As I mentioned in Episode 1 of the show, this list is really in no particular order except for the first three movies. Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Episodes 4 and 5 are definitely my three absolute favorites.
1. Jurassic Park
This movie really has no flaws and might be my favorite film. The special effects, which are now almost twenty years old, still look fantastic and are beter than the majority of the movies that came out this year. The score also adds a lot to the movie and is very memorable. The characters—especially Dennis Nedry, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm—are all entertaining to watch and feel like real people. The acting is great, the action scenes are incredibly intense, and the story is a fantastic homage to King Kong. As a child I grew up with it, enjoying it for its scary monsters and the imagination it instilled in me as I played with the movies’ action figures. Now when I watch it I love it for its fascinating science and engaging dialogue. This is one of the few films that gets better and better every time I watch it.
2 and 3. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back
While each of these movies has its own strengths, this was a trilogy that I grew up with, so it’s hard to talk about one without talking about the other. I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw them, but for me the Star Wars trilogy has always been a part of my life. I love the music, which even as a small child I recognized as being better than any other movie, and the adventures the characters go in these two movies have always captivated me. The scenes in Mos Eisley Cantina and Bespin especially stand out, since I have always seen these places as being both fully-realized, yet at the same time other-wordly, a perfect balance that, once again, allowed my imagination to run wild. George Lucas gets a lot of shit nowadays, somewhat deservedly so, but I think anyone who grew up with his universe has to thank him for his original Star Wars trilogy, especially the impeccable first two films.
4. The Truman Show
This is a film that makes you see life in a whole new way. After I saw it for the first time at about the age eleven, I remember constantly being paranoid that my life and the people around me weren’t as they seemed. Now, as I have grown older and I have watched the movie several more times, the lessons I take away from the movie are for more significant: learn to value the things in your life that truly matter and make time for them. The moral dilemma that the movie presents, where Truman is forced to choose between pleasing the masses or pursuing what matter to him, is a really interesting one. Jim Carrey really shows his acting chops off in the movie: “Good morning! And if I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”
5. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
This movie is memorable for a lot of reasons. First of all, I just love Wes Anderson’s style that pervades all aspects of the film: the Team Zissout uniforms, the scene in the submersible, and the David Bowie covers done in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, just to name a few examples. There are also some really great action scenes, namely the attack on Ping Island and the pirate raid of the Zissou boat. However, what really makes the movie great are the characters and the fantastic performances given by the actors. Bill Murray has to learn to become a father to his son, while at the same time Owen WIlson deals with being an unwanted bastard. Anjelica Houston struggles with balancing her love for her husband with not letting him take advantage of her monetarily. Cate Blanchett also struggles with raising her unborn son without the father, who has left her. Even the character of the bond stooge is hilarious as he turns from an uptight business man into a guy that does not really give a shit about the finances of the trip. All in all this is a great movie that manages to tell a story of heartbreak, character introspection, and revenge.
6. Big Fish
The first time I watched this film I clearly remember my reaction towards it developing as I saw more and more. For the first part of the movie I really didn’t know what to think, especially during the scene with the young children and the witch. I thought that I was going to get another one of Tim Burton’s recent gothic, overly stylized, and yet backed with little substance, popcorn flicks. As the movie progressed, though, I couldn’t help but become emotionally involved with the story. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney each bring unforgettable performances to the forefront of this epic tale about a grown man trying to figure out who his father really is. This movie really engulfed me into its magical world filled with fantastical people and incredible stories that are too other-wordly to be possible—or are they?
7. Groundhog Day
Bill Murray really set his name in stone as a dramatic actor in this film. The idea behind the movie is somewhat similar to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but instead of seeing three different perspectives of his life, Murray is forced to relive the same day over and over, endlessly questioning the small decisions he makes as he tries to escape the never-ending cycle. The movie is all over the place in its tone, containing scenes of slapstick humor to be followed only minutes later by attempted suicide. In spite (or maybe because) of this, the film is an easy to digest take on a deep topic—human morality. It’s a comedy, a romance, and a drama, all perfectly wrapped up into one fantastic product. This movie is great to watch with nearly any audience—I was very young when I saw it for the first time—and I couldn’t recommend it more.
8. Blade Runner
Set in such an immersive and overwhelming world, Blade Runner is a movie that is difficult to watch without constantly studying it. Part of this has to do with the crowded, dark, and futuristic Los Angeles it is set in, perhaps a prediction of things to come for humanity, and the other part is one of the most existential questions that is prevalent in every aspect of this film: what makes something human? Usually when movies have the balls to ask such a deep question, which is a rarity in itself, they aim high, but ultimately fail in their execution. I would liken this to a movie like Cloud Atlas or Prometheus; in those movies you can see how intelligent the director is trying to be, but in the end you don’t really give a shit about the “important questions” they are trying to ask (or I didn’t at least). Blade Runner sits in complete contrast to those films—you feel for the constantly questioning Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he hunts down androids that seem to be more human than the drone-like people that populate L.A. Rutger Hauer also delivers my all-time favorite monologue with his extremely moving “Tears in Rain” speech towards the end of the film.
9. The Shining
Jack Nicholson gives one hell of a performance in this movie. It explores the gradual decline of Jack Torrance’s mental state, as he goes from an alcoholic trying to make amends for his past failures and turns into a blood-thirsty lunatic that tries to murder his wife and son. This is one of my favorite movies not just for its psychological thrills and dramatic scenes, but also for its heavy amount of dark humor—this movie honestly makes me laugh more than any other. Scatman Crothers is also an incredible bad ass in this film.
10. There Will Be Blood
This is one of my favorite character studies, right up there with The Shining. The role of Daniel Plainview is perfectly suited for Daniel Day-Lewis, who brings one of the most memorable acting performances of the last twenty years to the screen. The direction done by Paul Thomas Anderson is nearly flawless, and the haunting score from Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood really elevates the film and perfectly matches its tone. I could watch very few character studies over and over again, but this is one of them.
A gorgeous film that might have made it onto my list for one reason alone (which I briefly mentioned on the show during episode 1): the scene with WALL-E and EVE dancing in space is an image I have etched upon my mind. The CGI is simply stunning as chemical bits from the fire extinguisher propel the two intertwined characters all around the Axiom spacecraft. The beautiful artwork is perfectly matched by a moving score from Thomas Newman, music that wonderfully encapsulates all of the emotion and magic developing on the screen before you. On top of that, the scene serves as a symbol of hope for both the ship’s captain, who has no idea what dancing even is, and for us as the viewers as we see that pure happiness can come from the simplest interactions in life. While this scene is my favorite part of the film, the entire movie is an entertaining viewing for children, beautifully moving for adults, and manages to convey a simple, easy to grasp message about the respectful manner in which we need to start treating our planet.
12. Dazed and Confused
You hear about the beer bust at the Moontower, man? A classic comedy that I laugh at more and more with each viewing, Dazed and Confused is amazing because it makes me feel so nostalgic even though I grew up two decades after the one in which the movie takes place. The acting is just downright fun to watch as each respective character goes through a typical high school day in the 70’s. I would almost label this movie as a realistic spin on coming of age stories—none of the characters make any tough moral decisions or drastically change from the start to the end of the movie. Instead, they sort of morph slowly throughout the movie and show flashes of the people they will eventually become. I’m going to sum up this one by channeling my inner-Leonard Maltin douchiness: this laugh-a-minute joyride will leave you wanting seconds.
13. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
A fantastic film for so many reasons: the epic, daunting journey, the close-knit group of characters, the intense battle scenes, the stunning camera shots of the sprawling New Zealand country side, and a truly awesome score. What’s especially great about this film is its sense of pacing—even though it runs for nearly three hours, the story moves along with great rhythm. The fight scenes last for the perfect amount of time and never seem over-the-top in their action, yet at the same time dialogue-heavy scenes are masterfully calculated to provide necessary character development without feeling drawn out. Peter Jackson did a remarkable job of bringing Middle-Earth to life in this engaging depiction of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material.
My Close Calls
I love each of the following movies, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t throw them up above with the rest of my favorites.
1. Duck You Sucker (A.K.A. A Fistful of Dynamite)
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
4. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Punch-Drunk Love