10. Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock’s debut documentary finds its director undertaking an experiment to see what will happen if he eats only food from McDonald’s for an entire month. Along with this stunt, which results in Spurlock gaining more than twenty pounds and experiencing depression and liver damage, the movie also investigates the ways that fast food is marketed, and the culture of poor nutrition and addiction that the restaurants promote. The film was wildly successful, and immediately helped to re-ignite public concern over the obesity epidemic.
Less than six weeks after its release, McDonald’s discontinued the “Super Size” option at all of its locations (though the restaurant would later deny that this move had anything to do with the film), and since then they have made steps to include healthier alternatives on their menu.
Although it’s not that well known, this small film from directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne caused quite a stir upon its release in 1999, and won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes film festival. It tells the story of a teenaged girl named Rosetta, who after leaving home to escape her alcoholic mother, tries to find any work she can to survive on her own. The film’s portrayal of the character’s struggle was so realistic and moving that it was able to inspire a new law in Belgium that prohibited employers from paying teenage workers anything less than the minimum wage.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey
It may be hard to imagine now, but when it was released in 1968, 2001 was one of the most groundbreaking, imaginative, and downright puzzling movies to have ever been made. The film, which in part follows a space mission to Saturn, was praised for its attention to detail and scientific realism, and a number of the technologies it predicted, like flat screen TVs and voice recognition software, have since come to pass. Its influence on later films is immeasurable, but most importantly, it captured the public imagination about the possibilities of space travel, and inspired many of the NASA scientists who would put a man on the moon a year later. With this in mind, it’s little surprise that when they landed on the moon the Apollo 11 astronauts described the scenery as being “exactly like 2001.”
Oliver Stone’s film about the assassination of John F. Kennedy instantly became one of the most controversial films ever made when it premiered in 1991. Before it was even released, critics and historians were attacking its theory about a possible government conspiracy behind the murder of the President, with many saying that Stone played fast and loose with the facts and that the film dishonored Kennedy’s legacy. Stone received countless death threats, and the President of the MPAA even wrote an article comparing the film to Nazi war propaganda. All of this media attention only contributed to the film’s success, and helped to restart the debate over what really happened in Dallas in 1963. As a result, The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 was signed into law, and the Assassination Records Review Board was formed. The Board collected all of the material and historical records related to the assassination in order to make it available to the public. Since then, this material has been slowly doled out, but all remaining records will not be released until 2017.
6. An Inconvenient Truth
Whether or not you agree with his premise, there’s no denying that former Vice President Al Gore’s film about the possible dangers of global warming became a cultural phenomenon. In addition to being the fourth highest grossing documentary in U.S. history, An Inconvenient Truth is credited with raising awareness of the issue around the world and helping to make climate change a major subject of debate in subsequent political campaigns. In the years since its release, the film has become required viewing for government officials in a number of different European countries, and has even been used—to much controversy–as a part of the science curriculum in some American high schools.
5. The Birth Of A Nation
Still credited as one of the most influential films ever made, director D.W. Griffith’s silent film The Birth of a Nation was first released in 1915. The film’s sweeping narrative follows events surrounding the American Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. The film was a huge success, but it immediately came under scrutiny for its historical inaccuracies and blatant racism. It was condemned by a number of organizations, including the NAACP, and several major cities banned its release. In the places it was released, including Boston and Philadelphia, riots often broke out, and at least one white man murdered a black teenager after seeing it. According to one journalist, The Birth of a Nation contributed in large part to the reformation of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and it is said that the Klan used the film as a recruiting tool for a number of years. Despite its bigoted ideology, the film is regarded by a number of film scholars as one of the greatest movies ever made due to the number of technical breakthroughs it provided. Not only did it establish that films could be longer than an hour and still hold the audience’s attention, but Griffith’s direction is commonly regarded as having given rise to the “visual language” of modern film, and many of the editing and shooting techniques pioneered in the film are still utilized today.
4. Short Circuit (1986)
Johnny 5 is, was and always will be one of my biggest heroes. I don’t know what it is about him. He is experiencing the world through a four-day-old’s eyes, yet his capacity to share his thoughts and his questions goes far beyond a screeching cry.
So it happens something like this. Newton Crosby has just designed an $11,000,000 robot, a near weapon of mass-destruction if you will. After demonstrating the robots’ abilities, a mishap occurs. One of the robots gets struck by lightning, and starts to diverge from his program. He escapes into the city and runs into Stephanie, the most everyday girl you’ve ever known. But something weird is happening — the robot is starting to show lifelike abilities such as imitation, seeing shapes in the clouds, dancing, cooking breakfast, and communicating on an emotional level. The “warmongers” are anxious to get their contraption back (too bad nobody cares about our troops that much, and they don’t even make 1% of $11,000,000 in a year!) Newton Crosby is hardly swayed by Stephanie’s insistence that his robot is “alive”, he just wants it back. So who will get the robot first? Will Newton ever believe that his robot is actually alive? Short Circuit does remarkably well in displaying the true value of a life, no matter what its “vessel” might be. And there is a moment in this film that I can honestly say is the only time in my life I have ever clapped so hard that it hurt.
3. Ghost (1990)
Everything is going great for Sam and Molly until one night when he is brutally removed from this world. Molly is devastated, but unbeknownst to her, so is Sam… ’cause now he is wandering the streets in the form of a ghost. No one can see him, no one can hear him, and he’s gathering a buttload of information about his murder that he can’t tell anyone! Then, he runs into Oda May Brown, a spiritual advisor. As is often the case, she is a phony… but she is not as much of a phony as anyone thinks. When Sam starts haunting her, she has no choice but to do everything in her power to get the information over to Molly. It’s a fascinating story of love, loss (duh), and believing in the unbelievable. The film doesn’t attempt to shove any particular religious belief down your throat, it just says “This might be how it is.” Whoopi Goldberg offers the movie a lighthearted, comedic side. She pretty well single-handedly saves the entire film from being a downright dreary approach to the subject. Although the ubiquitous Righteous Bros. tune, “Unchained Melody” might make a beautiful backdrop to an unexpectedly HOT scene (my God, those fingers), I still will always feel closer to the movie when I hear Swayze’s song “She’s Like The Wind”.
7.) One Hour Photo (2002)
You’ll never know a more lonely fellow than Sy Parrish. His only contact with the outside world, aside from his television set, is his job as the guy behind the photo counter at the local Sav-Mart. Call it obsession, call it plain boredom, but Sy has developed a fascination with a certain customer of his, Nina Yorkin. Every picture that Nina has ever had developed at Sy’s photo shop, Sy has made an extra copy for himself. Eriq La Salle, who also stars in the movie, says “This film explores what it means to be in such need of basic love, that you have to kidnap someone else’s life just to make you feel whole and complete.” I think that pretty much sums it up. But it’s not so much about what happens in this movie as it is about what doesn’t happen. ‘Cause for some people in this world, that is the most interesting thing they have to talk about.
2. Frequency (2000)
Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Sullivan. He lives all alone in 1999, and his life has gone to sh!t. His girlfriend is walking out, his work is suffering, and those cigarettes have got him right where they want him.
Then one fateful night, Johnny makes contact via ham radio with a strange old firefighter, who turns out to be his father, 30 years in the past. As it turns out, his father (in the past) is only days away from dying in a fire, an event that John has had to live with for the last three decades. The question is obvious — can he stop it? And if he does, is that the end? This film bounces back and forth between scenes from 1969 and scenes from 1999 in the blink (or the spin) of an eye. And yet you always know where you are, because the colors tell you. (1969 has a strong presence of yellow, while 1999 has a strong presence of blue.) If you like to cry at happy endings, then say your prayers ’cause this one will blow you away.
1) I am Sam
I Am Sam is a 2001 American drama film written and directed by Jessie Nelson, and starring Sean Penn as a father with a developmental disability, Dakota Fanning as his inquisitive seven-year-old daughter, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his lawyer. Dianne Wiest, Loretta Devine, Richard Schiff and Laura Dern appear in supporting roles.
Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay, researched the issues facing adults with developmental disabilities by visiting the non-profit organization L.A. Goal (Greater Opportunities for the Advanced Living). They subsequently cast two actors with disabilities, Brad Silverman and Joe Rosenberg, in key roles.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sean Penn).
The movie’s title is named for the line “I am Sam” featured in the book Green Eggs and Ham, which is read in the movie.