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The 10 Films That Changed My Life

  • Jan 28, 2011

Is it bad that my list of life-changing films doesn't include substantial works like "Citizen Kane," "La Dolce Vita," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Godfather," or anything along those lines? There seems to be an unspoken agreement amongst film critics, namely that, if one hopes to be taken seriously, one must grow up with and appreciate only those films that have made a significant cultural impact. I don't see why it has to be that way. This list does not represent the greatest films ever made -- it merely represents the films I personally hold dear. Would any of these make it onto your lists?

Little Shop of Horrors
None of the other films on this list could have been included if I hadn't seen this one. It has it all -- it's a comedy, a horror movie, a musical, and a brilliant display of special effects. If I enjoyed the songs in "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Aladdin," it's because this film made me aware of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. If I can appreciate the visual appeal of a Tim Burton film or a Muppet movie, it's because Lyle Conway and director Frank Oz made Audrey II look as real as any actual plant. If I'm frightened by horror movies, it's because Audrey II thrived on human blood. If I laugh at an episode of "AFV," it's because this movie taught me to see the humor in a sadistic dentist and a masochistic root canal patient. I was three when I first saw this film, and it remains my all time favorite.
One of the reasons this movie frightens me so much is that it doesn't reveal everything. For the most part, the creature stays hidden in the shadows; when it does strike, we're often left to wonder exactly what happened to the unfortunate crew member standing in its way. I couldn't verbalize these reactions when I first saw the film as an eight-year-old, but it clearly affected me in this way. I also responded to the strength of Lt. Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, as well as the brilliantly surreal artwork of conceptional designer H.R. Giger.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
I first saw this film as a ten-year-old when it was first released in October of 1993. I bought the soundtrack the exact same day, and within a week I had every song memorized. Although directed by Henry Selick, I credit this film for instilling within me an appreciation for Tim Burton, who remains to this day my favorite director. His aesthetic, as well as his examination of creative but isolated or misunderstood characters, greatly appeal to me.
Alice in Wonderland Poster
Most of us have that classic Disney film we responded to the most. For my mother, it was "Sleeping Beauty." For my father, it was "Peter Pan." For me, it was "Alice in Wonderland." The general public did not respond to this movie on its initial release; Walt Disney himself regretted having it made, claiming it lacked heart. Yes, but what about the extraordinary display of imagination? Perhaps a bit of nonesense is what it takes to allow for a whtie rabbit with a watch, or a talking doorknob, or a garden of living flowers. Not all animated films have to be about princesses dreaming of Prince Charming.
25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD (front)
How can you not like a movie this delightfully weird, especially when it's also a musical? My parents had their concerns about me seeing this at such a young age (I was ten), but they eventually relented, and soon they came to realize it wouldn't affect me negatively. I saw this film at a midnight theater a couple of times in my late teens and early twenties, but now I appreciate it from home. I guess not all fans need the audience participation to get something out of it.
See the full review, "35 Years Later, and We're Still Doing the Time Warp".
Star Wars
Okay, so this is technically three films. But they all add up to one story, and seldom does one watch the first chapter without immediately watching the second and then the third. What modern day child hasn't been entranced by these films? Who amongst us doesn't get a giddy thrill watching spaceships hurtle past the stars or light sabers buzzing to life in a flash of color? The greatness of these films, though, depends on more than a wealth of impressive special effects and cool action scenes; it all comes down to the story. Indeed, they tell one of the oldest, most archetypal stories there is: A hero's journey set against the backdrop of a battle between good and evil. Just as an aside, I personally wasn't offended by the 1997 Special Editions. If that bothers you, then I'm sorry.
See the full review, "The Force is Not with this Collection".
Exposure to this film and "The Real Ghostbusters" cartoon series led to a very intimate relationship with Kenner Toys; stashed away in a box somewhere in storage is virtually every single action figure and toy vehicle they produced, all of which were played with for hours on end during my younger days. Only later did I learn to appreciate the film for its characters, its comedy, its story, and its special effects. My favorite shot is late in the film, after William Atherton's character shuts down the Ghostbusters' protection grid and causes an explosion, releasing the ghosts they had captured; in a panoramic view of New York City, long, flowing tendrils of pink ectoplasm snake over buildings as they come closer to the camera.
Original Theatrical Exhibition Poster
Children of the 1980s and beyond all have a library of films they forced their parents to watch with them over and over and over and over and over. I don't know exactly how many times I watched Jim Henson's "Labyrinth" between the ages of four and six, but I do know that if I had a dollar for each viewing, I'd be rich. As a child, I mainly responded to the otherworldly look of the sets, the songs, and the fanciful lure of the puppets, which seemed real. Now that I'm older and more serious as a critic, I recognize the film's many flaws -- although it will always have a special place in my heart.
Psycho (Universal Home Entertainment's 2-disc Legacy Series Special Edition DVD)
It started with the shower scene, a technical achievement that depicted violence without glorifying it. Then I discovered Norman Bates, the lonely motel owner who takes the Oedipus Complex to disturbing new heights. This movie remains as frightening today as it was back in 1960, in large part because it doesn't play down to the audience, as teen slasher films tend to do -- what happens in the story could actually happen in real life.
See the full review, "The Story of a Boy and His Mother".
The Wizard of Oz
LIke most people born after 1939, this film marked a significant portion of my childhood, and I credit it for introducing me to the world of fantasy filmmaking. In all likelihood -- but please keep in mind that I'm thinking back over twenty years -- I responded mostly to the plight of Dorothy, whose only real goal is to get back home. Children can easily identify with that longing for safety, security, and familiarity. I also enjoyed watching the bright Technicolor scenes, especially the ones in Munchkin Land, where the Yellow Brick Road originates from a spiral. So too does a Red Brick Road; to this day, I wonder where that one leads.

What did you think of this list?

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February 02, 2011
No, I don't think it's a bad thing at all that you don't have a slew of other classics and cults listed -- to each his own! I think that your choices are VERY cool and happen to love the majority of them myself. Thanks for sharing!
February 01, 2011
Great list, Chris! This was a nice walk down the cinematic memory lane. I can clearly recall the first time that I saw most of these films. Rocky Horror would def make it onto my list and I might have to add Princess Bride, ET, and some gangster films!
February 01, 2011
Incredible picks. I love every one of these films too. LOL!
February 02, 2011
Thanks for the comment. It seems our tastes in movies are quite similar.
January 31, 2011
Nice list. Good to see some different choices on there.
January 30, 2011
My list would include "Aliens" and "Star Wars: Episode IV"
January 30, 2011
Technically, "Star Wars: Episode IV" is on my list. I've lumped it into the entire trilogy.
January 29, 2011
Interesting list and I would certainly have Star Wars and Rocky Horror on my list. I had no intererest in Rocky Horror but was draged very reluctant to the film and was very negatively pre-judged against it, BUT I absolutely Loved it, and even though it's a parody of old Sci Fi and Horror films there is no other film like it.
January 30, 2011
Yes, it is unique. I mostly appreciate it for its music, but I also enjoy its B-movie feel. It's just fun.
January 29, 2011
Excellent list! Liked the films in this list, but I have to say I have to re-watch your # 8; I dimly recall it. Loved the way you put your very personal take to these films...
January 29, 2011
Ah yes, "Labyrinth." It flopped on its initial release, but it's now considered a cult classic, mostly because of the casting of David Bowie. You'll also see a teenage Jennifer Connelly. And a whole lot of puppets.
January 29, 2011
Great list! Most of them are not my kind of movies but it is interesting to hear another's take on them and also how they affect your perspective!
About the list creator
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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