Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was bought about by learning that, according to Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney’s favorite movie is O Brother, Where Art Thou? I found this disturbing, mainly because it is one of my favorites as well, although I would prefer Fargo or The Big Lebowski. But for a presidential candidate, O Brother is a lot safer than Fargo or Lebowski. So here is my question: What are your pop-culture favorites now, and what will they be when you run for president? —jlmew
I’ve said for decades that my favorite movie is Brazil, because I love Terry Gilliam’s wild, anarchic humor, his grim vision of the future, the way he integrates fantasy and reality (for certain degrees of reality), and the rich look of the film, particularly Jonathan Pryce’s dreams. But even if America was ready to embrace a woman president, I don’t think it’s ready for a woman president who likes entertainment that dark and demented. So if I got the call-up to come play Palin with the idea of someday becoming commander-in-chief, I’m sure that’s when I’d suddenly remember that my favorite film of all time is Mister Smith Goes To Washington. Surely a great all-American film about how one person can make a difference by standing up to bullies and corruption is a safe, smart, symbolic choice for anyone seeking public office. That said, I’m fairly sure my current favorite album, Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More, is already a fairly safe bet for a political contender. Yeah, it’s angsty, but it’s wholesome old-school Americana, right?
I’ve discussed this with my team down at the think tank, and while I cannot confirm the rumors that a presidential bid will be announced in the immediate future, I have prepared the following statement on the matter, which goes as follows: Should I ever decide to make such a monumental decision as throwing my hat into the ring and taking a run at the highest office in the land, while it is possible that my favorite film may change, I can at least breathe easy in the knowledge that I will be able to maintain the same favorite film franchise between now and then, even if I might need to switch up which sequel I prefer. To clarify this, I presently stand fully behind the brilliance of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, but given the current state of the whale population, I feel I must hedge my bets and acknowledge that there may yet come a time when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home will prove to be the most prudent selection. With this said, however, the odds of this matter ever coming into play are slim at best, as I am a politician whose decisions are governed not by my mind, but by my heart. And I would drop out of the election at the drop of a hat with neither hesitation nor regret if but one tearful reader were to tell me, “Interviewing pop-culture figures is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.” This concludes my statement, and I’ll take your questions now.
First off, this is just baseless supposition on my part, but anyone who’s held as many contradictory positions on every conceivable issue as Mitt Romney has to have ADD. I doubt that he can focus very hard on any movie for more than five minutes, which means that he probably likes O Brother, Where Art Thou? because he thinks it’s a movie about how poor people belong on chain gangs. But when my favorite movie isn’t Re-Animator—an invaluable cinematic contribution to the health-care debate, and a film that makes a strong case for the need for death panels—it’s probably His Girl Friday, the one where the heroes are reporters who, unimpaired by journalistic ethics or any sense of basic morality, manage to throw a monkey wrench into the mayor’s plans to execute a nut a couple of days before the election because he thinks that a body swinging in the breeze will impress the electorate. It is a movie with something to offend just about everybody, so when I run for president—I could say “if,” but my enemies would just say it made me look wishy-washy—I plan to tell people that, after a long day of campaigning, I love nothing better than to collapse in front of the Blu-ray player with For The Love Of Benji.
One of my all-time favorite albums has been Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails. When it came out in 1989, I was making my transition from depressed high-school kid who listened to a lot of Billy Joel to depressed college kid who was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd, and was soon to be turned on to the genius of the Pixies. So I was ready to accept NIN’s first album, full of darkness, sorrow, and self-loathing, into my life. And while I’m somewhat less depressed now, and Trent Reznor’s lyrics don’t resonate as much with me as they once did, I still can scream out the lyrics to “Head Like A Hole” and “Down In It” like it was 23 years ago. However, if I were running for office, all that depressiveness might work against me. So I’d just say my favorite album would be something by the aforementioned Mr. Joel. I’d probably say The Nylon Curtain, just so I’d have at least a butter-knife’s worth of edge.
My favorite movie right this second is Bernie. I was delightfully surprised by it (although I shouldn’t have been, as I like Richard Linklater a lot). The film’s tone was a combination of the voices of Christopher Guest and Errol Morris (two of my other favorite directors), it was easy on the eyes, and I think it’s Jack Black’s best role. I kept expecting him to slide into this dark, irritating, smarmy place, but he remained this somewhat inscrutable, likeable character, not to mention the fact that he sang beautifully in it. My husband and I watched it shortly after having our baby, and it was an extra treat to watch something that surprised us, engaged us, made us laugh and got us talking afterward. However, a movie that glorifies a murderer (this is not a spoiler) is probably not the best movie to say is my favorite, when I run for president, so I’ll say mine is Casablanca. I haven’t actually watched it yet (I know, I know) but a) the choice will make me sound classy and smart, and b) the inevitable discovery that I never actually saw it will make for a very enjoyable gaffe.
I had the necessary political foresight as a teenager to fall in love with Young Frankenstein, a movie that can stand up to critics’ complaints. The film demonstrates the high value I place on science and my deep understanding of other cultures. And while I may have to answer some questions about the fidelity issues it raises, no one can ask them while I’m snort-laughing at every line. If I’m being honest, though, I know as an agnostic lady liberal, those are not the credentials I will need to reinforce. I need to prove that I stand behind Christian values, that I love “traditional” America, and most importantly, that I support gun rights. That is why I’m hereby switching my favorite-movie allegiance to A Christmas Story. Hopefully America is ready for a leader who quotes and giggles all the way through her favorite movie.
As a Canadian, the only way I could become president of America (Canada’s pants) would presumably be by leading, then succeeding in, a full-scale annexation of your nation, then installing myself as its benevolent despot-slash-spiritual-leader-slash-guitar god. In which case, to maintain my totalizing authority, I’d have to bury my deep-seated affection for my favourite movie, Brian De Palma’s weepily sincere rock opera Phantom Of The Paradise, for something much more palatable—say, Brian De Palma’s Scarface, a foundational text of your “American culture.” Yes, the ruthless fetishization of capitalism, the Horatio Alger narrative tempered by racial grotesquerie, the swearing and nipples, the unlicensed airbrushed beach towels depicting your all-American hero Tony Soprano sitting at a Last Supper-style spread lined with hillocks of cocaine: You love it, don’t you? More than being a publicized preference, my adoration of this adorable little movie will function as a primary policy platform, coinciding with my mandate to change America’s slogan (whatever it is) to “THE WORLD IS YOURS.” Because, America, with me as your leader, the markets will flood with bikini-clad spray-tanned supermodels, wide-lapel white suits will be back in fashion, and the streets will run red with the blood of non-believers. At last, the world truly will be yours, which is to say, mine.
I’m tempted to claim that my current favorite film is some kind of pornography, but that would just be childish (and untrue). But I probably wouldn’t be elected by telling the truth, either, since my current favorite is probably There Will Be Blood—a film perhaps a little too bleak for Middle America to get behind. So when it came time to tell one of the many lies needed to get me elected, I guess I’d tell the world that my favorite movie is Something’s Gotta Give, because it’s filled with relationship-porn that will satisfy most viewers. First you’ve got your old guy who can easily score with much younger ladies, so that secures the manly man vote. Then it’s got the aging lady who is still incredibly desirable and ends up with the guy, proving that aging ladies still got it, girlfriend. It would also score with the young people by not having Amanda Peet end up with Jack Nicholson, because eww, gross. All bases are covered!
My favorite film is the original Dawn Of The Dead, and I trust the American people will accept this choice, even if some of my campaign consultants and even some pundits see it as a bit controversial. Sure, it’s full of blood and gore, it’s bleak beyond measure, and its anti-consumerism subtext could easily be read as anti-business, which would be the kiss of death to my campaign. In reality, the violence would only serve to bolster my populist appeal—the American people love violence, after all—and while it is bleak, it’s also a powerful reminder of the need to be prepared for any eventuality. In the post-9/11 reality we live in, this is a powerful message; even the CDC agrees that if you’re prepared for the zombie apocalypse, you’re prepared for anything. And if anything will prepare you for the zombie apocalypse, it’s watching Dawn Of The Dead a few dozen times. As for that anti-consumerism subtext, well, does anyone really believe Joe Sixpack or his soccer-mom wife are particularly good at reading subtext, no matter how blatant it is? Hardly. If anything, they’ll see that it’s set in a mall, think of how much they love the mall, and subconsciously associate that good mall feeling with my candidacy. How can I lose?
Ever since my 10-year-old self snuck into a showing of Blade Runner during its original 1982 release—thanks to being babysat that summer by my strip-mall-duplex-managing grandmother—it’s been my favorite movie. It’s also deeply informed the way I see many things: capitalism, America, urban theory, body parts, and the suspicion that any human being I know, myself included, may be a bioengineered replicant. Grim, dark paranoia may be all well and fine for an inconsequential introvert, but I’ll need to put some sunlight between myself and that worldview when I make a bid for the Oval Office. In that inevitable eventuality, I’ll probably claim my favorite movie is and always has been something cheery and innocuous from my childhood—like, say, Walt Disney’s Robin Hood. After all, there’s nothing contentious about cuddly woodland creatures and the redistribution of wealth, right?
Asking a film critic to pick out a single film as their all-time favorite is a little like asking a parent to choose their favorite child: It’s quick and easy, and there’s no way you can possibly go wrong. I’m pretty sure that every facet of my life and existence rules out the possibility of ever becoming president, except for my favorite filmmaker: Frank Capra, that most all-American of Uncle Sam-loving über-patriots. My favorite Capra film is probably Meet John Doe, which is unrelentingly dark and grim in its depiction of the dark side of the American dream and the mania for success. That’s probably a little too grim for my public image, so for the sake of my campaign, I’m going to say It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite film. That’s also incredibly cynical about the dark side of the American dream and the mania for success, but nobody seems to remember how dark it is (until one of the most famous happy endings in all of film), so I think I’m safe. Incidentally, my all-time favorite pop-culture preference of a presidential candidate is Wesley Clark claiming Wyclef was his favorite musician. For my money, that’s even more ridiculous and preposterous than Mitt Romney claiming Battlefield Earth as his favorite book.