Mitchell Spambot's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Girly
Girly(1970)

Girly is one of those rare cinema gems that denies you a gut reaction and leaves you in a state of perpetual confusion...until days later when you realize you've actually seen something new and groundbreaking. Not so much traditional horror as it is psychological horror, an unnerving experience in which you're held hostage by a family that is sociopathic, if not as traditionally violent as the Sawyer / Leatherface family. The movie was initially looked over because of sheer "indifference" - it wasn't a slasher movie or a thriller. But what it was, was a psychological study in psychosis. A pioneer of the psychological horror genre, as well as a political satire.

The Ritual
The Ritual(2017)

Not a half bad film, considering the ridiculous subject matter. Well done directing, even though it could have used a better ending than a screaming match with the giant creature.

Little Big Man

My mother once told me that Little Big Man was one of her favorite movies. I remember her saying that the 1960s were a very cynical decade but that the 1970s cinema seemed to get back its heart. When I first saw Little Big Man I remember scoffing at it--what the filmmakers thought it was supposed to be. A drama? A comedy? A satire of history? Something self important or not important at all? Perhaps I didn't appreciate it back then, but what I take from the movie now is that it's a shady version of the truth--like all history is--and it's as funny and disturbing as real life can be. The movie tells the story of Jack Crabb (played subtly brilliant by a young Dustin Hoffman), a white man who grew up with American Indians and then later joined the white culture of late 1800s America. His unique upbringing allowed him to move back and forth into two different worlds, two different extreme cultures. Both cultures had altogether different values but the same apparent life dissatisfaction, not to mention an unreserved hatred of one another. Not only did I personally relate to the protagonist's strange dilemma but I also saw it as a metaphor for the different perspectives we we are arbitrarily born into in life. Everything we take for granted, everything we believe but haven't actually learned. Perhaps the film, like the novel it was based on, is a testament to neutrality, pacifism and non-violent resistance. It may well be the antithesis of most 1970s films, which were hard anti-establishment and pro-Democratic. Little Big Man was actually one of the very first films to depict Native American sympathetically, since in years past conservative filmmakers painted them as "savages". But somehow, as I watched the story of Jack Crabb come and go, as uneventful in the stream of time as it was truly unique to behold, I couldn't help but wonder if it truly is the definitive post-patriotic meditational experiment. In an age of Right vs Left war that never really ends, isn't the only winner the one who lives to tell the story of the bloodshed?

Bamboozled
Bamboozled(2000)
½

One of the earliest exposures I had to absolute anarchy posing as a political message. Spike Lee is like a rabid Quentin Tarantino, too agitated to speak clearly, but too brilliant to tune out.

Tui shou (Pushing Hands)
½

Restrained, if not entirely subtle. One can see Ang Lee's characteristics as a bUdGeoning director. Sensitive yet dignified.

Grey Owl
Grey Owl(1999)

Between Those obnoxious screaming fur balls and Pierce Brosnan making dramatic speeches about "beaver", this was hard to watch without liquor.

Bright
Bright(2017)

I was disappointed. I really thought the Orc and Will Smith were going to fall in love and make whoopee in a tent. That was the whole reason I watched! Otherwise, too much elves-killing-elves mindless violence for my tastes.

Naked
Naked(2017)

Every bit as funny, pointless and inexplicable as Ground Hog Day.

Meet the Blacks

Maybe I'm senile in my old age by now but this was hilarious!

My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady(1964)
½

Giddy, cantankerous and charming. I didn't quite buy the romance, but does it matter with so many singing happy fools?

Blade Runner
Blade Runner(1982)
½

Was it overrated or was I just too late in seeing it to appreciate its subtle, cerebral approach to action filmmaking? Watch the Director's Cut...it had the best ending, no question.

Saving Mr. Banks

All the more heartbreaking to watch, realizing that Travers wanted her father to be happy...Disney gave her a fake but magical mockery of her memories.

Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins(1964)

Wonderful to watch especially knowing the backstory of DIsney and Banks. One can easily see why it's Disney's pen-ultimate film, an oblivious optimism, one free of all corruption and suffering

Sunshine
Sunshine(2007)

Otherwise known as Cillian Murphy Saves the Universe. And battles mutant deformed god-being. No plot twist as promised...but about as bad as it sounds.

Burn After Reading

A movie that finely highlights just how overrated the Coens are. They have no ear for comedy whatsoever. They can write "dark comedy" the same way Stephen King can write dark comedy, I suppose. I think they hit their creative peak with Fargo and No Country For Old Men. Usually they just churn out shit like this.

The Room
The Room(2003)

My criticism of The Room is that it may well not have been the worst movie of all time. I've seen worse, on Cinemax, and even some big budget Hollywood cheese & sleaze that is far less watchable than Tommy Wiseau's vanity piece, which is actually pretty funny.

As for The Disaster Artist, here's how that went down.

Once upon a time, JamesFranco and Seth Rogen got drunk.

Seth says, "DUDE you totally look like TommyWiseau from The Room.

Franco says, "Nah."

Seth says, "No really, look at the resemblance! {Blurp} It's uncanny!"

Franco says, "Dude you're right! Let's totally make a movie mocking him."

Seth says, "Totally because being drunk is awesome!"

Studio says, "OK guys but for marketing purposes call it a tribute."

Once
Once(2007)
½

Sweet screenplay, wonderful music...possibly a tad overrated because so many other movies have been stripped of all real emotion lately.

Finding Dory
Finding Dory(2016)

Just as charming as the original, even in this age of dumbed down Disney commercialtainment. Really think Andrew Stanton is one of the best cartoon writers in the business.

Moana
Moana(2016)

Really wanted to like it and I did. But the writing was more geared towards children than the mainstream child / adult audience Pixar movies usually go for. But the climax of the film was poignant and well executed.

Split
Split(2017)
½

Only in an M. Night Shyamalan movie could you say that a movie about a split personality / mutant warrior is the most subtle film in the collection. Nice return to suspense after a decade of metaphysical farce.

The Witches of Eastwick

At what point does one actually start to dislike Jack's devilish character? I never really cared about the witches and began to sympathize with mutant Jack and his Nietzschean criticism of female-male communication.

Bride of Chucky
½

How did they get an actor to look so creepily like Brad Dourif? Impressive casting...oh WAIT.

The Hills Have Eyes

I've never been a huge fan of Wes Craven. His stories are schlocky, rapey and downright cartoony when it's time for the protagonist's revenge. The remake was more visually disturbing than the original, but both films left me more bored than repulsed.

The Hills Have Eyes

I've never been a huge fan of Wes Craven. His stories are schlocky, rapey and downright cartoony when it's time for the protagonist's revenge. The remake was more visually disturbing than the original, but both films left me more bored than repulsed.

Birdman
Birdman(2014)
½

A good but not a great film. It did have some inventive camera angles and cinematography. But what really cinched its success was that it was a movie about acting, awards, and show business. Hollywood thinks their culture is the center of the universe and so are quick to reward themselves.

At least as so-so- as Birdman was, it was worlds better than La La Land which may as well have been celebrity masturbation with a jazz soundtrack.

V/H/S: Viral
V/H/S: Viral(2014)

The VHS reality paranormal series finally loses its momentum, descending into Internet gore mockumentary culture, which by now is a cliche. The short films this time around are as ridiculous as what the average YouTube shock artist works so hard to put out there and take up hard drive space.

V/H/S/2
V/H/S/2(2013)

Another great modern horror film - one that continues the fun of the "anthology" series, while splicing it with reality horror suspense and over the top paranormal gore. A clever follow up, if not as shocking as the original.

V/H/S
V/H/S(2012)

One of the great modern horror films - one that brings back the fun of the "anthology" series, while splicing it with reality horror suspense and over the top paranormal gore.

Book of Shadows - Blair Witch 2

Terribly forgettable film that lost all the momentum of the first one. Took 15 years to get back on the horse.

The Blair Witch Project

Didn't really so much start the reality horror genre, as much as it sensationalized and commercialized it for jaded Internet users. Still, made the deep woods scary again.

Blair Witch
Blair Witch(2016)
½

Another movie that villainizes witches, while actually just reminding us how creepy Florida is, and how dire the deep woods are. The film makes effective use of annoying millennial voices and has at least a few good scares that work because of the deliberately amateur story boarding and editing - just like the first movie.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Entertaining flick, if not extremely creepy, perhaps because witches are not really scary to anyone outside of Sunday School. The autopsy scenes were interesting and the performances were solid. However, by the third act it felt like an especially lurid episode of Supernatural - with eye candy and predictable doom for no other reason than a dark stormy night.

It Comes At Night
½

I really wanted to like It Comes At Night...but as talented as the director was with the creative camera angles and cinematography, the story never really surprised me in any way. It felt long, insidious and daunting, reaching an emotional peak right before fading away into esoteric revelation - or perhaps no revelation at all, except an anti-gun, anti-human commentary.

Night of the Creeps
½

Mindless fun with a nostalgic sense of humor, even for the shameless 1980s.

Mockingbird
Mockingbird(2014)

Surprisingly predictable and quaint, coming from the immense talent behind "The Strangers". Juggles images without any real story telling or insight into the deranged human mind.

The Purge
The Purge(2013)

Great intro, average second and third act, just like all the other movies. Funny how this movie is becoming the "Network" of the modern era, by predicting the actual future of our society by a few decades.

The Purge: Anarchy

Great intro, average second and third act, just like all the other movies. Funny how this movie is becoming the "Network" of the modern era, by predicting the actual future of our society by a few decades.

The Purge: Election Year

Great intro, average second and third act, just like all the other movies. Funny how this movie is becoming the "Network" of the modern era, by predicting the actual future of our society by a few decades.

The Boy
The Boy(2016)

Surprisingly subtle flick with just enough cheese and horror, but one that never descends into total predictability. Lauren Cohen does a good job in carrying the absurd plot while still providing enough Maggie-esque melodrama to keep things watchable.

Batman: The Killing Joke

The cartoon added some strange conflicting messages to the comic's original intent. Not only was Batman in lust with Batgirl but he was also strangely emotionally absent. Was this Kevin Conroy's fault or the scriptwriter / animator? I didn't feel any anger coming from Batman, even though the suspense of the comic book was palpable.

The cartoon also shows us a very ambiguous take on the ending - suggesting that since Batman is laughing alone, maybe he killed Joker after all. This corresponds with dummy Kevin Smith's theory that Batman killed Joker and that it was the "point" of the last Batman story ever told.

The cartoon certainly added to the conspiracy. But I never got that from the comic book at all. The point of the comic to me was that Batman was seething in anger (from an attack and sexual humiliation, not a rape - I never got that indication) and that Gordon told him, "I want him brought in by the book. We have to show him (them) that our way works."

Batman is bound by his own rules. If the victim is telling you not to give in to vengeance then violence would be illogical and crazy. Was the point of the story that Joker won and drove Batman crazy?

No, I took it to mean that Batman (who uncharacteristically says, "one of us will kill each other", even though he's apparently bluffing) learned from Gordon's stoicism. That sometimes it's not all of humanity that had has a bad day and snaps - sometimes it's just YOU. (Joker, sociopaths and criminals) - Not decent people like Jim.

Add to that, the fact that Alan Moore wrote it (Watchmen) and has stated before that he doesn't consider it his best work...he basically wrote, in his mind, a typical Batman story - one where Batman refrains from violence. If Alan Moore's intent was to write a story where Batman loses his mind, you would have known. Moore may be great, but I wouldn't say subtlety is his strong suit. He saw this as the prevailing of law and discipline over anarchy and revenge. Just my take on it.

Repulsion
Repulsion(1965)
½

Roman Polanski's coming of age film, where he got to play with sound and visuals (for a long and tedious time) and learn the medium's potential in ways even Wells couldn't foresee. He slowly builds suspense as the protagonist loses all sanity. Clever film especially for the time.

Tourist Trap
Tourist Trap(1979)

HPretty much would be my life if my wife ever left me. Talking to myself, split personality, mannequins, dolls wigs, soda pop parties, and human masks. So a sentimental favorite.

They
They(2002)
½

Never did see the big deal about Wes Craven. Without Freddy and the self parody vehicle Scream, he usually fell in between cheesy and boring. Kudos to They for at least having a creative ending.

The Conjuring

I wish I could have invited Ed and Lorraine Warren over to some of the places I lived in the past. With all my staring kitties, missing remote controls and strange noises outside, I'm sure those two would have had a great time.

The Conjuring 2

I wish I could have invited Ed and Lorraine Warren over to some of the places I lived in the past. With all my staring kitties, missing remote controls and strange noises outside, I'm sure those two would have had a great time.

Get Out
Get Out(2017)

Get Out is a great film. While I usually avoid "psychological thrillers" because they're too cliché ridden, this film wisely eschews formula and goes for social satire as well as some postmodern psychological farce. A nice balance of comedy and horror with memorable performances, directed by Jordan Peele, who I'll keep an eye on.

Magic
Magic(1978)
½

A wonderfully droll movie with equal moments creepiness, dark comedy, and fascinating tragedy. Solid work by Anthony Hopkins, director Richard Attenborough and Burgess Meredith. I was surprised how much I like this - coming from a hater of cheap ventriloquist horror flicks.

mother!
mother!(2017)
½

I saw Mother! I liked it. I was confused at a couple of things here and there but all in all, I thought Darren Aronofsky made a provocative (if surreal and slightly comedic) point. Is he one dimensional? Yes. Did the movie have an unexpected pay off rather than just lecturing? Yes. Overall, although I didn't love it, I think it was a good flick. I wish there were more movies like this. Psychological horror done fairly well, still better than psychological thriller done technically beautiful.

The Shawshank Redemption
½

It's not a personal favorite for me.

It's very Stephen King, very Frank Darabont.

And if you love those guys, you don't understand.

If you don't so much love those guys, I think you feel me.

The movie has a huge following because it's

*Optimistic
*Has a warm and soothing very linear narrative
*About men bonding and finding inner peace
*Doesn't really challenge the audience in terms of realism or complicated morals and ethics (good and evil are very simple lessons)
*Is filmed beautifully with a wonderful score (that's Darabont)
*Has a pretty good moral of the story: Work with society as much as you can to be a positive influence...if you're not appreciated, move on and don't look back.
*Had a great cast.

I think where it truly succeeded, and where The Green Mile failed, is that Shawshank tempered the emotional manipulation and the fantastic "miracles" of Stephen King's story, and focused more on the suffering of human beings for most of the movie, with a happy conclusion for the main characters.
The Green Mile got cocky and wanted way too much emotional catharsis from us, without earning it. The pathos it built was strange and uncomfortable. The characters were so over the top Evil and Good it wasn't nearly as affecting.

The Green Mile

It's not a personal favorite for me.

It's very Stephen King, very Frank Darabont.

And if you love those guys, you don't understand.

If you don't so much love those guys, I think you feel me.

The movie has a huge following because it's

*Optimistic
*Has a warm and soothing very linear narrative
*About men bonding and finding inner peace
*Doesn't really challenge the audience in terms of realism or complicated morals and ethics (good and evil are very simple lessons)
*Is filmed beautifully with a wonderful score (that's Darabont)
*Has a pretty good moral of the story: Work with society as much as you can to be a positive influence...if you're not appreciated, move on and don't look back.
*Had a great cast.

I think where it truly succeeded, and where The Green Mile failed, is that Shawshank tempered the emotional manipulation and the fantastic "miracles" of Stephen King's story, and focused more on the suffering of human beings for most of the movie, with a happy conclusion for the main characters.
The Green Mile got cocky and wanted way too much emotional catharsis from us, without earning it. The pathos it built was strange and uncomfortable. The characters were so over the top Evil and Good it wasn't nearly as affecting.

Clue
Clue(1985)

One of my favorite comedies of childhood even though I didn't get all the jokes. It was yet another politically oblivious 1980s experiment, with brilliant slapstick, bizarre character interactions, and a somewhat nihilistic approach to comedy. A gem of a movie and in the same vein as "Rocky Horror Picture Show" for its anarchic storytelling.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Wonderful Anti-Disney musical, with comparable magic, comedy and emotion. A great experiment and definitely under-appreciated during its time, particularly the work of Danny Elfman who is this generation's Bach.

Beetlejuice
Beetlejuice(1988)
½

I would say the story and the supporting cast doesn't age well. But Michael Keaton's lunatic performance transcends the movie and becomes one of the most underappreciated villains in modern cinema.

Teeth
Teeth(2007)
½

Very clever movie that literalizes fear of rape by creating an "evolutionary advantage" for the victim. Really deserved a much larger horror audience.

Silver Linings Playbook

While I don't think the movie was that great, and I don't see the big deal about Bradley Cooper's performance (he reminded me of a more focused Tom Green) I think the movie's intentions were good.
Not every movie about mental illness should be about the tragedy of disorder. A Beautiful Mind had a good story arc, but was overly focused on the despair. Silver Linings Playbook had a little more balance between exuberance and pain.

La La Land
La La Land(2016)

Really? Not even a hello? What, the delicate genius can't handle the harsh emotional intensity of a HELLO? You owe everything you are to ME, and you better fucking give me at least a HELLO.

Even as a moviegoer, sitting through two hours of Ryan Gosling playing the same goddamned tune on the piano, I am owed more than a nod or a look or a glance or a stare. I want a fucking HELLO.

Magnolia
Magnolia(1999)

Amazing performances and Paul Thomas Anderson demonstrates his love of actors in this film, letting them explore all sorts of insane and brilliant nuances of generally unlikable characters. The biblical ending was also a stroke of genius.

Hard Eight
Hard Eight(1996)
½

PT Anderson's early work still dazzles. Some of the best work by character actor Phillip Baker Hall. Excellent for a small budget film.

Boogie Nights

As much ink was spilled (or something other than ink, hehehe) over Burt Reynolds' work, this was really Mark Wahlberg's iconic performance. PT Anderson elevated what could have been B-movie sleaze to pop art and tragedy. Amazing.

The Transformers - The Movie
½

Amazingly bleak movie with a train wreck story line, juvenile contempt for beloved characters, and a pessimistic tone that overshadows the happy ending. Another movie that screwed me up as a kid. And yes, I was mostly pro-Unicron throughout this thing.

Gremlins
Gremlins(1984)

The classic violent and politically oblivious era of the 1980s, daring the MPAA with a horrific imagery, and unfortunately for the squeamish, very well done murderous choreography. And all of that disturbia with funny gags, cartoon characters and bleak almost sadistic humor. Great fun and what ruined we Gen X-ers in so many ways.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

A whimsical parody of everything Spielberg and company tried to do with the first movie. In many ways, this movie was the antithesis of the 1980s darkly funny horror and went full 1990s adult cartoon cheese. Its Loony Tunes introduction sets the tone for the film which is rarely disturbing but amazingly gory for a PG-13 rating. Bonus points for the pre-Trump era parody of Daniel Clamp, an ode to old world benevolent narcissism.

The Disappointments Room

Would it be too smarmy to say I was disappointed in The Disappointments Room? When the househusband showed up and whined like a bitch the whole movie I lost all concentration, and basically told the ghosts, "If you don't kill this POS I will!"

Backcountry
Backcountry(2015)

Clever take on the "lost in nowhere" horror genre. Not really a plot twist given the marketing, so I'll just say I hated the protagonists and rooted for the bear. I thought the bear's characterization was a bit shallow, but this is a pro-human movie, so what can you do?

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

Watchmen, adapted by Zach Snyder, always seemed to be an FU to Alan Moore, who claimed (and hoped) that Hollywood would understand the comic book doesn't' translate well to modern cinema. Snyder tries hard to recreate the style and look of the world, while missing the ultimate point of Moore's pessimism and criticism of humanity. He also accentuated the most obvious aspects of the book (the shock value, the character study that seemed much deeper when it was subtle) and made the casting an absolute parody, worthy of Mad TV. I say this as a person who loved the comic, loved the idea of a movie finally being made, and as a Watchmen patriot who still feels obligated to support what is probably the only film version that will try to get it right - and (barely) succeed.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ben Affleck had the innovative idea of not playing Batman at all but playing himself wearing a Bat-suit. His understated performance (brilliant in that you forget he's Batman, but see a whole new side of Ben Affeck) well matches Emo-Superman, who scowls and frowns his way through the movie - culminating in a climax that screams to millennials, "We hate life as much as you do, really we do!" Patronizingly heroic.

Logan
Logan(2017)
½

Fuck! I'm dying...oh fuck. No I'M DYING! Fuck! I'm dying! (Boob shot) Fuck. I'm dying.

Letters from Iwo Jima

The scene that still sticks out in my mind, even after all these years later, is the Dinner Party scene. An American couple "politely" interrogates the main character (who's Japanese) what he would do if America and Japan went to war. He congenially responds that he would fight for his country. The Americans seem perplexed, because naturally, America is always right. How could anyone not disown their country and join Team: America when it's obviously the "moral thing" to do? It's almost like this crystal clear moment where the audience grows up and starts to think deep thoughts like, "Maybe EVERY country sees themselves as the hero" until they lose the war and are told they are the villain.

Uncle Buck
Uncle Buck(1989)

A strange and yet another politically oblivious movie to come out in the 80s, when nothing had to make sense--it just had to be a good drinking movie. Uncle Buck works on the comedic talents of John Candy, who was somehow able to pull off absurdism and sincerity with the same facetious face. Come to think of it, he even pulled of psychosis so effortlessly. A comedy gem that makes you wish it was 1989 again.

Beauty and the Beast

Didn't despise it as much as I planned to. The choreography was cute, the beast CGI was something close to subtle (but subtle's not really the word) and LeFou (Josh Gad) steals the show. Emma Watson was terribly miscast and Gaston was all wrong. But aside from that, worth a sentimental viewing.

Antichrist
Antichrist(2009)
½

A Review of Antichrist

If there was ever a cinema "Antichrist", a vitriolic force opposed to the American Christian paradigm, it would be Lars Von Trier. Often despised by many patriotic film critics for his scathing anti-American sentiments (in clear display for movies like Dogville) Von Trier's dabbling into horror was a prophecy come true, as such a feral mind simply had to tackle this most cathartic of genres after making years of emotionally disturbing allegories.

In Antichrist, the director tells what is possibly his rawest, most personal film to date-it just so happens it involves infanticide, genital mutilation and spousal murder. The film begins with the unfortunate death of a married couple's toddler-aged son Nick. The fact that the husband and wife (unnamed in the film) were making love during his death does profound emotional damage to the couple's sex life, their happiness, and their marital trust. Through four chapters, the story explores the aftermath of death: grief, pain, despair, though the film eventually evolves into a metaphorical story of murder.

"He" as Willem Dafoe's character is named, is a therapist and decides to treat his grieving wife with psychotherapy. Taking her to a cabin in the woods, (not so subtly name "Eden") he uncovers his wife's secret fears, which are related to nature. As the sessions continue, she becomes increasingly erratic, culminating in "She" writing a thesis on the evil nature of women. She pressures him into abusive sex and eventually knocks him unconscious, leading to two disturbing scenes of mutilation; first done unto him, and then unto herself. The film culminates with a character-assassinating revelation regarding She, which could be a plot revelation or an imagined scenario, speaking to the parental guilt flowing in this movie like droplets of crimson blood. The ending to the film is surreal and involves brutality and mass gender conspiracy, which will undoubtedly provoke feminists, and the religiously inclined, who will pick up on the overtones of the biblical account of Adam and Eve.

Speaking of blood, rarely has blood looked so magical. Whereas Lars' previous films have devalued fancy sets and epic, cinematic camera angles, Antichrist packs a punch when it comes to filming the cruelty of man. He achieves a lyrical, Kubrickian quality to his on-screen violence, and as always this speaks volumes regarding Von Trier's own personal demons. The film maker's well-publicized bouts of anxiety, and mistrust translate perfectly to a grieving family's guilt-ridden complex, and in the final act, we see precisely where such mental illness leads-to the depths of despair, the end of life, and the bludgeoning of happiness. To grieve, to blame, is madness, or so suggests the film maker, shortly before setting the whole story on fire. (Literally and figuratively)

In terms of horror film making techniques, Lars proves himself a behind-the-camera technician as well as an abstract master of the screenplay. His brilliant use of operatic music (i.e. "Lascia ch'io pianga") captivates the audience, unsettling them for two hours of demonic emotions. He and Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is ultra-realistic, even while avoiding the "found footage" cliches that permeate student-made horror flicks today-probably because of effective use of subtle and non-visible "jump- cut editing".

He succeeds in creating not a world of dark reality, but a nightmarish and hypnotic sleep prison, using both hand held camera shots, motion control imagery and illustrative imagery that focus on anxiety. Lars Von Trier's greatest weaknesses in the minds of his critics are his greatest achievements for his fans; he makes creates realism to a fault (as you will see with explicit sex scenes, and gruesome torture porn-style violence), all the while drifting from reality to film elements of the bizarre, the damning, and the absurd.

His mixing of arousing sexual images with ugly, realistic carnage is assaulting to the viewer, while his biblical allusions are primal and felt, even without being logically understood.

Perhaps it is ironic that Lars Von Trier chose the first biblical tale, one concerning Good and Evil, in order to make his first true horror film. In horror what we observe is a polarized version of society; a victim and a monster; a good person and a bad person. The violence is not just the entitlement of Evil-it is the means to survive, even for good people who want to live in an unfair world.

In many ways, Antichrist is a meditative dichotomy; of good and evil, logic and emotion, male and female perspectives, human intelligence and the raw power of nature. While one could conclude that Antichrist is about the evil of humanity, this is a script that willfully provokes emotion and begs a personal interpretation from the viewer.

In the horror genre, we must accept what is "evil" as the antagonist or the anti-hero. In Antichrist, Lars Von Trier suggests that Nature is Satan's Church, that evil is everywhere, and that Woman (or Eve) was the ultimate downfall of Adam and mankind. It's the sort of stuff that a therapist, or a client in therapy, would find fascinating as a glimpse into one's own suppressed mind. For the traditional horror fan, however, Antichrist may be too cerebral, and too depressive, to entertain. Nevertheless, this uncompromising director succeeds in creating yet another film travesty that demands reaction.

Serial Mom
Serial Mom(1994)

John Waters' Serial Mom was not the first R-rated movie I saw, but it was the first gratuitously violent movie I ever permitted myself to watch. Upon viewing the gore, I felt a sickly sensation-a feeling of genuine human exploitation; I internally grieved over the fictitious dead person and felt some sort of vicarious pain.

While of course the movie will be remembered, sort of, as a B-flick satire on suburban double lives, I will always remember it as a coming of age moment. The vulgarity, the violence, only a glimpse of sex (the whole reason I watched it sadly) really scarred me and taught me that violence is the language of the impactful and emotionally rousing author.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)
½

I have never hated a muppet as much as I despised Walter. What a corporatist little runt, far more soulless and money-grubbing than even Tex Richman. I didn't buy his "sweetness" for a minute. Nor did I care for any of these self-indulgent celebrity cameos taking screen time away from my favorite muppets. I was kind of hoping those evil muppets from Labyrinth or at least The Dark Crystal would come in and fucking eat Walter, Jason Segel and Amy Adams, those anti-Muppetic cocksuckers.

The Muppets Take Manhattan
½

One of the movies that kept me afloat as a depressed kid...and a depressed teenager. How could you not cheer the fuck up when muppets sing to you? I also had a crush on Jill the Frog for the longest time. I think she loved Kermit...but of course, he was oblivious and a sucker for punishment.

The Shining
The Shining(1980)

This movie has both inspired and de-motivated me to write. On one hand, it's refreshing that Kubrick saw Stephen King's novel as the ludicrous bore-fest that it was. At the same time, he took the subtlest things from King's work, (the dichotomy of creative madness and fatherhood) and actually created a moving piece of art that transcends entertainment horror. Every frame in The Shining is technically crafted to perfection, while every plot twist and ironic piece of dialog is allegorical, and in many cases, symbolic of American culture. I won't be one of the ones to claim Kubrick "confessed" anything in these movies. For all I know, he trolled the world by playing with iconic symbols as recklessly as Pollock. What is clear is that when Stanley finally succumbed to the maze of human existence, we lost the last great cinematic painter in the spirit of Wells and Hitchcock.

Love Story
Love Story(1970)

Did you hear the urban legend that Love Story was inspired by Al Gore? Wat?? No wonder I found the lead such a pretentious bore. But I did love that soundtrack!

As Good as It Gets

Have we as a species matured to the point where we can admit this was overrated dog poop? As Good As It Gets was heavily promoted as a last minute contender to face Titanic at the Oscars. Not so much a Jack Nicholson vanity project, as a James L. Brooks vanity project. Brooks wanted to see what rude things he could get away with saying through the mouth of a curmudgeony writer. The problem was Jack was never given enough ammunition to be another Archie Bunker. Helen Hunt, robbed of all her Mad About You subtlety, relied on loud mouthed caricature and sweet smiles. Greg Kinnear stared...and somehow launched an undeserved career playing quirky guys who recited lines with PEP. Thankfully all this B-talent has sunk back down to where they belong in the 2010 era.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

Scorsese at his most ambitious. Perhaps one of the few "serious" Oscar-nominated films that dares to be literature; dares to be analyzed objectively, and not heavy-handedly making a point. The amorality, tragic objectivity does make it a cold almost emotionally vacant film, but with so many iconic alpha-male moments it has shoved its way into Hollywood culture.

Cars
Cars(2006)

Pretty much the Pixar answer to Michael Bay. Why not have cutesy animated cars, a shallow story, and lots of corporate influence? The one Pixar movie that misses the mark.

Shine
Shine(1996)

Feel good movie, great performance by scenery chewing Geoffrey Rush. Not very subtle, but worth seeing if you're fresh out of valium.

Tadpole
Tadpole(2002)

This movie had me at hello...beautiful older woman. No one likes a good May-December romance as much as I do. Funny, steamy and taboo are the delicious results of a great setting. But Tadpole is about as sexy as varicose veins and about as funny as statutory rape. This film represents the very worst of independent filmmaking. Horrible miscasting, pseudo-intellectual dialogue that reads like Internet articles coming out of characters' mouths, and scenes played for comedy that not only have awkward timing, but seem completely ignorant of the most basic sitcom rules. Being a proverbial celebrity hater, it surprises me to say this, but this is one of the few movies in which I actually felt sorry for the film's actors.

Southland Tales

I cannot honestly call Southland Tales one of the worst movies I've ever seen, solely because it is so egregious in its poor film making and story telling techniques that it transcends both art and trash collecting. Richard Kelly's anti-movie is so poorly conceived and executed, it's actually light years ahead of its time in postmodern stupidity. Mark my words, this modern day Plan 9 From Outer Space, with enough hokey effects and bizarre plot twist ideas (I say idea because nothing actually happens in the film due to phenomenally bad directing and writing), will one day become Generation Z's most cherished possession. Southland Tales proves that even Andy Warhol's drug induced self-absorption is nothing compared to a talented writer's spite. A regurgitated masterpiece that everyone should see, as its inanity will literally help your Chakras become balanced.

Bridget Jones's Diary

There have been plenty of unfunny comedies I've seen over the years, and I've managed to forget them. What really annoys me about Bridget Jones's Diary is the shallowness and selfishness of the lead character, all hidden behind a cloyingly cutesy British accent and a guise of postmodern feminism. Is this how women really think? Is this how women really treat the men they love? Are modern English women really this stupid? I disliked Colin Firth's Darcy interpretation immediately in this movie, but I still thought he deserved a better fate than ending up with this trollop.

Julie & Julia

It's hard to believe that there's a woman (real or fictional) who is more reprehensible than some of the cinema losers I've already talked about here. But Julie Powell "makes the cake." Let's forget the fact that Julie Powell (the real protagonist in the Julia Child biopic) is self-indulgent, treats her husband like crap, swears like a sailor while cooking and has 0 percent charm and charisma. She is also consummately talentless as a writer and as a cook. Her idea of self-expression is to rip off Julia Child's recipes and republish them on a blog, adding her own snarky commentary about her unequivocally dull life and the people she takes for granted. Julie & Julia is about the celebration of mediocrity. Try to forget for a minute that Meryl Streep channels Marita the Hippo from Animaniacs and plays Julia Child like a filthy rich air-head. Here's the entire point of the movie: Powell's character (and her real life persona, from what I understand) is a writer wannabe that mooches off Julia Child's fame and is rewarded for it. The best moment in the film is when Julie Powell discovers that Julia Child "hates her." That was the best Hallelujah moment in a movie since the crazy white man in Avatar got wasted. The only way to have insulted the late Julia Child more than this film would have been to cast Rob Schneider as her man-ho. Years later, this is still the movie that infuriates me the most.

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)

This was supposed to be Zach Snyder's Pan's Labyrinth but slowly deteriorated into Charlie's Angels on Morphine. Sucker Punch attempted to capitalize on the Generation Y fascination with scattershot sequences and music video motivations, but only succeeded in making an ode to Pamela Anderson. Sucker Punch attempts to combine porno dialog with ultra-realism in the midst of a comic book backdrop. Unfortunately, this art-punk genre riff is two long hours of Zach Snyder auditioning for a better movie. While he promises fantastic effects, feminist overtones and femme fatale sexuality, he forgets to include action scene coherency (not to mention relevancy), an ounce of female intelligence (for supposedly strong female characters) and literally ANY titillation at all (perhaps the most unforgivable sin for a teen sex dance movie). Throughout his career, Snyder has denied us of whimsy, substituting instead his grandeur. In Sucker Punch, though the delusions continue, his lack of imagination in story mechanics is on painful display.

Blindness
Blindness(2008)

I always get a kick out of Julianne Moore, because she always manages to top herself in terms of playing brain-dead, empty, pathetic human beings who somehow triumph over adversity due to the magnificent healing powers of having random sex with strangers. Julianne Moore is the best porn star in the history of cinema. Never has Julianne Moore's talents and assets been on clearer display than in Fernando Meirelles Blindness. She strips. She passively submits to gang rape. She watches idly as her blind husband cheats on her with a blind woman. She forgives him. And...wait for it...yes, she is actually outsmarted by blind people. This movie taught me that it's impossible to exploit actors who are three steps behind cattle in mental faculties. Julianne Moore is a beautiful cow and has a magnificent pair of utters. And that, no one can ever take away from her.

Lake Mungo
Lake Mungo(2009)

Lake Mungo is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. It's also a colossal piece of...something else. It is literally a waste of 87 minutes and possibly a better cure for insomnia than even the 85-hour long "Cure for Insomnia" movie. It was marketed as a ghostly horror film, despite the fact that the entire plot is foiled within the first 30 minutes. The suspense is dropped. The point is irrelevant. By all logic, the story ends. But the movie just goes on...and on...and on. A postmodern landmark that proves that "plot" is a thing of the 20th century.

Date Night
Date Night(2010)

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are not all that funny on network television, but since it's TV, their shtick is still more enjoyable than 99% of what else is on. In Date Night, there is two full hours of these losers overplaying, underadlibbing and epically failing every line. The funniest thing about the movie is the complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. It's like watching a Saturday Night Live character reacting to a green screen visual effect. Perhaps Steve Carell and Tina Fey hate each other as much as we hate them.

Psychopathia Sexualis

Saw this a long time ago by accident. Worth seeing just for the final scene; the age of Puritanism grows up and evolves into a much deadlier Religion of Psychology and Science.

Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show

The late Garry Shandling did something rather unprecedented in Hollywood, by walking away from a job that made sense. Whereas he had the clout and name awareness to take over a talk show and become another rival to the Leno, Letterman and Arsenio war, he chose to stay mellow-to be a midnight toker telling jokes to a select few, whose minds were opened to embrace a new form of comedy / drama.

This was during the nineties, a time when commerce was strangling art and independent films were going for the jugular. Garry was quite the prophet. He foresaw what would happen if he entered a crowded field and fought with old friends over a thankless job and decided to pass...in favor of trailblazing the sitcom genre with The Larry Sanders Show and predicting what tomorrow's comedy would be like.

What those fortunate enough to have a little cable network called HBO watched, wasn't really 30 Rock or The Office-it wasn't a carefully coordinated genre with clear punchlines and meant for an audience used to the cues of reality television. Instead, they saw something they had never seen before, and something that made people feel just as uncomfortable as entertained.
Rewinding one's memory to over 20 years ago, try to remember just what it felt like to watch The Larry Sanders Show with no expectations or even a point of reference for understanding what we were watching. Garry Shandling was doing Monty Python-he was creating a live action, scripted "exhibit", a trompe l'oeil of simulated reality posing as a sitcom.

It was not just an avant-garde show exploring the freedom of a cable channel that hardly any one was watching...it was also a blueprint detailing what comedy could be, if only the censors stepped the hell out of the way.

Thoughts Watching The Larry Sanders Show for the First Time

1. "There's no laugh track. Why?!"

These people were funny but somehow still existing in reality, with their own lives off of television, and thus no accountability to network censors or even the demanding audience. Every sitcom at the time had a laugh track because how else would the audience know how to feel about all their favorite caricatures? Shandling killed the laugh track and forced people to get involved in a fictional world, laughing only when they felt like it, and cringing just as often. The reality was what we were watching.

2. "Why does everyone swear so much?"

In an age that preceded Beavis and Butt-Head, Seth Rogan and James Franco movies, and South Park, it just wasn't television's place to introduce sledge hammer vulgarities into normal dialog. Likable people on TV didn't talk about f***ing. Shows like Dream On and The Larry Sanders Show challenged this staple of morality by insisting that it's how everyone in Hollywood talked. Sure, it's how everyone outside of Hollywood talked as well and it was about time the censors embraced the vast community of people who didn't attend church regularly, who actually laughed at dirty jokes. In many ways, characters like Hank, Artie and Larry helped introduce the art and wit of millennial vulgarity.

3. "Why are all these people playing themselves?"

Breaking the fourth wall and exploiting semi-autobiographical humor was practically unheard of in television, though Robert Altman movies and radio's Howard Stern were already giggling at their own brand of self-parody. But Larry actually let everyone in on the gag, welcoming celebrities who were playing "evil" versions of themselves and not trying so hard to appear altruistic or endearing to their fans. Why should they? Their fans were probably not even watching the show and so it gave Shandling the opportunity to mock Hollywood and antagonize the audience with some great moments of "reality television" that were, naturally, left off the air in the Larry Sanders universe. The behind the scenes drama, as we can all imagine, had to be much more interesting than the boring and overly rehearsed interviews that actually make it to television.

4. "Is this supposed to be Woody Allen for TV?"

The crude thought must have also occurred to fans of The Seinfeld Chronicles, who along with Sanders' epic vision of mundanity, was laying down the foundation for reality television-that is a show about nothing, except of course human conflict in every aspect of life. Everyone in the 1990s assumed Seinfeld and Sanders were doing Woody Allen; an intellectual analysis of neuroses and psychological disorders. But the truth was less Freudian and more about the proverbial Man Vs. Himself story arc that we all encounter in our daily lives, whether we work in Hollywood or not. So we were treated to entire episodes about the network suing Larry for breach of contract, or about Paula's abrasive manner intimidating guests, or about Hank Kingsley selling his soul for his own thigh master rip off products. Story lines that were arthouse (what everyone misidentified as Woody Allen) and not commercial in any way.

5. "Larry is kind of a jerk."

Actually, Larry was portrayed as lawful narcissist and was one step above Artie, Hank, Jerry and Phil, who seemed like amoral monsters in comparison. The fact that Sanders never really found love made the show feel like an anti-climactic sitcom. Everyone had sex (most famously Hank who had a sex tape long before Paris Hilton) but Larry, true to narcissist fashion, was never qualified to find love on his own terms. Most of the show explored wasted relationships with not one, but two of his insane ex-wives who grew tired of babying him. After they left, he spent the rest of the show having loveless sex with celebrity guests and continuing to create tragic one liners-as all the best comedians do.

6. "It reads more like a book than a TV show."

And probably with good reason, and not only since Larry Sanders was the star of his own book in "Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host." The story lines of the show were the comedic answer to Law and Order's format of ripping real life stories straight from the news, except that Shandling simply took old show business urban legends about Letterman, Leno and Carson and dramatized them just as they happened. But because talk shows draw the funniest people in the world, the behind the scenes drama, filmed as is, just happened to be hilarious. So there you have it-The Larry Sanders Show was intentionally acting accidentally hilarious. Now that sounds like a Buddhist truth. By the time the movie The Late Shift was made, based on the successful book, it felt like overkill because Sanders already did it better.

7. "This show is so mean!"

No wonder the world of show business was so reluctant to embrace Larry. Not only did it only win only two major Emmy awards (less than even Roseanne, another dark horse and despised show that rubbed Hollywood the wrong way) but it also gathered reluctant praise from critics, including rags like Entertainment Weekly, who insisted the show was almost too smart to be funny, buying into the network logic that comedy is intrinsically stupid and cannot be intellectual. It wasn't too "smart"-Frasier proved smarts can be funny and warm-hearted. But it was viciously acerbic, far surpassing Letterman as the meanest and most cynical show on television, while also dominating the collegial crowd who expected a little more Oscar Wilde and less Cosby. All the years it was on the air, it remained the King of Mean, until a little animated cartoon called South Park picked up the reigns and went full Fritz the Cat to a new generation of jaded middle-schoolers who wouldn't get Shandling's inside jokes...but definitely appreciated the lost art of obscenity.

Larry Sanders, Satan bless him, was also the kind of guy who always insisted on prematurely exiting the stage, leaving the audience wanting more. It was just like him to announce his retirement from television without telling anyone (even his staff) and run away to Montana. Ironically, actor and creator Garry Shandling left the world the same way. Leaving us wanting more. Always the forward-thinking, unsentimental showman. Not only am I shocked that Garry beat hard-drinking Rip Torn into the promised land, but I can't help but wonder how egocentric sidekick Hank thought of his death and how it made him look. Much like Sydney Lumet's movie Network, it was a show that didn't try too hard to be funny but tried to be pessimistically truthful in a mad world. And now, 20 years later, most of our dramatic and comedic TV line up owes a toast to Shandling.
And wouldn't you know, Larry Sanders, when reached for comment took the high road. "I hope my death beat Leno."

The Exorcist
The Exorcist(1973)

A visual and audio funhouse that just so happened to prey upon our most hardwired superstitions. We take for granted today the shocking and life-threatening scare tactics director William Friedkin innovated. Even without the visual effects, the unhinged performances by the cast resulted in a truly terrifying experience - at least for the first time you watch it. Gradually, as you watch lesser caliber horror, the violent nature of the film mitigates. But with its carefully orchestrated silences and assaults on the viewer, nothing compares to this. Watch it only once, when you're still open-minded as to the concepts of evil spirits.


Pazuzu floated head-circles around other invisible villains like Keyser Soze and the mad truck driver from Duel. This nasty demon even surpasses other non-human terrors such as Jaws and the Borg Queen because of its blatantly malicious intent. Whereas we can debate the evil heart of the monster in Cloverfield or Godzilla (which theoretically could be a worried mommy looking for her eggs) Pazuzu's evil lust is insatiable. This King of the demons was not content until it has possessed and violated a 12-year old girl, swore like a sailor, defied all human logic with its ghostly bag of tricks and wasted not one but two priests. That's what you call a devil's advocate.

No Country for Old Men

Detached, antagonistic filmmaking - captivating like a force of nature. Full of great archetypal performances and with an ultra-realistic POV that combines the best elements of independent filmmaking with mainstream gravitas.


Javier Bardem brought all of his international passion and channeled it in the worst way possible: as a transcendent serial killer one step ahead of every righteous man on the planet. Anton Chigurh one-ups Mickey (and Mallory) Knox from Natural Born Killers (protagonists all the way) because this villain was an invincible antagonistic presence to not one but two heroes in Sheriff Bell and Llewelyn Moss. It's an incredible challenge to play such an evil and believable character, with such an absurd haircut.

Election
Election(1999)

Much like Network, Alexander Payne's satire of American politics devolved into a literal prophecy of what America was becoming. A clever criticism of both Republican and Democratic parties, with a wild card third party, Election should be required viewing not just by politicians - but by all people who fancy themselves intelligent voters. To date, Payne's least subtle film is still surprisingly his best. Later works, with the exception of Sideways, focused on adapting to midlife maturity with detached patriotism and a defeatist sense of humor. Election, for its time and still today, remains a marvelous comic book that skewered stereotypes and made a greater point about petty bipartisan feuding. All that aside, I still loved this movie because I consider it an unofficial sequel to Ferris Buehler, one where the little stinker gets his comeuppance.

I'm sure cinema purists will fault me for leaving off Hannibal Lector and The Silence of the Lambs, but I was much more terrified by an over-achieving, duplicitous high school girl in Alexander Payne's "Election" than I was at a hammy, cannibalizing version of Richard Burton. Payne's movies eschew messages in favor of dark satire, but they are filled to the brim with social commentary. Tracy Flick is the ideal United States politician. Motivated, self-aggrandizing, manipulative-and now, unfortunately, completely in control of your life. Bonus points for humbling the once great and deliciously villainous Ferris Bueller, this time reincarnated as Matthew Broderick's poor and underachieving school teacher Jim McAllister. Comeuppance is a bitch, ain't she?

Annie Hall
Annie Hall(1977)

I'm still not sure if Annie Hall represents Woody Allen's mainstream optimism prevailing over his depressive genius, or if it's his usual pessimism going undercover just long enough to cause a long-term cardiac arrest of lovesickness. This was another example of an unreplicable 70s piece that embodied the disappointment of the post-hippie generation, realizing that love can never be completely distilled from sex. Annie Hall, in many respects, was the screen's most infuriating antagonist, at least from a lonely nerd's point of view.


It would be remiss of me not to include my 1970s inspiration, that depressive and quirky old man who was once my age, who defined uncertain love for two generations of moviegoers. I thought it fitting to include Annie Hall as one of cinema's great villains, that is, the woman whom the protagonist always felt he was meant to win-and yet the one that got away. Annie Hall is the perfect representation of the "ex" that you love and hate at the same time, the one antagonist of this list that provokes conflict by eluding the hero, not threatening him. It's impossible to narrow down the great villains or the best sad love lost stories of Woody Allen, but it's fairly easy to identify the one movie that spoke to me as an idolizing, lonely teen. There have been better movies that broke the fourth wall, and dissected their villains and heroes with penetrating insight (such as the works by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze) but Woody Allen was one of the first movie icons to truly explore himself in the objective, cynical way, in this film, not to mention Manhattan and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Sling Blade
Sling Blade(1996)

What ambition and creative drive does - an actor creates an understated, anti-moralizing masterpiece. Yet, he brings such radiant conflict to the story, working off a great dynamic between Billy Bob's subtle nuances, Dwight's slow boiling aggression and Lucas Black's startlingly energetic anger. A "you had to be there" moment in cinema for sure, but ages very well..


It's hard to narrow down my list of great "mentally challenged" movies, from the likes of Forrest Gump, to Peter Sellers' brilliant performance in Being There. However, Sling Blade excels in pathos solely because of the relentlessly cruel character study of Doyle Hargraves. Doyle is a no good SOB and the movie depicts him as such, but is also presented as a self-loathing, apologetic manipulator who perfectly represents the evil that lies dormant in otherwise honest men. Sling Blade is a work of genius because it makes us, the intellectual elite of moviegoers, feel just as stupid as old Karl Childers, who can't make heads or tails of a morally complex world. That's the joke of life-none of us really can.

The Godfather

A generational passing of the torch, not just in Brando bowing to the microwave-method acting generation of the 1970s, but also in the loss of innocence of American culture. The pervasive message of the film is that of grand failure - certainly not the patriarchal love story some audiences misinterpreted from the movie. The moment when Brando so subtly laments Michael's descent into amoral leadership is made ever more poignant when he realizes that all of his decisions in life came to fruition in this one nostalgic conversation - personally, a father's pointless apology; symbolically, an epic betrayal of American values. Maybe the first film was too subtle for its own good, which explains the more literal minded Godfather II and III.

It's unthinkable to create a list without including a "classic" screen villain, but I seriously doubt anyone can tell me that there is a protagonist more deviant, more irredeemable and more subtle, than Michael Corleone, played with robotic intensity and ferocious cunning by a young Al Pacino. Sure, he did more theatrical work in Scarface and Dog Day Afternoon, but The Godfather trilogy was his most ambitious acting challenge, solely because he was an antagonist not merely against the opposing mafia families, nor his delinquent brother Freudo, nor even his long-suffering wife. The true "hero" who died at the hands of this heartless antagonist was the boy's own father. Michael Corleone is the antagonist that reflects a wayward son, who buries a respectable family legacy, and who honors his hopeful father in the worst way possible.

Beauty and the Beast

No further evidence is needed for proving Disney the greatest whitewasher of all evil storytelling. Whether you consider Beauty and the Beast a metaphor for lost male and female communication, or some kind of deranged "positive spin" on Stockholm Syndrome, the magic of the movie is in its depiction of desperation. Each character is a ticking time bomb of obsessive need - to see the inevitable clash of alpha egos Gaston and the Beast, still pales in comparison to witnessing Belle's spiraling addiction to *feel something* out of this world. The music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is what makes the story epic and ultimately satisfying to a mainstream audience (who definitely doesn't "get" the subtext). This is a true opera of passion imploding from three lost souls who can barely communicate in English, but who elicit the ugliest and the most beautiful chords of human desire.

I know most movie fans see Gaston as the antagonist, but in my mind, he is actually the secondary villain, dwarfed by The Beast himself-an admittedly selfish man, with a short and borderline abusive temper. Disney tackles some relentlessly mature subjects and getting a self-effacing library nerd together with a narcissistic, anthromorphic bully, to the happy tune of a singing, dancing teapot, is no easy creative feat. Beauty and the Beast also struck me as a very dark tale, regardless of its tacked on happy ending. Belle falls for The Beast only after his demise, brought on by his one act of unselfishness, but inevitably loses him along the way. Oh sure, she got the human prince in a magical resurrection but the Beast that she loved, the man who truly made her suppressed passions burn, was forever lost. And the funniest thing is, you can literally see disappointment all over her face as she stares at the viewer in subdued, kid-friendly, buyer's remorse.

Network
Network(1976)

Paddy Chayefsky's brutally reflective diatribe against society, and perhaps unwittingly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the last great 70s films, with that uncompromising intellectualism and condescension. Contrary to popular belief, the suicide of Christine Chubbuck didn't inspire the work - Paddy himself saw the future as he toured a network news studio and saw the lack of humanity unfolding. Sobering, cautionary and raucous in a way that only unmitigated truth can be.

All I really know about the 1960s and 1970s was that I grew up one generation later than they happened. While everyone was meeting some truly cantankerous characters in the likes of The Graduate (which perfectly embodied the conflict and attraction between two generations of Americans) and the artificial intelligence of HAL, the soulless but suffering computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I still believe that Howard Beale and UBS were among the truly great screen villains, and not because they were particularly evil, but because they were heartless-and a definitive prophesy (written very tongue in cheek by Paddy Chayefsky) of what the modern American would become in the 2000 era, should artificial TV values continue to dominate the culture. The insane and dying Howard Beale helped to spawn the modern atheist evangelist, disillusioned with everything holy in society, while Diana Christensen foretold the emergence of the secular-opportunist. The only supposedly decent and ethical man in the film, Max Schumacher, was shown to be weak, immoral and irrational in his personal life. Yet, only the sinner was able to point at the greater evil and pronounce the tragedy of humanity. Max's final deconstruction of villainy (his mistress, whose heart he breaks) serves, not as a self-righteous condemnation of what is to come, but a final farewell and fuck-you to a world that had progressed far beyond what was sensible good taste. The offspring of Network, the Mad as Hell generation, not only permeates entertainment today-but modern society who continues to scream outside of Windows and litter Facebook walls.

The Graduate 50th Anniversary Presented By TCM

It didn't just create the "formula" for crowd pleasing movies - it viciously criticized the WW2 generation, making boomers seem like the hippest kids in the world. Beyond all the sex and metaphors, what I saw was a movie about detachment, alienation, and passive resentment of our forefathers. Ironically the same way millennials feel about their big-spending grandparents today.

I thought it was an accident that three of Mike Nichols' films are on my top 20, but perhaps not. The Graduate's antagonist is particularly harsh and unforgiving; symbolically speaking, the bad guy is your parents, the previous generation before you, which thinks it knows exactly what you are, what you need to feel happy. The battle between good and evil evolves into the currency of youth racing against time, trying to avoid repeating family cycles, or in another words, becoming exactly like your parents, whom you figure have it all wrong. You rebel against all conventions passed down to you, only to discover that your antagonist is always with you, especially in those silent moments on a bus.

The final scene in the film speaks volumes without a word. Even if you manage to escape what society expects of you, as Ben and Elaine do escape the Robinson's, you still have no idea what to do, and no answer to give a blushing bride. In confusion and disenchanted judgment, you make a move but only end up repeating the cycle, becoming only a slightly better model of the parental example you despise, making the same mistakes in different settings. What I find particularly amusing about The Graduate is how the movie changes as you age. Roger Ebert actually altered his original review of the film 30 years later, saying he now felt more sympathy for Mrs.Robinson and and that Benjamin was "an insufferable creep". Indeed, and only with the age shift do you realize that the movie is all about you-then and now.

GoodFellas
GoodFellas(1990)

I've heard Goodfellas referred to as the "working class" mobster flick, with the profanity and graphic violence that characterizes Scorsese and that disgusts the wealthy class who embraced Godfather's deceptively patriarchal vision of love. Perhaps, but what really made Goodfellas unique was the way Scorsese made the mundane cinematic, and mocked the over stylized storyboarding of the most obvious mainstream director cliches. In short, Scorsese didn't film a movie, as much as he captured the absurdity and misanthropy of real life. Goodfellas' strange but real world sense of humor and palpable tension between egomaniacal figures paved the way for Tarantino and David Chase's The Sopranos. In essence, a deconstruction and caricatured rebuilding of what a crime drama ought to be.

Martin Scorsese's masterpiece features a lot of unlikable characters and snitching wise guys. But Tommy DeVito was so menacing he managed to play antagonist to even the bullies and murderers that trusted him. Joe Pesci's brings this character to life and gradually builds fear from its basest element, since in plain view Tommy Devito is short, goofy looking and has the voice of an Italian clown. Few actors could make such an under whelming presence into a modern monster.

Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet(1986)

David Lynch had the unsurpassed joy of flatulating in a room full of self-congratulatory minded, rich, Jewish and Christian studio heads who ghettoized everything profane and godless from mingling with the crowd pleasing 1980s fluff. Blue Velvet, with its audacious Frank Booth character, as well as Kyle MacLachlan's own trippy and self-conscious prelude to Twin Peaks performance, seemed to be the 1970s clawing back at the pretentious Reagenesque culture - as if to remind us that Evil never dies, Pain is constant, and Perversity is freeing. Lynch's most linear film is still his most brilliant.

You have to internally fear any cinema villain who loudly proclaims his will to rape any living thing in existence. Frank Booth was the human equivalent of a rabid pit bull, spewing nonsense and obscenities while glaring at protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont with arguably the most insane expression in movie history. While I love Jack Nicholson's theatrics as The Joker, and Heath Ledger's grunge doomsday interpretation of the madman, those clowns couldn't hold a twisted grin to this demon. Frank Booth insisted on leaving his victims with dread and confusion, a far crueler fate. This is David Lynch's true contribution to cinema, discounting his pot party shenanigans of Eraser Head and Mulholland Drive; a devious, mentally-disturbed man who hates you for no apparent reason.

Cabaret
Cabaret(1972)

One of my favorite films of all time if not the best. The death of the Hollywood musical - profoundly political and humanistically tragic but made quirky and fun by chorographical genius Bob Fosse.

In 1972, the death of the glamorous musical occurred. Bob Fosse's Cabaret became a mainstream hit, and people realized that singing in public (in a world that was becoming morally complicated) just doesn't happen very often. So Fosse did the unthinkable and trapped one of the best collection of songs ever written (By Kander and Ebb) inside a cabaret club in Germany, where the Nazi ideology was slowly but surely arising. It's hard to choose a musical number in Cabaret that isn't madly catchy, perverted and fun, but the most powerful moments in the film come from songs that deftly mix tragedy and comedy. Liza Minnelli's final "Cabaret" song is desperately sung in such a way that suggests she is putting on a smile for the show while her heart breaks in secret. The fact that she sings about Chelsea (the same place her mother Judy Garland died) is just fundamentally wrong (I think it shows in Liza's fish-eyed gaze) but helps Liza to nail the song perfectly. However, the best moment in the film is unquestionably Tomorrow Belongs to Me. If you have ever been put on the spot to express some form of patriotism but hesitated, then you can relate to this moment. The scene is so beautifully shot and the song is so beautiful, you wouldn't think it's a Nazi call to action at first. The sad fact is that the Nazis wrote pretty songs like we do, and had political campaigns like we do. I wonder how many of you would have stood up for the song out of respect or because of peer pressure if it was your country? With these sorts of themes, it's no wonder that Bob Fosse's Cabaret killed the American Musical. One of the few songs in Cabaret (the play, not the musical) that wasn't endlessly depressing I actually used in my wedding. No, it wasn't Two Ladies. It was "Married", a clowny song that suggests life isn't that bad and marriage isn't that scary. "For you wake one day, look around and say, somebody wonderful married me."

What I Learned: Taught me that singing and dancing is a tragedy; that we find our own reasons to be happy. We entertain ourselves amid terror, tragedy, and our own kind that we can never trust. Helped me to understand how gullible people really are. Also, had the song "Marriage", which my mother sang at my wedding.

Closer
Closer(2004)

Mike Nichols is the most underrated mainstream director in history. With Closer, he made the definitive portrait of an era film, analyzing 1990s casual dating culture. One of the few films that explored the sublime joy of seduction, along with the dark commentary that conquest isn't always what it promises to be.

What is such a quiet and unpleasant movie like Closer doing on a list otherwise dominated by loud and beautiful art pieces? I actually like Closer just because it is the worst romance movie ever made. There is something brutally honest about the screenplay, written by Patrick Marber, which examines the ugliest perspectives of couples and relationships. Anyone who has ever lived through a bad relationship can relate to one of the four archetypical characters in the film, or at least loathe one of the characters because of their "familiarity" to his/her own ex. Yes, Closer was a little too smart to be realistic (people in America don't really talk this elegantly) but it was the perfect representation for romantic suffering in the modern age. I fell in love with Closer during a time in my life when I found out firsthand out ugly love could be, how cruel people could be, and how such cruelty was nothing more than survival instinct. Mike Nichols is not exactly a visionary, but his films never fail to gouge the heart. Closer is not pleasant to watch and will age you a couple of years, but it's a must-see movie for anyone who has ever fallen from Cloud 9.

What I Learned: Really helped me to grasp that a lot of relationships are screwed up. That no coupling is perfect, and you might have to get a little dirty before you find something real and something worth keeping. I love Patrick Marber's obsessive and hopelessly cynical dialog. Truly a feel-bad movie classic that has inspired more cynical narrative in my own work.

Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction(1994)

Revolutionary film that practically spawned the 1990s and 2000 era of storytelling. Not only reminded the stuffy movie industry not to take itself so seriously, but also combined absurdist comedy with crime drama, and deep literature with cheese.

In the year 1994, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was a trailblazing film, a fiercely independent and pulpy sponge of a motion picture that dared to be different in an industry dominated by clearly defined genre pictures. It's a film that's easy to take for granted now that we have so many postmodern art films of the new age that are conforming to the "unpredictable masterpiece" formula. The fact that Tarantino was underfinanced was God's gift to cinema-in the 1990s, by all logic, this movie should have been cleaned up and turned into a god awful Godfather knock-off or a campy Jim Carrey vehicle so that mainstream audiences could understand it. Pulp Fiction showed us, the audience starved for unpredictable plots, that mainstream movies didn't have to take themselves too seriously and yet they could still tell dramatic story arcs with cheekiness and a wink of self-awareness. Many people misunderstand Pulp Fiction...it's not a thoroughly original masterpiece. It owes much of its style to David Lynch and the Coen Brothers. What makes it amazing and the definitive 1990s films, is that it's a collage of movie genres that don't belong together, and yet are neatly packaged in a pulp noir collection that combines the best and worst fashion of every decade since the 1940s. In every single frame, it has an homage to another motion picture that preceded it. It was an underground comic book come to life and one that somehow snuck to mainstream attention with far too many famous faces to seem real. To me, Pulp Fiction was the celebration of independent filmmaking finally triumphing over studio-created schlock. Miramax backed it and ushered in the age of independent "hits." It was an uncompromised vision brought to the screen, which finally proved the artist more powerful than the studio suits. If Orson Welles had lived to see it, he would obsessively applauded by the end credits, ala his great scene in Citizen Kane.

What I Learned: Definitely helped with the postmodern dramedy format. I was relieved to see the world as Quentin saw it, as I wanted it to be, with an unpredictable narrative, and a very bawdy and audacious sense of humor-even when there were moments of silence. He really helped me to see that no matter what you write, it doesn't have to be dishonest, and yet it doesn't have to conform to set rules. He really helped the Independent Artist to reach a point where he could tell a story without compromising the vision.

Moulin Rouge!

Not just the resurrection of the joyful musical, years after Cabaret destroyed it, but also the one true idealistic afterthought that Love Truly Exists, even if it's fleeting, even if it's doomed. A wonderfully optimistic movie, with nuances that might be lost the first time you watch it. A joyful tragedy and visual masterpiece that still dwarfs all other lavish musicals.

Moulin Rouge! is a visual assault masquerading as a musical. Baz Luhrmann's film is hyper and surreal, a childhood view of romance and freedom, with love as the most shimmery and exotic of effigies. It's a movie intended to alienate most music lovers and challenge regular moviegoers with psychedelic visions posing as rambunctious merriment. Yes, it is the ultimate "poser" movie and posing was where the 21st century was headed. People forget that Moulin Rouge! was singlehandedly the movie that brought back the musical to Hollywood, after the genre's untimely death in 1972. While Evita was released a few years before Moulin Rouge!, that movie was Andrew Lloyd Webber's gratuity to Hollywood; a lazily imagined vanity package for Madonna. Moulin Rouge! was the evolution of music in show business-proof that we never stopped singing, we just needed a change of scenery.

What I Learned: I fell in love with this movie just as I lost someone I really cared about. I think the psychedelic doomsday vision of "love" really helped me through the grieving process. I also think it really helped me to fall in love with The Musical. Up until this point, I don't think I associated music with art. I think this film, with Cabaret, showed me that music could be grief; it could be tormented art; it could be therapeutic and not just a fake smile to the world.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Mike Nichols' original masterpiece, as much a horror as it was a comedy and a literary tragedy. This movie forced American cinema to grow up and embrace not only darker subtext and more profane subject mater, but also morally ambiguous concepts. While I'm sure Edward Albee didn't invent literary comprehension on screen, the creative team here certainly were the first to pioneer the concept to Hollywood - still stuck in the golden era.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was not only controversial for its day (one of the movies that helped bury the Hayes Code) but also a wonderfully warped mind trip that is still shocking almost 50 years after the fact. The movie has multiple layers of depraved entertainment; it is a marriage farce, a battle of old time wits (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor at their most imprudent), a coarse perspective of relationship counseling, and of course, it has a plot twist so brutal, you'll never play games at the dinner table again. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has two things going for it: it's based on a play by Edward Albee (the best scripted films are always based on plays) and it's directed by Mike Nichols who has an enormous sensitivity when he's directing couples on screen. This PG rated drama is still the most disturbed thing you'll see in any given month.

What I Learned: I really think Edward Albee and Mike Nichols' creation is where I got some of my harsh and caustic wit. Of course, I always thought really disturbed and funny things in my own head, but until Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf I never knew it could be so deliciously fun to torment people with using only your quick-witted mind. There was great sadism in this sarcasm and it helped me realize there is no need to bite your tongue-at least not in art.

Dogville
Dogville(2003)

Dogville might not be my personal favorite, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who said it it's the best movie ever made. It combined everything I love about the theater with everything great about independent films and foreign films. I have forgotten most of the movies I've watched over the past 17 years but I still remember the first time I watched Dogville and the second time I watched it, with my parents, who were scandalized, but of course very enthralled with the allegorical subject matter. It's very long and minimalist but it's very much anti-imperialist America, which is why I liked it. It's classified as an international film since Lars is Danish, the production companies are multiple countries, and the cast is British / American. The movie got pretty savage reviews by the US media, mostly decrying the fact that it was vitriolic, anti-American and bitter. That was one of my coming-of-age moments when I realized most critics don't know what they're talking about. Since when is passion in art a bad thing?

Few films, outside of the torture porn genre, will fill you with as much righteous fury as Dogville. The film is an exceptional allegory for mankind's gross sins against his own people. As much as we would all like to believe that the film is about man's suffering and the injustice of mob mentality, there is one important point we're all missing. This is about your country! Dogville is the harshest criticism of American values I've ever seen and that is strictly because of its allegorical simplicity and G-rated content. This ambiance makes Lars Von Trier's vitriolic commentary seem like a Disney cartoon on crack. Nicole Kidman's performance is brilliantly naive and yet subtle enough to suggest she doesn't know what the movie's about. (She does...she's an Aussie) The many bizarre cameos by American actors just amaze me. (Sonny Corleone, what were you thinking?) Dogville is a triumph of manic depressive, prejudicial rage.

What I Learned: Definitely one of the movies that made me lose faith in humanity. Realizing that your own country is capable of great evil, and that people you trusted are fully capable of exploiting your weakness and your forgiveness, is frightening. I think Dogville is a movie that disillusions you and brings you to a new level of consciousness. Like Kubrick, another influence of mine, I think Lars' voice-his distrust of humanity-is a strong voice in my head I have yet to shake.

Schindler's List

Spielberg is a propagandist for sure, just witness the travesty that was Lincoln. But Schindler's List transcends politics to create a beautiful and mechanically flawless showcase of inhuman cruelty - indeed, man at his most profane and evil. Spielberg is the Leni Riefenstahl of his day, but in contrast to her, worshiped for his good vs evil simplicity.

Most of Steven Spielberg's films are popcorn entertainment, and in many ways, Schindler's List could be considered the popcorn holocaust film. However, I was in awe the way Spielberg masterfully played his audience. He shot the film as an artist, and with 25% of the sentimentality any other filmmaker would have used. More importantly, he used his technical skills to create a brutal and harrowing vision of Nazi atrocities in a way no other abstract thinker could possibly have done. Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam once said that Spielberg failed to make a true masterpiece, because "Schindler's List was about success...the holocaust was about failure." However, to me, this just makes Spielberg a success. How anyone could make a holocaust backdrop as an inspiring story of humanity is nothing short of genius. Spielberg earns the highest honor-he's Leni Riefenstahl good. And thank God he uses his talent for good and not evil.

What I Learned: I think this movie really showed me how to present a narrative about death and despair in a mainstream way. I've always struggled with how to present such terrible visions that need to be heard, to an audience that wants to be entertained. It's not about compromise, the Propaganda Master said to me. It's about proper focus.

There Will Be Blood

Is just PT Anderson's best work to date? Possibly the best independent movie ever made. Wonderfully provocative art walking a fine line between uncompromising character study, troll cinema, and emotionally detached historical piece. Not only understood the depths of narcissism and flaw of capitalism, but single-handedly reduced the "Serious Oscar Bait" category to mockery. Emotionally cathartic for every moviegoer who frets about the ills of the world but demands allegory for comfort's sake.

When I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, I was annoyed. Annoyed at the abrupt final act, and annoyed at Daniel Plainvew's life. Then I realized, about a day later, this was American filmmaking at its ballsiest. Daniel Plainview is a magnificent caricature of American values, and his 19th century industrialist disdain for human life, is somehow the perfect embodiment for 21st century selfishness. He is what we are, what we will become, and what we fear the most. The movie itself forces us to consider our own personal dichotomy of religion and faith (through the hypocritical Eli character) and materialism. Whichever you choose, you lose your soul.

What I Learned: I am embarrassed to admit that I really relate to Daniel Plainview. I know I shouldn't but I do. His lack of attachment to people, his burying himself in a profession that doesn't "love" anyone, and his mistrust of everything except what his own hands can reach was a terrifying vision of what a naturally anti-social person can easily turn into. In art and in life, I am always running from Daniel, the definitive peak of decadence that you never want to reach, as an artist who strives to inspire people for the betterment of humanity, and as a human being who must always love people more than life experience. Otherwise, everything is worthless.

Ed Wood
Ed Wood(1994)

A wonderful and whimsical tribute to the love of art, filmmaking and writing. It would be an inspirational piece on believing in yourself - if not for the movie's ultimate pessimism. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's most mature and ambitious effort to date.

Why do we keep creating art, even when the world tells us to stop? Because it's the only thing we know how to do! Tim Burton's tribute to the worst filmmaker of all time is not a parody. It is an homage to a filmmaker whose talent wasn't missing-it was just alien. There is something inspiring about a filmmaker who is willing to destroy his career to create something he believes in. Like Tod Browning's Freaks (another memorable film) Edward D. Wood Jr.'s films were less about creating entertainment, and more about a troubled artist working through his issues through the magic of cinema. There's something even more inspiring about Tim Burton getting the point of Ed Wood's life and making a poignant biopic about it.

What I Learned: Really helped me to understand that the process of writing, art, and creating is the real joy in life. Orson Welles started at the top and worked his way to the bottom. Ed Wood worked himself to the bottom and lower to the basement. But he never lost the joy of his art. He was bulletproof and had an unquenchable optimism that was strong enough to survive criticism, mockery, and postmodern love-mockery. Regardless of whether his movies sucked or not, Ed Wood was an artist. Because an artist creates art until he dies, and he enjoys every thankless moment of it.

The Lion King

A much deeper allegorical film than people realize. A quirky animated meditation on life, death, religion and the parental inculcation of dreams and guilt in our children. As much a Prodigal Son metaphor as a vague retelling of Hamlet.

I still get a lot of flack for including The Lion King in serious conversation. However, I stand by my view that allegorical stories are the most emotionally affecting. To me, The Lion King wasn't about lions, pride kingdoms or even Mufasa roaring in heaven.

It was a movie about lost faith, self-discovery and manufactured destiny. The story of Simba running away from his parent-chosen destiny (The Circle of Life, a Christian-esque view of life amalgamated with Eastern philosophies) wasn't just comparable to Shakespeare; this was Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and James Joyce! One could easily draw comparisons of Hakuna Matata to atheism, hedonism or Bohemian independence. Therefore, the very idea of Simba returning to his "destiny" and re-embracing his childhood faith is a very bold thought. Of course, since his heavenly bound father, his lioness-friend and that creepy little monkey constantly harass him about avoiding responsibility, this suggests that Simba never really had a choice but to return to his destiny.

What choice do we have in life, but to accept our family, our religion and the principles we learn in our childhood? Was it really Simba's destiny? Was it really a happy ending? Of course, Disney disowns any deep interpretations of their movie, it being the politically correct mouse who never judges anyone. (Except of course, child daycares that break copyright laws) To me, The Lion King symbolizes the life story of every human being-you can run away from your problems and your quibbles, but in the end, the lion in the sky always comes back to haunt you.

What I Learned: Really helped me to believe, as a child, in religion, in God, and in the optimistic view of life. That everything must be connected. That coming of age is a reality of life and what you retain from your youth really defines your value in life. What you learn in childhood defines who you are and what you do with your gift of life. Even though I've grown up a lot since I first saw it, I still think of this as the definitive optimistic film. And every so often, once in a while, I do write a happy ending myself.

Here is an in depth analysis of the film's symbolism that I first wrote in 2004.

I've been watching The Lion King obsessively for quite a while now for my own personal reasons. However, it wasn't until reading an article online (from...D'oh, forgot--obscure news journal) that I really started to understand why the movie affected me on such a subliminal level then and now. Of course it's subliminal and self-revealing, that is why we obsessively watch anything.

The article went on to explore Disney as a "moral educator"; that it had surpassed the simple role of Guardian and had stepped into the shoes of a full-fledged parent for movie going children. How so? Because of the moralizing shown in its family flicks.  When Disney presents a movie like Beauty & The Beast, in which man and woman fall in love, or Aladdin in which Robin Williams goofs off on B material while a man and woman fall in love, they are entertaining our children.  

But when they crossover into morality, religion and existentialism, they take on the role of moral educator and begin indoctrinating into our children. Should they be doing this when children who watch Disney films are at an especially impressionable age and might possibly be incapable of fully accepting the concept of faith or morals from someone other than mom or dad? After all, would you allow your toddler aged son or daughter to listen to a full grown man explain his view of God, the bible and evolutionary theory?

I was more or less a kid when I first saw The Lion King in 1994 and these are the lessons I believe I was taught at a somewhat impressionable age of 17. (Keep in mind, preaching to a kid any younger than a teen is almost inculcating)

The simple (and possibly alarming) fact is that the Lion King borrows heavily from the Bible. And Shakespeare. And ancient mythology. Everyone knows that LK is loosely based on Hamlet and other works but it adds a bit more trepidation when you learn that the supposed word of God is being drawn in funny shapes and expressions--and in an alternative universe. 

Consider well known biblical story lines and Disney's caricaturized interpretation of them. Paradise that a man rules over, given to him by God. Mufasa tells Simba everything the light touches is your kingdom. But God commands Adam not to partake of the forbidden tree. But that shadowy place is "beyond" Simba's borders, a place which he may never go. Adam breaks the law. Simba defies his Father's order and walks on the wild side of danger. Instead of Adam going along with Eve and finding death, Nahla follows Simba and they are met with disaster.

Fast forward to the halfway mark: Simba becomes the Prodigal Son and leaves his "spiritual" responsibilities behind. Meanwhile the monkey sees that a promised Lion-ssiah will return to the kingdom, that has been lost in spiritual/literal darkness, and reclaim his rightful kingship and restore the desolate wasteland to paradise once again. Parallels to Revelation and the Gospels abound--and paradoxically, traditional
Christianity is pushed here, which is in sharp contrast to the next point I learned...

""We Are All Connected in the Circle of Life" - Darwinism now contrasts the teaching of traditional Christianity, teaching us that we are all connected in a never-ending chain of life and death. Our bodies become the dirt, the grass as Mufasa tells Simba, and we must respect the life in everything. Fascinating how in one animated film Christianity, Hinduism and Darwinism have been amalgamated into one unquestionable Lion Religion.

But speaking of religion, is the Lion King a religious movie? I think the answer is surely Yes, although again, it combines many other religions into a caricature "true religion". 

During one of the best moments of the whole movie, Simba and his new friends Timone and Puumba speculate what exists above the sky and into the stars. Simba recalls his "religious" upbringing in which he was told by his father was DOES lie above the stars--the great kings of the past. 

However, Timone and Puuma here take on the roles of agnostics, laughing at Simba's explanation, and pushing their worldly wisdom of Hakuna Matata and the cynic's view of spirituality. Timone says the stars are fireflies--he sees the stars as a poet would, having no real concept of a Godlike being, but only of what he has observed in his very limited perspective. Puumba sees the stars in a purely scientific manner, believing them to be balls of gas burning billions of miles away. Of course, he being a very flatulent creature, he explains only according to what he knows.

The ultimate moral lesson of course, is that every creature has his own way of viewing the world. And everyone has their own unique brand of faith. There's more to see (about faith) in this movie than can ever been seen...more to do than can ever be done...(at least in this post). 

Mufasa's death was graphic and took place on screen--far surpassing the unseen death of Bambi's mother years ago. Was it wrong to teach children about cold blooded murder and to depict the violence in such a beautifully drawn scene as the wildebeest stampede? 

I don't think so because children need to learn about death, about injustice, and about the fact that "Life's not fair is it?" It does take away some of their innocence but given the message of the movie and the hope it restores, to depict a death early on in the film is a necessary evil. It was also a good move to show Scar's death, as it teaches that criminal scheming and deception will always result in punishment. Disney should be "respected, saluted" for being this daring. 

"You Are More Than What You Have Become", An angry Mufasa explains to Simba from beyond the grass. Haunting words, when thinking about the implications it gives us as an audience. What do we owe anyone, besides that we live and breathe and try not to eat each other? While I think there is a religious subtext here, pushing people to faith & religion of some sort, I also think that this scene is just as much about guilt and redemption. 
We all suffer from trauma in our lives, mistakes of the past or unrequited ambitions that we never fulfilled. Analyzing it from a nonreligious standpoint, if there is something that we yearn to do, and yet hold back from accomplishing out of fear, resentment or guilt, then we are being a Simba--we are running away from what calls to us. Is it belief in God? 

It can't be absolute preaching here, since Disney is also advocating Darwin's philosophy that life is a never ending chain of circular events, life and death, decomposition and conception. So we have to take it that Disney is painting a surreal picture of "faith" open to our own interpretation as unique and varied human beings--it is whatever we make it out to be. Are we running away from our self-granted destiny or do we have the strength of a lion to face our greatest challenge and conquer the demons of the past?

But the biggest lesson to learn here is a tough one: "I know who you are. You're Mufasa's boy," says Rafiki, teasing a brooding Simba late one night. 

Speaking again of destiny and of quasireligious undertones, when you really get down to it--what more can we expect of a child, but that he grows up to be who his parents want him to be? Children are mostly the product of their upbringing. Bad children grow up into bad adults as a result of a bad household. That leaves all the good children, all well behaved and with loving parents, who each go their separate way because of the subtle but solid parental examples that were left behind for them. 

It wasn't Simba's obligation that he become king. His father could have looked down on him and wished him well, living with a warthog and eating bugs all day. But it was Mufasa's will for his son that he become king, as his father did, and his father did, and etc. 

The example parents set for their young ones leave a definite mark and becomes a burned image of grown up success in the mind's eyes of a young person. There is a good chance that if a boy was taught by father to put work ahead of family that he will grow up to be a wealthy workaholic. (ala "Cats In The Cradle")  

On the other hand, if a girl was taught by her mother to be strong-minded, industrious and proactive in the community, you can bet this girl won't be sitting at home content to be just another housewife. Lastly, if a young man is raised by parents to believe in a particular faith or an understanding of God, though he might go soul searching in his rebellious youth, it's likely he will follow in their "pawprints" when he settles down in life. On the other hand, a little boy, raised in a household with no specific religious study, will have no specific "faith" to turn to, and may even find the thought of a "religious" discussion about The Lion King out of place and nonsensical. 

We cannot escape our destiny. We all do have a destiny, you know. And whatever that destiny is, is determined when we are young and as we spend time with our moral educators who teach us the circle of life--as they see it.
Coming from an extreme religious background myself, I do see a lot of faith discussion in the movie, whereas others only read the more general faith-healing message of Live & Let Live. Remember, all are agreed as they join the stampede you can never take more than you give. Meaning, no matter your faith or belief, be good to one another! (A nice safe message worthy of Jerry Springer...the only clear message Disney would be allowed to give in a press release, but certainly not the only one they implied)  

The Lion King is a great film because while it entertains and educates our children, it also provokes deep discussion on all things symbolic, literal and interpretive for adults who are willing to pay close attention to its allegory.

JFK
JFK(1991)

Were the 1990s the only decade that would have allowed the release of JFK - a movie that condemns the United States government for complicit or explicit involvement in the president's assassination? Probably, because ever since the 2000 era we've had more darkness, less questioning, more glorification of the government. JFK was a remarkable exercise in free speech and Stone no doubt benefited from his clout earned from previous movies to make such a statement.

Natural Born Killers

Once upon a time, old man on campus Oliver Stone was the badass of cinema. What I liked about his movies was that he questioned every institution, sacred or not. It worked to mainstream success in JFK but alienated the audience in Natural Born Killers, a satire of entertainment culture and a not too subtle commentary on media accountability. Not surprisingly, the media did not care for this film, because no one wants to look into a funny mirror and see their actual reflection.

Eat Pray Love

Self indulgent book meets self-indulgent Julia Roberts (in midlife crisis) meets self indulgent elitist view of the world, makes for a miserable experience. The fact that Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) made this boggles the mind.

Whatever Works

For some reason, Larry David playing Woody Allen felt like Frankenstein trying to play Dracula.

Eyes Wide Shut

Was it Stanley Kubrick's last mangled masterpiece (that he never quite finished) or was it a tightly wound watch that we're still trying to figure out? I avoid such speculation, partly because a true follower of Kubrick would probably form an opinion rather quickly and I'm not one to take issue with whatever his fans think. More to the point, I enjoyed the movie simply because it was Tom Cruise at his most vulnerable on screen. IMO, this was one of the very few films that made him genuinely likable, and then spent the next 2-3 hours emotionally gouging him. For the record, I don't think Kubrick was actually confessing or condemning anything about the Illuminati, as much as he simply used masonic imagery to toy with our imaginations, much in the way he poked us with Apollo imagery in The Shining. Kubrick was a violent dinosaur intellectually speaking and just wouldn't have felt right about leaving us a more specific social commentary.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

One of my favorites, a movie that wasn't aware of its own comic / cartoon limitations and became the most compelling murder mystery of the late 1980s, not to mention a satire, a visual effects masterpiece and a great comedic peak of the 20th century. Personal favorites? Hard to choose from between Christopher Lloyd going against type and playing a ghoul, Jessica Rabbit's uncomfortably sexy moments that made you second guess what the hell you were watching, and just the nostalgic novelty of watching "retired" cartoon characters update you on the continuing saga of their lives. It's hard to find a movie that's both a sentimental favorite, as a proverbial child looking forward to Saturday morning cartoons, as well as a movie that's nuanced enough for adults. The fact that you forget the technical wizardly within minutes of the credits, it's an ode to Zemeckis' talent.

Being There
Being There(1979)

A predecessor to Forrest Gump, and arguably far wittier than the sentimental Tom Hanks-driven narrative. Of course, this also creates emotional detachment, as does the dry humor of that 1970s, early 1980s causticity. Still Peter Sellers' bratty method acting works brilliantly here and he creates a passive aggressive cynicism that winds up being not only charming but also a bit unsettling - particularly in the final scene which alludes to everything holy and yet resolves nothing. Classic intellectual trolling, the 70s going out with style.

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump(1994)

Ironic that Forrest Gump was perceived as the anti-thesis of Pulp Fiction in 1994 when they were both films that satirized American culture - perhaps Forrest Gump even more so, with a strong Democratic slant. The far and in between moments of drama are what apparently made the movie Oscar bait...but make no mistake, take away the melodrama and Tom Hanks' self important acting and what you have is a rather conflicted comedy, that's not sure how to reconcile sins of the past. If not for the expertly handled emotional manipulation by Robert Zemeckis, this movie could have been as heartless as Being There. But the "clean up" crew of 1990s Hollywood was sure to leave everyone feeling sentimental.

The Dark Knight Rises

Nolan falls victim to the 3 strike curse. The film is not necessarily too ambitious - Nolan simply doesn't evoke any charisma from his cast to make it a more emotional send-off. Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway were inexplicably thrust into major roles that existed primarily because of fan request - rather than any central meaning to the story. Villain confusion, combined with an obsessive need to end the story on a positive note, watered down the drama.

The Dark Knight

Whereas most will heap justified praise on Heath Ledger's performance, what I found most fascinating was the ideological approach - converting a doomsday crime drama quite adeptly into a comic book thriller. Obviously 911 influenced, this is Nolan's political prophecy and his best mechanical film. The weakest link, even more distracting than the first was a weak performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Batman Begins
½

A film that's both overrated and yet overly criticized. There are many issues to nitpick with, from Bale's scenery chewing to Katie Holmes, but the real discovery is in Nolan's ability to create a militarily influenced vision of Batman, with surprising emotional depth, at least coming from Liam Neeson and Michael Caine, if no one else.

Batman & Robin
½

This movie was so reviled, while Batman Forever was so inexplicably praised (by Roger Ebert and Entertainment Weekly no less) that I actually felt bad for Joel Schumacher - since he didn't really do much different from one movie to the next. If you must fault someone, fault Uma Thurman who acted with all the grace of a drunk girl on her birthday, throwing plants at people.

Batman Forever

I was one of the few who noticed discrepancies with Joel Schumacher's style - not complimenting Burton's at all - in the first film, before it became painfully obvious in the second. This film suffered from a variety of slapstick performances, led by Jim Carrey who failed to convey any real sense of horror. In contrast, witness the expert performance by Gotham's Cory Michael Smith, who tributes Jim Carrey elastic sense of humor while still staying grounded in psychosis. The film is elevated by one factor - the gorgeous Nicole Kidman in her prime, one of the few screen sirens I fell in love with.

Batman Returns

Underrated comic book classic. Nuanced performance by Keaton with glorious performances by Pfeiffer and DeVito which walked the line between farce and clinical psychosis. It didn't catch people off guard like Batman (1989) did, but for Burton fans it was a solid new age "monster movie" with a droll sense of humor.

Batman
Batman(1989)

Tim Burton's psychologically complex portrayal of a fractured man, with a subtle but classic performance by Keaton - who had nothing prove. Jack Nicholson's doctor was iconic - as all the joker performances have been, and reflective of their zeitgeist era. Critics often underestimate what Burton's cinematic reboot of the character accomplished for comic book movies in general, not to mention the practically invented genre of the "Dark Superhero Franchise."

2001: A Space Odyssey

Saying that's something is the "best" work of Kubrick may be narrow-minded. His complete collection of work is a Stonehenge of filmmakng - something most will never completely comprehend. 2001 may have been a movie that worked superficially as a prophecy of technology to come, but Kubrick made sure the sci-fi was the least mind-blowing thing about it. The real discovery is in the film's meditative, if psychedelic, narrative. A haunting experience, more so than a coherent cinematic plot, the film speaks to me as a reminder of the infinitesimal perspective of man when attempting to behold the universe.

Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade

The short film that spawned Sling Blade, a great character study flick.