9. The Aviator (2004) - Dir. Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale
Not to be confused with the 90 minutes of hot garbage starring Christopher Reeve who, despite being Superman, couldn't save it from sucking, this Aviator is about Howard Hughes, his rise to fame, and turbulent struggle with OCD.
It would be pretty standard, award season fodder if someone else were in the cockpit, but Scorsese's striking direction and the myriad of fantastic performances from the cast (Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for portraying Katharine Hepburn; poor Leo, as usual, went home empty handed) are what really makes the whole thing pop. My favorite moment is when Hughes crashes his XF-11 prototype while on a test flight in Beverly Hills. It's terrifying, it's claustrophobic, and painful to watch at times, but it doesn't fail to exhilarate.
8. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Dir. Frank Darabont, starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
I'm just gonna come out and say it: Shawshank was robbed during awards season. It was nominated for seven Oscars, but didn't win a single one, as Forrest Gump cleaned house.
I like Forrest just as much as anyone else, but to say it was a better movie than Shawshank is pure, unadulterated blasphemy. Even Pulp Fiction, which was also nominated for best picture that year, was a more deserving option. Alas, the past is the past and it can't be changed, but that doesn't alter the fact that this will forever remain a masterpiece of modern cinema, and will constantly serve as a reminder of what a beautiful thing hope can be during our most hopeless moments.
7. The Rocketeer (1991) - Dir. Joe Johnston, starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton
Due to its box office failure, this wannabe Disney blockbuster never took off is many had hoped, which is a shame, because it's wonderful.
It follows daring test pilot Cliff, who unwittingly gets his hands on a prototype jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (I'm starting to see recurring themes within some of these movies), and becomes caught in the middle of a conflict between the FBI, the Mob, and the burgeoning Nazi party.
Rocketeer has a real "gee-whiz" quality to it; everything from the visuals to the dialogue are as innocent and adventurous as the movie serials of old, and the film remains a great adaptation of the comic books that inspired it.
It's been rumored that Disney is working on producing a reboot for new audiences to become acquainted with the high-flying hero. The initial plans for a sequel were scrapped after the original under-performed, but these recent developments only give me hope that the Rocketeer will one day take flight again.
6. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) - Dir. Quentin Tarantino, starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox
This one definitely falls under the category of "I shouldn't have been watching it when I was 10", but I ain't mad that I did.
While Tarantino is normally lauded for his rich, engrossing dialogue, the first movie in this duology pushed that aspect of his repertoire to the back seat in favor of his other, more polarizing strong suit: violence. The Bride's quest to get revenge on her former comrades in blood is, well, a bloody affair - and as easy as it can be for blood to turn some away, Kill Bill 1 makes it difficult to stop watching (or, at least that's how it was in my case).
Tarantino's always been the kind of guy to make movies that will entertain audiences, but most importantly, they would entertain himself. And while Kill Bill is far from his best movie, it's also his most fun, which leads me to believe that he had a great amount of fun bringing the whole bloody thing to life. It's fast, it's furious, and it's filled with a flurry of references to the kung-fu flicks of old, making its almost two hour run-time seem far shorter than it really is. It's all good though; that makes it easier digest when it comes to multiple viewings.
Note: There are some movie spoilers within this post (kind of). Skip over them if you're not about that life. Also, a couple of the links are to film clips that feature classic Tarantino violence and dialogue (which means there's a lot LOT of foul language), so click them at your own discretion.
There's a scene from Pulp Fiction, an all-time favorite movie of mine, that I've replayed frequently in the cinema of my mind for the past few days.
It's during the final act, when Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Sam Jackson) are causally eating breakfast, discussing the hilarity that ensued after Vincent accidentally shot poor Marvin in the face earlier that morning. Slowly but surely, the conversation manages to return to an even earlier topic, the one of divine intervention and miracles, to which Jules says prevented them from being gunned down during a hit. Vincent, ever the skeptic, doesn't buy it.
The banter between the two goes back and forth until Jules boldly proclaims that he no longer wants to live the life of crime that has defined most of his adult life. He wants to give it up, go off the grid, and "walk the earth, like Caine in Kung Fu". He wants to go wherever God directs him to go, and won't stop until His will has been done.
Let me tell y'all something: I loooovee this scene! Not only because it's a fine piece of cinema, but also because of how well it resonates with me concerning my own walk with the Lord. I've believed for a long time that no matter what higher power or force you subscribe to - whether it be God, fate, karma, luck, cosmic alignment, etc. - there are always some things in life that are just simply out of our control. And when those things happen, we have the choice to either accept them as signs or to continue treading down our own self-made paths.
Looking back on these past couple years, It's become obvious to me that following God's plan was the last thing on my mind. I found myself frequently worried, angry, confused, lonely, and aimless after several circumstances like break-ups and financial situations and uncertainty about my future plagued my thoughts and kept me suppressed in an internal prison of my own creation.
I was trapped, and it wasn't until the eve of New Year's Eve when I was reminded that the key I was searching so hard for had been looking down at me throughout my entire period of self-struggle.
During IndyCC, a conference I attended with my friends and 2,000 students from other Midwest universities, I was able to confess my fears, doubts, and insecurities to another individual (whom I had never met before). Instead of judging me or chastising my weakness, he took a moment, put a hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. He then prayed with me, and afterwards, he embraced me... and it was at that moment when everything became as clear as Larry Bird.
The rough period I had been going through created a lot of pain and frustration in my life, but maybe it was something that I needed to experience. It humbled me, educated me, made me a little wiser, but most importantly it refocused me, reminding me that I need God's love and guidance now more than ever. There's only so much that I can do on my own; the rest is in His hands, and it's up to me to answer when He calls.
So as we get 2015 - the 22nd year of my existence on earth - underway, I've made it my resolution to be more like Jules. Not the whole "contract killer" aspect of his personality, but I want to be more receptive and observant of what God is leading me to do with my life. It may not be easy, and I may not want to do it all the time, but what else can I do? The Lord has been with me all the way to this point, so the least I can do is quiet down, listen up, and see where he takes me from here.
I'm just going to keep walking. And if it takes forever for God to tell me where to go next, then I'll walk forever.