“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”
In the classic era of cinema, female characters had an interesting but disappointing trait: they relied on the male characters to move the plot along. Though there were some strong female characters in the 30s and 40s, they were usually portrayed as less capable than the males, and the plot usually didn’t go anywhere until the males got involved. In most movies of that era, the females were also very dependent on the males. (I know there will undoubtedly be some exceptions, but this was the norm.) This era started to die off in the 50s (although traces of it can still be seen today), and for that, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 1951 movie The African Queen. Directed by John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, this is a movie that not only defined the romantic adventure genre (Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean are modern derivatives), but it also showed that a female lead who is in every way her male co-star’s equal can make for a successful film.
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“Hawaii. All right, that’s good. That’s hard to trace, I guess. Wait… you changed your name to… McLovin?”
Two teens go on a minor quest to score with some girls. It’s a tale as old as time, and one that’s been done to death in film. What sets Superbad apart isn’t an original idea, but excellent execution. Directed by Greg Mottola (Paul, Adventureland) and starring Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, this is a highly accurate representation of high school life, and it is hilarious. And despite its often raunchy humor, the ending is actually fairly sweet and heartwarming. This is a stand-out film in the teen genre that will be remembered as a classic.
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“Times are hard for dreamers.”
You know Revenge of the Nerds? Amelie is Revenge of the Emotional Introverts. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) and starring Audrey Tatou and Mathieu Kassovitz, it’s a film of immense beauty and feeling, and the story it tells gratifies the soul. The movie, like the title character, fixates on the little things that bring people joy and seeks to bring joy to everyone. It’s definitely more of a feeling movie than a thinking movie, but it’s done so masterfully that it brings out the romantic in everyone.
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“Yeah, well, history is gonna change.”
Back to the Future was, and still is, a cultural icon. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson, Back to the Future brought time travel from the deep recesses of science fiction into the mainstream spotlight. Although The Terminator had dabbled in time travel just the year before and a few other major movies had sent people forward in time, no other mainstream movie had dealt with things like a time paradox—let alone in a way that made sense to virtually every viewer. Back to the Future made this hard science fiction concept cool and fun and brought it into the common vernacular. Many time travel movies since then owe part of their success to this groundbreaking movie.
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“Have fun storming the castle!”
The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is Spinal Tap), is a romantic comedy-adventure that’s quite unlike any other movie out there. It’s simultaneously a fairytale and a parody of a fairytale, and it excels at each. While other movies, like Shrek, have tried to walk this line, I can’t think of any that balance the two so expertly as this one.
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“Pete, it’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”
O Brother, Where Art Thou, directed by the Coen Brothers (True Grit, No Country for Old Men) and starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, feels a bit like a modern fairy tale. Right from the start, it feels like it’s a completely different world, even though it’s set in the Depression-era American South. As in the quote above, this movie is firmly rooted in the realm of the human heart. Don’t expect the plot to shoot you in a logical straight line from point A to point B. It’s more about the journey than the destination. Clever writing, acerbic wit, and immersive art direction elevate this from old-fashioned camp and make the journey a fun one.
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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
That closing line is the perfect ending for Stand By Me. Directed by Rob Reiner (This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride) and featuring future stars like Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and even Kiefer Sutherland, the story is told by an adult reminiscing about what he eventually realized was a defining moment in his life. It leaves you thinking about similar moments in your life: moments that stick with you, but you can’t put your finger on why until years later, when you realize that they’ve made you into the person that you are.
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