Miranda by Surfer Blood – (Ups to Robert Earl on the recco (Bucket List minus 1)) I think I rec’ed some Surfer Blood back in the day, but I can’t find the reference. I hear the Smiths in this. A little sped up, but the Smiths. And again with that most perfect of song titles, the girl who did you wrong.
A couple of friends (PR, killamike and maybe you too, Lee I can’t remember) and I have, via random texts, engaged in an almost year long debate about Universally Loved Movies (“ULMs”).
I’ve taken this information and at random times asked random people their reactions to an individual consensus ULM. Sometimes they agree enthusiastically followed by some seriously drippy nostalgia. Sometimes they agree almost off-handedly like “well yeah, of course” as if the proffered ULM has reached some canonical level where even questioning whether or not it’s loved (or great) is tantamount to cultural heresy. Sometimes I’d get a “eh” which caused me to re-evaluate the proffered ULM. But sometimes they’d smile and nod their heads, indicating a “yeah, I enjoyed that.” It’s this sentiment that makes this list so difficult. No movie that, we’ll say, is widely loved is going to be truly hated by an individual of sound psyche. That is not counting the one “that’s the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen.” (Wife, The Goonies (sighs))
All of that is important so you know that the “Loved” of ULM is inaccurate. While there are people, lots of people, who love these movies, the balance of the voting block which allows the discriptor to ascend toward “Universal” are the smile and nodders. So “Loved” is used in its broadest possible sense which is: Loved = not hated.
(N.B. Obviously, this changes the acronym to something approaching Universally Enjoyed / Love by Some / Liked by Others Movies (UELSLOMs). But I’ll stick with ULM.)
Of course, the term “Universally” is also inaccurate. Whom am I really talking about? At its widest possible scope, the appreciators of the movies I’m about to rank are white Americans, ages 20-45. But in reality, it’s closer to white male college educated Americans ages 28-34. (N.B. I don’t even want to fuck with that acronym.) But know that I’ve tried to push the envelope toward the prior. Even in that limited subset, however, “Universally” remains inaccurate. “Overwhelmingly” is probably the word. But that’s a little boring.
So both the adverd and the verb of ULM are questionable at best. One starkly ethnocentric and the other employing a seriously watered down definition. But I’m sticking with ULM because the M is definately accurate. These movies are movies to the core. Cinematic experiences, direct descendants of Athenian Drama, perfect stories: three acts, heros, conflicts, resolution, maybe happy endings. The ancient Greeks gave us these formulas some 2500 years ago. And why have they stuck around? Because they work. It’s the way we like our stories, our movies. They detach us enough from reality, without a serious mind-fuck, perfect linear stories, offering us entertainment at its most basic and liberating sense. These are definitely movies in the way you love movies, with that expectant and rewarding quality that never seems to get old.
OK, a few things I noticed about these: (1) All of them have a kind of protective quality over their actors, almost career “get out of jail free” (GOJF) cards. I can hear a conversation like this: “Tim Robbins is a liberal pansy socialist pig”……”Yeah, but he was in Shawshank.” (2) Late 80s, hmmm; (3) mostly sympathetic villains (not counting the warden); and (4) mostly teenage/adolescent heros. Thoughts?
I think these ten are, according to the above poorly set forth definitition, Universally Loved Moves. I rank them, frankly, because that’s just what I do. The rankings themselves hopefully reflect both the Universality and the Love of a particular movie, but also my personal belief as to how they should be ranked in terms of ULM-ness (sighs). That’s not to say this is a list of my favorite movies of all time (although a couple of them do appear on this list), it’s just how I decided to order them. So trouble yourself little with the rankings, and question me more on a particular movie’s inclusion or absence on the list.
10. A Christmas Story (1983) – I get it. People love Christmas movies. People love this movie. It’s certainly our generation’s (Universally…..) It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s on for 24 hours on some stations, so it’s become part of people’s Christmas tradition. But for a Christmas movie on this list, I’d much rather Christmas Vacation, probably because it’s my family’s favorite and, frankly, funnier. But there is a charm to this movie and it’s one I appreciate, even if I prefer the dick humor of Christmas Vacation.
9. Big (1988) – This is another movie I get, but am not wholly enamored with. America loves Tom Hanks (a definite GOJF holder, but not for this, for Saving Private Ryan), but he grates on me comedically. That being said, there is a sweetness to this movie (and, frankly most ULMs) that appeals to almost everyone.
8. Hoosiers (1986) – One of the greatest sports movie of all time. Personally I prefer Bull Durham with a nod to Tin Cup (both giving Costner GOJF status), but this movie is right there. As far as ULMs go, Hoosier’s makes list ahead of The Natural because of (a) its wholesomeness; and (b) because people love David and Goliath no matter how it’s recast. What’s particularly appealing about this one is the doubly-whammy with both Norman Dale’s (Hackman) and Hopper’s redemption. But it is thrilling and never fails when Chitwood lines up the final jumper and buries it, goosebumps abound. GOJF for Dennis Hopper? hmmmmm.
7. Rocky (1976) – This one of two movies (Point Break being the other) that I can send out a text with only a channel number and certain recipients know Rocky’s on SpikeTv or AMC or whatever. It’s sort of a sports movie, but I’ve only every marginally thought of it as one. I think that has something to do with boxing’s then place in society/culture. Again David and Goliath, but remember Rock loses and that, more than anything, is why this movies is loved (well, and the iconic screaming for Adrian ending). Additionally, this movie presents the very biggest divide in male/female aspects of Universality. But five (0r six?) sequels speak to just how much Sly Stallone’s (GOJF) original low budget rip-off of the Chuck Wepner story is loved by millions.
6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – The best movie of the 90s. One of the best movies of all time. There’s also some David and Goliath in it, but, in my opinion, what appeals to everyone (besides a Morgan Freeman voice-over (and let’s be honest every moment of your life would be improved with a Morgan Freeman voice-over; “Matt wasn’t the best athlete on the football team, but he was the heaviest and he used it to his advantage.” yes, please)) is redemption, both Andy’s and Red’s, (Have you ever rooted for two characters more (a convicted murder and a vacant banker)? Maybe the hayseeds in Hoosiers, but not by much.), the purity of hope and triumph. Is there a more triumphant scene in any movie than Andy standing in the rain finally outside of Shawshank’s walls, his hands raised and the flash of lightning? Wow.
5. The Goonies (1985) – (Sorry Wife) The truffle shuffle alone gets this on the list. Who doesn’t want to be a kid and have an adventure? That’s the simple and perfect basis of this movie. You watch it when you’re 11 and you dream of having your own adventure. You watch it when you’re 33 and you remember those dreams. Super nostalgia. There is humor in this movie (Cory Feldman) I didn’t get until I was 25, but there was always that sense of adventure, that thrill that makes it timeless.
4. Back to the Future (1985) – Strangely this, and not Star Wars, is the movie that got me thinking about ULMs. It’s such a perfect movie. In 1985, it was coolest movie I’d ever seen. And during the viewing that blossomed into this overly wrought treatise, I decided it’s the perfect movie theater movie, even better than Star Wars. But more, unlike every movie on this list, I can’t find anything about this movie I don’t like. Funny, well-acted, well-paced, even the potentially paradox laden time travel which made perfect sense when I was 10, I can still fully accept at 33. I still get a kick out of watching it…every time.
3. Star Wars (1977) – It’s hard for us to think about Star Wars in its actual context. There are and will be many seminal rock albums like that. Think Nevermind divorced from everything that followed. Try to do the same thing with Star Wars. Doing that, here are
two three observations I believe grant Star Wars ULM status. (1) it created special effects as we know it. As far as aliens and blowing shit up on screen, there is before Star Wars and there is after. Every special effect you see can be traced back to the work done on Star Wars. Seminal. (2) it really is a pretty good movie, a bildungsroman hero, three distinct acts, a villian, resolution. Yes, it’s cheesy at times, and divorcing it from the Star Wars universe makes an appreciation difficult. But it is a good movie; (3) For us (the people who comprise “Universally”) it’s become the cultural myth of our time. The ancient Greeks had The Illiad, in old world England it was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in the Middle East they had Aladin and Sinbad, we children of the 21st century have Luke, Leia and Darth Vader. Only our “civilized” society’s copyright/trademark laws keep the tale from total ubiquity. But it’s close.
2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) –
“I think when John Hughes wrote, produced and directed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he was writing about a human need as basic as the human need that Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence: the need to be free, and to pursue happiness – very basic stuff. And I don’t know that there’s ever been a happier movie. It’s a movie that you cannot watch without feeling really, really great.”
-Ben Stein (Yale educated lawyer, economist, political advisor and teacher on FBDO)
1. The Princess Bride (1987) – Of all the movies on this list, I’ve owed the DVD of The Princess Bride the longest and I’m not sure why. It’s neither the funniest, the smartest, the sweetest, the most well-known, maybe not even the most loved. But I’ve never found a human (white American 20-40) who doesn’t love (OK, like) this movie. I can find no negative reactions. In moments of levity, I’ve said “have fun storming the castle” to groups of people I didn’t even know and was met with the nod/smile/point of “yeah, man I love that movie.” It’s the only truly Universally Loved Movie on this list. It is the Univerally Loved Movie (until one of you tell me otherwise). Enjoy.