Favourite 5 Films? Ever!? Decisions, Decisions!
I don’t usually post film reviews on the blog but I was recently asked what my favourite 5 films of all time were and I was simply stumped. I looked like this O_O By the time I finished putting my list together I thought this could almost qualify as fun so could be posted here and I’m very behind on updating the Fashion on Screen section (I do have a number of shows in mind for that, honestly!) But since it’s a tenuous link to that I’ll put this in the ‘General’ category in the menu.
Back to the question. Hmm whenever anyone asks me “what’s your favourite (insert item/subject)” I always go blank for a moment or two. “Favourite?” and “Umm” I think to myself. Am I really that passionate about something that it’s my favourite? Ok there are a few things I can give an answer to almost instantaneously but for most things no, I have to think about it. That’s not to say I dislike everything, it’s just that the things I’m most impressed by are things I generally can’t watch/listen to/read again or often, they may have been very emotive or powerful or well polished but that doesn’t mean I want to go through it again. I don’t have film genre or style preference either really; colour, Black & White, modern, old, sound, silent, talkies, foreign language, blockbuster, arty – if it’s a film that appeals to me then I’m not bothered about the type other than not being into superficial horror/romance/action, toilet humour/teeny, sexually gratuitous films or films that throw romance, sex and/or gore in for the sake of it unless it’s satire and somewhat slapstick/caper.
I had to write bits of this post throughout the week because it took that long to think about it, re-watch clips and narrow down the choices. There’s so many films that I thought about but didn’t quite make the cut like the interesting and emotive sci-fi Silent Running (1972), epic tragedies like Mother India (1957), thrillers like House on Telegraph Hill (1951), The 39 Steps (1935 and 1959 versions) or the elegant and moving I Remember Mama (1948) or the heart warming yet thought provoking Friendly Persuasion (1956). There’s films that I watched when I was really young and thought were fun/funny but then re-watched later and realized how adult they were and how many things there were that I’d previously failed to notice/understand such as ‘family friendly’ Grease (1978), Splash (1984), Indiana Jones and National Lampoon or the older aged rated but still overkill satire like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988). I still find those entertaining to varying degrees but couldn’t say they’re that high on my list anymore. Then there’s films that I watched many times as a kid but probably wouldn’t watch again as an adult such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the Sinbad films, Clash of the Titans (1981), She (1935) and Flight of the Navigator (1986). Or the memorable The Man in the White Suit (1951), Mr. Belvedere, Mary Poppins (1964), the remake Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Misery (1990), E.T (1982) and 3 Men and a Baby (1987). Or even films that I dismissed when I was younger but later appreciated how well they were made such as Ghost (1990). Who could forget animations/cgi/claymation? The Last Unicorn (1982), The Flight of the Dragons (1982), Watership Down (1978), The Water Babies (1978), The Snowman (1982), Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979) or the more modern The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and The Tree of Palme (2002)? All excellent films but they fall short for me – talk about having a tough time with this question!
I’ve definitely moved towards matinee and comedy viewing in my advancing age so when I think of the word ‘favourite’ I think of things that are close to the heart, something that I enjoyed or stirred the heart strings and liked without too many annoying factors and hopefully something that made me laugh. So that said even though I couldn’t think of anything right off the bat as my favourite 5 I did think of the films I’ve watched the most, be it over time or day after day, perhaps even more than once in one sitting or to put it bluntly if there was a rerun on I wouldn’t change the channel. The films aren’t all comedies or completely comedic unfortunately but there’s lots of meaning and sometimes inspiration in them too, characters and themes that I could root for or feel strongly about.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
A hugely well known film and depending on where you are in the world also known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, adapted from a book by J. K. Rowling and the first of 7 films made whilst the books were being written. It starred and launched actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint but acted as a meeting spot and vehicle for many acknowledged and lauded British actors. The series is basically about a young boy protagonist and an older villain, both connected to each other physically and mentally and both seeking to become as strong and magically powerful as they can to defeat each other. Both have loyal friends and allies and the story mainly takes place in a boarding school setting.
Harry Potter lost his parents when he was a baby to a serial magical killer and his affiliates/secret society. He survived just after having been laid down from his mother’s arms and she died directly protecting him creating a huge trauma/heightened emotion triggered energetic field perhaps empowered and consolidated by her own magical power and that of her attacker thus acting as a barrier/seal on the baby and consequently protecting him from being killed at that point. That attack leaves a tell tale mark/scar on his forehead and acts as both a helper and curse in his later ordeals with his now lifetime enemy Voldemort or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ (à la ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ in Rumpole of the Bailey). His begrudging aunt and uncle take him in as custodians but treat him like an unwanted, abnormal blight and burden on their apparently happy home but unbeknownst to them Harry had been enrolled at birth into a unique school for budding magicians, witches and sorcerers. Once that fact is revealed Harry is swooped up into a roller coaster ride of magical and monstrous mayhem, making new friends, meeting old enemies and generally trying to find his path and place in the world, nay a world within/alongside a world, one which he never knew existed. The film focuses on his settling into school life, being behind the others in general magical life know-how and education, finding out about the Philosopher’s Stone and having the second major battle with his parent’s killer (I think of the scene as a baby as his first). The running theme of the books/films is that of the underdog and lower class citizen/species.
Why it’s a Fave
I would like to say this film set the tone of the series; until that time I had never been ‘hooked’ upon a film that I’d watch it repeatedly for a long period of time (mostly as background noise after the first few watches but still it was my preferred accompaniment). It had a real charm of its own, an ambience which gave a nod to the trademark ‘greyness’ of British filming but also a dusty effect which added to the antique nature of everything in the magical realm. The school had an ethereal quality in the fluid yet clunky way everything moved and the costumes/makeup were suitably dated, the old London streets and station scenes were all incorporated into the vintage theme and even Harry’s extended family looked old fashioned in their modern neighbourhood. Unfortunately the magical quality in the filming and atmosphere, and the soft/twinkling to somewhat driving musical score of the film was lost in my opinion in the subsequent films as the imaging got clearer, sharper and more action packed and the music more bombastic like Hollywood blockbusters but the overall tone stayed dark and gloomy, that factor actually increased greatly as the thriller/horror elements of the story were expanded. That’s one of the main reasons why this film remains special to me, it’s captivating but of course any thing needs more than style to hold its own.
In regards to substance I found many of the characters endearing or watchable with familiar faces and the new ones working well together, I won’t comment on the acting of the children throughout the series but I think they managed well in this film and whilst standing out on their own were supported by the older cast and general mesmerizing nature of the film. Being a fantasy film I didn’t need to suspend my disbelief and accepted the plot and scenes for what they were without feeling uncomfortable, skeptical or baffled; and though not new to the genre, at the time fantasy film hadn’t been prominent in a way that had tendrils in the media for a while. This film headed a new wave in fantasy and epic fantasy films, preceded by the likes of The Mummy (1999) but was so different in style to that massively successful film (later franchise) that it’s hard to compare them other than that they are mystical, magical and epic. The previous notable/major wave of fantasy films I remember most included the likes of The Dark Crystal (1982), The Never Ending Story (1984), Legend (1985), Labyrinth (1986) and Nightbreed (1990) (an earlier similar example being Mad Monster Party (1967) ). Prior to that fantasy films had a Golden Hollywood look and feel of two notable styles e.g. ‘historical’ epic ‘myths’ like Clash of the Titans/Jason and the Argonauts going away back to the films like Samson and Delilah (1949) or the other vein which was more Disney dominated. The Harry Potter series brought a new ‘realism’ to the previous distinction between film and viewer for me and the aforementioned films were more ‘staged’ in style in my opinion e.g. costumes and settings.
Why it’s No: 1 on my list
I guess the main pulling point of this film is the compelling ‘I want to do that’ or ‘I’d love to go there’ feeling it created in people, similar to the Lord of the Rings holidays available for people to visit and stay at Middle Earth. It had humour, adventure, suspense, wonder, mystery and the promise of ‘something better’ than the drudgery or unfairness of everyday life or obvious abuse. The threat of evil/further evil was not fully appreciated at this point in the series, it seemed more a part of the past than the present and future and even when confronted with it, the fear and tribulation didn’t linger afterward, ‘only’ the sadness of things lost i.e. loved ones and memories. But the thing with a focus on memories is that they seem to be coupled with the idea of tomorrow, perhaps hope or promises of moving on, healing, even happiness or contentment or perhaps just the quiet confidence of knowing that one must try to keep overcoming what lies in the path and being able to get through day to day. Even though it’s somewhat a fool’s paradise this film in particular allowed the viewer to accept the main character’s past, not really knowing what was coming but able to take a breather and enjoy today, finally.