Thursday, September 6, 2018

Week Three: The Effect of a Personal Cinematic Landscape

This is the final article in my cinematic landscape series.

We’ve discussed my personal take on controversial topics, nearly 100 movies, and quite a few different genres/categories. By now, you get the basic idea.

If you want to read into what I’ve already discussed, you can click either of the links below to take you to a previous article.

I hope that I’ve been able to introduce you to some new ideas. I also hope that I’ve helped you reflect onto your own personal cinematic landscape and that it’s given you insight into why you judge films the way you do.


14 – Crime

I go back and forth about whether or not the crime genre is even really necessary to me. Most crime stories can be housed under the drama or thriller categories.

Whenever I find myself thinking that it’s not needed, though, I consider my issue with caricature/parody films. Does a courtroom drama really have any chance against a full-on drama film? Does an investigation story really have enough in common with a thriller to be in the same category? It tends to keep me from writing off the genre altogether.

Still, it’s sometimes difficult for me to realize that I’m appreciating a film for its specific reliance on crime as a plot device.

Seven (1995), for instance, is a phenomenal thriller. Without the actual investigation, though, seeing it from the killer’s perspective, it would lose that ‘why’ factor that makes it so successful. If we’d been in the killer’s mind from the start, the ending simply wouldn’t have as much impact.

The whole story is interesting, but it’s elevated by an ending that fully engulfs the main characters into the murder mystery. Not all stories do that. Most of the investigation stories out there have two basic outcomes: the cops get their guy, or they don’t. Yes, there are plenty of movies where the killers directly target the investigators, but none that are quite like Seven.

One of the earliest crime films that really affected me was A Bronx Tale (1993).

A Bronx Tale goes into a different kind of crime film. We don’t follow officers as they figure out why a crime occurred. Instead, we follow a boy as he grows up in the Bronx, watching the gangsters in the area and dreaming of being like them.

I briefly considered including this film in the period piece category, because I AM deeply affected by the 1960’s setting and getting to see what a place so close to my own area was like. I also considered putting it in the social commentary category because the racial tensions involved had such a huge part, but that gangster aspect has always been the real reason for me to watch it.

Watching A Bronx Tale is always a great experience for me. I love everything about that film, but there are definitely crime movies that have affected me more.

Pulp Fiction (1994) may be one of the greatest crime-based movies that are out there. Following various different people as they commit and react to crimes is incredibly entertaining.

It’s violent, but funny. Cringey, yet thrilling. There’s not really anything about it that doesn’t strike me as awesome. The first time I watched it just didn’t feel like enough and I wound up watching it a second time right after.

The crime film that’s affected me the most, though, has to be Snatch (2000).

Reminder: I’m not saying that Snatch is a better movie than Pulp Fiction. That’s not what this article is about. I’m saying it affected me more, and there’s one big reason for that.

It’s not just about the movie for me. Sure, it’s ridiculously quotable and I can’t watch any film with Vinnie Jones (Deception, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Gone in Sixty Seconds) in it without immediately thinking back to his Bullet-Tooth Tony character, but the movie could have sucked and it still might have affected me the most.

As an older teenager I hung out with a group of kids that would sit around in our friend’s basement drinking beer and watching movies. Snatch was one of the films we could all agree on. Together we’d watch, drink, and speak the words as it played. It was a bonding experience. For an hour and a half, we were all undeniably connected by that piece of crime art.

While Snatch is a phenomenal crime film, what it taught me had nothing to do with any of the categories, not really. It taught me about how movies could be use as a friendship tie. It taught me how private jokes and interpersonal connections could be heightened by entertainment.

It’s one of the most important lessons a film has ever taught me.

13 – Family Films (Animation)

The first thing you might notice here is that I don’t have a category for animated films that are not family films. My reason for this is simple: I haven’t seen enough of them. My only real interactions with animated films that are for adults comes from TV – anime and Adult Swim-type stuff. I think I’ve only seen a handful of actual films that were fully animated and rated PG-13 or higher. None of them have really affected my love of movies or how I judge other works of entertainment, either. So, I’m going to have to stick to family films in the animated category.

The Lion King (1994) is one of the first ones I’m going to have to discuss.

It’s kind of difficult to cherry pick the Disney films that have affected me most and still leave room for the films produced by other companies that also have. Even with that, The Lion King was an easy one to decide on.

I’ve never fully agreed with the G rating on this film, I think it should have been PG. Just because the person murdering Simba’s father was an animated lion, doesn’t mean that wasn’t a terrifying scene to watch as a kid. Hell, I still get a little chill watching it.

But that’s the thing. The Lion King never stopped being a good film for me. I’m in my thirties now and I still appreciate it on almost the same level I did when I was twelve. There aren’t many movies that work like that. It was one of the first films I watched as a child that delved into darker themes: murder, guilt, anger – even running away from your problems. I learned a lot from Simba and Musafa. I can’t wait for Rosie to be old enough to watch my favorite lions in action.

Charlotte’s Web (1973) was one of the first animated family flicks that stuck with me.

I’m talking only about the original. I don’t know anything about the 2006 version, if I saw it, I don’t even remember it. That 1973 version, though, was filled with hilarious songs, vocabulary/life lessons, and animated creatures that I quickly looked at as friends when I was six.

Not only did it speak to me, but my mother always enjoyed the music as well. While we were walking around Kings Highway and I was holding my mom’s hand we’d sing Templeton’s song “A Fair is a Veritable Schmorgasboard-orgasboard-orgasboard” (yes that’s actually the title of it) as we went on our way to get lunch.

A family film should be like that, it should give you something to look back on as a good memory when you’re older. It’s not just a story for kids, it’s a part of growing up.

Now, Aladdin (1992) was a little different. I enjoyed it as a child, but I really fell in love with it as a teenager.

One of the best things about Aladdin is that it speaks to a wider audience than most Disney films from that era. It has important lessons for children… but for teenagers those lessons are more important. During a time in my life when there was pressure from all sides to conform to other people’s ideas of what was normal, Aladdin was teaching me that pretending to be someone I wasn’t would never be the answer.

The best thing about the lessons in Aladdin is that they’re all disguised behind the Genie’s funny songs and the love story between Aladdin and Jasmine. So, I was learning without realizing it.

My top pick for animated children’s films might be a bit controversial. Not only is it not a Disney film, but it hasn’t even been out for a full decade yet.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) was well received by everyone – audience and critic alike – but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone my age who calls back to it as being one of the more influential animated family films in their life. I’ve done my polling and independent research and you wouldn’t believe how few people call back to this movie as one that greatly affected their lives.

I think people are nuts.

This film was filled with the same lessons that Disney movies touch on, but showed real consequences – irreversible consequences. I had never seen that in an animated family film before.

At the end of the movie when Hiccup loses his leg? That is a powerful statement. Not only does it give handicapped kids someone to look up to in the next film, but the fact that he picks his ass right up and immediately deals with it, tells kids a lot more about getting up when you fall than any other film I’ve ever seen.

Sure, you get the same lessons from watching Toothless learn to fly while missing a wing, but on a lesser level. It becomes much more powerful when you watch the same thing happen to a human.

I’d even argue that How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best movies in general for this category, but that’s not what this is about.

The third film in the series is set to come out in 2019, and you can bet your ass I’ll be looking forward to it the whole time. I don’t expect it to be as influential to me as the first, but I’m all about supporting the series.

12 – Fairy Tales

For those of you upset that I haven’t mentioned much in the way of Disney animated films so far, don’t worry. This category is chock-full of them.

Disney really is a titan of fairy tales. Almost all the movies in this category are from Disney. My number one pick isn’t, but we’ll get to that.

The Little Mermaid (1989) has one of my all-time favorite soundtracks, but it’s the actual story of Ariel that has stuck with me most throughout the years.

Sure, there are some issues with it. People often point out the fact that Ariel and Eric fall in love based on looks and that Ariel is just a contrary teen for the most part. They’re quick to point out that if King Triton hadn’t gone all nuts about Eric that the love story might not have even happened.

Ok, they’re likely right, but fairy tales aren’t supposed to be rooted in reality. That would defeat the purpose. You’re supposed to believe that Eric can see something passed Ariel’s exterior and that King Triton really was just holding her reigns a little too tightly. Growing up, all the suspension of disbelief worked just fine. I never saw issue with the story until I was much older and it was pointed out by the most critical of the audience.

Still, I look back at the tale with a great deal of love. It’s just generally an interesting take on mermaids and what it’s like for teens to grow up. The quest of Ariel is more important than the love story, in my mind, and it’s relatable for a teen that always feels like their parents can’t see that they’re not babies anymore.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) was Disney’s first fully animated feature film – and I always thought it held up pretty well.

It’s one of those classic fairy tales that everyone can look back on as influential to their lives. It’s not that it’s particularly relatable. It’s not. I mean, an evil queen trying to eliminate a teenager because she’s more beautiful than her is a little far-fetched, but that’s part of the appeal in this case.

It’s complete fantasy. A complete escape. The way most fairy tales are.

We all know that none of us would be stupid enough to take an apple from someone like the witch that appeared at the dwarves house. We all know that there was something weird going on with a prince kissing a seemingly dead girl, but it’s not that big of a deal. The movie is still something to watch and enjoy.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves reminds me that you don’t have to relate to something to appreciate it.

Growing up, Beauty and the Beast (1991) was my favorite fairy tale. It was the first fairy tale that introduced a love story that showed one of the main characters a physically imperfect. In a time when almost every princess was blonde haired, blue eyed, and complete perfection, when every male love interest was literally Prince Charming, having a brunette smart girl and a literal beast fall in love was almost a risk for the production company.

It was a fairy tale that I could look up to and dream of. I loved reading and the idea of adventure. The fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast made me appreciate that there was someone out there for everyone and may very well have shaped my romantic interests as I grew older. I never really looked for a Prince Charming. I was always looking for the right Beast.

I’m opting to ignore the Stockholm Syndrome here. Just leave me to my delusions on that.

The fairy tale that affected me on the deepest level wasn’t just not a Disney film, it wasn’t even animated.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) is still one of the best fairy tale movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s a Cinderella adaptation, which might leave you questioning what exactly is so special about it. Aren’t all Cinderella adaptations essentially the same?

Yes and no. You get the same basic plot that you always get with the shoe-losing princess. Dead father, evil step-mother, evil (or manipulated) step-sisters, a loyal and loving prince… etc. However, this film is a different take to the story that shows the title character saving herself.

At the end of the film, Danielle (the Cinderella in the story), is sold off to a man in order to clear the family’s debt. However, her father had trained her early on to protect herself and, after some particularly lecherous actions, she draws a sword on her owner and blackmails him – his life or her freedom.

The prince rides up too late to save her, she’s already walking out when he gets there. For me, that makes the love story in it so much stronger, because it doesn’t rely on the prince being her savior. The love is still there despite her strength and ability to stand on her own two feet.

It’s really the first film I’d ever seen like it, there’ve been many since, but Ever After: A Cinderella Story is still the best of them.

11 – Creature Features

I’m well aware that this category is not for everyone. Creature features include giant creatures (or just a lot of them), with a usually corny script accompanying campy violence. Most of them won’t exactly be winning awards (though there are exceptions). Still, I’ve always loved the horror sub-genre.

The first movie I need to mention is… well, ok, it’s ridiculous. It’s an awful film and I don’t care because I love it anyway. It’s actually the film I saw that made me want to delve more into the ‘stupid’ kind of creature features.

Enough stalling. The movie I’m talking about is Snakes on a Plane (2006).

I don’t have a good excuse, either. I can call up the idea that Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Avengers: Infinity War) and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife, Stand Up Guys, ER) are both really great actors and that the addition of the crime aspect makes things more interesting – but that’s not why I love the film.

Snakes on a Plane affected me simply because it was an awful film that was a lot of fun to watch. Jackson is only a part of why I loved it because of the quotes he delivers that make the film as hilarious as it is. It could have been ridiculous in a bad way if it weren’t for him.

This film really opened a whole new world of movies for me. I liked creature features before it, but after I saw Snakes on a Plane, I actively started seeking out ridiculous creature features. Sure, they’re not the greatest movies in the whole world, but they’re fun to watch – especially with friends.

Arachnophobia (1990) was the first creature feature I’d ever seen.

I’m not scared of spiders. My uncle used to keep bugs and arachnids as pets. He didn’t really tolerate unnecessary fear all that well. When I WAS scared of something he kept as a pet, he would continue to expose me to it until it just became normal. I’ve held tarantulas, scorpions, bats, lizards, snakes, giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches… pretty much anything you can think of that isn’t too venomous. (Of course, that kind of exposure didn’t always help. He had a giant millipede I used to hold and those suckers still frighten the shit out of me.)

I think that’s why I never saw the horror in Arachnophobia. To me, it was a full-on comedy. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were people out there who couldn’t even attempt to watch the movie because of how strong their fear was.

To me? It was just an introduction to a new genre – a funny new genre.

You might be asking yourself why Arachnophobia is credited as being the first creature feature I ever saw and not Jaws (1975). After all, Jaws came out almost a full twenty years earlier. What’s up with that?

My mom had weird movie rules. I was allowed to see Arachnophobia early in life, but not Jaws. Every time I tried to watch it, she thwarted my attempt. After a while, I forgot to keep trying. As a result, I didn’t actually see Jaws for the first time until my late twenties.

Even though I saw Jaws later than most people my age, it still affected me a great deal. It might have been my first choice if I’d seen it earlier… but what can you do?

The way that Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report) used the idea of the shark more than the actual image of it to heightened suspense really stuck with me. As I continued on to watch more and more creature features, I began to wonder why other directors didn’t adopt that same idea when they didn’t have the budget to make the creature they were working with look real.

The entire film is really well made, and it holds up after all this time. It was only the second really serious creature feature I’d ever seen and I loved the idea of something that could be found in nature, without any kind of mutation, being an antagonist.

Jurassic Park (1993) was the first serious creature feature I ever saw and fell in love with.

Before the infamous dinosaur films, I thought that creature features HAD to be campy and ridiculous or they didn’t fit into the genre. When I saw Jurassic Park my world completely flipped onto its head.

The sci-fi aspects of the film stuck with me plenty. The idea of cloning dinosaurs from million-year-old DNA made me want to know more about the science behind it, but I’m betting if it was about plant DNA the movie wouldn’t have affected me nearly as much. It needed the giant creatures involved to make me care.

Personally, I’d say the entire series of films – even the retconned ones – have affected my love of the creature feature genre, but I’ll stick with the original movie for the purpose of this list.

Before Jurassic Park, I’d have argued that creature features didn’t belong in either a blockbuster or horror genre. If anything, I would have put them into a comedy genre – or as a B-movie variation. Spielberg really brought the category into the horror genre for me, and I’ve never looked back.

10 – Coming of Age

Coming of age films can sometimes feel like the same story being told over and over again, and there’s a reason for that.

Don’t you remember growing up and believing you were the only one who could possibly understand what you were going through? We all did it. We all spent at least some time forgetting the authority figures around us had once been our age.

I accept tropes as a necessity more in coming of age stories than I do for any other category. Sometimes the skull of a teen can be thick and teaching them that other people get it, takes retelling the story a few hundred times. Still, there are films in the category that truly stand out.

As an 80s baby, I have no choice but to admit that The Breakfast Club (1985) is one of my picks for stand-out coming of age film. I know that will be a basic-bitch choice to a lot of you, and I couldn’t really care less.

Most people my age will bee-line to The Breakfast Club as a movie that affected them in their teen years because it’s a phenomenal film to explain the lives of various different high school stereotypes. Back then, the tropes of high school films were as strong as they were because that’s what high school itself was like – but The Breakfast Club was different. It fully humanized each one of the stereotypes and finally answered the question most teens had about people in other cliques: “why are those people like that?”

In this film, the audience learns that the bully has a tough home life, the jock is being pushed to the edge of his sanity, the princess is afraid of imperfection, etc. The entire movie is about teaching kids not to judge people, because no one can know someone else’s life.

You can’t possibly know what makes someone them who they are.

I find the lessons taught by The Breakfast Club to be things I refer to consistently as I grow older. You can bet my Rosie will be watching it early in life.

Coming into the current millennium there was Mean Girls (2004).

When I watched Mean Girls for the first time, I wasn’t expecting anything all that special. I expected it to be another trope-filled walk through high school. In some ways, I was right. Still, it felt familiar and new all at once.

The transformation of Cady into a ‘Plastic’ was interesting to watch and, even though you had to expect it, her crash back down to earth gave the audience that feeling in the pit of their stomach that you usually only get when you’re on a diving roller-coaster. The speech at the end was cringey enough to make it hard to watch, but necessary enough that you couldn’t look away.

The idea of something getting out that you don’t want getting out reminded me distinctly of Junior High School. I’ve always been a writer and I brought a story into school that I wanted my friends to read. By lunch, the entire school had either read it or morphed it into something it wasn’t – to the point that the principle called me into his office to lecture me about things that shouldn’t have even been an issue. From that point on I was the subject of some horrific bullying, and short a group of friends that had betrayed me.

Mean Girls spoke to me on a personal level. It did exactly what coming of age films are meant to do – it made me not feel alone.

Some coming of age films don’t only concentrate on the teenage years, though.

Now and Then (1995) shows more than just the childhood of the main characters, you see how they wound up as well. You follow the change that occurs between their teenage years and when they become adults. It’s an interesting take on the basic coming of age story.

In this case, you’re meant to believe there’s a supernatural twist, though it’s really all rooted in reality. You see four vastly different teens that have ignited a group friendship and grow up with them as they deal with personal tragedies, childhood crushes, and experiencing their own growth. Then you see what they became. What their adult lives are like, where they work, what their families are like. You find out what parts of their childhood they left behind, and what parts stuck with them.

As a teenager, I saw Now and Then as a film that allowed me to look into my future a little. I knew after watching it that somethings would change for me at such a level that I would barely be able to recognize myself, and other parts of me would never change. Either way, I felt like I was more prepared to accept the parts of my childhood that were painful to me as things that would be helpful later in life.

The coming of age story that affected me the most is not nearly as well-known as the others on this list.

Angus (1995) was about an overweight science nerd that had a crush on one of the cheerleaders in school. His best friends were his grandfather and a lecherous little gnome (not literally, it’s live-action). Throughout the movie he deals with trying to get into college while having to shrug off some severe bullying.

This movie was the first to make me feel equipped to stand up for myself against bullies. My favorite quote from an adult in one of these kinds of films is in Angus.

After explaining some of the stuff he was dealing with at school, the title character’s grandfather offers the best advice he could have in that situation: “As for what anybody else thinks, always remember these words and live by them: screw ‘em!”

It seems like such a simple thing to say, but at that age most adults told me to ignore the bullies and they would go away. That never worked, it always made it worse. Then adults would tell me to tell an authority figure. Well, I did that. The teacher I told made it so much worse that it actually caused me to not trust ANY authority figures for… well… I still don’t.

That idea of looking at the people hurting me as if they didn’t matter, as if the shit on my shoe was more important? That was advice no one had offered me before and it helped me learn how to deal with the people who took up that bully title. Even now, I refer back to that quote constantly. Whether I’m trying to take my own advice, or give it.

I think Angus deserved much more recognition than it got.

9 – War

I used to think I wasn’t all that into war films, but as I was writing up the outline for this article I realized how way off I really was. Narrowing down the war films that affected me to no more than four of them took a distinct amount of effort. More than I thought it would. Apparently, war films have been a huge part of my cinematic landscape. I think they may very well be the reason that loyalty developed into such an important part of what I expect from people I develop relationships with.

I hold loyalty above everything, even honesty.

I will admit that I don’t know how true to life the majority of the war films I’ll talk about are. One of them I do, but I’ll explain why later.

I’ve never been a member of any branch of the military. I have a great deal of friends who have – mostly Marines – but that second-hand knowledge/research will never compare to what they’ve been through and seen. As a result, accuracy is not something I’m going to be looking at for the most part. My take on these films is absolutely from the viewpoint of a civilian. Keep that in mind.

Black Hawk Down (2001) is the first one I’ll talk about.

There’s something terrifying about the concept of being trapped behind enemy lines. I find it more terrifying than your random horror films. It’s something that feels like it could happen to someone in wartime and there’s no questioning the motivation of the antagonists due to the setting.

Black Hawk Down was the first war film that actually scared me. It brought the fear to a relatable level for someone who hadn’t been to war. Everyone can acknowledge that they wouldn’t want to be in the hands of someone that hates them, regardless of whether or not there are weapons involved.

The Hurt Locker (2008) introduced me to another aspect of war or, rather, warriors.

The idea of getting addicted to the adrenaline rush of war and being unable to understand how to return to civilian life was almost as terrifying to me as being stuck behind enemy lines. This film suggested that some warriors can’t really understand how to go back to the ‘boredom’ of a regular life.

I want to stress that I know that not every soldier goes through this, but the idea of it affecting anyone like this opens the door to understanding a lot of the lasting effects of war on our warriors.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) introduced me to the difference between training and real war.

Through the journey of Pvt. Joker, Full Metal Jacket explained just how unprepared even the most well-trained people could be for actual battle. It showed differences on how each individual could react to the same circumstances and offered a look on how the atrocities of war can’t really be prepared for until you’re in the thick of it.

More than any other film, Full Metal Jacket made me realize that I couldn’t accurately put myself in the shoes of any of my military friends. There’s no way to really ‘get it’ unless you’re there.

The war movie that affected me the most was Saving Private Ryan (1998), and that had nothing to do with the story. 

I was dating a Marine the first time I saw it. It was one of his favorite films and he wanted to share it with me, but I don’t think he’d seen it since he’d been overseas. We got to the beach scene and he started shaking uncontrollably. Not minorly, either, it was very noticeable.

I had no idea what to do – I was young at the time, I don’t even think I was 20 yet. I agonized over whether or not to recommend turning off the film. I remember thinking frantically: Would he be offended if I recommended it? Would he be appreciative? Should I pretend to be too scared for it or would he see passed that?

In the end, I just asked him if he was alright. He said yes, and we continued watching the movie.

I still think I should have done more, but in the moment, I really couldn’t figure out what. I’ll always feel sorry for that.

Due to his reaction, Saving Private Ryan has always stuck out in my mind as a film that was likely as close to realistic as a Hollywood work could get. I could be wrong, but I will never forget his reaction. I think about him every time I watch that movie.

8 – Dance

I decided to go into a more upbeat category to follow war, simply because I feel it’s necessary to maintain an emotional balance when talking about films. It’s easy to forget just how emotional some movies can get me until I open up about them.

Dance is something I’ve been interested in all my life. I started in dance class when I was seven and went on with it until was 13. I didn’t quit because I lost interest in the subject, I quite because I went through a great deal at that point and couldn’t find interest in much of anything at the time. I didn’t see the point in dance for a while.

But there is a point and that point is expression.

Just like writing or painting, or any other kind of creation, there’s an expression in dance that helps people get their pain, and every other emotion, into the world. Every culture has their own kind of dancing that they break out for celebration, or war time, or prayer… anything can be represented by the rhythmic movement of one’s body.

I regret quitting dance. If I ever wind up with the time and money to spare, I intend to go back to it. In the meantime, I rely on entertainment for my dance fix.

One of my earliest exposures to a dance film was Dirty Dancing (1987). (Yes, my mom let me watch this before she let me watch Jaws. Weird movie rules.)

The romance story was kind of a moot point for me, I didn’t care about it. In fact, even though the story wasn’t all that interesting to me as I grew up, I didn’t much care about that either. What I cared about was the ballroom dancing.

I absolutely fell in love with the main characters as they twirled and swayed to the music. It was my first time seeing a film that told its story through dance and wasn’t considered a musical. I also saw it for the first time while I was still in dance class.

If I’m honest, I still watch the film more for the dancing than for the story.

Footloose (1984) came to me later in life. It wasn’t even one of my first exposures to Kevin Bacon (Tremors, The Following, Super).

The story of Footloose goes into the importance of dance woven through a coming of age story. I appreciated that in a way that I couldn’t appreciate the story of Dirty Dancing. It was an alternate world for me. I’d never experienced someone telling me not to dance.

Seeing how different a teens life was without the inclusion of music and dance affected my love of both in general, I appreciated them more than I ever had.

Going into dance stories with a more impactful plot, Save the Last Dance (2001) comes to mind.

Save the Last Dance was the first dance movie I saw that had a serious plot that went into grief and racial relations. It examined the concepts of privilege and the shift in lifestyle after a dancer lost her mother and had to go live with her less well-off father. She meets people that are from a world she’d never been a part of and they teach her how to get back up and love life again.

It’s an important film that really showed me the potential of other dance movies. It would have been my first choice, but the next movie I talk about had such an impressive use of music that I would never overlook it.

Center Stage (2000) is a highly underrated dance movie.

I remember a lot of that pushing and critique from when I was in dance school, and I can tell you there’s a lot of reality involved in this film. That self-consciousness, that pressure to maintain a body-type, the mentality that nothing should matter nearly as much as practicing… it’s all stuff that my school imparted onto me even at the young age I started. There were weeks I practiced until me feet bled. Center Stage doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of the dance world.

The use of music is also remarkable. I firmly believe that the dance choreographed to “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson was one of the best uses of that song I’ve seen in any movie. The main character draws your eyes like a magnet and the song is a great finisher to the ballet she’s performing.

7 – Romance

Romance isn’t one of my all-time favorite genres in the least. A lot of them come across as unrealistic or corny to me. Never-the-less, there are a few that have stuck with me over the years and reminded me about just how good this genre can be when it’s handled right.

Don’t laugh, but the first film I’ll be discussing is Lady and the Tramp (1955).

I know that Lady and the Tramp is usually thought of as more of a comedy with a little romance thrown in, but that’s not how I remember it at all. In my memory the romance and drama stands out much more drastically than the comedy – or even the music.

I remember how the Tramp grew because of Lady and her perspective was widened by his presence. I remember very clearly how terrified I was by certain aspects of this film as a little girl, and how watching the couple of dogs try to deal with their differing lifestyles affected me.

I’m well aware that the fact that the main characters are dogs takes away some of the ‘romance’ credibility. That said, it still taught a very young me about the importance of understanding in love.

The next film I discuss is going to make a lot of people roll their eyes, and I’m still going to give it the credit I think it deserves.

The Notebook (2004) spoke to me the moment I saw it. I loved everything about it, from the cast to the basic plot.

Maybe it’s because I don’t voluntarily watch a lot of primary-genre romance films, but this movie stuck out as wholly original and it tugged at all of my heartstrings. The conflict shown between Allie and Noah always felt somewhat realistic to me, but the effect the film had on me went much deeper.

It was the first romance film I remember seeing that acknowledged that love is not just a state of being. It didn’t just cover the fall and the honeymoon phase. It showed love as something you have to work at, something you need to actively decide to be a part of. Noah and Allie loved each other despite being drastically different people. They continued to love each other even when they were apart and right up until the end when she couldn’t even remember who he was.

The scenes where Noah and Allie are older and well into the sunset of their lives are some of the most effective scenes I’ve ever seen in a romance. Even with the harsh reality of Alzheimer’s Disease portrayed, there’s a matter of hope displayed as well. It’s heartbreaking and still incredibly touching.

Don’t come at me with the differences between the book and the movie, I haven’t read the book yet. I’m judging The Notebook completely on its worth as a film alone.

I’m about to give you a bit of whiplash here, you’ve been warned. We’re going from one of the most heart-string-plucking romances to one of the most strange romance films out there.

For those of you thinking I’m about to get into that film about the color grey, shame on you. Those films have no worth what-so-ever in my mind. No. They won’t be showing up on this list at all.

Instead, I’m talking about Secretary (2002).

Secretary does go into the same D/s lifestyle as the films that I will not name, but there’s something drastically different about it.

It’s actually interesting and worth something on informing non-scene viewers about what goes into the lifestyle.

I don’t actually agree with IMDb labeling Secretary as a comedy. I think it only seems like it belongs in that genre because of the odd subject matter. Back when it came out, there was no way the mainstream was looking at the D/s lifestyle as anything but a dangerous counter-culture – so someone finding romance within it was viewed as weird and awkward.

I, however, saw a lot of worth in the story and script. Secretary was one of the first films I saw that showed me there was more than one kind of romantic love. It opened the door to experimentation and research into cultures I was less familiar with. In the end, I learned a lot more than the film taught me simply because it encouraged me to go out and research.

My top pick for the romance category has to be Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Again, I need to remind you that I’m judging it solely on its worth as a movie. I haven’t read the book.

That said, it’s another film labeled as a comedy that I don’t really agree with the categorization of. A lot of the ‘comedy’ found in the film has to do with the assumption that people will laugh at the emotional disorders portrayed by Pat and Tiffany – which I did not.

What I DID appreciate was watching two vastly flawed and realistically portrayed people fall in love.

There was no perfection in this film. Every character, from the main characters to the support had some kind of issue. Even the psychologist was painted as a real person and not just a product of his occupation.

I loved the idea of seeing that neither main character was there to save the other with their overt perfection. Instead, their introduction to each other was more about helping each other find growth and move on. It was so real that I had trouble looking away.

Silver Linings Playbook didn’t just offer the idea that imperfect people deserved to fall in love, but they painted emotional disorders in a light that offered a look at both the lows and the highs.

I’m sure some of the ways the film affected me had to do with the chemistry between Bradley Cooper (Burnt, War Dogs, Limitless) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy, American Hustle, House at the End of the Street), as well. I feel like that’s worth noting.

6 – Romantic Comedy (Rom-Com)

Romance and comedy are both their own categories in this series, so you might be asking why I need a separate one for Rom-coms. In both the romance and comedy categories, I only consider how that specific subject affected my cinematic landscape. Rom-coms are a different creature because you have to consider both subjects at once. It’s usually a completely different kind of film and it balances the two genres in a more delicate way.

The first romantic comedy that comes to mind is Clueless (1995).

It’s easy to put Clueless squarely in the comedy category, but I would argue that without the romantic aspects, the film would not be the same. Cher’s interest in Christian – and eventual coupling with Josh – are only minor steps into the romances that affect the overall feel of the film. There’s also Dionne’s steady relationship with Murray and Tai’s back and forth decisions between Elton and Travis.

The movie IS primarily about friendship, which is why it’s only the first film I’m discussing in this category. Still, the balance between romance and comedy is one that is so subtle that it’s almost difficult to remember it as a romance film.

For the 90s, this movie was absolutely iconic and the romance aspects have stuck out, for me, since the first time I saw it.

You know it’s an iconic film when a rapper can use it as the inspiration for a music video almost twenty years later and find that it’s still relevant enough for people to get what she’s doing on a wide scale.

Love Potion No. 9 (1992) is a much less-known film, but it affected me more on a romantic comedy level.

There’s a lot about the movie that’s very typical. The nerd types don’t find love until they change – and then they find love with each other. The movie offers looks into the friend zone that mirror a lot of what you’d expect of a 90s movie as well. Nothing about this film is perfect. It doesn’t immediately even stand out.

Still, it’s pretty rare to have a full-on rom-com that takes a hard look at toxic relationships and consent issues. Especially a rom-com that’s successful in putting that comedy in.

Love Potion No. 9 follows two scientists who come upon a gypsy woman who sells them a concentrated substance that they find affects the vocal chords. When drank, the substance makes the user irresistible to members of the opposite sex that can hear them speak. Together, they find a way to dilute the substance and use it to improve their dating lives – agreeing to never speak around each other when under the influence.

Both of them use the substance for their own means, but it comes back to bite them in the ass. For Paul, he gets screwed when a prostitute finds the substance and uses it to convince him to help her burgle him. For Diane, her abusive ex gets a hold of the substance and uses it to convince her to marry him.

It seems like a simple and trope-y story, and in some ways, it is… but the way it’s handled is good enough to keep the audience involved in the story and get its point across without being too graphic.

You’ve read me talk about the next pick.

Set it Up (2018) is a very new film, but it still changed my perspective on rom-coms.

In the 2010s rom-coms have become a kind of joke. Almost all of them are paint-by-number stories with absolutely nothing special to set them apart from other films in the genre. Most of them rely on super-cringe and raunchy humor. It sometimes seems like the rom-com genre might have nothing left to offer the general cinematic landscape.

When I saw the trailer for Set it Up, it looked mildly interesting… but I highly doubted anything would come from it. I figured it would be one big trope and, at most, it might be a cute take on something already seen.

That perspective changed after I saw it.

There were definite tropes in place. However, there were some aspects to it that turned Set it Up into its own, highly original film.

That said, there was a single scene in the movie that took me to places no other rom-com ever had. It wasn’t even a scene that revolved around the main character. It actually revolved around Duncan and Rick. It was just such a realistic and natural thing that I could absolutely see my best friend doing that in the same situation… and it was so funny that I nearly fell right off the couch. I had to actively pause the film because I couldn’t catch my breath.

What Set it Up taught me was that there can be one single new or unexpected aspect in a film that can elevate the whole thing way above where it should be. The movie itself was decent and there was some expectation subversion, but I will forever remember it for that singular scene that Pete Davidson (Trainwreck, Sober Companion, School Dance) owned.

The romantic comedy that affected me most was definitely Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011).

Despite coming out in this decade, Crazy, Stupid, Love is original and offers an air of unpredictability to the audience.

In the film, the romance aspect doesn’t just follow one character. Every member of the main family is followed along their independent romance roles. That means you get several very different romantic stories that all tie together into one world.

You get the cringe-y and rauchy humor that you’d expect from the 2010s, but you also get something sweet beneath it all. For instance, when Ryan Gosling’s (Blade Runner 2049, La La Land, The Place Beyond the Pines) womanizing character finally gets to bring Hannah home, with every intention of instigating a one-night stand, they wind up just talking and falling asleep together. That’s pretty far from what the easy-road would have been for the writer/director to take. Most films would have had them sleep together and then follow it with your typical post-coital relationship-gone-wrong plot.

When I think of romantic comedies, no film comes to my mind as quickly as Crazy, Stupid, Love.

5 – Dystopian

People seem to get dystopias confused with post-apocalyptic plots a lot. Although the two ideas do go well together, they’re different genres. An apocalyptic film shows the end of the world and post-apocalyptic movies follow the world as it exists after the ending. Sometimes, a post-apocalyptic world can be rebuilding with a dystopian edge, but that doesn’t mean all post-apocalyptic worlds will go that route, or that all dystopias are born from world-ending occurrences.

Both categories are huge parts of my personal cinematic landscape, though.

For those of you who don’t know what the term ‘dystopia’ actually means, it’s the exact opposite of utopia.

In a utopian world, everything is seemingly perfect and happy. In contrast, a dystopian society is deeply flawed and highly undesirable – usually portrayed with either a fascist or totalitarian government. In some cases, a dystopian world could have no government at all and be shown as completely anarchistic.

One of my picks for the dystopian category is How I Live Now (2013).

This is a film some people would argue with me putting in this genre. How I Live Now is a rare film, indeed. The people who argue with me that it’s not a dystopian movie are right; but I am, too.

That’s why this film had such an impact on me. It starts out in the real world; a young girl is sent to stay with relatives in England. It’s our world, with our governments. Then everything changes and you actually get to watch the birth of a dystopian society ruled by Nazi-like fascists. It’s not apocalyptic at all, but for the main characters involved it might as well be. THEIR world ends and they’re introduced to work camps, an army that kills children indiscriminately, a world that could break the mind of an otherwise mentally healthy young man.

Generally, in a dystopian film, you’re dropped in the middle of the story. Sometimes you find out what happened, but not always – and that’s fine. In this case, you get to watch the start of it and it’s an incredibly emotional and harrowing journey as you watch the small family try to find where they fit and how they can save themselves, knowing they can’t save anyone else.

The film left me with a stomach ache and I think that’s what it was trying to do. I bought the book shortly after seeing it, but haven’t read it yet.

My next pick is a good example of a post-apocalyptic dystopian society. Tank Girl (1995) is one of the first dystopian stories I was exposed to and I fell in love with the genre immediately. I credit it for helping my love of dystopian plots thrive.

The world Tank Girl takes place in is devoid of water. Every drop of what’s left is used by the water company to control the population. The water company even develops an item that sucks the water out of a person as it kills them.

Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black, Dead Awake, A League of Their Own) played a strong survivor in the dystopian setting that rebels against the company in question. It’s a thrilling film and I don’t think the dystopian category would be such a big deal to me without it.

Starship Troopers (1997) is another movie in this category that people have argued with me over.

Yes, I’m aware that the book is vastly different from the movie. Of course, it is. The director didn’t even finish the book because he thought it was boring and depressing. I don’t care whether or not the book shows a dystopian world – the movie does.

It’s a fascist future where there is complete military control. You can’t even have a child without having a license from being in the military. Never mind the bug situation or the complete annihilation of Argentina… just the basic everyday life of Earth in that universe is undesirable. You’re not even considered a full citizen without serving.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge respect for our troops, but there will always be people unable to serve. The Starship Troopers universe, as told by the film, excludes handicapped people of every kind from being able to be citizens. It raises the question of what happens to a woman and her child if she gets pregnant without having served first. If you need a license to procreate, does that mean the government is doing something to restrict fertility – or do they just forcibly remove the problem if it comes up? Both options are terrifying.

The dystopian world of Starship Troopers is subtle. You’re thrown in the middle of it and just accept it as truth without much added thought to start out. It just seems like a basic science fiction at first, but the more you watch it, the deeper the story runs.

My number one pick for dystopian stories is Snowpiercer (2013).

I cannot tell you how much I love the Snowpiercer film. There’s no part of it that feels off to me, though I don’t know the graphic novels that it came from.

The story is based in a world where significant climate change forced the last few people left in society onto a train, where they were meant to live until a solution was found – possibly forever.

With no end in sight, the humans left are forced into a caste system that shows a huge difference between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’. From the food they eat to the cars they’re allowed to be on. In the story, a child from the low-class cars goes missing – a semi-common occurrence – and the main character mounts a rebellion while searching for them. In the end, it’s found that children who go missing from the low-class cars are used as workers to replace the parts that break in the train. It’s morbid and sickening and something that perfectly represents a dystopia to me.

I feel like a dystopian story needs to have that kick of sickening morality. Not just from the differences in class or oppression from the government – but from a widely accepted alteration of ethics in that world.

I particularly enjoy when a dystopian story doesn’t have a happy ending, or at least has something bitter-sweet. I feel like giving a dystopia a happy ending causes the story to lose a little something. There needs to be a kind of hopelessness for a dystopian story to meet its full potential in my mind – Snowpiercer meets every single one of my preferences and requirements… and is part of the reason those preferences even exist for me in the first place.

4 – Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic

I decided to mix apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic for no other reason than I don’t see much of a difference. Either way, I’d be referring to that film because of the way the apocalypse itself is handled. If I get to see what happens after, that’s spiffy – but not why I’d seek the film out. I seek it out for the horror of seeing the world end.

The first thing I feel needs saying is that I love zombie stories. I do. I loved them before they were all over the place and I still love them now that they’ve gone passed mainstream and into the ‘overdone’ category. Don’t care. Love zombies. Three out of four of the films on the list for this category are zombie-related. I have no shame at all.

Moving into the actual list, I’ll start with World War Z (2013).

Now, for a pleasant change, I’ve actually read the book this movie took its title from. That’s really all it took from the book. The title and the idea of zombies. The book is more of an anthology. So, I have no choice but to take this film on its own merits without considering the book.

As a movie, World War Z really took a lot into account for the end of the world, and we got a unique perspective. Although we see the zombie apocalypse from the eyes of the military in a lot of books, it’s rare to see that – from the beginning – in a movie. In this case, the main character is a person highly valued by the military and we get to see how the government handles one their own in this crisis.

The zombies are the terrifyingly fast kind, which I immediately consider a bigger threat than the shambling slow ones. It brings more suspense and dread to the story.

What I really love is that you see the whole world in relation to the apocalypse. You see how each country is dealing with the threat, how it spreads, and how people are reacting to each other. Normally, you get stuck in one place, witnessing the apocalypse take place just there. I really liked the new take on the story-telling process for this kind of story. I guess that part was also taken from the book if you think about it long enough.

Some people had issues with the ending and how they managed to start fighting back, but I thought it made perfect sense. A lot of predators avoid attacking sick creatures. I think people were just looking for an issue because they were sick of zombies.

Speaking of being sick of zombies, Zombieland is my next entry on this list.

Comedy apocalypse films are just so awesome in my mind. You take this horrifying and chill-inducing idea of the world literally coming to an end, and then make people laugh at it. Zombieland does that really well.

I mean, how many films could really have pulled off Bill Murray (Extra Innings, The Jungle Book, The Grand Budapest Hotel) starring as himself and getting killed?

The movie is hilarious and still winds up having this awesomely horrific world for the characters to exist in. The fright is lightened by that comedy, but you still get the distrust and hopelessness of a full-blown apocalypse film. It’s a great mix.

This is the End (2013) undoubtedly pulled off that terror/humor mix better, though. I almost considered it for my first pick.

As much as Zombieland affected my take on the comedic apocalypse story, This is the End fleshed it out more.

Not only did this film walk a similar line of horror and comedy, it also brought the story spectacularly into our world by making everyone play themselves. Sure, they likely altered their behavior for the giggles, but with all their names the same it leaves one with the curiosity of ‘what if this actually happened’.

I never really considered the idea of bringing an apocalyptic story into the real world like that. It threw me off-guard and I loved it from the start.

The most influential apocalyptic movie I’ve seen was much more recent: Cargo (2017).

I had some decently high hopes for the film when I saw it, but I wasn’t anywhere near fully prepared for what I got. I haven’t ugly cried for a movie on that level in years.

It was not funny. There was no comedy at all. It’s strictly a drama/thriller and it examined the basic humanity and dread that comes with the certain knowledge that you and everyone around you is going to die. You can’t do anything about it and you can only do your best to last as long as possible.

Martin Freeman (Black Panther, Carnage, Sherlock) pulled off that doomed aspect so well that I can’t even consider the possibility that anyone else would have been able to pull it off.

Cargo may well be the best apocalyptic film in existence.

3 – Mind Fuck

All the movies in this category could fit in other genres, but are unquestionably more of a force of influence in my cinematic landscape for the fact that they are total mind fucks. You know the kind of film I’m talking about. You’re watching one story and then suddenly it’s flipped on its head for a big reveal at the end that you never saw coming. On the other hand, it could also be the kind of film that you can’t really tell what the real world is because it’s so surreal that your brain can’t comprehend it.

Whichever way it goes, a mind fuck movie always leaves me feeling like someone slapped me out of nowhere. That “oh shit” feeling is what I’m in it for.

I’m going to be incredibly vague about the endings of these films. Although we’re under a strict spoiler warning, two of the films in this list are all about that ending. They lose something when you go into them knowing how it ends.

The Usual Suspects (1995) is one of those films where the ending is everything. If you go into it knowing who Keyser Söze is, then you lose the whole point of the film.

There are very few people who wouldn’t put The Usual Suspects on a list for this category.

Black Swan (2010) is another movie that absolutely shaped my take on mind fucks.

My husband is so creeped out by this film that he won’t actually watch it a second time. The ending isn’t nearly as important in this movie as the journey that it takes to get there.

In it, you follow the story of a dancer as she slowly loses her mind during the practice and production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The meshing of fantasy and reality leaves you with a sense of confusion and by the end of the film there’s no way for you to tell what’s real and what’s not. It’s creepy and insane and reaches every single goal it sets for itself.

It’s definitely a film that got the ‘what just happened?’ plot right. When I look at other films that try to mind fuck me in the same way, I expect them to reach a similar level of success or I get disappointed.

Sucker Punch (2011) is another film that uses that brand of fantasy meeting reality, and it had a huge influence on me.

This film leads me into a lot of arguments because I absolutely believe it’s a phenomenal movie, straight to my core. Nay-sayers will never convince me otherwise. I understand the arguments against it, but I simply don’t agree. In fact, I think it’s such a polarizing movie because of its mind fuck qualities. There’s so much to argue about with it, that some people find it hard to move past.

I find movies like that mentally stimulating and fun. I enjoy the debate. That added ability to go forward with extra arguments makes it feel like the movie lasts longer and is worth more. No film shows that side of things to me as clearly as Sucker Punch.

The mind fuck movie that affected me most was Fight Club (1999).

Without revealing anything of note, the big twist at the end really caught me off-guard the first time I saw it. It took a few watch throughs before I caught all the foreshadowing that would have told me what I needed to know to predict it.

Going forward, I always thought back to fight club when a movie had a big twist. It made me aware of what decent foreshadowing was.

There’s not much else I can say about the film. It’s just generally awesome.

2 – B-Movie

B-movies are not for everyone. They’re usually low budget, filled with strange ideas, and geared toward a non-mainstream demographic. Unlike cult movies, they usually don’t have super big names in them – even from before they got big – and don’t tend to have huge rabid followings that bring them into the mainstream.

Of course, that’s not saying that a B-Movie can’t make the transformation into a cult movie with the right audience.

I, however, LOVE B-movies. There’s something so satisfying about seeing what a small company, or low budget, can create. The movies can be more violent, or dip into more controversial ideas because there’s no suit upstairs telling them to calm shit down. Sure, not all of them are the best thing in the world, but a lot of them go into that group where they’re fun to watch even if they are bad.

The best B-movies are the ones that toe that line between bad and good. They become great films that work well when you watch them with friends. When an interesting one comes up, I get a group of friends together, make themed foods, and sometimes even dress up for the occasion. It’s an experience. It’s not always a great movie, but it’s always fun – and that’s what matters.

I wish I could remember the name of the first B-movie I ever watched. The theme and scenes stuck in my head so severely that I never stopped thinking about it… but it was the product of a rental accident. I rented a film from the neighborhood video store and the movie was in the wrong box. I never KNEW the name of it. Even though I watched it at something like 12 (WAY too young for the subject matter), it is still a movie I think about and it got me interested in watching the less-known, lower-budget films out there.

Getting into the list, I’m going to start with a movie that kind of rides the line between plain B-movie and cult film.

Machete (2000) is one of the most violent B-movies I can remember watching. I can’t remember if the part where Machete grabs a guy’s intestines and uses them as a rope to swing out of a high-floor window is in the first or second film… but that scene was so unexpected that it blew my mind. I can’t help but refer to it on that ‘brutal’ meter when watching other films.

Whether or not that particular scene was in the first movie, doesn’t matter. Both films are so brutal that they are absolutely unforgettable. When I watch a mainstream film that someone describes to me as being overly violent, I tend to go into it with the ‘sure, whatever’ mentality. That’s because of my experience watching Machete and its sequel. Most films feel tame in comparison.

To the best of my knowledge, Machete has a fan base, but not nearly as big of one as it would need to have in order to be considered a cult film. By all means, correct me if I’m wrong.

The next movie I have to discuss is a Japanese film I saw early on in Trust the Dice’s life.

Alien vs. Ninja (2010) was one of the funniest B-action movies I’ve ever seen.

The dialogue is corny. The concept is beyond ridiculous. The costumes are 100% unbelievable. It’s definitely not the kind of film a big mainstream production company would ever green-light, let alone fund.

Regardless of all its faults, it’s a seriously fun movie to watch. There’s that fun ninja-type fighting, only a lot of the moves are raunchy or ridiculous. There are some serious fighting moments, but they’re immediately eclipsed by something to make fun of it all.

It’s a great movie to watch when you want to see something that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It could easily have Asylumed itself into trying to be a serious film which would have ruined the whole damn thing.

Then there’s The Gamers: Dorkness Rising (2008).

I very nearly put this film in the sequel category instead. I enjoyed the first movie, but it was a little too low on the production scale for me to really want to watch it over and over again. It’s got some good quotes and a decent story, but you can tell it’s a first attempt at something and not a completed project.

As a sequel, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is miles above the original, but that’s not what this list is about.

This film has a very small demographic. It targets a sub-sect of the geek culture: tabletop role-players. It was filmed on a micro-budget by a group of friends and it is filled with private jokes and references that only that sub-sect would get or relate to.

It’s about a group of friends playing through a Dungeons and Dragons scenario and getting super into it. You follow not only the players, but their characters.

I’m a part of that sub-sect and watching The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is an experience that’s INCREDIBLY fun to take part in with friends. We call out some of the one-liners, reminisce about old games the plot reminds us of, and just generally enjoy our time watching it. It’s like having an old friend to talk to about things you don’t have as much time for anymore.

Building a role-playing campaign and having my friends systematically destroy it with their insistence on playing characters that shouldn’t exist and getting so distracted that we had to create something like a meme to get everyone to concentrate again was a huge part of what I did as a teenager. Hell, it went on well into my twenties, until everyone got real careers and no longer had time for a sit-down table top game.

As a result, this film is almost nostalgic to us. Even those of us who don’t normally enjoy B-movies like to reference this one.

The B-movie that has affected me the most is Knights of Badassdom (2013).

This is another film based around role-playing, but it focuses more on the live-action role-play aspect (LARP). The story follows a group of LARPers as they accidentally raise a real demon and pretty much cause the end of the world.

The cast of this film is phenomenal and should definitely indicate a cult-status, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to. Again, if I’m wrong, let me know. The story is ridiculous and fun to watch. The script is hilarious… there’s really nothing about this film that doesn’t scream “awesome” at me.

I brought the Blu-ray to Dragon Con so that I could get Summer Glau (Sequestered, Firefly, Arrow) to autograph it. It was one of my favorite take-aways from that convention. She’s just the kind of actress that’s easy to love.

But I digress.

The twist from hilarious and ridiculous to suddenly horrific supernatural story is jarring – to say the least. There’s no way a suit would have OKed it, but it absolutely made the movie great.

1 – Horror

Horror has been the most influential genre in my personal cinematic landscape. Most of this list isn’t created in order of importance, but I couldn’t put horror anywhere but in that number one spot anyway. It’s my favorite genre and I tend to prefer horrors with a thread of comedy – though there’s only one movie on this category’s list to reflect that.

That movie is Gremlins (1984).

I saw Gremlins at a very young age, likely because my mom thought it would have less violence in it than it did. I mean, it was rated PG. You can’t really blame her for this one. The MPAA failed her.

It’s very possible that this film is the whole reason that horror is my favorite genre. Instead of scaring me as a child, I was absolutely fascinated by it. There were a few moments that MAY have given me a nightmare or two, but for the most part I remembered it fondly – and I watched it a lot.

That comedy that entangled with the jump-scares and weird frights made it easier to watch. To be fair, it was very common in the 80s and early 90s for horror films to lean toward a comedic angle. This one just did it the best in my mind, and it still kind of holds up. It gave birth to my favorite genre in my mind.

On another note I remember the first time I watched Final Destination (2000).

I didn’t watch this film for the plot or because of some interest in the trailer. I watched it because I loved Devon Sawa (Idle Hands, Nikita, The Exorcism of Molly Hartley) as an actor and I gave every movie he starred in a chance, just on principle. Seriously. I even have copies of his rare TV Movies on VHS in my closet. I’ve always seen him as an eclectic and involved actor – and when I was a young girl I just thought he was hot. I’d still follow Sawa to whatever project he stars in and expect the best from it.

That said, I may not have watched Final Destination for its value as a stand-alone film, but it definitely proved itself to be worth it upon my first watch-through. That idea of being hunted by an unstoppable force was so terrifying to me that it gave me chills throughout the whole thing. The rest of the movies in the series were ok, but the first one really took that suspense to a peak I’d never been at before.

It scared me on a primal level and brought up philosophical arguments between me and my friends. It’s been 18 years and we still debate those philosophical ideas we got from this film.

With Red State (2011), there were other things to consider.

When I went to go see this film on its premiere tour, it was because I love Kevin Smith (Mallrats, Yoga Hosers, Dogma). I was dying to see what the comedy giant could do with a real horror film. Despite my overall faith in Smith, though, I expected to mostly just be there to support his new project. I didn’t expect to like it.

It was his first attempt at something that wasn’t comedy and I expected it to feel like that.

Oh, it didn’t. It was absolutely horrifying to watch. It followed a group of zealots that were a lot like the Westboro Baptist Hate Group (I told you, I won’t refer to them as a church – I don’t give a fuck what they call themselves). That amount of hate on its own is terrifying – when you add in the cult-like quality Smith gave them it reaches a height that’s hard to come to terms with.

It taught me about pre-judging films. I still do it occasionally, I’m human. We make mistakes. But I do it a hell of a lot less in my post-Red State life.

The horror film that affected me the most was Saw (2004).

That kind of torture-porn horror is absolutely everywhere now, but back when Saw came out, it was almost completely original. It was the first time I’d seen a horror film that made me cringe and yelp. It brought up philosophical debates, too – like Final Destination did, but they were deeper arguments.

What would you do? Could you kill someone to save yourself? Would that really be saving yourself? Would you have the balls to saw off your own leg?

A lot of people have issues with certain aspects of the film. A lot of the ‘holes’ in the plot can be explained by later sequels – though they aren’t as good as the original. That twist on the end, with Jigsaw just stiffly getting up off the floor was outstanding as well. A twist I couldn’t have possibly seen coming.

The movie has stuck with me on many different levels, but as a horror film – it’s still my all-time favorite.

There you have it, my personal cinematic landscape laid out for all to see. It got a little long winded, and I probably should have split it up into more parts. I might go back at a later date and split it into more posts so that each one is much shorter. Check back in a week or so for that. You’ll find them in the same days that the originals were posted.

What do you think of the idea of a personal cinematic landscape? Do you think it’s as important as I do? How has yours affected you? Let me know!