This list is exactly what the title describes, movies are in no particular order.
1 — Real Life, 1979
Almost 20 years before The Truman Show, there was this gem from Albert Brooks (pictured above), who both directed and starred in the film. It’s a mockumentary within a mockumentary about a film crew recording an everyday family. The family agrees to be filmed for a year, as part of a social/cinematic experiment to see how ordinary people live. Things quickly unravel, partly due to the pressures of being filmed constantly, and partly due to Brooks as the oblivious, in-your-face director. It’s a hilarious social commentary that’s aged surprisingly well.
2 — Casablanca, 1942
It’s amazing. Moving on.
3 — Some Kind of Hero, 1982
Richard Pryor stars in this dark comedy as a veteran who returns from Vietnam after being a prisoner of war. Unfortunately, he isn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms: everybody from his wife to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs seems out to get him, or worse yet, ignore him. Pryor is perfectly cast as the put-upon soldier, with a believable frustration, self-determination, and decency that make for a memorable protagonist. And as expected with any social commentary, the movie will leave you more indignant than amused, even with Pryor’s comic relief.
4 — The Young/New Pope, 2016/2019
Technically it’s not a movie, but it’s phenomenal. The pacing, the characters, the storyline, the fact that every shot feels like a painting… It’s a mystical, hyper-stylized, reverent yet rebellious religious experience like few others I’ve seen on TV. There’s an episode where John Malkovich says ‘No!’ repeatedly, then it ends with Jude Law breathing for five minutes. And somehow it works. I highly recommend watching the series if you have the chance — it’s on HBO, only 19 episodes, and assuming there’s no season 3 (which seems to be the case), the series is already complete.
Also, check out Mr. Sculpin’s review here.
5 — While We’re Young, 2014
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), the movie is hard to classify. It’s like a mumblecore version of Rosemary’s Baby, but without the supernatural elements. The story is about an older couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) whose mundane lives are revitalized by a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). But there’s something off about the young couple’s counter-cultural lifestyle. Is it millennial quirkiness, Ben Stiller’s paranoia, or a generational loss of morality? It may not appeal to a larger audience, but it’s an intriguing indie dramedy, and Driver has an especially fun time playing a hipster.
6 — Real Steel, 2011
Robot boxing! SMASH! Starring Huge Ackman and knockoff Anakin Skywalker! Also, I’m reading the Wikipedia entry, and apparently this was inspired by a short story, “Steel”, that was also adapted into a Twilight Zone episode. Fascinating. Click here in case you think I’m making this up.
7 — Intolerable Cruelty, 2003
Though not one of the Coen Brothers’ best works, it’s still a notch above other mainstream films in the genre. Specifically, rom-coms, legal comedies, and soap operas – a good comparison would be Legally Blonde. The story is a melodramatic romantic web involving George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, ‘Shocks!’, ‘TWISTS!’, ‘SCANDAL!!!’, and more. It’s one of their more mass-appealing films, and while it’s no Burn After Reading, it’s perfect if you’re looking for some quick laughs and feel-good rom-com shenanigans.
8 — Set It Up, 2018
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Set It Up, a Netflix original rom-com. It has a lot going for it – the premise of two assistants trying to hook up their respective bosses is fun, and the supporting cast is excellent (particularly Meredith Hagner and Pete Davidson). But ultimately, three of the four main characters just aren’t redeemable. I was rooting for one of the assistants, Harper (Zoey Deutch), but I was hoping that she wouldn’t get with the guy, because she deserved better. The fact that they end up together was thoroughly disappointing. Still a fun one for the cameos though, like this scene here:
9 — Midnight Run, 1988
So apparently this movie is a classic, I’d just never heard of it until recently. It stars Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter who has to transport Charles Grodin, an accountant, to L.A. It hits all the right beats of a buddy-comedy-action-thriller: fun action sequences, tense cat-and-mouse chases, intriguing backstories, all the requisite players (the mob, the FBI, bounty hunters, the police). And most importantly, a believable, likeable chemistry between the two leads. Plus it has a killer soundtrack by Danny Elfman.
10 — Assassin 33 A.D., 2020
So, this movie. This movie. This movie… Expect more detailed posts to follow. Basic premise: good scientists have to stop bad Muslims from going back in time and killing Jesus. But somehow, their time-travelling actually creates the Biblical narrative we have today. This is the iconic Christian B-movie that we always needed but didn’t deserve. It truly is so bad it’s funny, but there are times when it seems self-aware. And yet, it also seems that the director is actually clueless…? Again, expect more posts as we try to unravel this unintentional masterpiece.