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Go back to: home culture bashing big list

Page 1

The Big List
Recommended Movies

by Jason Roth

What Why
12 Angry Men If you like courtroom dramas, this one's mandatory (though it takes place in a jury's chambers). Dramatic, epistemological battle of intellectual honesty versus emotionalism and rationalism. The Showtime remake is good, but Fonda kicks ass in this original.
Amélie Someone in France must actually believe in love, not just regrettable one night stands (like other French "romances"). They must have gotten away with it because of the comedy and cool camera work.
Amistad Spielberg's (mostly) courtroom drama about an actual rebellion that took place aboard the slave ship Amistad. A moral battle for justice and one of his best movies, with great acting by Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew McConaughey. Djimon Hounsou, as the leader of the slaves, is amazing in his depiction of dignity and strength.
Anna and the King Jodie Foster in a version of The King and I. She is, of course, incapable of playing a character without a backbone, and she's great as usual in this. Chow Yun-Fat should have been offered a dozen dramatic roles (that didn't necessarily require him to slaughter dozens of people) after his truly believable depiction of an ultimately self-assured king. See it for the characters, acting, and setting.
The Apartment A watchable, believe it or not, romantic comedy. Jack Lemmon can't be bad, and in her first life as an actress, Shirley MacLaine plays Lemmon's, pardon the schmaltz, sweet love interest. Good premise centering around an apartment lent out for extramarital affairs.
Billy Elliot The ballsiest, little, wannabe ballet dancer on the planet. You can hate ballet like me and still love it. Like October Sky (dad wants him to be a coal miner), but better. Gotta love the T-Rex soundtrack. (And the bullshit "R" rating.)
The Browning Version
(or the remake)
How someone convinced me to watch a movie about a Latin teacher, I have no idea. (I had probably heard that Ayn Rand like the Terrence Rattigan play this was based on.) I tend to like movies about characters whose repressed pain and virtue is revealed, and this is an admirable example. I forget which version I like better, but they're both good.
Casablanca Sometimes, the masses actually do know what the hell they're talking about. One of the most popular movies on the planet happens to be one of the best. You want "larger than life", you got it. If you love sarcastic, cynical but heroic characters, you gotta love Bogart (in this movie or nearly any other). What a collection of characters, and actors, who thoroughly succeed in making most of today's anti-heroic pussies cower in shame. Got a poster of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains on my wall, and am damn proud of it.
Cyrano De Bergerac If you want extremely witty dialogue, a lead character with the ultimate strength, dignity, and self-confidence, and dated, somewhat cheesy-looking set design and fight scenes, this is the movie for you. José Ferrer was capable of depicting the character as he ought to be, and therefore single-handedly destroys Gérard Depardieu's version.
Dangerous Beauty Let's call the main character in this movie a hooker with a brain of gold. Catherine McCormack, the less hot actress from Braveheart, plays a rare (in Hollywood, at least) woman of strength. As a courtesan, she's permitted by Venetian society to educate herself and pursue her goal of intellectual excellence and independence. Better feminists will like this movie, worse ones will be intimidated by it. By the way, is it just me, or does Oliver Platt play a pre-19th Century sleazeball in everything he does?
Double Indemnity Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in this "guy gets royally screwed for a woman" classic. Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away, this is film noir, for Christ's sake. Sarcastic dialogue, lots of smoking, cool-as-fuck characters, and murder. What else do you want?
Good Luck Vincent D'Onofrio and Gregory Hines kick ass as a bunch of paraplegic bastards (ok, D'Onofrio is blind), who are funny, sort of pissed off, and could care less if the world doesn't want them to participate in a whitewater rafting race. A good, light, buddy movie, complete with the mandatory dick and feces jokes. You get equal parts "fuck you, we're going to do what we want to", and "shit, just because we're handicapped, who says we can't talk about fucking?"
The Hurricane My favorite actor, Denzel Washington, stars as real-life boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who never let his unjust imprisonment take precedence over his knowledge of his own innocence. Even though Washington's portrayal of Carter is my main reason for recommending this movie, you have to love how Carter's Canadian champions in the movie become heroes by deciding to do something about an injustice, rather than just sitting on their asses.
In the Heat of the Night Rod Steiger won the Academy Award, but it just as easily could have been Sidney Poitier, who plays the black, independent-minded-as-fuck, Yankee police officer in the racist American south. What makes it so good is that it's not simply "about racism", but contains an actual crime story. I can see why Denzel Washington is a fan of Poitier; they are both capable of depicting characters of strength, pride, and dignity.
LA Confidential One of my favorites, due to its exciting plot, action, characterization, and great acting. Jesus Christ, just look at this list: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, and James Cromwell. Reminds me of classic film noir, not just because of the intriguing, murder-mystery plot, but because of the quick pace, tough but distinct characters, and great characterization through action and witty dialogue.
Laura I should make a separate list just for film noir, one of my favorite genrés. But this is one of the best. Interesting plot, plus all the shadows, intrigue, and sarcastic dialogue you expect. If you can see it on the big screen, do, because you'll appreciate the camera work and the clarity and contrast of the black and white world.
Liar Liar Jim Carrey's best and funniest movie. Cheesy premise about a little boy's mystical wish, but that's ok because it gives Carrey the chance to show what it would be like if he were physically unable to tell a lie. Carrey is one of the few comedians who understands that a comedic actor should not wink at his audience for fear of making a fool of himself; he knows it's only funny when you give it your all and act like a complete, fucking idiot. Many classic scenes, and one of my favorite comedies of all time.
Lean on Me Morgan Freeman as a Paterson, New Jersey high school principal who kicks students' asses into shape. He's pissed off because he sees what the kids could be, rather than what they are. Fights students and teachers in a battle for higher standards.
Metropolis One of the only movie-length cartoons I could sit through. This Japanese anime movie has a good story of individualism and amazing animation.
Minority Report Heroic character, plot that moves (about 10x as fast as Blade Runner's), great special effects, and a moral theme about the life of the individual versus the "greater good".
October Sky Inspiring, "feel-good", Hollywood movie about a group of kids who give their town's coal-mining life the finger and decide to pursue their interest in model rockets. Chris Cooper is good as the repressed father (sort of like his American Beauty role), and Jake Gyllenhaal is good enough in his pre-gay cowboy days. Cool fact: title is an anagram of the memoir by the NASA engineer upon which the movie is based: Rocket Boys.
Ping Pong I caught this Japanese movie on a Singapore Airlines flight, thinking I might get to see some decent ping pong playing. I was right (well, CGI ping pong), but I had no idea that I'd be watching an incredibly uplifting movie that is - get this - explicitly about hero worship. The hero is a goofy high school kid (or was it college?), but that's ok. Also, it's directed very slickly by a guy who did CGI on Titanic. I recommend you find some way to find the DVD (e.g., eBay) and buy it immediately.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles One of my favorite comedies of all time. John Candy is great as the harmless but annoying guy, and Steve Martin is great as the guy who gets the perpetual shit end of the stick. As opposed to a lot of comedies, this one doesn't (a) have those long, boring scenes between the actual comedy, or (b) deteriorate into a sappy drama that feels the need to justify its inferiority complex over the fact that it's a comedy. Nearly non-stop humor and a quick-moving plot.
Red Corner Richard Gere has a way of making me like him no matter what movie he's in. (Somehow, he even made me like him in that unwatchable piece of shit, Shall We Dance.) This one's about an American businessman unjustly imprisoned in China, and his fight (with the help an attractive, female Chinese lawyer) to get out. These "unjustly imprisoned" movies are usually pretty damn cool.
The Shawshank Redemption The only reason I might now call this "one of my favorite movies" rather than my overall favorite is because I've seen it so many goddamn times. The most heroic character I've seen in a movie, or perhaps the one that appealed to me the most. Prison story about an apparently wrongly-convicted man (Tim Robbins), as told by fellow prisoner and narrator Morgan Friedman. Sorry, Stephen King, the movie kicks the shit out of your short story. Director Frank Darabont knows what a hero looks like.
The Straight Story David Lynch kicks ass again with a movie containing perhaps the kindest collection of human beings on the planet. Slow in pace (like the main character riding his lawn mower to visit his brother), but amusing and 100%, utterly benevolent.
Swing Kids These kids like swing dancing more than goose stepping, and can you blame them? Yet another story about everyday people rebelling against the life imposed upon them in Nazi Germany, but this is one of the good ones.
Unbreakable M. Night Shyamalan's best, in my opinion, because it doesn't put all its chips down on a shocking ending. Still, it's hard to talk about this movie without giving anything away. The pace is slow in terms of physical action; rather, the real action comes in the revelations that are made throughout. Has to be Bruce Willis's best performance, as a man who discovers his own strength and has to choose whether to accept or reject it.
Up the Down Staircase Sandy Dennis in one of the few decent among many "naïve, new teacher in an urban school" movies. Seems to be only available on VHS.
We the Living The best film version of an Ayn Rand novel. Produced in Italy in 1942 and later released in the US with Rand's permission. Great acting, faithful to the book, and a beautiful Italian chick.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? You have to be in the right mood to watch this one, but when you are, make sure you do. Richard Dreyfuss plays a paralyzed sculptor who fights for his right to die. It's sad, of course, but the overriding element is the strength of character and the fight for justice. Still seems to be available only on VHS.
The Winslow Boy Another good courtroom drama; about a father who defends his son against what he believes to be a false accusation that led to his son's expulsion from a naval college. Justice and honor are the thematic elements, and this original is better than the David Mamet version. (I like Mamet, but his typically staccato dialogue became a distraction to the plot.) Original may only be available on VHS.

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