I’m a documentary freak. Two-thirds of the movies I watch are documentaries. Hoop Dreams is a sweeping, stirring, myopic study of two young men on differing paths, both with dreams of becoming NBA players. It is, of course, not so much about basketball as the personal and social struggles of two young men attempting to do what so many young men try to do every year. Uplifting and tragic, it may be the best sports documentary ever.
Sid & Nancy
Gary Oldman must rank as one of or—in my opinion—the most talented actor of his generation. Here, as per normal, he is intoxicating, as Sid Vicious, the “bass player” for the Sex Pistols. England in the ’80s. Drugs. Music. Fashion and baked beans. What’s not to love? Blink and you will miss Shane MacGowan from the Pogues, and Courtney Love.
The film debut of Vince Cassel, this film documents the Paris riots of the early 1990s. Filmed in black and white, it is an intimate look at French youth. The music is killer, the performances almost come through the camera, and hoodlums have never seemed so hip.
What can I say about this movie? One of the more influential films of my childhood, it is a heartbreaking and hilarious tale of a poor young schoolboy who poaches a kestrel as a pet. He has nothing in his life apart from the relationship with his bird. The realism may be the best I’ve witnessed. The lead performance is perfect on every note. I dream of being in a movie this good.
I bought comics every weekend as a kid. Damn, I wish I’d known about Robert Crumb’s comics. Sexually bizarre, graphic, and trippy, his world is a mess of asses, boobs, and tongues. In this film, we meet the man who creates and draws that world. And his real world isn’t so different from the books he makes.
This charming glimpse of the lives of the residents of a small Italian town paints a well-balanced picture of Fellini’s hometown. The characters are funny and unique. The stories are original. And the teenagers are as obsessed with sex as I was. :)
I’m known for “extending the truth”—my stories tend not to be limited by what actually happened but by what can sound the best! So I empathize here with Billy. A young man interested in raising his class level in the 1960s, he tells anyone who wants to hear that he is going to London “to be an actor.” His story becomes more and more transparent and tragic. Great movie.
Night on Earth
Jim Jarmusch is the finest director at making you feel the energy of different countries. Here, he gets a great opportunity to do that, as he tells the story of five taxi drivers working different night shifts around the world. A young Winona Ryder is dwarfed in her driver’s seat; Roberto Benigni shines.
Withnail and I
London. The swinging ’60s. But not for these broke actors, who have just left drama school. To break the monotony of the phone never ringing, they make the fatal error of leaving London for “a charming weekend in the country.” Gay uncles, disgruntled farmers, terrifying poachers, and lots and lots and lots of alcohol ensue. Hang on for the ride. Richard E. Grant has never been better. Paul McGann plays it straight and anchors the whole thing. The soundtrack is wonderful. Must watch with alcohol.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
The only film I’ve seen more is The Empire Strikes Back. This is Python’s best movie. Holy Grail has its moments, but this has many more funny scenes. A parody of the life of Christ, it is neither blasphemous (Christ actually appears in it, as a genuine prophet) nor cruel. It mocks humans more than anything else. Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate with a lisp is hilarious, Terry Jones as Brian’s mum is extremely funny—it may be the movie I quote (annoyingly) the most. I ask you, “What have the Romans ever done for us?!” Watched over 150 times.
Jonathan Lethem’s Top 10
Winner of a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program genius grant, Jonathan Lethem is one of America's premier contemporary writers. His works include the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn.