Favourite Films Or: How I stopped worrying and admitted I don't like Citizen Kane!

What makes a favourite movie? Is a favourite film separate from that which you believe merits the accolade ‘greatest work of cinema’? It’s always kind of troubled me why Citizen Kane hasn’t rushed to the top of my list of most watched films. Why it hasn't engaged me beyond its technical and historical influence, largely passing me by like a landmark in a faraway land of which I took a photo and filed away with other long lost memories. Yet, we’re constantly told of its brilliance, topping the polls of every academic, middle-class hit-list of the world’s best cinema, from those that know better than everybody else. Who am I to disagree? The film itself has an influence on almost every single film I grew up watching, and therefore its importance in why I love cinema is undeniable. It’s a work of art; it’s a work of technical ingenuity, and it’s flawless in its execution but, dare I say it, I don’t particularly like it very much. So how do we come to our conclusions about our favourite movies?

I’m sure mentioning the names Citizen Kane and Aliens in the same sentence and comparing their quality as cinematic endeavours, will lose me any credibility I had as a viable film critic, but this isn’t about which one is better than the other. This is about why I love Aliens, and why ultimately, it’s my favourite film. I’m not alone in finding two and half hours spent with James Cameron’s sci-fi adventure, the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience one can have with a moving image. On ymdb.com 1196 users voted it in their top 20 favourite movies, which is about 4.5% of the total share. That’s pretty good against Kane’s 1625 votes, and a 6.1% share. Aliens was voted 15th in the BBC’s poll of ‘100 Movies of the Millennium’, 14th in Empire and HMV’s similar poll; it’s currently lying 6th in Sci-fi Lists top 100 films; Village Voice film critic Justine Elias voted it in her top 10 films of the century; and it’s enjoying an 8.3/10 rating on imdb.com with a respectable 79th place in their top 250. But what point am I trying to prove beyond the fact I love the film?

It’s interesting how such polls churn out different number 1’s each time another is conducted. Channel 4’s continuous weekend, primetime-filling clips shows (alternatively titled with the moniker Top 100), are testament to that fact. The Empire Strikes Back is apparently the greatest film ever made according to them, yet they make room for Grease as the best musical, E.T as the best family entertainment and best Tearjerker, Saving Private Ryan as the best war film, and Monty Python’s Life of Brian as the best comedy. But wait for it, while they are all the best of the best, the ‘Ultimate’ film is Gone With The Wind. Of course, that list was based on ticket sales, whilst the others were compiled from fan voting, but their legitimacy is fairly arbitrary. Everyone will disagree with them in some form or another, but it does raise the question of why we love our favourite movies and how do each of us come to our choices?

I’ve gone to quite an extent in writing why I think Aliens is a great film on DVD Times (HERE and HERE) but I can completely understand someone else having a negative reaction to the film. I simply can’t put my finger on exactly why it is my favourite but perhaps, if I disregard my notion that it is an important work within the science-fiction genre, at its core it probably represents a reminder of the familiar and safe experience I had when I first viewed it. Psychologists have mused with the idea that familiarity breeds a more positive reaction to something than if it had no relative connotation to the person in question. It is a major facet of advertising and branding in that familiar brand names are more likely to be preferred over new ones. Maybe it could be extended to film, in that our favourites remind us of something within that makes us feel happy and safe? In evolutionary terms, what didn’t hurt us before won’t hurt us again, and through the basic logic of human habits we are more likely to return to the things we’ve done before. Does Aliens subliminally remind me of the first time I saw it as a seven year old, sitting on the couch with my mum, in the safe and harmonious surroundings of the family home? I remember I used to love turning off all the lights in the house and running around with my friend, pretending we were on the alien planet fighting the aliens with all the characters, so is it a warm reminder of the best parts of my childhood? Then again, does Aliens offer me an outlet for my suppressed nihilistic emotions, showing that I do indeed think guns are great and that everyone should have one? Do the male characters represent a machismo that I never had and thus I watch to imagine I am the hero, or as Freud would say, I have some issues with my father and the alien’s themselves offer me an extension of some twisted, sexual anguish? Again, I ask, what makes a favourite movie?

Everyone’s got either one definitive favourite film or a small handful that vie for the prestigious title. Yet, the question isn’t what film or films they are, the question is why do they grab our attention and force us to go back, watching them time after time?

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