Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top 11-25 Favorites

What do your favorite movies say about you?

Our favorite movies are loaded with subconscious connections to our own ways of thinking and our own lives.  And that’s why no movie critic can ever truly release a list of the best movies ever made.  Because that list would simply reflect that critic, not the general population. 

After having recently posted my own Top Ten favorites (Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites), here in my 300th post on Scenic Route Snapshots, I am now releasing the list of my Top 11-25 favorite movies of all time:

#11) About a Boy

#12) Elizabethtown

#13) A Christmas Story

#14) Zoolander

#15) Supersize Me (assuming that documentaries count)

#16) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

#17) Mrs. Doubtfire

#18) That Thing You Do

#19) The Wedding Singer

#20) Big

#21) Dumb and Dumber

#22) Napoleon Dynamite

#23) The Breakfast Club

#24) Pineapple Express

#25) One Hour Photo

I have been asked several times about my Number Four favorite movie of my all time, Sideways (2004).  It’s one that most people who I know in real life didn’t like, if they’ve even seen it.  I can totally see why people wouldn’t like it- a bipolar lead character (Miles, played by Paul Giamatti), a sex-crazed idiot sidekick (Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church), a good bit of comical frontal male nudity (by the man who played Tom on LOST), and no definite plot.  But I do solidly love this movie.  In fact, I also give it the award for “The Most Re-watchable Movie”.  And surely that’s another reason it ended up as #4. 

In keeping with the theme of this post, I am choosing to use Sideways as an example of how a favorite movie can say a lot about the person who loves it. I’ve said before that what makes a good movie is not its actors, budget, or plot- but instead it’s all about the characters (and of course the actor’s ability to act). 

Sideways is a character movie.  The main four characters (and pretty much only four characters of the movie) are all believable.  None of their lives are impressive.  They are very ordinary people.  And they are all quite flawed and that makes them more human than a lot of movie characters.

It wasn’t until I saw the movie for the 10th time, last weekend, that I finally picked up on the toned-down parallel between the types of wine and the characters, as well as the amount of passion for wine they had compared with their desire for meaningful human relationships.

I love the fact that the movie takes place in Napa Valley and integrates the culture of wine tasting.  It’s such a beautiful, unique place.  I was intrigued by Napa Valley the first time I saw the movie in 2005. 

Of course, three years later I conveniently married a girl from Sacramento, which means that I’ve been able to go wine tasting several times out there where the movie was filmed.  Just as Sideways makes it seem cool to take a road trip through Napa Valley and taste wine, the truth is, it really is that cool.  A perfect place for a road trip and a perfect place to get lost (which we do just about every time we go out there).

If nothing else, Sideways plays out like an adult, R-rated version of Dumb and Dumber.  The climax of the movie makes the “naked in public” nightmare a reality when Miles (Paul Giamatti) has to sneak into a house to retrieve Jack’s (Thomas Haden Church) wallet, after Jack just woke him up in the middle of the night after having ran several miles naked from across town. 

The entire soundtrack of the movie, with one exception when the song “Two Tickets to Paradise” is heard in the background of a bar, is jazz.  I like jazz a lot.  That’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of The Pink Panther cartoon show.

Lastly, if it weren’t for a few scenes where Jack uses a cell phone, the movie could have very easily taken place in 1993.  Or 1989.  Or 1986.  Sideways has a really timeless, classic feel to it. 

So in review, the random elements of the movie that subconsciously connected to my own life were the following: a character-driven plot (I’m a people person), parallels between the wines and the people who drink them (I love undertoned themes), remniscent of Dumb and Dumber (obviously another one of my favorite movies), retro feel (I’m a fan of time travel), a jazzy soundtrack (it’s groovy), a beautiful location (that also doubles as my wife’s hometown region), a road trip driven-plot (I love road trips) and a scene involving a man having to run naked in public (I have that “naked in pubic” dream several times a year, and I plan to do a post on it soon).

How does a movie become a favorite?  It’s all about those subconscious connections between our own lives and the images, moods, and stories we see on the screen.  Either they’re there or they’re not.

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Why Eighties Movies are So Hard to Remake

And what happened to the genre of romantic comedies…

Back in October I was stuck at home for a few days with severe sinus and allergy problems, streaming Netflix instantly on my laptop all day. I decided to take a break with an ‘80’s movie that I had nothing but fond memories of since my family rented it on VHS when I was in the 3rd grade.  A movie that the general American population still only refers to with a smile and a goofy laugh: Weekend at Bernie’s.

I made it through 38 minutes before shutting it off.  That movie is so boring.  Not funny.  Too unbelievable.  It took them 33 minutes to kill Bernie, and by the time they finally did, I stopped caring.

As I thought more about it, ‘80’s movies aren’t easy to successfully remake because those cheesy, far-fetched, imagination-dependent ideas just don’t fly now that Aerosol hairspray isn’t clogging our brain anymore.  The Eighties were the only ten years that we would buy those concepts.

Like Tom Hanks in Splash (1984).  He falls in love with a mermaid.

Or Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf (1985).  He is a high school basketball star who happens to have inherited “the werewolf gene”.

Or Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin (1987).  He falls in love with a mannequin that comes to life at the mall he works at.

Or Tom Hanks in Big (1988).  He transforms from a boy to a man and falls in love with a grown woman. And just the record, it remains one of my all time favorite movies.

There was this reoccurring mix of fantasy and romance.  Often with drab dialogue.  But completely overshadowed by its towering gimmick of a plot.

These days, we’re too cool for silly ideas like that.  Since Terminator 2 impressed us with believable CGI (computer generated imagery) in 1991, then Jurassic Park in 1993, we’ve been straying from fantasy and romance, and focusing more on sci-fi with some romance.  Leading us to the days of Avatar and Transformers.  And most obviously, the soon-to-end TV series LOST.

And that’s why if today, if they Steven Spielberg remade Gremlins, it would be a hit.  Or Ghostbusters 3, if they ever actually end up making the movie.  Because that’s something the Eighties gave us that worked: horror and comedy along with sci-fi.  They are currently remaking Child’s Play.  And of course, the Nightmare on Elm Street remake comes out this Friday.

We adopted sci-fi horror comedies and sci-fi romance from the Eighties, but what haven’t translated over are romantic comedies and romantic dramas.  Yes, romantic comedies and dramas still exist.  A new one is released into theatres every week.

But overall, they’ve earned a lousy reputation.  Romantic comedies have become “chick flicks”, typically meaning they’re too predictable and cliché for a man to enjoy.  The “girl goes shopping and tries on ten different dresses for her girlfriends during a musical montage” scene.  Too familiar.

The Eighties pulled off romantic comedies.  They knew how to make them work for both men and women: Can’t Buy Me Love, The Princess Bride, Roxanne, When Harry Met Sally, Overboard.

But there’s only so much Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant a man can stand watching.  So what happened because of it?  Judd Apatow and his friends made the genre of bromantic comedies more popular than romantic comedies.  And not just films that feature Seth Rogan.  The Hangover and I Love You Man had nothing to do with Apatow.

I’m all for seeing a good romantic comedy.  Truly.  I like the good ones, unashamedly.  But it’s been a long time since one has been made.

It’s simply unnatural for the romantic genre to be catered towards women- because romance is about a man and a woman.  Because Katherine Heigl and a remote controlled dildo device don’t make a great team (reference to The Ugly Truth).  But Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan do.

After enough corny romantic comedies, we men got the point:  Romantic comedies are no longer for couples- they’re for single women.  So we avoid them and instead run to R-rated comedies featuring funny Jewish lead comedians like Paul Rudd and Jason Segal (Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance).

The concept of romance in movies has become polarized.  Women watch chick flicks and men watch bromantic comedy.  Ironic.

As for romantic dramas these days, Nicholas Sparks pretty much has the monopoly on that: A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, The Last Song, Nights in Rodanthe.

Someone tragically dies.  A disapproving mother.  A Southern setting.  Got it.

So what can we say about remaking ‘80’s movies?  Some of them, many of them, most of them, need to stay where they belong- in the ‘80’s and in our fond memories.  But the ones that made us laugh, while freaking us out, while being drenched in sci-fi, well, we want more of those.  And the ones that were truly romantic, catering to both men and women, we want more of those.

We’ll always have a love/hate relationship with the Eighties.

Mixed Reviews

Being a movie critic would be a fun job, but it would be the epitome of the phrase “you can’t please everyone”. Reviewers of movies ultimately are bias to a certain degree. Professional critics base their judgments more on artistic values, along with production quality and script. Whereas when random Joe’s like me write up a review, it’s based more on the factors of likeability, “re-watchability”, characterization, and comedic elements.

And then there’s that intangible element of “offensiveness”, which transcends both my reviews and professional ones as well. A few months ago my friend Jake sent me a link to this article that referred to the concept of the “Christian disclaimer” that is commonly given by Christian movie reviewers. Here’s one I’ve heard several times: “The Wrestler is great movie, focusing on the depravity of man, loneliness, and not giving up on your dreams, but there is a lot of bad language and his girlfriend is a stripper so there are some scenes you may need to close your eyes and cover your ears.” What it comes down to is the ability to separate the counter-Christian content from what makes a good movie. And for many people, understandably, that’s not easy.
http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/2009/05/543-throwing-out-disclaimers-before-you.html

In recent years I’ve had several people half-jokingly tell me that I only like movies with a lot of swearing and nudity. I do admit that R-rated movies typically have more depth to them and speak to me more than the typical PG-13 movie. Among my personal favorites are Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, Garden State, I Love You, Man (obviously), Fight Club, Vanilla Sky, Lost in Translation, and Pineapple Express. All of which are rated R and most of which contain some nudity.

My ability to separate what many Christians find offensive in R-rated movies comes from my inability to blacklist PG and PG-13 entertainment that goes against my spiritual beliefs to the same or worse degree, as I would feel I would be using a double standard to judge entertainment based on the obvious offenses versus the subtle offenses. Most of my favorite sitcoms, like Friends, have a constant occurrence of casual sex. I strongly disapprove of the way the writers and actors make it seem normal, guiltless, and… well, casual. And I strongly disapprove of the phrase “oh my God” that is constantly used in dialogue.

Part of me actually thinks it’s worse to be exposed to a daily stream of the more family friendly sitcoms which subconsciously tell us these things are okay as we overlook the “smaller stuff”. Because they are more easily accessible, less offensive, and such a staple of everyday American culture. They’re not as blatant as an intentionally crude R-rated movie by Judd Apatow. But I see the real threats to our spiritual lives being the quiet, common subtleties, not the obvious threats that we are already distancing ourselves from.

rated R