Writing is a pleasure. Film gazing is a passion. My interests are widespread, and I never tire of the onslaught of cinema that I thrust upon myself in a constant search for the films that really speak to me. We go to the movies in hopes of feeling something and being moved. Here are five films I’ve watched recently that have really affected me. I would have no issue placing them among my favorites of all time:
(Steven Spielberg, 1993)
A prime example of wearing out a VHS tape to death, Jurassic Park was a seminal film of my childhood. Roaring onto the scene in 1993, from the minds of Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, this movie would change the landscape of Hollywood for years to come, and its influences are still felt today. Spielberg brought his wondrous flair to the screen in the shape of DINOSAURS. Scene after scene of jaw-dropping set pieces, witty dialogue that is still quoted today, and a John Williams score for the ages. When it comes to blockbuster filmmaking, we should all just sit back and let Spielberg the maestro guide us into the moonlight.
(Brad Bird, 2004)
What’s not to love here? Brad Bird brings the superhero genre to new heights with his Pixar animated vision. This has everything you would want from a superhero film: thrilling action set pieces, fun comedy, and a compelling villain. What separates this from the rest of its competition is the family dynamic at play and the ways it comments on the superhero genre as a whole. A lot has happened in the genre in the fourteen years since this film’s release, but this gem remains a high-point, along with being at the peak of both Bird and Pixar’s extensive and fantastic catalog.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(Alfonso Cuarón, 2004)
Just finally caught up with this one for the first time and was pretty blown away. It’s about ten notches above everything else I’ve seen from the rest of the film series up to this point. Cuarón’s craft is felt all over this thing. The three child actors all come into their own in a big way here (along with clearly being flooded by puberty following the previous film), but perhaps even more so it’s the work we see from the supporting actors that helps this movie really shine. Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman and Emma Thompson are all doing exceptional work here with their characters. The score is significantly tempered down from the previous two films, allowing for legitimate tension and suspense to build in a much darker tone. Again, all the credit goes to Cuarón, directing with confidence and bringing the magic to life that Hogwarts and company deserved.
(Denis Villeneuve, 2015)
Sorry, folks, this is not the “action movie” you are looking for. This is a haunting look inside a world we are not yet ready to face, much like Emily Blunt’s character, who acts as our point of view. The film works because we see this terrifying world as it is slowly uncovered to her, and we look on in shock and horror just as she does. Along with her is her partner Daniel Kaluuya, pre-Get Out, who is a secondary character in this fashion. Through their eyes, we see the tragedy of life surrounding the US-Mexico border, and it lives up to the billing. Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro ham it up in the best ways possible, along with a little fun from Jon Bernthal in a key scene. However, the main stars of this film are Villeneuve and the legendary director of photography, Roger Deakins. The movie is absolutely gorgeous, with so many defining shots and multiple set pieces that will have you on the edge of your seat. Villeneuve has produced an incredible filmography this decade, and Sicario is my favorite of them all.
(Paul Schrader, 2018)
Talking about unexpectedly having your socks blown off in the theater, I was not prepared for what this movie was going to throw at me. So much nuance with the characters, portrayed brilliantly by Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, among others (a fun little performance from Cedric the Entertainer!). First Reformed is emotional gut punch after gut punch, with some serious high concept pondering of the meaning and purpose of life. It’s really unfortunate this movie did not come out later in the year because I feel now it will not be getting the award recognition it so desperately deserves. Paul Schrader is someone whose films I am ashamedly unfamiliar with, aside from his screenplay for Taxi Driver, which seems to inform a lot of what we see in this film. I will certainly be looking to check out more of his work in the future.