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Five Movies I Always Return To

We all have at least one. One movie that we’ll watch when nothing else is on, or if we’re bored, or if we just want to revisit a story that we know we’ll enjoy. Doesn’t matter if it’s on AMC at two in the morning, or on a scratched DVD, or sitting below a ton of new releases in our Netflix queue. There’s just something about a favorite movie, no matter that we already know the dialogue, the punchline, around what dark corner the bad guy is lurking. So for my top 5 list, I’m going to share the 5 movies that I treat like old friends.

Raising ArizonaRAISING ARIZONA (1987)
This was the first time I fell in love with a Coen brothers movie and it has all the characteristics that make their films great. A regional setting, unique dialogue and language, a heist and a chase, strange and complex characters. From the opening scene where we meet H.I. and Ed to the shotgun-littered pickup of Huggies for the baby to the final throwdown with H.I. and the bounty-hunter-from-hell, Raising Arizona is unique and hilarious and always gets a watch. Okay then.

FARGO (1996)
Keeping with the Coen brothers, I never pass up the opportunity to watch a pregnant, gun-totin’ Frances McDormand criss-cross the snow-covered landscape in pursuit of justice. Throw in one helluva performance by William H. Macy as the insecure, in-over-his-head car salesman and Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi as the bumbling bad guys and you get a stark, smart, unnerving classic. The Coens use the frozen, white landscape to enhance the feelings of loneliness and desperation.

Speaking of Steve Buscemi, he wrote and directed TREES LOUNGE, as well as played Tommy, the lead character who spends his days and nights at a local lounge, drinking Budweiser and Wild Turkey and trying to fill the emotional void left when he loses the girl. He can’t get a job, can’t get his car to run, can’t get over that he not only lost the girl, but lost her to his former best friend. The bar is filled with cast-offs who find companionship only among other castoffs, unable to break free from the cycle they have created for themselves. Sometimes funny, sometimes absurd, sometimes depressing, this film is like a Chekhov story.

beautiful_girlsBEAUTIFUL GIRLS (1996)
Awesome cast. Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Michael Rapaport, Mira Sorvino, Uma Thurman, a young Natalie Portman, and more. Timothy Hutton plays a big city piano player who comes home to his small town for a high school reunion to find that little changes. He and his buddies stay drunk for two weeks and battle being adults, hanging onto the glory days. I saw this film about the time I was returning to my own home town after several years living abroad and it struck every note with me. Great writing and so many unique characters. This is a film where it seems like anyone could find a character to make a connection with.

RED DAWN (1984)
Me and my buddies used to get together and watch Red Dawn the afternoon before football games to get ourselves psyched up to play. Teenagers making it for the mountains at the break of an American invasion at the start of World War III, turning into guerillas, drinking the blood of animals they hunt, outsmarting Communist militia, riding horses. Screaming “Wolverines!” at the kill. And then Powers Boothe shows up as a shot-down fighter pilot to be the figurehead. What’s not to love? Another dynamic cast with actors at the front of their careers, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson. And the best of all, no Hollywood happy endings but a story that keeps you guessing. And, hell no, I didn’t see the remake but I’ll watch this one over and over.

Michael Farris Smith is the author of RIVERS.