This was a fun comedy with a simple story. Craig having just been fired, has nothing to do on his Friday. He ends up smoking some weed with his friend Smokey, who is a crappy drug dealer and owes money he doesn’t have to his supplier Big Worm. To compound things, Craig gets into it with the neighborhood bully Deebo, which keeps his hands full on what would other wise be a normal relaxing Friday at home.
This comedy came out in 1995 directed by F. Gary Gray. It was written by DJ Pooh and Ice Cube who also starred in this one alongside Nia Long, and Chris Tucker in what would be his breakout role. It was a modest film with a mere $3.5 million-dollar budget. But it delivered endless amounts of grounded humor, eccentric characters, and subtly dramatic undertones that captured the realities of inner city life but with a more lighthearted tone.
There is no studio feel to this movie and it’s perfect for the story-line. It takes place over the course of the day and weaves in many different story elements and side-characters to keep the laughs fresh. It isn’t perfect, and the acting is not the best at times, but it also works because it gives the characters a much more genuine feel.
The run-time isn’t long and there is always something going on. You have the dynamics of Craig and his father, Smokey and his wild antics, as well as Deebo the unpredictable thug. Which is all only a fraction of the angles this film draws humor from. The soundtrack is fantastic, the story keeps the comedic scenarios grounded, and it’s a highly underrated comedy in my opinion.
2. The Beach
This story centers on a young man in his twenties that sets out on a trip to Thailand in search of adventure. While at a hostel his crazy neighbor commits suicide and this young man finds himself in possession of a map leading to a secluded tropical island paradise which instantly peaks his interest. Since this film’s release there has a lot of coverage and law suits filed against the studio for the impact to the natural ecosystem this project left on the landscape of Thailand. This has sort of tainted the legacy of the film for me, but as a fan of Alex Garland who wrote the book this film is adapted from, I do my best to look at this film for the art it is. Not how it was constructed.
This was a film that immediately grabbed me back in 2000. I was like 21 or 22 when this came out and I related the main character of Richard played by DiCaprio who was in search of the missing adventure in his life. Danny Boyle directed this one and captured the international locations with a gritty realism that will bring you on the journey with the main character with a captivating appeal because he captures both the beauty and dangers of the regions.
DiCaprio was fantastic in the lead. He created a very natural character that was easily able to relate to. Robert Carlyle delivers a chilling performance in a smaller role and Tilda Swinton does as well with an emotionally charged portrayal. It’s an interesting story that provides genuine unpredictability and characters you can invest in.
This film was based on the novel by Alex Garland and while I do think the book dives much deeper into many elements, this film adaptation showed effort in capturing the essence the source material. The main narrative and the arc of the lead character progress with an intriguing flow that keeps you hanging on to the next scene, and with many exotic locations the film provides an effective mental escape.
3. There’s Something About Mary
To me this is still one of the all-time great comedies. Watching Ben Stiller try to capture love with his high-school sweetheart, despite routine roadblocks is a blast to watch. The film came out in the summer of ’97 and the humor is still effective today with a perfect blend of comical characters, amusing scenarios, and cleverly written dialogue.
This movie provides endless amounts of eccentric personalities that all leave their imprint even down to the smaller characters. Stiller, Damon, and Diaz in the lead are all fantastic. But I do think Dillon steals the show with a hilariously sleazy performance. Cameron Diaz was awesome as well with a natural performance that would end up being the springboard to her run as an A-Lister.
It’s a simple premise that would fit easily into a pure romance driven comedy, but it builds a wide range of comical elements onto the main plot to raise the level of overall humor dramatically. It doesn’t however come at the cost of the genuine love story that underneath all the hysterics fuels the lighthearted connection to the story. You want these characters to get together and for love to succeed and laughing along the way is a major bonus.
The writing team crafted solid laughs through the dialogue. Which was only a single area the film inspires laughs from as even the simple creation of characters are hilarious. Which all blend effectively with the other countless comical situations and scenarios that hit with laughter from start-to-finish. The work from the Farrelly brothers in this one is phenomenal with endless amounts of pure comedy displaying a sense-of-humor that never forces a single beat.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
No matter how old I get I still maintain my love for this movie. Animation met live-action in the summer of ’88 and I couldn’t get enough of watching Roger Rabbit team up with a gruff detective to prove his innocence and to catch a toon-killer. This one was directed by Robert Zemeckis and I think his work was brilliant in capturing realism between human and cartoon characters.
Bob Hoskins was excellent in this role and you must commend his work as a veteran actor performing in front of a green screen with imaginary characters. It’s common now, but this was 1988 and despite the difficulty level Hoskins pulled it off, and it was reported he didn’t take another role for a year after this film.
Christopher Lloyd was the perfect casting choice as Judge Doom with a very sinister performance that as a kid really did terrify me. Even today his creepy performance works as a great film villain even if it doesn’t come off as frightening the older I get. I thought Charles Fleischer’s voice-over work as Roger Rabbit was fantastic and he brought a ton of energy, heart, and emotion to the role to make Roger resonate with you emotionally despite being an animated character.
The story-line provides a great adventure in a world where toon’s and humans coexist. This creates such an engaging setting that’s interesting, and immersive, with a nice balance of fantastical and grounded elements. It weaves an intriguing plot that peels back the layers nicely to build curiosity with splashes of humor and action to keep you entertained and connected to what happens as the plot unfolds.
This underrated crime-drama from ’92 was set in Harlem and followed a group of teens that deal with the threats of gangs, police torment and inner family issues. Feeling the lack of respect which, they call “the juice” they make a decision that will change their lives and their relationships as things quickly spiral out of control with life threatening ramifications.
This was not an overly unique premise, but the inner-city settings and the performances pull up a notch. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson who also wrote the story, did a great job of capturing the different lives of this group of teens and how those life experiences affected their decisions and their overall outlooks on life. The cast was easy to connect with and it made their story experiences hit with a strong impact.
Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur headlined this one and I think they both stole the show. Shakur was charged in his dark performance as Bishop and he perfectly captured the needed wildcard personality that this story relied on. Epps was great as well and carried the story on his shoulders during many stretches and showed why he would have a long career ahead of him after this role.
The soundtrack is excellent and fits the moody them of the story-line to amplify the atmosphere of the settings. It does follow some familiar tropes, and the third-act doesn’t hold up so well after all the years, but it doesn’t hinder the film leading up to it. Queen Latifah, and Samuel L. Jackson come in to provide some seasoned characters that command the screen with each scene. The plot-line keeps a swift pace and it doesn’t try to hard to land melodramatic’s which makes up hold up strong despite its age.
6. North Shore
This was another story of adventure to captured me back in ‘87. It followed a teenager from Arizona that travels to Hawaii to surf the big waves of the North Shore. An outsider, he finds it difficult and dangerous at times to fit in as he maneuvers the sub-culture of the surfing world. To complicate things further he meets a girl that captures his heart and dramatically complicates his adjustment to the islands.
It’s another traditional premise to a romantic-drama but splashed with a strong surfing influence to create a fresh take on this story of young love. The on-location settings create an appealing backdrop that effectively pull you into the adventure. The direction from William Phelps is very raw with natural lighting and simple camera techniques during the progression of the narrative, and during the ocean action he ramps it up with very immersive camerawork that pulls you into the waves.
The acting is serviceable from Matt Adler. He carries the film as the naïve mainlander that has a tough time in new surroundings. The story develops the character-arc nicely and for the most part Adler hits the emotional beats genuinely. Nia Peeples was also solid as the love interest and I was able to buy into their chemistry just enough although it has lost some of its luster over the years.
The surfing action is great to watch with some (at the time) ambitious in-water filming. The professional surfers all deliver awesome stunt-work that does a great job of ramping up the excitement. Gregory Harrison comes in as the mentor figure to provide a grounded performance that serves as the anchor to many scenes and the film overall, because he brought out the most in those working opposite him.
7. The King of New York
This was the film that introduced me to Christopher Walken back in 1990. He played kingpin Frank White who immediately after his release from prison begins his plan to take over the criminal underworld of New York to give back to the community. With his first goal being a new children’s hospital. Something that does not deter a group of cops determined to bring him to justice.
What immediately struck me about this film was its artistic take on the traditional crime-drama. It was elegant at times. Gritty and violent during others. With a blend of classical music tones and edgy hip-hop that wove together perfectly to heighten the backdrop of each intended scene. The use of stark color and slow panning also created a subtle mix of visual appeal that draw you into the world of the story.
Christopher Walken was excellent in the lead. He was charming and even sensitive at times, but during other moments he was dead behind the eyes and seemingly empty inside. The cast surrounding him was fantastic with names like Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Victor Argo and Giancarlo Esposito. They all brought life and energy to their characters. Specifically, Fishburne who was way over-the-top, but served as a riveting loose cannon. Caruso, Argo, and Snipes, as the cops land the needed levels of frustration and emotion you would expect from a group of cops trying to bring a man of White’s notoriety to justice.
The story is edgy, it’s continually progressing, and it doesn’t try to do too much or get overly flashy. It develops the arc of the main character nicely to make you understand him, while keeping the glorification of his persona to a minimum. It captures the desperation of cops wanting justice and the system that doesn’t help them. The world of organized crime is laid out with intrigue and despite a formulaic three-act structure it still holds up all these years later.
This psychological-thriller from 2003 caught me by surprise. It was centered on a group of random characters stranded at a Nevada motel during a storm. This group gets to know one another but it isn’t long before they begin turning up murdered one-by-one which builds the mystery of who the killer is among them.
The ensemble cast, and well-structured story-line are what make this such a great movie with ingenuity and ambition that make it one of the great mysteries. It weaves in a perfect flow of twists and turns that keep you guessing. It works through multiple character timelines with a perfect timing to give the story an enjoyable flow which will keep your riveted to what will happen next, and who it will happen to.
John Cusack is the anchor the film but there is a fantastic cast surrounding him. Ray Liotta, John Hawkes, Amanda Peet, Rebecca De Mornay, and more all round out a solid cast of characters. They all fit their roles perfectly and they sell the awkward chemistry effectively. The variety in the personalities keeps each scene feeling fresh, and the direction from James Mangold does and excellent job of keeping things organized with an enjoyable flow.
The story is clever, inventive, and to me is one of the best examples of a perfect bait-and-switch. It delivered ominous tension, with moments of horror and suspense and it will have you routinely on edge. It created uneasiness when needed, and frequently splashes in scenes that will have you thinking which make watching the film again, knowing how it ends a completely different story experience.
9. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Sometimes you just want a dumb but lovable comedy that delivers some adventure, a story with interesting situations, and amusing characters which is exactly what this 2004 comedy provides. Roommates Harold and Kumar are two normal guys that on a Friday night after smoking some weed feel the need for the perfect food. The journey begins to White Castle and from there the comical roadblocks ensue.
John Cho and Kal Penn are fantastic in the leads. They are sort of an odd couple dynamic with their main connection being their love of weed. They work very well off one another to sell the dynamics and both have solid moments to deliver laughter. The dialogue is well-written to deliver crude but clever humor that hits effectively throughout.
The story-line is unrealistic and way over-the-top, but it’s grounded at its roots to connect with you. This makes all the creatively humorous situations land with laughter despite the needed suspension of disbelief. From running into a creepy repair man named Freakshow, to a string of well-timed cameos, to Neil Patrick Harris playing himself, there is endless angles this film utilizes to draw humor from.
What on the outside appears to be yet another drug fueled raunch-com, actually is one. But it’s also a wildly entertaining road-trip adventure with constant twists and turns to keep things fresh. Cho and Penn easily carry the laughs, but the film continuously introduces new characters and scenarios to keeps the comedy consistent with its unpredictability in what will happened next, which make it a great time watching even if you’ve already seen it.
10. Pitch Black
This sci-fi thriller from 2000 has always been a favorite of mine. A group of passengers on a transport ship are stranded on a planet that’s rampant with creatures that feast in the darkness, and it just so happens this crew crashes down to the planet on the eve of a month-long eclipse which will complicate things.
I love watching this film from time-to-time. I think the visual aesthetic of this one overall holds up well. It was a very immersive film that used lighting in a creativity way I had never seen before. It was part mystery, part action movie, part horror, and all science-fiction which I felt was a breath of fresh air. It’s a story of survival in an unknown land and the uneasiness it creates feels genuine because of the immersive filmmaking.
Vin Diesel was awesome in the lead. All his acting trademarks served him perfectly in the role of Riddick. The unpredictability killer with unique abilities that made him advanced but not completely super-human. This added with his arrogance, and lack of sympathy made him a unique anti-hero. Plus, where is character lacked in dialogue, Keith David, Radha Mitchell, and Cole Hauser, come in to keep the flow of the story moving.
There are endless amounts of intensity. The creation and design of the creatures was extremely well done. We have seen so many monsters in movies over the years, and this film utilized a clever concept and focused on the methodology to build scenes that would result in horror and suspense. Despite all the years and advances in technology, the visual appeal in this movie holds up perfectly making it a subtle classic in the genre.