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The Big 2-9

Aside from the fact that this day sealed my fate as the “Never Gets a ‘Happy Birthday’ from the Teacher or Your Classmates Because School’s Out for Summer Kid,” June 28 never seemed like a terribly interesting day to be born.

Until I realized that’s also the day sublimely talented actors Kathy Bates, John Cusack, the late Gilda Radner and the late Pat “Wax On, Wax Off” Morita headed toward the light of the birth canal. June 28 also gave King Henry VIII to England (bet that’s one pregnant lady the Great Holy Aardvark wishes he could have uninseminated). And June 28 happens to be the only day every year where the month and the day are different perfect numbers*.

But really, the only reason I ever get all jacked up is because the 28th of June is when the World’s Greatest Director — the reason I love movies and the reason I have such a warped, wacko sense of humor — Mel “Lepetomane” Brooks classed up Planet Earth’s population.

This year, though, looks be far more exciting because Andy at Fandango Groovers hatched a brilliant idea: Write a post listing favorite films for every year I’ve been breathing. Later in 2010 Andy’s planning a blog event on this theme, so start thinking about your choices, readers. Without further adieu, here are my favorites from 1981-2010:

Ash will saw off your nose.

1981: “The Evil Dead” — Maybe directors did horror-comedy before Sam Raimi’s cult classic, but those movies did not feature the unstoppable Bruce Campbell as erstwhile hero Ash, who would later go on to coin the phrases “boomstick” and “hail to the king, baby.”

1982: “First Blood” — The first in the Rambo franchise, Sly Stallone’s “First Blood” combines jaw-dropping action, buckets of bloodshed and a surprisingly poignant message about the treatment of Vietnam vets in America.

1983: “The Big Chill” — College pals Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, William Hurt, Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum reunite to mourn a friend’s suicide. This much acting talent on one set is a recipe for goodness.

1984: “Blood Simple” (full review) — The fact that this is Joel and Ethan Coen’s first film is almost as astounding as the film itself. Almost.

1985: “The Breakfast Club” — The late John Hughes showed us, in this poignant ode to real teen issues, that lurking inside everyone there’s a princess, a jock, a brain, a basket case and a criminal in search of connection. And a little doobage.

1986: “Aliens” (full review) — Twenty-four years later and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) remains a female action hero with smarts, guts and muscles. What a novel idea.

1987: “The Untouchables” — Most gangster movies offer plenty of bloody shoot-em-ups, slick double-crosses, dark double-breasted suits and bank accounts stuffed like you wouldn’t believe. Brian De Palma’s “Untouchables” also has something else: a conscience.

Velcome to vaxwork...

1988: “Waxwork” (full review) — There are crappy films, and then there are films that revel and delight in their own crappiness. Guess which kind “Waxwork” is.

1989: “Heathers” (full review) — No matter how cruel the queen bees in your school were, they don’t hold a candle to Idi Amin wannabe Heather Chandler.

1990: “GoodFellas” (full review) — Powered by the performances of Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, “GoodFellas” set the bar for gangster movies impossibly high.

1991: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” — The follow-up to Cameron’s impressive “Terminator,” the sequel blasted the volume up to 11, boasted some thrilling chase scenes (the semi rundown is iconic) and reached the level of Whoa, I’ve Never Seen That Before! with its ice-cool villain T-1000 (Robert Patrick). 

1992: “Reservoir Dogs” (full review) — Quentin Tarantino gives the Cuisinart treatment to the traditional caper-gone-wrong and ends up making one of the most inventive films of the ’90s.

1993: “Schindler’s List” — Steven Spielberg’s sweeping, horrifying and heartbreaking retelling of the story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) mission to rescue Jews during the Holocaust is emotionally punishing, but it’s a film that must be seen. It can change your life if you let it.

1994: “Pulp Fiction” (full review) — It’s got John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as hitmen, a booty-shaking soundtrack and scene about Christopher Walken wearing a watch up his ass two years. That’s all you need to know. 

Will the real Keyser Soze please stand up?

1995: “The Usual Suspects” (full review) — Not only does Bryan Singer’s noirish, twisty thriller feature a killer-good ensemble cast (Kevin Spacey AND Gabriel Byrne AND Benicio del Toro AND Chazz Palminteri), “The Usual Suspects” also has the best twist ending. Ever written.

1996: “Fargo” (full review) — Dear Coen brothers: Thank you for showing me that it’s never impossible to take an old formula (best-laid plans gone to hell) and put a devious, violent spin on them. Sincerely, M. Carter @ the Movies

1997: “Chasing Amy” — Too few directors of romantic comedies have no interest in showing relationships as they actually are. Kevin Smith is not one of these directors. His “Chasing Amy” is raw, frank to the point of crudeness and deeply heartfelt, and it examines the problems all lovers — gay and straight — face.

1998: “The Opposite of Sex” — “The Opposite of Sex” is the best black comedy you’ve never seen. Don Roos puts the screws to the traditional narrated film formula with Dee Dee (Christina Ricci), a heroine who may be plucky but isn’t the least bit lovable. She’ll ransom your dead gay lover’s ashes and not think twice about it. 

Move Milton's (Stephen Root) desk to Storage Room B and see where that gets you.

1999: “Office Space” (full review) — Mike Judge takes a maze of cubicles and turns it into a feature-length film that’s the personification of Dante’s limbo, then sets it to a fantastic rap soundtrack. It’s good to be a gangsta.

2000: “Quills” (full review) — No other actors slips so effortlessly into the part of the villain as Geoffrey Rush can, and that mirthful, slightly evil glint in his eyes makes him the perfect (and only acceptable) choice to play the infamous Marquis de Sade.

2001: “The Believer” — Based on the true story of Dan Burros, a Jew who became a Neo-Nazi, Henry Bean’s “The Believer” looks unflinchingly at all aspects of faith and features what may be Ryan Gosling’s most gripping performance. Ever. 

2002: “City of God” — Fernando Meirelles’ crime drama plays out like an elegaic marriage of the best parts of Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas”  and Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” capturing the bloody, grim realities of a life lived in Brazil’s rough Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela.

2003: “Mystic River” — Author Dennis Lehane understands, deep down in his soul, the rhythms of Boston’s shady, bleak underworld. Director Clint Eastwood understands the people who have fallen through the cracks. Together, “Mystic River,” about three childhood friends dealing with a murder, they make an unbeatable team.

Javier Bardem's performance is anything but bleak.

2004: “Mar adentro” (full review) — Is it possible to make a film about a quadriplegic (Javier Bardem) who wants nothing more than to die and have that film turn out to be an affirmation of life? Look to “Mar adentro” for the answer.

2005: “The Constant Gardener” — Taut political/medical conspiracy thrillers ordinarily don’t offer emotions as complex as the plotlines. But director Fernando Meirelles etches characters (Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes) who matter to each other, and so they matter to us.

2006: “The Lives of Others” (full review) — Movies about Big Brother rarely take the time to humanize the enemy, but director Henckel von Donnersmarck finds humanity even in the most ardent supporter (Ulrich Mühe) of suppressing free will.

2007: “No Country for Old Men” (full review) — Call it the Coens’ Law: Every time you think they’ve made their best movie ever, they top themselves. How they’ll top this gritty, violent and blackly funny caper is something this reviewer has gotta see.

2008: “The Dark Knight” — With “Batman Begins,” Christopher Nolan single-handedly revived a years-ailing franchise; in the inspired sequel — part Greek tragedy, part action flick, part sweeping character drama — he let Heath Ledger reinvent the iconic Joker in the spirit of creation.

Get in my bell-ay, Jew Hunter!

2009: “Inglourious Basterds” (full review) — In terms of sheer imagination and cojones, almost no director working today can match Quentin Tarantino, who in this misspelled epic rewrites the ending to WWII and gives cinema one of its greatest villains (Christoph Waltz).

2010: So far? “Shutter Island.” The predicted winner? “True Grit.”

*It’s my birthday and I’m giving you a math lesson. Can you say “nerd”?

33 Responses

  1. First off, Happy Birthday.

    Great list all around. I really like that you included The Sea Inside and The Live of Others. Two films that noramlly do get as much love as they deserve.

  2. Happy Birthday! Great post too, I love some of your choices so much.

  3. Very interesting list idea and some stellar movie picks.

  4. Uh, I guess I need to see Waxwork now?

    But you got yourself some mondo points for picking First Blood as the best of ’82. My love for that movie will never wane, it breaks my heart when people write it off as just another Rambo movie. Sing tear…

    And Happy Birthday! WOOHOO!

    Shit, I need to do this.

    • @ CS — I knew Javier Bardem was good, and then I saw “Mar adentro.” It was a marvelous and heart-wrenching performance that had me sobbing and, at the same time, feeling uplifted.

      @ Jess — Thanks! I tried to pick my favorite films of each year, not necessarily the best or most important.

      @ Aiden R. — “Waxwork” is jolly good cheesy fun; it falls into that “awesomely bad” category. And I will defend TO THE DEATH “First Blood,” which everyone seems to think of as “Rambo 1” or “Rambo.” That’s the only one in the series, in my opinion, that is about more than sh*t blowing up. It’s really a poignant look at the mistreatment of Vietnam vets. Sure, sh*t blows up and there’s blood and violence, but there’s a point to it all.

      • Damn right!

        “Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can’t even hold a job PARKING CARS!”

        Stallone was pretty damn good in Cop Land, but this his number one acting display in my book.

  5. This is glorious and my mind is now reeling with ideas for my own list.

    Also the fact that you share a birthday with Mel Brooks basically makes you the luckiest person ever! I hope you have a great birthday!

  6. Happy Birthday rock star! Love your idea to list off the movies, and vote you also steal my idea of scribbling out a small number of movies you want to see before your next b-day, then seal the envelope and see how many you can remember.

    On the next birthday, you open the envelope, see how you did, and make a new list for the next year.

    (My list is buried under a jump on my June 1st post)

    Oh, and I recorded Matineecast Episode 16 with kai Parker yesterday afternoon…guess who’s next?

  7. Happy Birthday, M!

    My list would look similar to yours as I’ve seen 23 of the aforementioned films.

  8. Happy Birthday!

    I’ve only seen 14 of these twenty nine…

    Excuse me while I adjust my Netflix queue.

    • @ Alex — The day I found out I had the same b-day as Mel Brooks was the happiest day of my life. True story.

      @ Mad Hatter — Yeah I’m on your next show. I have to rebut all that smack you talked about me inventing a wedding so I didn’t have to discuss “Get Him to the Greek”! 🙂

      @ Blake — Oh my God, that phrase is GE-friggin-NIUS. Wouldn’t it be a great title for a blog?!?

  9. Idi Amin, huh? I can see that.

  10. Happy Birthday!

    And I love the list (Constant Gardener excluded, that is). I need to see this “Mar adentro” of which you speak.


    PS. 1983 and 2005…I love you. I’d usually argue with you on some other years, but you already have to endure getting older…I won’t be mean. 😉

  12. Happy Birthday.

    Good job, I will make sure I include you in the final blog if I get it off the ground. You will have to wait to see my list (already compiled) but we do share a few picks, my list will also be six longer than yours!

  13. Smashing idea for a post, and an belated Happy Birthday Mer!!

    Hope it was a great day …for being a Monday:P

  14. What a great idea! I may very well take this idea come January. Anyway, Happy Birthday to you!

    BTW – Chasing Amy? Really??? 🙂

  15. Happy Birthday, of course you are an ’81 girl! I am too.

    At least half of your picks are likely to make my list as well.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see Quills in there, and appreciated Chasing Amy. I don’t connect with it the way I did when I was younger, but it had a profound effect on me at the time.

  16. When is Andy planning this birthday deal? I should probably just ask him.

  17. Happy Birthday, Meredith! I might do this same thing for my birthday in October.

  18. Happy belated Birthday, M, ah you young’un you! Wow, what a great idea for a post (man that Andy!), I just might do this next year, good thing I still have more than a half year to prepare.

  19. *cries at Office Space*

  20. Happy birthday. Great idea, by the way. I share a birthday with Raul Julia. That’s about it. Not that he isn’t awesome, but still…

    • @ Reel Whore — No love for “Constant Gardener”? I didn’t follow it at first, but subsequent viewings sold me on it. “Mar adentro” is powerful stuff, and it convinced me — like I needed convincing! — that Javier Bardem should be considered a national treasure.

      @ Encore — I stand by the weirder picks, like “Chasing Amy” and “Waxwork.”

      @ Heather — Yeah, check with Andy; I don’t think he’d picked a date when I e-mailed him. And you know I had to put “Quills” in there!

      @ Simon/Ripley — Are those sad tears or happy tears?

  21. […] participants and have a few follow-up posts planned. If you want some inspiration take a look at THIS.  I ran the idea past a few people last year, one of them Meradith from M Carter @ the Movies […]

  22. […] Meredith from M Carter at the Movies […]

  23. Great list, M. Love the inclusion of City of God. That film messed me up, dude!

  24. Nice list. Some very unique choices here. I see we also share a few selections as well.

    I think my favorite pick on here is Office Space. Love that pick and it’s not one I’ve seen anyone else make. I just love that movie. Unfortunately it didn’t make my list though as that year was the year of one of my all-time favorites Boondock Saints.

  25. I’ve seen (and enjoy!) The Opposite of Sex. Martin Donovan’s dry, dry humor kills me, and Ricci is at her snippy best. Just an excellently written, well-casted film.

    Swanky list all around. Love the mixture of eclectic indies and foreign fare with the commercial stuff.

    • @ JL — “Office Space” forever colored my opinions about corporate culture. And the longer I work in the 9-to-5 arena, the more I realize how right Mike Judge was.

      @ Fletch — “The Opposite of Sex” was one of those movies I rented on a whim years ago — and I fell in love with it. Martin Donovan is terrific, and Lisa Kudrow is a marvel: funny and bitter and vulnerable all at the same time.

  26. Lots of great selections here, including a few that we shared (Office Space!). I see that you posted this last summer, so I’m curious — would you still select Shutter Island for 2010?

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