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Norditorial - LAWRENCE OF ARABIA VS. SEVEN SAMURAI, Or How I Learned To Stop Listing And Love The Movie

Nordling here.

Two weeks from today is going to be a great day for film fans here in Houston, and I'm pretty sure it's not happening anywhere else.  On January 19th, I'll be hosting a screening of my favorite film of all time, SEVEN SAMURAI.  Yes, it's a bold statement to declare one particular film your favorite, and depending on the day of the week and the mood I'm in, my answer might be different when you ask me.  Go to a film fan and put them on the spot by asking them their favorite movie - there's a momentary "deer in the headlights" look on their face as all these fantastic cinema experiences play in their mind, and it's a Sophie's Choice kind of situation.

But, and this is where the article title comes from, at the same time as my SEVEN SAMURAI screening, the Alamo Drafthouse is also screening LAWRENCE OF ARABIA at the Mason Road theater, as a tribute to the recently passed Peter O'Toole in his signature role.  I can't be at both places at once, unfortunately, and I've already hosted a LAWRENCE OF ARABIA screening here.  It's also one of my favorite films, and if I rank SEVEN SAMURAI higher in my mind, it's not due to quality, but my own personal preferences.  SEVEN SAMURAI has huge meaning for me personally, and while I love LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, SEVEN SAMURAI feels more like family to me, more like a shared experience.   I'm lucky I live in a place that has the option of both movies being able to play, and I hope in your part of the world you have a decent theater that plays all the great classics.

There are a lot of films that have special significance to me, mostly because of how they entered my life and who I was at the time I saw them first.  My ten favorite movies aren't necessarily the best movies ever made (although some of them are, in my opinion), but singular moments in my life that I remember vividly.  Everyone knows about my E.T. experience, and my favorite films are not only a map to my tastes, but the life I've lived.  I've lived RUSHMORE, in more ways than I can write about.  RIO BRAVO recalls my relationship to my dad for me, much as it does Drew McWeeny in his outstanding Film Nerd 2.0 entry.  THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK isn't only a great movie, but it reminds me of a really great day in my life.  I don't know how it is for other critics, but that's what my favorite films are to me - not only a great movie, but the life I've lived.

There are good films and bad films, and there is that rarified air that are the classics.  LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is one of those, SEVEN SAMURAI another, and many other great films besides.  To quantify any of them as being "better" than the other is a job for emotionless statistician drones, not for cinema lovers.  I'm just as guilty as obsessing over minutiae as anyone else, and to say something like "CITIZEN KANE is the greatest movie ever made" is strangely reductive, like it means all over movies are suddenly less for saying it.  Does it mean that if you see CITIZEN KANE that you can safely ignore everything else?  I don't think so.

This is also the time of year where we feel the need to rank the films we've seen the year before; we're all guilty of it, myself included, as my recent top 10 list would indicate.  It's a demand from the readers for us to list our best movies, and it's also a bit of the OCD in most critics that they feed that need as well.  Is a movie like HER "better" than a movie like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET?  Or INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS?  Someone out there may have had a transformative experience with MAN OF STEEL that no other movie could touch last year, and I would be a bit of a jerk to take that away from someone because I didn't agree on the quality of the movie.  

Yes, there are objective criteria when it comes to ranking the best films of the year.  THE ACT OF KILLING isn't my favorite film of 2013, but it is certainly the best, in my opinion - the best meaning that the film accomplishes what it sets out to do, shows us a world we here in the West haven't experienced before, and informs and enlightens in the way that only the best art can do.  And even then, that's shifted through a different perspective, depending on the critic you're reading; HER is another film that informs and enlightens just as powerfully for other critics just as THE ACT OF KILLING did for me, like Capone or Mr. Beaks.  If Harry or Quint post their lists, they will likely be entirely different, based on their own personal criteria on what art is.

It's all intensely personal how we come to our "best" films.  A film like BEFORE MIDNIGHT, for example, wouldn't be anywhere near my top ten of the year had I seen it twenty years ago, at an earlier point in my life.  Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have had the frame of reference that I have now, living a married life, having children.  But twenty years ago I did have special attachment to a film like BEFORE SUNRISE, where I was very much in the space that Ethan Hawke's Jesse occupied at the time.  If I were older, a film like NEBRASKA might resonate even more strongly with me.  Perspectives change and shift, as they are supposed to do, because no one wants to live in a world of rigidity, never moving forward.  Forward isn't a direction, and it's not the endpoint.  Forward is the way of life.

So we take stock in our year, and our lists are about ourselves just as much as they are about the movies we saw.  It's a sort of road map to our inner lives, and as we put 2013 behind us and move on to 2014, our lives will change, by inches or miles.  We can't know until the end.  We rank movies because we are ranking ourselves - our priorities, our hopes, our dreams, and our experiences.  We look for gaps in our knowledge and we try to fill them, or we seek affirmation for who we are and where we want to be.  2013 was a terrific year in movies, and a decent year for myself in particular.  I hope each and every one of you has a great year ahead - not just at the movies, but in your own lives.  I hope that you are not the same person in December as you were in January.  See all the new movies if you can, but more importantly, see all the old movies that you can.  

And, if you live in Houston, I hope you can come to my SEVEN SAMURAI screening, and if you can't, it's because you're going to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. By the way, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is also screening Friday night, so you can do both, if you're inclined.  See you at the movies.  Thanks for reading.

Nordling, out.

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