What’s your favorite movie? An existential crisis in 3 parts

Cutting Room Floor

Related Posts

Forrest Gump was right.

You never know what you’re gonna get, especially when you tell people that you’re a film major.

Typical responses range from the quasi-sarcastic, “So you think you’re gonna be the next Spielberg, huh?” to the one-two punch of, “Oh, fun!” accompanied by a hasty subject change.  All responses come served with a complementary implication that I’ll be forever unemployed.

And I get it. I’m used to these sort of reactions, and I can normally salvage whatever conversation I’m having. However, the most difficult response to field when I tell people my major is seemingly the most innocuous: “What’s your favorite movie?”

Great question. Dealing with this question is, normally, a dilemma in three parts.

Stage 1: Panic

At any given point, I have no idea what my favorite film is. If I’ve ever told you my favorite film and then changed my answer the next day, I wasn’t lying. Each day brings a new mood, a new perspective, maybe even a new film! I’m impressed with people that are able to stick with one consistent choice, because I never can.

Therefore, boiling down the films I like into one ultimate selection is no easy task. To properly answer this question, I’d need to sequester myself in a room for at least a few hours to systematically go through every movie I’ve ever seen. Maybe I could get a top-10 list on your desk by Monday. Maybe. But I don’t get the benefit of time in this situation. The person who posed the question is staring me in the face. In this moment, I am not thinking rationally. My whole reputation as a film student seems to be at stake as I rack my brain for answers.

Stage 2: Self-doubt

There is a definite difference between the “best” movie I’ve ever seen and my “favorite.” For example, I can appreciate the genius of “The Godfather” while simultaneously acknowledging that it’s not my cup of tea. However, there is this added pressure, either real or imaginary, of picking a “good favorite” movie as a film major.

Do I pick a movie that’s obscure or pretentious? If I stake my entire major on knowing movies, I better pick a damn good one. Do I applaud the vulnerability and nuance in the Italian film, “La Strada”? No. Not if I want this conversation to continue. I could get into the technical details of why it specifically moved me and why it’s deserving of accolades, but then it’s not really a conversation, it’s a film history lecture, and I’ve played my part in establishing the pretentious film student reputation.   

So do I pick my favorite childhood film? Everybody loves “The Karate Kid.” I love “The Karate Kid.” It’s a glorious combination of nostalgia and cheesy fight montages, and it’s a film that I’ve enjoyed watching more times than I can count. But is it worthy of being my favorite? Will I out myself as being a subpar film student if I don’t pick something from the American Film Institute’s top 100 films? What would Kubrick say?

Stage 3: Acceptance?

After this painful internal process, I normally end up blurting out the first movie that comes into my head at the end of the conversation, which is usually “Hot Fuzz.” I offer a few reasons behind my choice, argue my case and then watch the person shuffle away completely unaware of the psychological breakdown I just endured.

People ostensibly ask this question from a place of curiosity — they probably want to learn how someone who studies film separates the good from the bad. They probably just want to start a casual conversation. But, as every film major knows, choosing one’s favorite movie is far from a casual endeavor.

In every film class I’ve ever taken, objectivity is emphasized over personal taste; whether or not we liked a specific film is unimportant. In the countless film lectures I’ve had, I’ve never had the opportunity to share my personal feelings about a movie, much less decide which one is my favorite. So then, what happens when you ask a film student what their favorite film is? There’s a gap in what’s objectively “good” and what constitutes a “favorite” — and it’s one I’ve found difficult to overcome.

In future dealings with this query, I’ll try and quell my existential malaise. I don’t want to discourage people from asking me what my favorite movie is. Film is one of the only things that I can talk about, so I’m really shooting myself in the foot if I say people can’t ask me about it. I realize that this bizarre social pressure is entirely self-imposed. The reason I take the question so seriously is because people tend not to take my entire major seriously. It can be easy, then, to discount the amount of cultural work involved in film studies if you’re an outsider looking in.

Every film major has felt the stakes in asserting film as worthy of analysis. I didn’t understand for the longest time that films were more than just the narrative on the screen. Learning how production choices — everything from lighting to set design — can create meaning completely changed the way I think about film. It made me excited to learn more.

The next time someone asks what my favorite movie is, I probably still won’t have an answer. Talking about movies makes me feel like a proud parent talking about their children, so the cycle is bound to repeat endlessly. But, maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe in the future, I’ll go on the offensive. “Who’s your favorite child, Carol? Riddle me that.”

“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.

Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].