8. Spring Breakers (2012)
“Just act like you’re in a movie or something.”
Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine and starring Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez, was released the summer after I graduated high school. It was a weird time. I was getting ready to go to college, and although I was still going to be living at home, it felt like the end of an era. My sister, Katie, and our best friend, Brittney, still had one more year of high school left, and it felt like I was leaving them behind somehow.
I didn’t see the movie in theaters, but I found the DVD on the shelf at a media store in the mall (this was back when people actually went to the mall). What followed was a summer filled with rewatching Spring Breakers again and again in my living room, falling asleep in a pile of blankets with the credits rolling and Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” lulling us to sleep. We changed our names on our phones to the names of the characters in the movie and even tried to recreate some of the scenes because we were obsessed with the color pallet and the lighting.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Spring Breakers is about four girls who rob a restaurant in order to go on Spring Break in Florida. And yes, they do end up getting wrapped up in a want-to-be drug lord and rapper Alien’s (James Franco’s) schemes. There is violence, drug use, and nudity. From the outside, it is a very strange movie for three teenagers to be obsessed with. Judging by the reviews of the time, a lot of people didn’t really get the movie and some criticized it for being frivolous and exploitative. Others claimed it was, as Tyler Malone wrote in his essay on the film, “To the Plunder,“ “a scathing social critique taking aim at capitalist excess, millennial superficiality, white privilege, and cultural appropriation.”
I tend to agree with that sentiment. Spring Breakers appears superficial at first glance, but there’s so much going on underneath the surface. The three of us were enthralled with the sense of freedom the film gave the four main characters. We were barely adults, still tied down by how our parents wanted us to be, by what was expected of us. We were barely old enough to drive, to drink, to make decisions on our own. Spring Breakers offered a fantasy of overindulgence, of breaking all of the rules, of living outside of the expectations of society. It’s the perfect example of what I love about stories: they allow us to play out our fantasies in a safe environment, to feel things we wouldn’t normally get the chance to feel. Spring Breakers is an intoxicating thrill ride, with layers upon layers to pull back.
My best friend recently moved halfway across the country with her fiancé and we spent one of her last nights in town watching Spring Breakers together. It isn’t just a terrific film – it’s something that bonded us together. Those kinds of movies never let you go.
7. The Godfather (1972)
“I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a business man. Blood is a big expense.”
Without fail, The Godfather plays on cable every single Thanksgiving Holiday, on a loop, for the entire day. It has become a tradition in my household to watch it while I prepare dinner for my whole family. I can’t imagine mashed potatoes without Al Pacino – it just wouldn’t be the same.
Aside from this tradition, The Godfather is pretty obviously one of the best films ever made – that isn’t up for debate. But for me, personally, The Godfather represents a kind of American film that will never be made again. The kind of film that belongs to a Hollywood that doesn’t really exist anymore. It does have the occasional action sequence – it’s a mob movie after all – but it’s almost exclusively a movie about people in rooms talking. And not just any people – we’re talking about some of the greatest actors to ever live. Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and so many more. It feels like an honor to watch The Godfather, to witness the sheer talent in every single frame.
It is also a film that represents a huge part of my specific taste in film. While I love sweeping epics and films that feel grand and literary, I also really love the grittiness of films from the 1970s. It was a new dawn in Hollywood, the studio system had crumbled, and I love the bravery and the innovation that came out of that decade. The Godfather is a part of that legacy.
6. Spirited Away (2001)
“Once you meet someone, you never really forget them.”
When I was six years old, my parents took me and my sister to see the English language dub of Spirited Away. After the movie, my parents were quick to announce their displeasure. It was too long and boring, they said. And why did the little girl’s parents turn into pigs, anyway? I didn’t say anything, though. Probably because I was too stunned to speak. Spirited Away had already burrowed itself deep into my soul.
Like a lot of the films I hold close to my heart, it’s hard to put into words exactly why I love Spirited Away so much. There’s obviously the breathtaking, gorgeous hand-drawn animation that is rarely seen anymore, at least in American films. There’s the touching friendship between Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) and the water spirit, Hako (Jason Marsden), a kind of unconditional love that I was really affected by, even at such a young age. Maybe it’s how whimsical and melancholy it feels.
I don’t really know. Like all of the films on this list, Spirited Away is a reminder of what movies can do, how stories can change you. It’s what comes to mind whenever I think of the best of the best.
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