My Favorite Film and 99 Runners-Up

Everybody has a favorite film. Some people have ten favorite films. Some people flesh out their list to a full hundred. How and why people choose their favorite film is subjective. Some choose a film of important personal significance or inspiration. Some choose a film of extremely high regard to impress other people. Some pick the movie they could watch over and over again. But in the end, a person's favorite movie is more indicative than they may realize.

This is my story.

I grew up on a steady diet of cartoons and sitcoms. From my first day of kindergarten, I set out to be a comedian. The jokester. Mister funny man. I thought making somebody laugh was the surest way to make them like you

As I aged, my tastes didn't necessarily refine, but grew to encompass most everything. I was like the Blob, I just wanted to consume everything in my path. Unfortunately, I had the tragic misfortune of
A) Being a minor,
B) Living in suburban Missouri and
C) Having conservative parents. My mother and father had a strict kibosh on anything they deemed too racy, too violent, too inappropriate, too raunchy, or too controversial. I wasn't allowed to watch The Simpsons from seasons four through ten. My father overheard Bart relentlessly chanting the word "Bastard," and banned the series from our house. That was the freaking golden-age of The Simpsons. I'm still mad about this.

Come to think of it, my dad was a pretty ardent Bush supporter...

At about age 13 or 14, my parents either lifted the ban or stopped caring enough to enforce it. We didn't have cable, so they didn't feel it necessary to censor any of my TV-watching; there was nothing too inappropriate on broadcast television.

In early 2000, there was an advertisement for a TV show. It looked funny, and I wanted to watch it. It was that simple. I didn't know who was responsible for creating it, any of the actors appearing in it, or even the background that led to its fruition. I just knew the TV show from a brief 30-second promo. I watched it. Low and behold, if it wasn't the single-funniest 30 minutes of my life, it was damn close. I tuned in next week, and it was even funnier.

And then it was cancelled.

After a mere two episodes, the TV show that changed my life was cast into the garbage by ABC to make room for more episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

This show was Clerks: The Animated Series.

This two minute scene was funnier than the final three seasons of The Drew Carey Show.

As mentioned, at this point of my life, I was trying to experience as much media as possible in any form. The internet was still in the days of dial-up, so it was no help there. I could spend an evening downloading a single song from Napster if my parents didn't need to use the phone, or I could spend 22 bucks on a new album. Hard copy media was still the name of the game. Sam Goody, Funcoland, Wherehouse Music and Best Buy were my homes away from home (That's right, Best Buy. That's where you stand.)

But the king among kings was Blockbuster Video. You remember Blockbuster, right? For five bucks, you could leave your home to pick a movie from a limited library, take it home for three days, (assuming nobody else took the single copy of the movie first) then leave your home again to return it.

9000 my ass. Also, a director from Amsterdam wouldn't use this many Dutch angles.

The one advantage Blockbuster and other video rental outlets had over modern internet streaming services was the ability to browse. You could instantly see hundreds of video boxes, all right next to each other. If you couldn't find something you wanted, you could look at everything else, maybe finding a diamond in the rough. Maybe finding something else entirely. Something serendipitous.

As I mentioned, my parents liked to keep things rated PG, parental guidance suggested. Anytime I was at Blockbuster, I was under their scrutiny. Conversations usually went like this:
Parent: "What are you getting?"
Me:  "This"
Parent: "What's it rated?"
Me: "PG-13"
Parent: "What's it about?"
Me:*Half-assed recollection of the back of the box*
Parent: "Are you going to copy any of the things you see in this movie?"
Me: "No."
Parent: "Are you going to repeat any of the things you hear in this movie?"
Me: "No."
Parent: "Okay. Where's your brother and sister?"

The only exception to this was if the movie was rated R.

Parent: "What are you getting?"
Me: "This."
Parent: "What's it rated?
Me: "R"
Parent: "Put it back."

I don't remember how long it was between me watching Clerks: The Animated Series and me finding the Clerks video cassette, but I remember the actual moment vividly. There was the logo; same font, same colors. There was Dante and Randall on the cover, live-action, but unmistakably them. I didn't know the movie existed. I didn't know anything about it except it apparently spawned a TV adaptation. I needed to see this predecessor. It was mandatory.

I don't know if it was fate, kismet, if the stars were aligned, or if my parents were just having an off day, but somehow, I was able to rent that R-rated comedy. I didn't press my luck. I didn't talk about what I rented, but I didn't avoid talking about it. My parents asked 'what did you rent?' I told them 'Just some comedy.' For some reason, that was enough. I still flocked instinctively to the Comedy section. My parents never knew what I was renting; they never heard of these movies, and they never watched them. They just checked the rating, paid the five bucks, and yelled at me when I forgot to return the tape.

I'm going to assume, for the purposes of rhetoric, the works of Kevin Smith are not widely known. Allow me to explain them. Kevin Smith wasn't one of the founders of the indie film movement of the early 90s, but he was one of the most successful graduates. His debut film, Clerks, was a dissection of the slacker lifestyle: working for peanuts, getting no respect, and having an eternally-tormented feeling of wasted potential. Smith poured a lot of his own heart and soul into the film, turning his daily grind and experiences as a convenience store cashier into a screenplay. He wrote the film, directed it, edited it, and shot it in the very convenience store which served as the inspiration for the movie. He funded it by emptying his bank account, maxing out ten credit cards, and selling his possessions. He cashiered all day, filmed all night, and called in every favor to every friend to acquire resources and actors.

It was shot exclusively in Super-16 for just over $25,000. In the eyes of a minimum-wage underling, $25,000 may as well be $25 million, but Kevin Smith had the dream, the know-how and the motivation to make it happen. The film grossed $3 million. That's an 11,900% profit.

Clerks was my first introduction to independent film. It shattered my illusions. Prior to this, I viewed movies the same way I viewed airplanes. Very big, very expensive, and put together by professionals somewhere far away. Clerks showed me films could be small, personal, real, and if one person was determined enough, could put together an entire movie with just hard work and determination.

But shaking my world was only half the story. Equally important is what Kevin Smith shook my world with. As mentioned, I was a sheltered suburban child. I assumed there would be a couple of F-bombs and maybe a few mentions of coitus. I was wrong. I was very wrong. You see, in addition to making extremely low budget and personal pictures, Kevin Smith is known for making ridiculously perverted movies. He mixes scatological humor, sexual discussion, drug use, and insane levels of profanity on par with Tarantino. This is in addition to conversation-based dialogue and pithy observations on society, media, and modern culture. Clerks wasn't the first R-rated movie I ever saw, but it was the first "Hard R."

Minutes into the movie, I was aghast, agog, and aglow. Not only was it hilarious, it was insanely raunchy, dirty, sick and twisted, and I loved every god damn minute. I couldn't believe what I was watching, or that I was getting away with it. I watched it at an audio level just barely above the range of human hearing, terrified my parents would burst into my bedroom, grab my VCR, and leave me with dirty glares and copies of Chicken Soup For the Soul.

Years later, Clerks has stuck with me. Trapped in a minimum-wage hell of my own, its message of accepting life, living in the now, enjoying the little things, and mastering your own fate still resonates on a daily basis.

Clerks is my favorite movie. If there was no Clerks, I would not be the person I am today. I would not have the same level of interest in film. I would not have the same approach to all things media. I would not have gone to film school. I would not be a postmodernist. I would not have this blog, and you would probably be watching old episodes of Dinosaucers on Youtube.

We used to be four ordinary kids...

Clerks is the film that changed me, and for that, I will always be grateful. I search high and low for new movies because of Clerks. There may be a new film being made right now that changes my life again. There may be a movie 50 years old, waiting to be found, waiting for the opportunity to change my life again. I owe every film an opportunity to dethrone Clerks as my favorite film. Perhaps one day I'll find one. Perhaps one day, I'll find 99. Until then, here are the films that come closest:

  1. Clerks (1994)
  2. Jurassic Park (1993)
  3. American Beauty (1999)
  4. Forrest Gump (1994)
  5. The Graduate (1967)
  6. Memento (2000)
  7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  8. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
  10. Apollo 13 (1995)
  11. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  12. Back to the Future (1985)
  13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  14. The Big Lebowski (1998)
  15. Spirited Away (2001)
  16. Ghostbusters (1984)
  17. The Blues Brothers (1980)
  18. Run Lola Run (1998)
  19. Band of Outsiders (1964)
  20. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
  21. Psycho (1960)
  22. Serenity (2005)
  23. Oldboy (2003)
  24. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  25. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
  26. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
  27. Jaws (1975)
  28. Sin City (2005)
  29. Blue Velvet (1986)
  30. Animal House (1978)
  31. Star Wars (1977)
  32. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  33. Dead Poets Society (1989)
  34. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  35. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  36. The Incredibles (2004)
  37. Blade Runner (1982)
  38. Army of Darkness (1992)
  39. A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  40. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  41. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  42. Double Indemnity (1944)
  43. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  44. Stand By Me (1986) 
  45. Brick (2005)
  46. MASH (1970)
  47. Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
  48. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  49. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
  50. Poltergeist (1982)
  51. Thank You For Smoking (2005)
  52. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  53. Six String Samurai (1998) 
  54. Big (1988)
  55. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
  56. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  57. The Sandlot (1993)
  58. The Battleship Potemkin (1925) 
  59. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
  60. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
  61. The Truman Show (1998)
  62. Blazing Saddles (1974)
  63. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  64. Tommy (1975)
  65. Akira (1988)
  66. Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
  67. Breaking Away (1979)
  68. Slacker (1991)
  69. 12 Monkeys (1995)
  70. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
  71. Almost Famous (2000)
  72. The Fifth Element (1997)
  73. Minority Report (2002)
  74. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  75. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  76. Chasing Amy (1997)
  77. Sid and Nancy (1986)
  78. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  79. Iron Man (2008)
  80. Ghost World (2001)
  81. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
  82. Inception (2010)
  83. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
  84. Heathers (1989)
  85. Children of Men (2006)
  86. Dazed and Confused (1993)
  87. Sideways (2004)
  88. Zodiac (2007)
  89. Natural Born Killers (1994)
  90. Clue (1985)
  91. Tron (1982)
  92. Coraline (2009)
  93. Mildred Pierce (1945)
  94. Be Kind Rewind (2008)
  95. X2: X-Men United (2003)
  96. Better Off Dead (1985)
  97. Empire Records (1995)
  98. Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
  99. Strange Days (1995)
  100. Re-Animator (1985)

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