog an instant expert in any subject imaginable and shortcomings seen as an embarrassing blip akin to a missing piece of data from the all-engrossing font of knowledge.
This Editorial has spiralled in to something that reads as quite cynical, which wasn’t the intention. In fact, it’s sealed my theory that such talk of favourites and “Best. Film. Ever.” can only end badly. This has been a week dominated by two debates, one concerned with the term “overrated” and the other with the concept of “guilty pleasures”, and I originally anticipated that this piece would be something of a light-hearted antidote to the highly-fraught nature of those discussions. In a way though I guess this stands as the ideal snow-globe piece of paraphernalia of the modern age of film culture, with best intentions soon thrown by the wayside in favour of a loud, confused rant that takes full advantage of the form of the online space, if not advantage of the opportunity.
Adam Batty – Editor