10 Top Recommended Movies
10. The Princess Bride
I was tempted to include To Kill A Mockingbird in this movie's place, but Mockingbird's book exceeds the film and I'd rather include that in the list of books that everyone should read (along with Fahrenheit 451). There are many other films out there that are more powerful and more inspirational with far more relevance, but between this and The Wizard of Oz, I figured I'd have to include at least one movie on this list for pure entertainment value, because there's something for everyone in this movie and it provides the perfect movie for bonding. It's not just a family film: It's a film that a bunch of friends can watch together, a bunch of teenagers can watch together, and even something a bunch of strangers can watch together. It's just the perfect movie, and surely one of the Greats.
9. Fantasia/Fantasia 2000
Disney first intended this to be an ongoing project that reincarnated every few years and changed just slightly each time. Someday, I hope that comes true, because it would be one of the marvels and of modern culture if it did, because culture needs its constants, the things it can always go back to. Since I consider these two movies two halves of that same project, include them together.
This movie will get you interested in classic music and give you a great appreciation of music in general. it's a strange and beautiful world, one that we mortals can hardly understand and yet are fortunate enough to have some insight on. Hopefully it changes the way you experience music.
There are also wonderful scenes and beautiful creative ideas, all put into one moving picture. if this doesn't stimulate the flow of your imagination, I don't know what will, because this is Disney at his purest. There's a little bit of everything, from dancing to nature to surreal stories. There's abstract art, quintessential illustrations of the conflict between good and evil, and a primal struggle between the spirits of creation and destruction, climaxing in themes of life, death, and rebirth. What I really have to give props to these films, however, is its pure and unrelenting depiction of evil through Chernabog, by far its most perfect depiction on screen. It's so sinister that there's no story that can possibly go with it, no plotting or scheming on his part, just him delighting in his perversity. It's utterly inhuman, but I think people need to see that, to know that it's real. Don't worry, though, as always this evil can't stand the light of goodness once it appears. A church bell rings and Chernabog retreats to his mountain, not even able to enjoy his own existence. A light appears and the black butterflies at the beginning of Fantasia 2000 cripple. And even when the Firebird burns to Spring Sprite, it collapses on itself when there is nothing left to destroy and creation can start anew.
There are many stories based around these archetypes, that beat around the bush and put a spin on them, but the Fantasia project really gets at them, reveal them for all that they are.
8. Superman I&II (Richard Donner Cut)
Superman is truly an icon for the ages and someone who I feel needs a strong place in culture to remind everyone of the ideal we wish to strive for. He's just a man with extraordinary gifts who chose to use them for the most selfless purposes.
As this was actually all one movie in the sense that the various scenes were shot simultaneously under Donner and that they were two halves to one giant script, I include them here as one unit, as they should be.
Now, the reason why I insist upon the Donner cut is that, even though there are major plot holes due to incomplete footage (for which I should hope that people inform themselves on the full story of what was gong on behind the scenes as the movies were being made), is that the story of Kal-El, Clark Kent, is all the more telling. He played the genre straight instead of for humor and camp, and he took the person of the main character quite seriously. There are scenes in this cut where Christopher Reeves really gave Kal-El a soul, and there are moments between father and son that resonate on very deep levels. Someone once said with regards to storytelling that everything comes back to Shakespeare, mythology, and the Bible, in which case I can vouch for the final item on that list in that there are powerful themes coming from the tale of the Prodigal Sun, and because of this I think people have to realize that Superman truly is human and relatable, and on a level that's more relevant to anything any other superhero has accomplished. I mean, I can only relate to Peter Parker getting bullied (and his angst isn't always depicted as a flaw) and Bruce Wayne's lifelong anger over his parent's death. This is far more humanizing: a son having to admit that his father was right and come to terms with his destiny. And you know what? As simple as it is, I think it's one of the most basic things out there and I'm glad, because flaws aren't character traits, they're individual actions.
Combined with its moments of Americana, the timeless love affair between Lois and Clark, the old fashioned values it presents, its belief in human decency, and the many golden moments of wisdom from Kal-El's father Jor-El, Superman I&II presents something that's far more than meets the eye, and though it isn't as entertaining as an action film like later installments in the genre that it established, it still stands as the classic example of superheroism. There is a lot to be learned from this film.
7. Life is Beautiful
An Italian Jew and his family are sent to a concentration camp, yet he doesn't let this affect his son. He uses the art of story to spin tales that make the concentration camps out to be a strangely entertaining place, sheltering his boy from knowing the full horror that he lives in. In the end, the father manages to keep his son alive, although the father himself dies.
The reason why I have to emphasize this movie so much is that it was one of the first films I ever remembered watching, and it changed my worldview. I've always been very aware of mortality because of this and of the wrongs that have braced the world in the past. I have always been aware that I can potentially lose my freedom, but that I am extremely lucky to live as I do. Yet, it especially taught me about death and the limited number of days we are given to live and make what we can of them.
Perhaps not everyone who decided to watch this because of this recommendation is three-year-old, so it obviously won't affect them in quite the same way that it does me, but it still provides some important insights, such as the theme presented in the title: no matter what, life is beautiful. So long as there is hope, there ought to be happiness, and there is always hope, there is always a light. Even in the face of certain death, a father can tell his son that things will be all right.
6. An American Christmas Carol
Not everybody has heard of this film. After all, it was made for television, and it stars Henry Winkler as the stand-in for Scrooge, an American innovator named Benedict Slade. Expectations might be low. Yet, Slade's story and its many sorrows rise to unexpected potency. This is, beyond a doubt, the most powerful rendition of Charles Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol that I have ever seen.
Set during the Great Depression, Slade is a harsh man, yet immediately is believable. Perhaps it's the setting, in which it resonates a familiar chord with American viewers. What i can say for sure is that instantly he avoids a stereotype. He has the typical view of Social Darwinism that belongs to the archetype, yes, but there's still an element of warmth and humanity, visible signs of hurt and bitterness, and all the subtle details that already show his backstory.
Then we see the backstory. It's been told before, but this twist is unique. He truly was a man of potential. He truly was admirable. He was an orphan with a unique upbringing, and he had brilliant innovations. He was even a generous person, and you wanted to see him succeed, and yet there came a point where his own success drove a wedge between him and the people he loved. Within that love in his life he turned into Scrooge in all but name.
His present is then shed in an even more revealing light, and when the third act comes around and he sees his future, the sight of his gravestone has the power it was meant to have. I truly feel the pain that brought about his reformation.
To me, this is the definitive version of the tale, an A Christmas Carol is one of the most powerful and recurring tales to be told since the invention of the printing press. With all its power and the truth it speaks, it is very important that people see a story like this, of a bitter man reforming his ways and turning his life around. Scrooge/Slade is the ultimate antihero and one of the ultimate literary figures of all time. This is the finest telling of how love affects our growth as human beings around.
5. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Back in the day, the American government hated this film. Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Stalin's Soviet Russia, the last being rather interesting because in back on home territory the film was accused of being anti-American and pro-Communism. It was, of course, nothing of the sort but in fact one of the most important and revealing films. It is very good that such movies as these exist, as they remind us of the flaws of our government and help us to keep it accountable.
Then, of course, Mr. Smith, played by the immortal James Stewart, goes from the underdog to the inspirational champion of clean politics, winning a war against corruption with his dogged honesty and rare dedication to his ideals. God bless Jefferson Smith, and God bless James Stewart. We need more people like them, both in literature and in real life.
4. The Blue and the Gray
This sprawling Civil War epic, released as a miniseries, covers the long, long story of John, a simple man from the South who went to find a job in the North. With family in both regions, he finds himself at the center of a great internal conflict as the nation tears itself apart. Swearing he will never fire a shot for other side, the tale of how John tries to maintain his innocence is one that everyone will root for, something everyone should root for. When he finally does something against his conscious, his friend Jonah Steel had to console him with "Nobody asked you to come out of this a saint."
Very interesting - and profound - words, because on a deeper level I think it speaks for the desires we have for ourselves. We would like to live in the light for all our lives and never compromise with what we believe is wrong, but in the end that compromise in inevitable.
There is a lot of other things going for this story beyond John. With a giant ensemble cast, the adventures and mistakes of the rest of his family and the man named Jonah Steel find themselves chronicles in this vast and comprehensive look at the Civil War. Since To Kill A Mockingbird didn't make it on this list, I might also add that Gregory Peck plays Abraham Lincoln with grace and soul, bringing to life a beloved American legend and completing the epic scope of this sadly overlooked miniseries.
3. It's A Wonderful Life
This American classic reveals that no matter what, life is full of love. It also teaches that life is beautiful, which was confusing for me as a kid as I would often get this film's name mixed up with another item on this list. James Steward appears in what is beyond doubt his greatest, most iconic role and the best lead character of all time, George Bailey. Never before has the silver screen given birth to such character, and so rarely does it remember that these are the lives worth chronicling.
We all know the story. George Bailey was just an average man trying to make his way in life, filled with fantastic dreams of a better tomorrow. He had visions he wanted to fulfill and a job he wanted to move onto. Yet, when his father died, he turned down the opportunity to be a builder and joined his father's profession willingly, although without any eagerness. He passed his dreams onto his brother while he stayed grounded, working for the better good of his town and protecting it from the entanglements of the twisted Mr. Potter. Eventually he came to doubt himself, and in a moment when he is unknowingly robbed by Potter he feels that he has failed and has lost all hope. Not only did he fail himself, but he failed his wife, his friends, and his entire community.
Then, of course, he considers suicide, because he's more valuable dead than he is alive. He's stopped by the divine intervention of a guardian angel, who shows him what life would be like if he had never been born.
Forget for a moment that this has been parodied and mimicked a million times. Just think about it. He thought that his life went nowhere. He gave up on his plans and gave up on his dreams. That should be a miserable life, correct? Yet, he found out that he lived the life he should have lived, that he in fact lived a wonderful life.
Look at the condition of humanity now, and how we judge our happiness. We'd like to ideally live for ourselves and give ourselves our dream paths. We speak of loving each other, but on our terms. Maybe things weren't meant to come out the way we planned them. Maybe we should just stop trying to control our lives and be like George Bailey, who provides the example for generations the light of altruism.
2. Les Miserables (Tenth Anniversary Concert)
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a ###### on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century - the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labour, the ruin of women by starvation and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.”
This is it. This is my great philosophy for literature, drama, and cinema. And these are words used to describe the book of the same name that this play is based off of. Its message is huge. It addresses everything that plagues society while creating a small pantheon of characters who are humanized like few fictional characters have ever been humanized before. Stories like this have to exist. They must exist.
There's no excuse for not seeing this. The whole thing can be found song for song on the internet. If you can help it, watch it in concert as well, but certainly watch the TAC. This may or may not count as a movie, but I don't care. This is the definitive rendition. Not all the songs are there, and the acting is limited. They mostly dress in costume and sing in character. However, the power of the music and the words and their personas goes beyond conventional means of storytelling, making this beyond doubt the greatest concert given for any play, ever.
What makes this such a gem is Colm Wilkinson and his definitive portrayal of Jean Valjean, the greatest fictional character ever imagined. At first a bitter and abused man, fresh from jail and bullied by prejudiced employers as he lives life on parole, he finds inspiration and redemption from the saintly Bishop of Digne, reforming his life and discovering that he is a beautiful person. He becomes a leader, a father figure, and a friend, all the while still facing his temptations and trials but through all his endeavors becoming as white as snow and the torchbearer for altruism. By the end his life is summed up as saintly, much like the Bishop of Digne, it is sung that "to love another person is to see the face of God" right before he gives up his angel and dies.
Why Colm Wilkinson? Well, to put it simply, he embraces the passion of the part like no one else, and has an aura that is nearly impossible to match, an ability to cover all the spectrums of humanity found within Jean Valjean, gain the audience's trust and respect, command a noble depiction appropriate for the stage, and sing like an angel. In fact, Valjean's signature song, "Bring Him Home", was written for Wilkinson's voice. He is Jean Valjean. Because we have the man who is Jean Valjean, we have the most powerful experience imaginable, and this play can truly turn lives around.
1. Schindler's List
For the exact reason that the book Les Miserables exists, so does this film. Unrelenting, unabashed, and truthful to every last detail, Schindler's List is the definitive account of the Holocaust in cinema. Quite frankly, this film must exist, and it must be seen. It is so true to an event so dire and almost impossible to capture, it's a miracle. How stark is this picture? When Stephen Spielberg wanted a score for the film, John Williams himself said "You need a better composer for this."
"I know," said Spielberg. "But they're all dead."
Nothing can truly do full justice to the tragedy of the Holocaust, but this comes as close as it gets. As horrendous as it was, as terrifying its impact, it must be remembered. Something like this and the hatred that inspired it must never be allowed to escape our attention, and the world owes it to the people who suffered and died in the Holocaust solemn memory. If it is forgotten, how human are we? How can we escape the sins of our fathers when we fall for the same sins again?
This was the last film to make me cry in a very long time. The ending is, in my mind, the most significant in film history, with the most potent and relevant of messages: "Save a life, save the world." A sudden appreciation for the sacredness of human life came upon me, and it hasn't left since. It is this undying love that has fueled minds like Victor Hugo, the directors of it's a Wonderful Life and Life is Beautiful, and the heart of Superman. It is this recognition that leads men to be better to each other, to value each other, and seek the light together. One day, this love will bring us home.