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Asking a critic to name his favorite movie is a loaded question

Posted May 9

“So, what's your favorite movie?” That’s a question that has come up quite often since I wrote my first Deseret News movie review in 1978.

Yes, 1978. I’ve been writing about movies now for nearly … gulp … 40 years.

But the answer is fluid. And there’s no safe answer.

Let’s face it, a response to a movie is a personal, subjective thing. No one — critics included — is right or wrong. It’s just an opinion. Just like yours.

So in those early days, I’d try to get out of it by making a joke: “Just one? That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child.” Then the questioner would ask me to name my favorite child.

There’s no getting out of it.

And what does that question really mean?

I used to interpret it this way: “Name some good movies I can rent from my local video store.” (Yes, there was such a thing back then.)

And in those early days, my response would be the standard movie-critic choices, the classics, the usual suspects: “Casablanca,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Citizen Kane,” “Bringing Up Baby,” anything starring the Marx Brothers or Fred Astaire, or directed by Alfred Hitchcock or Frank Capra.

And maybe I’d throw in some lesser-known favorites: “The Ox-Bow Incident” or “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Or maybe some silent comedies, “The General” or “City Lights.”

Those are mostly from the 1920s, '30s and '40s — which, in the late 1970s and early '80s, put them at a safe distance but not so far back as to seem ancient.

Unlike now.

I really do love all those movies, and you might think that no one would argue against them, even if they don’t really care about them. After all, they’re classics. Just ask the American Film Institute.

But, of course, you’d be wrong. Any title can start an argument.

Then, during the 1980s, I began coming up with movies that were more recent, from the 1960s and '70s: “The Searchers,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Ben-Hur,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Jaws.”

In the ’90s, I’d let in big-ticket films such as “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Tootsie” and “Kramer vs. Kramer,” and some of my smaller favorites, such as “Tender Mercies,” “The Elephant Man” and “Moonstruck.”

Then in the 2000s, a strange thing happened. People started asking about specific movies, and nine times out of 10, they were action-thrillers, which eventually evolved into nothing but superhero/comic book movies.

What did you think of “Spider-Man”? Did you like “Iron Man"? How about “Fantastic Four”? Are you a fan of the X-Men movies?

Which is only natural since those movies began dominating the multiplexes.

It might also have something to do with my age: “Hey, old guy, did you really like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’?”

Well, yes, I did.

I like many of those movies, recent superhero fatigue notwithstanding.

And “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man” were especially appealing since each employed a terrific sense of humor. They weren’t afraid to be funny in a way that wasn’t at all distracting from the action. If anything, the humor improved on a genre that often takes itself way too seriously.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” anyone?

So if you’re thinking about asking that question and you don’t want to hear about the good old black-and-whites or the era of Hollywood growing up or the last gasp of movies that everyone in the family could equally enjoy — sure, let’s talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m fine with that.

In the meantime, while I’m waiting for the “Captain America: Civil War” lines to dissipate, I’m going to pop some popcorn, sit on the couch and enjoy something with Groucho, Harpo and Chico.

Or maybe “North by Northwest” — haven’t seen that one in a while. Or perhaps “The Manchurian Candidate” from 1962. Or “Field of Dreams.” Or …

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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