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Juno and the Power of Favorites

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me start this post by telling you a little bit about how school's going. It's great. I really, really love what I study. I get to make movies and see movies and write about movies, which is all I've ever really wanted to do.

Part of the reason I decided to study film was because I didn't think I had seen enough movies. I still don't. Now, the people closest to me are probably shaking their heads, recalling the many hours I've spent in front of TV, laptop, and movie screens. The truth is, though, those hours could probably easily be divided up amongst 15 movies.

See, I have this habit of watching the same few movies over and over again. Unlike most people I've talked to, I have a pretty clear list of my favorite films that I can name right off the bat. This is mostly because I've seen them at least 20 times each, and that's no exaggeration. One of these films is Juno.

The first time I saw Juno, I was 13. I took my m…

Let's Try This Thing Again

Well, once again, I'm dusting this thing off. Here I am, writing about movies again. Sure, it's been a while, but nothing's really changed. I still watch too many movies. I still keep the "film list". Film is still my major (which is pretty cool).

I can honesty say that absence has made the heart grow fonder. I've missed writing about the movies I see and having people read it and getting to talk to them about it. So, I've decided to start doing it again. However, this blog is gonna see some changes.

Here's the thing: the rules I used to follow drive me nuts. I love the film list, don't get me wrong, and I still want to finish it and write about the movies I see. The truth is, though, I don't want to write about every one. Some of them are boring. Some of them are hard to understand. Some of them don't warrant an entire post.

At the same time, there are plenty of movies that aren't on the list that I want to write about. Movies I'v…

The Film List Project #26: Jaws, Brick, and Aliens

This was one of those rare weeks that I got to watch not one, not two, but three movies from the list. If you've looked at the titles, you know that one of these films is not like the other.

I'll break it down for you: two of these (Jaws and Aliens) are classic blockbusters. The other (Brick) is a low-budget teenage caper flick. These movies have nothing in common except for a one-word title.

Despite their differences, I loved all these films. Watching and loving all three made me realize just how much my taste has changed and expanded over the course of this project. The fact that I can admire a detective film, a sci-fi classic, and, well, Jaws says a lot about how much I've learned over the last few months.

Jaws has gone down in history as the first blockbuster, but at the end of the day, it's really a classic story of people fearing the unknown and not knowing how to adapt to change. In this case, the unknown is actually pretty dangerous.

A great white shark is nothi…

The Film List Project #25: Man on Wire

Today is a milestone for this blog. Not only is it the 25th post in The Film List Project and the 60th post on this site, but it's also my first post about a documentary.

It's not uncommon to hear people say that documentaries are boring. That's fair. There are some documentaries that are really, really dull. However, people who think that documentary films are synonymous with boring have really seen the wrong docs.

To me, documentaries are one of the coolest forms storytelling. They allow you to see into someone's actual life on a really intimate level. Documentary subjects are doing inspiring, extraordinary things just like people in narrative films, but you get to experience these very real events with them.

Docs have a unique vulnerability and intimacy to their storytelling that you can't find anywhere else. Because I watched The Punk Singer, I feel like I understand Kathleen Hanna's career and impact. Watching The Last Waltz gave me a unique perspective on…

The Film List Project #24: Harold and Maude

Seeing a movie you really connect with is pretty rare, but when it happens, it's incredibly special. It's a story you can hold on to forever, something that will always stay the same no matter how much your life has changed.

That's how I feel about the movie I watched this week: 1971's Harold and Maude. I see a lot of movies I can say I loved, that I can say are good, that I can say I got something out of, but this movie is in a league of its own.

The movie explores life, death, relationships, and adolescence in both a respectful and unique way. A lot of its success comes from its titular characters.

Harold is a young man obsessed with death, while Maude is an old woman who sees the beauty of life. When the two become friends, beautiful things start to happen that nobody around them can fully understand.

When I grow up, I want to be Maude. We have a lot in common already: we drive poorly, collect things, love nature, and see beauty in the world through its differences.…

The Film List Project #23: Caught

Hello, and welcome back to The Film List Project, my poorly named series in which I discuss great films that I watch. It's supposed to be weekly, but life happens occasionally.
This is one of those weeks when I've gone in blind. In other words, I go down my list and find the first thing available online. This week, it was the 1949 film Caught.
For those of you who haven't seen the movie (and I'm betting you haven't), it's about a woman who achieves her childhood dream by marrying a rich man, only to find out he's less than perfect. His abusive and manipulative behavior forces her to leave, only to be pursued by him until he lures her back. Basically, it's the story of a woman struggling to make her own decisions in a world where certain decisions have already been made for her.
Even though it wasn't a commercial success, this film is a success in my heart. Here's why: it takes the idea of a woman looking to marry up and flips it on its head. Not…

The Film List Project #22: Let the Right One In

I'm still trying to figure out what I just watched.

Well, I know what I just watched: the 2008 Swedish horror/thriller/drama/romance (if you're into twisted romance) film Let the Right One In.

I spent the first 30 minutes of this movie asking why. Why does an adult man follow a little girl around (besides the obvious)? Why is "piggy" this little boy's nickname? Why is this girl wearing white, especially since she's a vampire (more on that later)? Why does this kid not have a tissue in his jacket pocket? The list of "whys" goes on and on, but I'm worried that going on might spoil something for you.

Yes, this is a vampire movie. No, this is not Twilight. It's so the opposite of Twilight.

Here's why I liked this movie: even thought it's about a vampire, it's really not about a vampire. Stay with me. This movie about vampires is more about human nature, love and curiosity than anything else. More importantly, it's about what goes…

The Film List Project #21: The Conversation

Let's have a conversation about The Conversation.

What I thought was going to be a high intensity action movie turned out to be one of the most interesting character pieces I have ever seen.

Gene Hackman looks positively ordinary as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert assigned to spy on a seemingly ordinary couple couple. The bad hair, creepy mustache, dated wardrobe, and so many other things about Caul's first appearance in the film make it seem like he's the boring one of this bunch of sleuths.

Then, you see this guy's paranoia, and it all starts to make sense. He's the focus of this story, not the people he's working with or the couple whose conversation he listens to.

Caul is one of the best in the business, but not without sacrificing some of his sanity. Whether his paranoid nature is caused by his career choice or his career choice was driven by his paranoid nature is something we will never know, but there's no doubt they go hand in hand.

His struggles…

The Film List Project #20: Bring It On

Ready? Okay!

After a few weeks of writing about some particularly heavy movies, I decided to pick a title off the teen movie section of the list. When I realized that Bring It On was still on the list, I was a little appalled. After all, is it really a day in America if Bring It On hasn't played somewhere on cable?

Even though this movie was released in 2000, I consider it an honorary member of the typical '90s teen movie family. Why? Here are just a few of the reasons:

1. One of the decade's most popular blonde actresses in a lead role (Kirsten Dunst)
2. One of the decade's most popular brunette actresses in the edgy, alternative sidekick role (Eliza Dushku)
3. A guy named Jesse with Prince Eric eyebrows playing the book wearing, punk listening, sensitive love interest who says things like, "I made you a tape" (Jesse Bradford)
4. Not-so-subtle product placement (Hey there, Diet Coke!)
5. Not-so-subtle references to now irrelevant pop culture figures (Hey the…

The Film List Project #19: The Leopard

Sometimes a little spontaneity is good.

Like most weeks, I had no idea what I wanted to watch in preparation for this week's post. Usually, I go to Netflix, list in hand (because it's in a notebook) and just start searching. Every once in a while, though, Netflix fails me.

Today was one of those days. That's now I came across The Leopard.

The process of deciding whether or not to watch it reminded me of when I was in middle school and I used to watch whatever was on cable. In other words, it's a really hit or miss process.

I definitely didn't think I was going to watch it. Between the 185 minute runtime and the subtitles, I just wasn't feeling it. However, I figured if I didn't watch it now, I was never going to watch it.

I actually really enjoy watching films in a different language. Not only does it give me a reason to say I read today, but it also gives me a new perspective on acting. Because you can't just listen to what people are saying, you have …

The Film List Project #18: Sunset Boulevard

I apologize for not posting last week. It might happen again.

This week, I had the bizarre pleasure of watching one of the most misquoted movies of all time, Sunset Boulevard. I don't think I've yet recovered.

This film is exactly the kind of movie I pictured when I was young and someone talked about "classic Hollywood". Black and white, bombastic lead actress, a forbidden romance, twisting plot. Everything I imagined was there.

I always held these type of movies to a higher standard than those more modern movies I had already seen. People talked about them with such fondness, recounting memories of seeing them in a theatre or on TV at home. I was worried that when I watched a movie like this one for the first time, I would be disappointed.

What I've realized is that any movie from any era can excite, disappoint, or surprise you. An era that a movie was made in may shape the story and how it is made, but an audience's emotions toward movies have always been t…

The Film List Project #17: Do The Right Thing

I don't think I can do this movie justice, but here we go.

This week, I watched Spike Lee's 1989 film Do The Right Thing. I'm going to be honest. I was a little nervous to write about this film, especially because of recent events in the news. Even though this is something I've always wanted to see, I waited to watch for a very long time.

It was worth the wait. Do the Right Thing is one of the most thought-provoking movies I've ever seen. I was completely immersed in the world within this block of Brooklyn from the first second. From the minute Samuel L. Jackson starts describing the boiling hot weather, you feel it.

As the heat radiates, so does the tension between everyone. The anger the characters feel toward one another is captivating, confusing, and frightening. Films like this that are fueled by emotion instead of a tired narrative become timeless. That's why this film still feels fresh over 25 years later.

The emotions and hatred depicted in this film st…

The Film List Project #16: Vertigo

It's been a few weeks since I wrote about James Stewart or Alfred Hitchcock, so I thought I'd write about both today.

My post-wisdom teeth doppelgänger and my new favorite actor have made a masterpiece in Vertigo. It plays with your mind in your emotions in the best way possible, keeping you gripped through all 128 minutes. It kills me that it was a box office failure in its day.

Despite being a commercial failure, this film is considered one of the greatest Hitchcock films of all time. I think it may be my new favorite.

A lot of people who watch it now might comment on the fake backdrops used for the scenes where we look down from high places, but I love looking at these old painted backdrops. Even without today's special effects, the audience can still feel the fear that Scottie (James Stewart) feels when he looks down at the view.

My favorite thing about a Hitchcock film is the environment he creates. You're immersed in the story, and every little decision he's …

The Film List Project #15: The French Connection

This is my 15th post! That's actually pretty cool...Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

This week, I watched The French Connection. Now, for those of you who have been reading this for a while and/or know me in real life, you know this is not my type of movie I like to watch. I don't seek out car chases, people shooting at each other makes me nervous, and I think the story of "the complicated cop" has been done over and over.

I gave this one a chance for two reasons: 1) it was on the list, and 2) I was curious to see what made this movie different from other cop stories I've seen.

I thought a lot during this movie about something we have been talking about a lot in the screenwriting class I'm taking: American films are very character driven. In other words, a great character makes a great movie. With that in mind, I've come up with a list of five things I love and admire about our protagonist, Popeye Doyle. Here's that list:

1) Popeye is…

The Film List Project #14: West Side Story

"Something, something, something, America."

That's how a friend described the movie to me when told I was watching West Side Story for the first time today. It's also probably how you'll remember this blog post.

I haven't even seen West Side Story on stage before, but I'll definitely seek it out after this viewing. Despite my ignorance, I couldn't help feeling a strange sense of familiarity with every number that came along. I guess this film, the story, and its music are that present in pop culture, even after 50+ years.

The thing that sticks out to me about this film is how authentic it is. Here's what I mean: with a lot of play/musical adaptations, a certain magic that you feel when you see it on stage is lost. However, I didn't feel like this adaptation lost any of the stage magic. I have no idea why I feel that way. It's just a vibe I get.

There are a lot of things that stick out about this movie to other people, but the thing that st…

The Film List Project #13: Dr. Strangelove, North by Northwest, and The Philadelphia Story

Not one, not two, but three movies this week! Don't get used to it!

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I was pumped to finally get to watch what's considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors. However, upon finishing the movie, I couldn't help but feel something was missing.

It had nothing to do with the film itself, but the environment I was viewing it in was lacking something. This is a movie I would have loved to have seen with an audience.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like going to the movies. I like sitting with people and communally sharing a laugh, a scream, a tear, etc. I will not, however, share my Buncha Crunch. Don't even ask.

I think this movie calls for that kind of environment. Alone, I felt funny (no pun intended) about laughing at certain scenes. I don't know why I was anxious about laughing, but an audience full of people would have made it a bit easie…

The Film List Project #12: Election

New year, new blog post date: Starting next week, I'll be posing my blog on Fridays instead of Thursdays. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

On this first day of the year, a flood of new programming came to Netflix. Amongst the hours of entertainment was Alexander Payne's 1999 film Election.

This is one I've wanted to watch for a while. I've read and heard a lot about it over the last couple of years, so I jumped at the chance to watch it. I loved it!

The movie revolves around that one girl everyone went to high school with (who could have easily been a guy at your high school): Tracy Flick. The overachiever. The star student. The member of every club. The girl who gets up early to bake cupcakes in order to win SGA president.

It was really interesting to see Reese Witherspoon play Tracy, someone who's completely in control (or pretends to be) after I just saw her play Cheryl Strayed, someone who's trying to take control of her life, in Wild. Both a…