Alright. This is important. There is a short list of films that you absolutely must watch if you come across them on TV. I mean MUST...it is required. If you happen to catch the first five minutes of one of these movies on your way to work, you aren't going to work anymore. As far as your boss is concerned you just shat your brains out for 7 hours due to some unwashed shellfish and a sudden case of the Norwalk virus. Stay the hell home and watch these. I realize personal bias seeps in here, so I've tried to separate my personal list from the list that applies to all humanity.
Also, I would like to address my detractors, as I have definitely hollered this list into many a drunken ear in many a smelly bar. To those who looked at me like a moron (basically everyone), fuck you. To the one guy who high fived me and started quoting Uncle Buck all night - Josh, you are fucking awesome man, don't change.
Alright, here goes:
That's right, and I note this film with a little blood in my teeth as somehow some folks have chosen to dispute me on this. Which I simply don't understand. Jaws is the perfect movie. Often called the first summer blockbuster, Jaws' combination of pacing, violence, sheer terror, and Richard Dreyfussy facial hair makes for the single most satisfying viewing I have ever experienced.
Also, keep in mind that this was the first time audiences tasted the oh-so-addicting man vs. nature "Spielberg Format". Say what you will about some of his movies, but the way he lays out a plot - vicious opening (is there anything more fucked up than that weird breathing/panting thing that chick does as she's getting her legs bitten off?), unlikely heroes, strong bad-ass poacher type who inevitably gets wasted by his own hubris...the happy yet somewhat bleak ending. I could go on, and I realize I've only just described similarities between Jaws and Jurassic Park. My point is, the format for a Spielberg film is, for better or worse, indelibly etched into our collective unconscious. His format is the reason why we all had sticky floored film goer blue balls at the ending of No Country For Old Men. Seriously, you don't know it, but every time you leave some weird arty flick unsatisfied, or grossly over-satisfied, it is because of your early diet of Spielbergian story movements.
Dispute me again, and I will be forced to say "indelibly etched into our collective unconscious" unto you again. Don't make me do it.
Everything about Jaws is satisfying - from the terror you feel when you see all those kids' thrashing legs from the shark's perspective, to the growth of your balls as you join in "Show Me the Way to Go Home" on a doomed and rickety boat, to the sheer relief when ol' Roy (R.I.P) finally grits, "SMILE, YOU SONOFA-"...each feeling and moment is as substantial as a mouthful of chum to a Rogue Great White.
Again, more dispute on this one. I think this is because Tremors has become regarded as a cheesy B-movie. Which it is, but its a top tier cheesy B-movie, and what we are going for here, on our couch, with the acidic taste of last nights gin and tonic on our tongues, is satisfaction. We don't need character depth, interweaving storylines, or even an explanation of where the threat came from - we need visceral survival stories, ass kicking, one-liners, brutal kills, and Michael Gross. We need Denny's, not foie gras.
As I mentioned before, the best part of this movie, is that never, not once, is there any explanation of where these giant worm-beasts (graboids) came from. Except for this amazing exchange..
Valentine McKee: [joking] They're mutations caused by radiation. No, wait; the government made 'em. *Big* surprise for the Russians.
Rhonda LeBeck: Well, there's nothing like them in the fossil record... Okay, so they predate the fossil record.
[not buying it herself]
Rhonda LeBeck: That'd make them a couple of billion years old... and we've just never seen one until now. Right.
Earl Bassett: I vote for outer space. No way these are local boys.
Instead of wasting time explaining, Ron Underwood (City Slickers, Adventures of Pluto Nash) gets right to the killing, station wagon burying, dynamite lassooing, and..uhh...pole vaulting (seriously)... without a moment's hesitation.
Also, it should be noted that the interplay between Kevin Bacon's Valentine McKee and Fred Ward's Earl Basset is among the greatest since Grodin/Short, Glover/Short, Quaid/Short, and uhh....Curtis/Lemmon. Burt and Val, as they are lovingly known by the locals of Perfection, are the two unlikely heroes here. Simple handymen who desire something a little greater than their small town affords - glory, recognition, respect. On the day they decide to leave town to chase their dreams, some giant worm beasts show up to make real men out of them. Take that, back of the Tremors movie box.
There's too many here, but hey, I've got a lot to prove...
Earl Bassett: We gotta run. We've got a schedule to keep.
Valentine McKee: Yeah. See, we plan ahead, that way we don't do anything right now. Earl explained it to me.
Earl Bassett: Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view, I mean here it is Monday and I'm already thinking of Wednesday... It is Monday right?
[Earl Bassett and Valentine McKee are about to meet Rhonda LeBeck. Valentine McKee pictures her]
Valentine McKee: You will have long blonde hair, big green eyes, world class breasts, ass that won't quit and legs that go all the way up.
Earl Bassett: Dammit, Valentine! You never go for any girl unless she fits that stupid list of yours from top to bottom.
Valentine McKee: Well, sure.
Earl Bassett: Yeah, and it's dumber than my hind end! Like that Bobbie Lynn Dexter.
Valentine McKee: Tammy Lynn Baxter!
Earl Bassett: Doesn't matter. They're all the same: dead weight. "Ooh, I broke a nail!" Ugh! Makes my skin crawl.
Valentine McKee: Yeah, well, I'm a victim of circumstance.
Earl Bassett: I thought you called it your pecker.
[Monster slams into a concrete retaining wall]
Earl Bassett: Stupid son-of-a-bitch, knocked itself cold!
Valentine McKee: Cold, my ass, he's dead! We killed it. We killed it! *Fuck you!*
Whether you watch it for the monsters, the awesome dialog, or the scene where the semi-cute geology student needs to take off her pants to live, it doesn't matter. Just watch it. If this one comes on TBS, and believe me it will, do it. You will be glad you did.
The whole movie is longer than this...
BONUS: Feast, an homage to the exact kind of unexplained monster destruction that Tremors (and others) made famous, is a fucking awesome movie that I lent to a guy named Longboard Mike and never got back. I'm buying it again. It has Henry Rollins, Treach, Jason Mewes (playing himself), Balthazar Getty, Judah Friedlander, and Burt from Return of the Living Dead.
3. Shawshank Redemption
Alright, lets bring it down a little bit here. I'm getting too excited. After all that visceral substance I need something that cuts a little deeper, thus paying off even higher in the end.
The Shawshank redemption is 14 hours long when it is on TV. This film experiences a strange transformation when it is on basic cable, a realization I made one stoned night when I caught this movie at its halfway point at midnight. I stick to my own rules, so I happily buckled down to see it through until the very end. An end that didn't come until well after the birds started chirping. As Red walked down that beach to see Andy happily working on his boat, as the tears welled up in my eyes, my history final began... and I, thanks to The Shawshank Redemption, added an extra semester to my college career.
So, if you can catch it on HBO, you're all good. Add in commercials though, and you better fake AIDS to get out of enough work to ensure you catch the whole thing.
The story of Andy's brutal entry and gradual acclimation to the harsh world of Shawshank prison is the most "human" moviegoing experience known to man. It is about maintaining your sanity through the roughest possible times, taking your lashes, and turning the other cheek - all while planning your epic and life affirming escape.
The film presents a harsh world of violent fags, beatdown-happy guards, corrupt wardens, and worm-ridden food, and uses it as a backdrop to showcase the most amazing moments of transcendence. Moments that are all the more moving for the terrible place they grew from. Experiencing these moments (the cold beers on the roof, the first rock hammer, the escape) from the perspective of the main character is a moment of transcendence in itself. You, as a viewer, get your own upswing out of your own personal Shawshank, if only for a few clicks past the projector.
This of course, all leads to the climactic moment of literal transcendence when Andy (uhh..Spoiler alert) crawls through miles of human shit to come out alive and free on the other side. Many times watching this movie, I've found myself clapping and smiling, alone in my living room.
The most satisfying ending ever?
To be continued.