There’s a fun challenge that’s been going around Facebook lately: Choose 15 films that have stayed with you throughout your life. One of the dads at school who’s become a friend of mine posed the challenge to me. Impossible, I thought at first. I write about movies for a living — how could I pick only 15? But then I picked the first 15 films that came to me. They didn’t have to be the greatest films ever, or even great, period. Just ones that mattered over the years for whatever reason.
So I wanted to share my choices with you here, as well, with a few thoughts on each. Some of them are obviously important. Others, I’ve just seen a million times. The rest fall somewhere in between. Enjoy — and I’d love to hear what you guys would pick, too.
“The Big Lebowski” (1998): Like most people, I don’t think I truly understood what Joel and Ethan Coen were getting at the first time I saw this. Now I am a part of the Cult of Lebowski.We quote this movie pretty much daily in some form. I can’t go bowling, drive past an In-n-Out Burger or hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio without thinking of it. I even went to Lebowski Fest at the Wiltern Theatre when I was pregnant with Nicolas. I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon — with nail polish.
“The Breakfast Club” (1985): Like all proud children of the ’80s, I love John Hughes movies. They are endlessly quotable. They represent our youth. But this one matters more than the others because it seemed to capture our teenage angst. And it’s such a great little time capsule of language, styles and careers.
“Casablanca” (1942): My parents loved Humphrey Bogart — my dad, especially. And when I was a kid, they had this movie recorded(on Beta, no less!) so that they could enjoy it over and over. “As Time Goes By” was their song. This was an early, memorable introduction to a truly enduring, influential film.
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982): Like John Hughes movies, “E.T.” is a huge part of any ’80s kid’s formative years. I had a huge crush on Henry Thomas. I bawled when I thought E.T. was dying — and I’m not ashamed to say I still get teary-eyed at the wistful farewell. The John Williams score is such a classic. I can’t wait to share this one with Nic when he’s a little older.
“Grease 2″ (1982): And not “Grease,” which everyone loves, of course. This sequel was a shameless example of trying to capitalize on a phenomenon and cash in a second time. It’s terrible — clunky, awkward, unfunny, not exactly a high point in Michelle Pfeiffer’s career– and I don’t care. It was on cable TV a lot one summer and I watched it incessantly. I know every word and every song. I’ll be your girl for all seasons.
“Magnolia” (1999): Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece (at that point, at least — I do love “The Master”). I’d loved “Boogie Nights,” but I was totally overwhelmed by the massive, operatic nature of this three-hour opus. The way he orchestrated the highs and lows, the histrionics and epiphanies of his massive (and massively talented) cast was just really impressive. Plus, this represented my first real blurb as a film critic — in The New York Times on Christmas Day, no less.
“Nights of Cabiria” (1957): My mom was a huge influence on me and my lifelong love of movies. Federico Fellini was one of her favorite directors, and this was her favorite among all his films. I have fond memories of us turning to each other after that famous, final shot — when Giulietta Masina looks into the camera and gives us a little smile to let us know she’s going to be all right — and realizing we both had tears streaming down our faces.
“No Country for Old Men (2007): The Coen brothers’ masterpiece. Gripping, darkly funny, expertly cast, beautifully shot (by the great Roger Deakins, their usual cinematographer, who will win his long overdue Oscar some day). It really gets Texas right — the terrain, the rhythms, the peculiarities. And I love the vagueness of the conclusion, which so many found so frustrating.
“Pink Floyd The Wall” (1982): Another one where my mother’s influence was involved. She loved Pink Floyd (she was an exceedingly cool chick, in case you couldn’t tell) and she showed me this movie on VHS when I was in high school. Scared the shit out of me then, and it still does now. The animation is just so deeply disturbing — the walking hammers alone do it for me. Many years later, I’d have the privilege of taking part in an on-stage discussion of this movie after a screening of it in 70 mm at Ebertfest.
“Rushmore” (1998): Wes Anderson’s masterpiece (although it was only his second feature), and a great example of everything he does so well within his signature style: the framing, the pacing, the obsessive eye for detail, the soundtrack. Its oddball characters and absurd situations make it funny, especially within the interplay between Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. But what struck me more was the loneliness that bound these characters, and the sense of melancholy that lingers throughout.
“The Shining” (1980): Now that I’m a mother myself, I sort of question my parents’ decision to let me watch this when I was a little kid (especially given the fact that my dad looked kinda like Jack Nicholson back then). This isn’t even my favorite Stanley Kubrick film — that would probably be “2001: A Space Odyssey,” speaking of movies that people didn’t get when they first came out. But it’s still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.
“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007): Another movie that we quote endlessly around here. The Jake Kasdan-directed, Judd Apatow-produced parody of the musical biopic is just dead-on. The songs are legitimately good (and some, like “Guilty As Charged,” are even great), John C. Reilly is a scream in all his variations, and Jenna Fischer is adorable as a wholesome sex kitten.
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939): It’s “The Wizard of Oz.” Next …
“Xanadu” (1980): I refuse to be ashamed of my love for “Xanadu.” We had the soundtrack on vinyl AND 8-track, and we’d listen to it in the carpool on the way to school in the morning. I pretty much wanted to be Olivia Newton-John back then. She was so pretty and she had great hair and she could roller skate and sing at the same time. Decades later, I had the privilege of seeing the cheeky Broadway production of “Xanadu” with the late, great Mike Kuchwara, the AP’s veteran theater writer, who remembered that I loved the movie and arranged tickets for me when I was visiting New York. He was a mensch.
“Zentropa” (1992): An early, great Lars Von Trier film. And for me, an early example of being wowed by a truly out-there foreign film once I opened myself up to the possibility of it. I recall seeing this at the Nuart in Santa Monica when I came home from college the summer before my senior year and just being blown away. The imagery — especially the use of color — was so bold, it almost frightened me. And it made me fall in love.