FEAR <------X-------> LOVE Hello again.

You liked my readinging section so much that you decided to come here?!? That is fabulous, and also good, and great, muchly great. Are you more likely to watch a movie than read a book? shame on you.

Movies are an entirely different demon compared with books. I would say that I feel less of a personal connection to great movies than I do with remarkable literature. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the reduced role of imagination in movies and the inability to pace oneself appropriately and reflect. The narrative is in constant motion, and movies must adhere to a variety of rules and physical laws that books can escape from. Additionally, it is difficult to capture complex devices such as 'stream of consciousness' in a movie medium without seeming overly chaotic. Finally, movies must appeal to larger audiences to be produced than do books, and entirely different groups of people are interested in written publications versus cinematic ones.

Nonetheless, there are some movies which I feel are very profound and have had a strong effect on me. Much of the time, it is solely an artistic appreciation of the dialogue or cinematography, but in some of these movies, all of the pertinent elements have come together to form an auspicious whole. I have divided the movies into tiers of around ten movies each.

First Tier: These are closest to LOVE on the lifeline.

TitleDirector and Release DateType/Genre/MovementComplexityComments

The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky
Ascension8/10I first saw The Fountain on opening night in DC and I let the extreme emotional intensity and occasionally iffy dialogue influence my overall appraisal of the film. In spite of these perceived shortcomings I still felt it was by far the most beautiful movie I'd ever seen. On subsequent viewings, my understanding and appreciation for the movie has deepened and I now feel strongly that it is one of the greatest, if not the greatest film I've ever seen. The overarching theme of the acceptance of death is transcendental. The visual effects, which are made via macro photography of fluids and bacteria in petri dishes, are awe-inspiring. I firmly believe that this movie was intended to be Aronofsky's opus and in spite of the massive production issues that were encountered I feel it succeeds. Unfortunately, the box office results were dismal and he was forced to make safer plays with his next few productions (The Wrestler and Black Swan). Hopefully with the success of those flicks he can continue to make his big ideas happen on screen. [I recommend this movie for theater viewing only]

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki
Anime, Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Adventure2/10After having seen most of Miyazaki's works, starting with Spirited Away, I thought that I'd seen the best of them. As it turns out, his first film with Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa is easily my favorite. Considering how incredible his other works are, this is a bold statement to make. Nonetheless, I feel that Nausicaa achieves a better balance between Japanese folklore and universal morals. In addition, the quality and detail of the setting is absolutely captivating, especially considering the movie was made in 1984. Finally, Nausicaa, the heroine, is one of my favorite characters in any movie I've seen. Doesn't she look like she belongs at Burning Man?!

Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson
Non-Narrative Documentary5/10This movie, by the creators of Baraka, is similar in style but far greater in scope and purpose than its spiritual predecessor. Many of the images are so awe-inspiring that you cannot believe what you are witnessing actually exists on this planet. While many of the unstated themes center around impermanence, the juxtapositions of various scenes convey many other ideas to the viewer as well. In fact, viewing this movie fully openly requires an exhausing effort on the part of the viewer, and at 1 hour and 40 minutes it can seem like a marathon toward the end. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly worthwhile experience to witness and I highly recommend it to everybody! [I recommend this movie for theater viewing only]

Waking Life
Richard Linklater
Stream of Dream Consciousness9/10This is an incredibly unique movie. It's basically a dream sequence of quasi-related philosophical and theological/spiritual dialogue without any commentary to guide your interpretation. You must let go of any preconceptions you may have about how movies are supposed to have plots or narratives and instead let the sequences and ideas pour over you. Animated using the surreal style known as Rotoscoping, you will feel at times as if you're dreaming while watching it. I started having my first lucid dreams not long after watching this movie for the first time...

Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky
Thriller, Drama6/10For many years this was my unequivocally 'favorite' movie. I still feel that it is nearly perfect, although I have since found other films that resonate with me to a greater degree. Despite its quality, it is certainly not easy to watch as its themes deal primarily with addiction, depression and drug abuse. A fantastically intense cautionary tale, the cinematography is ground-breaking, the dialogue pristine and the acting perfect. What a tremendous second effort from this director.

The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont
Drama1/10Most everyone reading this list has probably already seen this movie, and rightly so. The story of the wrongfully imprisoned man is universal but nowhere so well done as in The Shawshank Redemption. That the protagonist can retain his self-dignity and keep his moral compass intact throughout such an awful experience is a testament to the power of the human will. The finale of this film acts on the viewer's mind as a sort of rejuvination and leaves a permanent impression of the value of freedom.

American Beauty
Sam Mendes
Drama3/10American Beauty is an incredible account of suburban malaise. For me it highlights the wanton prevalence of craving and aversion in america and how our reaction to them steals our peace of mind. The only characters who seem to achieve any real sense of purpose are those who forsake this way of life to find their own unique path. As such, they become strangers amidst their own people and culture. This is something that many of my peers and I can certainly relate to.

The Return of the King
Animated Fiction1/10One of my oldest memories is of watching the end of an animated movie on television about a ring of power and a great adventure to destroy it. After watching the movie my parents took me to Mendon Ponds Park and, unable to get thoughts of the epic story out of my head, I spent the day re-enacting the events of the film on the trails and in the woods. Fast forward a few years and I rediscovered this story as a book: a sequel, in fact, to The Hobbit, and these are all books which were held in esteem on my father's bookshelf. Reading The Hobbit was one of my proudest achievements in elementary school and I remember bragging about having read a 'chapter book' to my friends. Seeing my early interest in Tolkien my parents purchased the three extant animated films of his works: The Hobbit (1977), The Return of the King (1980) and The Lord of the Rings (1978). Lo and behold I had found the movie from so many years prior! Strangely, The Return of the King was not my favorite of the three in my adolescence. I preferred The Lord of the Rings although it irked me to no end that the film cuts off halfway through the trilogy. Anyway, in 2012 on a whim I decided to revisit these films and while I wasn't expecting much, I never expected my rediscovery to be so overwhelming. At once nostalgic and inspiring, this film (and The Hobbit to a lesser degree) is the epitome of what a good animated movie is all about. The message is so wonderful, and the artistry so beautiful that it brought me to tears. Tolkien's underlying themes of good vs evil, and the corruption that accompanies power and craving, and the higher value of humility all come to life in this epic work. It's not just for kids!

The Kite Runner
Mark Forster
Drama3/10The Kite Runner is a movie of tremendous merit. It is one of the few authentic 'travel' movies that transports the viewer and provides a glimpse into an unfamiliar world. For me, seeing Afghanistan portrayed prior to and after the Soviet occupation provided remarkable insight into the effects of war on a nation and its people. The insanity of racism and religious extremism are also laid bare. At times it is a difficult movie to watch, but any violence is handled well and there is a thread of decency and nobility throughout.

Fight Club
David Finchner
Intense5/10With a name like Fight Club and such violent subject matter, this movie doesn't appear on the surface to have any great merit; yet this is a mistaken view. For me Fight Club is one of the most wonderfully complex explorations of the modern human psyche in film. Unlike many films (*cough* Tarantino *cough*) that use violence to pander to the audience, Fight Club introduces it as a sort of perverted meditation for a perverted society, and I think the idea fits. Add to that the unabashed disregard for most film conventions, and the incredible acting of Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, and you have a cult classic that will remain visceral for some time.

Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly
Fantasy/Comedy/Drama4/10Donnie Darko is an oddball movie, even by the standards of this list. I find it remarkable that such an incoherent story would be made into a hollywood movie, but thankfully it was. Unlike movies such as Requiem where perfect ingredients result in a powerful final product, with Donnie Darko the end result is more than the sum of its parts. Nothing about this movie, except perhaps the soundtrack, is particularly groundbreaking on its own, but somehow it achieves a great measure of unity and purpose in telling the strange story of a 'disturbed' young man. From what I can tell, the Director's Cut is the way to go with this one.

Forrest Gump
Robert Zemeckis
Romantic Drama2/10While Disney's Blank Check was the first movie in my life I can distinctly remember being critical of (for its ridiculous implausibility), Forest Gump is the first movie that I ever saw that totally and absolutely blew me away. As soon as I left the theater I could not get the beauty of it out of my head. I believe it was probably my first artistically-driven cathartic moment. After UB40's 'Promises and Lies' and Blind Melon's 'No Rain', the third music CD that I ever acquired was the Forrest Gump Soundtrack! This was just before Matchbox 20's 'Real World' ;-)

Second Tier: Still kickass movies.

TitleDirector and Release DateType/Genre/MovementComplexityComments

Christopher Nolan
Psychological Thriller7/10Memento is an incredibly bold movie. Most people, when watching it for the first time, aren't able to get their bearings for the first quarter to half of the movie. The way that time flows is quite unique and puts the viewer into a similar mind-state as the 'protagonist'. As a result, I feel that much of the deeper meaning of the film can only be gleaned on repeated viewings, and it is very enjoyable to discover things that you missed previously. Some of the core motifs explore the concept of identity and the importance of a sense of purpose in sustaining a difficult life.

The Truman Show
Peter Weir
Satire2/10I think this is one of the most underrated movies on this list. At the time it was released, Jim Carrey was starring in so many flicks that I don't think anyone was looking at any of them particularly critically. If they had, I think this movie would have gotten more of the attention it deserves. Although it has comedic elements I feel its dramatic qualities and powerful message warrant it being placed in this tier. The ending is one of my favorite moments in all of cinema, and Truman is also one of my favorite characters. The concept behind the movie is brilliant and it is executed audaciously and believably. It is gripping, emotional, enjoyable and enlightening, what more could you ask for?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry
Romantic Sci-Fi5/10Jim Carrey makes another appearance, and in Eternal Sunshine he really shows his versatility. There are a few scenes in this film that betray my ability to suspend disbelief (i.e. the jumping on the bed scene) but beyond these minor gaffs this movie has an emotional depth that surpasses almost any other. The horrific feeling of being trapped within your own troubled psyche and the preciousness of memories, even sad ones, are themes that I haven't really seen explored anywhere else.

The Fearless Freaks
Bradley Beesley
Music Documentary1/10I've seen many documentaries about my favorite bands but none of them inspire like this one. The Flaming Lips are certainly one of the most unique acts out there: So full of love and creativity, they are doing something absolutely wonderful and they have been at it for a long time. But it didn't start out that way. In fact, the story of how the Flaming Lips evolved is one of the greatest underdog stories I've ever run across. Even if you've never heard of this band, I highly recommend this movie. From Oklahoma City with love.

The Straight Story
David Lynch
Country Drama-1/10I am somewhat torn on David Lynch. While I enjoyed (somewhat ironically) the first season and a half of Twin Peaks and greatly appreciate Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, there's always something slightly irritating about his works as well. As one of his lesser known films, I didn't have high expectations going into The Straight Story but what I found completely blew me away. Lynch's slow pacing and knack for subtlety hits home here like never before. And finally, a film whose premise, while quirky, is somewhat rational and even *gasp* inspiring! Check this one out when you're in the mood for a feel-good movie.

The Best of Youth
Marco Tullio Giodana
Multi-Generational Drama2/10This Italian film was recommended to me by my 2nd cousin Julia when I met her in New York on my 2006 motorcycle trip. She said it was her favorite movie and that it was like six hours long. It took me about four years before I got around to watching it. While I anticipated breaking it up into several sessions my roommate and I ended up plugging through in two three-hour halves since it was so engrossing. I loved how it spanned several generations and the many characters had such diverse personality types. In effect it really is an epic film and I especially recommend it for sentimental types.

Schindler's List
Steven Spielberg
Holocaust2/10This classic film, like most art directed at expressing the atrocities of the holocaust, is challenging to watch. The length of the film, combined with the sense of urgency and dread underying most scenes, keeps the viewer on edge the entire time. Nonetheless its quality of the film and the greatness of the central characters deeds cannot be denied.

Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki
Anime Surrealism2/10While Nausicaa is my favorite Miyazaki film, Spirited Away is probably his most popular. It was the one that originally got me hooked on his works and it has retained my appreciation through repeated viewings. Unlike Nausicaa which has pretty heavy-handed morals, this movie is more of a carefree jaunt through a surreal world of spirits and folklore. There are so many oddities and novelties that the viewer very much feels like a kid again watching it. Perhaps the only thing that could use an adjustment is the shearness of the english voice-actress's yelling. It gets to be pretty irritating by the time you're halfway through the movie.

The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers
Brilliant Comedy2/10I feel like I don't need to describe this movie. If you haven't already seen it, shame on you. If you've seen it and don't think you like it, watch it again with an open-er mind :-) There is so much novelty in this film that it is one of the few movies (along with Wet Hot American Summer and perhaps South Park: Bigger, Longer Uncut) that I feel meets the standard set by Monty Python in their pioneering comedy..

Third Tier: These Don't Suck

11 Minutes Ago
Bob Gebert
Indie Time Travel6/10This movie shares some logistical similarities to Memento but in almost all other ways is an entirely different experience. An indie film shot in 17 hours with an ultra-low budget, 11 Minutes Ago is proof that a good script and great ideas are still the most important ingredients in making a worthwhile flick. Some of the dialogue is a bit iffy and there are more than a few acting hiccups but overall I think this is one of the most elegant and endearing movies I've ever seen. I believe it can be digitally rented on Amazon.com for 3 dollars or so.

Wet Hot American Summer
David Wain
Absurd Comedy0/10This is a love-it-or-hate-it type of movie. In fact, many of my favorites on this list are, but in my view, this is probably the most Colin of all. The first time I saw it I was rolling on the floor crying at the 'Making miniature black holes with paper-clips and soot' joke. It also has the distinction of being the movie I've watched more than any other. During my third year of college we had it running on loop all the time for almost an entire semester. Now I hear they're making a prequel with the exact same cast. Thus everyone will be 20-years too old to play their parts. Ha!

Akira Korusawa
Magical Realism4/10This movie consists of eight separate, unrelated dream sequences. They are each very moving and powerful, even disturbing in some cases. I feel like these are true cinematic works of art.

Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick
Dark Comedy2/10Dr. Strangelove is one of the boldest movies I've ever seen. Released at the height of the Vietnam War, it was a scathing attack on the US military institution and indeed on war in general. The satirical dialogue in this film is pretty much perfect with the exception of the namesake character. Frankly, I don't really think Dr. Strangelove himself adds much, if anything, to the movie. Still, this is a historical classic that everyone should see.

Sweet Sixteen
Ken Loach
Drug Drama3/10So clearly this movie has a terrible title, or at least a highly misleading one. It isn't about princess parties or bow-laden lexi. It's a gritty film about two youth caught up in the Scottish drug scene. So if you feel like a really well done downer, check this one out.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python
Absurd Comedy0/10As the greatest work by perhaps the greatest comedy group ever, this film has incredible genes. It is far ahead of its time and brazenly audacious in its execution. I still can't believe that the entire film is derailed within the first minute. King Arthur and his squire, looking as serious as possible despite using coconuts instead of horses for travel, approach a castle and inquire about its ownership. Instead of answering the question, the guard completely sidetracks the infant narrative by demanding to know where the coconuts come from. Thus starts the string of absurd scenes that still somehow form a coherent plot. The ending is famously abrupt, and frankly bad, but that's alright, the rest is pure gold.

Fantastic Planet
Rene Laloux
Animated Sci-Fi??/10This is certainly one of the strangest movies you'll ever run across. The planet itself, inhabited by humans (called Oms) and giants (called Draags), is incredibly trippy. Add to this the meditative practices of the Draags and you have a formula for a crazy film. The surprising thing, perhaps, is that the film is actually worthwhile and enjoyable to watch.

Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog
Documentary1/10This and Little Dieter Needs to Fly are probably Herzog's greatest documentaries. Grizzly Man has the distinction of having the most incredibly unique subject matter: The story of a man who decides to live amongst grizzly bears. Told through actual footage and audio recordings made by Timothy Treadwell himself, the film explores the possibilities in human interaction with wild animals. Timothy clearly had a few nuts loose, but his discoveries revolutionized my views of animals in nature. The ending, however, is a terrible tragedy that should have been prevented.

Final Tier: Movies of Nostalgia

Star Wars IV-VI
George Lucas
1977, 1980, 1983
Space Opera1/10Now that Hollywood has imploded into a cesspool of non-creativity and greed, it is easy to think that any movie that is popular must be terrible. Fortunately, this half-truth doesn't extend back very far, and in prior eras some of the greatest works were also the most popular. A great example is Star Wars. When I went back to revisit these films after college, I was surprised by the quality I found. The dialogue is really clever, the special effects are economical and purposeful, and the characters are human and believable. In fact, there is nothing I would change about most of IV and all of V. Some of VI is a bit ridiculous but I still find it a great movie overall. Ironically, the creator of these films didn't feel the same as me and released special editions that in most cases butchered the originals. Fortunately you can now get copies of the unedited originals in remastered-HD (Lucas finally caved!).

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Steven Spielberg
Adventure0/10The Indiana Jones series is not really that good. Raiders of the Lost Ark is good (not great) and Temple of Doom is bad (not horrible). The Last Crusade, however, is nostalgic gold. Most of the problems that the other two films suffer from are not present (bad acting and corny comic-relief). Thus, this is a rare example of a series that actually improved in a sequel. If your memory of these films is hazy, and you don't remember any one of them being particularly better than the others, I think its time you rewatch this one. I am sure it will surprise you!

Back to the Future I, II & III
Robert Zemeckis
Time Travel0/10The Back to the Future movies really hit home for me since II and III were released during my memorable childhood. Unlike the Karate Kid trilogy which was also released around this time, Back to the Future has staying power and is fun to watch, even as an adult. I would say that the first and third are probably the most polished, but the second is not terrible either and everyone loves the future scenes. Having watched these movies many times, I am still blown away by the attention to detail. If you freeze the movie and read newspaper headings or generally pay close attention, you will find that the filmmakers have hidden clever links between the films throughout. Marathon, anyone?

The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner
Fantasy0/10This movie has a special place in the hearts of many people in my generation. While I certainly have fond memories of it, I fear that my first exposure came when I was already in middle or high school, and past my early formative years. Nonetheless I recognized it as a classic 'kids' movie and still feel that it has elements of earnest fantasy that set it apart from a lot of the disney classics.

I decided against posting a section of movies that I don't like, but I've just got to get one thing off my chest. All of Quentin Tarantino's movies are crap. Have you ever looked up the definition of the word pander?