Top Five Movies
Movies are as imperfect as an art form gets, which is why they're absolute magic when they're done right…and utter disasters when they're not. To trust the vision of one person to somewhere between a dozen and a few hundred craftspeople, tradeworkers, and artists is complete madness…but sometimes what's left at the end of that journey is eminently more powerful than the idea that set the fuse burning, and those instances of big-screen brilliance are what keep us coming back to feed the machine again and again and again. After all, isn't one blindingly beautiful, impeccably made film worth the ninety-nine other clunkers you had to watch to find it? Well, for me it is. It always is. But if you don't have that kind of time to invest in sifting through the thousands of titles that have been passed through a projector over the decades just to find a few gems, you could always just take my word for it and watch these five wonderful movies instead…
1. Jurassic Park (1993) – An adaptation of a book from one of my favorite authors of all time, Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park is one of the most immersive movies I've ever seen and holds up every bit as well today as it did thirty years ago. It blew my fragile, ten-year old mind the first time I saw it on the big screen, and I still remember that first viewing like it was yesterday. It was pure celluloid magic—visceral and uncompromising and expertly crafted while at the same time being fun and not overly self-serious. It's folly to call anything a perfect movie, but Jurassic Park gets as close to that mark as anything as far as I'm concerned…and the combination of Spielberg's directing magic and Crichton's "everything's falling apart so you should probably run for your life" brand of storytelling was, and still is, music to my eager-to-be-entertained ears.
2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Do spy stories get any better than a John LeCarre novel? Not really, no. But what about a John LeCarre novel that's made into a movie starring Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, and Toby Jones? Oh, in that case…absolutely, yes. The acting in this movie is so good that the main character doesn't even say a word until fifteen minutes in, and when he finally does, you almost don't want him to. But acting aside, authenticity is something you just can't fudge, and when you see it, you know it…and the subtleness and care with which this story unfolds just screams "Whoever wrote this actually used to be a spy and this is how things actually work in the world of spies"…and as it turns out, that's exactly the case. Also, I don't mind a dense movie, and this one's a tricky but rewarding knot to untie…so there's that.
3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – What can I say about Denis Villenueve that hasn't already been said? I love his movies. I love the way they take their time…I love the way they know exactly what they are and aren't afraid to sit in their own beautiful stench…and I love the way that they respect their genres by pulling the best from the films around them and tying it all together in a way that makes the sum of their pieces so much more than what they ought to be. But I also can't remember a sequel that's an out-and-out love letter to the movie that preceded it, and that's what makes Blade Runner 2049 so, so special. It pays proper homage to the original, a watershed sci-fi classic, by staying true to the old vision while improving on it all in a way that doesn't…not even for a frame…disrespect it. It honors it. It calls upon it for inspiration. It uses it as fuel for its look, theme, feel, sound, and story…and does it so gracefully, that you'd never think it was a sequel at all.
4. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) – Whether you love them or hate them, uncompromising visions are hard to shake…and that's what makes them so valuable and so rare. Pan's Labyrinth is just that—uncompromising. It is at the same time beautiful and horrid…marvelous and perverse…enchanting and revolting…and any of those two things juxtaposed in just the right way inside of just the right story is a recipe for a film that's just impossible to forget. There's a strange space in the awful, brackish water where fantasy meets horror that never fails to set my spine tingling, and Del Toro's masterpiece hits that nail on the head so hard at several different points that it curls my toes just to think about it. Few movies move me like this one does, and when I really need to feel something from a film…Pan's Labyrinth is my go-to title.
5. Spaceballs (1987) – Didn't see that one coming, did you? Let me be clear about this—I love Mel Brooks. If I had a Mount Rushmore, it would be populated with four identical carvings of Mel Brooks, and I'm not ashamed to say it. I've probably seen Spaceballs more times than I've seen any other movie, and it just never gets old for me. It's a stupid film, to be sure, but that's kind of the point. And while it might be stupid, it's also genius…and it's patently honest…and for me, there's just something so attractive about a film crafted by somebody who knows exactly what their voice sounds like and leans into it with every…single…frame. Mel Brooks is an absolute master of the spoof, so much so that he's somehow able to make another movie his just by riffing on it…and that's a talent I've never seen anybody else possess. For my money, he's the most unique filmmaker in the history of cinema, and while his films may not be artsy, his comedy is undeniably high art.
Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits.
He now lives with his partner in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences. His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, an elevated contemporary fantasy with a twist, follows in that same vein and is available everywhere late 2021.