Monday, February 07, 2005

An incredible, Incredibles movie

I haven't seen one-tenth the movies Chris has this year, and any top-ten list would be incomplete because I simply didn't see as many films this year as I usually do. But I do know which movie this year was my favorite. And I also know which one I'd put at the top of the list of "the year's best films." And strangely, it's the same movie.

I'm not sure if all moviegoers are like this, but I see the movie world like this: Every year there are great movies and crappy movies, and while I can enjoy and appreciate the great ones...there is yet another class of movies above that level that I call magical. The films in this "magical" category are different for everyone, because it depends so much on personal taste, the individual's mood going into the film, preconceived notions about the film, and numerous other factors.

Take a random survey of people at the movies to find out their favorite film of all time, and you'll find that few people (outside of film critics) will give you an answer like Citizen Cane or The Godfather. Most average, every day people will answer with a movie title that doesn't make sense to you. When talking about the movie you can most often put in the DVD player and enjoy over and over and over... the average movie fan will choose a film that hit them in a unique way. My favorite movie of all time, for instance, would be That Thing You Do. Silly, huh? But I love that movie. Maybe it's because I was in a band, trying to make it big, when I first saw this film. Maybe it's because I had a Liv Tyler crush back then. Maybe it's just because of the "Aw, Shucks" manner of the film's main character. Do I think this is the best movie ever? Not by a long shot. And I can tell you with first hand knowledge that Citizen Cane and The Godfather are both outstandingly great movies. But when I'm bored, and can't find anything to do, and just want to have a movie on in the's not Cane that I put's That Thing You Do.

This category of "magical" films is different for everyone, because the magic is in their personality and the details of their lives. But the common defining aspect for all people is rewatchability. I have seen, as an example, the Matrix trilogy about three times in the last two months. I love those movies and can pretty much watch them any time. My personal list of "magical" films all hit me like a Mack truck when I saw them, some touching on themes near and dear to my heart, with others delivering on my expectations perfectly. My list includes films such as Out of Sight, The Iron Giant, Almost Famous, Unbreakable, The Matrix, That Thing You Do, Finding Nemo, Shawshank Redemption, Cable Guy, Iron Monkey, and many, many more. But this is not the list I'd submit for "greatest movie ever," and is instead the list suitable for the title of "my very favorite films." After all, film is the ultimate subjective medium. For every person who adored Mel Gibson's Passion, there was someone who found it maddeningly violent. For every person who lavished praise on Titanic, there's someone out there who thought the acting was really weak and the dialogue cheesy.

Film, and our love of it, is really about the individual more than about the movie. It's about a connection a person makes to a film or a character. While movies like Mystic River or Schindler's List made millions of men and women cry tears upon viewing them...I did not cry at those films. I think they're great too. But Iron Giant made me weep like a baby when I saw it for the first time. I have a friend whose favorite film is She's All That. I have a sister-in-law who thinks Gladiator is the bomb. My girlfriend's favorite movie is The Count of Monte Cristo--and I found that movie to just be okay for me. Everyone's different, and so it's natural that our responses to films would be different too.

I feel like I'm rambling, but I'm trying to explain that a person's favorite films are often not connected in any way to total box-office or the average of American film critics' scores. Instead, we pick our favorite films (and view them repeatedly forever) based on how we connected to it, and we pick our "best of the year" films based on how artfully the film was crafted.

Well the new film for me in the "favorite" category, the one destined to knock That Thing You Do from my top spot, is the Disney/Pixar film The Incredibles.

I loved it right away, and count myself among those who call this the best superhero movie ever--yes, even better than Spiderman 2. And sure, the Incredibles got great reviews and made heaps of cash, so I'm far from alone in loving it. But let me tell you how I love it.

Within one week of seeing it, I was begging my girlfriend to go watch it again with me--instead of The Polar Express. I lost that argument and really didn't get too awful big a kick out of Polar Express. But I did eventually get to see The Incredibles again, and I loved it even more the second time.

The comic tone, the family aspect, the voice-work, the kid realizing he can run on water, the stretch-lady in the automatic doors sequence, the plane, the costume designer, the villian, the opening montage, the beaten-down alter ego of Mr. Incredible, the music, the action. Man, so much to love about this movie. So many things they got so right. I found out recently that The Incredibles comes out on DVD March 15, and I simply cannot wait. I can't remember ever longing so hard for a DVD release in my entire life. I've got the date circled on my calendar, and I can guarantee you I'll be watching it that night. The DVD, for fans of the film, has deleted scenes, bloopers, and even a new film about what happens with the baby & babysitter while the family is off fighting the villian on the island. I've probably mentioned this DVD and my desperation to buy it in conversation with my girlfriend at least three times a week lately.

On the one hand, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that The Incredibles is, for me, a "magical" film. I love it because it is exactly what I had hoped it would be, and because I went in that night with the perfect mood for this film. But at the same time, I am confident that the overwhelming majority of people who saw it loved it. They may not be as obsessive as I am about getting the DVD, but most people and reviewers gave this movie great marks. So I have to wonder something: Have the folks at Pixar and/or Brad Bird figured out what makes movies "magical" to us? Have they tapped into my brain?

Pixar first...they have made two Toy Story films (that I love, and again...that most people love), Monsters Inc., A Bug's LIfe, Finding Nemo, and now The Incredibles. I think they're getting better and better at making nearly perfect films. Now there's not a bad movie in the Pixar catalog, but they are fine-tuning their process, getting better and better. Nemo hit me like a ton of bricks, maybe because of my own relationship with my father, or maybe just because of the humor, or the animation........probably, it was all of the above. And I was prepared to call Nemo maybe the most-perfect movie ever...until I saw The Incredibles.

Now take Brad Bird, who was a major player in the early formative years of the Simpsons, and now has made The Iron Giant and The Incredibles back to back. This is my new favorite filmmaker. I will seriously watch anything he directs in the future, even if it stars cartoon versions of Urkle. This guy has tapped into an emotional way of telling stories that has me hooked.

Both Bird and Pixar are now considered in my book to be "sure things." And although I went to great lengths above to point out how each individual reacts personally to a film...I can say I'm not alone in loving the films of Bird and Pixar. Box office and DVD sales alone tell you that Pixar has the American Family's trust, and so does Bird. Clean, wholesome films with more wit and depth in one screen-shot than in all of the Shrek movies combined. I read an article not long ago about Pixar, and the family environment there. They're doing something right, and I believe it's their insistance on story coming first. I also think it helps that animation turn-around time makes for a longer writing and tweaking process, allowing them to iron out the wrinkles better than a typical live-action movie would.

So what's my point? I don't know. I know it's been forever since I posted, and I wanted to post. And I know that I'm anticipating this Incredibles DVD like it was a milestone birthday for me. I am giddy and cannot wait for this thing. There's no doubt in my mind I will watch The Incredibles hundreds of times throughout my life. Maybe it's the combination of the fact that this movie is "my favorite of the year" and also on top of my list of "best films of the year." That's pretty rare. Usually I can see the "magical" films for what they are...magical to me, but mabye not to everyone else. For instance, Unbreakable was my favorite movie of that year, but Almost Famous was a "better film" in my critical eyes. Does that make sense?

This year, for the first time, the movie that I would call my personal favorite is also the movie I would say was the best acheivement in filmmaking....The Incredibles. And that's something neat. Usually I have to tell people my favorite movies with a sheepish grin on my face, admitting their "guilty pleasure" status. But that's changing, with Nemo last year and now The Incredibles this year, I can use the same film for both lists.

If you haven't seen The Incredibles, I think you should. It's outstanding. If you've liked any of the Pixar movies...if you like The Simpsons and Iron Giant...if you like superhero comics or the Spiderman films...if you enjoy extreme will love this movie. Who may just be a "magical" experience for you, and one you can be proud to tell others about.


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