I need a change of pace. Too much heavy writing recently. I was just watching Dave, one of my favorite movies, on TV and started thinking about why I love movies so much.
Other than horror, my tastes are pretty eclectic: history, documentaries, political, adventure, science fiction, fantasy, animated, romance (I’m an eternal romantic) – I like ‘em all. I’ve often wondered WHY I like movies.
My self-analysis is that, as creative director for the marketing/branding firm that I owned for almost 40 years, I’ve been non-stop intensely writing and creating stuff virtually every day.
Movies are an escape. I just sit there and someone else entertains me for a couple of hours. It’s like my wife loving to eat at a restaurant (until Covid intervened) even if the food isn’t great because she is not cooking – someone is serving HER!
I strongly advocate on my blog EverAgeless.com for living an ageless, ever-aspiring life. Movies expand our world to new adventures, interesting new people, places and experiences. They expand and intensify our feelings and they inspire us to dream. They color our life unconfined by age, by place or time.
I find watching a movie relaxing and, often, stimulating at the same time. Some movies just wash over you as a pleasant feel-good cloud of fairy dust. But some pull you into a world that challenges your vision of the world or intensifies your empathy for the plight of others. Good movies make you FEEL – joy, love, peace, shame, anger, sadness – emotions that move you.
Movies are about storytelling – telling a good story using sight and sound to move you. I think they are one of our most powerful human art forms.
So here are my favorite movies – my current Top 20
I’ve listed them alphabetically – not in ranking order. Some are obvious because they’re classics for a good reason. Some are smaller movies you may never have heard of, but I think they are well worth a 2-hour investment of your time.
I include a movie in my Top 20 based on my desire to see it multiple times. I think a good movie is one that entices you to see it again and again because you like how it moves you, how it stimulates you, how it makes you feel.
James Cameron is a little hard to take sometimes, but he’s a creative genius. And Avatar is genius storytelling. It pulls you into the mystical world on Pandora even though you know it’s mostly CG. The groundbreaking CG is breathtaking. The bigger the screen you see it on, the more magical it is. But at its core it’s just great storytelling.
Beauty And The Beast (Animated)
Glorious! My favorite Disney animated movie. I love all things Disney. They wrote the book on movie storytelling. This movie was an animated movie breakthrough – the first fully formed Broadway-style musical animation that paved the way for the dramatic animated storytelling today.
I remember walking out of Beauty And The Beast with my wife commenting about how much the opening sequence felt like a Broadway show opening number. I had never seen anything like it before. It was thrilling.
I must have seen this movie 20 times, and I always enjoy it. Kevin Kline is wonderfully innocent as the fake president. Frank Langella chews the scenery as the bad guy, but he is deliciously evil. I like most Ivan Reitman movies. They deliver a message with a smile.
ET The Extraterrestrial
I’m a huge Spielberg fan. I think he’s our most creative movie storyteller. I could make up a believable Top 20 with Spielberg movies alone – Close Encounters, Raiders. Schindler’s List, etc. I included Jurassic Park in this list because it was so groundbreaking, but many others could have been included. Any human being that does not reach for Kleenex at the end of ET has a cold heart.
I love inspiring true stories well-told. This little movie is a gem with Hilary Swank as the embattled inner city teacher who inspires her gang-dominated students to aspire higher by focusing their attention to The Holocaust and the lessons it provides. Great storytelling – and it’s a true story.
Another small movie that is a powerful story. I love movies about remarkably gifted people inspired by a mentor or family member who sees beyond their foibles to recognize their unique gifts and enables them to soar. It encourages us to look at people with a wider lens.
There are so many gifted people in the world who need someone to see their potential and encourage it. McKenna Grace as the 7-year-old genius in this movie is a wonder. Chris Evans (Captain America) as the quiet dad and Olivia Spencer as the caring neighbor are terrific.
Yet another small movie – the story of groundbreaking black women mathematicians and engineers in the early days of the NASA space program – fighting stereotypes with iron determination. Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monae and Olivia Spencer are the geniuses who break through the stereotypes with their talent. Kevin Kostner is the boss who sees beyond the stereotypes to their genius at a time when only genius can save the American space program.
Christopher Nolan Is a visionary director unafraid to refuse dumbing down a movie to make it more accessible to mass audiences. His movies often challenge you intellectually while entertaining. He makes blockbusters (like The Dark Knight, also on my Top 20 List), but also mind-bending flicks like Interstellar, Inception and Tenet. He also directed the recent masterpiece Dunkirk.
Interstellar is a time-warping story of escaping a dystopian earth for a distant new home among the stars. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are terrific.
It’s A Wonderful Life
No surprise here. Frank Capra’s holiday masterpiece is the definition of a classic. Every December we sit in front of our TV and reflect on our own life as we aspire to earn our wings in the new year.
Spielberg’s original summer blockbuster. I remember taking our two boys to see Jaws on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ and being terrified (even though I knew the shark was mechanical). We lived in Ocean City at the time, and I remember the trepidation going into that ocean after seeing the movie.
And I was far from alone. When I watch the movie now so many years later, Spielberg’s legendary manipulation of emotions and John Williams’ remarkable score still move me. That’s great movie making.
Another Spielberg breakthrough masterpiece. I remember seeing it in a crowded theater with the family and “feeling” the collective screams. I read somewhere that theaters which initially showed the movie were requested to increase their audio levels. I still remember the sound of the T-rex as almost hurting. Coupled with the breakthrough realism of the CG, that was a very scary movie experience!
Kill Bill (Parts 1 & 2)
I’m a major Quentin Tarantino fan. Other Tarantino movies are usually held up as his masterpiece (like Pulp Fiction), but, for me, Kill Bill is in a different class. Wondrously inventive and stylistic, each time I see it (I have to watch this one alone), I marvel how Tarantino can make revenge bloodshed so entertaining. I loved his latest (Once upon A Time In Hollywood), too.
Pride & Prejudice
I’m embarrassed to say how much I like chick flicks (also see Shakespeare In Love and Sleepless In Seattle below). I guess I’m an incurable and unabashed romantic at heart. I may have seen this movie more than any other. To me, it’s practically a perfect movie – the ultimate Jane Austin story brought to life with wonderful visuals, lush score and terrific acting. Keira Knightley is a perfect Elizabeth. I never tire seeing it.
My favorite sports movie (made by the same people who brought us Hoosiers – my 2nd favorite sports movie). Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the same era and it feels so familiar. Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for authentic and emotional underdog stories.
Whatever the reason, this is just great moviemaking. And the Jerry Goldsmith score in both movies is so uplifting. Did you notice that this was the first big break for Jon Favreau as Rudy’s friend? Jon has gone on to direct many blockbuster movies and become a major part of the Marvel Universe.
Shakespeare In Love
To me, this is the most perfect dramedy I have ever seen. Everything about it is perfect – the Tom Stoppard script, the acting, visuals, score and, of course, the lilting Shakespeare poetry. I just make sure that I switch to another channel before the end of the credits so that I don’t have to see the Harvey Weinstein producer credit.
Sleepless In Seattle
I confess that I am not manly enough to watch the last scene on top of the Empire State Building without balling my eyes out. I try not to let my wife see me (it’s time to go to the bathroom so that I can blow my nose privately and wipe my eyes). This may be the most manipulative great chick flick ever produced. But it is gloriously romantic and I’m not too ashamed to say it.
It was hard to choose between Spotlight and All The President’s Men as my favorite investigative journalism movie. I give the edge to Spotlight because it feels a bit more authentic without Redford and Hoffman in the leads. If you are not familiar with Spotlight, it tells the true story of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team exposing sexual abuse by Catholic priests. It started the avalanche of abuse claims that continues to haunt the Catholic Church today. It’s quietly riveting storytelling.
When Star Wars came out, we took our two boys to see it at the Sam Eric Theater in Philadelphia. We took them there for every major blockbuster movie even though it was more than an hour away. It was the most grand theater I have ever seen outside of Radio City in New York. It was huge with two floors, the largest screen I’ve ever seen other than Radio City and the absolute biggest sound system anywhere.
I remember the first time the Imperial starship entered the screen as the movie opens, the chairs vibrated with the deep rumbling sound so big, it pulled you into the movie (even though we know there is really no sound in space). Star Wars made John Williams a music scoring superhero. George Lucas became a legend. And Harrison Ford got real famous real fast.
The Dark Knight
It’s dark all right. It’s intense storytelling – the best of all the Batman movies. I remember seeing it for the first time with our kids on the giant screen at the IMAX in Atlantic City. It blew us away. Heath Ledger steals the movie as The Joker (Plus I once directed a TV commercial featuring the guy on the ferry who volunteers to push the button but then reconsiders. Very nice guy.} Another Christopher Nolan masterpiece.
The Godfather (1 & 2)
The Godfather is usually at or near the top of most Top Movie Lists – the most perfect movie and the most perfect sequel ever made. And for good reason. Ultimate storytelling – compelling, emotional, rich in texture with authentic performances, a lyrical music score and atmosphere that you believe. Moviemaking does not get any better.
So there you have it - MY favorite movies. Ready to argue? I welcome your comments and alternate opinions (although you are obviously wrong).