Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Matthew and Elizabeth hide in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

“People are being duplicated. And once it happens to you, you’re part of this… thing. It almost happened to me!”

(Yes, I’m reviewing the 1978 remake, not the 1956 original. Don’t judge me!)

Alien invasion movies were a pretty big thing in classic film. They asked lots of questions: What if they’re good? What if they’re bad? What if they think we’re bad and come to judge us? Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman (mostly known for writing the Indiana Jones movies) and starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, puts a bit of a different spin on it: what if they’re neither good nor evil, but so different that we can’t coexist? But this is not a boring morality study—this is a tense thriller! It doesn’t take the time to ask and answer a lot of deep questions, as many sci-fi movies do, but it moves quickly and is definitely not boring. If you’re in the mood for a tense and somewhat scary look at an alien invasion, this might be just what you’re looking for.

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I, Tonya

Tonya Harding strikes a pose in I, Tonya

“America. They want someone to love, but they want someone to hate. I mean, come on! What kind of frigging person bashes in their friend’s knee? Who would do that to a friend?”

Biopic films have, to me, always seemed like pieces of a far-off history, far removed from my actual life. It’s very rare that one hits as close to home as I, Tonya did. Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours) and starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney, this tells the real-life story of Tonya Harding, the infamous figure skater whose scandal rocked the world in the 90s. It’s a story I got a periphery glance at, through media headlines and rumors passed around school, but I never knew Tonya—only the scandal. This film lets you know Tonya, and it does an amazing job of bringing her to life in a way that’s not only sympathetic but also tragic. In-between tragic events are darkly funny happenings and self-aware humor that keep this from getting too depressing. This is a great story that adds some depth to events that I remember from my childhood, and it’s definitely one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen.

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Top 10 Crime Films

Sometimes, you just need to root for the bad guy. Crime films give us a window into the world of professional criminals—a world most of us have no experience with. The films on this list dive deep into that world and show us more than just “bad guys”—they show us real people with real goals and motivations that put them at odds with the law. If you’re in the mood to watch some crimes go down, these are some of the best films out there.

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Annie Hall

Alvy Singer and Annie Hall share a quiet moment in Annie Hall (1977)

“‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.’ That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.”

Clever movies are a bit of a dying art. Nowadays, studios keep things pretty simple so nothing flies over the heads of their audience. Annie Hall, written and directed by Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan) and starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, is a film that’s clever to a fault. Some have said this is the greatest romantic comedy of all time, but I disagree—it’s not perfect, but that’s kind of the point Allen is trying to make. Much like the lead character Alvy, the film is smart and funny, but can be a bit condescending and has trouble connecting with people. This film was somewhat autobiographical for Allen, but he doesn’t romanticize his quirks and neuroses—he shows how they can be endearing, but also how they can be destructive. Overall, the film is intelligent, witty, and surprisingly deep in some spots, filling an odd void in the cinema world: admitting that it’s possible to be too smart for your own good.

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Bottle Rocket

Dignan and Anthony chat in Bottle Rocket

“Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers—can you see how incredible this is going to be?—hang gliding, come on!”

In 1996, before Wes Anderson was really making Wes Anderson movies, he made his debut with Bottle Rocket. He involved some of his friends, including Luke and Owen Wilson, neither of whom had acted before. This film is far from perfect and is definitely not Anderson’s best, but it was enough to crown him the new king of indie filmmaking and put Luke and Owen Wilson on the map. Woven into the story, you’ll see the themes that are so prominent in Anderson’s later works: subtle ennui, loneliness, and chronic abnormality, all glazed over with quirky humor and a rebellious streak. For his first feature film, this is actually a very impressive feat. The writing is clever, the story is memorable, and the soundtrack is killer. Overall, this is a pretty impressive indie comedy that’s a great glimpse into the formative years of Wes Anderson’s career in filmmaking.

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The Usual Suspects

Five criminals in a police lineup in The Usual Suspects

“After that, my guess is that you will never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.”

A good mystery will leave the viewer clues throughout that point the ultimate revelation, and The Usual Suspects does exactly that. Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) and starring Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, and Chazz Palminteri, this is an extremely intricate film that rewards multiple viewings and in-depth analysis. Some have criticized it as gimmicky, but I wholeheartedly disagree. The performances are excellent, the details that hint at the ending are subtle but very intentional, and the script is brilliant. This is an independent film, and that’s a great thing—Hollywood studios would have dumbed this down to make it much more obvious for average viewers. I’m glad they didn’t—as it is, this film is a masterpiece.

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The Great Dictator

Hynkel is The Great Dictator

“Heil Hynkel!”

When I first heard that Charlie Chaplin made a movie that poked fun at Adolf Hitler, I didn’t quite believe it. Chaplin started work on The Great Dictator well before World War II broke out, and the film was released before the United States entered the war, so, rather unintentionally, this became one of the first American propaganda films. Chaplin later said that had he known what was going on in Germany, he never would have made the film. But the film was made, and it is quite funny even today. Chaplin held onto his silent film style for a long time after sound became the norm, and this is his first foray into the world of recorded dialogue. But this is a Chaplin film, so wacky physical humor still takes center stage. This film is a bit of a relic, but it is interesting to see something I learned about mostly in history books lampooned in such a spectacular way, and also to learn more about the pop culture that contributed to America joining the war. And, like I said, it is surprisingly funny even today.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

Wes Anderson films have sort of carved themselves their own genre: quirky, beautiful, smart, and funny, with a lot going on behind the scenes. It’s that last bit that makes or breaks them for audiences. Sometimes, the deep metaphors are essential to understanding and enjoying the film, as is the case for some of his less popular works like The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited; others are enjoyable whether you grasp the deep and usually obscure underlying themes or not. The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, is one of the latter. There are some deeper themes here that I admittedly don’t fully understand, including some parallels to the Holocaust, but the film is accessible for a general audience that doesn’t want to watch the film multiple times to pick up all the subtle clues. This all adds up to one of the most purely entertaining Wes Anderson films in his collection, keeping everything that makes his films great while going light on what held audiences away from some of his earlier films.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche watches as Stanley takes off his shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire

“I don’t want realism—I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths; I tell what ought to be truth.”

When I think of the 50s, I often think of the picture-perfect, Leave it to Beaver life put forth in popular entertainment. And of course it wasn’t really like that. They were still recovering from World War II, and there were a lot of not-so-great things happening. The popular response was to sweep all that under the rug and focus on the positive, and that shaped much of the entertainment to come out of the 50s. But there was a strong counterculture movement dedicated to realism, no matter how harsh it may be.

In the 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield railed against “phonies,” and that cognitive dissonance eventually landed him in a mental institution. Also in 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire showed us two worldviews coming to clash: one of romanticized ideals that ignored the horrible things that were going on, and one of brutal realism that was authentic to a fault, becoming an embedded part of everything wrong with the world. Directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, East of Eden) and starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, this is a brutal look at the two mindsets inevitably coming head to head. It admittedly got off to a somewhat slow start, but very quickly in, I was hooked. Few films do drama as well as this one, and the tension builds throughout the film into an explosion near the end.

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Top 10 Movie Night Movies

A good movie night is a great way to get friends together, and the most important part is, obviously, the movie. It has to be fun, easy to digest, and liked by almost everybody. Here are ten films that fit the bill. If you want to please a large crowd, these movies will not disappoint!

10. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Some Like it Hot

Shockingly irreverent for its time—so much so that it was initially banned in Kansas—this cross-dressing comedy is one of the funniest of all time and holds up well today. Though it’s rather tame by today’s standards, the rebellious spirit of the film hasn’t lost its charm, and the script and performances are both hilarious. If you want funny and classic, this can’t be beat.

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9. Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday

This is Audrey Hepburn’s first film, and, like her, the film is fun, charming, and undeniably classic. This is the perfect mix of adventure, romance, humor, and just a little heartbreak, and it hits a lot of the right notes to please a lot of people. If you’re looking for something classy and poignant, but still fun, this will probably be the film for you.

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8. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park

This film did something remarkable: it took the sci-fi formula and made it almost universally accessible without watering down what makes sci-fi great. This is just as much a thriller as it is a sci-fi, and it’s got plenty of humor and action to keep just about everyone satisfied. Plus, it has dinosaurs, which makes it at least 20% cooler. There’s a reason this was one of the biggest films of the 90s: almost everyone loves this movie.

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7. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

a-fish-called-wanda

If you want something smart to laugh at, there isn’t a better smart comedy than this one. Written and directed by comedy legend John Cleese, the script, direction, and acting all come together to create one of the funniest movies of all time. This is the perfect mix of slow-burn British humor and quick-hit American humor, and the cast is incredible in this film. It’s probably a bit too mature for the kids, but adults will love this comedy.

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6. The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride

This quirky adventure film is a bit of an anti-fairytale, and it paved the way for other films like Shrek which did the same thing. It begins like a traditional fairytale, but slowly diverges and eventually throws the whole formula out the window. It’s also quite funny, supremely quotable, and surprisingly dark in some spots. This really is one that the whole family will enjoy, although I frequently watch it without kids.

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5. North by Northwest (1959)

North by Northwest

The original action film, this one blends suspense and action with humor and charm to create a fun and exciting film that stands up very well today. Classic film star Cary Grant is at his best here, and master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t disappoint either. This is as charming as it is thrilling, and it holds up as one of the greatest and most accessible classic films of all time.

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4. Die Hard (1988)

die-hard-main

Sometimes, we don’t want cute or classy—we just want pure, badass 80s action! If you want action, this is undoubtedly one of the best and most accessible of the genre, and it’s got a good mix of humor and drama to keep things interesting between the action sequences. If most of your viewers want action but some are on the fence about action films, this offers something to both groups.

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3. Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas

The Godfather may be the greatest crime film of all time, but Goodfellas is undoubtedly the most entertaining. Director Martin Scorsese brings his best game for this film about a kid growing up with the mob and learning to branch out on his own with organized crime. As a crime film, it can be a little intense at times, but this is one of the most loved films in the genre and it has a very wide appeal.

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2. Jaws (1975)

Jaws

The original blockbuster hit, this is a film that has something for everyone. It’s tense, but not too scary; funny, but not too silly; and adventurous, but still grounded in a very tight plot. This film broke box office records because it really catered to all audiences and offered something to everyone. If you’re looking for something that’s both thrilling and fun, and suitable for just about everyone, this is probably what you’re looking for.

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1. Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future

One of the greatest adventure films of all time, this beloved comedy-adventure is fun every time you watch it. It has aged extremely well, and the smart script takes something complicated (time paradoxes brought about by time travel) and makes it easy to grasp and follow. This is the perfect mix of adventure, suspense, and humor, and it features some extremely memorable scenes and characters sure to please anybody.

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Runners Up

Almost Famous (2000), Charade (1963), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)