I made a list a long time ago of the top movies that have changed my life – I think that might be a little bit of a grand statement, so i’m downgrading the list to my favourite movies… even if some of them probably were life-changing. Note that these aren’t ranked in order of awesome, but just in the order I think of them!
1. The Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
“I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest. And if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.”
So I sort of lied, because this is definitely my top movie of all time. I’ll cliche it by saying that I came across this movie at a very strange time in my life… There’s something about the soft 70s-reminiscent colour palette, Wes Anderson typical symmetry, and folky soundtrack that reminds me of a safe warm bubble of nostalgia. Once wrapped in that blanket, after the first few scenes, I find that the messages of the movie always reconfigure my moral compass – not even too grandiose a statement. Each character is relatable: Mr Fox and his insecurities, Mrs Fox expressing her anger through painting storm clouds, Ash struggling to find recognition from others. Roald Dahl’s original book wasn’t one that stuck with me when I was younger but in combination with this film style, the fluid animation and small details that remind me of playing with toys in my bedroom as a kid, it means more to me as an adult than I could have expected.
2. The Fall (2006)
“All right, close your eyes. What do you see?”
“Rub them… Can you see the stars?”
I’ll be frank, this is a movie that hits me right in the gut, but it’s definitely not filled with fun and joy. It’s really a dark story about a man and a girl in a hospital, but inset with a fictional narrative that is so visually stunning that you forget the darkness of the outside world and are consumed by the colour and vibrancy instead. There’s a suicide attempt, pill abuse, and a whole lot of people die – but even their deaths are so beautifully tragic that you don’t really realize what you’re watching. I dare you to try and not cry during this movie along with Alexandria. Not to mention the fact that the costumes are done by Eiko Ishioka, an absolute legend and design visionary (she also did Mirror, Mirror, another nice Tarsem film). I really don’t think it’s prudent to describe this movie in too much detail because I force everyone to watch it eventually, and it’s really a work of art. And there aren’t a lot of films that I praise that highly.
3. Sucker Punch (2011)
“Who sends monsters to kill us, and at the same time sings that we will never die? Who teaches us what’s real and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we’ll die to defend? Who chains us? And Who holds the key that can set us free… It’s you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!”
I will totally admit I have not figured out this movie. It has levels. Like, levels. Is it super sexist and misogynistic? Some people have argued that it is but I don’t buy into it. This argument is perpetuated by the fact that it was written and directed by Zack Snyder: this, I can understand. But I think that the way that the viewer interprets it is perhaps even more important than the intention that went into its conception. I think there’s a lot of commentary to be derived from it on the gender inequality in the video game and action/sci fi world. There’s a lot of scenes of girls kicking ass, some seriously intense fight scenes, and then some really curious returns to the mental institution – trying to follow the story is difficult and may take a few tries. But I think it’s really a story about defiance and survival against the odds while making a sort of subtle inverted comment about over-sexualization through the male gaze in media. Or maybe it’s just cool fights. Who knows. (It also apparently has a very female-empowered sex scene that was cut out in the final edition. I think it would have changed the narrative a lot – probably positively).
4. The Great Gatsby (2013)
“We’re all different from you. You see, we were born different. It’s in our blood. And nothing that you do or say or steal… or dream up can ever change that.”
What I think is fantastic about this movie is the way it captured the essence of the book. Is it word for word accurate? Of course not. But what movie adaptation is? What surrounds the works of Scott Fitzgerald and his contemporaries is ultimately a sense of dread and hopelessness – not saying that is the message to be derived – but there is an atmosphere of ‘end of days’ that I think was probably pretty prevalent at the time between the World Wars and the Great Depression. The youth weren’t sure that what they had would last forever – they had already seen that everything could change permanently in a very short time. I think this is a notion that really resonates today with younger viewers – heck, maybe with everyone. This isn’t a revolutionary reading of the story, I know. But I think that essence is captured really well in the movie, the set designs and costumes are luscious, and we get to watch Leo play another troubled wealthy guy – always a good time. The soundtrack is something that I know lots of people found to be a weird choice, but I think is perfect and adds something relatable to the scenes – the songs makes you feel powerful, the story makes you feel despair. Sounds like a formula for the delusion of invincibility.
5. Auntie Mame (1958)
“Is the English lady sick, Auntie Mame?”
“She’s not English, darling… she’s from Pittsburgh.”
“She sounded English.”
“Well, when you’re from Pittsburgh, you have to do something.”
I’m going to end this list, incomplete as it is, with a classic film that I make a point of watching at least once a year. Auntie Mame is probably the most rewatchable film from the 50s that I am acquainted with, and I give most of the credit for this to the great talent of Rosalind Russell herself. We’re given this deeply flawed main character, concealed within a dynamic personality that sails through life to the best of her ability guided by her personal philosophies. Who can’t relate to that, really? It’s a long film and has the unavoidable downside of the racist and badly written dialogue of Ito (and probably also the cultural implications around the Irish Mr O’Bannion), but while admitting its problematic aspects I think there is a lot of good to be found, as well. It’s got funny, snappy dialogue, nice parodies of some American stereotypes, and some genuinely good-hearted characters.
So i’ll end my list there… maybe i’ll have to make a part two, once I come up with some more top picks. Hope you check some of these out!