Any director who’s made a good or even halfway-decent movie this year – there have been several – cover your ears; you’re off the hook. But for the most part, 2010 has been a bust. People seem to make the same complaint every year, and yet we keep going to movies because we love them. No matter how many let us down, we keep searching for the ones that won’t. So why do you love watching movies? Yes, you in the back with the gum. What brought this about in your own life?
For most movie lovers, it is no challenge to rattle off a short list of all-time favorite films. But consider the experiences that truly shaped you. When did you first replace the thought, “Hey, that movie was pretty good,” with, “Wow, I really like movies!” What did it take to cement your status as a movie nut, a film buff, or even… ugh… a cinephile?
As with the appreciation of any kind of art, there are no right or wrong answers – although the more films we see, the more snotty and opinionated we all tend to get about our individual preferences. Most of your personal milestones are probably still your favorites. Others may have simply pointed you down the path to discovering your favorites. Whatever place they hold on your all-time honor roll, consider the movies that have really mattered. In this article, and several to follow, I hope to stir up your fondest movie-watching nostalgia, if you will forgive me the crime of indulging in some of my own.
To lead off the series…
– The First Movie You Remember –
The first movie I distinctly remember seeing was Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959), and for a while that defined for me what movies were supposed to be like. At that time the film was about 25 years old, and it’s about that long again since I first saw it, but it still stands out as one of the prettiest movies I’ve ever seen. The opening scene alone, in which an entire kingdom flocks to the royal castle for the birth of the princess, is a splendid exercise in composition, depth, perspective, and style. Craftsmanship shows, and they simply don’t paint them like they used to.
Children of the middle to late 1980s were lucky indeed. They had the best Saturday morning cartoons, witnessed the mind-blowing rise of video games, and enjoyed regular revivals of Disney’s classic animated features, both on home video and in theaters. In previous articles I have praised the virtues of The Sword In The Stone high and low. Add to that Robin Hood, Mary Poppins, Alice In Wonderland, and Sleeping Beauty, and you’ve got my top 5, desert-island, John-Cusack list of Walt Disney’s best. Pity that most of these have been woefully under-represented by Disneyland attractions.
It is classic storybook fare, with royal intrigue, disguises, friendly animals, and black magic. To avoid a curse from a slighted witch, the princess Aurora finds herself shipped off to blissful barefoot exile in the woods, under the name Briar Rose. Here, she falls in love with errant Prince Phillip, compromises her position, and… well, if you don’t know, you can guess. The real edge this movie has on, say, Snow White is about two decades of polish on the animation process. The story lends itself to a number of richly imagined settings, from medieval castle, to enchanted woods, to the same medieval castle now bewitched by evil forces. And if you want evil, look no further.
In the studio’s decades upon decades of tale-telling, the sorceress Maleficent remains Disney’s most popular figure of menace. When you go around proclaiming yourself “Mistress of All Evil,” and calling on “all the powers of HELL!” you’d better back it up with some pretty rotten behavior. From her horned headdress to her personal phalanx of jabbering pig-men, she’s got it all. Her big opening speech, with the dire proclamation, “Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday…” is enough to ruin anyone’s party.
The forces of good and evil come to pretty spectacular blows in this film, leaving admittedly solid but far more understated fairy tales like Cinderella in the dust. The prince really does have to go through hell in this one, battling through fire and brimstone, a crippling forest of thorns, and one nasty dragon.
Sleeping Beauty is one of a kind, and even though it’s probably not the first film I was set down in front of, it made the first lasting mark. Just scanning through it to remember my favorite parts, I feel like sitting down and really watching it right now. I didn’t even talk about how great the music is. Let me just say that it is great. I had kind of forgotten.
Now that I’ve had my fun, think about the first movie that made you feel this way. There must be one, or perhaps more than one. If you feel so moved, share it with the rest of us.