My last post explored movies that I’ve outgrown for a variety of reasons, from lackluster sequels to cultural over-saturation to just not being at the right place in my life to connect with them anymore. There are some movies, though, that I’m entirely certain I’ll never outgrow. These are movies I go back to time and time again and enjoy them each time I watch them. I’m not talking about movies that are necessarily part of the classical canon of “Great Films;” I’m talking about movies that have withstood the test of time as far as my own personal tastes are concerned. But also, they’re pretty awesome.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a sucker for a guy in a silly rubber suit stomping on miniature-sized cities. There’s something satisfying about the physicality of it that you just don’t get with CGI monsters wreaking havoc on a series of ones and zeroes made to represent places and things. When I was a kid, it was all about the smashing. The way I’d build things out of Legos and then happily break them back into their component parts, I also enjoyed seeing a model Tokyo demolished by a rampaging Godzilla or Ghidorah or Rodan. As an adult, it’s still largely about the smashing, but also it turns out that the original Godzilla is a genuinely good movie. Good enough for a Criterion Blu-Ray release (the one people keep not getting me for Christmas or my birthday, but I digress), which is like getting an official Serious Cinephile seal of approval. It was a film with a message, unlike, for instance Pacific Rim (as much as I enjoyed that movie). Granted, the million sequels it spawned somewhat diluted that message, but most of them were enjoyable in their own right. I don’t know how the new American reboot is going to turn out. I’m not optimistic. It can’t possibly be worse than the 1998 Roland Emmerich-directed abomination, though. I still get angry just thinking about that one.
I love Miyazaki’s films. There’s an innocence and a beauty to them that’s really unmatched. Spirited Away encapsulates everything I love about his work, and is just such a lovely movie that I don’t think I’ve watched it a single time without getting a little teary-eyed at some point. They’re not the same tears evoked by, for instance, the supremely melancholy Grave of the Fireflies (my favorite non-Miyazki animated film). It’s a lot more pleasant than that. I think my favorite thing about the movie, though, is that I can watch it with my daughter and see her enjoy it just as much as I do. Most “family-friendly” animated movies are an absolute chore to sit through as an adult, but this is one that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike without reservation. There’s no crass humor or marketing gimmicks, just quality filmmaking.
The Big Lebowski
Probably my favorite comedy of all time, The Big Lebowski pulls off a neat trick of being an extremely intelligent movie without necessarily seeming like an extremely intelligent movie. It’s got a dumb stoner antihero as its protagonist, an utterly ridiculous plot (much of which involves bowling), and is quotable as hell. And yet under that is a pitch-perfect deconstruction of the hard-boiled detective genre which came out at a time when I had just been immersed in that genre for my film studies class. Lebowski is the anti-Philip Marlow, and The Big Lebowski plays out like some Bizarro version of movies like The Big Sleep. If I just enjoyed the film on a surface level then it’s entirely possible it would have worn out its welcome for me by now, but the extra layers beneath the surface elevate it to the level of a classic. Plus it just has some of the best comedic acting of any movie ever.
Planet of the Apes
On paper, Planet of the Apes doesn’t seem like a movie I should love. A fairly cheesy ’60s sci fi flick about a future Earth ruled by apes who have evolved past humans? (Sorry for the potential spoiler, but it’s a 45 years-old movie so if you haven’t seen it by now then that’s on you.) Oh, and it stars Charleton Heston, a man who went on to become an icon of firearm fanaticism? If you pitched that to me sight unseen it would be a hard sell. And yet, I’ve watched Planet of the Apes more than any other science fiction movie and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it each time. I even kind of like the sequels, even though they seemed to get markedly worse with each one. I hated the Tim Burton reboot, and I’ve yet to see the post-Tim Burton prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes (although I’ve heard it’s pretty decent). I could watch the original again tomorrow, though, and I would still yell along with Heston’s famous lines at discovering the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. “Oh man! Look at that! What’s going on here?!” I think that’s how they go, anyway.
Evil Dead 2
Army of Darkness is probably the most popular movie in the original Evil Dead trilogy, but I still consider Evil Dead 2 to be the best. It has the perfect combination of horror and slapstick comedy, right in between the original Evil Dead (which was essentially the same movie but played straight) and Army of Darkness (which had an almost Monty Python level of humor to it but very little real horror). Right around Halloween each year when I want to be terrified but also want a good belly laugh or two, that’s when Evil Dead 2 hits the sweet spot.