Weekly Top Five: films I'm most thankful for

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Nacho Libre
  • Nacho Libre
In case you weren't aware, the next major holiday Americans will celebrate is not Christmas but, in fact, Thanksgiving, the continually maligned second-to-last Thursday of every November dedicated to eating and football and napping. I've always been a fan of Thanksgiving—those who know me are well aware of how much I enjoy eating, watching football, and taking naps—even as it's devoured (no pun intended) by the consumerist fervor that accompanies the holiday season. As a matter of fact, a couple friends of mine both claim to have family members who forgo Thanksgiving dinner in favor of getting an extra, extra early spot in line for Black Friday. If the pilgrims could only see us now . . .

Anyway, I figure this is the perfect opportunity to share the five films for which I'm most thankful. These movies, for various reasons, shaped my relationship to cinema in profound ways. Check them out after the jump.

5. Nacho Libre (Jared Hess, USA, 2006) My relationship to this film has shifted with time: Initially, I was drawn to it by Jack Black—I didn't know many fellow 18-year-olds at that time who weren't. Later on, under the sage advice of New Yorker film critic Richard Brody, I revisited the film, keeping in mind his assertion that it was "one of the strangest and most personal American movies ever made about religion." Indeed, Nacho Libre, for all its silliness, is one of the more profound expressions of spiritualism you're likely to see, a true testament to the enigmatic, innately human quality that allows us to be righteous as individuals while not having to adhere to institutional rule. The fact that it manages to be all that and a big dumb comedy at the same time is truly remarkable. I'm grateful for this film's utter lack of pretension.

4. Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003, USA) As most know, van Sant has made Oregon his home for most of his adult life, having graduated from the Catlin Gabel School in Portland. Many of the films he's shot in the region feature local residents, most of them nonprofessional actors. As it turns out, I knew a couple of the kids who appear in the film and was eager to see it upon its release. However, the appeal of seeing people I knew on a big screen quickly faded away as I became entranced with the film and its director. This is the film that introduced me to the art house—not merely the notion of "art movies," but actual art houses, theaters that showed movies my local multiplex wouldn't go near. I sensed an entire world of cinema was out there, and to this day I have eternal respect for the dwindling but no less vital art houses across the country.

3. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999, Japan) I watched this film back in college on what was essentially a dare—a classmate of mine asserted it'd be the most disturbing movie I'd ever see. Indeed, Miike's horror classic has become something of a litmus test for thrill-seeking genre fans, but that's not why I'm thankful for it. Rather, I appreciate Audition simply for introducing me to Miike, who, for my money, boasts the most fascinating filmography of any contemporary director. Most people categorize him as a horror director (this in spite of the fact that he's only directed four, maybe five films that fall distinctly under the "horror" banner), but a closer look at his work to date reveals road comedies, fantasy adventures, crime dramas—even family-friendly children's fare. I love the fact that I can pull any Miike title off the shelf and watch a completely singular film.

2. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992, USA) Well, to be specific, the special features on the ten-year-anniversary special-edition DVD. The story goes like this: After seeing and being completely blown away by the Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse in 2007, I vowed to see as many exploitation movies as possible. To begin my search, I popped in my copy of Reservoir Dogs and went to a specific special feature in which Tarantino talks about the directors to whom he dedicated his screenplay—surely, there would be some exploitation directors included. Among the dozen or so people listed were Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Andre de Toth. Having absolutely no clue as to who any of these people were, I simply added as many films by each of them as were available to my Netflix queue. Two days later, I received Breathless, Two-Lane Blacktop, and Monkey on My Back in the mail and watched all three in a single sitting. How the hell these films related to one another, I had no idea. But I was fascinated by what I quickly ascertained was an entire history of movies, one I was woefully unaware of but eager to explore.

1. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002, USA) In a previous Bleader post I wrote about the ways this bizarro romantic comedy left an indelible mark on my relationship to movies. To this day, it remains a sentimental favorite of mine—I'm eternally grateful for what it taught me about authorship, artistry, and craftsmanship in cinema, and to this day find a tremendous amount of worth in its ability to teach me how movies (particularly movies we love) posses an abiding ability to transport us to times and places that are long gone but nevertheless seem to reside in the images we so adore.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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