By Matt Singer | Criticwire May 20, 2013 at 10:04AM
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: What movie does every film lover need to see at least once on the big screen before they die?
The critics' answers:
"Given the eradication of repertory cinema in even major cities, the insistence that a movie has to be seen in a theater -- and in its original medium -- to be properly experience can quickly become insufferable. But where Jacques Tati's 'Playtime' is concerned, if you haven't seen it on the big screen in its original 70mm, you haven't really seen it at all. In lesser formats, it's a movie without characters, a critique of industrial dehumanization that embodies it all too thoroughly. But in 70mm, you can see the way Tati recycles his supporting cast from scene to scene; it's not a movie with no protagonists but one with many."
"'Lawrence of Arabia' is the epic of epics and perhaps more than any other film suffers away from the big screen. Nothing about Lean's masterpiece is small, from the scenery to the performances to Maurice Jarre's rousing theme. Such all-around grandeur takes full advantage of its intended presentation and, 50+ years later, remains a testament to cinema's potential."
"I could select any number of films, but I'm just going to go with 'The 400 Blows,' as it provided one of the preeminent and most memorable theatrical experiences of my own life, and it's the one screening that immediately comes to mind whenever I hear this particular question bandied about."
"I can watch about any film at home on my widescreen HDTV, but the one film that will never be the same as on the big screen is '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Any true film lover eventually sits down to read about the avant-garde interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi mystique, but there's no point to that unless you really experience it on a big screen. See it on the big screen and you're viewing a masterpiece, see it at home and you're not ever really seeing it."
"'Lawrence of Arabia.' When the Elk Grove Theatre re-opened several years they held a Grand Opening by playing a number of classics. This was one of them. It was a 35mm print, beaten up quite a bit, but it didn't matter. The glory of experiencing maybe the greatest epic of all time, even with its print flaws, was a marvel to behold."
"Didn't even have to think about this one -- Jacques Tati's 'Playtime,' in the original 70mm. There are many movies whose visual grandeur is diminished when watched on smaller screens, but this is a comedy where you literally can't perceive the jokes if you don't see it on the big screen, with Tati's brilliant use of space and dimension intact."
"I don’t embrace the idea that there are certain movies that every film fan has to see before they die. People have so different tastes in movies; who am I to be the one to dictate to others what they should watch? So I’ll rephrase the question a little and name a movie that I would like to see on a big screen if I knew that I was going to die in a not too far distant future. My choice would be '2001: A Space Odyssey.' It would help me to put my life in perspective – as a passing moment in the history of universe, which has been going on long before I was born and will keep on going on long after I die. I find that thought comforting and the suggestion of how it will continue is intriguing. And for the visual and the sheer grandness of it, it requires a big screen for the full experience."
"2001: A Space Odyssey."
"Jacques Tati's 'Playtime.' Unfortunately I didn't get to see it in 70mm but who's complaining? Not me. To call it a beautiful experience would be a gross understatement."
"As someone who can be found at New York repertory theaters like six nights of the week, I'm a dedicated believer in going to a movie theater and sitting as close as possible so my eyes can wander the screen and I can take note of how the director trains my eyes to move through an image. So it's not an unsurprising pick, but seeing Jacques Tati's 'Playtime' is certainly the one that truly changed when I saw it on 70mm. There are so many jokes and gags packed in the strangest of places in the frame that on a small screen, you focus on the totality of the image, while a large screen allows your eyes to move toward the negative space and discover these delightful gags. It's a wonderful feeling. 'Nashville' is also pretty similar in this regard, as well."
"This is a weird question since there are so many contemporary things I'd use, but it makes me all the more apparent I've grown up in a time where 'big screens' are changing into multiplex 3D/Real 3D syngeristic immersion halls. I guess the only things that really stick out for me -- mainly because they were so rare -- was a personal print of 'Police Story' and the 1925 version of 'Ben Hur.' While the former plays as part of Lincoln Center's upcoming 'Jackie Chan Experience,' the latter is a rarity due to its age and care needed to screen. Barring that, I highly recommend you go seek out a 35mm print of 'Smokey in the Bandit' -- which are kept in terrifying condition -- and then a 'remastered' Blu-Ray if you ever wanted to make the most of seeing ghosts of the original film."
"Easy answer: 'Apocalypse Now.'"
"This question is a really good one because my obvious answer is fresh in my mind. There are a few contenders for me in answering this; 'Taxi Driver,' 'Star Wars: Episode IV,' 'The Tree of Life,' and 'Avatar' (say what you want about the film but seeing it in IMAX 3D was one of those amazing theater experiences that I will never forget) just to name a few. I did, however, recently get to see 'The Godfather' on the big screen for the first time as part of the Film Classics series at Sundance Theaters. Of course I loved the film before but seeing it that way was a fantastic experience. It brought a new appreciation to the performances in particular, and cemented it as one of my favorite films of all time. I hope someday that I get the opportunity to see 'Part II' at the cinema as well."
"This may be cheating, but for the entire experience, I have to say it's 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' It's really a singular cinematic experience, even if you're not completely watching everything on the screen the whole time. I've only gone twice, but I'm always looking to try and take someone who's never been before."
"In ten years the answer to this question is just going to be 'a movie.'"
"I really struggled with this question. There are so many films that deserve to be seen on the big screen, and some of the ones I might have chosen are movies that I haven't even seen that way myself ('Alien' being a great example). So in the absence of any definitive answer on my part, I'll just say 'The Empire Strikes Back.' The original 'Star Wars' is, of course, a groundbreaking classic totally worthy of big screen viewing, but 'Empire' is perhaps even more visually opulent (Hoth! Cloud City!). Plus, it's got two really classic scenes: Darth Vader revealing he is Luke Skywalker's father, and Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite. These sequences play even more powerfully on the big screen than they do on DVD."
"There's a few epic films I can think of where the full scope doesn't come through in a home theatre environment. 'Lawrence of Arabia,' '2001: A Space Odyssey,' 'Ran,' and 'The Tree of Life' come to mind. Films like these are meant to dwarf their audience and envelop them with audio and visual on a massive scale. How to choose just one? I decided to suggest the one that is meant to surround the viewer with danger and madness. The film that pops with glorious color. The film that wraps the audience with both subtle audio and bombastic noise. The cinematic experience that takes them into the heart of darkness. If there's *just one* movie a film lover needs to see on a big screen before they die, it's 'Apocalypse Now.' If the viewer hasn't seen it before, they should begin with the original cut. If they have seen it before, they need to see the 'Redux.'"
"There are many movies that should be seen on a big screen such as 'Days of Heaven' and 'Lawrence of Arabia,' but every film lover needs to see 'Singin' in the Rain' on a big screen. Until last year, I only seen the 1952 classic movie about a silent film production company making the transition into sound on TV -- butchered in order to make room for commercials. Directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly were both dancers, accounting for the attention to detail in the dance scenes. Donen would become known as King of the Musicals. The dance numbers need to be seen large. Many people will have seen dance numbers inspired by the 'Singin' in the Rain' dance routine, but one needs to see the original. In the movie, we see a young Debbie Reynolds becoming a dancer as she holds her own against Kelly and Donald O'Connor in the number 'Good Morning' and Donald O'Connor performing 'Make 'em Laugh.' There's also Cyd Charisse in a duet with Kelly. Without seeing this film, how can you truly understand the recent 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'The Artist,' or even 'A Clockwork Orange,' 'Legal Eagles' or 'WALL-E?' Or on a small scale, there's also the 2005 VW Golf commercial and episodes of 'The Simpsons,' 'Family Guy,' and 'Glee.'"
"The restored version of Fritz Lang's 1927 silent 'Metropolis.'"
"Tati's 'Playtime,' preferably in 70MM."
"It's hard to whittle this down to one answer, because it's as important to see any number of classic films at all, let alone on the big screen. (Plus, you have to factor in how many theaters don't project classic films in 35mm film anymore as opposed to digital projection.) But here's my pick: 'Singin' In The Rain.' No, this 1952 musical won't offer an example of excellent widescreen, always a wonderful part of watching many classic films on the big screen, yet it is cinema at its most joyous. Here's a film that can be enjoyed by anyone at any age, not just about the day-to-day craft of making movies but of wondrous, gleeful creation, an instructive piece of filmmaking to any cinephile, budding or dyed-in-thewool. Every minute, every musical number of 'Singin' In The Rain' is infectious, exciting, and endlessly, repeatedly entertaining. (Yes, even -- especially -- the 14-minute ballet dream sequence.)"
"Almost all summer blockbusters apply here, along with films like 'Titanic' and 'Avatar,' but if I have to narrow it down to just one, I'd say 'Jaws.' It's an impressive film no matter what size screen you see it in, but if you can see it in a theater with a fun crowd, then the combination of the big screen and audience reactions would make it a blast."
"A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see a remastered print of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' on the big screen and a film that I thought I knew incredibly well after years of VHS viewing in my childhood and DVD later in life felt completely new."
"There is no more essential film to see on the biggest screen and loudest sound system available than Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.' It's an amazing film in any format or venue, but remains to me the ultimate experience film. And going to the theater should be an experience."
"'2001: A Space Odyssey,' easily. Loved it as a kid on TV, but that doesn't compare to seeing it as a young adult in a good theater for the first time."
"Right before they die, Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' or Lars von Trier's 'Melancholia.' If there is time left, I would pick 'North by Northwest' -- the bigger the screen, the better. From the Plaza and the UN through cornfields to Mount Rushmore, Cary Grant's American journey has become a myth in its own right. For architect Daniel Libeskind, who picked the Alfred Hitchcock classic as one of the four films of his life, 'all the symbols of power -- trains, airplanes, the CIA, the smuggling, the art sale…[and] Frank Lloyd Wright to show oblique angles,' can be understood visually."
"'Jaws!' The shark needs to be bigger than the viewer for this amazing movie to have the best impact."
"I know there are more essential titles out there, but I'd go with 'The Tree of Life.' The majority of it works on the small screen, but to get the full impact of the creation sequence, you have to see it on the biggest screen possible. Under the right conditions, it feels monumental and awe-inspiring. It helps that much of it was done practically instead of with CGI. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie, the creation sequence feels timeless."
"Well Abel Gance's 'Napoleon' would be lovely, but a little hard. But I think 'Lawrence of Arabia' is a must, isn't it? (And seeing some of the old Cinerama films on a genuine Cinerama screen would be a special treat)"
"Holy crap, this question is impossible. I already have a ton of movies in my 'everyone should see this before they die' bucket, and adding the qualifier that they should be seen on the big screen doesn't help me narrow them down. With the hope of giving an answer that no one else has given, I'll say 'Alien.' As great as it is in the living room, there's nothing like a darkened theater to make that final confrontation its most terrifying."
"I'm pretty sure every film lover should see 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the big screen before they die. I should get on that."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on May 20th, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: "Frances Ha," "Stories We Tell." (tie)
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Mud," "Something in the Air."