25 Films that have inspired me (1st Edition)

film-reel-2Welcome to the first edition of the 25 films that have inspired me as a person, writer, and visual artist, as well as an overall storyteller. This list is in no particular order and is the beginning of a series; because there are so many amazing films out there it would be a huge disservice to myself to just limit this to one list. Below you’ll find an array of films from several genre’s that have stayed with me for more than just the first viewing. The way I chose to make this list is judging what I’ve learned from each story, be it cinematographically, story-telling wise, or as a life lesson.

  1. Pulp Fiction (1994) – this gem by the amazing Quentin Tarantino was so confusing to me during my sophomore year of high school I had to watch it twice. The first time I think the language barrier (I only knew basic conversational English back then) was a huge part of me not understanding it. However, every time I’ve watched it since I’ve enjoyed each quippy dialogue between all characters, along with all the quirky and the few gory scenes. All which are completely necessary. Since then I’ve been looking for the Pumpkin to my bad motherfucker hunny bunny.
  2. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – I have to admit, this is somewhat of a guilty pleasure and tradition for me. Every year for both Christmas and Halloween I watch this film and sing along with Skellington Jack and the Holloweentown Posse. I know all the lyrics to all the songs and it brings me so much joy to see a character that is searching for something that he’s not sure of and ends up discovering the warmth of the holidays along with the smell of cakes and pies everywhere. The love story between tragic Sally and Jack is also inspiring because she never stopped being herself to be with him. Bonus: Jack’s Lament on YouTube
  3. Pride & Prejudice (2005) – Directed by Joe Wright. I’m absolutely in love with this version of Jane Austen’s famed novel. Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy is, to me, the absolute most perfect. I love this film because of Lizzy’s headstrong and lack of compliance with her mother’s desperate needs to marry off all her daughters, therefore straightforwardly rejecting the proposal of her square cousin Mr. Collins. I also adore the relationship Lizzy has with her father and how he ensures she’s absolutely happy before giving his blessing for her marriage. I fell in love with the way Mr. Darcy does everything he can to make Lizzy happy without her asking for it – or even realizing what he’s doing. One of my favorite scenes is when Lizzy and her sister Jane are leaving the Bingley’s place and Mr. Darcy helps Lizzy into the carriage by holding her hand quickly – a quick close up to his hand shows so much passion without a single word uttered. The other one, when at the end Mr. Darcy struggles with his words while confessing his love for Lizzy, which you can see here.
  4. Taking Chance (2009) – Ross Katz directed this somber film for HBO visualizing the real story of when (RET) Lt. Col. Michael Strobl escorted the body of 19 year old Chance Phelps to his hometown of Dubois, WY. The film lacks explosions, combat scenes, or any other thing that could be considered military propaganda, but I find it to be more moving. It is the quiet story of a man who volunteers to take a fellow Marine home – still it is jam packed with flawless performances from Bacon and the rest of the cast. A beautifully quiet film that left a deep impression in me and makes me cry these ugly snotty cries every time I see it. Watch the trailer here.
  5. Point Break (1991) – Kathryn Bigelow made me fall in love with big wave surfing and a different kind of Patrick Swayze. Her iconic film of thieving surfers made a huge impact on me to the point that I wanted to move to California or Australia in search for those mavericks to surf. I haven’t quite made it there, but I still have time. Although the 2015 remake of the film is intended to pay homage to Bigelow’s masterpiece of surf, I felt that the original was so good nothing could come close to it. Favorite scene: when Special Agent Utah reports to his superior that he caught his first tube, watch it here – the first tube is the most exhilarating experience ever, it’s certainly worth reporting to your boss.
  6. The Color Purple (1985) – Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Novel is undoubtedly moving. While the constant abuse, rape Celie is subjected to throughout her life is absolutely horrifying. The love she has for her sister Nettie and her romance with Shug Avery which led to her subsequent attainment of independence from the ever abusive Albert was empowering. To see the first lesbian relationship and understand that Celie was still a virgin because she hadn’t made love was enlightening. One of my favorite scenes, when Celie curses Albert and leaves with Shug and says as they start driving off to her freedom “I may be black, I may be ugly, but dammit I am free” my second one Nettie and Celie reunion, and my all time tearjerking favorite is when Shug sings to her father and he hugs her, you can watch it here – because “sinners have souls too” the feels, all the feels!
  7. Romero (1989) – under the direction of John Duigan, Puerto Rican great Raul Julia gives one of the most amazing performances of his career as human rights fighter Archbishop Oscar Romero who stood against tyrannical oppression in El Salvador. Julia can be credited with inspiring many a Boricua to pursue acting and filmmaking. You can watch a commentary filled trailer here and see why this movie is essential to on my inspirational movies list. There are few words to describe the impact of this film.
  8. The Godfather (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola’s story of the aging patriarch of a crime dynasty is most likely on the list of hundreds of people who love films. The darkness of the story that links several generations of the Italian mob made me imagine how life was like for my actual Godfather, who was Greek and was known in the Pleasant Avenue area of Spanish Harlem as the guy to make things happen. He drove a black Cadillac with red interiors and could always be found at the “social club” and financially and in other areas as well. The Godfather was in part a depiction of a person who was influential in my life during my early formative years and I appreciate it in many ways. Marlon Brando stroking a cat during business talk is also pretty epic, you can watch it here.
  9. All dogs go to Heaven (1989) – The tragic story of a stray dog and an orphan girl brilliantly directed by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and Dan Kuenster is so moving. With the voices of real life besties Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise is unconventional for an animated film (most of their films involved car chases, booze, more car chases, womanizing and more booze), somehow it works. Not all stories are fairies and princes – and some happy endings are about getting a family to call your own. True love comes in different ways and this film surely illustrates that. Watch the devil let Charlie say goodbye to Anne-Marie and the canine gatekeeper of heaven come in and rescue him from the pits of hell in this heartbreaking scene.
  10. Unforgiven (1992) – as a Western flick alum I had never seen Clint Eastwood speak so much in a film. This was the first film I had ever seen that depicted a black man (Morgan Freeman) as a cowboy and I loved that. He was respected, loved as a man and eventually avenged because no one kills Clint’s friends in any of his flicks. Here are some of great moments of the film.
  11. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – Clint Eastwood was a staple during my early film watching years. In Josey Wales, his family was killed and he buries his wife and young son while there’s still smoke coming from the wooden remains of their small cozy cabin. Almost immediately all hell breaks loose. What makes this movie stand out to me is that in all the westerns Clint Eastwood has acted and/or directed I’ve never seen any sort of disrespect toward Native Americans. They are depicted as people who are honorable and take justice in their own hands just as Eastwood’s characters have done throughout his films; in this particular film, warrior chief Ten Bears is a magnificent example. There is a clear and honest understanding between Wales and Ten Bears, both men on a mission, both men protecting their respective honors and people’s – you can see how that starts off when they meet in these scene here.
  12. Beetlejuice (1988) – Who doesn’t love Tim Burton’s classic of a rogue spirit/entity who goes bonkers as he tries to “help” a recently deceased couple who are clearly naïve at the ways of paranormal activity and possession. Michael Keaton lends a masterfully fun performance as Beetle…(shhhh, don’t say his name) and Winona Rider as iconic as the goth, depressed and suicidal young Lydia Deetz (“I am utterly alone”). Alec Baldwin and Gena Davis are brilliantly naïve in their roles. I loved the sawed in half magicians assistant and Ms. Argentina who gave her little piece of advice AFTER the fact. When I first saw it, the most jarring scene was the flattened man who “zooped” through the office. I mean, is that even how people remain when they die?
  13. The English Patient (1996) – I have to say that Ralph Fiennes was hugely responsible for my sexual awakening. Before his Harry Potter days, he portrayed passionate male characters and made hot steamy scenes like the ones in The English Patient regularly. He made me desire for the heavy, passionate love he interpreted on screen – he was simply amazing. Kristin Scott Thomas is wonderful as a wife who loves her husband, but falls deeply in lust/love with his colleague. It was also the first time I saw an interracial love paring in the form of Juliet Binoche’s Hana and Naveen Andrews’ Kip (who had an exquisite mane btw). This film is beautiful, filled with cinematic splendor, love, pain, and everything in between.
  14. E.T. The Extra-Terrestial (1982) – Once again, Steven Spielberg is in the list. Who doesn’t love the story of the eco-loving-farmer extra-terrestrial who is stranded on earth and befriends an awesome boy who ends up helping him to call his ship to get back home? Drew Barrymore is every lovely in her first film, and Henry Thomas is so determined to do what he feels is right is ridiculous. I love it. Also, I wanted to have my bike fly the sky like that.
  15. Legends of the Fall (1994) – Edward Zwick amazingly directs the story of three brothers who experience deep passionate love, loss, and all sorts of tribulations in life. Brad Pitt has never been so vulnerable, so strong, so amazing than in this film. I’ve never hated a character as much as I hated Julia Ormond’s Susannah (I mean really?) and Aiden Quinn’s Alfred was such a frustrating character. The stoic persona of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Col. Ludlow is very impressionable and everlasting. The cinematography is amazing and inspirational for me as a future filmmaker. Watch the trailer here.
  16. Freedom Writers (2007) – based on the very real story of teacher Erin Gruwell who changed the lives of her students – this film depicts the heartbreaking story of young people who navigate through homelessness, gang life, crime, abuse, poverty, and learning disabilities and go on to be inspirational people. The showdown between what is now often debated as white privilege and their drastic contrast from people of color is electrifying as Hilary Swank brilliantly portrays the wide eyed Gruwell, April Hernandez does an equally brilliant job at portraying the rightfully angry-at-the-world Eva Benitez who schools Gruwell on why she hates whites on sight. The movie is compelling, and a true tearjerker and inspirational.
  17. Precious (2009) – Lee Daniels does not shy away from depicting the ugly truth of life. However, he does a remarkable job at showing that through all the mud, sweat, blood, tears and shit, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that you can get to. Gabourey Sidibe gives an amazing performance and is equally inspirational in this film. How she continues to strive for a better life despite her misfortune is motivational. Mo’Nique gives such a career changing performance as Mary and her confession about the choice between her man and her child is something I’ve heard many women say in real life. This film impacted me in a way that, as a filmmaker, one cannot be afraid to get ugly – however, one can also show the beauty beneath the layers, because along with the ugly….life is also very beautiful.
  18. Blacksnake Moan (2006) – writer/director Craig Brewer is insanely talented and does a great job in this underrated film. This is the story of a sexually addicted woman who was abused as a child, the man who finds her half dead and decides to help her in a very unconventional way. Their platonic relationship blossoms through the midnight fever-induced hallucinations of Christina Ricci’s Rae, shaping most of the film’s storyline. I’ve always been a fan of Ricci’s and but in this film she gives a different kind of performance that was absolutely life changing. The trailer doesn’t do it justice, since the film itself is way deeper in meaning and showcases several types of mental and emotional ailments that afflict many people today. Justin Timberlake’s performance as Rae’s boyfriend who suffers from a form of anxiety is a breakthrough and inspired by Brewer’s own troubles with the disorder. The boldness of Brewer with this story was absolutely refreshing and a huge risk I was glad he made.
  19. Tropic Thunder (2008) – this ridiculous-fest directed by Ben Stiller had me splitting at the sides. All the Booty Sweat, big ass titties explosives, and the flawless performance of RDJ’s Australian white man, playing a black dude and staying in character during the dvd commentary was hilarious. This move taught that one can be completely obnoxious, insanely funny and out of one’s mind as a filmmaker and still make a good film. Jack Black is beyond riotous and Tom Cruise as the extra hairy-fat arms and little hair and overly sweating dancing producer is the cherry on top of the freak cake of this magnificently uproarious cake. At the end of the day, RDJ knows who he is (he’s the dude, playing the dude disguised as another dude – as you can see here) gives some great advice on going or not going ‘full retard’.
  20. Belle (2013) – as a child living in Puerto Rico watching all these period flicks I always wondered what life would be like during those times. During my expressed curiosity I was ensured that I would be a slave, quite possibly a house slave because of the light color of my skin – it was amazing to see Amma Asante’s film about the very real black aristocrat in 18th Century England Dido Belle Lindsay. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance as the titled character is powerful. She’s flawlessly portrays the strong, incredibly curious, smart, “accomplished” Dido, who stands up for herself and what she believes is right even when people are trying their best to ‘put her in her place.’ That in itself is inspirational, even for people of color today. Also, despite the protestations of from her uncle Lord Mansfield (brilliantly played by Tom Wilkinson) Dido inadvertently builds a romance between with Mr. Davinier (powerfully played by Sam Reid) which I find refreshing. Davinier sees Dido as a person, something that was quite rare for that time – I mean, not even her aunt and uncle Lord and Lady Mansfield can look past her blackness. Furthermore, Davinier never mentions her obvious heritage as a negative, and when he does, he points it out as beautiful – all while he stirs the pot with the ‘all men are created equals and slavery is a violation to the human condition itself’ protestations he and a few law students are pushing. How can you not fall in love with a character like that? Cinematically it’s almost perfect. The story is well researched and executed, Asante’s direction is superb. You can watch the trailer here.
  21. Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) – I’ve never wanted to be a vampire so badly after watching a film. This brilliantly seductive tale of a melancholic blood sucker changed the way I viewed the horrific night creatures that followed Nosferatu and the classic Dracula. The moment Pitt’s Louis de Pointe du Lac is born as a vampire and the statue of the angel in the cemetery closes her eyes to him is memorable. Never have I loathed a character Tom Cruise portrayed more than I did Lestat de Lioncourt. Moreover, I was both disturbed and jealous of the kiss between Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia and Louis. The love he had for her: deeply touching. Filled with great performances, and transitions this is the Vampire films all mature- vampire movies should aspire to emulate.
  22. The Lost Boys (1987) – starting off to the haunting soundtrack of the Door’s “People are strange” (when you’re a stranger) The Lost Boys is the best teenage vampire flick of all time. Seriously. The Corey’s are hilariously adorable, and determined to make things right in Santa Clara. Grandpa uses Windex as cologne and Jason Patrick is sexy as all hell, motivating my first actor obsession in a different fan-girl way (almost stalkerish really). The film is seductive, angst-y and dangerous, I totally wanted to be like Star since we both had crazy long curly locks. This is truly what teenage vampire stories should be like – fuck those bedazzled vamp-wannabe’s The Lost Boys is where it’s at.
  23. Bram Stocker’s Dracula (1992) – Keeping with the blood sucking thematic, Bram Stocker’s Dracula was filled with cinematic splendor, seductive she-demons that come out the ceilings to suck blood. The best performances are by Gary Oldman and a surprisingly nipple sucking Winona Ryder. I hate to say that Keanu Reeves in this film was miscast, but he made it work – he was the ‘it boy’ at the time and did his best. Also, I think Sir Anthony Hopkins Van Helsing was overwhelming. Still, I focused on Mina/Elisabetha and the Count’s story. It’s beautiful, it’s manic, it is sexual without being overly so like today’s films. BSD is filled with gracious wolves that provoke a disturbing sense of bestiality in Rider’s Elisabetha that ends up weirdly working as Oldman’s Dracula seduces many-a lady with his sword yielding, blood sucking, travel-in-a-box-filled-with-soil-ways. Watch the trailer here.
  24. The Kingdom (2007) – Peter Berg directs this film about FBI agents who investigate (more like set out to avenge) the bombing of an American facility in the Middle East that results in the death of one of their own. Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman are perfectly cast and give riveting performances. This film was the first one about the on-going and historically longest war involving the U.S. to bring tears to my eyes (I watched it before Taking Chance). In the end, Berg shows that while we think “they” are different and ‘the enemy’, we are all the same. Watch the trailer here.
  25. The Soloist (2009) – Based on the real events that inspired Steve Lopez’ novel Jamie Foxx surprises as Nathaniel Ayers, a Julliard-educated musical prodigy whose had ‘a few setbacks’. Robert Downey Jr.’s gives an exhilarating performance that I can relate to as troubled journalist Steve Lopez. Broken characters who help each other through the darkness of depression, schizophrenia, and borderline alcoholism – this movie is very real, very raw and quite beautiful. As Ayers finds his way back to music, he pulls at your heart strings. Filled with an enchanting soundtrack that will swell any heart with emotions The Soloist is moving, inspirational and gives me hope for humanity. Watch the trailer here.

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