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Hallowed Be Their Names: Movies Too Perfect to Fault


I’ll never forget the family Christmas dinner when somebody dared to pooh-pooh the movie It’s a Wonderful Life by saying it was merely okay, way too sentimental, and definitely not worth its stellar reputation as a timeless yuletide classic. First there were gasps of astonishment, then a heated exchange followed, and I think somewhere in the midst of the arguing the seeds for this Spasm germinated. I’ve got a soft spot for the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film—it’s the sort of feel-good life-affirming movie that only a Scrooge could find true fault with—but never before had I witnessed such passion for the movie, or how diligently one of its fans would defend that film against any reservation, no matter how minuscule or valid.

When it comes to cinema geeks and film criticism, there are some sacred movies that are simply off limits.

They are untouchable.

When one takes a proprietary ownership of a film, one uses that film as a social litmus test to gauge others’ reactions, to see if they share the same appreciation for its artistry, to see if they laugh at the same jokes, cry at the same tear-jerking moments, cheer at the same heroics, jump at the same shocks, and notice the same sight gags—basically react in similar timely and appropriate fashion to each and every one of its important parts. Friendships and even marriages are often forged from a shared love of the same movie or movies. And since the passion of film geeks runs deep, if you ever dare to bash a sacred movie someone is deeply connected to—especially a movie that is universally adored for more than one generation—you risk not only alienating friends and family members alike, but coming off as, well, a cinema Scrooge.

There are some popular classic films that are so transporting and full of magic and master-class filmmaking that they seem utterly perfect. Some of mine are, obviously, and in no particular order, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Goldfinger, The Godfather, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Grease, Chinatown, The Wizard of Oz, Die Hard, GoodFellas, Aliens, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amélie, Mad Max Fury Road, and so forth.

Some not-so-obvious ones include The Third Man, The Conversation, The Prestige, A Christmas Story, Ghostbusters, The Silence of the Lambs, The Thing, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, The Goonies, Diabolique, and North by Northwest. Talk smack about any of these films and you’ll instantly seem less cool, and you’ll automatically have that much less in common with me.

I could recount my sacred favorites and discuss for hours all the reasons why they are untouchable, but for now I will simply list them without comment and invite feedback as to why readers agree or disagree such-and-such is an “untouchable” movie difficult or impossible to fault.

And feel free to add your own suggestions, preferably with a brief encapsulation about why you feel it’s a sacred movie.

More to follow. In the meantime, some of the movies you’re not allowed to talk poorly about in my house are (again, in no particular order):

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Amélie (2001)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The Godfather (1972)
GoodFellas (1990)
Chinatown (1974)
The Third Man (1949)
Casablanca (1942)
A Christmas Story (1983)
E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The Goonies (1985)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Some Like it Hot (1959)
Grease (1978)
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
The Prestige (2006)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Thing (1982)
Superman: The Movie (1978)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Moonstruck (1987)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Conversation (1974)
Die Hard (1988)
Heat (1995)
Hoosiers (1986)
Star Wars (1977)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Zodiac (2007)

 

 

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