I seem to be full of these lists lately. At least they’re keeping me writing. Again, I’ve decided to completely junk a previous list rather than revise it.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
It’s fair to say that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most influential film in my life. I saw it for the first time at a very young age – before I even saw Star Wars, I believe – and since then it’s seen countless viewings over the years. It launched a lifelong interest in sci-fi, and helped nurture a love of classical music in both its traditional and more dissonant forms. It was also the first film thought critically about: it called my attention to things like composition, editing and sound design. I puzzled over the thematic significance of the celestial alignments scattered throughout the film, the various literal and figurative “birthdays” that happen, and so forth. As an adult, seeing it theater in its proper 70mm form was one of my favourite moviegoing experiences.
I may no longer find it to be quite the profoundest stuff to ever be committed to celluloid, as I did when I was a teenager (and, even then, Kubrick’s own satirical edge prevents the hokier aspects of the narrative from overtaking things). But in a very real sense, 2001 has utterly permeated how I think and feel about cinema.
2. Spirited Away
Like many in the process of growing up, I went through a phase where it seemed uncool to like entertainment made for children. Anime emerged in this period as a means of consuming animation without feeling like I was watching kiddie stuff. This was the age where Neon Genesis Evangelion seemed like the profoundest stuff ever aired on tee vee, and proof that anime was simply on a different plane of existence than those lame western cartoons.
But it was also the age where I happened upon a copy of Princess Mononoke, which blew me away and had me anticipating the North American release of Miyazaki’s next flick, Spirited Away. Of course, unlike Mononoke, Spirited Away was pretty clearly kiddie stuff, but it didn’t matter. It helped kill the pretentious adolescent in me. My adult love of animation effectively begins here.
3. Watership Down
Of the three animated movies from my childhood that are on here, I decided to give this one the highest ranking simply because it was the one that scared me the most, and so I assume that it must have exerted the most psychological influence on me. But I also recently found that it holds up remarkably well, and is indeed an admirable film by any reckoning.
The same title also popped up in my books list, which is an impressive accomplishment in its own right. I can’t say the same for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
4. Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
…but Kubrick is the one who gets a double dip on this list. There was a time in my teenage years where I watched Dr. Strangelove so much that I had all but committed its script to memory. The fact that it has, as a comedy, managed to survive such wear and tear is proof for me that it is some sort of funny fractal. And in a world where The Daily Show is considered the pinnacle of political satire, we need this sort of funny all the more.
I feel kinda bad ranking this one above some of the others, but Aliens is still the most exciting movie I’ve ever seen. The director’s cut especially has some of the best pacing and character beats of any action movie ever – there was indeed a time when James Cameron’s vision hadn’t been overcome by cgi and crippling liberal smugness/guilt. Incidentally it also managed to do the whole feminist action hero thing three decades before Fury Road‘s existence, and do it pretty well.
In particular I feel bad about ranking Aliens over Pinocchio, as it’s probably the most beautifully animated film from my childhood, and pretty terrifying to kids as well. It also feels kinda wrong that no classic Disney cracked the top 5, but such is the pathos of list-making.
7. The Secret of NIMH
As far as I’m concerned, the most important legacy of Pete’s Dragon was annoying Don Bluth enough to leave Disney and make this dark, epic fantasy about rodents. Star Wars ensured that the 80s would be consumed by all sorts of Hero’s Quest narratives – Mrs. Brisby’s is the one that I like the best. Even more than Star Wars. So sue me.
8. The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes is all about the glories and dangers of Doing It For The Art, and is itself a rather darkly seductive work of art. It’s the apex of the early Technicolor tendency towards bright, popping colours, and it’s about dancing so it’s inevitably going to be somewhere on here even if the plot is a bit soap-opera at times.
9. The Thing
I never posted on here about it, but I was disappointed by Stranger Things. It was decent entertainment, but not quite the 80s Renaissance the hype had me expect. I was particularly disappointed by the cgi monster – they botched the one thing that should have been as 80s as possible. But if I want an 80s paranoid thriller with a gross-looking monster, there’s always The Thing.
You know what, it’s always kinda hard to define the stragglers in a list like this. Let’s assume the last choice is a safe one like Raiders of the Lost Arc or Blade Runner and call it a day.