Monday, December 6, 2010

What do I have to be embarrassed about?

I'm sure there are many questions I'd like to ask Roger Ebert, but one has always interested me more than the others -- not because it would produce the most profound answer, but because I bet he doesn't get asked it very often, and it would be really interesting to hear what his answer was. That question is:

"What's the most prominent film you haven't seen?"

Or, phrased in a way that would seem slightly more judgmental, so I probably wouldn't ask it this way:

"What are you most embarrassed about never having seen?"

I've made it a point to always have an answer to this question myself. For the longest time, the answer was Casablanca. Then I finally saw Casablanca about five years ago, removing that shame from my movie-watching record. In fact, I considered it such a big deal to finally be seeing Casablanca that I scheduled it as the 2,000th movie I'd ever seen.

It's been a busy five years, and I am now up over 3,000. In that time I also saw The Godfather Part II, which next took over the mantle of "most prominent film I haven't seen." That viewing came to fruition in June of 2008, again as a "special occasion" -- my wife and I had a Godfather weekend in which we watched The Godfather on Friday night, and she made an Italian dinner; The Godfather Part II on Saturday night, and I made an Italian dinner; and The Godfather Part III on Sunday night, when we just ordered a pizza. Fun weekend, and somehow we also managed to sandwich in a yard sale Saturday morning. Just thinking about that now exhausts me.

So then it was Ben-Hur. But I saw Ben-Hur last month.

I'm having a bit of trouble choosing the next one in line, so I need your help.

I've dug up ten potential candidates to be the next classic I'm most embarrassed about never having seen. I scanned my Flickchart list of the top 500 movies I haven't seen to come up with these results, so I hope they're the best ten. You'd think it should just be the first ten movies on that list, but the term "best" is determined by what the users have ranked the highest. And it just so happens Flickchart has a lot of young users who must think that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best movie ever made, because that tops the list. Needless to say, I skipped over that. In fact, I'm going to limit this list to films that are at least 20 years old, in part because age helps determine a film's status as a classic, and in part because I probably have seen the most important movies to come out in the last 20 years.

So I'll list these ten in alphabetical order, so as not to bias you, and include a short comment with each. The one that gets the most votes in my comments section will officially become the new holder of this title.

I don't usually specifically ask for audience participation from you guys, but I'd really love it now. So if you're reading this, please chime in.

Okay, they are:

1) Gandhi (1982, Richard Attenborough). I know I've seen part of Gandhi, but it was such a short part that it certainly doesn't qualify. I am certainly looking forward to seeing it, especially as I continue to tick movies off the list of best picture winners I haven't seen. But carving out the 195 minutes to see it seems hard.

2) The Last Emperor (1987, Bernardo Bertolucci). Yikes. This one's actually 225 minutes. But this film has always seemed iconic to me because it came out right around the time I was really getting interested in the Oscars, and I remember being impressed that it won all nine statues for which it was nominated. (Actually, the 225-minute version is the TV miniseries that was later released. The theatrical version, which is the one I'd undoubtedly want to see, was actually only 160.)

3) Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson). I guess I didn't have any Mary Poppins lovers in my life when I was growing up, because of the two Julie Andrews musical classics, The Sound of Music was the one I saw -- at least twice. I'd love to see this because as I was watching, I bet I'd be surprised at how many songs there were that I didn't realize were from this movie/show.

4) My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor). Wow, this came out the same year as Mary Poppins? What the hell was I doing in 1964? (Answer: Waiting another nine years to be born.) Like in Poppins, this film contains a number of songs I would either not know or forget were from this movie. Maybe I need to have a Mary Poppins/My Fair Lady double feature some day. (Funnily enough, Poppins' Julie Andrews originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway, but the producers thought she wasn't bankable enough for the film version because she wasn't known beyond Broadway at the time.)

5) Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone). So this makes four best picture winners of the five listed so far. I know I've seen parts of Platoon, and I once had an internal debate with myself about whether I'd seen the whole thing. The side that thought I hadn't seen the whole thing won out.

6) Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen). This may be the oddest one on this list because Rocky III was one of the movies I watched most when I was a kid -- I've probably seen it ten times. I've seen every Rocky movie that came out since then, even Rocky Balboa (which was actually good), but I still haven't seen the original Rocky, or Rocky II for that matter. You'd think I would have sought them out at some point, but when I was at that age, I must have thought Rocky looked really dated, and besides, it didn't have either Mr. T or Hulk Hogan in it. (Five out of six best picture winners.)

7) Spartacus (1960, Stanley Kubrick). How is it that I don't consciously know that Stanley Kubrick directed Spartacus? Talk about embarrassing ... Anyway, I always thought that Spartacus was in the same category as Ben-Hur, so this would be an appropriate successor in that sense. Gotta see that scene where everybody claims to be Spartacus -- it's iconic.

8) Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder). I should have seen this for the classic quotes alone: "Alright Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." I absolutely love All About Eve, and I think of this movie in the same category, so yeah, I bet I'll like it.

9) The Ten Commandments (1956, Cecil DeMille). Speaking of Mr. DeMille ... This has a Ben-Hur connection also in the sense that it stars Charlton Heston, in one of his three most iconic roles (along with Hur and Planet of the Apes). At 219 minutes, though, The Ten Commandments could take me ten days to finish.

10) West Side Story (1961, Robert Wise). And that makes six best picture winners out of the ten. I should have a special fondness for West Side Story, since it was the show my high school put on when I was still in junior high, which got me excited about doing high school drama. (Strangely enough, I decided to do basketball my freshman year, which conflicted with the musical, thereby missing my chance to be in Fiddler on the Roof, which holds a similar dear place in my heart and which I also have not seen in its movie form. The musicals I did do my sophomore, junior and senior years were nowhere near as iconic -- Once Upon a Mattress, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Good Woman of Setzuan.)

So which one is it? I'm awaiting your responses with bated breath.

So go ahead -- embarrass me.


Don Handsome said...

the answer is so simple to me. Sunset Boulevard.
I've seen all of these movies (except The Last Emperor) and while I think there are many must sees on this list, none is iconic to me as Sunset Blvd. Its not only the best film by one of the best directors (though I recently caught the Apartment for the first time, and think that it could give Sunset a run for its money) but for a movie that came out in 1950 its amazingly ahead of its time predicting our current meta-oriented pop culture trends by 50+ years. SEE IT NOW.

Second choice is Spartacus.

Last choice is Gandhi, which I saw a couple months ago for some of the same reasons you are considering seeing it now. It sucked the life out of me for seven interrupted viewings. I think it seems more dated than Sunset Boulevard and is only really note worthy for Ben Kingsley's incredibly tight-assed performance.

Also...West Side Story is cool and all but it doesn't really have a place in modern times. Its a pretty rough view.

Sebastian Gutierrez said...

Eh, not so bad. I haven't seen CASABLANCA, BEN-HUR, or GHANDI! I would get on WEST SIDE STORY, SPARTACUS, ROCKY, and PLATOON! All worthy of being in your DVD collection! TEN COMMANDMENTS isn't all that though! It's actually pretty terrible.

Theis said...

I would also vote for Sunset Boulevard. It's a classic.

I'm probably most embarrassed about not having seen The Apartment and Planet of the Apes (seen the new one though - but that definitely does not count ;-))

Vancetastic said...

Thanks guys! The verdict seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of Sunset Boulevard. And so it is written, and so it is done.

Appreciate the feedback!