In the wake of all my posts on great TV shows, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and do one on several movies that have stuck with me over the years for one reason or another. Rarely do movies enable the viewer to bond with the characters the same way extended TV series do, but every so often I’ll find movies where this is the case.
A few things this list is not:
-It is not my opinion of the greatest films of all time. I am nowhere near accomplished enough in my movie viewing to make a list like that, so I didn’t endeavor to. I really only became an active movie watcher in the past 8 years or so, so you’ll find this list will be heavily skewed toward newer movies, as well. I’m not as well-versed in the “classics,” much to the chagrin of some movie enthusiasts I know.
-It is also not necessarily an exhaustive or ranked list of my favorite movies (with the exception of the first entry). I chose the movies for this list because I felt that they were not only my favorites, but because I had something relatively unique to say about each one. For instance, you won’t find Serenity (the movie that arose out of the ashes of the TV series Firefly) on this list, because while I love it, I love it for largely the same reasons as other movies on this list, and I didn’t feel it would add to the discussion. So let’s kick off the list…
The Star Wars series (1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002, 2005)
These six (yes, six) movies stand head and shoulders above the rest for me. When I was nine years old, I saw the Special Edition version of A New Hope on the big screen in 1997, and I fell in love. Head over heels in love. Luke Skywalker’s quest to destroy the Death Star and break the will of the evil Galactic Empire captivated me, and I eagerly devoured the other 2 movies when they were released soon after, and as I got older delved into the comics and novels of the Expanded Universe. I think what initially made me love these movies was the relatable characters, interesting storyline, and vast and creative universe that it spawned. The Jedi Knights’ Taoist-influenced spirituality made an impact on me later in life, and informed my spiritual beliefs today. And let’s not forget the best thing of all: lightsabers.
Many movie buffs will scoff at my inclusion of the prequel trilogy with the other three films. I actually liked them almost as much as the original three (especially Revenge of the Sith). While they had their weaknesses (Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman never convinced me that they were actually in love, for instance), they expanded on the story and legend of the first three, and made the Star Wars universe all the richer and more interesting. The prequel trilogy was more about political intrigue and machinations, and gave the “bad guys” of the Sith and Galactic Empire more of a human face. Ultimately, you realize that Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is really the main character of the saga, and the whole story is primarily about his fall from grace and redemption. And the lightsaber choreography in those movies is amazing.
One might think that I would be very excited for Episode VII in the saga, to be released on December 18, 2015. But I am more wary of that movie, mostly since Lucasfilm decided to more or less invalidate the Expanded Universe in the process. I had become a big fan of the EU, and to learn that it’s now non-canon was very disappointing to me. This diminished my excitement for the new movie, but I will likely still see it and love it all the same. I’m just hoping Star Wars doesn’t become a convoluted mess of several reboots and alternate timelines as other comic book and movie series have become (I’m looking at you, Spider Man and X-Men).
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Speaking of great characters, that is the genius of the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. George Clooney leads a brilliant and star-studded cast in a heist movie that has several comedic touches thrown in to make it all the more enjoyable. I was immediately struck by it when I saw it, because it was one of the few movies where I found myself “rooting for the bad guy,” as it were. Danny Ocean’s crew of thieves were much more endearing than the man they were stealing from, and thus easier to pull for. The movie’s box office success spawned two sequels, Ocean’s Twelve (which I found terrible) and Ocean’s Thirteen (which was much better).
Few musicals have songs as good as Rent, and it was awesome to see and hear them on the big screen the first time I saw it. That is undeniably this movie’s biggest strength, but the plot is also interesting, as it follows a group of friends living in New York’s East Village, and struggling to make it for various reasons. Rent has a lot to say about the value of friendship and love, and I think it played a key role in our society’s gradual acceptance of LGBT individuals. It also featured all but two of the original cast members from the stage show, which I think added legitimacy and authenticity to the film. I even like this version more than the original stage show, because the characters sing every line of dialogue in the Broadway version, which I feel goes overboard and gets a bit annoying after awhile.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a sweet love story every now and then. And Lady and the Tramp is about as sweet as you get. One of Disney’s first animated movies stands out to me as one of the best. It’s also probably the movie on this list that I have the most history with, as I first saw it when I was probably around three or four years old. It was one of the first “good girl falls for bad boy” movies, and did that genre well. And the Siamese cat and “spaghetti kiss” scenes are classics in Disney lore. I even enjoyed the 2001 direct-to-video sequel Scamp’s Adventure, which many Disney purists would probably not approve of.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
This movie is somewhat responsible for giving me the idea for this post, as it is the one on this list that I have most recently watched. It tracks the final days of high school for main character Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), and how he meets and falls in love with Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). What struck me most about Spectacular Now is its somewhat stark realism. You really feel like you’re peering into the lives of these characters, rather than viewing some overly sanitized version of adolescence, as many coming-of-age movies are. These characters are real, imperfect human beings. Like Lady and the Tramp, it also features the “nice girl-bad boy” archetype, but it’s really more complex than that. While Sutter isn’t exactly the perfect boyfriend in the film, he matures and grows throughout it, and helps Aimee build her self-confidence as well.
Side note: Teller and Woodley also star alongside each other in Divergent as well, and there’s a scene where their characters essentially beat each other up. After watching this film, that scene was very hard for me to see. Haha.
In my opinion, comedy movies these days are mostly bad. Most of them are full of the same stupid sexual and scatological jokes that are told over and over again throughout the course of the film, making them unwatchable after about a half hour. Juno, thankfully, is not one of them. In it, the titular character (played by Ellen Page) deals with the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy that resulted from a one-night stand with her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Juno has a quirky, indie film-esque wit that distinguishes itself from typical films of its genre, and made it worthy of the Best Picture nomination it received. It’s also full of little quotable moments that set it apart.
Meryl Streep is one of the best actresses of her generation, and there are several shining examples of this throughout her career. My favorite one, though, is Doubt. She brilliantly plays the role of Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a nun and Catholic school principal with a rough exterior but the courage to stand up for and defend her students, especially when one of them is subjected to sexual abuse by Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Or was he? The film leaves just enough doubt in the viewer’s head to make the issue seem not as cut and dry as it may appear. Nothing is tied up neatly at the end, which makes the movie all the more interesting. Having been raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools for most of my life, it had a special relevance to me.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The same Catholic upbringing that made Doubt poignant for me made me laugh hysterically at Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carrey’s character acquires the powers of God (played by Morgan Freeman), but realizes it isn’t all that cracked up to be. The film features many religious jokes that are downright hilarious for someone who grew up as close to the Church as I did (such as when Bruce “parts the Red Sea” in a bowl of tomato soup). But it never crosses into the realm of satirizing religion, unlike…
I realize the inclusion of this movie is probably going to upset some people. While I don’t agree with everything Bill Maher espouses in the film, I do like how he looks at religion from a practical point of view. The film does a good job of exposing the many hypocrisies and weaknesses of most major religions (and even some less major ones). I’ve seen this movie at least 5 times, and it played a big role in my moving away from organized religion in college, and shaped many spiritual beliefs I carry with me to this day.
Okay, let’s segue away from religion now. This movie is funny. Insanely funny. While I realize its style of humor may not resonate with everyone, Airplane! had me laughing out loud many times throughout. There are so many quotable moments (“white zone/red zone” “they’re on instruments” “I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue” are just a few of them). It is notable for featuring many actors who were not accustomed to working in the comedy genre up to that point, such as Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack, but they all deliver great performances. The only thing that makes me sad is I think a movie like this would not be released today, because it contains many irreverent and vaguely political jokes that would tick off many people in today’s somewhat overly PC media culture. Which is a shame, given my earlier remarks about the lackluster nature of most modern comedies.
Brooklyn Castle (2012)
I love me a good documentary, and Brooklyn Castle is one of my favorites. It tells the uplifting true story of IS 318, an inner-city public school in Brooklyn that overcame deep budget cuts to field one of the best chess teams in the nation. The movie rips stereotypes to pieces throughout, showing a school where members of the chess team are treated like rock stars, the way athletes are usually revered. Chess recruits are fought for the way most schools would fight to land the next great quarterback. One has to wonder where these kids might be if not for the chess team, as inner-city schools such as this one are frequently rough around the edges. In all, it is an uplifting and inspiring journey with compelling characters, and the kids of IS 318 are worthy of any money you can spare to keep their team going.