Before 2001, movies really didn’t mean a lot to me. Sure, I loved the general mainstream fair that blew up the box office and showed enough sex and violence to keep my demented, testosterone-saturated mind happy, but the Art of Cinema was completely lost on me. Movies like Under Siege and Commando dominated my late nights in front of the television, and I can distinctly remember seeing a trailer for Fargo and thinking, “What the goddamn fuck?” (I also remember begging my stepdad to let me watch Showgirls so I could “see the boobs.” Hey, I’m not proud. My attitude might not have changed, but at least I’m a little more subtle now.) But what do you expect? I was sixteen and far more interested in John Grisham novels and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time to really care too much about what was playing at the local movie theater.
I’m not really sure when that all changed. Perhaps I got a little older and a little more mature. Maybe it was simply a byproduct of boredom and the instinctual need to get away from EverQuest every now and then before the Universe deemed me unworthy and I was killed off Darwinian-style. Regardless of how it happened, one random day I wandered into my hometown’s Movie Gallery (you people from small towns know that one) and selected a movie for no apparent reason. It might not have been the best movie ever made, but it was the first movie that I ever finished and thought, “Well, that was interesting; maybe it’s time to see what else is out there?”
I truly believe that art is extremely important and that through it we learn about ourselves and the world around us. Film obviously fits in there and has become a significant artistic element of my life. There is a power in this medium, and I think we all can tie certain films to important elements or times in our lives. So, here at the end of the first decade that movies became significant for me, I wanted to make a small list of films that either had a personal impact on my life or marked a milestone in my development from a teenager who thought Spaced Invaders was a damn good flick to someone who managed to get a pretty sweet gig writing for a great film site.
Disclaimer: This is not a list of what I consider to be the best of the decade, so please don’t Internet-yell at me in the comments. I merely wanted to show a little bit of my coming of age as a film lover and hopefully spur you guys on to reveal what films did the same for you. Also, I attempted to put these in order of when I saw them, not necessarily when they were released. Autobiographically, fuckers.
Here it is. If you were on the edge of your seat wondering what movie it was that started this journey, then your wait is over. The Believer is a little indie flick starring a young(er?) Ryan Gosling in a role as a neo-Nazi who may just happen to be keeping a little family secret from those he is associated with. Now, admittedly, I haven’t seen this movie since 2001, but I remember really liking it. It was the first time I ever saw Ryan Gosling, and his story in this film really resonated with me at the time. I wasn’t a neo-Nazi, of course, but the main character’s feeling of isolation and journey for self-discovery weren’t so different than how I felt at sixteen. As a bonus, check out Garret Dillahunt in his second film role ever!
After roughly a year of working through other random smaller movies and things off my radar, I came to my first Alexander Payne flick About Schmidt. Warren Schmidt, wonderfully played by Jack Nicholson, hits a wall in his life. After the death of his wife and the discovery that his daughter is about to marry sort of a bum, he begins to wonder, “Just what is important in life?” And, as I was gearing up to leave for college, that was pretty much exactly how I was feeling. I distinctly remember a scene at the beginning of the movie where Schmidt is sitting at a desk in a room completely painted white staring as the clock ticked toward five. It may seem a bit cliché now, but at the time, there was no better visual representation of how I felt about “growing up.”
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Obviously, I kept up with my discovery of smaller films with these little-known gems based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderful tale about a group of Hobbits who become unlikely heroes in a war to save the world. Yeah, I doubt any of you needed these movies brought to your attention, since they, you know, pretty much grossed more money than the GDP of some small countries. Even though I am a Middle Earth fanatic (I really am, much to my wife’s shame), that isn’t the only reason these movies hold a special place in my heart. This was the first time that I ever got caught up in the excitement of a movie pre-release. When I heard they were making these films, I turned my internal hype up to eleven and counted down the days. In the end, I stood in line on opening day for all three films, and saw each one more than five times in the theater.
Requiem for a Dream
There are a wonderful range of emotions that any work of art can elicit from those of us fortunate enough to partake. We’ve all laughed, been brought to tears, angered, or scared while watching a movie. There are also different kinds of each as well as a broad spectrum, making up infinite possibilities. And, I have to admit, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream found a level of fear that I never knew existed. This movie scared the shit out of me. Not fear like The Exorcist might produce, but fear like those short films from the D.A.R.E. program so hilariously tried to create in their futile attempt to get through to kids as stupid as all of us were at that age. They need to get rid of those right now and start showing Requiem instead. As a freshman in college who was probably partying just a little too hard, this film hit me like a ton of bricks.
Y Tu Mamá También
This goes down as the first foreign film I ever saw. As most people in college do, I fell into a multicultural crowd that opened my eyes to entertainment from other parts of the world. A good number of my friends from college are from Spanish-speaking countries, and one adorable little Honduran introduced me to Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También. This is such a remarkable film and even though I was well aware they had electricity and other things required to make movies in other countries, I never really made any sort of artistic connection until this film. Unfortunately, there are still far too many people who say things like, “What? Foreign films? I don’t go to a movie to read.” Stop being dunces and open your damn minds.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Say what you want about the prequel Star Wars movies, but I still enjoy them. Granted, not nearly to the same degree as the originals, but any time I get to see Jedi wielding lightsabers (The word “lightsaber” isn’t recognized by MS Word? What the fuck?) and evil dudes controlling the Dark Side of the Force, I am fairly content. But the third installment of the prequel Star Wars films holds the distinction of the first midnight showing I ever attended. And what an epic midnight showing it was. I saw people in Jedi robes, little kids dressed as Yoda, and a freakishly large Chewbacca that damn near took one dude’s head off for trying to cut in line. Once in the theater, lightsaber duels took center stage in front of the screen as each row sent their champion to do battle for the glory of all. I am happy to announce the back row’s champion did us proud and was only brought to his knees by a cheap trick from a middle-side row. And this is why, to this day, I never trust people that sit near the exits.
Lost in Translation
I know Dr. Abaius considers this movie to be quite boring, but I completely disagree (Where did he get that Ph.D. from anyway?). This little film about a famous actor in Japan who meets up with a girl left to wander around aimlessly by her photographer husband is one of my personal favorites. I’m not really sure why, but it may have something to do with my Bill Murray obsession coupled with my obsession with pretentious indie films. Murray’s performance is beautiful and I will defend this film until the day I die. This was also the first film that was recommended by a good friend of mine for whom movies were his life. We met through work and thus started a few years of watching one movie after another after another. He is also the one who got me interested in screenwriting, and for the first time, through him, I actually begin to care about a movie’s screenwriter just as much as, if not more so, its director.
Oh, Wonder Boys. Not only is this a great flick and one everyone should see (especially my fellow English degree graduates), it’s the first film that I used as a dating tool. You film lovers out there know what I am talking about. We all have those movies that we either keep in reserve to show to a prospective girlfriend/boyfriend as a way to reel them in or that we show as a way to measure this person’s worth as a human being before we decide if they are worth the trouble and financial distress of dating. As a man with not one but two degrees in English (Oh, imagine how happy my parents were with that!), Wonder Boys was the perfect little movie to show to girls from my classes as a conversation-starter. “Want to watch a movie? Have you seen Wonder Boys? Oh, you will love it.” Yeah, I was a pimp, fo’ sho’.
This is one I’m sure our Austin-based Rejects will appreciate. The Producers (the remake, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) has the distinct honor of being the first film I ever saw at the Alamo Drafthouse. If you’ve never seen a movie there, then you need to plan a road trip and get down to south Texas immediately. There are few things in the world better than food, beer, and a great movie, and being able to experience all of that at a phenomenal cinematic venue is priceless. I’ve only seen the remake of The Producers this one time, but what a time it was. I don’t know if the hilarity of this film was because of the actual film or the six Negro Modelo(s?) I managed to imbibe before it was over. This was also a significant occasion because it holds the record for the time I’ve come the closest to peeing on myself since I got out of diapers. I have a strict no-getting-up-during-a-movie rule, but I was tested on this occasion and have never run out of a theater faster before or since.
There Will Be Blood
I doubt I need to tell some of you this, but there is stress and then there is stress. Let me set the stage. My then-girlfriend and I made a trip last year to New York City to see the sights, smell the smells, and eat the eats. But, I also had an ulterior motive, in that I had chosen this trip as the perfect time to propose (Awww, I know!). So one day, I set the plans in motion that would culminate in a romantic dinner in Little Italy and the proposal (Yes, I admit I’m a tad cliché and not overly original). But before dinner, we wanted to go out and check a few more places off the itinerary she was bound-and-damn-determined to follow. We weren’t coming back to the hotel, so I had to walk around, all day, in New York City, across numerous subway rides, with her engagement ring in my pocket. Now, I’m anxious enough on a normal day to have borderline hypertension, but this pretty much sent me off the register. Everything turned out fine though, as I assume you can imagine. Before dinner, we decided to see a movie, and luckily she wanted to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as much as I did. It may not be the most romantic movie ever, but we both absolutely loved it, and the emotional stimulation we felt afterward was an interesting way to lead into a marriage proposal.
The Dark Knight
Remember how I said I saw every film in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy at least five times? Yeah, The Dark Knight was the equivalent for the end of the decade. Few times in my life have I walked out of a theater completely ecstatic and elated about what I just saw, and this was the last time I felt this way. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t seen movies since then that I’ve considered better than The Dark Knight, but there is just something there that I can’t describe. I assume all you film-lovers know what I am talking about. There’s that deeply-hidden emotion, a feeling buried deep inside your core, which only certain stimuli can tap into. It’s different for everyone, so different things will trigger it. Call me a nerd, but I’ve felt it only four times in my life: when I got married, when I finally finished my master’s thesis, and when I saw each of The Lord of the Rings films and The Dark Knight for the first time.
I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino even if I felt like there were significant flaws, and I am proud to list it as the last significant film of the past decade because it was the first film I wrote about for Film School Rejects! Now, I know none of you saw this, but for my application, I had to write a review of a film of my choosing. Since Gran Torino was the last movie I saw in the theater, I decided that it was as good of a candidate as any other. I won’t mention that I also had to write a news article, and I chose one where I made the claim that Terminator Salvation was going to blow us all away and make more money than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s a wonder Neil even brought me onboard!
And so a movie writer was born, from the humblest of beginnings (Admit it, you loved Sidekicks and 3 Ninjas as a kid): Thirteen movies that had personal significance for one reason or another during the last decade. It was quite a coming of age, cinematically-speaking, and I wish I could highlight the dozens of other films that have contributed to the evolution from bright-eyed child obsessed with action to just another asshole with an opinion and a keyboard.
Here’s to the next decade and two new films set in Middle Earth!