OK, I’ve finally made a serious attempt to make a list of my favorite movies. This is always a really hard question for me to answer, especially since I spent the Late 80s/Early 90s working either at a movie theater or a video store or at both simultaneously. During that period I saw just about every movie released in the US and didn’t pay for any of them. This was also the period when I started buying Laserdiscs (1200 or so of them are in the basement). I love movies of all kinds and to pick one, or even ten is really difficult.
As someone who watches movies over and over (who’s married to someone who does the same), I figure that a good place to start would be movies that I watch the most often. Then I added some that I love, but don’t watch that often (or often enough). I’ll keep adding to this list and will add some indication of why each is on the list at some point.
So, here they are in alphabetical order:
2001: A Space Odyssey – “I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission.”
In 1981, my father gave me a wonderful gift. He took me to see a revival of 2001 in a real movie theater. I’ve seen it a theater a few times since then and it really is the only way to see this film properly. Yes, I’m a 2001 snob.
I can see how some people could see HAL as the villain of this movie, but to me he is the tragic hero. He’s just doing his best to complete the task he was given, even when the variables change. It’s really not his fault.
And then he gets killed. Slowly. And he’s singing while he’s being killed. He’s a proud child, sharing what he’s learned at school with an adult…who is killing him.
2001 is on the list of “Robot Movies That Make Tad Cry.”
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension – “Where there was a huge electrical dimensional accident, some giant explosion, and they hypnotized Orson Welles into covering it up, so first he says there’s an invasion from Mars, but then he says no no no, it was just a radio show hoax.”
I was obsessed with this movie even before it came out. There was a cover story about it in Starlog issue number 86 and I was completely captivated by the idea of a rock star-surgeon-physicist-hero…plus it had aliens!
When I finally saw it, I was not dissapointed. I was also really taken by the fact that not only did this film not go out of its way to explain everything to the audience, it really didn’t explain anything to the audience. You could figure most of it out, but you had to watch the movie several times and read the novelization. Once you do, you can see that the internal logic is there and things start to make sense.
Plus, Jeff Goldblum in Holstein chaps and a ten-gallon hat!
Alien – “Danger. The emergency destruct system is now activated. The ship will detonate in T-10 minutes. The option to override automatic detonation expires in T-5 minutes.”
I don’t know why my parents thought it would be ok to take me to see Alien in 70mm at age 10, but they did. This after my 22 year-old brother had called home, long-distance a few weeks earlier to tell my dad that he had just seen the most amazing and horrifying movie ever. So, when Britt came home for a visit, we took a family outing to Denver to see Alien at the giant Cooper/Cameo where we had gone to see Star Wars and Close Encounters. I made it to the chest-burster scene and quietly asked my mom it I could go wait in the lobby for the rest of the movie. In an hour or so, my brother came out to check on me and tried to get me to come back in to see the refinery explode, but I was too scared. We watched it from just inside the door at the top of the aisle and I went right back to the lobby after the horizontal explosions were over.
Even though it really scared me (what I saw of it), I became obsessed with Alien. I got the photonovel of the film and the Heavy Metal graphic novel of the film, and eventually, a friend of mine with a Betamax made me a set of cassette tapes of the film’s audio by putting a tape recorder in front of the TV. So, without actually seeing the rest of the movie, I “saw” the rest of the movie. I really wanted the Kenner Alien toy, but never got one. Because of the “non-cinematic” way in which I “saw” Alien as a kid, I became more intimate with it than if I had actually seen it repeatedly. I listened to the audio from the film over and over with eyes closed. I poured over the large, blown-up frames from the film in the photo novel (skipping the page which showed three frames of Parker’s head being smashed in by the alien’s inner jaw). I built a simulacrum of Alien in my young mind which has since melded with the images of the actual film.
Back to the Future – “Who the hell is John F. Kennedy?”
Fresh off his unexpected success with Romancing the Stone and many years from his obsession with performance capture, Robert Zemekis re-teamed with friend Bob Gale to create what is one of his best films in a career full of excellent work.
Battle Beyond the Stars – “I sleep with my back to the wall, when I can sleep. I eat serpents, seven times a week. There’s not a major city in this galaxy where I can show my face, or spend my wealth. Right now, your offer looks very attractive to me… A meal, and a place to hide.”
How can you not like this Star Wars knock-off produced by Roger Corman, written by John Sayles, with a score by James Horner and featuring art direction by a young James Cameron? Did I mention that it’s a sci-fi re-telling of The Seven Samurai?
The Big Lebowski – “Hey, relax man, I’m a brother shamus.”
I had a cinematic epiphany of sorts when I saw Lebowski for the first time. I had a moment of clarity at the precise moment that a filmmaker (or filmmakers as the case may be) meant me to. It wasn’t a heavy-handed M. Night Shama-lama-ding dong moment (he’s a ghost!) and it wouldn’t diminish your enjoyment of the movie if you missed it, but if you got it…holy shit. The Big Lebowski is a noire detective movie, and Jeff is the detective. A detective movie that’s not a detective movie, about a detective who’s not a detective. And I got it right when Jeff did. “Hey, relax man, I’m a brother shamus.” Holy shit, he is.
Blade Runner – “They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex-cop. Ex-blade runner. Ex-killer.”
Your first question may well be “Which version, Tad?” And my answer would be: “All of them.” In fact, I wrote my senior thesis at UCSC on the way that the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner (the first Director’s Cut, that is), made certain audience members more empathetic with Deckard, and his discovery that he’s a replicant, because they too have implanted memories: the voiceover that many of them had heard during repeated viewings of the original version of Blade Runner. The Criterion version of Blade Runner was one of the first laserdiscs I bought. I saw the original workprint version at the Nuart in 1990.
Boogie Nights – “I never take my skates off.”
Brain Candy – “Can I get you anything else? Grappa, wine, cappuccino, tickets to a Lakers game? What about cheesecake? AA batteries? Land in Montana?”
Bride of Frankenstein – “Alone: bad. Friend: good!”
Casino – “A hundred dollars to whoever hits the plane.”
Citizen Kane – “Did you ever see anybody wiggle both his ears at the same time? Watch closely! (he wiggles his ears) It took me two solid years at the finest boys’ school in the world to learn that trick. The fellow who taught me is President of Venezuela now.”
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – “I know what this is! This means something. This is important.”
Like, Blade Runner, there are multiple versions of this sci-fi classic. I prefer the Director’s Cut, or the theatrical version. The Special Edition is to be avoided. This one is Spielberg at his best with beautiful optical visual effects that hold up perfectly today. It’s a balancing act between horror, fairy tale and drama, and also, like Jaws, includes some of the director’s most successful comedic moments.
The Day of the Dolphin – “Fa love Pa.”
The Day the Earth Stood Still – “This technique, in certain cases, can re-stimulate life for a limited period. It’s a refinement of scientific principles known to your own people.”
Defending Your Life – “How many days are you looking at?”
A high-concept Albert Brooks movie with Meryl Streep doing comedy and Rip Torn at his absolute best in a perfect role. What the heck else do you want? Defending Your Life is, (along with Mother) a showcase for Albert Brooks to demonstrate that he knows just how far to push a joke, a concept or a romantic moment. He also manages to make a genuinely romantic comedy about normal people…who happen to be dead.
Dune – “Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.”
Ed Wood – “No. I never drink… wine.”
Election – “It’s hard to remember how the whole thing started, the whole election mess. What I do remember is that I loved my job. I was a teacher, an educator, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Enemy Mine – “Zammis get four, five?”
Evil Dead II – “To trace the origin of the Book, we must go back…back…to a day when spirits ruled the earth. When the seas ran red with blood. It was this blood that was used to ink the book.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – “You are Abe Froman? The sausage king of Chicago?”
Fight Club – “And right then, at our most excellent moment together…”
I did not like Se7en. It was relentlessly dark and dirty and negative. I did not enjoy seeing Se7en, but I had to acknowledge David Fincher’s ability to guide the emotional state of the audience. With Fight Club, he is using his powers for good. While there are certainly dark and dirty moments, there are also joyous moments. There is also the delight of teasing not only meaning out of the film, but sorting out just what is going on. The twist is as huge as the one in The Sixth Sense, but Fight Club would still be a fantastic film without it. Not sure I would say the same for Sixth Sense.
The Fly – “Listen, I’ll make you cappuccino. I have a Faema of my very own. You know what that is? It’s not the dilettante’s plastic kitchen model. It’s one of those, uh… uh., uh, real restaurant espresso machines with a-an eagle on top and…”
Gattaca – “I only lent you my body; you lent me your dream.”
I used to live right across the freeway from Gattaca, or rather the Marin Civic Center where it was filmed. That’s where I went to jury duty and the farmer’s market. That is not why I love this movie. It’s a simple story, told well that actually has something to say about the human condition and prejudice. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories with platonic male love and self-sacrifice. Oh and it’s a non-effects science fiction movie.
The Incredibles – “The law requires that I answer no. ”
My life is full of texts that offer a new take on the superhero genre: The Tick, The Specials, Mystery Men, Supreme Power, Invincible, Dr. Horrible, et al. When I heard that Brad Bird’s first movie for Pixar would be about a superhero family, I was really excited. Well written, visually beautiful and thoughtful, The Incredibles also delivers its messages on multiple levels. Despite the fact that there are so many other texts which cover similar ground (unlike the rodent chef genre), The Incredibles manages to address its own issues and also presents a cohesive universe which comfortably co-exists with all of the rest.
The Iron Giant – “You are who you choose to be.”
While there are a multitude of wonderful elements and moments that I could point to, it’s the message of Iron Giant that gets me. How many existential family movies are there even out there? I especially like the subtle, but important difference between this films’ thesis statement: “You are who you choose to be.” and the more common (and less accurate) message for (especially American) children: “You can be whatever you want to be.”
The Iron Giant is straight with the audience in a way that many films aren’t. It acknowledges that death is real and that killing is not a good thing. This frankness is underscored by the setting of the story in an era that was not exactly known for being particularly open and honest (“Duck and cover!”).
And, yes, this is another entry on the list of “Robot Movies That Make Tad Cry.” The Iron Giant is such a tear-trigger for me that my wife delights in taunting me by whispering “Su-per-man…” into my ear whenever Iron Giant comes up in conversation. Typing that last sentence just made me almost tear up.
Note to Brad Bird: Please make more movies that begin with the letter “I”.
Last Night – “Good evening, Mrs. R. Wheeler. I’m calling from the gas company, and wejust wanted to thank you for being our customer over the years. I hope you are doing well and spending these final hours of peace with your loved ones. Rest assured that we will do our utmost to keep the gas flowing right until the end. Thank you and good-bye.”
Mother – “This tastes like orange foot.”
Office Space – “Doesn’t it bother you that you have to get up in the morning and put on pieces of flair?”
Out of Sight – “I think you flooded it.”
I have been a fan of Steven Soderbergh since Sex, Lies and Videotape. This is my favorite of his films because it is tight, well executed, funny and really well balanced. By well balanced, I mean that it’s full of really interesting filmmaking, but doesn’t beat you over the head with it (*cough* Traffic *cough*). It’s also entertaining, but not overly commercial (*cough* Ocean’s Nineteen *cough*). For me it’s Soderbergh’s perfect moment as a filmmaker. He’s confident, but still has some of the daring of his earlier work. Plus, the cast is fantastic and you get to see Albert Brooks with no hair.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – “By the way, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: have a point. It makes it more interesting for the listener.”
Robocop – “Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply.”
Shadow of a Doubt – “Because we’re not just an uncle and a niece. It’s something else.”
Star Wars – “I suggest a new strategy, Artoo. Let the Wookiee win.”
Starship Troopers – “Medic!”
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – “‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ Message, Spock?”
State and Main – “So, that happened.”
This is my favorite movie about making movies (even over Singin’ in the Rain and Postcards from the Edge). David Mamet does screwball comedy after watching a bunch of Preston Sturges movies at the suggestion of William H. Macy. Plus, a full stable of actors who are amazingly good at delivering Mamet dialog. This is one of the default movies in the Leckman household and it was one of the first movies we put on the AppleTV. I wish Mamet would make more screwball comedy (and also more action/adventure movies with bears!).
Three Amigos – “Do you have anything besides Mexican food?”
Top Secret – “Evidently, your friend did not realize that here in East Germany we use 220 volt current. He was found in his hotel room impaled on a large electrical device. Our surgeons did what they could but it took them two hours just to get the smile off his face.”
Tremors – “We’re going to be sorry if we don’t give it a name.”
Wall•E – “Eeeeeeeeva.”
What Planet Are You From? – “You appear intelligent, but when you open your mouth the effect is spoiled.”
Yojimbo – “It’ll hurt.”