Friday, September 12, 2014

My Top 15 Most Influential Films

There is a new one of those annoying games circulating around facebook lately, to compile a list of your 15 most influential films. After being tagged (dominated) by my mate Andrew Lindsay, I rolled my eyes a little, shrugged it off, ...and then spent the rest of the day mentally obsessing on it, digging up old memories of the films that are significant to who I am today. This was actually an annoying game I could sink my teeth into.
Narrowing this down to 15 movies is near impossible, and to battle this I've created an 'honorable mention' for some of these films, similar movies that hold the same value for me.
These are in no order whatsoever, and by no means a list of my all-time favorite films, this is a list of the films that shaped my brain from a young age. ...and as the list was compiling it became clear that my adult brain is apparently better suited for technicolor nonsense in a fantastical galaxy far far away...

Here we go....

Fantasia (1940)The first film I ever saw in the movie theater (I was 5), accompanied by my mom and dad at the super cool old Laurel Theater in San Carlos. Until viewing Fantasia many years later, as a child all I remembered from that night are vague memories of the funny dancing hippos and the little bare-cheeked cherubs (which my dad nicknamed 'no pants wilsons'), and I recall me and my parents laughing and laughing. ...and I remember being really frightened during the sorcerer Mickey sequence with the scary lifelike brooms. I also remember really enjoying my first helping of classical music and being mesmerized by the ornate fountain and the plush blood red interior of the theater lobby. Fantasia is the first memory I have of animation, and I was instantly hooked by my Disney gateway drug. In the years that followed, we'd often pay a visit to the Laurel for more seminal animated classics like Snow White, Bambi, Jungle Book, and when I was old enough I'd attend the Animation Festival with my brother Bill or my father, usually held at the Varsity Theater in Palo Alto. My love for animation never ceased.
(honorable mention: The Rescuers, The Triplets of Belleville, Yellow Submarine, Up)

2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) : A cinematic masterpiece equally sparse and lush, electronically advanced yet primitive. I saw this in the theater in my early teens and it wasn't what I expected at all. I was thinking it would be along the lines of Star Wars. It was visually glorious, but at the time for me it was lonnnng and dull. How come nobody is talking? I didn't get it at all.
Maybe it's because I was in the mood for more action, but likely it was because I was on one of my first movie dates with a girl from 8th Grade (name witheld) at the Hillsdale Cinema and I was too concerned about intentionally pressing against her knee or touching hands at the same time reaching for popcorn.
Since then, the Also sprach Zarathustra overture plays in my head during potential intimate situations. Not a good influence at all... Obviously my young brain was not ready at first, but over the years I've seen this movie several times, and I pick up something new with each viewing.. iconic modern furnishings by the greats: Saarenin, Nelson, Jacobson, Mourgue... early IBM computer gear displaying modern font typefaces such as Futura and Eurostile... the expansive sets and revolutionary special effects...  I get it now. I really REALLY get it. A big impact on my design style, 2001 is elegantly dynamic & slow burning, a truly epic film with multiple layers of commentary on our society that resonates even more today.

M Hulot's Holiday (1953) : My first taste of the masterful Jacques Tati, I saw this film with my parents at the Stanford Theater when I was 13 years old. My father considered himself a dime store Tati in his own right and possessed his own brand of Tati-esque moves and wobbles, and any slapstick comedy like Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges or Martin & Lewis hit his funny bone like a tickle machine. As any father feels it's his duty to pass on his interests to his children, dad loved to force feed our family with films highlighting the silly antics of his comedic heroes. This then, was the creme de la creme of dad's preferred humor, Tati executes these scenarios with a highbrow slapstick style all his own. Mr. Hulot's Holiday was my mom & dad's favorite film which says a lot about their personalities. Perhaps the origin of my obsession with French culture.

Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) : This one blew my little mind. I was around 10 years old watching it with my mom and dad on our klunky television, eating a platter of cold cuts, bread and mustard (super bowl food as dad called it), trying to absorb every delicious detail of the film sets & costumes and thinking Gene Wilder was not really a very nice man at all. I remember a year later when I had to sell those expensive 'world's finest' chocolate bars at school, I tried to make a 'golden ticket' to insert into one of the wrappers in the box of 16, but once the wrapper was off I would just eat the chocolate bar every time. That was an expensive school year for my parents, I was waaay more Augustus Gloop than Charlie.

(and thankfully, I didn't see this in the theater at the time or The Wondrous Boat Ride scene would've damaged my little brain even more.)
(honorable mention: Mary Poppins, Escape To Witch Mountain)

The Party (1968) : The mighty Peter Sellers in top form. This Blake Edwards swinging cocktail hiccup of a film has you bumbling about in the back pocket of Peter Sellers' indian character Hrundi V Bakshi while he desperately tries to fit in with the in crowd at a swanky film industry party where he doesn't belong. We've all been there! So quintessentially late 60's in decor and costuming, with a groovy often sitar-driven soundtrack by Henri Mancini. The film's pacing is unbearably awkward and hilarious, Hrundi tries to fake his way from room to room with mixed results, all extremely funny. This is a classic fish-out-of water tale with well-executed sight gags (including the famous 'birdy num-num' scene) showcasing the brilliant timing of Peter Sellers, a movie which teaches us it's okay to be a little geeky and mad as long as you believe in yourself. One of my favorite 60's films and the reason I started wearing red socks.

(honorable mention: Murderer's Row, Bedazzled, Cinderfella, Billie)

Quadrophenia (1979) : Like many of us, this was my introduction to the british Mod subculture style and attitude that has defined me for most of my life. I saw the film in early 1986 at a friend's house (Brent Willson) when I was 15 years old, and it captivated me even more than the New Wave and punk music & fashion I was cutting my teeth on at the time. After hunting high and low for the MODS book and subscribing to WHA-A-AM! Magazine at the insistence of the only Mod I knew (Mark Harvey), I quickly got a handle on the niceties and details of the Mod styings (albeit a loose one, American mod kids in the 80's tried our best with little to go on) By August that year I had purchased a minty 1979 Vespa P200 and a closet full of Fred Perry shirts from the thrift store, was making ritual trips to the tailor for suit alterations, bought my first fishtail parka from a military supply store in San Mateo, and had stolen my first pair of bowling shoes from San Carlos Bowl. Quadrophenia has stuck with me all these years, in 2011, a bunch of us Bay Area old-timers had a ride out to see the film on the big screen at the Castro Theater for the San Francisco Film Festival, and in 2012 a small group of us went to see The Who performing Quadrophenia at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. All together now... "We are the mods, we are the mods, we are..."

(honorable mention: Absolute Beginners, Repo Man, Valley Girl, Straight To Hell, The Decline of Western Civilization, URGH! A Music War, Dance Craze, The Wall, Suburbia)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) : I am a big David Lynch fan and I spent 2 years of my life riveted to the television every week  dissecting who killed Laura Palmer when Twin Peaks originally aired from 1990-91 (it helped that I had a huge crush on Sherilyn Fenn), and while not the most epic piece of film making on this list, to see this seemingly normal but tweaked-out suburban mountain-folk multi-dimensional universe created by Mark Frost and David Lynch come to life on the big screen was a big thrill at the time. I hate scary movies with splat and gore but I really enjoy psychologically disturbing fantasies of a very real stylized unreality, and I can't remember being more excited to see a new movie. We were there on opening night complete with tailgate party in the parking lot, entering the UA6 Theater in Redwood City like kids going into a fun-house, and leaving with foggy terrible visions of BOB in our minds. But it was done, we had our needed closure of the Twin Peaks saga... except BOB has had this nagging way of popping into my head in dark alleys and rooms ever since.

(honorable mention: Santa Sangre, Dead Ringers, Silence Of The Lambs, Sling Blade, Blue Velvet)

Star Wars (1977) : This movie inspired most of my creative playtime fantasies as a little boy ever since seeing it in the theater during it's original release. Finally pressured by me and my best friend at the time (Kenny Austin) because every other kid in our school had seen it already, our moms took us to Century Theater in San Jose. It was 1978 (I was 7), and the 'big' cinema was a scary place for me and Kenny. We sat together, and our moms were two seats away. I remember a lot of other kids in that theater but we had to be some of the youngest. We were glued to the screen the entire time except to look at each other with tandem mouth-gaping expressions of disbelief. After the film, Kenny and I were instantly fighting in the lobby with air light-sabres and making zsew-zsew laser noises, yeahhhh...NOW we knew what the fuss was about! They had a merchandise stand there, and our moms let us buy 'something little, you can't have the Darth Vader mask honey'... I bought a large 5" pin of Luke Skywalker, and Kenny bought one of Han Solo, thus cementing our make-believe roles from then on. Later that year my mom constructed a Chewbacca costume for me for Halloween, and I was well on my way with my Star Wars figure collection.
(honorable mention: The Empire Strikes Back)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) :  Wes Anderson can do no wrong. I absolutely loved Rushmore. I dug The Royal Tenenbaums as well. But when Mr. Anderson created The Life Aquatic, for me he created a perfect film. All the right touches are here, the impeccable sets, the colors, the dialogue, the awkwardness, the triumph... The incredible soundtrack featuring Seu Jorge, David Bowie, Mark Mothersbaugh and Sigur Ros., The choice of actors (Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Houston, Jeff Goldblum..) This movie is flawless. I'm not sure how Wes Anderson manages to create his weird vintage-esque environments for all of his films while maintaining a strong sense of the present day, each are distinctive yet feel like the same time-period, but we aren't exactly sure when that time-period is. He is one of the great film making geniuses of our time and a massive inspiration.
(honorable mention: Moonrise Kingdom, The Science of Sleep, You Me And Everyone We Know)

E.T. (1982) : I saw this seminal Steven Spielberg film during it's original release at the UA6 Theaters in Redwood City. I was 11 years old and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby when E.T. died in the incubation scene, only to explode with raining tears of joy and pleasure when he came back to life minutes later. This was my first experience with crying in the theater, I wasn't aware that fabricated situations with actors and props could stir up these deep emotions. I was a wreck over that little alien. I saw E.T. again not too long ago, and it is a definite classic at any age, the soundtrack by John Williams is unmistakable... whenever I hear the lilt of the main theme I get a fuzzy feeling. After seeing this movie I kept the ticket stub, the first time I'd ever done that. And I still have it ferreted away at the bottom of a box somewhere.   

Vertigo (1958) : Another flawless film for me. I didn't see this until I was around 17 years old, I had seen Rear Window in the theater with my dad a couple years before which I thought was great, but Vertigo spearheaded an obsession with Alfred Hitchcock and a devout worship for the graphic design style of Saul Bass, passions that haven't let up since. ..and grrr... the subtle heat of mysterious Kim Novak smolders like a handful of pine needles thrown into a campfire. (just don't ask me for my Jimmy Stewart impersonation, you will be instantly disappointed and irritated).. Being from San Francisco adds another personal level to the movie, it's fun to see the locations in the film how they were, some of these SF places I pass by every day.
(honorable mention: The Birds, North By Northwest, Psycho)

Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill (1965) : This list would not be complete without a Russ Meyer film, and in my opinion Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is his finest work. Russ Meyer hit the nail on the head with this black & white outing, epitomizing the genre of his own design: B movies with questionable story lines featuring buxom babes dominating mousy men. The angles and scenarios here are bold and choppy, stylized and aggressive as is the script, but all we really care about is Tura Satana in her black leather outfit and those cars that the rouge female gang buzzes around in (1959 MG A, 1963 MG B, 1965 Porsche 365, 1958 Triumph TR3A), eye candy at every turn. I saw this in the theater in 1997 in Las Vegas, fueling my appreciation for hot-rod culture. A year later, I was the proud owner of a 1954 Chevy Bel-Air 2 door hardtop roaring down the Las Vegas Strip.
(honorable mention: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Hot Rods To Hell)

Mars Attacks (1996) :  A guilty campy pleasure, and my favorite movie from the mind of Tim Burton. When I lived in Las Vegas in the mid 90's, Alberta and I had a pad at The Diplomat Apartments, conveniently located around the corner from the closed-down Landmark Hotel, a spiked astro doorknob building sticking into the sky, so perfect and so googy atomic-age looking. (the details of our love affair with the Landmark and how we got to know her interior intimately despite the closed doors are fodder for another blog post).. One night at work I heard a rumor they were imploding the Landmark building at 4am the next day for use in an 'upcoming blockbuster' ...so at 2am I hustled out of our apartment with my camera to catch the action. Sure enough, the building came down at 4am, with explosions and actors and crew running around everywhere. I was one of the few bystanders there, the Las Vegas Times interviewed me for the newspaper. A very sad moment but cool to be in that mix, and discovering later that it was featured in Mars Attacks was the ideal reward. Besides my personal connection with the movie, it has everything I require from a twisted throbbing oozing brain of a film. Purely strange and abnormal fun. The only other movie on this list besides Star Wars that I purchased action figures of, in fact the year of the release, I was so nuts about Mars Attacks, I paid $75 for the Martian Spy Girl figure at a comic book shop, I had the bug bad. Not the best influence!
(honorable mention: Edward Scissorhands, Serial Mom, Hairspray)

Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) : This film has so much going on for me influence-wise. The completely drop dead gorgeous Audrey Hepburn, the cucumber cool of young George Peppard, politicially un-correct and ridiculously asian Mickey Rooney. Underlined by the butter soft yet swinging soundtrack by Henry Mancini (which features most prominently in one of the best movie party scenes ever), This is a time-capsule-perfect vision into mainstream early 60's New York society style, clumsily radiating with the romantic ambiance of a thousand moonlit rivers dotted with pollywogs.
(honorable mention: Auntie Mame, Pillow Talk)

Foul Play (1978) : Another film set in San Francisco, this movie was my first time experiencing three legendary comedy actors.. Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Dudley Moore. This was another 'living room cinema' moment with my dad ogling our prehistoric TV, this time I remember laying on the floor together on our hideous rust-colored shag carpeting and eating from a large box of Sun-Maid raisins. I was around 8 years old at the time. I can't remember why exactly I liked this movie so much, but as far as influence goes, because of Foul Play and Chevy & Goldie, I discovered both Saturday Night Live and Laugh-In, opening up a massive and expansive catalog of clever and left field humor that has been with me my whole life. It also introduced me to the man of my nightmares as a young child, the albino character (played by William Frankfather) haunted me for years and years, while watching the film with dad that night, every time he came on the screen I'd jump out of my skin and hop over my dad ...and was only able to barely peek over his shoulder to look at the TV. (honorable mention: '10')

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