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.

What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get? (G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17)

If your life was a movie, what would it be rated?

I recently watched a documentary questioning the secrecy and allusiveness of the MPAA movie rating system, called “This Film is Not Yet Rated”. While I’m not opposed to the American movie rating system because I see it as a decent way for parents to decide which movies are more suitable for their children, I also admit there is some humor in the way that movies are arbitrarily given ratings.

In general, more than one f-word grants an “R” rating. “Artistic or comic nudity” can land with “PG-13” or even “PG”, but if the nudity involves romantic or sexual content, then the movie will be an “R”. A panel of judges make a living off of making that call.

By now it’s pretty obvious that most studios want the majority of their films to be rated “PG-13” because more people will be able to see it. “PG” is for young kids and “R” weeds out the kids who are not smart enough to pay for one movie but walk into another.

The thing that most stood out to me from watching the documentary was this:

Compared to Europe, America has it backwards when it comes to sexuality and violence in movies. In Europe, sex scenes are portrayed in a more matter-of-fact/this-just-part-of-life manner. An absence of chiseled abs, large breasts, and steamy music. Not glamorized.

But when it comes to violence, Europe leaves a lot more to the imagination. They’re more offended by violence and less worried about sexual content.

In America, our movies are infiltrated by sex any time there’s a slight opportunity for it. But it’s so fake. Women have the sex drives of men. The atmosphere is perfect. The lighting is just right. And of course both participants have perfect bodies that could be (and often have been) featured partially nude on a health magazine cover. For me it’s just not believable.

Yet despite our obsession, compared to Europe, we’re much more offended by sex in movies. Culturally, America is a Christian nation. So we’re much more likely to be bothered or affected by heavy sexual content in a movie.

So we shy away from sex in movies, but indulge in violence. And not just grotesque stuff like the Saw movies.

We love war movies. We just do. Because there’s nothing more American than seeing the good guys kill the bad guys.

Like any James Bond movie for example. Loaded with countless murders by gunshots. Yet a lack of blood. Therefore, James Bond movies aren’t rated “R”, but “PG-13” instead.

The theory is that violent movies have this undertone that speak to teenage boys and young men: “Just imagine, if you fought in the U.S. military, you could be the one with the gun. Protecting our country. Killing and defeating the enemy.”

The regular presence of violence in American entertainment desensitizes us to it. The more we see it, the more we’re used to it. And it’s not really a moral issue to us.



While we may not be willing to be part of the firing squad that executes an American criminal convicted of murder and rape, our conscious doesn’t bother us as much about killing the enemy in a war who happened to be born in the wrong country with a dictator who is forcing him to fight against us. Yet he may have never killed or raped anyone. Until now, he could be just a another normal family man. But if he doesn’t fight for his corrupt political leader, his life will end anyway.

Both the sex and the violence are fake. We know this. But our conscience doesn’t really bother us about watching Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers (which neither really contain any sexual content).

I’ve noticed that Baptist preachers can mention Saving Private Ryan during a sermon to drive home a point and no one in the congregation thinks twice. We’ll overlook the vulgar language and bloody deaths in the name of war. Yes, it’s violent. But it’s war.

The point: Even Baptist preachers don’t mind violence, as long as it’s associated with war. I know this because I’ve been in the congregation enough to hear it. But if a movie was rated “R” for any other reason than war violence, it would be taboo for the preacher to admit he even saw the movie.

I get it. It makes sense.

America excuses violence. But has a tough time with the other stuff.

Now that I’ve established that America is okay with violence, I will quote Michael Tucker. He is the producer of the 2004 war documentary film, Gunner Palace, which shows the everyday lives of soldiers fighting in Iraq. This film is unique in that it received a “PG-13” rating, despite it’s 42 uses of the f-word and brutal violence and imagery. Tucker had to appeal the MPAA because of course they originally rated his film “R”:

“When a little girl was running down the road in South Vietnam, burnt by Napalm and she’s naked, is that PG? Is it PG-13? Is it R? You can’t rate reality.”

Great quote. I’ve seen the exact photograph he’s referring to. It’s awful. And I’ve seen even more hellish pictures from The Rape of Nanking during World War II, when Japan occupied China, raping all females and killing all men they could find in that city.

That can’t be rated. It’s so worse than “R”. Worse than NC-17. Yet those photographs can easily be found in Wikipedia or in any History section in a Borders or Barnes and Noble. It’s not fiction. It’s not art. It’s reality.

Michael Tucker is right: You can’t rate reality.


In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered what my life would be rated if it were a movie. The question is, how would my life not be rated “R”? Just considering an average workday. Even on a tame day, I know the language I hear around me would be rated “R”. As it definitely was in high school.

I guess I’ve always thought it’s ironic to hear a handful of f-words in a movie and know the movie is rated “R” because of the language itself. Hearing that language has become normal to me. Which of course defeats the whole idea of certain words being vulgar. When they’re common, they can’t truly be as vulgar as we let ourselves believe.

One of my biggest reasons not to use profanity is for that very reason. It just seems cliche to me. I can’t bring myself to do it.

Yet watching a movie than contains a few f-words is at least a little bit offensive and shocking. Why? Because it’s not in real life? Isn’t there a double standard somewhere in there?

Why, in real life, is it not a big deal to us?

Because it’s not real. Watching it happen to someone else in a movie makes it worse. It’s magnified. We pay closer attention. We’ll except it in real life, though.

It’s a funny thought.  To give a movie rating to real life.  Especially your own.

Related post by the same author:

Mixed Reviews  http://wp.me/pxqBU-2y

The Ball  http://wp.me/pxqBU-fv

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Capital Punishment, In Theory: Do You Support the Death Penalty Enough to Do It Yourself?

To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?


Back in November, I wrote a post asking the question, “If the only way you could eat any meat was by actually killing the animal yourself, would you still be a carnivore?” (click here to read it http://wp.me/pxqBU-ef). I ended up saying that I am a hypocrite- I couldn’t bring myself to killing animals as regularly as I eat them. (Though since then, I have begun trying only eating meat with dinner, and having vegetarian lunches.)

Recently, thanks to Netflix’s instant streaming, I have found a new series to satisfy me until LOST comes back in February. It’s a Showtime original called Dexter. He is a “blood splatter analyst” for the Miami Metro Police Department. He has unique insight and information regarding criminals who he knows are guilty but can not be convicted because of lack of evidence proven in court.

Interestingly, Dexter himself learned as a young teenage that he had a desire to kill people. His foster dad saw this and guided him into the possibilities working in the police force. So in addition to his day job as a blood splatter analyst, he also hunts down the criminals and kills them himself.

Dexter is a serial killer. He kills murderers on his own time, without the acknowledgement of the Miami police department. And has the know-how to get away with it. So other than breaking the law by killing the criminals, is what he is doing really so bad? He’s killing serial killers. Though he is one himself. He doesn’t kill innocent people, though.  Just the killers.

I am thoroughly entertained by this TV show, yet I can’t go unaffected: It forces me to sort out how I feel about capital punishment. I have always believed that without a doubt murderers and rapists should be killed. That’s what I am sure of.

But who pulls the trigger? Who turns on the electric chair? Who holds the responsibility of killing another human being? Of sending them into eternity? Like Dexter, does it take a certain kind of person to execute this kind of justice?

For those who don’t believe in capital punishment, there’s no need to continue reading. This is for those who are like me- those who do support capital punishment, but haven’t necessarily been able to sort it through. This is my way of sorting it out.

So the question is this: To ensure that capital punishment was followed through with, would you yourself be willing to take the life of a convicted, guilty criminal?

I’ve thought it through. I say yes, I would be willing to do it. Because if I say no, then like my earlier question about only eating the animals I killed myself, I make myself a hypocrite.

Aside from the fact I would be taking the life of murderer or rapist, what would hold me back? Knowing that I am in a way playing God. Why am I okay with that? Am I somewhat deranged for admitted I could do it if I had to?

Is there justification in executing a murderer or rapist? I looked it up. From everything I found in the Bible in old Jewish law, murderers are to be put to death. Along with people who commit adultery. But not rapists.

And that’s annoying because that doesn’t add up to where I stand. I want it to say that murderers AND rapists should be executed. But it doesn’t. And I definitely don’t believe that a person who cheated on their spouse should die for it. That seems quite harsh.

Why is it so common for murderers and rapists to repeat the crime once they are released from prison? Because they can’t “learn their lesson”. Something traumatic happened in their earliest years of childhood which corrupted the way they think. While they were at one time an innocent child who may have been a victim of violent abuse or rape, they are now an adult who has chosen to continue that pattern. I don’t see how giving a person like that a second chance is an option.

It’s not a question of revenge. I want no part in revenge. But I do support justice.

This scenario was played out in Season 5 of LOST. Sayid travels back in time and shoots Ben as a child. An adult tries to kill a future serial killer. The ethics of Kate prevented Ben from dying. She took him to get help and his life was saved.

I would say that few people would be willing to do what Sayid did- to try to kill a future serial killer. Because that’s altering the life of an innocent child.

But once that corrupted child has grown up and proven that are corrupted by murdering or raping another person, I don’t see how anything can change them. They can be forgiven by God and people, yes. But not excused from the law of man.

The thing is, there’s no way around the fact that executing wrongdoers is a necessary part of life. War is a great example. Our country fights the bad guys. The other nations who are out to get us and/or other countries. They are the ones who attack. We must defend ourselves.  Self-defense.

But even then, who are we fighting? A lot of the soldiers in the armies we fight against are fighting us because they don’t have another option. Their own corrupt government is often the one forcing them to fight us.

If they don’t fight for their country, they may be executed by their own army. If they do fight for their country, our country may execute them in war. They lose either way. But if we don’t kill them, they will kill us. We can’t avoid the situation.

But going back to capital punishment for our own criminals, why can’t we keep them in prison for life? Aside from the millions of dollars in cost us in taxes every year, we have a justice system that often lets them back on streets eventually. And as mentioned before, they often repeat the crime when they are freed.

The biggest issue I have in sorting all this out has less to do with whether or not I could execute a guilty person and more in deciding what crimes are worth of death. I say murderers and rapists. But where are the lines drawn? I’ll leave that to the courts to decide.

I don’t see capital punishment as a political or even a religious issue. Because in all I’ve researched, political and religious groups are split on the issue across the board. It’s one of those issues that isn’t cut and dry. It has to be pondered and discussed and seen from many perspectives.  But it can’t go ignored.  Someone has to answer the call.

But if we say really support capital punishment, in theory we should be willing to be the one who executes the criminal. If not, we are saying it’s wrong to murder a convicted criminal. Or that we’ll let a person who is more fit for the job take care of it.  And do we think that the person who is willing to execute the criminal is less moral than else? Do we fear God will judge us for carrying out what we perceive as justice?

By agreeing that certain criminals should be put to death, we are already making that decision in our mind that it’s justified. But there is something scary about the thought of carrying out that action ourselves. Ironic.

To answer anonymously, then see how other readers answered this deep question, answer below:

 

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