0. THERE ARE FILMS THAT YOU see once and say, “Meh.” Then there are others which grab hold of and mold your psyche in unexpected ways; movies that cry out “Watch me!” and require repeated viewings to grok in fullness — films that, while deep enough on their own, reveal new depths as the viewer grows with life-experience. Here are five to which I return every couple of years to measure myself.
1. Casablanca. Perhaps the greatest movie ever made, it has everything — romance, intrigue, honor, superb acting / writing / directing, Humphrey Bogart. Who doesn’t want to watch Bogie go from cynic to idealist and wind up fighting Nazis with someone he barely trusts?
2. 2001: A space odyssey. I was six when I first saw this in its premier in a drive-in theater with my parents (one of the first movies I ever saw, period). Astronaut Dave Bowman (great device! an archer’s namesake flying a spaceship that looks like an arrow), hot on the trail of an enigmatic lunar radio signal, stumbles into a trans-stellar gateway and is reborn as an Earth-orbiting fetus. I still don’t understand the ending, but that’s okay — some Mysteries are better left unsolved, so that the mind can endlessly tease itself about them.
3. Star Wars (AKA Star Wars: A New Hope). Beyond the gosh-wow hype is a seminal film, one of a few that changed the way people made and thought about movies. Every time I see it, I am simultaneously a nerdy fifteen-year-old sitting with his family in Boston’s Loews Cinema and a much older man with a soft spot for the Hero’s Journey in all its forms — and this, one of the best.
4. Harold and Maude. Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are star-crossed and starry-eyed lovers in what is sometimes described as a “quirky / offbeat romance.” It is that, but it’s also so much more: due to his relationship with an eccentric Holocaust survivor, a young man goes from embracing Death to loving Life. And if that doesn’t resonate with you, I can’t count you as a friend.
5. Jaws. Stephen Spielberg’s second feature-length movie never gets old for me (in fact, I think it’s his best film) — a layered, lean-to-the-bone narrative sweep; the three classic dramatic conflicts (human against human, human against nature, human against himself); excellent acting and cinematography. And best of all, Robert Shaw’s four-minute USS Indianapolis monologue. What’s not to love?