Updated: Mar 29
Guest post by Ellie Wasson
An inspiration break from our bookish content--Ellie explores her Top Ten Best Movies from 1960-2000. Because sometimes when you need to be creative as a writer, you need to do something that is not writing.
Empire Records (1995) dir. Allan Moyle
Every time I watch Empire Records, I become more deeply aware of how ridiculous and
disjointed it is—and, of course, how it is kind of a hypocritical, corporate attempt by Hollywood to engage with the youth culture of the 90s. But that’s beside the point. Every time I watch Empire Records, I find myself identifying with a different character. I find myself tearing up at different scenes and noticing nuances and jokes that I hadn’t before, and I’ve seen this movie, like, thirty thousand times, excuse the hyperbole. The first time I saw it, I saw so much of myself in Deb that I actually considered shaving my head. When I was Deb, watching her “funeral” and hearing the song ‘Bright As Yellow’ by The Innocence Mission made me feel less alone. The most recent time I watched this, I found myself identifying with Corey—I know, man. Some real-life character development here. Anyway, I like this movie because it was powerful enough to give me nostalgia for an era I never lived in. Empire Records is a 90s-flavored hot pocket and no, I’m never gonna stop re-watching it.
Cinema Paradiso (1988) dir. Giuseppe Tornatore
I WOULD DIE FOR ENNIO MORRICONE. Seriously though, the score of this movie is the pinnacle of human capability to compose music. It’s a film about films. It’s a metafilm. It’s magnificent. Toto and Elena combined would be the most gorgeous being in the galaxy, and nobody would be able to handle it. The ending is so bittersweet that it crushes my soul and then turns it into confetti, and the scene where grown-up Toto watches all of the cut-out kisses spliced together transcends language. That scene made me want to study film in college. Cinema Paradiso is the reason why I’m gonna die broke. I am eternally grateful.
The World According to Garp (1982) dir. George Roy Hill
Weird choice, you might think. The World According to Garp was so ‘before its time’ that I believe it was actually meant to be appreciated in the 21st Century. Seeing Garp’s maverick Betty Friedan mother and his best friend Roberta—one of the first on-screen representations of a trans woman—as positive influences on Garp’s life reminds me that sometimes the film industry isn’t totally evil. I still believe that this movie is one of the best depictions of life as a writer, and of how it feels to be young and in love. The World According to Garp is a triptych of tragedy, romance, and comedy; it goes from heartwarming to heartwrenching to heartbreaking so fast I get whiplash. Not to mention how synonymous it became with the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four, of course. I give it a T.S. for terrifically superb.
The Big Lebowski (1998) dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ok, so this one’s pretty much a universal favorite. The Big Lebowski more than deserves the hype it still gets over 20 years after its release. It’s got to be one of the most quotable films of all time—a testament to the timeless writing by my dudes Ethan and Joel. Some of my personal favorites include “You are entering a world of pain” and “It really tied the room together.” The Big Lebowski inspired a whole culture of weird that worships the Dude like a god, and I love it.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) dir. Terry Gilliam
Gilliam, your Monty Python is showing. Truthfully, I lose track of the plot for a solid 80% of the movie, but that fact really does emphasize the vision of drug existentialism it intended to achieve. Johnny Depp is really not my fave, but his performance in this movie is so hilarious that I can’t help but love it. Same goes for Benicio del Toro, except he really is my fave. I think this movie gets a bad rep from critics because it’s completely out of control. None of the somewhat bombastic dialogue makes any damn sense. It ends on an ambiguous Wizard of Oz kind of note with Jumpin’ Jack Flash playing in the background, and part of me is always lost. Still, this is an honest representation of the book on which it’s based, the effects of Duke’s fiesta of drugs, and the general vibe of Las Vegas. Stoned. Ripped. Twisted. Good movie.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) dir. George Armitage
Maybe it’s just because I’m from Detroit, or because I’m a sucker for post-punk, or because I’ve had a crush on John Cusack since I watched Anastasia at age 6, but I believe Grosse Pointe Blank is a fantastic movie. It’s hilarious and ironic and somewhat relatable – even for those of us who aren’t hitmen. I’m really not big on violent movies, but those fight scenes? Perfectly choreographed. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the culture of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, you can recognize how spot-on is this movie’s satire of white Midwestern suburbia. And of course, Joan Cusack really comes in clutch again with her goofy, manic-comic-relief character. All I can do as a filmmaker is hope to achieve the kind of creativity evident in Grosse Pointe Blank.
Empire of the Sun (1987) dir. Steven Spielberg
Alright, so filmmakers really do beat a dead horse with all these WWII flicks, but Empire of the Sun is an incredible story. I have the score (John Williams, obviously) on vinyl. I have a framed poster hanging in my room. I. Love. This. Movie. There’s really no other way to describe it than an incredible feat of cinematography. Some of the shots, paired with Williams’ score, are so visually powerful—and beautiful—that they leave me in tears. From innocent little Jamie dressed as Sinbad standing face to face with a Japanese officer, to hardened Jim wandering through the maze of chandeliers and expensive cars at Nantao stadium, Empire of the Sun is a phenomenal movie.
Reality Bites (1994) dir. Ben Stiller
This one really is a guilty pleasure. I guess I like it because I see a lot of myself in Lelaina, and some of the dialogue is so clever I feel like I need to write it down and memorize it. I did read a Letterboxd review once that said, and I quote, “Ethan Hawke’s character makes me want to eat a bowl of my own hair,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s simultaneously honest and overly romantic about being broke and planless after college, but I can excuse the romance just to enjoy it without being pretentious. Take that, Ethan Hawke. Reality Bites is a lovable ode to all the people (like me!) who were commended as children for being so mature but now, as adults, realize that they don’t have the first notion of maturity.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) dir. Blake Edwards
Somebody once told me that they loved this movie because they were fascinated with the idea of life being so disorganized that everything somehow worked out, and I suppose that’s the reason I love it too. Wouldn’t we all love to be Holly Golightly? Just floating through life without a care in the world? Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been a favorite of every generation since its release, and it’s that relevance (and Audrey Hepburn’s iconic performance) that make it such a memorable movie. It’s a story about the American dream, in one way or another. The romantic subplot is one of my favorites as well—Paul represents stability in Holly’s façade of carefree perfection. Get you a man like Fred Baby. And no, nobody can stop me from moving to New York City and adopting an orange cat.
Stand By Me (1986) dir. Rob Reiner
To conclude this list, I chose Stand By Me, because I felt like I needed at least one film on here that belongs to that odd subgenre that Generation Z calls “80s Movies.” Stand By Me is one of my favorite movies, because I saw it for the first time when I was ten years old and it’s still very dear to my heart. Even in 2011, I felt like a bit of a misfit—like I should have been friends with Gordy, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. Maybe, though it can seem like a bit of hubris for people to say they were ‘born in the wrong generation,’ it isn’t so wrong for kids like me to make a personal claim to the “80s Movies” like Stand By Me. Maybe we’ve been out of touch with our own generation, or then again, maybe they’re just damn good movies.
Ellie Wasson is a brilliant film addict who hails from Detroit.
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