25 Films that have inspired me (2nd Edition)

Welcome to the second edition of the films that have inspired me in some way or other to keep working, living, and strive to be myself – the list comprises of both new and old films and a brief explanation as to why they are so special to me.

  1. Eddie the Eagle (Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman) – Egerton does a fantastic job as the titular character, whose ambitions in becoming an Olympian since childhood are quite contagious and inspiring. Born with a disability, and poor eyesight, Eddie Edwards gets his ambition fueled by magazines, posters and television spots that showcase athletes competing – and from only one person in his life: his mum. Throughout the movie this Eddie has been stonewalled, ruled out, booted out and mocked for wanting to be the person he knows he should be – did all these negative situations stop him? No. He pushed forward and made history and broke records. More of us underdogs should be like Eddie the Eagle, soaring through the sky with our accomplishments even if everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is standing against us telling us we cannot become the person we know in our hearts we are meant to be.
  2. Hello, My name is Doris (Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield) – while the IMDb description of this film is “a self help seminar inspires sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker” Doris is much more than that. Field is the titular character and portrays her to perfection. After losing her mother (whom she spent all her life taking care of) Doris is struggling to find her footing in the world. While she becomes enamored by the younger, and very good looking new co-worker (Greenfield) she’s thrust into the dwellings of young people and how we manage to live our lives in “retro” and modernity, while trying to balance her old friendships and new ones. I smiled through the entire movie and laughed out loud through many other parts of it and cried at others. Anyone who is a caregiver of a parent, a young person who is trying to figure out who they are – or a human in general can relate to different aspects of this movie. It’s beautiful, it’s sweet, it’s daring and there’s an awesome sexy scene involving Field and Greenfield that everyone must see.
  3. Far from the Madding Crowd (Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen) – Mulligan stars in this period film as Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong and very independent woman who inherits a huge piece of land that is home acres and acres of oak. The film is beautifully shot, the characters are well developed and engaging and there is an independent woman who has made a point of not marrying anyone for the sake of marriage or protection. At some point Everdene says “I have a house, I have land, I have no need for a husband” during the Victorian times that was a radical statement – something that many women feel today, and to see that in a period character (albeit a fictional one) is still inspiring. As the story goes on, we see who she really loves and who she ends up choosing as the perfect man for her and as a business partner.
  4. The Wave or Bølgen (Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro) – Set in the Norwegian Fjords, this movie is far from the Hollywood productions of what a natural disaster would look like if it came to happen. Still, the effects, the science and the people make it compelling and amazing to watch. Joner plays geologist Kristian Eikjord who figures out the mountain that houses hundreds of people is shifting and tries his best to warn others. Thinking it’s practically impossible for what he predicts will happen, will actually come to pass – they ignore him (typical) but that doesn’t stop him from trying to help them, and to save his family from the effects of the tsunami that will surely pass when the mountain collapses. The performances are great, the actors humanize these characters in a way that Hollywood could never do (i.e. San Andreas was flat with the character performances, 2012 fell short in that aspect as well) which is making strong and relatable characters that the audience can relate to in those circumstances. Not just the “OMG the world is going to end” and add tons of CGI to the film….
  5. Chasing Mavericks (Starring: Jonny Weston, Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue) – as a person who cannot live too far from the ocean, this movie touched me in many ways. The story of Jay Moriarty and his ambition to ride the biggest waves – Mavericks – is moving, endearing, and inspiring. Weston’s portrayal of a young(er) Moriarty is clean, crisp and full of that naiveté that is needed in an actor that is playing a real life character that had that natural ambition and passion for life, for knowledge and especially surfing. Moriarty lived his life with a deep love of the ocean, for his family and for his girl. Although living in a one bedroom apartment off the coast of Santa Cruz, California – he went on to accomplish many things in his short life. A good example that nothing should stand in the way of you achieving your dreams.
  6. Brooklyn (Starring: Soairse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhall Gleeson) – Ronan stars in this period romantic drama as Eillis, a young Irish girl who reluctantly leaves her home town and family behind for a new life in Brooklyn, New York. Eillis’ experiences in New York reminded me of mine in great part. Only I didn’t have a boarding house, or a priest, or a job waiting for me when I moved to New York at 17, I related to her incredible homesickness and how hard it was to integrate into a place where there are so many people, and everything is so different. I have to make a note that Emory Cohen’s portrayal of Tony is absolutely adorable and made me fall in love with him.
  7. The Danish Girl (Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander) – What was it like for the first transgender woman? How did she know she was transgender? This film really shows the struggles of accomplished painter Einar Wegener into becoming Lili Elbe. The love he lost while becoming a she, the loved she gained by exploring her true herself. The love that endured between a marriage as time and one of them changed drastically. Eddie’s performance was so moving, I fell in love with both is Einar and Lili, the struggles in the eyes that only a great actor like he can convey and Alicia was amazing as well. As she interpreted the broken hearted, yet supportive Gerda it reminded me of many people I’ve known throughout my life. This film is about love, about self discovery and about friendship – all of the things that encompass what life is truly about.
  8. 200 Cartas (Starring: Lin Manuel Miranda, Jaime Camil, Dayanara Torres) – Miranda portrays Raul, a Young Newyorican who meets a Puerto Rican who is visiting NYC – he falls in love in that first and only meeting and sets off in an adventure to return to her a necklace she dropped in the club they met. Since he doesn’t have her number, he searches the phone book and ends up finding 200 women with her name (Maria Sanchez) so ends up sending each and every one of them a letter (hence the title of the film) what comes after is a crazy adventure and comedy that showcases the beauty and troubles in the island and the evolution of a man from being “smitten” by a beautiful girl he met once, to being actually in love with a woman who helps him in his journey.
  9. For Keeps? (Starring: Molly Ringwald, Randall Batinkoff) – let’s face it, if you’re over 25 years old, chances are that you’ve seen many a Molly Ringwald film while growing up. This film in particular was a departure of her previous work as the sweet girl next door. This was the first movie I saw that focused on a teenage mother and father. Both characters are struggling to make ends meet, struggling through post partum depression and struggling to evolve from young love to adult love. This was an incredible movie for me to see as a young person. The possibilities of unprotected sex, young parenting and everything that our sexual education (still) doesn’t cover.
  10. Sixteen Candles or 16 Candles (Starring: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling) – John Hughes made some iconic films in the 1980’s, most of them staring Ringwald, and this has to be mentioned in my list. Why? Because for most of my life I felt like Ringwald’s Sam felt on her sixteenth birthday, forgotten for a larger event. Sixteen Candles is a crazy comedy that involves some crazy racists scenarios, but fun in many other aspects. It gives hope to the girls like me, who used to be mostly quiet and crushing on the popular guy. We can all get a guy like Jake to pick us up in his sports car with a birthday cake just for us.
  11. The Iron Giant (Animated – Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel) This animated film was different than anything I’d ever seen before. A war machine falls from the sky, suffers amnesia and befriends a local kid with a weird name (Hogarth). He’s entirely repurposed, basically saying “just because you were a bad person in your past, doesn’t mean you have to always be a bad person” Every time I watch this film I cry, and smile, and laugh out loud – it’s fun, it’s classic and inspiring.
  12. Wild (Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern) – Who doesn’t want to leave their current pain behind by going on a long ass hike? Or sailing across the ocean, or driving cross country? I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to do any of these things at some point in their lives. I also, still haven’t met anyone who ACTUALLY has done it – so to see a film that is based on real events of a woman who hiked 1, 100 miles down the Pacific Coast Trail to get over losing her mother was inspiring. The cinematography is exquisite and the contrast of what she’s leaving behind to what she’s moving towards works perfectly. Made me want to start planning my own PCT hike (which I have, with an Amazon wish list and all).
  13. Pelo Malo (Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites) – Zambrano plays Junior, a nine year old boy who is obsessed with straightening his thick curly hair, this obsession leads him conditioning his hair with mayonnaise and combing it excessively. His mother Marta (Castillo), thinks that all this obsession with his hair and dancing and singing might mean that he’s gay. As the film progresses, we see many inappropriate things happen, as well as painful things that many a young artist has experienced in their lives. This film has motivated me to not be as close minded as Marta, or imposing as Junior’s grandmother Carmen (brilliantly played by Nelly Ramos).
  14. Mermaids (Starring: Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci) – As a child, I was very similar to Ricci’s character Kate Flax in this movie. Always wanting to be in the water, but never cleaning my rocks, or timing my ability to hold my breath in the bathtub (we never had a bathtub, I always left sea rocks where they belonged). Then there was the quirky Charlotte, who was obsessed with Catholicism (and later on Greek Mythology) and reminded me of the year of my life I wanted to be a nun. Then we had the sexy Mrs. Flax, single mother, secure in her own skin and a woman who gives no fucks. Like none…at all. After suffering a heartbreak she relocates herself and her girls to a small town in Massachusetts where so many things happen, when the family seems to break apart, it only gets stronger. I love this film because of all the elements I can relate to: family, obsession with swimming, religion, love (romantic and otherwise) and struggling family to find their own footing.
  15. Como agua para chocolate (Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Regina Torné) – I didn’t know the connection of food and sexuality until I saw this film. I had read the book before I saw the film, and was pleased to see that many of the literary aspects were put, exactly as I imagined it, on film. The casting is great, and if anyone deserved a nomination or an award of their portrayal of an unwavering torturous bitch of a mother was Torné. Her Mamá Elena is like the worst mother ever. Denying her younger daughter love, marriage and children for the sake of tradition is unthinkable. The film itself is beautiful, the characters are lovely (Gertrude being my favorite) and the story itself, while tragic has its romanticism. Also, the dishes are really great looking and how the people react to them creates curiosity if it does actually happen in real life.
  16. One night with the King (Starring: Tiffany Dupont, Luke Goss, John Noble) – I’m not really crazy on biblical stories, but this movie has stayed with me since I first saw it. Hadassah (Dupont) has to hide her Jewish identity and customs in order to stay alive, changing her name to Esther (with the excuse that it doesn’t sound so Jewish – which is like very “lol” now) she becomes Esther Queen of Persia, and risks her life to save her people from genocide. Why do I like this film? When you look at the cinematography it would seem like a low budget film – but that never matters when there’s a strong story. A young girl thrust into a destiny she never imagined, she has to have faith to keep going – decide to be safe or to risk her own life for that of others. A King (Xerxes) historically known for his barbaric nature, to be seen in a vulnerable way, to be seen as a man, who is in love with a woman and doesn’t want to make her unhappy – changing his ways. The faith of something bigger than them, bigger than everything, most importantly bigger than the looming evil towards the Jewish people is nothing to be ignored.
  17. Austenland (Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge) – as a Jane Austen Fan I really wish this place actually existed! Austenland is filled with laughs, ridiculous performances and of course, romance. Jane Hayes (Russell) blows her savings to go on a trip to this fictitious theme park and live like Jane Austen’s character. Each travel package has a different character and romantic story to it so it’s great to see Austen’s entire characters take place in one setting, even if it’s absolutely ridiculous. My favorite scene is when Jane is prompted to play the piano – I snort-laughed at it and it’s such a great scene that there is an extended version of it in the final credits. Also Jane’s chemistry with Mr. Nobley (JJ Feild) is palpable. Just shows you that one can have a great time when you blow your savings on something deemed as insignificant to others.
  18. Maria full of Grace (Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Guilied Lopez, Orlando Tobón) – What are you willing to do for a better life? Many Central and Latin Americans resort to the actions of María Álvarez, smuggling drugs to the US and then staying in the mainland to better their lives and that of their children and families. This film was particularly moving, because it really showed the dark side of being a mule. The dehumanization of those who choose to swallow the drugs, and the troubles they have to deal with later on. Why did I like this film? María was head strong, determined to move forward with her life at any cost – even if she risked her own life while trying to make a better one.
  19. Contracorriente or Undertow (Starring: Cristian Mercado, Tatiana Astengo, Manolo Cardona) – This film is supposed to be about a gay man who is torn by his tradition. I truly believe it’s about a bisexual man who finds love in both sexes, but is pressured to be straight, when he loves a man deeper than what he loves his wife. Mercado plays Peruvian fisherman Miguel, a family man who meets outsider Santiago (Cardona) a photographer who settles in the beautiful coast and as their relationship progresses, their love blossoms. But then tragedy strikes and Santiago is ends up dead and haunting Miguel. What happens in this film is hauntingly beautiful. The love people have for one another should not be denied – for any reason, because it will haunt you some day.
  20. Goya’s Ghosts (Starring: Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård) – while I would have preferred for the cast to be entirely Spaniard, I guess that’s never going to happen in a Hollywood production. Still, this film is good. Want to know about the Spanish Inquisition? This will give you a good idea. Want to see what happens when you’re devout to a religion that has imprisoned you, tortured you and kept you locked up for 15 years? Watch this movie. Want to know how a painter influenced the masses on what the Church was doing behind closed doors to the people? Watch this film.
  21. The Fundamentals of Caring (Starring: Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez) – Trevor (Roberts) is a paraplegic young man whose mother hires Ben (Rudd) to be his caregiver. Trevor likes to play mean jokes, he likes consistency and he’s incredibly sarcastic. A shell he’s been building ever since his father walked away from being responsible for him in his current state. What Trevor doesn’t expect is Ben, who picks up on his behavior and gives it back. The result is a great film where Rudd shines in his comedic and dramatic skills, and Roberts acting is pristine. I don’t comment so much of Gomez’ character since the film can do without her really, but I love this film. It’s heartwarming, and lets us know that friendship can be found in unexpected places.
  22. No se aceptan devoluciones or Instructions not included (Starring: Eugenio Derbez, Karla Souza, Jessica Lindsey) – I honestly didn’t think this film was going to be any good based on the trailer – which was really shoddy in my opinion. A womanizer has to turn his life around because he gets his daughter dumped on him. I mean, really? But one day I saw it on cable and fell in love with the deeper meaning of this film. A father who changes his life around to ensure his daughter has the best life she can, for as long as she can. It’s tragic, it’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking and heartwarming, and funny in some cases.
  23. Beasts of No Nation (Starring: Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Idris Elba) – I’ve always been against child soldiering. Every chance I get I watch a film that depicts the perils of young boys recruited and forced to be soldiers – losing their innocence, their childhood and subsequently the positivity of what life can be. This film was so jarring to see. Boys as young as eight years old carrying AK47’s and other high powered guns and rifles. Boys being forced to fight for a cause they can’t even comprehend entirely. Boys being violated in so many different ways. Boys not being able to be boys – innocent and free. Attah’s performance as Agu is memorable, he’s so good at depicting the pain and confusion, and Affadzi’s Dike is incredible at portraying pain, and anger. What impacted me most was Elba’s Commandant – his ruthlessness, his cruelty, and the ease as to which he does all the horrible things he does – still it didn’t kill Agu’s spirit and that to me was the most important thing of all.
  24. Superstar (Starring: Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell) – let’s face it; we all had that time during our childhood that we wanted to be superstars in some form. This endearing film about young Mary Katherine Gallagher (Shannon) and her desire to be a superstar dancer like her parents (who died while dancing to a crazy fast song) and her grandmother’s desire to protect her from the dangers of dancing hits home for creatives. While not as drastic, we have parents or parental figures who want to protect us from the possibility of the crippling failure and criticism. I mean, we don’t go around making out with trees, or smelling our fingers after they’ve been stuck in our sweaty armpits because that’s what we do when we’re really really nervous, but we all have our quirks, and this movie is just fun to watch and to see how Mary Katherine Gallager finds her perfect dance partner and becomes a S.U.P.E.R.S.T.A.R!
  25. Penelope (Starring Christina Ricci, James McAvoy) – I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for any movie that has either Ricci or McAvoy…but BOTH? It’s like movie heaven. This sweet movie is a romantic comedy about a family that is cursed – particularly the first born female child of that family after the curse, to have a pig snout for a nose and be so hideous and frightening not even her parents will love her – ironically, the way to break the spell is with the love of a person of noble blood. Penelope (Ricci) hides away from society by force, her parents, well, really it’s her mother – want to hide her from people until the spell is broken. Enter Johnny , who after a barrage of suitors presented is the only one who stays after Penelope reveals herself to them (most of them throwing themselves out windows and breaking down doors to escape her, which really I don’t know why, because Ricci, even with a pig snout is freaking adorable – also let’s make a note that he didn’t see her because he was busy doing something else) but they build a strong bond through conversations about music, books, and playing chess – which she does through a double sided mirror. In the end (spoiler alert) she breaks the spell herself because she finds herself loving who she is and what she looks like and McAvoy is just the most precious, sexy and passionate cherry on top of the cake.

It was the Underwood, it made me do it…

“I was/am a shark. If I stop(ped) swimming, I would die… I was/am a train. I only stop(ed) for those going in my direction…” Josh Daniels (actor)

The very first time I dreamt about writing was when I was about 7 years old. I was sprawled on the couch in the living room of our then home in the country side of Puerto Rico. It was late at night and my father was typing away a story that most likely hammered his brain until he had to give birth to it.

I closed my eyes and lost myself in the sound of the hard keys making the music that led to story formation. There is nothing like it in the world. Not even today’s keyboard sound is quite like the sound of an Underwood bringing your story to life.

Since then, I’ve desired to make such music.

The first story I wrote was about a young girl searching for a better life. She had to fight off drug dealers to protect her family and be able to leave the life she’d known. I was about 10 years old. It never made the light of day, but it did set the platform to my future writing and made me aware of the demons I had to battle myself in order to be who I was meant to be.

Often people have asked me what motivated me to write, to want to make film – when I respond with ‘the sound of an Underwood typewriter’ I’m looked at as crazy, but that’s the truth. It was that particular sound that made me want to create words and worlds for others to learn from, seek refuge in, as well as to be inspired by.

After years of self discovery, self doubt – and with a little bit of encouragement by a wonderful person who I consider a mentor I began writing for film. Subsequently I became a journalist, and educated myself in ways of writing for an audience, expanding the “writing for myself” method I had been doing. Learning what it takes to properly and eloquently (yet simply) write a story that people can get lost in, a story they’re moved by, a story that they’re excited to read, to not want to put down, a story that when it’s over readers feel a little sad because they’ve reached the end of a journey with a friend. Once I had the confidence to leave journalism behind, I decided to blend it with filmmaking and made my first documentary happen against all odds and without virtually any money.

To me, being a ‘working writer/director/producer’ means that I’m working really hard on achieving the dreams of becoming a storyteller in film. To stop, or pause my efforts to become one would be the death of me.  Even if I’m not actively on set, I’m doing other things. I take time to learn new methods, interact with actors, directors, producers, if I feel compelled to; I ask questions – even if it might make me seem like an amateur, but that doesn’t matter because we all learn at different paces and by asking questions one learns more. The point is to get out there and keep working, learning. To keep on being motivated to achieve those dreams, that goal.

It was that first ever evening when I heard the Underwood turn my father’s thoughts into words on a sheet of paper and into the world of possibilities. That first night, when I realized that I was a storyteller.

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.