Thursday, January 5, 2012

"It's gotta have horses."

The following reflection is not about War Horse.

This is a thought that came to me when I went to a site listing upcoming 2012 movies and, to my disappointment, the prospects looked bleak. I’m a big fan of science fiction, so I’m looking forward to Prometheus, but I’m also a big fan of Westerns (which are relegated to HBO these days), historical epics, and period pieces. I like a film that transports you to another time and place. So, looking at the list of upcoming films, and thinking of the movies I had seen in 2011 and the scarcity of great period films, I remembered a discussion about movies that had led to the question, “What must a film have in order to be a great film?” and I had responded, “It’s gotta have horses.”

When answering the above question, I wasn't expressing a love of horses, and I wasn't just thinking about Westerns and historical epics. When I thought of films that I consider great, they all seemed to have horses (or at least one horse) in them.

Asked to apply my criterion to specific films, I had mentioned three of my favorite films, which I also consider great films: Lawrence of Arabia, The Searchers, and Ben-Hur (1959). (Some might argue that the last film is not a great film, but to each his own.)

Then, the suggestion was made that my criterion was too restrictive. It seemed to point mostly to Westerns and period pieces. “Not so,” I said. If you think The Godfather is a great film, don’t worry. It meets the criterion. If you think Vertigo is a great film, think about the wooden horse in the mission museum. Citizen Kane? Don’t forget the horse-drawn wagon that splashes mud on Kane just before he meets Susan Alexander. The Graduate? Monkeys! Damn, no horse.

Applying this criterion to more recent movies, I’m happy to see that it includes The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, There Will Be Blood, and The New World. The Tree of Life, my pick for the best film of 2011, has horses on the cowboy bedspread in the boys’ room, but that might be stretching the rule. With all those images, there must be another horse in the film! But Melancholia, #2 on my list of the best films of 2011, definitely has horses that are key to its story and imagery. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, my pick for the best summer release - horses!

So here’s the deal. Think of great films that you love – perhaps the first five that come to mind. Do they meet the horse criterion? Or, if you don’t want to do it that way, provide your own response to the question, “What must a film have in order to be a great film?” and keep your answer limited to one specific requirement.

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