There’s this thing going around Facebook where you challenge people to list 15 movies that had a lasting impact on your life. Not so much your choices for the best films ever made, but movies that will always stay with you. When I posted mine, I didn’t offer an explanation. I decided I would do that here. Rather than write an essay on each film, I’m going to give a few tidbits about my personal connection to them.
1. STAR WARS – Perhaps a clichéd choice, but for me, the movies begin with STAR WARS. This is the source. I was three when I first saw it. Second film I ever saw in the theater. Apparently, my mom, pregnant with my sister, Kathy, tried to remove me from theater when Obi-Wan sliced off that guy’s arm and I refused to budge. My love for this film as a child led me to watch countless “Making of” specials, which not only served as my early introduction to how movies were made, but also provided lessons on film history as they chronicled the films that influenced STAR WARS. Those specials gave me a checklist of movies to rent on my family’s weekly trips to the video store.
2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – My parents refused to let me see this film, thought it would be too scary for me. However, I was due for my first sleepover at my friend, Eric’s, place and Raiders was playing at the Boulevard, which was a 99-cent theater in Minneapolis. Eric’s dad suggested we see the film. He didn’t know that this was forbidden fruit for me and I wasn’t about to tell him. Loved every second of RAIDERS. However, my parents were correct, it did scare the crap out of me. My first sleep over lasted until about 1am. After an intense nightmare involving snakes and floating spirits I made Eric’s dad call my parents so they could come pick me up.
3. BACK TO THE FUTURE – Went to see this opening day at Eden Prairie Mall, a favorite hang out of my family growing up and the future filming location of Kevin Smith’s MALLRATS. The mix of funny and adventure is so perfect in this film. The humor comes out of the characters, not shtick or mugging like most modern comedies. As I got older and began to seriously study films, the beauty and economy of the screenplay revealed itself. There is not a single wasted moment in this film, everything moves the story forward. Study this film, this is how a script is put together.
4. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME – I missed the TV series when it first ran. However, series creator Mark Frost grew up in Minneapolis. I saw an article in the Star Tribune newspaper that he was going to do a Q&A at an advanced screening of the film at the Mall of America and that you could RSVP for free. The idea of a film producer from Minneapolis was fascinating to me, I had to go. As a sci-fi fan, I was used to shows like STAR TREK being spun off into movies, but this TWIN PEAKS thing seemed very different. I had a week before the screening so I rented the International Version of the Pilot and the first season of the series, which was all that was available at the time. I did not know who killed Laura Palmer. Then I went to see FIRE WALK WITH ME. Holy hell, I was not ready for this film. It knocked me on my ass. I had never seen anything by David Lynch and this film was a visual assault. What captured me was that almost nothing was explained in the film. It was a dense visual puzzle and it was up to me to figure out the meanings. I just re-watched this film about a month ago. I’m still putting the pieces together today. Seeing this film was a clear break from the diet of summer blockbusters and sci-fi films I had been raised on. Suddenly, cinema was a denser, darker, stranger, and much more exciting realm.
5. ALIENS – The first monster / creature feature I was allowed to rent. I had not yet seen ALIEN. What’s great here is the mix of genres. Yes, it’s an horror film, but it’s also an action film. I remember saving up to buy the $99 laserdisc of this film, because I was obsessed with seeing the longer cut, which never made it to VHS. These days, I actually prefer the theatrical cut, it just moves so fast. Most importantly, before ALIENS, I had never seen a female lead action film. It provided such an extra level of emotional depth. Today, if you look at most of my films or read my screenplays, you’ll find women front and center driving the plot of each of them.
6. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN – I’m a geek and I don’t hide it. I had seen the first TREK film and fallen asleep. So I wasn’t super excited to see this film. My family took annual July road trips to Missoula, Montana to visit Grandpa Ernie, my mom’s dad and probably the biological source of my current haircut. It was always ridiculously hot in the car and I had to share the back seat with my sister. So, it didn’t take a lot for my dad to convince me that sitting in an air conditioned theater for a film with spaceships that was too scary for my sister to see would be a good idea. In fact, it was a great idea! The action really pulled me into this film. I mean, there’s a moment when you think every main character is dead in the first five minutes. That’s how you start a film! Most importantly, though, is the Kirk, Spock, and McCoy friendship. These are three men who really love each other. They joke, they fight, and ultimately they sacrifice for each other. We should all aspire to be as good a friend as these three men are too each other. Regardless of race, color, or creed, you must strive to be the best human you can be, the message at the center of all STAR TREK. One conversation scene between Kirk and Spock in this film will always haunt me. Spock is telling Kirk that it was a mistake to accept a promotion. “Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material.” The idea of achieving my own ‘best destiny’ is something that drives me to this day.
7. MOULIN ROUGE – Like with FIRE WALK WITH ME, but for different reasons, was a kick in the ass. I walked out wishing I had made this movie. The music, the visuals, and the characters made me fall in love with the idea of being in love. This films takes a century of pop culture and compresses it into a two-hour explosion. I was working in entertainment news in LA at the time it came out, so I got to see it for free about two weeks before it opened at a now demolished Cineplex Odeon theater in Century City. Seeing the film early actually made it even more special, because no one else really knew what was coming. I got to privately own it for a couple weeks, like a band you discover at a dive bar before they make it big. I even got to cover the LA premiere at the Motion Picture Academy and stole a poster from the event. It’s still hanging up in my apartment today.
8. BLADE RUNNER – First saw this when the 1991 Director’s Cut was released at a multiplex in Roseville, MN called Pavilion Place. I knew sci-fi, but this was visually and emotionally unlike anything I had ever seen. I do think Ridley Scott’s eventual 2007 final cut is my favorite version of this film; however, he changed my favorite line, the most bold and rebellious piece of dialogue I have ever heard. Roy walks up to his maker and demands, “I want more life, fucker!” I was a teenager when I saw this film and I loved the insolence of that line and I still do. When I see someone suffering from a disease, when I feel pain, physical or emotional, when I realize that I may not accomplish everything I want to in the span of my lifetime. Like Roy, I want to walk up to my creator and ask, how dare you place a time limit on what I can accomplish? We should all approach life with such zeal. That energy is lost in the Final Cut, Roy now says, “I want more life, father.” On my tombstone I would like it to read, “I want more life, fucker!”
9. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – Another Pavilion Place movie-going experience. Another film with a strong female lead. Around the time I was 16 years old, I started to get interested in movies beyond the summer popcorn fare I would see with my dad. Taking me to see the Oscar nominees and the art house films became my mom’s domain. This was one of the first of those films that she and I saw. Probably a little on the violent side for her, but glad she made trip. Again, another film that isn’t afraid to go dark and put you in the mind of a killer. Hell, you love Hannibal Lector in this film, you empathize with him even and he’s in only five scenes!
10. HIGHLANDER – This is one of those films that I would catch in sections on HBO and it just looked bug-nuts crazy. Swords fights, shifting time periods, elaborate transitions, immortals, Sean Connery, and over-the-top Clancy Brown. I don’t think the film is anywhere near as good as what my imagination made it out to be as I tried to piece together the fragmented version I got from seeing it occasionally while surfing channels. Still, the visuals I saw fired my imagination. Plus, like ALIENS there was this mythic director’s cut out there that provided an even greater level of mystery. To this day, I love the potential of this concept. If there is one film I would love to remake and reimagine, it’s HIGHLANDER.11. THE RINK – Before transferring to USC, I was a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, which is where I saw this film. It was a night our instructor dubbed, “Keaton vs Chaplin,” the most enjoyable time in a film studies class I have had. Now I was already aware of Chaplin and his films from the 1991 bio pic, but THE RINK was the first time I got to experience the master really at work. The grace of movement, not just the camera but that man himself on roller skates is a wonder to behold. As with all Chaplin, look beneath the surface and you will find some sharp social commentary woven into the story. You may notice a few shots of THE RINK appear in my own short film, FAR.
12. APOCALYPSE NOW – Rented this on laserdisc about the time I graduated from high school. It left me speechless. I mean, literally, for two days I did my best not to speak to anyone. I couldn’t, I didn’t know what to say. I had returned from a war and I was changed. The single most visceral and emotional impact a film has ever had on me. Again, I know there is a longer cut, but the original is where it’s at.
13. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE – Like STAR WARS this is one of those early movie experiences that defined me. SUPERMAN, STAR WARS, and STAR TREK all feature characters with a strong moral code, a clear set of guidelines that define right and wrong. When my Dad would reprimand me growing up, he would use the characters of these films as examples of how I should behave and why. As an adult, the most amazing element of SUPERMAN is the fact that, not even the Man of Steel can save everyone. This film has one of the most crushing and helpless lines in film history, as Clark stands over the grave of his adopted father who died of a sudden heart attack: “All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn’t even save him.”
14. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – I have seen this film four times, each at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. That is one of the few screens big enough to hold this film. No one will ever shoot a movie this large in scope and combine it with an equal level of character depth ever again. Everything you see in this film is real. From the actors to the desert to the war. The level of detail and the craft of the filmmakers will never be matched, but it is an ideal I will strive for every time I make a film.
15. TRAINSPOTTING – My poor dad, he loved action and sci-fi films, but as my interest in the movies grew, he got dragged to all kinds of stuff that wasn’t his can of Cherry Coke. For this film, we visited the Mecca of Minneapolis Indie Cinema, the Uptown Theater. I love films that immerse me in a world that I will never visit. The dark universe inhabited by mid-90’s Scottish Heroin addicts depicted in this film is just as strange and foreign a universe as those presented in the sci-fi films I grew up with. Sitting in the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, I was transported to that other world and lived in it for two hours. I saw director Danny Boyle speak about a year ago. His advice to filmmakers: “In every choice you make be bold.”
Being BOLD is one thing I think every movie on this list does. They all take chances, they all push boundaries, and they all have compelling characters. These are 15 films that will never leave me and continually influence me.