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.
“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.
“They look the shit, don’t they? And nobody is gonna argue. And I’ve got some extra loud blanks, just in case.”
Imagine, if you will, a film with the wit and bite of Pulp Fiction, the cool factor of Ocean’s Eleven, and a pleasant British disposition, and you’ll be pretty close to Snatch. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) and starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, and Benicio Del Toro, this is a witty and entertaining British crime film with a lot to offer. With snappy and hilarious dialogue, great actor performances, a clever directorial style, and a tight plot, I can’t really think of anything bad to say about this film.
“Err, bad breath, colorful language, feather duster. What do you think they’re gonna be armed with? GUNS, you tit!”
It’s said that there’s no honor among thieves, and I can’t think of any better example of this in action than British crime film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. This is the directorial debut of Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and it stars Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, and Nick Moran. This is a story from the criminal underground of London, and it’s got lots of British charm and sensibility that makes this stand out from the crowded genre of American crime films. The script is also exceptionally smart, especially for a first feature film from the writer/director. If you like crime films but want something delightfully different, this will probably fit the bill.
“Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not ‘Every man for himself.’ And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.”
It’s rare that I make any sort of declaration along the lines of greatest of all time, but A Fish Called Wanda might just be the best comedy of all time. Written and directed by Charles Crichton (Dead of Night, The Lavender Hill Mob) and comedy legend John Cleese (The Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Monty Python veterans John Cleese and Michael Palin, this is a brilliant comedy that artfully blends American and British humor into something that just about everyone will laugh at. The script and performances are brilliantly funny, but there’s a very solid plot here as well. Everything a comedy is supposed to do, this film does extremely well, and I can’t think of any comedy that succeeds as much as this one.
“Ya know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe—I mean, shipwrecked among 8 million people. And then one day I saw a footprint in the sand, and there you were.”
Many films that have tried to seamlessly blend tragedy and comedy together. This took off in the 90s and is still going strong today with films like Life is Beautiful, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Sideways. But in 1960, long before this was popular, The Apartment pulled it off beautifully. Directed by Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, Sunset Boulevard) and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, this film is at times funny and silly and at other times dark and depressing, and the change is never jolting. It also deals with depression in a way that’s way ahead of its time. I had never seen this film before today, and it’s now one of my favorite classic films. If you like a little darkness with your comedy, this might be the perfect classic film for you.
“Some people are OK, but mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody.”
The 90s were a great time for apathy and cynicism. I graduated from high school in ‘99, and let me tell you, we hated everything. Ghost World, an indie art house film directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Bad Santa) and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi, took that 90s angst and injected it with a bit of Existential angst. It’s equal parts Daria and Waiting for Godot. It’s a biting satire not only of the world of the 90s, but also of the angry counterculture that sprang out of it, showing that even all those people who said that everything sucked also sucked. Sardonic, darkly funny, and vaguely depressing, this film is edgy in a way that many other films try to be, and it dares to push further into that territory than any other film I’ve seen.
“I’m telling you, you’re coming along at a very dangerous time for rock and roll. I mean, the war is over. They won. And 99% of what passes for rock and roll these days… silence is more compelling.”
They say hindsight is 20/20, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that one of the greatest films about rock and roll came 30 years after the fact. Rock and roll was a movement born out of the cultural revolution of the 60s, but that intellectual purity couldn’t last forever. Almost Famous, directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire) and starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, and Billy Crudup, attempts to capture the moment when rock and roll changes from a movement to an industry. It’s also a great coming-of-age story and a very effective comedy. It’s full of memorable scenes, quotable lines, and just the right amount of drama, and this is definitely one of the most likable movies on this list.
“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Do you remember the first time you fell in love? That’s the feeling Wes Anderson tried to recreate with Moonrise Kingdom. It’s a story that focuses primarily on two kids—a rarity for Anderson. Even his children’s movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, focused on the father of the family. The closest he’s come to this before was with Rushmore, which focused on a high school student. Moonrise Kingdom focuses on a pair of 13-year-olds, and it is, appropriately, filled with a sense of wonder and innocence that’s missing in most of his movies, which are more about disenfranchised adults who have trouble with relationships. Those adults are still here, but they’re in the background. The real story is in how these kids come together, although the relationships the adults have serve as a terrific foil for this. I wouldn’t say this is Anderson’s best film, but it’s probably his sweetest and most wholesome, and it absolutely deserves some attention.
Cultural revolutions happen when a generation gets old enough to get their ideas out into the world. The baby boomers had their revolution in the 60s and 70s. Gen-Xers like me had ours in the 90s. Well, guess what? We’re due for a new revolution for the Millennials. Over the next 5-10 years, we’re going to start seeing media through the eyes of Millennials. Leading the charge in this revolution is the brilliant Greta Gerwig with her directorial debut, Lady Bird. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, this film neatly encapsulates the gap between Millennials and Generation X, as well as the frustrations that Millennials faced in adolescence. It’s also a sweet, funny, and touching story about a daughter growing up with an overbearing mother. This film works equally well as a coming of age story and a metaphor for the coming of age of an entire generation, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Millennial anthem than this film.