It wasn’t until I started writing for Toronto Film Scene that I started seriously looking at who and what made me fall in love with film in the first place. It was then that I realised how much of an influence Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had on me as a kid. The earliest films I remember seeing that weren’t either a cartoon or less than 30 minutes long were Hook , Jaws , the original Star Wars trilogy , Indiana Jones , and Jurassic Park . My mom claims that when I was really young I tried to find George Lucas’ number in our phone book (we lived in Regina, Saskatchewan). I’d have to brush up on my Joseph Campbell to fully understand why young boys like me are drawn to these kinds of movies, but the effect is as strong as a tractor beam from the Death Star. Or the Enterprise, for that matter. Yes, sci-fi, fantasy and adventure were where it was at. Star Trek , Alien , X-Men –if it had space, robots, aliens, pirates, superheroes, or all of the above, I devoured it like the all-powerful sarlacc. They were pure adventure, pure story, and I was happy to discover later in life that some of them were actually pretty good.
When I entered puberty I went through a phase where I almost exclusively watched Oscar-winning, sprawling historical and biographical epics: Lawrence of Arabia , Ben-Hur , The Ten Commandments , Spartacus , Gandhi , Amadeus , The Last Emperor . Unless it was pushing 3-hours in length, it wasn’t worth my time (which I apparently had heaps of). I’m amazed I had the attention span to watch these movies when I was 12-13 years old, but there you have it.
In high school I branched out a little more and decided it was okay if the movie had neither swords nor sandals. Being in musical theatre I discovered Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story , Chicago and Cabaret . I didn’t like Grease , and I still don’t. At the same time I also developed a fierce love for tragic and dark comedies. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life , Brazil , Dr. Strangelove , Little Miss Sunshine –one by one these ridiculous movies made their way into my personal canon. Some filmmakers I gravitated to more often than others, and I never thought about it until just now but they tended to be the auteur-ish types, like Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Michel Gondry, Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, and Christopher Nolan (yes, I count him as one). I’d like to think this makes me sophisticated (even if their movies were in no way obscure by the time I got my hands on them).
During University I worked two summers at a Rogers Video (remember those?), and if the pay was better it would have been the best job ever. Easy, accommodating to my night-owl lifestyle, and you got to talk about movies with other people who liked movies. There I finally knocked a few iconic films off my to-see list and saw The Godfather , Akira , and The Breakfast Club . Sadly Ghostbusters , both I and II, are still on that list.
Somehow my love for telling stories turned into a degree in theatre, but the roots of that same passion come out of film (most of my favourite actors still do theatre, but it’s because of their work in film that I love them so much).
For a cinephile my library is incredibly small, which could either mean that I have very selective tastes, or it could mean I am a cheapskate. I will choose to believe the former.
Through Toronto Film Scene I’ve had the joy of discovering new films and filmmakers that I may not have otherwise. In the meantime here are some films that I will always go back to:
Liam’s Must-See Films
Hook (1991) - This movie got pretty poor reviews, and even though it’s partially my nostalgia talking, I do think this movie holds up well, with a rich palette, an imaginatively stylized Never-Neverland, and great performances from Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. And all that imaginary food at the Lost Boys’ feast always looks so damn tasty!
Adam’s Apples (2005) - What does a neo-nazi, the Book of Job and apple pie all have in common? This movie, that’s what. It’s bizarre and Danish and hilarious. Better go see it.
Four Lions (2010) - This UK film is about the most incompetent Islamic terrorists ever to strap explosives to their bodies in search of Paradise. It is one of the darkest and also one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - This one is almost four hours long, with only male actors, and audaciously slow pacing at times…and somehow you can’t take your eyes off it.
The Great Dictator (1940) - Humour and irony are great weapons against tyranny, and Chaplin’s first talking picture is a testament to that. Chaplin said he’d never have made this film if he knew about all of the atrocities the Nazis committed. This feels wrong to say, but I’m kind of glad he didn’t know.