11. Ever After
This is one of those quintessential girl movies: It’s an intelligent twist on the Cinderella story, with a heroine that reads Thomas More and Leonardo da Vinci as a magical fairy godfather. Danielle, the daughter of French nobility, isn’t just a maiden in distress, but one who thinks, who speaks her mind, and who has to overcome a lot both to rise above her situation and to get the guy. The level of intensity gets amped up, too, since the protagonist’s evil stepmother isn’t just mildly annoyed, but really, seriously evil. She gets her due at the end, of course, like in any good fairy tale, and our heroine’s story does end happily ever after.
12. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
I mean, really, how can you not like this movie? This is totally what we all want to do, but probably couldn’t get away with–sticking it to the man, hanging out with our best friends right before the plunge. For me, though, the really interesting character is Cameron, who undergoes a kind of hero’s journey and eventually changes in the end into a person with a spine and a soul. Love it.
13. Fight Club
Okay, in case it isn’t obvious, lots of violence in this one–lots of explosions and guys beating the snot out of each other. I had the great privilege of watching for the first time my very first weekend of college, and I recall thinking, Kid, you’re definitely not in high school anymore. It’s a weird, weird version of carpe diem, with a guy breaking out of his daily routine to do something countercultural that just happens to involve a lot of anarchic behavior and mental breakdowns. I won’t give away the ending, but if you watch it be prepared to have a big “WTF?!” moment.
14. Finding Nemo
I read an interview with the director that described this as a movie about faith, and I fully agree with that. But, you know, it’s also about adorable sea creatures (turtles and clownfish and sharks, oh my), and it’s also hilarious and poignant and a real adventure to boot. Beautiful visuals and a really fun story, but it’s a Pixar movie, so you knew that. 😉
15. From Mao to Mozart
I had to watch this for a class I took on China, but dudes, it is amazing enough to watch on your own. In the ’80s, famed violinist Isaac Stern went to China to teach master classes at various musical conservatories across the country. After decades of cultural repression, the Chinese had forgotten that music was more than just technique, but also passion. When he talks about playing with feeling, you can see that spark of understanding in his students’ faces. Also worth watching is an interview with a man who had taught music right before Mao took power who was arrested and imprisoned for his love of Western music–heartbreaking, but powerful.
Like I said yesterday, I love me some Russell Crowe, and I think this movie shows him off well–he gets to kick the snot out of some guys in the arena, but then he gets to be reflective, mournful, romantic, and courageous. The film also has some interesting things to say about the nature of entertainment (which is a little ironic, but y’know). Throw in some Roman political intrigue, some excellent performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Richard Harris, and an excellent score, and that’s what I call a good movie. There’s some violence, but I hope that’s obvious.
I think I mostly love this movie because I was in the play in high school, but if you can get past a lot of the randomness, I think you’ll like it. Actually, I think the spontaneity is one of the best parts of this film. For those of you who don’t know the premise, Godspell is the Gospel of Matthew as it would look like portrayed by a group of traveling clowns (not Barnum and Bailey clowns, more like wandering vagabonds with face paint). The film version has (of all people) Victor Garber as the Jesus figure, and some excellent reworked Episcopal hymns from (of all people) Stephen Schwartz. I dig it.
18. Groundhog Day
In case you haven’t noticed the theme, I like movies about redemption, getting to start over, and here’s another one–only the character gets to start over again and again and again by living the same day thousands of times. You get to watch him transition from egotism to utter despair to love, and it’s actually really funny to boot. I love Bill Murray anyway, but to watch him in a role like this is especially great.
19. High Fidelity
John Cusack + Jack Black + three guys in a record store + a bunch of top 5 lists + an utter jerk gets changed into, well, less of a jerk by growing up + a random appearance by Bruce Springsteen = basically, my perfect movie.
20. Hotel Rwanda
After watching this movie, it hit me really hard that this is one of those things in history that shouldn’t have happened. Thousands of people were killed in a country on the other side of the world, and too few people outside of that country cared about it. This is a film that puts a face on the Rwandan genocide–it affected a man like Paul Rusesabagina, played here by Don Cheadle (whom I love), and his family and neighbors. You get to watch him stay cool and gracious through the most dire circumstances, so the moments when he actually breaks down are that much more disconcerting and affecting. But there’s always hope underlying the chaos, and that is what keeps Hotel Rwanda on its feet.