Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting a "Dirty Dozen" blogfest on his blog, in which he asked the participants, "what movies have changed your life? What movies have changed you as a person? What movies are your ultimate enjoyment from start to finish? If you could only round up twelve, what movies would be your Dirty Dozen?"
Here are mine. Bear in mind, as in most of my lists, these are my personal favorites, not the twelve movies I think are the best, ever. This list is largely driven by nostalgia, personal significance, re-watchability, and theme.
12. Deep Blue Sea
I know, I know. You're saying "wait, isn't that the movie with LL Cool J, where the mutant sharks eat Samuel J. Jackson? What is that doing on any "favorite movie" list?" To which I say, read that sentence again: this is the movie with LL Cool J where mutant sharks eat Samuel L. Jackson. How is that not awesome? It's like Snakes on a Plane, only it's not trying so hard to be awesome that it sucks.
Deep Blue Sea is basically a bad SyFy movie, only with a better budget and LL Cool J explaining the theory of relativity. It's the stupid younger brother of Jaws. Whereas I love Jaws for its Hitchcockian direction and suspense, at 1 AM after a hard days work, I don't want to sit through artsy to get to shark attacks; I just want to see giant sharks eat people. And that's where Deep Blue Sea comes in. Yes, it is a terrible, terrible movie, but it knows that, and I know that, and neither of us deny it. And I can't deny that when I see it on TV, I'll stop and watch long enough to see at least one shark attack. You know what? I won't have to wait long.
I am somewhat known for being a person who can laugh at the same thing more than once. If it was funny the first time, it'll still be funny the thirty-second time. Which is just a preamble to establish that there is probably no movie I laugh at more consistently than Clue, despite having watched it countless times. It runs the comedic gauntlet, featuring sight gags, physical comedy, humorous wordplay, and a fantastic cast. I also love the setting, of a dinner party in a mansion filled with secret rooms. I want to live in such a place, and drink scotch in the sitting room, and fire off witty puns. Whenever I watch Clue, I get to do such things.
10. LA Confidential
While I love plenty of the film noir classics like Maltese Falcon or Chinatown, this neo-noir is easily my favorite of them all, and one of those movies I can come into at anytime and easily slip into its world. Like any good film noir, the moral center of the film is always shifting, always relative, and as a result, the characters are stunningly nuanced and complex. Kevin Spacey is always fantastic. Kim Basinger basically invents the post-modern femme fatale. Russell Crowe would win awards for later roles, but his turn as the thuggish Bud White remains one of his best. And Guy Pearce (who would go on to star in another great neo-noir, Memento, and has fallen off the map recently) matches him line for line all throughout. Toss in the wonderfully-realized period settings, from the costumes to the music to the mood, and a fantastic supporting cast in Danny Devito, James Cromwell and the always-excellent David Strathairn, and I can't help but be engrossed.
A nostalgic favorite, I loved this movie as a kid, and as I grew older, and my appreciation for musicals, Christian Bale, and turn-of-the-century American history grew with me, I was able to look past the now-obvious and varied flaws in the movie and continue to enjoy it. While its examination of labor relations is obviously simplistic (this is a Disney musical aimed at kids, after all) I can't deny my younger self wasn't completely taken in by the story, and I can still fondly recall that naive idealism. And I'll never get sick of Christian Bale singing about his dream for a better life.
A smart sci-fi film about the power and persistence of the human spirit that, like the best science fiction, is more about the characters than the science. The John Locke-ian "don't tell me what I can't do!" Ethan Hawke and the misanthropic Jude Law carrying the movie, and Michael Nyman's score is haunting. The themes in this one have resonated with me since the first time I saw it, and repeat viewings only strengthen their impact.
7. Transformers: The Movie
One of the earliest movies I can vividly remember seeing in the theater and being completely awestruck by. Lil'Teebore trembled at Unicron eating a planet, mourned the loss of Optimus Prime, laughed at Grimlock's puns and thrilled at the ascent of Rodimus Prime (only as I got older did I realize what a chump Rodimus is). I can still remember racing around the backyard after seeing it, all charged up and playing Transformers, kicking Galvatron's ass or re-enacting the Optimus/Megatron fight to the sound of "The Touch", and all of those memories reverberate to this day.
Plus, it has a phenomenal voice cast (Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Eric Idle, and Orson Welles, in his last performance, as a frickin' TRANSFORMING PLANET), Megatron lays waste to the Autobots within the first ten minutes in a scene that is just HARSH, Optimus Prime responds in kind in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, and it features easily the best soundtrack to come out of the 80s.
6. Citizen Kane
Long before I ever saw it, I knew this movie by its reputation, frequently topping critics "best film" lists as it does, and from the various scenes parodied by The Simpsons. I knew all about "rosebud" and the film's place in the history of American cinema. So I fully expected to be letdown when I did finally watch it for the first time and instead, was blown away by it.
Lots of people talk about all the cinematic innovations Orson Welles introduced with this film, such as deep focus or low angle shots, but what resonates for me is Welles' Charles Foster Kane himself, a magnetic and larger-than-life character that completely draws you into the story. His presence hangs all over the film, even in the scenes for which he's absent, and in the end, the movie has told the story of a complex and fascinating character. Of course, it is beautifully filmed (a textbook example of the power the cinematographer can have on the narrative) and features a groundbreaking score, which doesn't hurt. To this day, despite having watched it countless times, I always notice or take away something new every time I see it.
While there are other Kevin Smith films which I find much more hilarious (and I'm a huge Kevin Smith fan), without a doubt his treatise on faith, belief and organized religion is my favorite, and hugely responsible for helping me come to terms with my own faith at a time when it was in disarray.
Besides, any film that features Jay machine-gunning an angel's wings off, Matt Damon passing judgment on a room full of Disney-esque executives and Alan Rickman as the sardonic, tequila-swilling Voice of God is a-ok in my book.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
Thanks in large part to TBS and TNT, I have seen this movie about the power of hope and friendship, in part or in whole, probably thousands of times, and it never, ever gets old. I can come into it at any part and become completely immersed. That, combined with the subtle, nuanced performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and an evocative score, makes it a favorite.
3. A Few Good Men
There's a weird chicken/egg thing going on with this movie. I've liked it since the first time I saw it in it original theatrical run. Independent of that, I came to appreciate the television writing of Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing/Sports Night/Studio 60/pedeconference fame). Sometime after I cam to love Sorkin's writing, I made the connection that Aaron Sorkin wrote the play on which A Few Good Men is based as well as the screenplay, and now I wonder if I like Sorkin's other work because of this movie, or if I like this movie because I like Sorkin.
Whatever the answer, I adore this movie. It's another one that I can watch at any time, from any point int he film. For a brief period of time when I was much younger, I contemplated becoming a lawyer, and that was more or less because of this movie. Much has been made/parodied of the whole "you can't handle the truth" bit, but the fact is this film is packed full of great lines like that. Heck, the final showdown between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson (from which the truth line is pulled) has probably a half dozen great bits without even including the rest of the movie.
2. Great Expectations
I fell in love with this movie as an angsty teen, and continued to appreciate it after leaving that angst behind. I'm not a huge fan of Dickens, but this film succeeds by putting aside the majority of Dickens' repetitious "plight of the working class in Victorian England" material and focusing instead on the unrequited love story (repositioning it to modern day Florida and New York with Ethan Hawke as a struggling artist). In addition to another fantastic score, I also appreciate the lighting and vivid colors on display. Color is rarely something I recall from movies, but its the first thing I think of in relation to this one.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
No facet of pop culture has had a greater impact on my life than Star Wars. While I love all the films to varying degrees (yes, even the prequels), when forced to choose but one, the current favorite is Empire. Not because of the bleakness or Boba Fett, but for the training sequences on Dagobah, the harrowing battle on Hoth, the constant and unending pressure on Han that culminates in one of the greatest declarations of love in cinema history, and the introduction of Billie Dee Williams' smooth-as-silk Lando Calrissian.
Darth Vader is one of fiction's greatest characters, and Empire is his movie, the pinnacle of his villainy as he runs roughshod over the Rebellion, cracking a whip in unrelentingly pursuit the Millenium Falcon and all but bitch slapping Luke Skywalker before delivering the shocking revelation that defines the entire Star Wars saga.