When you’re a film critic people always ask you to name your favorite movie. It’s the default response when someone hears what I do for a living (second most popular response: “What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year?”), and I hate the question. Not because I’m annoyed by the questioner, but simply because I am terrible at ranking movies. My favorite film changes day to day, depending on my mood and what’s going around me. But because I get this question a lot, I have a couple of stock answers that I feed out - all movies I truly love, but any of which could be my ‘favorite’ at any given time.
If I’m being honest, though, there’s one movie that stands far above all others. One I’ve seen hundreds of times. One that, even when I watch it in theaters twice in a year, makes me cry - almost the whole way through. If I had to give the definitive answer to my all-time favorite movie, under penalty of death, I’d have to say The Wizard of Oz.
It’s a perfect movie, even with all of its many imperfections. No other film captures what I want from cinema in the same way: there’s awe and wonder and love and beauty and silliness and fun and just the right amount of darkness. And I’m not kidding about crying through the movie - I have an almost physical reaction to the film where my eyes more or less leak constantly from the opening of Over The Rainbow to the closing credits.
The music in The Wizard of Oz is wonderful; the songs are not just iconic classics, they’re all exactly long enough. Some are even a little short, and you always want to be left wanting more, not feeling wrung out by what you got. Each character is uniquely specific in song, expressing who they are in every note. And the songs are clever and cute, filled with fun wordplay and emotion that never gets overbearing. Even Over the Rainbow, which has been performed by others in the schmaltziest possible ways, has a sense of restraint to it in the film.
There’s much to love in Oz, from the imaginative and engaging design of the world to the streamlined, episodic nature of the story - a more economical recruiting a team picture has never been made - but what I truly adore are the characters. Each of the main male actors - Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Burt Lahr - have the exact right Vaudeville broadness to sell the just-this-side of cartoonishness of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. They’re broad and funny but also constantly truly human; the characters don’t have the nuanced depth you find in more adult movies, but they have dimensions that are palpable and become more tangible on each viewing. These dimensions are created almost off-hand, in bits of side-business and reactions that flesh out the sometimes thinner script.
At the center of it all is Judy Garland, delivering one of the most eternally iconic performances in film history. She’s 1939 America in a blue gingham dress: scrappy and sentimental, not wanting to get involved in foreign affairs but unable to watch injustice happen. She’s sweet and strong in equal measure, the backbone of everything. Dorothy isn’t just a damsel in distress, and she’s not just an innocent blowing through the story. Garland’s powerful voice is instrumental in getting that across
I could write pages about The Wizard of Oz, but you already know what you think of the movie, right? Everybody has seen the film, right? If not, you’re in luck because the 3D IMAX rerelease is an extraordinary way to see this movie. The 3D, frankly, is useless - there’s some depth, especially added to the flat matte paintings, but largely the 3D is invisible. The IMAX screen and projection battle the usual darkening effect of the 3D glasses; while the image isn’t as bright as the 2D 4K version I saw earlier this year, it’s much better than your average 3D movie.
The IMAX screen is wonderful for the film. The Wizard of Oz is from the era of truly big screen movies, and it should be seen on the biggest screen possible, which IMAX offers. It’s a fully engrossing and transporting experience.
I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen twice this year; I’ll be trying to catch this IMAX rerelease one more time before it’s gone. This amazing movie, this perfect piece of idiosyncratic cinematic oddness and wonder, must be seen in a theater - especially one filled with kids who are being completely transported to the Land of Oz. And no matter how old you are, that’s a trip you can still take.