My Top 101 Films Part 1 (of 10)

So I have provided lots of recommendations for books on this blog--to no one's surprise.  I'm an avid reader and as someone who teaches literature, that is something we've all come to expect here.  However, I haven't been as vocal about my viewing preferences and what are some of my favorite films out there.  I've certainly talked about my affinity for Spaceballs,I've even shared with you the films that creep me out and I've delved deep into a specific movie and its magic.  However, I've never done a comprehensive review list such as you can find for books in my Recommendations category.

So I've decided to go with my top 101 films and share my thoughts about each of them.  I'm breaking this up into 10 posts because I don't think anyone would want to read one long annotated list.  I also feel this is a nice way to get more blog posts out of a single concept.

With this list, there are some things you should know.  The first is that it is alphabetical.  Trying to actually rank these films seems an insurmountable task but maybe I'll be up to it after I have written about each of them...though not likely.  The second thing to know is that this list is not perfect.  I am sure there are some that I missed and would change out but I did my best to make sure this was as best representative of my interests as I could.  Finally, my reflections on each will explain why I personally find the film relevant, powerful, interesting, engaging, etc.

So enjoy!

12 Angry Men (1957)

DVD Cover to 12 Angry MenThis film is essential watching for anyone in a Criminal Justice program, which is exactly where I first came across it.  It's a highly engaging film that does a lot with very little.  The story follows twelve jurors as they debate the guilt of an accused man.  While eleven of the jurors are convinced based upon circumstantial evidence, their own initial biases, and their lackluster care of the justice system, one juror (played by Henry Fonda) demands to give the accused their due diligence and works to convince each of the other jurors that the man is innocent.  It's hard not to watch the movie and aspire to be that juror and that's part of what makes the movie so great.  But what's also appealing about the film is its effects on the viewer.  It's a claustrophobic film that you can feel as you watch it.  About 95% of the film occurs in the jury room, a cramped room with twelve people on a steaming hot day.  The emphasis on the sweat and fanning coupled with the close-ups and near inability to do any mid-shots with just one person helps to create this atmosphere and further stresses the pressure and tension of the room.  At this time, the film is entirely available on Youtube.  

28 Days Later (2002)

One of the first films to kick off the zombie narrative of the 21st century (even though director Danny Boyle claims they are not zombies), 28 Days Later pulls together many traditional horror and sci-fi tropes to make an post-apocalyptic film that is haunting because so many elements of it smack true to the realm world.  The most striking and enlightening moment for me is when Cillian Murphy's character has left the hospital and wanders an abandoned London.  The empty streets of London are fascinating but when his walking leads him to Picadilly Circle, the scene hit home.  About a month prior to seeing the film, I had visited the Ground Zero of 9/11.  The fences blocking the rubble were covered with flowers, ribbons, and many pictures of people that asked "Have you seen this person?"  The Picadilly Circle scene mirrors this.  As Murphy's  character wanders, these scenes are plastered everywhere.  But what makes 28 Days Later such a solid film is that at the end, it returns to the real problem.  Like its epic predecessor, George Romero's Dawn fo the Dead, though the zombies are the catalyst, what ends up being the true source of conflict are humans.  It's the militia and their approach to survival (using women as chattel) that cause havoc and devastation, not the zombies.  The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

American History X (1998)

It's one of those films that hits you hard in many ways.  With race as it's center, the film explores the challenges of institutional and inter-generational racism that fuels the tensions, misconceptions, and ignorance.  The film does this not by humanizing minorities (although it certainly does this) but by humanizing the pathways to racism that converge on young adults.  Through the two brothers who are grappling with their own understanding of race and racism in an area experiencing racial mixing.  The film starts off and ends with murder but how you make sense of the two murders are different.  In both cases, the empathy is with the victim and there is a overwhelming frustration of the senselessness.  However, the murder at the end raises all sorts of questions about where the protagonist will find himself.  It's hard not to feel raw after this film; there's so much left unresolved and so much said.  The most powerful scene in the film happens early within the film but lingers with audiences throughout the film.  In fact, it's hard not to talk about the film and think of the scene wherein Edward Norton's character (with swastika tattooed on his chest) executes an African American who he has caught breaking into his car.  The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

Animal House (1978)

A movie that almost single-handedly given birth to the college-right-of-passage and even bromance films in the tradition of American Pie, Old School, Dazed & Confused, Van Wilder, the Hangover, etc.  It's barely tangible plot is that borders on surreal slapstick doesn't detract but adds to the range of scenarios and events throughout the film.  Besides the laughs, the film influenced my perception (much to my chagrin  of college life, but more importantly, helped me better appreciate the use of soundtracks in film as it has one of my favorite soundtracks.  The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

Bamboozled (2000)

An equally troubling film as American History X on the subject of race but one that approaches from the angle of comedy (satire to be specific) and dives headlong into tragedy.  There are some fascinating levels to this film and I have used it regularly to talk about race and popular culture as it captures the complex challenges of entertainment and identity.  What I like most about the film is that the humor is at times uncomfortable.  The movie raises the question of whether we should be laughing and the follow up question of why is it funny.  Like any good satire, it represents unspoken truths about television, consumerism, and race that come together in fascinating ways.  The ending is less well executed than the first two-thirds but still raises all sorts of interesting questions.  At this time, the film is entirely available on Youtube.  

Barefoot Gen (1983)

DVD Cover to Barefoot GenAlmost before Art Spiegelman was asking if it is ok to make comics about the Holocaust using cats and mice (granted that isn't exactly the question he was asking), Keiji Nakazawa captured his and others experience as child survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima.  It's a haunting animated film, moreso after knowing it is based upon Nakazama's experiences.  Even though it is animated, it's hard not feel the angst and agony that befalls Gen as he tries to survive in the aftermath, having lost many within his family.  At this time, the film is entirely available on Youtube.  

Battle Royale (2000)

DVD Cover to Battle RoyaleBefore there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale (and it's sequel, though I'm less intrigued by that film).  It's a modern day Lord of the Flies mixed with Stephen King's The Long Walk and The Running Man.  It also feels much like Series 7: The Contenders (another film on this list we'll cover later).  The premise of a busload of annoying and aggravating teens being tossed onto an island, given weapons and told the last one standing wins does sound much more like The Hunger Games, but with over 20 contestants, most of which (including the winners) kill others, it's much more gory and less plot-driven (though it seems clear that The Hunger Games takes its lead and elements of this into the series).   I'm impressed by the audacity of the film to be created.  It is an adaptation of a book but that they went forward and made a very challenging film (teens killing teens--go figure, it's not everyone's cup of tea).   The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

Batman (1989)

Tim Burton's Batman is still a solid film.  While I certainly find Nolan's approach and execution better, I think there's a certain truth in saying that you don't get Nolan's Batman without Burton's Batman.  That is, Burton's films serves as a transition from the last televisual Batman (Adam West).  I found Keaton's stiffness as Bruce Wayne as realistic to the film (his life as a whole was so far removed if felt) and Jack Nicholson as the Joker was well done--only to be trumped by Heath Ledger.   I think I can still appreciate the film because it is a central part of my childhood and learning about comics and superheroes so it is hard not to slice away the nostalgia factor for this one.  The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

DVD Cover of Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast
Jean Cocteau's rendering of this fairy tale is pretty awesome.   To appreciate it, you have to resign yourself to two things.  One is that it is a surreal film and two is that it isn't your Disney tale (though the Disney version does lift much from this version).  Cocteau's rendering is everything  a fairy tale should be wherein it mixes excitement, the fantastic, and at times, is haunting.  While the fact that it is in black and white, surreal, and French would dissuade many, they really are missing out on a truly magical film.  At this time, the film is entirely available on Youtube.  

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Speaking of surreal, this film is right up there with Beauty and the Beast but in a whole other capacity.  The writer, Charlie Kaufman, is pretty fabulous with the ways in which he plays with reality and the idea of movies and audience.  His other films include Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York--all of which tend to play with the view about the nature of what is and isn't real.  Being John Malkovich does that by making a real person (John Malkovich) into an living agent within the fictional world of the film (akin to an equally engrossing film but not on my list, Stranger Than Fiction).  The film spirals off and offers us a variety of deep existential thoughts on the nature of storytelling, how and why we move through the world, what it means to be in another's mind, and how do we be ourselves.  The trailer of this film is available on Youtube.

Your turn!  What are some of your favorite films and why?  Post them in the comments!

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