"An inexperienced film-junkie still in his larval form though might call it the best mobster movie since Goodfellas and he'd be unanimously fucking wrong."
The trouble with good movies is that people often try too hard to like them. Hungry people try too hard to like them. Students are particularly hungry for identity and for understanding and there's a lot to like in movies they've been told are great and there's no reason not to like them. Like scarves and black coffee, great movies pick up fair-weather fans, and more relevantly, gloom-weather fans. They can be powerful. These movies can cause pretty heavy impact, unloading weighty messages that free minds can't help but cull for meaning. It can be too much though. In the vernacular, they can fuck with young heads.
For these reasons, and more to be detailed later, we give you the 7 great movies that will make a college student both wise and emo, in no particular order:
1) Do not watch Dead Poets Society.
You will never have Robin Williams as a teacher. In fact, it's more likely that you'll go through school silently, miserable to the last hair fiber, misunderstood because you couldn't even define yourself if you tried, defiant, maybe, but incapable of identity or credibility. The lesson in this movie is: "Don't be a pussy, go for it." That's a terrible lesson to teach to budding teenager at prep-school. "Subvert the system" is a better credo at that age. Nobody but Robin Williams would condone acting like a brash individual at that age and that's because Robin Williams is an honored, Zelda-playing, highly-profane and highly-successful, Julliard-trained actor. If you're out of college, and trust us on this, it isn't too late to go all Dead Poets and become a carpe diem'ing basket case. In fact, the timing is perfect! Most people are so grounded in a shitty work-routine by adulthood that a genuine, bright-eyed, poetry-quoting, art-loving individual is welcomed with open arms. If you tried to emulate the Dead Poets attitude in college, you'd be held in contempt by your peers as a grinning, overachieving wannabe and you'd be a social outcast to the lexically-flaccid, just like the kids in the movie.
INSTEAD, watch: Stand By Me!
Metering out a pitch-perfect nostalgia dosage. It's a movie about the scariest adventure you never had as a kid with the best friends you ever had or never realized you had until way later. It's got tons of cool swearing and a child threatens Kiefer Sutherland with a revolver. It's such a better movie than Super 8.
2) As awesome as it is, Fight Club does more ill than good.
It's an ironically glitzy ad for anarchy and nihilism. It's all good until you realize it's all about how you'll eventually go crazy in adulthood and the only answer is to stop caring and have sex with Helen Bonham-Carter and, let's face it, then nobody wins. We love this movie to death and most people will be able to watch it and say: "Yeah, that movie was sick. On with life!" There's a certain crowd though that will start dressing like Tyler Durden though and start wearing cheap sunglasses indoors and act aloof in their American literature classes and chew lots of sunflower seeds all the fucking time. In the 1990's, Everybody wanted to dress like Kurt Cobain, who dressed like a slob and didn't care -- his fans cared. They cared so much that they wanted to be indifferent just like him. Fight Club is the greatest pitch for hitting rock-bottom during a midlife (quarter-life?) crisis, the moment when you stop caring, utterly powerless against our own self-pity. Don't be like Ed Norton. Ed Norton is a pussy.
INSTEAD, watch: Wanted!
James McAvoy begins this movie as a pussy. At the end, he shoots Morgan Freeman in the head from a mile and a half away as revenge for betraying and lying to him. That's badass. He becomes badass because he realizes he's a pussy capable of more. Be like James McAvoy. But don't shoot Morgan Freeman. Ever.
3) Requiem For A Dream will make you want to drink yourself to death.
It's got, you know, that one song, more than double the editing cuts of a normal movie, and, like, fifty gallons of heroin. The movie is so elegant in the beginning, approaching the band of drug users like your ever-compelling junkie cousin at the beginning of Thanksgiving dinner and he's got great stories about accidentally selling his pool table to an undercover cop on Valentine's Day. That's funny. For a while, that's damn-funny. Then he starts saying that he needs to eat his own skin right around when the mashed potatoes are being served. The only way out for you is to rip the pouring spout off of that bottle of Cuervo and black out Requiem For A Dream's very existence from your memory. Killing 10,000 braincells to forget, genocide, is a justifiable reaction to seeing Aronofsky's hate-crime on happiness. At least The Fountain had a heartbreaking love story.
INSTEAD, watch: Equilibrium!
If you haven't seen it, take a DVD (not a Blu-Ray) of John Woo's The Killer, have sex with it, swallow some Xanax, and then read Brave New World. Yeah. It's kinda like that. And it's that good. Christian Bale stops taking his meds in the future and starts doing bullet-karate on people. Near the end, he cuts a guy's face off of his skull with a katana in one stroke. All because he stops taking drugs!
4) Stop quoting The Boondock Saints.
Goddamn, what a great movie. It's so dang delightfully misguided in its grandiose delivery (and something that its sequel pokes fun at (one of the only things its sequel does that's worth mentioning)). The movie opens with a preacher describing the Kitty Genovese story, then delivers some kind of mashup of Watchmen and V For Vendetta by way of South Boston. Well done, Troy Duffy, you read yourself some Alan Moore. As utterly entertaining as The Boondock Saints is, its final question distills into a fairly binary decision about vigilantism, yes/no? Do you have faith in the system? Can normal people justifiably be touched by inspiration and go on a bad-guy killing spree? If they can speak Latin and dual-wield pistols, fuckin' a-right they can! It's a superhero movie. An inexperienced film-junkie still in his larval form though might call it the best mobster movie since Goodfellas and he'd be unanimously fucking wrong.
INSTEAD, watch: Punisher Warzone!
Now, Punisher Warzone and The Boondock Saints are awesome for similar reasons but the difference is that Punisher offers no pretensions about what it is. If Boondock was the gritty retelling of the original Punisher story, justification for vigilantism intact, then Punisher Warzone is The Boondock Saints: The Videogame: The Movie. The Punisher alone kills fifty dudes in the movie, one of whom dies because he is punched in the face so hard, it becomes concave. Justified!
5) Where to start with Garden State?
This is a Zach Braff power-fantasy. And now you suddenly remember what stomach acid tastes like. What, you think if you run off to the movie industry, you'll come back to town, truly indifferent to your own success because of over-medication, and Natalie Portman will be all quirky-pants hot for you? That would be neat. Again, we can identify with this movie on most levels, it's just going to depress the hell out of anybody aged 16-22. It's about somebody else willing you out of a pretty deep depression and finding you're stronger than you probably ever gave yourself credit for. But to experience that sensation, child, you need to be utterly depressed first. Emerging from a dark phase in your life is great to look back on but you shouldn't kill yourself first to rise higher. That's what Vegeta does, man. Don't be Vegeta. Don't be Zach Braff either. He's a punk in real life. If you never act like him in the first place, you won't have to be a depressed wallpaper-sheet of a human being.
INSTEAD, watch Rango!
These two movies are entirely unrelated. But seriously, have you seen Rango? It's the Pirates of the Caribbean CG-animal cowboys sequel that we deserved but never got. There's a part where anthropomorphic moles ride bats and play Ride of the Valkyries on a banjo, washboard, and jug!
6) Why do so many girls own a copy of American Beauty on DVD?
First, there's Kevin Spacey going through a midlife crisis. Then there's the kid with the video camera trying to understand beauty in trash. Wait. Okay, stick with us on this. Beauty. . . beauty, beauty. . . American beauty?! American beauty is destructive and American beauty is hard to capture and American beauty is ugly and American beauty is often secretive and forbidden and it is misunderstood and until you walk that road, that miserable road, you will never have come close enough to American beauty to understand it. And. . . that's the name of the movie! The entire movie as an Americana art project vomitorium. Notice we used the term "art project," built with great purpose around the notion that it will be a many-sided sniderohedron that some folks just won't be able to comprehend, and they'll throw awards at it, just 'cuz.
INSTEAD, watch: The Incredibles!
Best Pixar movie? Tied with Wall-E and Up. It approaches the superhero mythos and midlife crises with more elegance than the Watchmen movie while aping the Fantastic Four's powers and family dynamic. It's a love-letter to Americana, rather than a eulogy.
7) And finally, whatever you do, don't watch Donnie Darko.
INSTEAD, watch: Inception!
Dream thieves, spiral-gravity, snowmobile chases, questionable realities, espionage, heavy weapons, heavier themes -- a heist movie, in reverse, about the very concept of drawing an audience into a movie, and letting them decide if the world is real or not.
We realize we might have been generous with the "great movies" label, particularly in Donnie Darko's case.