30 Films: Some You Should See, Some To Run From
EDITOR’S NOTE: Q101 is happy to welcome Chicago-based pop culture aficionado Kyle Brauch to our growing stable of talented contributors. Kyle will be regularly offering reviews on music, films, Chicagoland concerts and more. Kyle: “I thought I’d start off with a bit of a window into my tastes. You know, flirt a little before we ‘go to bed’. Here’s my mini-list of 30 film recommendations (and in some cases, anti-recommendations) I firmly stand by.” Welcome and thanks Kyle!
My favorite film pick:
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)
A blend of drama, comedy, action, great music, colorful cinematography & Bill Murray as both whimsical & darkly sentimental. Plus, Henry Selick (nightmare before xmas, james and the giant peach) did the stop-motion sequences(!). Love or hate Wes’ films, this is my number one.
My least favorite film pick:
- Batman & Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997)
I make it no secret that I’m a HUGE Batman nerd. But this. The Arnold? Bat nips? Constant crotch zooms? More shades of pink than Cindy Lauper’s bathroom? Even Clooney admits to this killing the franchise. Of all the colorful crap Schumacher makes, this rots at the bottom.
My feels-good-man film pick:
- Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
I love mockumentaries – this one especially. As with all Guest films, it’s mostly improv’d by his rock-solid ensemble cast. Countless quotable lines, lighthearted social commentary & tons of dog humor make this one an easy pleaser / easy choice.
My feels-bad-man film pick:
- Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
You don’t have to be a Joy Division fan to get sucked in. Corbijn, a Dutch music video director (& J.D.’s actual photographer), made this on the short life/suicide of lead singer, Ian Curtis. Sam Riley’s performance alone tricks you into a really dark/tragic biopic.
My cross-genre film pick:
- An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
My dad raved about this to me at a (probably too) young age – and I fell in love. Written & directed by Landis, it inspired MJ to hire him for “Thriller”. Bits of comedy, bat-shit crazy makeup & real scares make this one of my favorites.
Another cross-genre film pick:
- Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
This is definitely one of my top-fivers – but it also reminds me of seeing it in theaters with my 1st apartment neighbors. It’s horror, it’s comedy – it’s got more references in the script than a trivia-whore can handle – it’s essential. Go watch it!
My retro film pick:
- A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)
3 words: high school theatre. This Broadway adaptation filled 4 years of my drama classes. For a 50’s film, it has really dark subject matter: infidelity, rape, mental illness, violence – & it’s got Brando at the height of his badassery. STELLA!
My favorite quotable film pick:
- The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller, 1996)
How many times have I watched this? Enough to even quote the sound effects & music cues. Enough to know there’s several parts in the trailer different than the film. Enough to re-tell all 96 minutes word-for-word, song-for-song – with the TV off.
My favorite actor film pick:
- Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
On the 1st watch, it’s just a comedy – but on round 2, you notice it’s smart. It’s almost an Aesop fable – moral, effective life lessons are in there, even ones that aren’t immediately obvious. Oh, and did I mention Bill Murray is royalty in my books?
My favorite actress film pick:
- Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988)
I don’t really have a favorite actress – but counting films I like the best, Winona Ryder appears a lot. Black comedy, teenage ‘suicide’, clique humor & Christian Slater doing his hardest Jack Nicholson impression.. for the entire movie.
My favorite director film pick:
- The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
A favorite director is HARD to pick – but I’ve loved every film Anderson has made. He’s like the Tarantino of dramedy dialogue. This movie, like all of his, explores family dynamics in a quirky, colorful, catchy way that makes you both smile & sink.
My least favorite director film pick:
- Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
It’s not that Van Sant doesn’t make poignant films/deserve recognition. I just hate his style. All his films rely heavily on long, mundane shots following behind a character. If I wanted to stare at the backs of people for 2 hours, I’d go renew my license.
My guilty-pleasure film pick:
- Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
It’s actually really funny, even for a guy. Tina Fey wrote the screenplay to this novel adaptation (which is actually fairly similar to ‘Heathers’, minus all the death & f-bombs). The dialogue is more SNL than chick-flick, & Lindsay Lohan was still cute & promising back then.
My weird / “out-there” film pick:
- Party Monster (Bailey/Barbato, 2003)
Following the true story of Michael Alig & James St. James and their infamous parties of the late 80’s/early 90’s, it’s a story of glitter, glamour, murder & club-drug addictions. ….It’s a strangely compelling film.
My most-relatable film pick:
- High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
There’s obviously differences between this Chicago-set film & I, but there’s a little bit of each character/situation I see in myself – music, sentiment, snark – it’s the sort of movie audiophiles & goodhearted/slightly neurotic guys just GET.
My no-longer-worth-shit film pick:
- Waiting (Rob McKittrick, 2005)
It’s not so much I hate this movie, but I am terribly burned out on it. Yes, it’s an (exaggerated, yet still) accurate depiction of the service industry – but every actor is typecast to the EXTREME.. oh, & there’s fucking Dane Cook. Enough said.
My favorite modern drama film pick:
- American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)
Kevin Spacey shines in this dark, realistically deep & inspiring film. It’s hard to pinpoint if it’s a story about suburbia, self-redemption, repression, or simply a commentary on hatred. “Look Closer” really is the best tag-line they could have used to explain it.
My favorite modern comedy pick:
- The Wedding Singer (Frank Coraci, 1998)
In my opinion, this is arguably Sandler’s funniest. There’s something about it – it’s charm, the soundtrack, the QUOTES – that has kept it on my short-list ever since first seeing it. “We’re living in a material world, and I am a material girl. Or boy.”
My favorite action film pick:
- Cobra (George Cosmatos, 1986)
Sure, there’s others to pick – but Cobra. Ah man – it’s got it all. Explosions, car chases, classic Stallone one-liners (he wrote the screenplay!), it’s the type of film you love to hate to love – but dammit, they just don’t make movies like this anymore.
My favorite romantic film pick:
- Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)
It’s almost an anti-romance film – there’s no sappy clichés or predictable endings. Two young, travelling strangers spend a fleeting night together in Vienna, focusing completely on their realistic conversations of life & love throughout their evening.
My favorite fantasy film(s) pick:
- The Batman Franchises* (Tim Burton / Christopher Nolan)
I’ve always loved everything Bat. Still do. To me, Burton’s gothic trademark (Batman, Batman Returns) is just as appealing as Nolan’s gritty realism (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight).
*Joel Schumacher’s two Bat-films need not apply.
My favorite horror film pick:
- The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Atmospheric, psychological horror scares me way more than blood, gore & CGI nonsense. Even though Stephen King “didn’t like” what Kubrick did with his book, this has always been my #1 for horror. I’ve seen it maybe 100 times and STILL squirm at certain scenes.
My favorite thriller film pick:
- Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)
Lynch has a knack for surreal, visceral & deeply disturbing cinema – this being no exception. His style is heavy on visual/implied metaphors, which rubs a lot of people wrong. I find this to be a nice balance between accessibility & bat-shit craziness.
My favorite animated film pick:
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993)
Tim Burton. Danny Elfman. Henry Selick. There’s nothing I could say about this movie that I haven’t already said in conversation a million times over. It took 100 people & 3 years to make this, but it’s cult status will last a lifetime.
My favorite documentary film pick:
- Quiet Rage (Ken Musen, 1992)
This disturbing look at Philip Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford Prison Experiment shows how dark & evil perfectly stable people can become when given a shift in power. 24 students were selected to participate in a “mock” prison – half play guards, half play prisoners.
My favorite foreign film pick:
- Abre Los Ojos (Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)
Remade in 2001 as Vanilla Sky, this is the original film (also starring Penélope Cruz, but with a slightly different ending) following a rich playboy who meets the girl of his dreams, but is severely disfigured shortly thereafter.
My favorite modern indie film pick:
- Bully (Larry Clark, 2001)
It’s a nasty watch. This true story follows a group of callow teens conspiring to kill their brazen, abusive friend. There’s sex, drugs, violence, murder – none of which are depicted glamorously. Like all of Clark’s films, it’s a grimy train-wreck you can’t turn away from.
My favorite obscure film pick:
- Forbidden Zone (Richard Elfman, 1982)
Imagine ‘Rocky Horror’ on poppers. More or less an Oingo Boingo musical, it’s one of the weirdest things you’ll ever see. Danny Elfman (Richard’s brother) scored the movie & makes a cameo as the Devil (!) – it’s *definitely* not for everyone.
My nostalgic film pick:
- Throw Momma from the Train (Danny DeVito, 1987)
I STILL love it. DeVito directs & stars alongside Billy Crystal in this Hitchcock-inspired murder-comedy (loosely based on ‘Strangers on a Train’). Anne Ramsey steals the show as Momma: “OWEN DOESN’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS.”
My favorite “different-approach” film pick:
- Look (Adam Rifkin, 2007)
Following several story-lines that intersect with each other, it’s all shown through multiple security cameras. There’s really funny moments, parts that are serious as hell & even some poignant social commentary. I showed it to *everyone* a few years back.
So there it is. Now that we’re a bit acquainted, I’ll be running my mouth a lot more.
I’d love your feedback / input. Agree or disagree – leave me your comments!
I hope you stay tuned in. There’s lots to talk about.