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Jeff Critser: The Five Most Influential Movies

The Five Most Influential Movies

People gravitate toward a favorite film for a variety of reasons – for a hearty laugh or needed escape – but there are always a few movies that are profoundly mesmerizing, ones that we keep coming back to time and again. As a writer of thriller fiction, I’m typically drawn to movies that either have exceptionally fascinating dialogue or uproot our perceptions and challenge archetypes, a visceral assault of sorts. Rare is the film that can do both, but there are a few worthy of that distinction. Admittedly, some of these movies are edgy and disturbing and difficult to view without looking away, but it’s precisely for those reasons that I’m drawn to them. Each time I view the following five films, I take away something that I missed previously, a little nugget of detail that eluded detection but then shined in its own right.

THE GODFATHER

This film is on the top of many lists, having earned its place by the exceptional acting, intriguing plot, and beautiful cinematography. I’ve always been fascinated by the Italian Mafia, and I’ve dissected every aspect of the movie in exhaustive detail. The ruthlessness the Mafia imposed to enforce their loyalty and omerta and their traditions and culture captivated me like no other movie, before or since. Like many moviegoers, The Godfather was my first glimpse into the La Cosa Nostra way of life and underscored the depth that greed will plunge people – so deeply, in fact, that often there was no point of return. A timeless masterpiece.

 

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

This film flew under the public’s radar, but being a fan of Hubert Selby’s writings (from which the movie was based), I stumbled upon it years ago when there was a Blockbuster on every street corner. Darren Aronofsky riveted me with this film, profoundly more than Pi or Black Swan did. The four principal characters, trapped within their own addictions, spiral down into hellish despair, all brilliantly captured by Aronofsky’s masterful filmmaking. The last third of the movie literally throbs with anguish and fear, complemented with an eerie instrumental score and a flurry of scene changes. When the end arrives, you are left exhausted and stunned at the dissoluteness and torment. Not a film for the squeamish, but one of my all-time favorites.

 

THE THIN RED LINE

A beautiful and haunting film, two traits not often associated together in a WWII movie. The all-star cast and spectacular cinematography helped distinguish The Thin Red Line above others in this genre, but what drew me to the movie were the poetic elements interwoven throughout the storyline. The letters exchanged between Pvt. Bell (Ben Chaplin) and his wife provided a deeply emotional connection to the movie, only to be shattered when Bell learns that his wife has left him while he was in combat in the South Pacific. Watching Col. Tall (Nick Nolte) berate Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas) for abandoning a seemingly suicidal mission highlighted the moral dilemma that many face in the field of battle. Despite the horrific violence and personal betrayal in the film, director Terrence Malick managed to capture stunning scenes of beauty and grandeur that leave an indelible mark in your imagination. A film of sweeping images and beleaguered souls orchestrated perfectly onscreen.

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

There are a few movies that you have to pay very close attention to (never excuse yourself for popcorn or a trip to the bathroom) or you will lose the entire thread of the story. The Usual Suspects is one of those films. The dialogue is brilliant and rapid-fire, with an enticing cadence akin to a campfire story told in dark, haunted woods. The repartee among the suspects is beyond witty; it’s cutting and clever and tense. The major actors delivered phenomenal performances, but the supporting cast had a chemistry that worked flawlessly onscreen. Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro, and Chaz Palminteri had a style and coolness that were fun to watch but difficult to emulate. Perhaps Christopher McQuarrie’s finest script and one of the best screenplays ever written for film.

 

SEXY BEAST

Sexy Beast would do well with subtitles for those not accustomed to British accents and nuanced dialogue. This caper film is a large departure from the typical fare in this genre and is very British. While not loaded with cockney rhyme, the idioms and slang are distinctively Ol’ Blighty and delivered with machine-gun rapidity. Gal Dove, an affable thief played by the incomparable Ray Winstone, is recruited for one last heist by the despicable and mercurial Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). Mix in the wicked Teddy Bass (brilliantly performed by Ian McShane) and the result is a sometimes funny (yet always edgy) plot that swallows you whole. The deadpan iniquity of Teddy Bass and Don Logan’s energetic psychopathy help create a tension that is palpable throughout the entire movie. Vividly crafted characters and a dark, fun script make Sexy Beast unique in this category of film.

Jeff Critser
Jeff is a former Naval Aviator and intelligence officer with a career in defense and commercial technologies. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons. His debut, COLD SHADOWS, was released in October of 2013.