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)
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), dir. Robert Mulligan
“But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted - if I could hit ‘em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. ”