Ah, movies: a great way to pass time, some noise behind grading, more soothing than sleep music, popcorn's favorite friend. No matter how you cut it, a good movie can make an OK day great. Prior to the pandemic, you could probably catch me at my beloved local theater (which sadly is permanently shuttered) 4 times a month in the dark of the matinee: four dollar new releases too good to beat, although the twelve dollar bucket of popcorn maybe balanced out the deal at the ticket counter.
Movies are cool because you have a life-long relationship with movies. Movies you love as a kid, many of which make up the 30 on this very list, you bring with you into adulthood. Some movies remain special in their moment from your life. There are movies for adults (no, not like that), movies for friends, for families, and for almost any occasion. Tell me a holiday, I'll tell you what movie to watch. Pretty much anyone that knows me knows I have a, let's be charitable and say close relationship to one of my favorite movies. Let me tell you about 29 more, in no particular order:
Note: this list excludes franchise filmsor selects a favorite from the franchise but does not stand as the whole franchise within the list (spoiler alert: A New Hope is on this list and only means A New Hope, as opposed to being one item on a 30 item list that actually means all 11 Star Wars films).
30 Favorite Movies Zoolander &Orange County
Its funny that the randomizer I put this list into put Ben Stiller's 2001 oddball comedy at the top of this list; as a starting point, that's fitting because Zoolander & Orange County were the first two DVDs our family purchased for the brand new DVD player that graced our living room in winter 2002.
As a family, I think we were prone to rewatching favorites (if it ain't broke...) so these movies in particular, and the DVD format, suited not only our penchant for the frequent viewing, but also the playback of specific scenes. To this day, a good family riff might bear the fruit of my all time favorite line reading Ben Stiller has ever given in a movie (even better than the prayer in Meet The Parents). Its such a stupid movie, with a stupid premise, but you get once-in-a-career performances out of Owen Wilson, the late Jerry Stiller, an-about-to-blow-up Will Ferral, and lest we forget, a classic musical number that forever changes the jitterbug, and regular service at any gas station.
Orange County boasts Jack Black, hammy as ever, playing opposite to lil Colin Hanks' self-serious, writer-in-training with his lofty goals that, in middle school didn't occur to me was the punchline. Time (and that M.F.A. program) behind me, I've come to be more fond of the ensemble cast, Hanks' loving, but dysfunctional family: "you're not oppressed!" John Lithgow yells at his son, trying to figure out why in the world he would want to be a writer. To be fair, its a good question to ask a young mind.
Jurassic Park I could go on, and on, about the incredible feats of special effects Spielberg's (imo) magnum opus has to boast, but instead, a brief tail (hah): not one, but two generations of cousins are enamored with this movie. When we were kids, we'd run around the yard playing a tag variant we called RAPTOR. Here was the rule: you ran around our grandma's big farm, screaming raptor at each other. Now, one of us has a little boy and you'll never guess what his favorite movie is ... hold on to your butts, we got a new generation of raptor enthusiasts! National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation I almost said to myself no holiday movies, but noticed Die Hard is on this list, so, had to be fair. This is one that's grown with me: as a kid, the crude jokes and profanity were the whole show, but as an adult (a nearly 30 year old adult, no less) I so deeply relate to poor Clark's self-destructive compulsion to just make everything so goddamn nice that it drives him, and his family, insane. Christmas Vacation is the rare example of a holiday movie that works in any season. Nobody captures exasperated sociopath quite like Chevy Chase in this one:
"Ain't she a 'beaute Clark?" "Yes, it looks great parked in my driveway"
"Kiss my ass, kiss his ass, kiss your ass"
"Hallelujah, holy shit! Honey, where's the Tylenol?"
"Where are you going to put a tree that big?" "Bend over and I'll show ya" "You've got a lot of nerve talking to me that way Griswold" "I wasn't talking to you!"
Plus, one of two amazing Randy Quaid performances (and that's just from this list).
My Big Fat Greek Wedding & Moonstruck I've got a soft spot for romantic comedies that center around obtuse ethnic families, and in these two, we get a little Greek and a little Italian. These are both family favorites, in fact, one of the last times I was at my grandma's house without a mask and long enough to watch a movie, we watched Moonstruck. The lines, the jokes, the food, oh, the glorious food - its impossible not to love.
Plus, how weird is Moonstruck? Let me recreate what that pitch meeting must have been like in 1986: "okay, we got Cher on board, how can we use her?" "she's a widow, ready to settle for love" "but she shouldn't" "of course she shouldn't, but she wants to, she's ready to give up" "she's Cher for goodness sake why should she settle" "so we have Danny Aiello playing an absolute simpleton, she settles for him" "yep, okay, then what?" "he's a total mama's boy, that's all the character development we're going to do for him - big, big putzy baby, and he uh [sorts huge line of hollywood coke] goes to Italy to care for his dying mother" "yes, yes!" "then Cher has to reconcile with his brother, they uh [more coke] are enemies becuase the brother blames Danny Aiello for uh [sniiiffffff] maiming him in uh bread machine" "yeah yeah okay" "and the brother is this damaged rouge, a real f**kin bad boy. Cher falls for him, passionate, not the settling kind" "yeah leather jacket, greasy hair" "Exactly the guy is tortured and is torturing himself to death. a bad ass though" "AND HE TAKES HER TO THE OPERA HOLY SHIT" "who can we get to play such a drake of a character?" [empties the bag, blows out both nostrils] "Nicholas f**king Cage"
High Fidelity Record collectors get it. Show up as a college undergrad totally rooting for John Cusack, grow up and laugh at his melodramatic bullshit & idiot friends. Such a backhanded love letter to the lost man-children who find themselves in their favorite songs.
Back to the Future Having recently re-watched this truly classic American film, all I can say is: Marty is the lamest cool-guy front-man to a movie, but out of fairness to Michael J Fox, the universe of this flick has Huey Lewis & The News as the coolest cool guy band, so, maybe that tracks.
King Kong (1970) Significantly less bloated than the Peter Jackson 2007 reboot, and also boasting a much, much lower effects budget, King Kong nails the humanity of the character with some great hammy 70s acting, some stop motion special effects, and a (now) sentimental fixation of the World Trade Center, which Kong of course straddles in the film's climax.
Inglorious Basterds A little more Nazi killing and boots-on-the-ground combat scenes than the previous WW2 flick, Tarentino's worst impulses, it turns out, are well suited for the most obvious good guy/bad guy match up in all of real and speculative history, ever. Come for Brad Pitt's amazing accent and pitiful mustache, stay for Christoph Waltz's untouchable entre into Hollywood.
Remember, you just say "bingo"
Rookie of the Year A family classic! A sports movie I loved before I loved baseball! Must be Thomas Ian Nicholas's charm as pitching prodigy Henry Rowengartner, or Daniel Stern's insane coaching, the touching story, a lovely portrayal of youth in Chicagoland, or the sentimental perspective on America's pastime.
Or, an entire scene devoted to Gary Busey's Chet Steadman (is there a better fictional baseball name than Chet Steadman?) talking up airline Salisbury steak as, "the most delicious Salisbury steak" he'd ever had?
The Matrix Reloaded This movie came out the summer I turned 13, and was made as if it was a special gift just for me: guns, car chases, motorcycles, explosions, slow-mo science fiction. Check, and mate.
Die Hard Merry Christmas!
The Social Network The movie opens with "Ball & Biscuit" by The White Stripes and only gets better from there. Some of Sorkin's best Sorkinisms coming out of the best mouths to utter them: even Justin Timberlake *almost* disappears into the character of Sean Parker. Just an amazingly thrilling retelling of a profoundly boring litigation.
Mission Impossible: 2 I have such an utterly uncritical love of this movie. Similar to The Matrix Reloaded, I was the *perfect* age (10, lol) for Tom Cruise's sleek, John Woo-directed M.I. sequel. Unlike the dour original, 2 boasts exotic locales, colorful stunts, and an absolute metric shit ton of turn-of-the-century (that's 21st century) over-the-top kung fu choreography. Its magnificent, the plot is melodramatic and stupid, Tom Cruise does the most boring stunts of his career (biggest thrill - the antagonist almost gets Cruise's superspy Ethan Hunt in the eye with a real knife!) and somehow, this big dumb summer blockbuster got me into a seat in a cool theater for a few hours of stillness, before reenacting (almost) every move in the backyard.
Kill Bill (vol. 2) If my own list, and my own list's rules which I am sole author and authority of makes me pick, I gotta say 2 is better than Volume One's thrill-a-minute, kinetic energy. But, instead of using Uma Thurman's katana to split hairs let's just agree QT's best work (sorry Pulp Fiction) is, as he designed, a single movie.
Fun fact: Vol 1 was released on DVD before (1) most people had Netflix, back when they mailed you discs (you guys remember mail, right?) and (2) before I was allowed to see R rated movies so my dear friend Jim snuck it into my basement and we watched it, nearly muted, with subtitles. I can say that didn't spoil the 30+ might sword fight the film ends with.
GoldenEye We had the video game, and an extensive knowledge of Bond lore thanks to the Poland Public Library, but when NBC aired GoldenEye on a Sunday night it was a damn event. We taped it onto a VHS that Stevie & I watched and rewound to death. This wasn't the cheeky Bond of those goofy library movies, this was a dark, sexy, violent Bond (funny to imagine Brosnan as that in light of Daniel Craig's incredible take on the character).
Our creative response was to make a radio drama, recorded onto cassette tape, "loosely" based on GoldenEye: a tale of a betrayed Bond, a crisis of confidence in MI-6, enhanced with sound effects from a Yamaha keyboard and found footage from our video games, the lil' drama was probably 15 minutes long, and captured some of the best (only?) acting Stevie & I did. "Friend or Foe" even featured an original theme song, written and performed by yours truly: do I know you? friend, friend, foeeeee.......
Neighbors R rated comedies are hit and miss, some take the license to be foul and go too far, soiling the comedy. Some PG-13 comedies just aren't crude enough for a nice foul laugh, I feel bad for comedies I watch because there's such a delicate line to tow between crude and rude.
Neighbors gets it. And not only does Neighbors get it, I had the surreal experience of seeing the Seth Rogen/Zac Effron square off flick in the least appropriate venue to see two grown men fighting each other with sex toys while making Batman references: Oakland's magnificent Grand Lake Theater, red velvet curtains and all. Several of my Bay Area roommates went along, and Neighbors, upon home release, quickly jumped to the very front of our evening movie nights.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off Scene, the night before a new school year, any grade between 1st and the most current year of my Ph.D. program. Other characters change, but always, center, in front of the tv watching John Hughes' absolute best work: me, eating some special desert (on best years, Mom's wacky cake), thinking of what the next day will bring. Probably my favorite coming of age movie, if for no reason other than its place in my own coming of age.
Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade A father-son team up to fight Nazis from stealing history doesn't, on paper, sound that fun of an adventure picture. Did I mention the dad was James Bond and the son is Han Solo? Count me in. - me, seven years old, probably.
School of Rock My parents got me this movie (maybe our 4th DVD) when I finished middle school. At the time of my eighth grade graduation I didn't know I wanted to be a teacher yet, but I did love rock and roll, and Jack Black's high energy physical comedy was right up my alley. An apt gift then, and one that keeps giving years later.
No Reservations Aaron Eckhart's chin, and the rest of him, play a culinary genius of a chef; smarmy, witty, handsome. Everything I wanted to be in high school, minus the chef part (mostly - though who doesn't love cooking!?).
Armageddon Scene, Hollywood pitch room. Empty plastic baggies and cellophane coffee cups litter the floor, a half-eaten pizza sits in a corner near some comic books and an Etch-a-sketch. Two writers, awake, among a sea of sleeping interns, writers, and an executive.
Writer 1: "how many times do we have to tell them, there's already an asteroid picture coming out this year, and months before ours?" Writer 2: "and its a drama, not the same tone, how can you release an action-comedy-disaster-thriller a few months after Tea Leone's asteroid picture - there's probably like opera music or some shit playing when the rock hits the planet" W1: "how much do you want to bet they don't even fixate on fifteen minutes of various world cities exploding after the deep impact [the last two words are said with extreme dismay and sarcasm, a mocking tone]?" W2: "those assholes."
W1: "wait, what's old man Bruckheimer's budget?" W2: [laughing] W1: "I bet we could get Bruce Willis" W2: "he's a hillbilly type, not an astronaut hero type"
W2: "holy SHIT what if that's the point? let those nerds over at Paramount have their little drama, we're going to put hillbillies in outer space, we've got Michael F**king Bay" W1: "yes! they're, uh, oil drillers, and uh, old Bruce has a smokeshow of a daughter. And that daughter has a crush on his youngest driller, how about, wait can we get Matt Damon?" W2: "no, Damon is out, but the other one, the dumb one?" W1: "BEN AFFLECK" W2: "she's crushing on Ben Affleck!"
W1: "wait this is a family drama, not a disaster picture. Connect the dots for me" W2: "they're deep sea drillers, but also cowboys, we can get Steve Buscemi in there too, some other dudes, and NASA will discover an asteroid, maybe uh, Bill Bob Thorton, he's got that southern accent, he can be like the dog whisperer for these redneck dumbasses, he'll cajole them into space" W1: "what do they do in space?" W2: "do some more of that blow if you can't keep up - the OBVIOUSLY are going to drill into the core of the asteroid and blow the MF out of the sky" W1: "holy shit."
[one final silence] W1: "wait a second, didn't we get Areosmith for an original song?" W2: "yeah, they said they'd write like a ballad or a love theme or something - maybe that could be the song for Ben Affleck and whoever plays Bruce Willis's smokeshow daughter." W1: "are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Please just watch this movie if you haven't seen it, it is perhaps the biggest, dumbest, most perfect summer blockbuster in the history of movies.
No Country for Old Men Tell me a better film adaption of a book and I'll go for ten minutes in the ring one on one with Javier Bardem's horrifying villain.
Independence Day / Top Gun Every Forth of July for at least the last 10 years I've done a double-feature of these two movies, which, together make up 29 & 30 on this list. While I know objectively both of these are different, unique stories, they're also both American-exceptionalism military porn featuring abstract foes: the Cold War era specter of the U.S.S.R. (I think, who knows its a dumb summer blockbuster) and ALIENS. Both feature a real maverick of a pilot (Will Smith: "I like to make an entrance") and a disregard for authority (Tom Cruise: "Permission for a fly by" tower: "nope" Tom Cruise: "whatever dawg here we come!") all wrapped up in the same tale: the humanity, specifically of Americans, can outwit, outfox, and outf**k our foes, our competition, and be kings of the sky, or in ID's case, all of space.
They're loud, silly, humane, cornball action flicks that absolutely smack of cold beer, hot days, popcorn and hot dogs, and those my friends, are the kinds of feelings I want to be having every July. ***
Look at that, I only cheated the list one time with my holiday double-feature. Brb, got some movies to go watch!
Oh, my bad, I left one off: 1996 Cinema Masterpiece Twister