Stand By Me (1986, dir. Rob Reiner, USA) People like to say things like “this film saved my life” without really meaning it, but this film very well may have literally saved my life. At the very least, seeing this film for the first time was an experience that I will never forget; I learned that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be weird, it’s okay to be me. For a 14-year-old struggling with his sexuality, watching Gordie and Chris confront their grown-up problems allowed to confront my own.
The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terrence Malick, USA) What Terrence Malick achieved with this film is something that filmmakers will be attempting to replicate for decades: juxtaposing a very human, very relatable family drama with awe-inspiring, humbling images of the cosmos without reducing the impact of either. Seeing this film on the silver screen is item #1 on my cinematic bucket list.
The 400 Blows (1959, dir. François Truffaut, France) Bottom line: The rest of the films on this list would never have been made without the influence of François Truffaut and his films, none more so than the one that started it all. Richard Linklater said it all when he said that Truffaut was the greatest filmmaker to make films about kids, and The 400 Blows is simply a masterpiece.
Before Sunset (2004, dir. Richard Linklater, USA) Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy will be studied in the years to come in college courses for the way that it plays with time and depicts the extreme realism of what a relationship is really like. The second film in the trilogy will always stand out in particular for one reason: it features one of the most skillfully crafted screenplays in film history.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, dir. Robert Mulligan, USA) This is the film that started my love affair with film as an artform. Watching it in my middle school classroom for the first time was a life-altering experience; for the first time in my life, I related to a character on a personal level and was emotionally and intellectually moved by a work of cinema. Jem Finch remains one of my favorite characters of all time because of this.
Honorable mentions:Taxi Driver (1976, dir. Martin Scorsese, USA), Do the Right Thing (1989, dir. Spike Lee, USA), The Long Day Closes (1992, dir. Terence Davies, UK), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, dir. Stephen Chbosky, USA), Running On Empty (1988, dir. Sidney Lumet, USA), The Producers (1968, dir. Mel Brooks, USA), La grande illusion (1937, dir. Jean Renoir, France), Network (1976, dir. Sidney Lumet, USA), The Thin Red Line (1998, dir. Terrence Malick, USA), Elephant (2003, dir. Gus Van Sant, USA)
“Yeah, you did, and I should shoot you right now for it, you know I should. But I think I just might let you live, maybe, because I want you to know this… and the next kids that come up to you with their problems… that they’re being picked on, you should listen to them… no matter what twisted shit they say. ”
iMDB tells me that although Gus Van Sant got the inspiration of his title from
the 1989 BBC short film ‘Elephant’, directed by Alan Clarke, he misinterpreted the meaning. He believed it was about 'three blind men describing an elephant’, hence the variety of viewpoints and lack of complete reasoning, rather than 'the elephant in the room’, which I believe the film still incorporates in the form of America’s issues with guns and the reasons for its numerous high school shootings.
For me, Elephant (2003) is incredible. I love the tracking shots and I think this is a perfect example of less being more. Though based on an intense plot, the editing is slow paced, which I feel builds the tension. It’s both beautiful and harrowing.