At the end of every year, someone makes a top ten list for just about everything. They try to convince you that their list is best and their choices are the best over everyone else’s picks. This is not that kind of list. Having seen more than 2,000 movies in my lifetime, a top ten list of anything would be impossible. This list is about the movies that have had a profound impact on my life. There are only seven on my list, so you can certainly waste a weekend watching them if you so choose.
The story is set during the first week of November, 1989, right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is brilliant as British spy Lorraine Broughton, a woman who lives with her guard up. Everyone, from her handlers to other spies, want something from her. I really liked the fact that there is little exposition about who she is. We jump into her life and follow along for the ride.
The choice of music in the movie is perfect. The red stiletto scene is my favorite. Throughout the movie, Broughton uses what she has at hand – a pot, a freezer door, a red stiletto, a hose to kick people’s asses. The fight scenes do not leave her without scars, but she can handle herself in a fight. You see the culmination of her trauma near the end of the movie, but she once again shows that, while she can kick the shit out of anyone, she’s also smarter than all the other spies in the movie.
I’ve watched Atomic Blonde at least thirty times this year. I don’t care that the movie won’t win any awards. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s an ultra-violent film, but it always makes me feel better.
Amanda and the Alien
Amanda and the Alien is a 1995 made-for-cable science-fiction comedy movie that aired on Showtime. It’s a really bad movie. That doesn’t matter at all. The first time I saw the movie was around 1am, sometime in November. My friend, Bas, was visiting from The Netherlands. Paul had already went to bed because he had to work the next day. Bas and I stayed up talking, laughing, enjoying the best parts of, what was at the time, a decade old friendship.
The television was on and we weren’t really paying attention to it, but something about this cheesy flick caught our attention. We laughed so much at this movie and its terribleness. At one point, we woke Paul up. I don’t think Bas and I can ever say the words “paprika” or “poo pockets” without recalling that fun night back in my shitty townhouse in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a terrible movie, but the memories surrounding it are some of the best of my life.
This movie boasts the best fight scene on film. It runs five minutes and twenty seconds. Dystopian films will also hold a special place in my heart. They Live premiered during a tumultuous time in my life and I found great solace in the movie’s themes as well as Roddy Piper’s character, John Nada.
Nada is a drifter who comes to Los Angeles looking for work. He stumbles upon the fact that aliens exist and they are already living here. Through special sunglasses, he sees how the human race is being manipulated and controlled.
I’m a fan of John Carpenter’s work and the political elements he puts in the movie were the exact same feelings I was having at the time about over-commercialization, which has only increased since the film debuted in 1988. Carpenter has said he wrote about the world underneath, the world no one pays attention to, but it is there influencing our lives. They Live is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism, he said. Only with the sunglasses on – and later contact lenses – could people see the subliminal texts on billboards that read OBEY, SUBMIT, CONSUME, MARRY AND REPRODUCE, NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT.
Though we seem to have willingly submitted to enslaving ourselves, it was one of the first moments in my life where I knew I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. We consume too much. We destroy everything we touch. Mindless consumerism continues today.
The movie was also about propaganda, another lesson we failed to learn.
“All of the aliens are members of the upper class, the rich, and they’re slowly exploiting the middle class, and everybody’s becoming poorer,” he explains. “It has kind of a theme and a message to it, but basically it’s an action film.”
As the country moves further from the distant memory of Reagan’s America, They Live continues as a reference point, a meme, and, for some, even a guidebook for survival.
When They Live premiered, it was a failure. It attempted to show people they were asleep. I was already awake. I was woke before any of you dumbasses knew that was.
This movie introduced me to Ellen Ripley. The movie gets everything right, from pacing to terror, but it was Ripley who caught my attention. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is smart. The movie is cerebral, which I like in science fiction. Alien is also part horror, which often relies on “jump scares” to keep the audience’s attention. I think that’s lazy storytelling.
Ripley doesn’t need a man to rescue her. She isn’t looking for love. She’s there for a job. When that job changes and she’s told to return the alien, she instead asks her crew, “How do we kill it?” She already understands the inherit danger in this life form and doesn’t care what her bosses, billions of miles away, want.
Alien was dark, intense, terrifying and the problems were solved by a woman who kicked so much ass no one has ever replicated it. Aliens was a fitting sequel and I wish it had stopped there.
We can argue until the end of time whether or not Dekard is a replicant. That’s just one aspect of the movie. Twelve-year-old me may have seen the movie because Harrison Ford was in it, but the visuals blew me away.
I have watched every version of Blade Runner that Ridley Scott released and some modified versions from fans. Each lend themselves to the wider story and enriches my life. They make you think about life, nature, and how we think we should be. It makes you question the power we have given to corporations and the police, as well as to those who can create androids.
The world-building and the scenery are spectacular. Los Angeles of the future is a dark place. It is often raining, indicating a bleak work. We have our flying cars are buildings that touch the sky, but it is all a means of life and not something more cheerful like you see in The Fifth Element.
In the film, Rick Deckard has to track down renegade replicants, artificial life forms who are so human only someone like Deckard can find them and “retire” them. Replicants only live for four years and are fully formed when then are created. They are given memories. They do not know they are androids. The question throughout the film is whether that makes them less human because their memories were inspired even though they create new ones in the four short years they have.
The film questions human mortality and our knowledge of it. Replicant Roy Batty’s death monologue was poignant and moving. I’ve never seen anything better. Known as the “tears in the rain speech” Batty delivers it moments after saving Deckard’s life.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut and Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut removes the idiotic happy ending of the movie the studio forced to be made as well as the dumbed down narration. It is a visual masterpiece with a story – what does it mean to be human – that resonates with viewers and keeps them questioning that concept thirty-six years later.
Blade Runner continues to be a love it or hate it kind of movie. For me, it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.
Planet of the Apes
Long after I was hooked on the movies and the television series, my mother told me my father had liked them, too. My father left when I was two-years-old, so he had little to do with my love of the apes or science-fiction. You, dear reader, can argue nurture vs. nature on that all you want.
I fell in love with Planet of the Apes because it provides a view of the world that one rarely thinks of – how we treat the animals around us.
We learn through the series of films that mankind destroyed itself, something young me had realized from looking around at all the destruction man seems to unleash upon the earth. More importantly, I learned that not only should we be compassionate to each other, but to animals as well. Each time man is treated terrible in the movies, it really is a reflection on us and how we treat each other and how we treat our pets. Remember, in the movies, apes and chimpanzees were our pets first, then our slaves. In the movie, the apes are a reflection of ourselves.
This is another movie that came along just at the right time in my life. In some of the darkest moments over the past year, I have been able to look to Diana, a heroine who always sees hope and the better parts of humanity. Wonder Woman isn’t just another superhero film. It’s a quality film that continues to inspire me.
In Themyscira, we get to watch Diana grow from a little girl into a woman who is brave and inquisitive, and who never hesitates to help someone in need. “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” It’s a simple line, but Diana follows through on it time and again. It’s something we should be striving for, yet, American society tends to be selfish and looks down on those in need. It is in those moments that, “What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you’d think.”
Steve also reiterates the notion of doing good when he said, “I guess I gotta try. My father told me once, ‘if you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.”
We sit around far too much, hit a “like” button and feel we did something when we can actually be out there trying to make the world a better place.
The cinematography in Themyscira as well as the back story of mankind and the gods is enthralling and I find something new each time I watch the movie. Gal Gadot is kind and loving, and a badass in this role and she brings a compassion to the character that reminds me of how we should all be.
When we finally see Ares, it’s hard not to identify him. He is the God of War, but he speaks in practicalities that reveal the darkness of man. We, and Diana, learn that men do good or evil on their own. The gods’ influence doesn’t mean much when man has free will. Everything he said about humanity was correct and the viewer is stuck between agreeing with Ares and siding with Diana.
I have two qualms with the film. I wish we could have seen more of Themyscira. The women there are intriguing, fierce, and kind. I would have also like to not see Ares until a second film. He lurks in the background enticing Diana and a movie about that relationship could have been fantastic.
Still, I hope to see this version of Wonder Woman again on the screen. She is someone I can identify with while also being an inspiring and compassionate icon.
I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their mind and learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight and I give for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.
This, too, should be our mission. Forever.
The majority of films I watch tend to be science-fiction, action, or thriller. Every now and then, the escapism I sought from the real world is subtly depicted in one of the films I see. When that happens, it makes me think. Smart science-fiction challenges us to think about humanity and how we treat each other. We wrangle with moral dilemma on film so that when we make the decision in reality, we can create a better world and a better future.
The films that have affected my life have certainly achieved this and, if it only happens in my tiny piece of the world, then I’m happy to have contributed to the progress of humanity.