On Feb. 16, I’m turning 40. In honor of this milestone birthday, I chose my favorite movie (and a runner up) for each year of my existence.
The results are deeply autobiographical, so join me as I continue on this four-part journey exploring the movies that shaped who I am.
I agonized over this second part. While some years were easy, 1994 and 1999 which are among the greatest years in film history, proved far more difficult.
1993: “Jurassic Park”
At 10 years old, I remember a mixture of excitement and nervousness about seeing Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel about a dinosaur theme park gone awry. I wanted to see, but would it be too scary? I vividly remember sitting in a darkened theater watching the T-Rex attack. I was scared but also mesmerized by the groundbreaking dinosaur effects. It was also my introduction to Jeff Goldblum, and he has made my life better ever since. (Runner-up: “Mrs. Doubtfire”)
“Clerks” wasn’t my first introduction to writer/director Kevin Smith (that was 1999’s “Dogma”), but working at both a convenience and video store, the plight of its New Jersey clerks spoke to me. I would even write my own script set in a video store that years later I would convert into a play that was performed in a New York theater festival. Last year, I was lucky enough to interview Smith and tell him that. (Runner-up: “Pulp Fiction”)
1995: “A Goofy Movie”
Goofy has always been my favorite Disney cartoon character. This movie is significant because it is the first movie review I ever wrote. It was an assignment for sixth-grade English. I received an A, which sent me down the path to where I am today. It still remains one of my favorite movies for its strong father-son story, offbeat humor and the excellent songs by the fictional popstar Powerline. (Runner-up: “Before Sunrise”)
Growing up, I wasn’t a horror kid. I was more likely to watch the Muppets take Manhattan than Jason. But by 1996, I was already a fan of Mel Brooks and Monty Python and had a growing understanding of parody. The idea of “Scream” being both a satire and an example of the slasher genre intrigued me. The humor made the scares more palatable and piqued my interest into further exploration of the horror genre. (Runner-up: “Jerry Maguire”)
1997: “Grosse Pointe Blank”
For years, John Cusack was my celebrity man crush because he was the perfect balance of vulnerability, sarcastic wit and nonchalant coolness. All of that is on display here as Martin Blank, a hitman who decides to go to his 10-year high school reunion. Also, I often discover music from movies, and this film’s killer soundtrack (pun intended) introduced me to a lot of great punk and New Wave music, including The Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail,” The Violent Femme’s “Blister in the Sun” and The English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom.” (Runner-up: “Good Will Hunting”)
1998: “The Truman Show”
Like many ’90s kids, I became obsessed with Jim Carrey’s style of comedy. I drove my family crazy shouting catch phrases like “allllll righty then” and “ssssssmokin’.” But ‘The Truman Show” was different. It was still funny, but in a more subtle, satirical way, and showed that Carrey had dramatic range. I was 15 when it came out, and it made me feel clever that I was able to pick up on the film’s commentary. (Runner-up: “The Wedding Singer”)
1999: “Fight Club”
My love of social critique and satire continued to grow with “Fight Club.” I clearly remember watching “Fight Club” in a theater and my jaw literally dropping upon getting to the big twist. Not many people saw “Fight Club” in theaters, so my friends didn’t believe me when I said it was great, especially since I couldn’t explain why without spoiling it. It’s a film that not only holds up to repeat viewing but benefits from it as there are Easter eggs hidden throughout. (Runner up: ”Dogma”)
2000: “Almost Famous”
Around this time, I made a decision that I wanted to be a film critic, so Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film about a teenage rock journalist in the 1970s hit me in all the right places. The protagonist is an awkward, geeky kid in love with and in awe of the rock world and that was me with movies. When I became a journalist, I only learned to love this movie more for everything it gets absolutely right. (Runner up: “High Fidelity”)
2001: “Josie and the Pussycats”
There are absolutely better films that came out in 2001 but I continue to stand by this silly satire of the music industry and consumerism. I’ve been a defender of this film since it came out. I even had the poster up in my college dorm room. It did not make me cool but, in a just world it would have. The original songs are genuinely great, and the cast, especially Alan Cumming as a villainous record label flunky, is perfect. (Runner up “The Royal Tenenbaums”)
2002: “Igby Goes Down”
Growing up in rural Maine, I didn’t have access to a lot of independent films, but that changed when I went to Keene State College to study film. Keene had two theaters that showed indie films: The Colonial Theatre and the on-campus Putnam Theatre. This was one of the films I fell in love with while at KSC. It’s essentially a modern riff on “The Catcher in the Rye,” but with a more likable lead played by Kieran Culkin. There’s also an amazing supporting cast, including Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe, Amanda Peet and Jared Harris. (Runner up: “About a Boy”)