I get a lot of grief from my friends who comment on how many movies I haven’t seen. Thing is, I have seen a lot of movies, it’s just a big percentage of them are in black and white. Even though I am not a prolific consumer of film, I am a passionate one. The movies I love, I really, really love. So I thought I’d share some of those with you, along with why I love them. There won’t be much in the way of film appreciation here. This is personal.
1.) Silence of the Lambs changed my life. It came out in 1991. I saw it three times in the theater. It was the perfect fit for my sensibilities and just as importantly, it introduced me to the concept of screenwriting. I saw Ted Tally’s name and realized that the director and the screenwriter could be two different people. I’d wanted to be a filmmaker, except I really didn’t want to work with people. Being a screenwriter seemed like the perfect solution – lots of time spent alone, writing, but you still get to tell stories through the movies. (In junior high I was a bit of a misanthrope. Avoiding people was a key feature in my dreams for the future.)
2.) The Royal Tenenbaums makes me cry. Every time I see it. I cry when Mordecai comes back. I cry when Margot and Richie listen to The Rolling Stones in the tent together. I cry when Chaz says, “I’ve had a rough year, Dad,” and Royal replies, “I know you have, Chazzie.” But it also makes me laugh. Every scene with Pagoda. Almost every line that comes out of Royal’s mouth. For example, to the Catholic priest, “Well of course I’m half Hebrew, but the children are three quarters Mick Catholic.” Priest says, “So they were raised in the Church?” And Royal goes, “I believe so. I really don’t know.” I really don’t know why The Royal Tenenbaums works for me the way it does and I don’t really care to find out. As an additional bonus, the fact that Wes Anderson was so deeply influenced by J.D. Salinger’s stories about the Glass family led me to those novels and short stories. I am profoundly glad it did so. Franny and Zooey is the best novel about faith that I’ve ever read.
3.) The Elephant Man is my biggest influence. As a kid who was bullied a lot, I wound up strongly identifying with Joseph Merrick at a young age. I read about him a lot and I watched this movie a lot. Guys, I even dressed up as him for Halloween. It was a really good costume, too. Thing is, not only did The Elephant Man dovetail perfectly into my young psyche, but it is also an amazing piece of filmmaking by David Lynch. In the end, I don’t think any other piece of creative art has had a bigger impact on me as a writer.
4.) The Producers taught me about the joy of comedy. Young Frankenstein, too, but The Producers even more so. It also served as the common point between myself and my father as I grew up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad and I were a little too alike for our own good. My dad grew up as a class clown and he was worried I was going down the same road he did when I became one, too. So in a sense, comedy was both the glue that held us together and the source of friction. Also, because of my dad’s weird sleeping habits – namely, sleeping on the couch in the afternoon to the sounds of The Producers – I’ve seen this movie literally hundreds of times. Somehow it never gets old.
5.) The Big Lebowski for anyone who has followed this blog, you’ll know why I have special love for this movie. Here’s an explanation in case you missed it. But even without the personal connection, The Dude and Walter would have a special place in my heart. Like The Producers, it is a movie that never gets old. It also is the most quotable movie of all time, which is just so much fun. Yes, in the end, The Big Lebowski equals fun, and what’s better than that?
6.) Ghostbusters fits perfectly into the pattern of the previous two comedies. It never gets old, it’s quotable, it’s fun. But it is special to me because it was the first time I recognized that I had my own comedic sensibility. There were a couple of close-to-dirty jokes in the movie that made me laugh so hard. This was 1984, by the way. My mom, bless her heart, assumed I didn’t know what I was laughing at. As we walked back to the car in the theater parking lot, she explained the jokes to me. Suffice to say, this was the moment when I learned I was inherently more crass than my mother.
7.) The Exorcist was a movie I campaigned really hard to see at a really young age. My mom was like, “I don’t know…” and my dad was like, “Sure!” So I watched it. For someone already predisposed toward dark thoughts, The Exorcist was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Not entirely in a bad way. It made me passionately hate evil, so that’s good. It also ignited my imagination, such that I was kind of terrorized by my own mind. At the same time, it hugely shaped the writer I became, so I can’t really begrudge those years of internal terrorizing. Also, like The Elephant Man it’s an incredible work of art. I learned a lot about story from The Exorcist.
8.) The Philadelphia Story is a delight. It is a comedy of manners and mixed up relationships and nobody can play drunk better than Jimmy Stewart. There are a couple of odd scenes that haven’t aged well, but generally speaking it still fires on all cylinders. The dialogue crackles, Cary Grant is Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn is my patron saint of awesomeness. Later on, I learned another reason to love this movie – it was Katharine Hepburn’s baby. In getting this movie made, Hepburn blazed a trail for not only women in the movie industry, but for any individual who wanted to get a picture made their way. I love strong, smart, independent people who get things done. That spirit is reflected in the energy of the movie itself, too, even if it is a bit on the fluffy side.
9.) Casablanca is Casablanca. I remember watching it for the first time. I was in my mid-teens and I’d already decided I wanted to go into film, so I was looking into the classics. I’d watched It’s a Wonderful Life with great results, so I turned my attention to Casablanca. It was a summer night. I put in the VHS after everybody else had gone to bed. I didn’t expect much. I expected it would be boring and not live up to the hype. Ten minutes in and I was a goner. At first, I couldn’t understand the ending. I was young, didn’t get it. As I’ve grown up, I’ve developed a deeper and deeper appreciation for this story. It is everything everyone ever said it was, and more. I feel sad for people who have never seen it.
10.) Age of Innocence is, in many ways, a weird inclusion. It is, in a lot of ways, a collection of things I don’t much care for. Normally, I adore Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. In the movie, she made a lot of very ham-handed choices. Or perhaps that was at Martin Scorcese’s request, I don’t know. I love Daniel Day-Lewis, so very much, but in this movie you can sometimes hear his English accent and he plays Archer with a sort of softness I find unappealing. Michele Pfieffer was also sort of weirdly soft and Winona Ryder is downright annoying. The entire movie is slow, the plot is repetitive, and the ending unsatisfying. The score is at times overpowering. A more hyperbolic piece of music could never be found. And yet – and yet! – I’ve always loved it. For one thing, it is a feast for the eyes. For another, it brings you so strongly into a sense of time and place. The Scorcese attention to detail is astonishing. I love the wry voice over by Joanne Woodward. Ultimately, despite everything, I buy in on the story wholeheartedly. It feels incredibly real to me. It makes me feel like I’ve spent a part of my life in The Gilded Age in New York City and there is something very magical about that.
I could go on, but ten is plenty. Long story short – I love these movies and if there are any you haven’t seen I hope you give them a try. They’re worth a watch.