The Movies That Made Me a Critic

This weekend, Christy Lemiere and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky took a break from reviewing the horrible, horrible movies that plague screens in January and February to reflect on the movies that sparked something inside them, the movies that got them to where they are today. Inspired by that, I’m picking my five.

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
One of my fondest film memories, and the first time I can remember film becoming important to me–as opposed to just a time filler–came during the early part of 2000. It was a new time, and the political world was abuzz with the races which would decide who would lead America into the 21st century. But what led me into the 21st century was a movie that had been released nearly 50 years prior. My parents took my sister and me to see Hitchcock’s finest movie at what was at the time the only independent theater in Dallas. They both knew how magnificent the film was but were afraid we’d be bored with a movie about a snoopy photographer who stays in his apartment all day. Yet we sat there, glued to the screen, leaning on the edge of our seats as Grace Kelly is caught by Raymond Burr, terrified of what might happen next. Years later, I appreciated the layers Hitchcock added beyond the masterful sense of tension. The domestic arguments between Kelly and Jimmy Stewart feel infinitely fresher than almost all of today’s romantic comedies. This was definitely the movie that sparked my love of film.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
There was a day in middle school, a small private school associated with the church my family I attended, when I realized I was always going to be different. Yet I simultaneously embraced it. See, all the kids in my class were talking about how funny Mr. Deeds was, Adam Sandler’s disastrous remake of the Frank Capra classic. I had seen it myself that summer and laughed intermittently. But then a classmate brought up The Royal Tenenbaums, which he had just seen the night before and found it, in his words, “boring.” I had also seen it recently with my dad–who’s responsible for much of my tastes in all pop culture–and quickly defended the film. From then on, I knew I’d be in the minority, getting excited for each new film from Anderson and disappointed for each new Sandler film. I’m sure other critics feel my pain.

The General (1927, Buster Keaton)
The next step in my film education came as I began to study on my own. I devoured the American Film Institute’s then-annual lists on the greatest films ever made. My dad mentioned how he and my mom had seen The General years ago–their first silent film–and had never laughed so hard in their lives. So I found a copy at the library and prepared for a laugh riot. And I got that. What I hadn’t expected was the film’s understated poignancy. Keaton was such a master at blending the two. Growing up in the South, it was important for me to find role models who weren’t into all the macho posing but were strong in their own way. Keaton’s Johnnie Gray certainly filled that part. This is a film that still respects the brave servicemen but points a finger at a society that strength and bravery can only be measured the same way pre-historic man did.

Greenberg (2010, Noah Baumbach)
You may be saying to yourself: “But Kip! I thought you hated this movie!” And you’d be right. But that’s part of a critic’s role too: to warn, to signal “proceed with caution,” to stand up for your opinion even if you’re in the minority. I was extremely excited for this movie when I saw its trailer, hoping for a poignant, deadpan tale of two lost souls. And most critics found it to be such, raving about its rawness and Greta Gerwig’s “star-making” turn. But I could only wonder if we had all seen the same movie. To me, this was the single most unpleasant filmgoing experience since Clark Gregg’s Choke. Like the mythologized version of Paul Revere, I had to warn everyone of the dangers that lie ahead if they believed the consensus. Film criticism is not always fun, and this was not a movie I relished in trashing, but I had a role to fulfill. And since I plan to be in this for the long haul, I was more than happy to do it.

Singin’ in the Rain (1951, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)
Tastes change over time. Yet for as long as I’ve been taking film seriously–let’s just say since high school–my No. 1 film has remained Singin’ in the Rain. As with most critics’ favorite films, it retains its wonder even after multiple viewings. I’ll still never know how Donald O’Connor moved with such reckless abandon during “Make ’em Laugh” or how “Singin’ in the Rain” still causes me to light up after millions of listens. Yet I suspect this is one movie I can go out on a limb with and say that it will never, ever lose its luster. And even for someone who has never been a musical buff, I can always point to this film as the genre’s undisputed king. It’s a film that possesses that rarest of qualities: I can watch it any time of day and it will always cause me to feel better than I did before I watched it.

Honorable Mentions: Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Duck Soup (1933), Assassination of a High School President (2008), Raising Arizona (1987), The Fugitive (1993)

Special thanks to: JoBlo, Criterion, Box Office Report, Rotten Tomatoes, Film School Rejects

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