Thursday, March 20, 2014

50 Movies that Matter to Me

This post is inspired by my buddy Jake Mabe, who compiled his own list of movies back in January. Like Jake, I'm in no way suggesting that these are the fifty greatest movies ever made. They aren't even necessarily my fifty favorites, because there are a lot of titles I love and admire that aren't included here. The one common denominator is that each one has resonated with me at one point in my life or another (and I tried to include titles that I loved during as many different stages of my life as possible). I probably should've arranged them by the order in which I saw them but that seemed sort of complicated so I've just listed them chronologically by release date to avoid confusion.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) The movie that made me fall in love with Joseph Cotten. The dynamic between his wicked Uncle Charlie and Teresa Wright's little Charlie is dynamite.

Portrait of Jennie (1948) Haunting romantic fantasy about art and inspiration. 

The Red Shoes (1948) Powell and Pressburger's tragic fairy tale about the sacrifices an artist must make out of devotion to her craft. Ballerina Moira Shearer is beautiful and heartrending as the movie's doomed protagonist.

The Third Man (1949) Cinematic perfection. Mysterious, romantic, funny, beautifully written, filmed and acted. There's nothing else like it.

East of Eden (1955) James Dean's most feral, tender performance. It also boasts an excellent turn by the lovely Julie Harris. The Ferris wheel scene still leaves me breathless.

Vertigo (1958) My favorite from Hitchcock. I'm obsessive by nature so this one hits me on a personal level. Sexy, nightmarish and utterly spellbinding. Every time I watch it draws me in and won't let go. 

The Innocents (1961) Precocious children, a nanny with an overactive imagination and a large, lonely house in the country with a tragic history. A deeply intelligent, engaging and unsettling adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) A wonderful, cotton-candy colored French pop opera. Young Catherine Deneuve is blindingly radiant.

Belle de Jour (1967) When Catherine Deneuve and Luis Bunuel get together, great things happen. This one just happens to be especially great. 

The Graduate (1967) When I saw this movie for the first time in high school I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) There are people who describe this movie as a spiritual experience. I'm one of those people.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) My favorite Kubrick. A joyously mean-spirited and irreverent movie with an unrepentant scoundrel at its core. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) I currently consider this one to be my very favorite movie of all time. The hold it has over me never weakens no matter how many times I watch it.

Suspiria (1977) The most beautiful horror movie ever made. And the soundtrack kicks ass.

Ordinary People (1980) I have a weakness for domestic dramas where everybody yells at each other. Timothy Hutton's raw, nervy portrait of a damaged teenager is great and his scenes with Judd Hirsch are especially terrific.

The Shining (1980) This one scares me like no other. Filled with unforgettably haunting images. The sense of isolation and quiet dread throughout the movie is palpable and unnerving.

The Dark Crystal (1982) When I was a kid this movie was my everything. Jim Henson gave us so many wondrous creations over the course of his career but the characters and the world of The Dark Crystal will always be the most wondrous of all to me.

The Last Unicorn (1982) Another childhood favorite. It's Rankin and Bass and it features a unicorn as its protagonist. And an unrequited love story! How could I not adore it?

The Big Chill (1983) Makes me nostalgic for my college buddies and vacation day trips to Beaufort, South Carolina. I think the entire ensemble cast is stellar but William Hurt is especially memorable.

The Goonies (1985) I love a good underdog story and this one is perfect. And it features my favorite Cyndi Lauper song. 

The Lost Boys (1987) I can't count the number of times I've seen this movie. It was one of my great junior high era obsessions. To this day I'm not sure there's anything cooler than these sexy, beach-punk vampires.  

Heathers (1988) I love this movie for its smart, acidic screenplay, its arresting visuals and its charismatic hero and heroine. In the teen angst genre this one is definitely a standout.

Life is Sweet (1990) Heartbreaking and hilarious offering from Mike Leigh, one of our finest living directors.

Pump Up the Volume (1990) A favorite from my high school years. Provocative and moving. The soundtrack is killer (and it was my introduction to the great Leonard Cohen).

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) Always reminds me of my best bud, Sarah. All four of the female leads give outstanding performances. 

Candyman (1992) A thoughtful, sensitive, darkly romantic slasher flick anchored by an intelligent performance by Virginia Madsen and a captivating turn by Tony Todd as Candyman. The score by Philip Glass is heaven. 

Reservoir Dogs (1992) I love all of Tarantino's output but his first remains the one I love most. Crackling dialogue and unflinching brutality make it equal parts hilarious and horrifying. Michael Madsen has never been better as the sadistic but incredibly charismatic Mr. Blonde.

Howards End (1992) I've never met a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E.M. Forster novel that I didn't like but this one takes the top spot for me. Forster's most ambitious novel becomes Merchant and Ivory's masterpiece. One of the most beautiful movies ever made. 

Dazed and Confused (1993) Completely, ridiculously hilarious from start to finish. Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson is especially inspired.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) An intense friendship between two bright, precocious young women has deadly consequences. Based on true events, Peter Jackson's manic, innovative movie makes two young murderesses compelling and sympathetic without shying away from the gory details of their heinous crime.

Boogie Nights (1997) Paul Thomas Anderson's look into a small, close-knit group of filmmakers and actors in the adult film industry is grim and gritty but also funny and big-hearted. Wonderfully engaging from start to finish, featuring fine filmmaking and stellar performances.

The Big Lebowski (1998) Brilliant bit of absurdity from the Coens. 

The Virgin Suicides (1999) Sofia Coppola's feature debut is a lovely, haunting adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's beautiful novel. Part fairy tale, part teen romance, part gothic mystery. Coppola creates an atmosphere that is both real and otherworldly, detached but also deeply personal.

Almost Famous (2000) Sometimes I feel like the only thing I'm really good at being is a fan so I really appreciate this sweet, funny, earnest story from Cameron Crowe about mid-level celebrities and the fans who love them.

Memento (2000) Very cool bit of neo-noir brilliance from Christopher Nolan. I like it when characters self-mythologize so it fascinates me to watch Guy Pierce's Leonard Shelby create his own reality throughout the course of this movie. 

Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) I'm unapologetically geeky about these movies. Jackson's attention to detail brings Middle Earth to vibrant life, creating a cinematic experience that is immersive and incredibly satisfying.

Mulholland Drive (2001) In Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks David Lynch explored the dank, dark underbelly of small-town America. In Mulholland Drive he turns his focus to Hollywood and the result is a brutal but incredibly seductive movie. Naomi Watts is absolutely fearless as the story's protagonist, delivering one of the finest film performances I've ever seen.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Wes Anderson's films have become increasingly stylized and quirky, to the point where it's difficult, at times, for me to connect with his characters (even though I always enjoy his detail-oriented aesthetics). I think this one strikes the perfect balance between crafty artifice and genuine human emotion. The Tenebaum family is fantastical but also real and relatable. 

Moulin Rouge! (2001) The biggest, splashiest, most colorful and unapologetically mushy offering from Baz Luhrman, who has made a career out of creating big, splashy, colorful, mushy movies. Despite all the funhouse constructs the movie is, at its core, earnest and heartfelt. Everybody gives it their all and it's great fun to watch. And Nicole Kidman has never been more beautiful.

Morvern Callar (2002) Quiet, keenly-observed character study from the brilliant Lynne Ramsay. Samantha Morton gives an incredible performance as the titular protagonist. 

May (2002) A quirky, alienated young woman tries and fails to connect with the people around her, with devastating results. Odd, awkward, funny, gruesome and ultimately heartbreaking. Outstanding performance by Angela Bettis, who plays every beat of May's descent into madness to perfection.

Before Sunset (2004) Richard Linklater has, to date, devoted three movies to the saga of Jesse and Celine. I always like spending time with these characters but this bittersweet chapter in their story is easily my favorite. And that final scene is fantastic.

The Aviator (2004) I've been in love with Leonardo DiCaprio for two decades. Any time he makes a movie I consider it a cause for celebration but I love this one the most. His performance as Howard Hughes is a fascinating and compassionate portrait of deeply driven, deeply troubled individual. 

Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog's unsentimental portrait of Timothy Treadwell is infuriating, tragic and fascinating.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro's dark fable does not shy away from real or imagined horrors but thanks to the resilient nature of its heroines it manages to be hopeful as well as harrowing.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) I love the cold, austere landscapes, the musical score (composed by the brilliant Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), the voiceover narration and the dynamic between Brad Pitt's volatile, world-weary Jesse James and Casey Affleck's pitiful, attention-seeking Robert Ford in this melancholy movie.

Into the Wild (2007) Chris McCandless's story speaks to the dissatisfied part of me that fantasizes, on occasion, about leaving humanity behind and seeking solace in the natural world. It's not something I would ever attempt realistically but I can certainly empathize with the impulse. 

Wall-E (2008) This dystopian love-story between two sentient robots warms my heart. It gets bonus points for the personable cockroach sidekick.

Antichrist (2009) A gorgeous nightmare of a movie. The tone and performances are relentlessly intense, creating a story that's difficult to watch but also undeniably cathartic. The cinematic equivalent of breaking glass to hear it shatter or screaming at the top of your lungs until you're hoarse.

Bright Star (2009) A vibrant, devastating star-crossed romance from Jane Campion. Ben Whishaw is excellent as the ill-fated John Keats but the movie belongs to Abbie Cornish's passionate, fashion-forward, headstrong Fanny Brawne.