There’s a part towards the end of Mallrats where comic book nerd Brodie is asked if you could be any comic book super hero, who would you be? Normally quick witted, he, stumbles and starts addressing the question from multiple angles and speaks out his thought process as he is trying to come up with the perfect answer. This is exactly how I felt when trying to come up with my five favorite movies. Every time I’d think of five there were 15 others that could have been substituted that meant just as much to me.  With that said, I decided the only way I could academically do this and feel good about my choices would be to write down 20 movies that I love that have had some kind of influence on me – whether it be culturally, socially, or even intellectually – and then pick five that would be the most fun to write about. In no particular order:



dir. Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Minnie Driver, Robin Williams a bunch of dudes from Boston


At the tender age of 10, I forced myself to watch Good Will Hunting to impress a girl I liked in fifth grade. Five other guys in my class liked her and I thought if I showed her that I was sophisticated, it would give me an edge.[1] Half way through the movie I became enamored with the dialogue – particularly the exchanges between Will (Damon) and his therapist (Sean). As somebody who grew up on Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook,[2] I had never seen Robin Williams in such a dramatic role and it as pleasant as it was eye-opening.

Damon plays Will as an older modern day Holden Caulfield, somebody so repressed in emotion that any time somebody tries to uncover it, he lashes out and Sean is the only person who has been able to unlock the door to his psyche. In the most pivotal scene,[3] Sean finally breaks Will, reducing him to an ugly-crying mess after years of suppressing his emotions. Sean embraces him and assures him over and over again, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. Having had so many conversations with my parents similar to this,[4] this scene always gets me and to this day, it still makes me tear up.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Minnie Driver is amazing in this movie as Skylar, Will’s love interest. In addition to planting the seed for my undying crush on the actress,[5] Skylar is smart, witty, and is so emotionally present, it only makes sense why Will is so into her. Some may argue she’s a prototype for the manic-pixie dream girl that Natalie Portman popularized in Garden State, but Skylar isn’t there just to be the spark that Will needs in his life. When Will makes his breakthrough, he doesn’t need to follow her to Stanford in order to fulfill his character growth, he does so in spite of it. Will seeing about a girl[1]is more about what Skylar means to him as a human, not how much she means to him and his journey.

[1] This is one of my favorite callbacks of any movie I’ve seen. Sean’s response of “son of a bitch, he stole my line” is one of my favorite lines in any movie, period.

[1] It didn’t.

[2] And who hadn’t yet seen Dead Poets Society or The World According to Garp

[3] And most parodied scene in the movie

[4] On a much smaller scale, of course.

[5] Watch her in the ABC sitcom Speechless, she is a revelation




dir. Danny Boyle
Starring Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz


I discovered A Life Less Ordinary in either middle school or high school, flipping through channels on a late summer night. We were new to DirecTV and had all the movie channels and with so many choices, I had no idea what to watch. I stopped on Starz or HBO or some movie channel and I was captivated by Cameron Diaz in a blue dress dancing on a small table to “Somewhere Beyond the Sea.” The camera pans over to Ewan MacGregor looking like late aughts Alex Turner serenading the song into an old timey microphone. This was the half way point of the movie, so I was completely lost on the basic premise of the movie other than girl is mad at dad, girl meets desperate boy, convinces desperate boy to kidnap her to ransom money from dad, girl and boy fall for each other. Already an unconventional romantic comedy, the movie became even more interesting when I figured out that Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo play angels sent from heaven to couple up McGregor and Diaz at ANY cost.

Coming off of his role in Trainspotting,[1] Ewan McGregor is great as hapless loser, Robert. Cameron Diaz is facetiously charming  as the entitled Celina. There is no reason the two of them should be attracted to each other, yet they are brought together by chance and slowly fall in love with each other. Unbeknownst to them they are being brought together by angels O’Reilly (Hunter) and Jackson (Lindo).  A lot of it doesn’t really make the most sense[2] and I’d be lying if I said this is a great film, but I love it. Just about every girl I’ve dated in the last decade has been forced to watch this with me at one point or another in our relationship.

The best part of the movie is Hunter as O’Reilly. Every time she’s on screen she seduces the air out of the room, leaving me breathless. From the way that she dresses to how she enunciates certain words had me smitten. There’s a point in the movie where she chases down Celina and Robert and climbs up onto the hood while they’re speeding along. As she hangs on for dear life, she pulls up her other hand revealing a gun and delivers this beautiful evil smile that paralyzes me and makes me want to do whatever she wants me to do.[3]

[1] Also directed by Danny Boyle

[2] At one point, Jackson and O’Reilly attempt to kill Robert to show Celina how much she cares about him.

[3] This could explain my overwhelming love for Lena Headey as Cersei in Game of Thrones.




CITY OF GOD (2002)

dir. Fernando Meirelles
Starring Alexandre Rodriguez


Around the time City of God came out, I decided I wanted to really get into movies. I loved the movies I loved and have always been a nerd for trivia, but I reached a point in my life where I wanted to explore the history and culture[1] of films.[2] I was going to a high school that had Video Production as a required class, so I was learning all about the process of filmmaking and started noticing things in movies that I had never noticed before. City of God was the first movie I ever watched that I fell in love with the cinematography. This movie looks beautiful from start to finish. You can pause at any moment in the movie and it will be a shot worthy of being framed. The movie could literally be an hour and half of exposition shots and I would still watch it over and over again.

The basic premise of the movie is watching the lives of two boys growing up in a dangerous neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. The protagonist, Rocket, becomes a photographer and finds himself in the middle of a gang war in the city. Based on a true story, the plot in itself is captivating, but takes a backseat to how the movie is filmed. The palette itself is bright and heavy in saturation during the present scenes, while the flashbacks are in a more diluted sepia tone that manages to elicit an older time without falling into the trap of hokeyness. Shot on location, director Fernando Meirelles actually cast local kids to play other parts, some of whom were actually involved in gang life. The result of which feels like a voyeuristic view into their lives that really captures the essence of what growing up in this neighborhood must have felt like. This movie is on the shortlist of movies I find visually stunning, even 16 years after its initial release.

[1] And to a degree, the science

[2] Including, but not limited to referring to certain movie as films





dir. Todd Solondz
Starring Heather Matarazo


To call Welcome to the Dollhouse a coming of age film doesn’t feel right, even though it’s not wrong. The sardonic comedy follows Dawn (Matarazo) as she navigates junior high as an unpopular girl who consistently gets the shit end of the stick that is her life. I watched it for the first time on a cable movie channel during my early teens, about half a decade or so after its release. Solondz’ second feature length film, his name has become synonymous with bleak, deadpan films revolving around teenagers. Dawn is outshined by her adorable little sister, Missy, and overachieving older brother, Mark[1] while trying to find herself in adolescent Hell. She falls in love with an older boy in Mark’s band, has makeout sessions with a bully[2] that constantly threated to rape her, and is ultimately ignored by her parents.

The injection of humor in a movie that bleeds pessimism is integral to why I love this movie so much. It sounds awful to laugh about this poor girl’s predicament, but Solondz[3] crafts the movie in a way feels like a parody as much as it feels real. The dialogue sticks out in the sound editing, creating an almost lo-fi feel. The deadpan delivery of most of the cast feels almost cartoony in retrospect especially looking back at movies that proceed it including Napoleon Dynamite and just about any Jim Jarmusch film with Bill Murray. It keeps the tone of the movie lighter allowing us to laugh while feeling for Dawn in all her misery. My favorite underappreciated funny aspect of the movie is the fact that Mark plays clarinet in a rock band.

The climax of the movie comes when Dawn heads out to New York City to search for Missy after she goes missing.[4] After a day of looking for her by herself, she calls home and finds out that the police found Missy. No one noticed Dawn was even gone. Dawn never gets a win, never a triumphant moment where she is reminded that life isn’t all bad, never any redemption from those who tormented her. Instead she just keeps on living her same, boring dumb life and we just caught a glimpse of it.

[1] There are aspects of his character that could have easily been an inspiration for Dwight Schrute

[2] Played with reckless vigor by Brendan Sexton III aka Warren from Empire Records

[3] Who also wrote the movie

[4] Missy’s tutu was found in Time Square





dir. Wes Anderson
Starring Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson

I immediately became a Wes Anderson fan after my parents rented The Royal Tenenbaums when we visited my uncle and aunt in Dallas. I soon dove into Rushmore, finding myself connecting with Max Fischer in more ways than I would casually like to admit. I didn’t discover Bottle Rocket until my freshman year English teacher mentioned it casually in lecture. He had a knack for digressing from the lesson plan, often journeying into pop culture. When my classmates and I brought up Wes Anderson, he spent a good 30 minutes explaining why Bottle Rocket was his favorite. Intrigued, I eventually rented it and became smitten with the movie. Those first three Wes Anderson movies are three of my favorite movies of all time, and even though Bottle Rocket isn’t his best,[1] it’s easily my favorite of his movies.

At its core, Bottle Rocket is a sendoff to generation-x. The movie starts out with Anthony (Luke) leaving a voluntary mental hospital, but letting his best friend Dignan (Owen) stage an elaborate rescue. Within minutes, you know exactly who these characters are and where we’re going from this. Dignan is one of my favorite characters in the entire Wes Anderson universe; he’s a dreamer that doesn’t have anything figured out but wants to believe that he does. His pursuit of being a high class criminal and how he goes about attempting to do so is laughable and yet he maintains his discreet charm throughout. In the climactic robbery scene when the cops show up and he tells everybody else to leave and says to himself “They’ll never catch me… because I’m fucking innocent,” he has waited his entire life for this moment and genuinely believes that he can outrun them. I don’t know of anybody else, besides Owen Wilson[2], who could have played this part with as much gusto. Dignan is the heart and soul of this movie.

Bottle Rocket is Anderson’s first movie and it doesn’t share a lot of the same tropes and motifs his later films share. While the palette isn’t as colorful and the costumes aren’t as retro, the music is on point advancing the feel of the scenes without being overbearing. Additionally, the dry-humored dialogue is on full display including everything Anderson troupe actor Kumar Pallana does during the final heist. More than anything, this movie is all heart and as raw as it is, it’s the starting point to a filmography that has produced some of my favorite movies of all time. This was the movie that made me want to be a creator, and I will always love it for that.

[1] Most days, I’d argue that Rushmore is his best, however after watching The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time in years just recently, it’s too close to call.

[2] Who also cowrote the script



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