Favorite questions (Kyle Smith column)

What’d you think of the Oscars?”

What exactly can one think about an awards show? Was it well produced? Shamelessly schmaltzy? Was there gratuitous use of the theme from “Terminator 2?” Will some evil producer find himself in hell for arranging the cruel joke that was the Penelope Cruz-Salma Hayek sound awards duet? Did the right movie deserve to win? Well, clearly.

I did like “Million Dollar Baby” considerably more than any other film nominated for Best Picture. But all this reminds me of a question that, in some respects, is even more inane than asking about the Oscars (besides asking somebody about the Grammy’s or the Kids Choice Awards) — “what is your favorite movie?”

When “Jurassic Park” came out in 1993, it was my last day of school. I was in third grade. I saw the film eight times that summer. I read the book (the novel and the novelization) several times. I was a paleontologist for Halloween — twice. Without a doubt, it was my “favorite” movie, unseating “Home Alone.” But then there was “Speed.” And “Independence Day.”

Then I began to think for myself.

Throughout my teens, when asked for my “favorite movie,” I’d rattle off those that made me sound cool and/or like my parents didn’t love me — “The Usual Suspects,” “Pulp Fiction” — but always fell back on “Jurassic Park.” My life can be properly annotated by a handful of sporting events and the viewing of three movies: “Jurassic Park,” “Mulholland Dr.,” and The Sporting News’ compilation tape “Baseball in the ’80s” free with a yearly subscription of the publication.

Having seen way too many movies, and grown out of high school posturing and into collegiate posing, my response to the “favorite movie” question is a disgruntled sigh and a throwing of the arms into the air, which, with any luck, will hit my interrogator in the face. I have seen too many movies, and have been moved by too many, to name just one. I once had it down to a systematic “Top Five,” with a favorite documentary (“Koyaanisqatsi” or “The Thin Blue Line”), a classic film (“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”) a foreign movie (“A Matter of Life and Death” or “Fitzcarraldo”), a Hollywood epic (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and a contemporary film (“Rushmore”).

But that’s completely inadequate. And I’m sure as hell not going to pick the latest hip movie, be it “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Before Sunset,” even though I agree they are exceptional films. A “favorite” movie must sink in over time.

Back to my triptych of “favorite” films. But I don’t have enough space so let’s forgo discussion of “Jurassic Park” and “Mulholland Dr.”

The real gem here — and my favorite film of all time — is “Baseball in the ’80s.” Running at an even hour and narrated by Chicago great Jack “Hey Hey” Brickhouse, the movie puts together an entire decade of baseball with remarkable efficiency. It does, in a sense, recreate the feeling of living through the ’80s. We get important events, like the 1982 strike and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, as well as conversations about drug use and Pete Rose’s ban from the game in 1989. There are also moments of pure magic, most obvious being Kirk Gibson’s crippled home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 NLCS.

But the film doesn’t just cover the important stuff; we also get wacky incidents like Kansas City Royals (my boyz) star George Brett’s infamous pine tar incident, and hilarious footage of Royals third baseman Kevin Seitzer crawling alongside a slow ground ball.

Because sports bloopers are, in fact, what life is all about. If you don’t love sports bloopers, then you don’t deserve to love. And “Baseball in the ’80s” is the “Citizen Kane” (good movie) of blooper films. Actually, I take that back: the greatest blooper film of all time is what plays on the jumbotron in “The Naked Gun,” where a second baseman is mauled by a tiger and an outfielder runs through the fence, thereby knocking off his head. But “Baseball in the ’80s” is second.

“Baseball in the ’80s” may have been edited by some guy with a penchant for wearing shorts in inappropriate climates, but it does everything a movie should do. It taught me baseball history (and, by extension, geopolitical history); it clearly defined a time and a place; it deftly handled its characters; it stayed tonally consistent; and it runs the gamut of human emotions. And, most importantly, I watched it once a week for probably three years. Like a good friend, it never gets old.

The cardboard VHS box it came in is more of a ceremonial cloth, a Shroud of Turin for this messiah of movies. It doesn’t have an IMDb entry so we must assume it is a gift from God. 4

Communication junior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].