Every so often I am asked a question along the lines of “so what’s the best movie you’ve seen this year?” or “what has been your favourite movie recently?” A lot of the time, I assume that the people asking me this question are using the term “best” and “favourite” interchangeably. Yet for as long as I have been interested in film, I have made a conscious effort to distinguish between the two, for several reasons.
Firstly, there is a big difference (to me at least), between what I would consider my favourite movies versus what I consider to be the “best” movies. Sometimes there is crossover, but more often than not there is a distinction.
Secondly, and more importantly, differentiating between what I consider to be “my favourites” as opposed to what I consider to be “the best” forces me to think more critically about the movies I watch. For example, my initial gut reaction to movies like Transformers, Fast & Furious or Independence Day might be that they are fun, entertaining and immensely watchable, yet I would never consider them to be anywhere near the best of what film has to offer.
Conversely, I am able to acknowledge that films like Schindler’s List, Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver are some of the best films ever made, even though they aren’t my favourites.
Then there are the films that, for me anyways, fall into both categories. Movies like Braveheart, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator are both some of my favourites and in my opinion some of the best ever made.
Now obviously this type of discussion is very subjective, to a certain extent. Especially when dealing with “favourites”, it is totally subjective. Independence Day is one of my favourite movies. I loved it. Same thing with Titanic. I loved that movie. Where subjectivity starts to matter less is when the discussion turns to what the “best” is.
There are several movies that seem to make the top ten or fifteen of every list of “best movies ever made”; think of these films as the canon of the best films. I’m talking about To Kill a Mockingbird, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather (both parts I and II), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shawshank Redemption, Gone With The Wind, Vertigo, Psycho, Lawrence of Arabia, etc. These are films that cannot be argued as anything other than the best movies ever made, regardless of one’s personal, subjective opinion. And this is the whole point I am trying to make.
People often confuse what they like for what is the best. Much like how people confuse their personal opinions for facts (especially with the whole “alternative facts” thing going on down south, but that’s a whole other discussion).
To paraphrase famed astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, he said that science doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not. I feel the same way when it comes to art. The fact that you may or may not like a work of art (or book or movie or song) doesn’t mean that it isn’t a successful work of art. This is something I am planning on discussing further in a future blog post, so let’s get back to the “favourite” versus “best” argument.
I worked at Chapters for around eight years, and during that time I heard people tell me what they thought were the “best” books ever. The Da Vinci Code. Twilight. A Million Little Pieces. Fifty Shades of Grey. The Five People You Meet In Heaven. The Secret. “Oh my god, this is the best book ever!” No. It might be the best book you’ve ever read, but I assure you that none of those books are the best books ever written.
With movies, a similar trend appears. Certain movies come along that people flock to in droves and make tons of money and are super popular that people get very excited about and exclaim giddily that “oh my god that was the best movie ever!” But they usually aren’t even close to being in the same league as the films I mentioned above.
If you take anything away from this blog post at all, please take this: it is possible to recognize the greatness of something while simultaneously not liking it. Try and understand the difference between “best” and “favourite”.
Think of it terms of fine art. I am not a huge fan of the work of Monet. But I would be an absolute fool to make a statement such as “Monet sucks” or “ugh Monet is overrated” or some other such nonsense. The fact that I personally don’t find Monet’s work appealing has absolutely no relevance or impact on the fact that Monet and his work are culturally important and integral to the world of fine arts.
This is why I get so infuriated when people say “this sucks” or “that sucks” simply because they didn’t personally like it. Just because you don’t like something it doesn’t mean that it “sucks” or is unsuccessful as a work of art.
Bringing this back to a discussion about film in particular, let’s look at Schindler’s List briefly. That film is one of Spielberg’s best, and a true masterpiece of filmmaking. But it is incredibly difficult to watch, and frankly, after having seen it once in my life, I don’t care to ever see it again. It is important to be able to look at something objectively and recognize it for what it is while temporarily removing your subjective opinion. This is equally true when looking at something that is a guilty pleasure. The fact that you like something doesn’t necessarily make it good.
With all of that being said, I am going to steal something I saw on a friend’s Facebook page. He posted a list of his favourite movies for each year that he has been alive, so here is my list of my favourite movies from each year that I have been alive:
1983: Return of the Jedi
1985: The Goonies
1990: Dances with Wolves
1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
1992: Batman Returns
1993: Jurassic Park
1994: The Shawshank Redemption
1996: Independence Day
1998: Saving Private Ryan
1999: Fight Club
2001: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
2002: Catch Me If You Can
2003: The Return of the King
2004: The Incredibles
2005: Batman Begins
2006: The Departed
2007: Hot Fuzz
2008: The Dark Knight
2011: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2012: Cloud Atlas
2015: The Force Awakens
2016: Rogue One
2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (so far…)