This subject has been swirling around my brain for awhile, and was rather relieved to find both Jim Emerson and Kristen Thompson weighing in on the subject.
For many of us more learned film fanatics we would never think to ask any person directly what their favorite film is because we realize the futility of the question. Perhaps we’d be more specific and ask "What is your favorite Hitchcock film?, or maybe a favorite Buster Keaton movie and so on. Asking a cinephile to list one film as the all time greatest is like asking to pick your favorite of thousands of children, which one you love the best.
Whenever I meet someone and I start talking about movies they seem to immediately ask “what’s your favorite movie?” or “What do you think is the greatest movie ever made” and they all have the same reaction when I say “Citizen Kane”, which is either “I’ve never seen it, I hated it” or they say nothing at the risk of sounding like an ignoramus. Perhaps I get a gratuitous comment about needing to watch the film or give it another shot, but few things can kill a conversation faster.
Perhaps its the hope that they will be reaffirmed that yes Super Troopers is the best film ever and they’re thrilled I agree, maybe they want something to rent and figure my opinion is worth something, or maybe they just don’t realize how particularly annoying the question can be.
Saying my favorite film is Citizen Kane does nothing to illustrate my taste in cinema. Sure many, many critics from all sorts of time periods would agree with me, but so what? I was happy that Film Comment agreed with me last year that Carlos was the best film of the year, doesn’t mean it instantly validated their selections, nor does it mean that my taste is impeccable because I have other people who support my choice. Perhaps I should start scaring people by telling them that Berlin Alexanderplatz is my favorite film of all time and stand back and chuckle when I explain to them how long it is.
So didn’t mean to ramble, but I’m curious if this is a universal annoyance for the avid cinema fanatic.
Just pick one that you’ve been thinking about or have seen recently, and tell them why you love it.
Spread the love of cinema, and don’t act like a baby, you are carrying the mantle of cinema for all those who don’t know better.
I just reply that I can’t decide. And really, that’s pretty much the truth. :)
I take pride in knowing that I’m one of the only people (besides one other person I’ve met) in Santa Cruz who knows of the film High and Low (my favorite film). It’s hard just to find someone who knows who kurosawa was. It doesn’t really bother me when people ask.
It’s just awkward because most of the time I am going to say a movie the person asking has not heard of, but I always mention a movie I love that might be interesting to that particular person.
Lately I’ve felt pretty confident when I get asked this. Why? I could also say Visitor of a museum or Such is life with all the pride that one can have.
Personally, I don’t think it’s worth getting annoyed over. It’s an honest question, usually dropped in small talk (Kirsten Thompson alludes to this in her recent article). And, if we are gracious, we can answer it a number of different ways.
1. If you actually have a favorite film, like me, then you can just say that film. If I get the blank stare when I say “Black Narcissus”, I kindly explain a little bit of what the film is and why it’s meaningful to me. Then I wait to see if the conversation will branch out from there.
2. Name something more recent that you’ve really enjoyed. Thompson suggests this, and I think it’s helpful if you don’t feel you have a de facto favorite. If I didn’t have a favorite, I might say that I really enjoyed True Grit. This is a good if you know the other person doesn’t have much of a knowledge base in film history.
3. Take the Odi route and say you can’t decide. This can be good because it keeps the conversation very open-ended. You can then talk about the types of films that you enjoy and watch. It leads to more general discussion.
Things can get trickier if someone asks about the “greatest” movie, because all of us here should know that that type of distinction is basically impossible to make. So, when someone asks that question you can either,
1. Launch into a detailed soliloquy on the nature of greatness, subjectivity, film criticism, etc.
2. Say “Citizen Kane”.
No. Its a great conversation starter. Why would any film buff be annoyed at someone who wants to discuss films?
The thing is it’s usually a conversation killer, ever try to explain to someone completely unfamiliar with Japanese cinema why Tokyo Story is a masterpiece?
My response to both is usually Citizen Kane. Although Rocky IV would be a good response.
I just wonder how many people would ask an English professor what their all time favorite book is.
I just start listing my favourites until either:
A) I run out of breath
B) I’m begged to stop [that’s what she said]
But I think the question should be answered; I mean, do we not have any favourite films? Sure, we probably have more than one, but that shouldn’t intimidate one’s enthusiasm.
WPQX – If you’re at a cocktail party, you need to assume, just for safety’s sake, that the other person doesn’t know as much about film as you do. In that situation, it might be best to take option #2. Name something recent that you enjoyed, something you suspect they might know about. It doesn’t even have to be a movie that you think is wonderful; just something that you liked. Usually you can figure out from there how much film knowledge they have and how deep they’re willing to go in the conversation.
It’s usually good ‘form’ to kind of reciprocate the question to get an idea what cinematic ‘level’ they’re on, then elaborate on what you like a little more. I’m usually pretty self-condescending so my typical response would be something like, “Love anything by Orson Welles, Cassavetes, Greenaway, and Bergman … but I don’t know, I’m fucked up, so…what do you like, darling?” Kind of a safe response unless one’s in church.
Internally ponder what the person asking the question’s favourite movie is and answer that.
That’s a question I haven’t been able to answer for several years. If you’d asked me in college I would have said Lawrence of Arabia. Still love it lots. A couple of years after I shifted to 2001, but now there are simply too many to pick just one. I’m not even interested in rankings anymore.
I have about 7 or 8 favorite films in constant rotation. I pretty much tailor my response to my “audience”.
If it’s my undergrads and I know they recognize Kieszlowski and Bergman then I’ll say Blue and Through a Glass Darkly.
If it’s someone familiar with Japanese film then When a Woman Ascends the Stairs.
My fellow horror film geeks then TCM or The Thing.
If it’s older people or someone’s parents then Now, Voyager or Shadowlands.
It’s all true but in order to avoid getting blank stares or have people think I’m being condescending I’ll say whichever one I think they are more likely to recognize. If they continue to be interested then I’ll bring up something more outside of their comfort zone.
I have genre favorites.
Favorite Action Movie:Raiders of the Lost Ark
Favorite Musical:The Blues Brothers
I tried to make a Horror or Sci-Fi one but again, there are just too many.
Though The Thing and An American Werewolf in London are probably a tie for first for Horror.
The question sort of surprises me because not only am I not annoyed, but I’m pretty excited by the question. Why? Well, if someone asks this question, it at least means that he/she also has an answer to the question—which is pretty rare. I know because I’m usually the one asking this question :)—although the specific question is usually: So what are you some of your favorite films? The question used to be, What is your top ten favorite films, but that’s a bit tougher. Now, the person may not have heard of my favorite film (then again they probably have), but even if they didn’t, I don’t mind talking about his/her favorite film—which can lead to talking about films in general.
Then again, if they only like the films in the multi-plex, then the conversation can get a little awkward and uncomfortable. But I almost never feel annoyed by this question.
Isn’t there are a far more revealing and interesting question to ask? ’what’s that secret unmade movie running inside your head?’
’what’s that secret unmade movie running inside your head?’
The only thing that would most likely reveal is that most people are not filmmakers.
Post messed up by MUBI again.
No, I am not annoyed by people engaging me in conversation about a subject I like, gives me an opportunity to talk about whatever of my favorite films comes to mind, nor am I irritated by them not knowing about it because it gives me an opportunity to introduce another person to it. “Oh you’ve never heard of Tetsuo: the Iron Man? Hey, I own a copy, want to come over and watch it sometime? It’s… pretty awesome.”
I just answer Persona
Since I rarely meet fellow cinephiles, I almost always ask this question of casual film-goers I’ve just met or don’t know that well. It’s a good litmus test – to find out if they are a cinephile, or to find out if they care about cinema at all. Their response also reveals keen insights into their personality.
I never get asked what my favourite film is, because most people (at least where I live) are too self-absorbed to ever reciprocate the question.
I usually say "my two favorites are ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Withnail & I’ "
if who I’m talking to seems to know movies, I elaborate
That blog post is awesome.
@Polaris diB – have you lost any friends by showing them Tetsuo? That movie is intense to watch and nerve-jangling.
If someone gets annoyed when asked what there favorite film is they are either a douche-bag snob or lack the maturity to have a clear conversation on why they don’t have a favorite film, but many favorites.