100 Essential Films – June


I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!



As we hit the halfway point of the year, I managed to squeeze in seven more classics to bring my total to a still-slightly-off-the-pace 45 films.  Like always, I tried to mix things up with a variety of genres and decades, but June may be my most randomly assorted selections yet, ranging from Munchkin Land to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, from the horrors of World War II to the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s and from method actors to weathermen and dudes in dresses.  But all seven have something important in common… each one is essential!



The Wizard of Oz

Year: 1939

Director: Victor Fleming

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: <5

The Library of Congress declares this musical adaptation of the beloved L. Frank Baum fantasy novel the most seen film in movie history.  Judy Garland’s trip over the rainbow, from the barren, sepia-toned fields of Kansas to the fanciful Technicolor Land of Oz has been a rite of passage for American children for generations now, and I was no different.  The Wicked Witch terrified me as a kid.  The Cowardly Lion made me laugh.  And Dorothy’s long (yellow brick) road to the realization that “there’s no place like home” is paved with the kind of gentle metaphors and universal life lessons about growing up that have remained utterly timeless.  Although I have to ask why everyone remembers and references the Lollipop Guild with regularity, but their equally-peculiar female counterparts in the Lullaby League were lost to pop culture obscurity?




Mad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2015

Director: George Miller

Method: SyFy

Times Viewed: 1

I enjoy the original Mad Max trilogy for the ridiculous fun that it is, but hadn’t gotten around to this high octane reboot about a doomsday prison break and the epic car chase that ensues across the wasteland.  Tom Hardy’s new Max Rockatansky fades into the background, since it is Charlize Theron’s show as the ultra-capable warrior Furiosa.  The film got a ton of praise (and ten Academy Award nominations!) for its feminist viewpoint and one of the few glimpses of a matriarchal society in post-apocalyptic fiction, but I remain at a loss as to why THIS one clicked with critics when terrific action and genre movies are released every year that are completely ignored.  The stunt driving and practical effects were bonkers, but at its core, it’s still just a loud two hour thrill ride about a truck driver escorting supermodels past an army of paint-huffing Billy Corgans.




Schindler’s List

Year: 1993

Director: Steven Spielberg

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

While necessary, Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama about a German businessman and the thousand Jewish refugees he saved from the Holocaust is always emotionally difficult viewing.  This time around, I happened to watch it the week the United States instituted the policy of separating immigrant families at the Mexican border.  With images of those crying children still fresh in my mind, the scenes of families brutally ripped apart during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto took on an immediacy, a scope and a sense of real human horror I hadn’t quite so viscerally connected to in the past.  The death toll is so staggering, to conceive of the victims as more than just an abstract statistic it is vital for art like this to attach a human face to the suffering.  Though an epilogue featuring 128 surviving Schindlerjuden manages to conclude the tale with a spark of hopeful positivity.




Groundhog Day

Year: 1993

Director: Harold Ramis

Method: AMC

Times Viewed: >10

Bill Murray’s crowd-pleasing comedy about a self-centered weatherman trapped living the same day over and over again in wintry small town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania seemingly took a long time to earn “essential” status.  It never broke box-office records or filled anyone’s shelves with trophies.  What it did do, was funnel feel-good optimism through a smart script and winning performances from Murray and co-star Andie MacDowell into a cult favorite that became a timeless cultural touchstone (and the de facto shorthand for any pop culture involving a time loop).  The way the film never explains how he got stuck in the first place, what the rules are for escaping or how long he ultimately spends there brilliantly allows us to project our own beliefs and draw our own conclusions.  And hey, I just noticed a teenage Michael Shannon shows up for two lines of dialogue!




Raging Bull

Year: 1980

Director: Martin Scorsese

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~3

This black and white dramatization of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta’s life story is hailed as Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, but it actually rates pretty far down on my list of his films.  I’ve never found it as compelling (or as rewatchable) as many of his others.  Robert De Niro’s method performance is the selling point here, along with his physical transformation of gaining 60 pounds to go from a well-muscled middleweight contender to a doughy, washed-up nightclub owner.  De Niro gives LaMotta a terrifying hair-trigger temper and relationship-ruining jealous streak, but also a pathetic sort of inferiority and impotence.  You never really root for him, but you can’t take your eyes off him.  I forgot the film concludes with LaMotta delivering Brando’s famous monologue from “On the Waterfront” into a mirror.  It works thematically, but relying on a different (better?) boxing movie to provide your final punch is a bit perplexing.




Some Like It Hot

Year: 1959

Director: Billy Wilder

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Watching this cross-dressing comedy classic about two down-on-their-luck male musicians who have to hide out with an all-female band to escape the mob made me realize I have never seen any of Marilyn Monroe’s movies.  It also made me realize she may not be the best actress ever born, but man is she a movie star.  She lights up the screen in every scene she’s in.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon provide plenty of quick-witted brotherly banter, and seem game to go all out for what I’m guessing was a risky career move, even if they did have to be shot in black and white to even remotely pass as girls.  Of course, no one learns any lessons even after seeing firsthand the shoddy way men treat women and numerous deceits are shrugged off in favor of a happy ending.  But as the man says, nobody’s perfect.




Boogie Nights

Year: 1997

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: >20

My appreciation for Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful story about finding family and fame in the 1970s porn industry only seems to grow and grow and grow with each viewing.  The ensemble cast is one of the best ever assembled with Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham and Thomas Jane each giving the finest performances of their entire careers, and a bevy of brilliant co-stars like Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, Philip Baker Hall and Alfred Molina.  First and foremost, it’s a drama about broken people on the search for belonging and dignity, but it also happens to be at times hilarious, harrowing and heartwarming.  The era-appropriate soundtrack is a joy, and what Anderson does with the camera – including long unbroken takes moving through dancefloors, parties or even a swimming pool – is endlessly inventive.



Progress:  45 / 100

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