Thursday, April 2, 2009

What is the "Best Movie Ever"?


The world will never agree on what the Best Movie Ever is, even though it's quite clear to me that the answer is "Back to the Future."

See? You're already saying, "What the fuck kind of choice is that?" You might choose "The Godfather," and you'd have a hell of a case. You might say "Casablanca," and only an idiot would immediately disqualify it. You might run into some guy who thinks "Turtle Diary" was good. Of course, if that last case were to happen, you'd be within your Constitutional rights to throat-punch him, then go to his house, burn it down, and kick his dog, but let's be reasonable.

The point is, questions like "What's the Best Movie Ever?" are inherently subjective, and therefore cannot be positively determined. What makes a movie "the best" or even "good" differs from person to person. If the question is "What's the most influential movie ever?" then you at least have some kind of parameter. But even then, "Birth of a Nation" (in which the KKK are the heroes) would be near the top, and you'd probably have to include something like "The Jazz Singer," which is godawful bad, but it was the first "talkie," thus making it influential as all hell.

But the idea of a "Best Movie Ever" is nonsense. You could take a vote or something, but since when is art democratic? And who would vote? Everyone who's ever seen a movie?

I think the best answer to "What's the Best Movie Ever?" is whatever your favorite movie is. If it's your favorite -- and I don't care if it's "Citizen Kane" or "Billy Madison" -- that's the Best Movie Ever as far as you're concerned. Which again proves my scientific theory that "Back to the Future" is, in fact, the Best Movie Ever.

Why "Back to the Future"? Because I love it more than the others, that's why. And if I had to qualify it somehow, I would say that it does just about everything well, in terms of what movies can do: Great characters (George McFly, Biff, Doc Fucking Brown, et al), a super-creative story (boy travels back in time only to have his future mother fall in love with him), great music (Huey Lewis and doo wop?!), ground-breaking special effects, memorable dialogue ("I am your density...I mean, your destiny."), tremendous action sequences (the skateboard chase ending in manure-on-Biff), emotionally touching moments (George and Laraine finally kiss, and Marty can play the guitar again!), an excellent ending ("Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."). What more could you want out of two hours?

But that's just me. If we were, for example, to vote on what this blog's Best Movie Ever is, my money would be on "The Princess Bride." After all, it has certain qualities even "Back to the Future" (BTTF) can't claim. Some of these are fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles – all good things for a movie. And yes, BTTF has fighting, chases, escapes, true love, and – if you're a strict laws-of-time-and-space guy – miracles. But while these qualities have the same name, those things occur very differently in each film. If I had organized this post better, I would have used that whole bit as evidence that voting on the Best Movie Ever doesn't make it so for, say, anyone else reading this.

I guess the point is that calling a piece of art – in this case, a movie – the Best Ever is a waste of time if you're actually serious about it. LJT and I have argued for years about the Best Rock Band Ever, with LJT claiming The Beatles and my saying Led Zeppelin, but I think we both enjoy the argument more than the “answer.” He isn't “right” and I'm not “right” (even though I'm right). I agree with him that the Beatles are more “influential,” and he agrees that Jimmy Page was the Best Guitarist of either group. We both agree that John was the Best Beatle, and we've both recently discovered a greater appreciation for how awesome Ringo was, but neither of us would say he was a better drummer than John Bonham.

I guess the joy is in the discussion, not the resolution. Someone else could enter the room and say that Keith Moon was better than John Bonham, or that "Goodfellas" is better than "The Godfather," or that Pepsi is better than Coke, or that Walter is funnier than The Jesus, or blah blah blah ...

It all boils down to the fact that there's no way to measure these things. “There's no accounting for taste” and all that. It differs from an argument over, say, who the Best Baseball Player Ever was. With baseball, you can examine what each player actually did. Records are kept, and they offer clear-cut evidence of performance. If you analyze that, you cannot say with intellectual honesty that the Best Baseball Player Ever was anyone but Babe Ruth. If you choose someone else – and you are free to do so – I can show you piles of evidence that you're wrong. Baseball players leave an observable and objective record of performance, which we can measure, unlike bands or movies or even pieces of candy (Snickers being the best).

Anyway, I know a lot of this is fairly obvious, but it's something I've thought a lot about and this is a blog and as a blogger I feel obligated to let it out here, in the hopes of generating discussion, of course. Hell, if Side Bar can list a bunch of restaurants in Teaneck and elicit all those thoughtful comments, I figure “What's the Best Movie Ever?” might work.

"Back to the Future" is the Best Movie Ever. Am I wrong to say that?


The Notorious LJT said...

Wait, you said A-Rod is the best baseball player ever.

ChuckJerry said...

All of this is well and good and I agree with everything you said with the obvious exception that clearly "Goodfellas" is the best movie ever.

Also, it doesn't seem like it's possible to say this given all the praise and awards that have been heaped upon it, but I really think "Silence of the Lambs" is an underrated movie. For some reason it's 6th in everyone's top 5 or 11th in their top 10.

Open Bar said...

I never said that about A-Rod. In fact, I've never said anything nice about him at all.

He's a choker! Bring back Brosius!

Side Bar said...


I almost started to cry when I saw the Turtle Diary poster. Can we please rent that movie and drink every time it's terrible?

Side Bar said...

From imdb:

Two separate people, a man and a woman, find something very stirring about the sea turtles in their tank at the London Zoo. They meet and form an odd, but sympathetic camaraderie as they plan to steal two of the turtles and free them into the ocean.

Oh god it has been 20 years but I can still remember how awful it was.

Open Bar said...

Awesome grammar alert:

"Two separate people..."

That Turtle Diary sure was one cinematic movie!