After having read the other top five favorites from many of my colleagues, one takeaway that I absolutely agree with is that selecting the films to make up such a list is a daunting task. I’ve been watching movies basically all of my life or at least since I can remember. During the days before Blu-ray and DVD, I can remember owning one of those blank VHS tapes that were used often for recording movies straight from the tube. This particular tape contained an unedited version of Child’s Play that was most likely recorded from HBO. I would watch the movie completely through, and then when finished hit the rewind button and watch the movie backward. This was a process I did repeatedly and all at the ripe age of four. I’m sure that a four-year-old watching Chucky would raise quite a few eyebrows in today’s world; however, I was actually gaining something by doing so. Not only was my adolescent mind being filled with images of the Chuckster violently assaulting/murdering his victims (probably explains my love of horror), but I was also taking my first steps into studying cinema.
Yeah, it’s still probably a little fucked up. Here is my top five.
Far from the most complex film to consider for a list like this, but Halloween stands as the gateway drug that pushed me into my love for cinema and the movie I feel the most attached to. Introduced to it by my mother, it actually took me years to finish a complete viewing because I would turn it off due to being too scared to continue. Even then, I only managed to finish it because the sequel recapped the ending to the original, so at that point I knew what was going to happen. After that, I became completely obsessed and wanted to know every aspect of why the movie terrified me like it did. Twenty years later I’m still analyzing Halloween, and despite the simple nature of the John Carpenter classic, I’m still learning from it.
I don’t know what it is that attracts me to film noir. I guess it could be the dark nature of it? The mysterious nature? The down on his luck protagonist? The femme fatale? The answer is most likely because it is just cool. Continuing with that, there are not too many people who have ever played cool better than Jack Nicholson. Along with Halloween, despite the revolving nature of selecting a top five, Chinatown is the only other movie that consistently makes my list. Coming from a period of Roman Polanski’s life where he was rebounding from great pain, the film works to reveal that pain to us only to remind us of how defenseless we are when it hits.
If someone were to present this movie on paper to me, I would probably throw it aside and deride it as nothing more than unintelligible, messy trash. Somehow under the care of David Lynch, it becomes quintessentially cinematic perfection. It’s hard to label Mulholland Drive as any one thing because it is parts of many. Through the course of its length, it manages to include romance, mystery, comedy, horror, drama, general mindfuck, etc. Not only is Lynch able to tap into each of these genre elements, he uses them to the effect of manipulating the viewer through a cascade of emotions. His most amazing feat might be revealing his cards before play by reminding the audience that it is all a show, but somehow he still manages to hold them all in the palm of his hand.
Two years ago this slot would have gone to Taxi Driver, and even now I hesitate at putting Vertigo in its place. They are a lot alike in that they cover similar themes of obsession and the descent into madness. However, I haven’t seen Taxi Driver in a few years and my love for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece is a recent occurrence. I first saw Vertigo at the age of eighteen, soon after finishing a class on the history of cinema where I was first introduced to some of his more mainstream offerings like To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. Needless to say, I didn’t much care for my first viewing of Vertigo. It was just two years back that I popped in the Blu-ray and proceeded to have my mind blown. Be it the use of color, the imagery in general, the methodical pacing, the performances, or my god the music! Vertigo is the complete package and stands as Hitch’s most personal and best work.
The perfect balance of camaraderie, thrills, comedy, and adventure; Jaws is popcorn cinema at its finest. It is known to have changed the game forever with basically creating the summer blockbuster, for better or worse, and the vast majority of these big studio tentpoles can’t even come close to chasing Jaws’s coattails. There are so many memorable set pieces and intense moments, but what always brings me back are the interactions between the characters. I could spend a whole summer on the Orca listening to the banter between Chief Brody, Quint, and Hooper. There is a catch where I still secretly freak out anytime I’m in the ocean though, so thanks, Spielberg!