Many moons ago, I was out on a date with a girl in my senior year of college and took her out to see a movie.
That movie was “Immortals” which was one of Henry Cavil’s first major starring roles on the big screen. The movie was…not very good to say the least; a cheap clone of “300,” which is also not a very good movie either to begin with, and overall, just a really shoddy production that had very little to say beyond its Zack Snyder-esque aesthetics.
The date was ok, as far as I remember, but the revealing moment that told me this probably wouldn’t work between us was when I asked her “what movies do you like?” and she said, “oh you know everything!”
Confused, I asked again, trying to be more specific “like is there a specific genre you enjoy?” and she again was like “oh I like them all!”
Now to be fair I think she may have been thinking the same thing about me that night and probably not all that impressed with myself. I ain’t exactly Sir. Lancelot and I’m pretty terrible when it comes to having “game.” Overall, I think we both dodged a bullet that night, but I asked because for me at least I think it’s fairly revealing when someone tells you what movies they like and was disappointed she wasn’t giving me much to see within her on that merit.
I do actually like quite a bit of movies from various genres, but I think there are certainly ones I lean more into than others because of who I am. Been thinking about doing this blog for a while now as a way to kind of introduce myself to you my loyal(ish) readers. In doing so I hope you all get to understand perhaps what I am like as a person, where some of my world views come from or how they are informed, and why I like certain things within movies more than others.
So, without further ado here are my top 5 favorite movies (currently, as my list often fluctuates every few years).
5. The Big Lebowski
I don’t remember if this was the first or second Coen Brothers movie but it’s still by far my favorite and still endlessly quotable for myself after all these years.
This movie sticks with me for a variety of reasons. It’s of course very funny and has all the trademark Coen Brothers dry humor they are known for but it’s also one of my favorite movies to watch when I need to lighten my mood for whatever reason. The movie at its heart is about just wanting to live your life unbothered and how the universe continually gets in the way of that in a variety of often absurd ways. The Dude just wants his rug back and ends up getting tied into a web of bull shit that he wants no part of between porn stars, rich scumbags, conceptual “vaginal” artists, and of course nihilists. Whenever I’m feeling particularly melancholic and irritated about the way my life is going, especially while driving, I think of the way The Dude looks in this scene:
It’s a small sequence and very funny on its own but it’s highly relatable the way The Dude looks so exacerperated in this moment following his car getting crowbarred because his idiot vet friend got him in trouble. Among all the scenes in the movie that one has stuck the most permanently in my mind for the way it expresses that frustrated resignantion at everything.
The way life often snowballs in the worst way for no reason is depressing and frustrating but “The Big Lebowski” makes great comedy out of its stoner noire setup and by its end it shows how life still manages do go on despite it. It’s why it’s one of my go to movies when I’m feeling annoyed by everything taking place in my life and it’s why I still find myself saying “The Dude abides” even in the worst of times.
4. Princess Mononoke
I thought about leaving this one out considering I recently wrote an extensive blog refuting one of the film’s core messages but it’s hard for me to keep it off this list because it has so much to say still.
“Princess Mononoke” was the second Miyazaki film I ever saw back in my wee years as a 2nd grader and has stuck with me ever since. Often regarded as Miyazaki’s “angriest” movie, the film is a beautiful, tragic, and yet still bittersweet tale of our dying natural world. Its world of Forest Gods and Spirits at war with industrialized Feudal Japanese workers is profound and highly expressive of our real world and the way nature is dying off by our hands. The animation is still breathtaking, and I still tear up every time composer Joe Hisaishi’s score hits its crescendo as Ashitaka goes west in the film’s first act. It’s a movie I enjoy because it’s so powerful in its views and the way it sees the world.
Though as mentioned I don’t agree with its theme of pacifism anymore, it’s still an earnest message by Miyazaki that I think viewers can still appreciate regardless of where they stand on it. The way the movie depicts violence and death is brutal as it’s meant to be and I think at the very least one can see that Miyazaki wants a better world and has hope for it to come to pass as its depicted by the film’s climax. It’s a movie I typically watch when I’m feeling the most upset about the way the world is trending when it comes to the environment as its message around that has only become MORE relevant in recent years. Among all of Miyazaki’s films I think this one expresses his philosophies, his themes, and his style the best and again, while I disagree with one of its messages, I think it is nonetheless earnest and sincere in that belief and it’s worth listening to.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors. His style rubs quite a few moviegoers the wrong way and can sometimes be regarded as overly hipster and pretentious, but I find it personally delightful. His use of flat angles, aspect ratios, often pastel colors, and musical whimsy alongside his trademark dry humor (kind of like the Coen Brothers) is more often than not enjoyable for myself and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is in my opinion his magnum opus.
Kind of like “The Big Lebowski,” I usually watch this movie when I’m feeling depressed. Its whimsical nature, especially in the film’s first act, makes it hard not to smile while watching. The upbeat tone and the way Anderson keeps the pace high with his tracking shots and framing each scene as if were a room in a toy house is beautiful to watch. Ralph Fiennes is of course delightful and flamboyant as Monsieur Gustave H. and really should’ve been up for an Oscar back in 2014 for this role but alongside newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero the two really keep this movie humming along briskly from start to finish.
At its heart though, the movie is about doing the right thing and being a good person in a world that is often relentlessly cruel and evil. The comradery these two leads form is beautiful and has a lot to say about the immigrant story, coming together, and the nature of war despite the literally colorful nature of the movie. The film ends on a rather tragic note but is bittersweet in the way it speaks to way life goes sometimes. It’s a good lesson; where the film could’ve easily wrapped up its story after the final act, it instead pushes on to show some happy endings aren’t completely happy sometimes but that doesn’t make it bad so much as it makes it life and there’s beauty in that. It’s a beautiful story and if I have to recommend any Wes Anderson movie to his most ardent detractors it’s this one.
There is perhaps no film more influential on me in terms how I view and enjoy movies more than 1954’s “Gojira,” aka Godzilla.
Probably my first favorite movie growing up, my parents recognized early that I really liked dinosaurs as a kid and decided to show me this movie after enjoying “King Kong.” They showed me the English dubbed version, which is actually very different in many ways to the original. The dubbed film splices in American actor Raymond Burr as journalist Steve Martin who watches and observes as the Western stand-in for the audience and for what it’s worth he’s a worthy narrator of the action. Kind of an Orson Welles-ian narrator ala “War of the Worlds” character for the film.
But when I got older, I revisited the movie by watching its original Japanese dub, which of course Raymond Burr is not a part of, and it’s tonally much different. “Gojira” is a movie that speaks to the horrors that the atomic bomb wrought upon Japan during WWII. Up until this film much of the country really hadn’t talked or reckoned with what happened but after a hydrogen bomb test went wrong and killed Japanese fisherman in 1954, director Ishiro Honda found himself inspired to create what would end up being the most famous giant monster of all-time not named King Kong.
The movie is certainly cheesy with its guy in a giant rubber suit destroying model cities action, as well as it’s bug-eyed animatronic puppet for close-ups, but it’s also done pretty well despite that. The movie makes a good choice of doing most of its biggest scenes at night that obscure its more flawed design and the result is sometimes haunting in the way it shows Godzilla wreak havoc across the city. Like a vengeful God descended from the dark heavens to punish those who have sinned on Earth. As a kid, my wonder with this movie was mostly tied up in these monster suit aesthetics. I found the idea of a giant reptile wreaking havoc across a city exciting and terrifying all at the same time and it developed a lifelong appreciation for craft of “suitmation” and the tokusatsu genre from Gamera to Ultraman.
But as an adult, watching the original Japanese version, I found its message of nuclear disarmament and the hubris of man much more interesting. As I have learned more about the atomic bomb and the thought process that the US had in choosing to drop them on Japan, the more I find it impossible to justify what happened. “Gojira” exemplifies this so well in the way it depicts the aftermath of his rampage across Tokyo. The dead bodies, the injured, and the way one child cries her eyes out as her dead mother is taken away is gut-wrenching and it hits home sharply as a Japanese American.
In American pop culture, nuclear energy largely has a way of creating superheroes, whether it’s Iron Man with a nuclear reactor attached to his chest, Dr. Banner turning into the Hulk after being hit with gamma radiation, or Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man after being bitten by a radioactive Spider. In Japan, nuclear energy creates monsters and catastrophes and it began with “Gojira” as its influence can be seen in films such as Akira and even Evangelion. I love this movie for the way it has evolved for myself as I’ve grown older, where it started as this fun monster B-movie as a kid and quickly has become a movie that resonates strongly with my current political views.
While the rest of Godzilla’s filmography is largely silly and cheesy, the original “Gojira” is a poignant allegory for the violence inflicted on Japan by the US at the close of WWII.
1. The Matrix
My top 5 favorite movies have fluctuated year to year for a long time as I’ve changed as a person, but one constant has largely remained the same since the day I saw it and that’s “The Matrix.”
The first film in this trilogy is in my personal opinion a perfect movie. For me to call a movie perfect it has to have a number of things going for it:
1) Like any movie, I want to be entertained and it’s hard to get more entertaining than arguably the most influential western action movie of the 1990s with a laser-sharp script that keeps it all going briskly to its epic conclusion.
2) I want a really cool idea for the story executed perfectly and with “The Matrix’s” high concept setup of a computer program run by tyrannical machines to control humans in order to produce essentially batteries out of them it’s quite a feat by the Wachowski sisters.
3) A killer soundtrack? Don Davis composing one of my favorite original scores and endearing me to Rage Against the Machine for life with “Wake Up” at the film’s credits? Yea, it can’t get much better.
But most importantly 4), I gotta feel like I gained something both emotionally and intellectually out of seeing it and out of all my favorite movies I have ever seen across my life, no movie’s core messages and themes have continually evolved more for me than “The Matrix.”
Initially, when I first watched it, I grabbed on to the film’s themes of fighting “The Man” so to speak. The Machines being an obvious stand-in for authority and the way that authority controls people. As I kept watching it over the years authority began to take more specific forms for myself; the way authority is a stand-in for governments and corporations, specifically the way they go after people who upset the perceived natural order, how they abhor originality, difference, and people who bend what is perceived as “real.” How we are molded to be ignorant on purpose in order to serve our ruling class masters.
Then in much more recent years, and my evolving politics and views on queerness, the movie began to express how capitalism keeps people in line, how it limits our understanding of what it means to be human and ourselves, and the way it forces us to get back to being cogs in the machine cause that’s all they see us as.
But most importantly how society enforces the binary.
The Wachowskis were not out of the closet when this film came out and a lot of fans still refuse to believe that the movie is a trans allegory despite both of them confirming it over and over again. Even before I started self-examining my own masculinity and gender, I knew the movie was a little more than just a view into left-wing politics.
The nightclub scene in the film’s opening act is very queer on its own and starts with Neo saying, “I thought you were a guy” to Trinity to which she replies “Most guys do.” Though I was familiar with gay and lesbian people in my teens I knew the character Switch was a little more than just a butch-looking, female-presenting person. There was something more to them and if you’ve looked into the background notes on this film you would know that they were supposed to be a character that presented as female in The Matrix and male in the real world because of a mix-up in the programming. Hence the name Switch.
The way Agent Smith incessantly calls Neo by his dead name (“Miiiister Andeeerrrsooon.”) becomes a more obvious metaphor too the more you learn about the Wachowskis. Hugo Weaving playing a perfect villain in this character is a great stand-in for the way Authority forces conformity into the binary and the big moment of catharsis comes when Neo finally responds back “My name…is Neo!” and it very much feels like the Wachowskis are speaking through him.
I finally got a chance to see the movie on the big screen during its 20th-anniversary rerelease in 2019 and it still blew me away just as it did when I got around to seeing it in my teens. I still watch it just about every month and it still moves me in more ways than one every single time. As my views have evolved alongside it it has also opened up my mind on the much-maligned sequels. While I don’t think those movies are near as sharp as the first I think there is still quite a bit to be gleaned from seeing them given the context of today’s world and are worth revisiting because of it.
It’s because of all this I’m genuinely super excited for “The Matrix Resurrections” and what Lana Wachowski has to say this time given that she is now proudly out and fully who she is after everything she has been through.
It really needs to said out loud and proud here; arguably the best science fiction action movie of all time was directed by two trans sisters and no amount bigotry and hate by society can ever erase that.
For that reason alone, regardless of if you did not like the sequels, I think fans should be excited because if the first film has shown me anything through my time watching, it’s that there’s still so much that can be still learned by jumping back into The Matrix.
So those are my top 5, at least for now. These movies are from quite a few different genres but I think they all have a distinct through-line if you look closely. What do they say about what my tastes are in movies and who I am? I’ll leave that for you to parse from this text but I’m glad I got to write a bit about these movies that will likely stay with me until the day I die and I hope you enjoyed reading it and perhaps getting to know me more in the process.
So, tell me about yourself. What are your top 5?
Some honorable mentions:
The Evil Dead 2
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy