In the spirit of nice round numbers, I’d like to highlight ten movies which I’ve seen and which are not named among the 1001 Must-Sees, yet which I would argue deserve at least consideration. Of course, if there’s one thing I’m more addicted to than slogging through every sequel in a franchise, it’s offering qualifiers before I make any definitive statements, sooo …
I don’t actually own a copy of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book (in any edition). The title seems self-explanatory enough, and the proprietor of the portal for the Blog Club is kind enough to post excerpts from the book relating to each movie as it comes up in the club’s rotation. But I often only know that a movie is in the book, without knowing why, when I sit down to watch it. If there’s some overarching philosophy of what merits a film needs to possess to garner an entry, I’m unaware of it. So I can’t really argue pre-established specifics which might explain why the movies I’ve chosen have been omitted. I can only assert that these flicks rightfully belong on any (uncapitalized) must-see list.
The following movies are not my absolute favorites per se. In defense of the Must See books, a lot of my all-time faves are already on the list (Star Wars, Say Anything, Nightmare on Elm Street, Fight Club, Blade Runner, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, &c.) The stand-out exclusion is, of course, The Crow, but I babble about that movie enough on the blog as it is and, as I may have mentioned, just because I love that movie in so many ways does not mean that I expect it to be mandatory for anyone else. In a similar vein, the following movies are not all necessarily personally meaningful, despite my well-established penchant for holding up touchstones of pop culture and asserting that if you understand this, you understand me. They’re just ten great movies which, in the spirit with which I approach the 1001 Movies Blog Club, I esteem as recommendable because I think the average person’s life would be richer for having seen them than not. All that said, a couple of them are near the top of my favorites list, and a couple of them are significant to my self-image, but those considerations might be beside the point.
Enough preamble, here we go!
1. Animal House
Animal House is one of those movies you’re just supposed to watch in high school, when you get to the point where you you begin eagerly anticipating college. It’s practically a rite of passage and has been for decades, despite how dated many of the references in the movie are today. I believe that when people, especially in my generation, try to envision the prototypical American campus experience, this movie is at least the underlying foundation of that mental image, assuming that they’ve seen it. That means that every subsequent pop culture reference to college life is highly likely in some way to owe a debt to Animal House. Also, it’s extremely funny and quotable as hell.
2. The Blues Brothers
Given that comedies aren’t completely frozen out of the 1001 Movies list, I am honestly shocked that neither Animal House nor The Blues Brothers make the cut. Maybe they’re not universal enough, maybe they’re primarily guys’ guys’ movies, maybe their reputations have been sullied by latter-day cash-in attempts like the short-lived Animal House tv series or the awful Blues Brothers 2000 sequel. Whatever the case, they deserve to be seen. And The Blues Brothers is a two-for-one because not only is it full of comic ringers at the top of their game, but it has an absolutely killer soundtrack with performances by the original artists integrated into the plot of the movie. So you’ve got your history of comedy and your history of pop music right there.
3. Big Trouble in Little China
Big Trouble in Little China is not a game-changer of American cinema, nor is viewing it going to change anyone’s life. But if it fails to put a smile on your face then you may be in need of more therapy than the simple cinematic variety. It is a martial arts fantasy/comedy/action cult classic (including the part where it was a flop when it was first released). It’s Kurt Russell at his 80’s swaggering best, playing Jack Burton as a badass on the same order as Snake Plissken or R.J. MacReady but with every ounce of seriousness stripped away. Which suits the plot movie as well, as it piles on absurdities in the name of high adventure. Yes, it traffics in retrograde Asian stereotypes and yes, it glorifies violence. It’s the kind of movie that is infinitely more likely to be a dude’s favorite movie than a lady’s. But if you have the opportunity to see it, especially with someone who already loves it, I wouldn’t turn it down.
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
OK, after a trio of dumb-flicks-for-boys, I’m now going to recommend a little-known musical about a sensitive transgendered East German artist! As if The Blues Brothers weren’t enough of a clue, I am actually quite fond of musicals (I was in enough of them in school), and I respect your Guys and Dolls and your Meet Me In St. Louis, but I tend to think that musicals work best when they are about musicians and the songs, while still integral to the plot, are performed because the musician is on stage or in rehearsal, not just following the crazy dream-logic of the genre. Hedwig and the Angry Inch fits that criteria, and the musical numbers are all phenomenal rock and roll numbers, particularly “The Origin of Love” which, so far as I know, is the only power ballad in the universe which draws its lyrics more or less directly from Plato’s Symposium. And the music serves a compelling story about identity (sexual and otherwise) and love (ditto) and fame (kinda ditto?) and how life goes on even after people steal your dreams. It is a movie which rewards re-watching (and re-listening; I always have the soundtrack CD in my car) and, honestly, out of the ten films I’m pushing if I could only wedge one into the 1001 list, it would be Hedwig.
You know Oscar-winning Kathy Bates? This is the movie she won the Oscar for, and with all due respect to her prior work on Broadway and in other films and television, this is the role that made her a star: Annie Wilkes, the number one fan of romance novelist Paul Sheldon. And it’s not as though she gives the highlight performance in an otherwise cruddy flick; Misery is definitely a well-constructed thriller. Of course I am a fully hooked Stephen King superfan, and I consider Misery to be one of his best novels (sometimes, depending on my mood, it is the indisputable champ), so I was always inclined to like this movie, so long as they didn’t botch the adaptation. Thankfully Reiner and Goldman came through with flying colors. And James Caan is no slouch as the captive novelist trying to escape the clutches of a rescuer-turned-jailer-and-tormentor. But Bates owns this movie, and it’s really something to see.
I’m gonna be way over the limit if I keep going, so I will save the other five recommendations for another post!