“Alien” (1979) - The first of two Ridley Scott movies on the list. The scariest movie I had seen at the time, and the scene in the tunnels when the crew is watching the blip approach Dallas in the tunnel is still the most suspenseful scene I have seen. Killing Dallas, the ship’s captain, right away told you no one was safe. The set was dark, and the pace was slow, creating in the viewer a shared sense of the inevitability of death when the goal of every character in the film is to eventually simply survive.
“Angel-A” (2005) – Luc Besson’s (director of “Leon: The Professional” and the original French “La Femme Nikita”, two other great movies) story about an angel fallen to Earth to help a man learn to love himself again. Shot in black and white with a great soundtrack. A movie of emotional moments that could have had a bit better of an ending. Rie Rasmussen is stunning in this movie.
“Blade Runner” (1982) – The set design was so different, you wanted the movie to stop so you could just look around and see all the things that were going on. Many, many screenings later and you are still wondering if all your theories are correct. Soundtrack is perfection.
“Crash” (1996) – One of two David Cronenberg movies on my list. Even now I can’t imagine anyone pulling off a movie based on a science fiction writer’s novel about symphorophilia other than Cronenberg. It is an erotic (borderline pornographic), disturbing ride through the mind of a fetishist.
“The Dark Knight” (2008) – I never liked any of the previous big screen Batman movies, because no one could quite nail the idea that the Dark Knight called for, well, a dark character. Similar issue to why there are no Star Wars movies on this list. I can’t buy into a dark side when it isn’t particularly dark. And it had muppets. Heath Ledger’s Joker was nothing short of brilliant, and the screenplay finally began to give some depth to the Batman character with play on subjects of chaos and morality.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) – Limiting myself to just one John Hughes movie on this list, at the top of the heap is Ferris. Eternally quotable, with characters you know from your own high school days. The most interesting theme to me is one of parental isolation. Ferris dances around the rather oblivious state of his parents, strengthened by their ideal impressions of him. While Cameron’s character seems rather stunted by his father’s ability to ignore him. Which just adds to the “Ferris Bueller/Fight Club” theory that Ferris might have just been a figment of Cameron’s imagination after all. Not that I believe it, but it is interesting to re-watch the film through Cameron’s perspective instead of Ferris’.
“Heavy Metal” (1981) – The year was 1981. And here was this animated space movie with a soundtrack heavy with guitar rock. Had to see it. So we talked my father into taking us to the drive-in where it was the second movie on the bill. I still remember the silence in the car as my friend Ronnie and I watched from the backseat with my father in the front. As animated characters suffered spectacular deaths and many, many, got naked. (Cue the Don Henley song “End of the Innocence”) . This was like no other animation I had ever seen. And suddenly, cartoons were cool again.
“A History of Violence” (2005) – Cronenberg flick number two. No flaws in any of the acting in this movie. And despite having a great plot, this is more a film about characters. And Maria Bello. To be a lesbian in real life, and do the scene on the stairs with Viggo Mortensen, places her as the best actress ever in my book. That has to be one of the hottest scenes I've ever watched in a movie. A movie about not being able to escape the world you were born into, and how those around you that you love along the way get swept away in the wake as you run from your past. The movie was also set in Indiana.
“In Bruges” (2008) – There aren’t many Colin Farrell movies on my watchable list. But if you want to see him shine, this is the movie to see. I like this movie in so many ways. It is a thriller with very dark moments, but supremely funny in many areas. In a short amount of time you learn all you need to know about each of the characters, and how they handle the ethics of being killers for hire. And if you ever wanted to know how to write a trip to a European city off your taxes, this is how you do it. It showcases the city better than a PBS travelogue could.
“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) – I give Nicolas Cage a lot of crap. Mostly, because he deserves it as a terrible overactor. But he has made one good movie, and this is it. The story of a guy slowly drinking himself to death. The movie is so well done, that you don’t want to drink alcohol for a very long time after seeing it. And I like movies that influence you after you have seen them. A two-character story of Cage’s “Ben” and Elizabeth Shue’s “Sera”, where Shue’s character gets pulled into this downward spiral and how she accepts her role in the whole thing.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) – Everyone knows a quote from this movie, and it sets the bar for skit comedy rolled up into a movie. So many insanely funny parts, while leaving you an expert on elderberries and the differences between African and European swallows.
“Princess Bride” (1987) – A film that pleases across all generations. The fairy tale story of true love, sprinkled with a bit of realism when Fred Savage’s character and Peter Falk’s characters add commentary over the top. “Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?” is quite possibly the most genius line in the movie.
“Momento” (2000) –The first Christopher Nolan screenplay I had seen, and is a big reason why I do not miss the projects he is connect to these days. You have a story about a guy who cannot form new memories in search of one of the killers of his wife. Nolan puts you right in the story by interweaving scenes from the past with the future, with both story lines converging at the end of the movie. Honorable mention to “Reservoir Dogs” for movies that play with time to tell a great story.
“Mulholland Drive” (2001) – I believe Roger Ebert said it best when he described the scenes in this film as opening elevator doors that only reveal there is no elevator car there. It is oddly engrossing as you try to hang on to an idea that you can detect a main plot from this movie. David Lynch at his best. “Blue Velvet” is a close second.
“Roxanne” (1987) – My ultimate date movie. Steve Martin is perfect in this modern day Cyrano de Bergerac tale, where the woman of everyone’s affections initially puts Martin in the friend zone and chooses looks, but the odd looking Martin wins the girl in the end. Some beautiful writing and memorably poetic. Another honorable mention Steve Martin romantic comedy: “LA Story”.
“Se7en” (1995) – The movie that definitively said nothing was off-limits in movies anymore. While you could believe Kevin Spacey’s character could do the things he did, you never thought a movie would go as far as “the box”. It physically made me ill. I watch it, then can’t watch it for a couple years. Then I have to watch it again.
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