1. Almost Famous
The exact moment I decided to be a writer was while watching Almost Famous. In fact I paused the film around halfway through because I was hit by a wave of inspiration and had to go write something. A poem, I think. I’d always written, but this film made it look like something one could do as a job, and that it might lead me on strange and interesting adventures. Mostly it’s a film about being different and weird and finding acceptance for it through your art, and that spoke to me on so many levels. I’m different! I’m weird! I write! Maybe I can do this?! Thirteen years later, I’ve still not been on tour with a rock band, but I do write for a living. Thanks, Cameron Crowe.
Taught me the following lessons:
Don’t do heroin.
Save your money.
Listen to your heart, not your friends.
Don’t do heroin.
Scotland is interesting.
Be careful who you pick up when you go to a club.
Don’t do heroin.
Always use protection.
Fries are called chips in Scotland.
Don’t hang around criminals.
Don’t have kids.
And don’t do heroin.
3. Hoop Dreams
Hoop Dreams is the greatest documentary ever made and was what taught me to start thinking about privilege and poverty and how that relates to “following your dreams” or whatever, when I was a young stupid teenager constantly being told to follow my dreams.
—Summer Anne Burton
4. The Breakfast Club
It will remind you that individuality is the key to being happy. You do you. Never pretend to be someone you’re not.
5. Laurence Anyways
Aside from having exceptional cinematography and a soundtrack you will keep listening to after the fact, Laurence Anyways grapples with gender identity in the 21st century and what happens to everyone around you when you do decide to transition. Not only that, but Xavier Dolan was an impressive 23 years old when he directed this film.
6. 500 Days of Summer
I think the most important takeaway from 500 Days of Summer for me was there’s always going to be someone else. I watched this after going through a pretty shitty breakup. When you’re young and a relationship ends, you come out on the other side feeling like you’re never going to feel that way again. I think it’s important to figure out that the end of a relationship isn’t the end-all be-all. Maybe you find someone else, or maybe you learn to love yourself.
Persepolis is a coming-of-age movie that takes place during the Iranian revolution, and it really hits on issues of feminism, finding your voice, and staying true to your individual spirit.
8. The Outsiders
The Outsiders taught me about the inevitable changes that can happen in your lifetime, and the only way to really deal with the changes is to accept them instead of fighting against them.
9. North by Northwest
Everyone talks about Casablanca and Citizen Kane as the be-all end-all for classic film, forgetting the awesomeness that is North by Northwest. Though the plane scene is no doubt iconic, most people associate Hitchcock with dark thrillers like Psycho. In North by Northwest, he mixes genres so fluidly that you’re scared, happy, intrigued, and most of all: entertained.
10. All The Real Girls
All The Real Girls is about human error and forgiveness and it’s depressing as fuck but I think really “relatable” and good for people to watch and think and argue about.
—Summer Anne Burton
11. All About Eve
All About Eve is as relevant today as it was in the ’50s, and could be retitled Mansplaining. The aging theater star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is our 40-year-old hero while the antagonistic twentysomething star Eve (Anne Baxter) is our ostensible villain, but the real villain is, again and again, patriarchal values, stupid men who cannot conceive of their own advantage, and goddamn male hypocrisy. It’s a film about two women vying for male attention, and yet the fight is clearly the result of a system that sets women up to tear each other down. It’s witty and funny and sad and still great, all these years later.
12. Life Is Beautiful
It shows you how important it is to always have a sense of humor in your life, even in the worst possible scenarios. Plus, it teaches you about the Holocaust and everyone should know about the Holocaust.
13. Requiem for a Dream
People often talk about Trainspotting as the heroin film but fewer have seen the incredible Requiem for a Dream. Though bleak AF, it’s a film that manages to capture the utter despair of drug addiction. It’s so criminally underrated that it makes me cringe. It was Darren Aronofsky’s first masterpiece, and let’s be real, that soundtrack is the best.
A dark, hilarious movie that would NEVER get made now. Teenagers trying to one-up one another via elaborately maudlin suicides would get laughed out of any movie studio. But this perfect film laid the groundwork for every cinematic high school bitch we’ve seen since.
—Ira Madison III
15. I Am
I Am is not a flashy film. It uses stock images and cliched songs, and some parts are a little bit cringe. The whole documentary circles around Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura) and his struggle with wealth and the realization that money and power don’t guarantee happiness. That said, its overall message and exploration of what’s important in this world is paramount to the development of a good mind and a better soul. Shadyac interviews a bunch of really great icons, writers, and people, and manages to construct a great message of moving together as one society and helping out your fellow man. The bits with Desmond Tutu will make your soul flutter.
16. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
I saw this movie in high school and I fell in love, not only with its story, but with it’s cinematography. The whole first half of the movie is shot from the POV of the protagonist. I read the book right after, and to this day, it’s made me appreciate what I do have and accept that everything you know can be radically changed unexpectedly. Jean-Dominique Bauby wakes up to discover he’s completely paralyzed except for being able to blink one of his eyes. From that, HE WROTE THE ENTIRE BOOK by blinking…BLINKING.
17. The Tree of Life
It inspires you to make your own path in life and to work hard no matter what your dreams are, and it shows you the importance of keeping strong relationships. It’s one of those films that teaches you something new every time you watch it.
18. The Women
Revolutionary for not having a single man in it, it’s a funny ode to female friendships and also a biting commentary on the rivalries that society places on women. Plus, the one-liners are still useable even today.
—Ira Madison III
19. Mean Girls
Few other films capture “girl world” in such a smart and hilarious way. And it’s infinitely quotable. YOU GO GLEN COCO.
20. The Princess Bride
It’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Fact. If you want to act like you have any knowledge of pop culture at all it’s a must. In addition to being incredibly funny (and highly quotable), it has a lot of smart, sweet things to say about love and family and childhood and magic and stories and life and death and MLT sandwiches.
21. Punch-Drunk Love
It made me think about all the ways you can fall in love, and how you can find it in the most unexpected places. Also the composer, Jon Brion, is one of my all-time favorites. He added a very dreamlike quality to the film. Also, because I studied painting I loved the compositions in the film.
22. Starship Troopers
For whatever reason, it’s not a movie that many people talk about. I consider Starship Troopers one of the best science-fiction movies — if not THE best science-fiction movie — of the last 20 years. It’s as relevant today as it’s ever been before. See this movie!
23. The Iron Giant
Everyone should watch The Iron Giant because it’s one of the most underrated animated movies of all time. The storyline, style, characters, and animation are all breathtakingly beautiful. The only reason more people haven’t seen it is because they didn’t do enough PR. It is some of Brad Bird’s finest work. After seeing the ending you’ll never be the same.
24. The Way Way Back
This movie is the quintessential coming-of-age film. It doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that some family situations simply suck, and some family members are the literal worst. But, it also gives hope that you can (and will) unintentionally find people who make you happy and feel whole again.
25. The Big Lebowski (or any Coen brothers movie)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. It’s so, so funny, and is insanely quotable for any situation. The Coen Brothers inspired me to get into film, and Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, and Jeff Bridges are comedy gold. It also has one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most underrated roles. Everyone deserves to know The Dude.