With no new releases for the forseeable future, I’ve been capitalizing on my quarantine to cross some older movies off of my watchlist. Here are my favorites of the 50 movies that I’ve watched so far.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
A noir detective story featuring groundbreaking animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a movie that I really can’t believe exists at all. The main foundation of the movie — seeing cartoon characters interact in the real world alongside humans — is such a visual joy that I had a smile on my face the entire time, but it doesn’t just stop at the animation; this is a fleshed-out world that feels unlike anything you’ve ever seen, as cartoon characters swear off their human counterparts on a film set or even seduce them at a club. This all provides a dark edge to the movie that feels unexpected, yet ultimately fitting for the movie’s unapologetic embrace of movies like Chinatown. It’s an absolute delight.
Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is the rare film so creative and assured in its vision that nearly every scene made me feel as if I was experiencing the magic of movies for the very first time. This is true filmmaking in every sense of the world, playing with every possible convention of narrative structure and visual storytelling to create an existential, mind-bending trip that’s as deeply tragic as it is funny. Not only does it feature one of the most bizarre and interesting premises you’ll ever find in a movie, but it continually elevates that premise to new heights throughout its runtime, always finding new ways to up the absurdity and depth of the narrative in a way that never feels stale. I physically couldn’t have loved this any more — just pure, unfiltered genius from start to finish.
All I want from comedies is something that will make me laugh, but Tootsie gave me that and so much more by giving me laughs alongside characters that I genuinely cared about. Every performance here is great, but it’s impossible not to highlight just how much Dustin Hoffman kills this Mrs. Doubtfire-esque role which feels over-the-top in the best way possible.
I’m kinda obsessed with bad movies. I’m not just talking about sloppy movies; I’m talking about cataclysmic disasters so horrible that it seems impossible to believe an actual human being made it. Well, Ed Wood is all about Ed Wood, an actual human being who made plenty of these movies and is widely regarded as the worst filmmaker of all time. You would expect this movie to simply be laughing down at Ed Wood and his work, yet there’s a level of respect and even admiration at the giddy optimism behind the man, which really makes for a surprisingly hilarious and heartwarming character study. For a movie about bad movies, it really is an ode to the joys of filmmaking and the Hollywood dream, even when it results in somebody channeling all their passion to make something that doesn’t work. As somebody who didn’t know much about Ed Wood going in, I really loved everything about this movie, and it’s hard to watch this and not think about how hard Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fell off shortly after.
I really don’t want to say much in fear of giving stuff away, but add this to the ever-expanding list of near-perfect movies Bong Joon-ho has made. The last 30 minutes of this are so clever that when the movie ends, you just have to sit there and think about the fact that you’ve just been played like a fiddle for the past two hours. Brilliant.
The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight)
Chronicling a love story over 18 years, the Before trilogy is an endlessly rewarding and beautiful cinematic experiment. The first film, Before Sunrise, follows two strangers who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend a day walking around together in Vienna, and the following films in the trilogy highlight a day in the life of these characters every nine years. In many ways, these movies feel like magic tricks; they consist of almost nothing other than these characters walking down streets and talking in long, unbroken takes, yet you would swear it’s the most romantic thing in the world due to some witty writing and the amazing chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The effect of seeing them age over the three films adds to the illusion that you truly do feel like you’re eavesdropping in on real people, eager to find out where they are in their lives after the nine years since you’ve seen them, and their development between films is some astounding character work that will break your heart a bit, too.
Dazed and Confused
Similar to Linklater’s work in the Before trilogy, Dazed and Confused feels like mundane filmmaking in the best sense possible. The plot here is beside the point, as the movie follows a group of high schoolers in the 70s on their last day of school, and…well, that’s kinda it. There isn’t some super grand or tight structure, but this all adds to the charm of observing what truly feels like a slice-of-life from youth in the 70s, all the way from to the care-free attitudes to the wonderfully curated soundtrack. It’s a depiction of high school that feels horribly outdated yet still familiar, which is a testament to how well the movie captures its respective time-period while also introducing characters that you could see existing today. It’s a true time machine of a movie, and a really fun one at that.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
What if Pinocchio was framed through the lens of a sci-fi movie? Well, you would be left with A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a top-tier movie from one of the greatest directors of all time. Spielberg has been unfairly critiqued for either making films too engulfed in emotional schmaltz (see: E.T.) or too desperate to be ‘serious’ (see: The Post), yet in A.I. he rides that thread closer than he ever has in his career, showcasing just how well he is able to cater to both extremes. The movie, which follows a robot boy’s search for love and purpose, can often be as unsettling as the future its story takes place in, yet you would have to be a cold-hearted monster to not feel something during some key moments. None of these emotional beats work without Haley Joel Osment’s performance, which is one of the all-time child performances next to his performance in The Sixth Sense. Oh, and that ending…John Williams’s music might have permanently broke my heart into pieces. Anyways, I’m being incoherent at this point; I’m shocked that this is considered by many to be a “mid-tier” Spielberg movie, but I guess it’s a not a total blow when you’re Steven Spielberg.
Eyes Wide Shut
This has always been a gap in my Kubrick filmography that I’ve been hesitant to fill but suffice to say, I was totally wrong to wait on this. Despite its lengthy runtime, the movie flies by with pacing that unfolds like a fever dream you can’t wake up from as you follow Tom Cruise’s character through the worst — and most revealing — night of his life. Every scene from the get-go has this uncomfortable aura of mystery surrounding it, and it all culminates in an extended sequence through a mansion that might be my favorite thing Kubrick has ever done. It’s all around a bizarre, sensual experience that had my brain doing cartwheels the entire time, and it’s full of so many layers and details that I don’t see myself forgetting about it any time soon. Be warned, though: it’s not for everybody, and it’s probably one of the last movies on the planet you would want for anything resembling a family movie night.