10 Movies That Made Me Love Movies
Discovering the world of cinema is a dynamic, ever-going process. There is no direct approach to understanding or watching films because the medium is a subjective art form that can appease to various interests of different individuals. My personal relationship to cinema feels like it is still in its beginning stage, despite seeing over 1000 movies according to my Letterboxd log. Below is a list of ten different movies that I saw at different stages of my life, all of which have contributed to my love of the movie viewing experience.
TAXI DRIVER (1976)
The first time I saw Martin Scorsese's '76 crime drama was in the 7th grade. I had just started paying attention to actors and good performances, and noticed Robert De Niro's charisma after seeing him in Meet The Parents. Although I ultimately enjoyed Taxi Driver and was quite terrified by its eerie depiction of late-night New York violence, I could not figure out what it exactly was that made the film hailed as a masterpiece.
Three years later, I decided to give it a rewatch and, by the time the credits rolled, I sat there in a confused state of wonder and awe. De Niro's turn as a cab driver who wishes to wash the streets of "scum and dirt", yet paradoxically is a culprit of this state resonated with me more than I would like to admit. It made a young me question for a long time whether or not the character of Travis Bickle should be considered a hero for his actions. More importantly, it showed me the independent side of cinema that I had not really paid attention to before, and was the fist time it took multiple watches of a film for me to appreciate its genius.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)
Another New York based movie - this time set in Brooklyn - Spike Lee's explosive portrait of race relations in an inner city shattered my expectations of what a movie could be. We spend the majority of Do The Right Thing living in the world of these Bed Stuy residents, as friendships are melded and broken, relationships unfold, and pizzas are delivered on the hottest day of the summer. Fluid camerawork and an energetic cast make it easy for us to fall in love with these characters.
Then, the last thirty minutes happen that defy anyone's predictions of where the film may go. Spike has built this world for the film's audience so well that we are heartbroken when seeing the reality of their lives and the prejudices which they face while being black in America. Do The Right Thing gave me a new perspective on how to make an effective story, while also opening my young and naive eyes to the racism within my own borough.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working filmmaker. The way he imbues morally complex characters with beautiful California landscapes makes him one of the most unique visionaries in the industry these days. Punch-Drunk Love was the first of his films which I saw, as I was trying to find my way through the "good" work of Adam Sandler.
What I was left with was a wildly imaginary tale of a depressed and self-deprecating man's search for love against all odds, accompanied by a career-best performance from the Sandman, a lush blue and red color pallet, some genuinely hilarious moments, and an honest depiction of social anxiety.
"I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine."
PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
Stanley Kubrick's most recognizable films are undoubtedly The Shining and 2001, and rightfully so, but it was his early anti-war period piece that most attracted my attention. Paths of Glory was one of the first classic Hollywood films I saw, setting the bar so high for the period of cinema that in the years since my first viewing there have been few films to come close to matching its quality.
But this is first and foremost a Kubrick film, filled with his known idiosyncrasies like long tracking shots and commentary on the state of man. Col. Dax must save his men from public execution for not carrying out a mission that was inevitably a death sentence, and the journey he takes in trying to prove the innocence of these men is both heartbreaking and riveting. Few war movies are this powerful.
THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) was my first introduction to international cinema, and what an introduction it was. I was 15 at the time and began paying closer attention to the great coming of age stories, like Boyhood, so seeing all my new favorite aspects of moviemaking being utilized in a 1950's French film opened my eyes to the fact that these stories of adolescence and rebellion are universal.
For those looking to begin their journeys through non-English films, and looking to get past the "1-inch barrier of subtitles", here is a worthy starting point.
Speaking of international cinema, we have Akira; not only one of the greatest Japanese films of all time, but arguably the greatest animated film ever released. Set in a fictionalized post-World War III Neo-Tokyo, Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 film takes all the best elements of science fiction, places it under bright neon lights, and uses it to tell a lifelong tale of friendship and brotherhood.
Akira not only popularized anime in the United States, but was a big inspiration on many of the most acclaimed films within the sci-fi genre, such as The Matrix and Looper. Animation, too, was never the same.
At age 16, I decided it was about time for me to start looking forward to indie movie releases. Prior, I usually dedicated my theater expenses to comic book films and big-budget thrillers, but I knew that if I really loved the art form, it meant I had to expand my horizons. Thankfully, I live in New York City and it was not very tough to adapt.
I first saw Barry Jenkins' 2016 masterpiece, Moonlight, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a late night showing. From its opening handheld pan-shot of the slums of Miami, to its final tender scenes of a rekindled childhood love, I spent each and every minute of its 111 minute runtime holding onto the edge of my seat. Moonlight is an absolutely essential story of intergenerational poverty, the vicious cycle of crime, the weight of toxic masculinity, and what it means to be both black and gay in America. I knew from my first of many viewings that I was living through an important moment in film history.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)
By the time I saw Moonlight, I was sure it was the film of its year. In many ways, I still believe that, but on a personal level Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea ripped me to my core and left me destroyed for weeks, if not months, to come.
Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a man so engrossed in his loss that he finds no will to move forward. 2016 was a considerably tough year in my life, and seeing such a nuanced level of pain and remorse personified on the big screen made me appreciate cinema in a way I had yet to realize. "There's nothing there," Lee tells his ex-wife, Randi, and in that moment, I both believed and empathized his pain.
I lost a dear friend of mine a short time after, and Manchester by the Sea was the first film I look toward in finding a sense of solace.
CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Children of Men takes the hero's journey and places it in a dystopia that seems less and less detached from the world which we currently face. Wonderfully shot, scored, and acted, it will leave you with a legitimate feeling of catharsis once the credits role and John Lennon's Bring on the Lucie (Freda People) starts jamming along.
MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)
Without getting into details, Mulholland Dr. is the type of cinematic experience that you so rarely find these days, and will permanently engrain itself into your memory before you even process what you saw unfold on screen. BBC Culture has rightfully named it the greatest film of the century.