For those who have read this blog for a while (or who have read it very thoroughly in a minute passage of time), my interest in defining films that are personal and unique to my individual identity and perspective as a cineaste should be well known from my (admittedly minimal) Movies That Matter series to my top ten “of all time” list, the aim of both being to hold up movies that have impacted me and influenced my tastes profoundly rather than simply cherry-pick the titles which unimaginative cultural elitists believe one must cherish to be taken seriously. Speaking further to your particular levels of familiarity with this blog, you also may be aware that I’m not usually one for blog memes, except for those that represent exercises in the aforementioned pursuit.
So it’s with nothing but the highest admiration that I tip my hat to one Andy Hart, a special person not just because we share the same completely awesome name but because he’s incredibly enthusiastic about bringing online movie communities together to participate in some good old fashioned back and forth discussion about the movies we all love. The basic conceit here is elegant– consider, for each year of your life, the movies that have been released year after year, and pick one from each three hundred and sixty five day cycle of your time on this planet, up to 2010. How can I resist? Many thanks to Andy for spearheading this blogathon (check out the master post here!), and to Meredith Carter for taking the initiative and showing everybody how it’s done; if you’re ready, then, take a walk with me to twenty six years ago, when a certain movie lover was born:
1984, Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone: This came up recently in my Cinematic Alphabet post, and while it’s maybe not quite my favorite movie that begins with “once upon a time” (that honor must go to Once Upon a Time in China), it goes without saying that it’s kind of great nonetheless. An epic crime saga spanning half a century, Once Upon a Time in America holds the distinction of being director Leone’s last film, and in my opinion stands out as one of his most distinguished.
1985, Brazil, Terry Gilliam: A favorite of mine. I promise that this list is largely devoid of movies present on my top 10 list, but for some of them, the other contenders in their respective release years just don’t compare. Is it a movie about the dangers of flights of fancy, or about the triumph of human imagination over the soul-peeling grind of bureaucracy? Brazil is so delightfully multi-layered and tongue-in-cheek that it’s anyone’s guess, but I’ll always view Sam’s resolution as his individual victory against the glacial advance of industry.
1986, Aliens, James Cameron: I was only two years old when Cameron released his sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror masterwork, so it took a few years for Aliens— the first film in the series I experienced– to find a place in my heart. But once I finally sat down to watch it, find a place it did, with space marines, flamethrowers, pulse rifles, grenades, and the chitinous, gothic, impossible biological advance of H.R. Giger’s iconic xenomorph.
1987, Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick: Is it only half of a good movie? Pessimists seem to think so, and maybe in total Full Metal Jacket doesn’t quite stack up against Kubrick’s finer works, it stands on its own two feet even if the second half, bereft of R. Lee Ermy’s legendarily abusive U.S. Marine Corp Gunnery Sergeant, doesn’t match the promise of the first. But frankly, that first half makes the movie; it echoes over the events of the rest of the film, and in fact informs much of what happens as Joker (Matthew Modine) leaves the relative safety of boot camp and sets foot into the untamed and harsh landscape of the Vietnam war.
1988, Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahata: Any movie about war, in any capacity, is inherently anti-war, so discussing Grave of the Fireflies‘ leanings as an anti-war picture feels like stating the obvious. But among the volume of anti-war pictures released in the history of cinema, Grave of the Fireflies— an hour and twenty minute animated picture from Japan’s Studio Ghibli– ranks among the greatest and most influential.
1989, Violent Cop, Takeshi Kitano: Japanese maestro Takeshi Kitano at his most unapologetically bleak. Violent Cop— which is not, in case you had any confusion, about a kindly police officer who walks old ladies across the street and teaches drug education to children at the local middle school– is completely muted, and maybe if it had a little bit of flair here and there it might be taken as a bit more tongue-in-cheek. But no such stylistic touches come up– this is as nihilistic as Kitano gets.
1990, Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lyne: If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this movie, you’re missing out on one of the best psychological horror movies ever made. Anchored by two great performances from Tim Robbins and Danny Aiello and filled with harsh commentary on the Vietnam war, Jacob’s Ladder will one hundred percent screw around with your head and get your heart racing as the eponymous Jacob tries to discover the source of his waking nightmares and hallucinations.
1991, The Rocketeer, Joe Johnston: Good old fashioned pulp adventure from the early 90s. “Pulp” is a term that gets thrown around a lot as a kind of catch-all for campy B-movies, but Johnston’s The Rocketeer has clear roots in pulp literature (being based on a 1980s comic title that recalls the 1930s/40s matinee heroes). Even ignoring any arguments over the legitimacy of its pulp claims, The Rocketeer is an enormously fun movie that understands completely what it’s supposed to be and allows itself to be an unabashedly good time at the cinema.
1992, Shakes the Clown, Bobcat Goldthwaite: Bobcat Goldthwaite doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for his work as a filmmaker, and maybe for good reason. Well, not a good reason, but a reason that I can understand even if I don’t agree with it. Goldthwaite’s oeuvre is the definition of “acquired taste” and then some, vulgar, offensive, apparently amoral, and frequently in terrible taste, but I often find his cocktail recipe for veiled commentary and humor quite to my liking. It’s tough choosing between World’s Greatest Dad and Shakes the Clown, but Goldthwaite has never been better as he uses the story of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic clown to critique the insular nature of the stand-up comic circuit.
1993, Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg: What can I say? This was a huge movie for me. What young boy wouldn’t go bananas over a movie about dinosaurs rampaging across a remote island while humans fear for their lives and occasionally get eaten? I mean come on, they had a T-Rex!
1994, Leon, Luc Besson: Another entry on my top ten, and I promise the last one that will appear here, this is Luc Besson and Jean Reno together at their absolute best and also one of the best roles Natalie Portman has ever taken. Mixing a little bit of Lolita together with the story of a lethally skilled hitman with an almost childlike persona, the joy of Leon is watching the rapport that develops between the teenage Portman and Reno; they make an endlessly watchable duo in between the film’s interspersed moments of crisp, ruthless violence.
1995, Heat, Michael Mann: Mann’s crime thriller masterpiece, massively influential and impressive in its scope and scale and treatment of the genre. Heat scores on the back of some outstanding chase scenes and pieces of gun violence, but what makes it special is how natural and genuine the characters feel. Mann just lets them be, choosing not to burden them with recycled character tropes or treating them like archetypes; the result is a very human crime film in which the line between right and wrong is clear but we’re invested with the people on both sides of that divider.
1996, Muppet Treasure Island, Brian Henson: It’s hard to go wrong with Muppets, but when you put Kermit, Fozzy, Sam the Eagle, Rizzo, Gonzo, and every other Muppet under the sun on a boat with Tim Curry, it’s downright impossible. Treasure Island filtered through the Henson lens makes for an endearing and hilarious adventure, but all I need to do is emphasize “Muppets” and “Tim Curry”, and hell, why not, “Billy Connolly”; if that doesn’t do anything for you, then, well, enjoy life disliking things that are awesome. I can’t do much to help you.
1997, L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson: Maybe the m0st impressive feat of a truly great neo-noir is how handily director Hanson and his co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland balance multiple stories without tripping over their own narrative or excising the intricacies of the film’s numerous plot lines.
1998, Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon: Ian McKellen starring as James Whale could be described as too on-the-nose, but that’s a cynical perspective. The truth is that McKellen can star as whoever he damn well pleases, from powerful wizards to superhuman villains with powers of magnetism to homosexual film directors who lived their lives out in the open, so to speak, even at the risk of their careers. McKellen knows how to disappear into a role and can become his characters with an ease that many actors never quite obtain for themselves; he does so in Gods and Monsters with incredible effect and impact as he plays out the end of the great filmmaker’s life.
1999, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas: Do you remember the first time you saw a filmmaker you truly admired and respected go careening off the rails and crash in shameful failure? It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the revered George Lucas bastardized the very films that made him such an icon among geeks (though maybe it’s harder to believe that for some, that wound hasn’t healed up yet). As hateful as I am toward the film, The Phantom Menace is still one of the biggest landmarks in cinema released since I’ve been alive, if only due to its prominence and visibility.
2000, Yi Yi, Edward Yang: A three-hour movie about the struggles of the middle class in Taipei probably sounds like a pretentious slog to casual movie watchers, and I can sympathize as even I had the expectation of growing bored at some point during Edward Yang’s epic family drama, Yi Yi. But Yang so ably mines rich material from the every day of family life, celebrating the ordinary rather than pointlessly wallowing in it, that there’s never a point in Yi Yi‘s one hundred and eighty (thereabouts) minutes run time that the film slackens and forfeits your attention.
2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson: I can’t really cheat the entire series onto this particular list, so I’ll go with the first entry– which I consider the best. Jackson wasted no time with his adaptation of Tolkien’s essential trilogy and proved right out the gate his dedication to building the world of Middle Earth to perfection, right down to the last house in Hobbiton. Movies like this are in the details, and in the casting, and Jackson hit home runs in both categories and all others in between, captivating the world with his vision of one of the greatest fantasy worlds ever committed to paper.
2002, Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli: Probably one of the top three most personally impacting movies released in my lifetime. There’s a story behind this one for me, and you can peruse that at your leisure, but suffice to say that this is the picture that really made me into a movie enthusiast.
2003, Tokyo Godfathers, Satoshi Kon: Ha! Made you look! You all expected Oldboy to worm its way into this entry, didn’t you? Well, I like to keep people on their toes, and as much as the urge to just drop my favorite all-time film here was quite strong, it wasn’t overpowering, and it’s time I wrote a list that didn’t include Oldboy despite the film being applicable. After all, other directors, notably the optimistic, cheerful, but never saccharine or disingenuous Satoshi Kon, whose films– ranging from Millennium Actress to Paprika— rarely get the recognition they deserve. Of all of his offerings, Tokyo Godfathers might have the strongest brew of alchemical magic up its sleeve; it is utterly impossibly not to fall for its charms as it regales us with its story of three bums who stumble upon an abandoned baby and take it upon themselves to do right by the child.
2004, Sideways, Alexander Payne: Paul Giamatti makes just about anything into a good time (sans Planet of the Apes), so it stands to reason that watching him pal around with Thomas Haden Church should be entertaining. Director Payne, adapting Rex Pickett’s novel, takes a buddy comedy and a road movie, mashes them together, and refines the results into something nuanced in its cheekiness as it portrays two middle-aged men behaving badly in wine country while balancing the pending wedding of one and the innumerable woes of the other.
2005, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, Chan-wook Park: What, you weren’t expecting me to forsake Park entirely, were you? Sympathy For Lady Vengeance might be my least favorite of the Korean auteur’s vengeance trilogy, but that’s not to say that I disdain it to any degree. Perhaps the most polished and refined film of the series, Lady Vengeance keeps in line with Park’s neo-noir explorations and further displays his undeniable flair for lush, beautiful color palettes and striking imagery amidst the ugliness of human conflict.
2006, Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón: I can’t really say which element of Cuarón’s ’06 science fiction masterpiece matters more to me– it’s high-concept socially conscious commentary, or the absolutely incredible cinematography and editing so brilliantly encapsulated in long, uninterrupted takes that in theory appear simple but prove enormously difficult in practice. Grimly dystopian yet possessing an indomitable byline of optimism and hope, Children of Men‘s referential imagery and politically charged themes and plot resonate like new with every repeat viewing; it’s timeless, a movie that will be likely be relevant even thirty years into the future.
2007, Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright: A movie that makes me ache a little bit for Britain every time I watch it, not just for the Cornettos either, but for the spirit of the place itself (but the Cornettos are up there, trust me). Because Britain isn’t actually comprised of sleepy little hamlets whose populations kill people who threaten to soil, stain, or otherwise sully the outward appearance of their beloved towns– in case you were wondering. It’s impossible not to love how Edgar Wright funnels his enthusiasm for genre films into actually trying his own hand at making them, instead of making carbon copies of the most recognizable among them and calling it homage; these are genuine films, ones which contain nods to his favorite genre works but which inevitably exist on their own merits and don’t succeed or fail depending on how well-versed you are in genre filmmaking. And of course it’s equally as outrageous to imagine disliking any movie that teams up Wright with English dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
2008, The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan: Even if I don’t love Nolan’s universally celebrated sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, I still respect it for changing superhero movies in one epic swoop. If nothing else, there’s an amazing performance by the regrettably late Heath Ledger as Batman’s eternal nemesis, the Joker; it’s literally so good that Ledger might years from now be thought of as the greatest Joker of all time. But as bloated as the movie is, there remains a massively influential superhero tale beneath unnecessary fat; like it or not, The Dark Knight‘s impact is already being felt in superhero cinema today.
2009, Up, Peter Docter: For my money, the best movie Pixar has ever made and one of the best animated films– and one of the best films period– of the 2000s. Meshing the heartbreak of reality, manifested in the death of the protagonist’s beloved wife and reason for living, with enthusiastic, retro-influenced adventure, Up perfectly exemplifies Pixar’s proclivities for making movies that appeal to adults and their children alike. Ed Asner completely owns this movie as the hero, the perpetually grumpy Carl Frederickson, but jaw-droppingly beautiful animation and a little help from his co-stars (Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, and director Peter Docter as a talking dog (a talking dog!)) go a long way toward making this movie pretty much perfect.
2010, The Social Network, David Fincher: A movie that gets better with subsequent viewings and certainly deserved all of the applause directed toward it during this past awards season. I never thought that even a man as talented as Fincher could make a courtroom drama Facebook, social networking personified, into something of interest, but rapid-fire banter crafted by none other than Aaron Sorkin, combined with clean, precise editing and inspiring, gorgeous cinematography elevate something so dull sounding into the movie of its year and probably what will end up being one of the truly iconic movies of this decade.
Nice one!! o good. You put so much more into this blogathon than I did. Great job! I am blaming the fact that I had to go back to 1973, meaning a hell of a lot of writing!! /must try harder!
So good to find someone else that respects the Bubba Ho Tep…bloody love that film!
Thanks for taking part and for the kind words. Love your list, a few that made my list and a lot that came close.
Thanks Custard, it means a lot to have my efforts appreciated– that’s nearly 3000 words right there! Maybe I put a little too much into this, but I obviously couldn’t help myself. And good on you for also appreciating the excellence of Bubba Ho-Tep, I can’t give enough love to that movie.
Andy, I’ve already said this twice, but thank you for being such a great community organizer. You and I hit quite a few of the same notes together, which should be expected since all great Andys think alike. Can’t wait for the next event!
Wow, so many great movies on here! I think 1994 was the hardest year to decide. I opted for Pulp Fiction over Leon, although it was certainly a runner-up for me (right there with Hoop Dreams, Shawshank, Lion King, etc.).
Excellent selections. If I had been alive during the 80s, we’d have the same selections for ’85 up to ’88. We’ve also got the same for ’93, ’01 and ’08 to ’10
1994 definitely wasn’t easy, Eric, but I just had to go with Leon. Out of all those movies, it’s the one that’s stayed with me the most, though I freely admit to not being a huge Pulp Fiction fan. That made it somewhat more simple.
We seem to think quite alike, Tom! That’s a lot of the same picks. Looking over some of the choices of others, I’m also thinking back to the 70s and such to figure out what I would have picked if I’d been born earlier.
Nice list – I had to smile at your comment about LA Confidential; it is for exactly that reason I prefer the film to the book, which after watching the film feels out of control and convoluted.
I feel I shall be coming back to search your backlog if it’s true you find it hard to not mention Oldboy; as is plainly obvious from my blog design, I’m also a fan. Though actually I’d find it hard to write about it
Oh, trust me, I can write about Oldboy all day long and into the evening if I get in the mood for it. But I fall back on that film too often as a selection in theme memes like this, so I thought I’d break out of that mold.
Ha, I seem to be going in the opposite direction. It’s only now, this past week I even considered writing more about it than ‘It’s Awesome’. Same for Mr. and Lady Vengeance, hence the reference to writing one big piece about them. I might leave it a bit so I can read the manga first and compare.
Are you doing a piece for the LAMB Oldboy thing (or have already)?
Love the quick succession of Jurassic Park, Leon and Heat. Three of my favorite movie of all time! 🙂
Nice list, some very good movies here. Even a couple I’ve never even heard of. ’94 was a hard choice for me as well……well, kinda. I opted for Pulp Fiction, but there were so many good movies that year. Leon the Professional is a very very nice one as well. I liked the inclusion of Sideways. I really like that movie and love Giamatti and like Church as well.
Can’t go wrong with Spielberg, Besson, and Mann! I’ve felt the need to revisit Jurassic Park recently, so of course I had to give it the nod in ’93, and I don’t think that ’95 really had any competition for me– Heat just felt natural.
I think Sideways was the movie in which Paul Giamatti became Paul Giamatti for me, JL– it’s a movie that sticks with me and which I remember seeing in the theater very vividly. Personal connections always count for movies for me.
I love Heat, but Usual Suspects did it for me in ’95. I think it’s along those same lines that you mention personal connections. The impression a movie gives you is one that can last as well. In that regard, Usual Suspects really stuck with me, especially because of that ending.
And you know, now that you mention it, I think Sideways is the one that made me a fan of Giamatti and really turned me onto him as well.
Both are great movies, so you can’t really screw that choice up, but that lasting impression is what means the most when we talk about movies. And I think that American Splendor is where I first became a fan of Giamatti, but Sideways is where he really became the beloved actor he is today. I actually thought about putting Splendor on this list, too, but it’s been too long since I’ve seen it and I feel like that wouldn’t be conducive to a really good entry on the list.
I’m happy to see “Children of Men” made it onto someone’s list. That’s one of the most grimly hopeful films I’ve seen in recent years, and the scene with Clive Owen carrying the baby — wow.
A powerful moment for me, too, and I think one of the most technically masterful of the entire decade. It’s those long shots that ratchet up the impact of the third act and really drive home the emotions the film is going for.
Is there a Rocketeer revival going on? I swear I’ve seen it on a number of lists (and heard a lot of talk about it on podcasts I listen to) lately, and yet I was always under the impression that it wasn’t a very strong film. Guess I need to reconsider (and check out a young Jen Connelly, which is never a bad thing).
An excellent, diverse international list you’ve got here. Well done.
That’s kinda surprised me too with how often I’ve seen The Rocketeer mentioned. I don’t understand the appeal either. I remember being mildly entertained by it as a kid, but beyond that (and in retrospect) never found it to be anything special at all. But hey, to each their own.
Yeah, I was shocked by the number of Rocketeer entries, too, but in a good way. It’s a really fun movie, thrilling and entertaining and pulpy and full of energy, but maybe one that needs a specific audience.
Children of Men is so underrated.
Regrettably, I have to agree. It’s a masterpiece that doesn’t get as much love today as it should.
hey andrew, yours was the first of these lists from a blogger that wasn’t on my radar, an excellent discussion on your choices which has added a little something extra to my enjoyment of this blogathon. your choice of phantom menace threw me completely before i recovered to read your reasoning.
Movies can be important for a number of reasons, not just for quality, after all. Thanks for stopping by Toby, glad that you’ve stopped on by– don’t be a stranger! This is exactly what I love about events like these– they bring people together (at least as much as possible over the Internet) and introduce us to new bloggers.
Great picks here – I love “Sideways”.
I did “A Life In Movies” as well – very fun.
Good post Andrew.
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