I’d like to share what my very favorite movies are and why. Each of them have left a considerable impact on my thinking and my understanding of what it is to be human. They represent something true about the human experience. I have also appreciated these films from a “high art” perspective in that they were made with attention to detail as a craftsman would build a piece of furniture or a designer would re-envision a space. Most of these films have been favorites of mine for a decade or more. They continue to stand the test of time and my changing, growing philosophies.
Last Of The Mohicans –
This is my favorite film of all time. It is cloaked in grandeur, romance, and gravity. The cinematography, featuring the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, is unrivaled save for perhaps one other film on this list. The acting doesn’t miss a single beat at any point. It is a story of epic struggle, death, and survival. Is it the story of one era passing out of being and giving way to something mysterious and uncharted. The line, “The whole world is on fire, isn’t it?” embodies the vividness of this film. It is a high water mark in the Western canon of cinema and it is pure, free of politics or political thinking. The courage of the character Hawkeye is etched on my soul.
The Edge –
This film explores morality and the primal energy driving us to survive and overcome. It is a deeply psychological piece that explores the relationship between corruption and virtue. It’s as if God and Satan got lost in the deep woods together as mortals and all the while are mercilessly hunted by nature. I am so fond of this film that I bought a rare, extra track version of the film score for a ridiculous sum of money not too long ago. Life on the very edge does something to men, it boils us down to our truest nature. I may retire to a cabin in Alaska in no small part because of my love of the beauty of this film.
Legends of the Fall –
This is the saddest film I have ever seen. It is about the death of innocence in a family and particularly in the heart of a once-in-a-generation man who is battered endlessly by the circumstances of his day. There is something transcendent about the struggle of the main character, born so radically different from everything that surrounds him. The cinematogaphy of this film is jaw dropping. It features Brad Pitt giving the finest performance of a career that went rotten too soon. The acting is pitch perfect, high drama with moment of levity. The film serves as a lesson for what happens if you rebel against nature.
Dead Poet’s Society –
This is a film celebrating the masculine, aristocratic tradition. It gives us a glimpse into a world that has long since passed away except at the highest echelons of material and intellectual wealth. We see the humanizing effect a father figure from the true, individualist order has on the development of young men. This is also a film about what happens if we do not listen closely enough to the corruption in some families, the kind that erodes young men into nothingness. The soundtrack from Maurice Jarre is top notch and well worth owning.
A Man Without A Face –
This was originally a novel but adapted to film and thankfully so because the novel is subpar and in poor taste. Mel Gibson helps Nick Stahl to soaring heights in a film about mentorship, an enlightened version of scholasticism, and the agony of growing up without a father. I take great inspiration from Mel Gibson’s character in this film as well as the following film on this list. I keep a framed poster of this film to remind me of the value of the paternal bond.
White Squall –
The very late 80’s and early 90’s were a cinematic golden age for masculine messages that served the family. White Squall is the story of a man who takes a group of boys for a semester at sea. He teaches them hard lessons about the nature of reality but pays a terrible price for his overuse of sternness and severity. He is a tragic but heroic figure who loses everything. This is a flawed film, suffering from pacing issues, but it is beautiful nonetheless.
The Thin Red Line –
The score to this is just as much as masterpiece as the film itself. The film teaches us about the death of majesty and wonder, the birth of nihilism, and the horror that came out of WWII. It is a film you must really stay focused and alert for in order to digest fully. Nick Nolte gives the finest performance of his career. This was also the film that supernova’ed generational talent Jim Caviezel into the public before his talents stagnated in the face of overwhelming ostracism for his potrayal of Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion.
This film was damn well crafted, given that it was Michael Mann’s second take on the story, having previously helmed a made-for-TV version. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Val Kilmer each give the greatest performances of their careers. I love this film because it doesn’t explain anything to you. It simply is. It captures the ethos of early 1990’s Los Angeles. It pulls no punches. It is the high water mark for blockbuster, pop cinema. No superhero movie will ever approach the grandeur of these struggle of these characters. Everyone puts everything they have, their entire lives, on the line for the drama to unfold. Again, the soundtrack is pitch perfect.
Dances With Wolves –
Kevin Costner’s absolute genius as a filmmaker was severed by the political correctness that overtook Hollywood by the mid 1990’s and by a marketing debacle with his film The Postman. Before he was derailed, he gave us one masterpiece in Dances With Wolves. I believe this film deserved the Best Picture Oscar over Goodfellas because it taught us about the beauty of life. It is the Faustian, pioneer spirit genetically encoded in only the hardiest of the European stock that leads man to venture into the deep unknown. This film shows us the power of friendship, the innocence of nature, and the promise of a land that once was. This film provokes people’s cynicism because of the innocence it attempts at.
This film is Mel Gibson’s masterpiece, the full manifestation of his intellectual and emotional range. There is not a lot I have to say about this film that hasn’t already been said. It is no small wonder that America was largely built by the sheer force of Scotsmen.
Blade Runner –
The Blade Runner score by Vangelis and extended versions of it comprise the larger part of my musical consumption since I first saw the film as an older teenager. This film teaches us about Western man on the absolute brink of extinction in the face of a hyper dystopian society. We learn about the emptiness of modernity and how meaning may yet spring from the wasteland. It is a film about overpowering hope in the face of finality.
The Fifth Element –
I love this film because it’s fun. I was also introduced to the musical work of composer Eric Serra through this film. He continues to astound me, even though he hasn’t produced new music in a few years. Seeing this film in cinema when it was first released continues to be my favorite cinema experience of all time. I went into it as a fifth grader having no conception of what the film was about. What a treat! This film also foretold, because of its French nature, a lot of the multiculturalism that was to hit the United States in the years to come. This is my most nostalgic choice on this list of films. Luc Besson spent his genius on this film, got in a bad marriage, got fat, and never was the same again.