This is a list of films that I've felt are "worth the watch" in the last few years. You'll see the year I watched the film, not necessarily the year it was released. I list the most recently watched films and work back in time. The themes and styles vary. Feel free to add your titles in the comment section at the bottom of this page. Here is my all-time top film list.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Disbelief. If half of this documentary is true, make sure any friend you know who is involved with the Church of Scientology watches it. This is an exposé of the so-called "Church.” If you want to learn how to found a religion here's one way to start. It's also a fascinating story of the transition of power from the founder to the second leader. It gives you good reason to believe why people like John Travolta and Tom Cruise cannot get out.
Gattaca. When I first watched it in 2001, it was hailed as a definitive "postmodern" film (not sure I can tell you why). It is an intriguing sci-fi with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. It portrays one man's efforts to break through a genetics-based class system.
The Intern. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film about a retiree (Robert De Niro) and his effort to do something useful. He interns at a hipster clothing start-up run by a woman losing control of her life (Anne Hathaway). It made me laugh out loud in several scenes.
Concussion. Based on the true story of a US pathologist from Africa and his effort to reveal to the world that US football players experience brain damage as a result of multiple concussions. Will Smith always does a great job on the big screen.
Risen. This was "CSI meets the resurrection." A surprisingly fresh take on the story that changed everything. Major props to the filmmakers who got this on the big screen. It did take me a while to get over the fact that Jesus was played by the dad from Fear the Walking Dead.
Get Smart. I loved the television series as a kid and enjoyed all the nostalgic throwbacks. I'm also a Steve Carell fan. The cone of silence scene owned me.
Ben Hur. Very tough to remake one of the most famous movies of all time. Yes, the hippodrome scene was stunning. Some secret ingredient was missing…but I'm not sure what it was. Still worth the watch. I give Risen higher marks if you have to pick one or the other.
Race. I knew Jesse Owens was a stud, but now I have a better understanding of why.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this quirky comedy addresses themes from the height of the Cold War. Kubrick considered making a drama, but thought that would be too hard for audiences to stomach. So he made a comedy with Peter Sellers playing three different roles (he was supposed to play four roles, but Slim Pickens ended up getting the role of the airplane pilot).
La La Land. My wife and youngest daughter persuaded our whole family to see this in the theater. It took a while for me to settle into the genre (it's not the musical that I expected it to be). I loved the way the film showed that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. It got seven awards last night at the Golden Globes.
Frost/Nixon. Over the Christmas break we took a family day to the Nixon library. That experience caused Nixon's stock to rise for me. There was a panel in one of the displays that referenced this film so we watched it that evening. His stock declined after the film (as was expected). This film provides a back story to the famous television interviews between David Frost and the discredited president.
The Pacific. Okay, this is an HBO series, not a film. Patterned after the very successful "Band of Brothers," this ten-hour series follows three men who fought in the Pacific campaigns of World War II for the US Marines. Produced on a budget of $200 million, it's a very gritty portrayal of the Pacific theater of war from a foot soldier's perspective. After watching, I was inspired to read the two books that provided much of the source material. I had a major "aha" moment when I finally realized that the John M. Basilone Memorial Highway (where the I-5 cuts through Camp Pendleton) is named after one of the three major characters.
Flags of our Fathers. Inspired by The Pacific, I re-watched this 2006 Clint Eastwood-directed film. It tells the stories of the men who are credited with raising the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima.
The Magnificent Seven. Bullets fly in a big way in this remake. I loved the cast (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun). I kept waiting for the preacher to turn out to be a bad guy but he was one of the most noble characters. I understand that Denzel and Chris may have had a role in that.
We Were Soldiers. Yes, I'm fascinated by war history. Rick Warren had all of the US military veterans come on stage during service at Saddleback Church the day before Veterans Day. There were a number of veterans from the Vietnam War so I was inspired to reread the book Vietnam (Karnow). That led to reading the book that inspired this film. Stunning true story of the first part of the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 in Vietnam. It was the first major confrontation between US and Vietnamese forces and defined the way the US would eventually fight (and lose) the war.
Hacksaw Ridge. This is the mostly true story of the amazing WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss. His Seventh Day Adventist faith made him a conscientious objector. He became the only objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor in American history. He is credited with saving 75 men at the battle of Okinawa (his commanding officer thought it was 100 lives, Desmond thought it was closer to 50 so 75 was the compromise that got put in the official report). You almost can't believe all that he managed to accomplish. When you read his wiki page after the film, you will find that his story is actually more amazing than portrayed in the film.
Captive. Writer / producer Brian Bird brings the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols to the screen. In 2005, Nichols overpowered a deputy escorting him to a court appearance for a rape charge in Atlanta. He used the deputy's gun to kill four people including the judge and court reporter. He took Ashley, a struggling meth addict, captive for seven hours. At one point, Nichols held the gun to her head to force her to do drugs with him. She realized then she would rather die than take drugs again. She refused...and survived.
I Hate Christian Laettner. This is part of the ESPN "30 for 30" series. I was a big college basketball fan back in the day. As a University of Maryland Terrapin, I was an ACC fan (I still don't understand why they left the conference). When my Terps would lose in the NCAA tournament, I pulled for the Blue Devils. Most people did not like Duke. Laettner was easy to dislike. It was fascinating to find out the answer to the question…whatever happened to Christian Laettner?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I can't remember too much about this one. Just that it wasn't disappointing.
Mad Max: Fury Road. I was flying blind when I went into the theater. I had no expectations about the film and no background on the series. I kept whispering to my son who got who me to go..."what is this?!" In the end I relaxed and went with it. A totally wild ride in a dystopian world. Visual poetry.
Apollo 13. This is one of those rare movies worth re-watching. It had been a long time since I've seen it. Great story. Great cast.
Interstellar. I am a Christopher Nolan fan. I managed to get a handful of friends together for a men's movie night at my house when my wife was out of town. Everyone gave it two thumbs up.
Closure. This is a follow-up story to my favorite movie of all time, A Cry From Iran. Joseph Hovsepian tells the story of growing up with bitterness after his father's martyrdom. This is not yet available, but will be released soon.
Inside Out. I apparently did not enjoy this as much as most people. It was clever and insightful. It was definitely helpful to show how we are emotional creatures.
Prefontaine. Our youngest daughter started high school and runs on the cross country team. She mentioned that one of her coaches competed against Steve Prefontaine back in college. The name sounded familiar, but I didn't know the story. Prefontaine held every distance running record in America at one time. I never knew he was so closely associated with one of the largest brands on the planet.
Inception. More props for Christopher Nolan. This one is more head-bending than Interstellar. Great cast and very layered story. Get your thinking cap on for this one.
Selma. I'm a fan of David Oyelowo. This brought to life for me a story that I only knew in broad brushstrokes. It was criticized for portraying the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King as contentious. Other than that, from what I read it seems to have a high degree of historical accuracy.
McFarland, USA. Another movie inspired by my daughter's track and cross-country experience. A true story about a coach moving to a down-and-out high school in the agricultural center of California. He teaches values and inspires the boy's cross country team to win a state championship.
Che. I am fascinated by Ernesto Guevara. I'm not a fan (he executed too many people), but still fascinated. He was a true believer in his communist ideology. This movie follows Anderson's biography (I read it twice).
Foxcatcher. Certainly not what I expected from Steve Carell. A true story about two brothers who each won Olympic gold. They partnered with the wrong guy unfortunately.
Birdman. Iñárritu filmed this as a continuous sequence which created a compelling story with a unique style.
Rebel Without a Cause. One of the first and most famous teenage angst films (1955). James Dean is the ultimate wounded teen. An incredible scene with Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) wearing a yellow apron over his business suit as a foreshadowing of a feminized American male. Too funny seeing "the Chief" (Get Smart) when he still had some hair. Gave me a new appreciation for Griffith Observatory as an iconic film location.
West Side Story. We decided to keep going on the Natalie Wood theme. A groundbreaking film when it came out in 1961. It took 10 Academy Awards (still a record for a musical). A stunningly dark film for its era.
A Cry From Iran. This is the most sacred film I have ever seen. Here' why. A well-documented story of the martyrs from the church in Iran from 1990 to 2007. The story revolves around Rev. Haik Hovsepian’s life and his sacrificial act of love to save his friend and fellow Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj from imminent execution in 1994. This story moved me, silenced me and caused me to worship. I spent portions of the film with my hands lifted In humility and praise.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Fun, innocent, richly shot. Great example of a "rosebud" (slide 25). It kept my 20 year-old son and me smiling and laughing most of the time. Great quote: "Beautiful things don't ask for attention." The Benjamin Button scene was awesome ("nestle here and die."). On the drive home my son asked what it was rated? (yes, you should usually know this before watching). I couldn't think of anything that would make it PG-13. Sure enough, it was PG.
Son of God. I actually wrote a review on this film (first time for everything). A solid story arc, some great faces in the casting, 18 minutes too long. Overall: a fresh and compelling telling of the story of Jesus.
Blackfish. A compelling story but way overstated its final conclusions. I was frustrated, but it absolutely convinced my daughters that we should free all marine life. It felt like a Michael Moore film in the end.
The Book Thief. My 14-year-old daughter's all-time favorite book. A very human look at the dark side of Nazi Germany.
East of Eden. I read the book and then had to watch the movie again. The book is extraordinary. The movie comes close to doing it justice (other than an over-angsty James Dean).
The Butler. Great cast (I think it's great when Oprah goes on the big screen...really). Great acting. A great story to carry you through several decades of American history.
23 Blast. Chris Bueno got behind this to distribute it. A true story of a blind high school football player and his best friend.
The Fault in Our Stars. My 14-year-old daughter's second favorite book. This is definitely young adult literature. But told extremely well. Heart-breakingly beautiful. All of our family members (except our youngest daughter) have made the pilgrimage to the bench pictured on the right in Amsterdam.
The Crash Reel. A documentary about Kevin Pearce, the main competition to Shaun White in the Vancouver Olympics in half-pipe snowboarding. Kevin's life was altered in a horrific crash. Follow his recovery from the vantage point of both Kevin and his family. Some amazing "on camera" moments with a surprise hero.
World War Z. Confession: I only follow one television show, ok, two. Downtown Abbey and Walking Dead. And I tend to like Brad Pitt films (Fury, Tree of Life, Benjamin Button, Babel, Ocean's 11...). So I find the zombie promise fascinating. The big twist? These zombies got moves.
The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. Hugh Grant is the lead in this quaint story about a proud Welsh village.
Dogtown and Z-Boys. A documentary about the genesis of the skateboard culture. Great original footage. Meet the original cast of characters. Think Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta before Tony Hawk.
Searching for Sugarman. The documentary about the greatest American recording artist you never heard of. I love when a documentary comes with an "aha" moment. This one delivers big.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I'm not necessarily a Stan Lee fan. My youngest daughter wanted to see this one. It was better than I expected.
Unbroken. I have been inspired by the story of Louis Zamperini ever since I read his autobiography, "The Devil at My Heels." The biography entitled "Unbroken" really brought his story to a broad audience. The film does not cover the post-war part of his life where he had a profound conversion experience. This is one of the most amazing survival stories I have ever heard.
The Square. Whoa! A surprisingly straightforward documentary (no voice-overs) about the first 30 months of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. Some stunning footage. A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary.
12 Years a Slave. Award winning. Well done.
Short-Term 12. A former Damah filmmaker strikes it big with a small indie. Very compelling drama with some mature subject matter.
Lone Survivor. A crazy, true story about four Navy Seals dropped into Taliban territory and overwhelmed by enemy forces. One man survives through the surprising intervention of one village.
Braveheart. Nuff said.
Pumping Iron. Meet Ahnold in his first days of bulk and glory. This film was one of the first to give the documentary genre a name. If you were a fan of "The Incredible Hulk" (TV version, not the film version), then you will love meeting Ahnold's alter ego in Lou Ferrigno.
Fury. Intense. If you are a war film fan, this one will move towards the top of your list. A bit difficult to suspend disbelief towards the end. A fitting tribute to anyone who had the misfortune of serving in a tank unit. Shia took his role little bit too seriously…he pulled out his own tooth to get into character.
What About Bob? This is one of my top 10 films. Just too many good lines ("Is this corn hand-shucked?"). Amazing asymmetric character arcs in Bob and Dr. Marvin.
Surviving Hitler: A Love Story. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen. 65 minutes. It helped me understand for the first time that not all Germans were Nazis. Uniquely personal WWII footage. A survival story on par with the Shackelford Expedition and Into Thin Air.
Iron Man III. Predictable entertainment. But I like the Robert Downy Jr. and the series.
Despicable Me II. My 12 year-old loved it when we saw it together. For some reason those little yellow guys are loved by kids.
Man of Steel. I appreciated the Christ references, but CG heavy for me.
Roman Holiday. First time I watched an Audrey Hepburn film. It launched her career and is quite amusing. She won best actress for this 1953 film. My 12-year old daughter couldn't believe the ending.
Gravity. A surprisingly interesting film about a woman lost in space. One of the best-ever examples of an inciting incident where shalom is shattered.
I Am Number 4. My 12-year-old daughter got me to watch it with her and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. A bit predictable in the first act, but it picked up speed and ended with a great "hurrah!" Number 6 is kick-butt. Hints of Men in Black.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Well done. Much of what you would expect. Personal highlight: Watson and Holmes are now enemies as Martin Freeman is Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch is the dragon.
John Adams. This 8-hour series won a ton of awards. It deserves them. This inspired and informed me about a president who was very important in American’s founding, but the one I knew the least about. There is one scene (if I remember correctly) that is for mature audiences.
Infamous. Great portrayal of Truman Capote by Toby Jones. I am fascinated by the story behind the book In Cold Blood (my sister lives one town west of where the murders took place).
The Artist Saw this on the big screen in a $3 theater and loved it. Very risky story device (silent period piece) that comes up big. Deserving of its accolades.
Courageous Yes, I like the work of the Kendricks brothers. And they're getting better each time. They address in a compelling way the critical need for men to grow spines.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly The documentary of German/American pilot Dieter Flagler, the first Amercian POW in Viet Nam. This movie was the inspiration for the live-action narrative, Rescue Dawn (Christian Bale).
Miracle Story of the 1980 US Winter Olympics hockey team. I'm not a hockey fan, but found the story compelling.
Lincoln. I'm fan of both Abe and Daniel Day.
Napoleon Dynamite This just gets better with age. I need to watch this every other year just to add more ND lines into my repertoire ("Ees a sledgehammer, yes I love technology, eat your dang tortila"). Brilliant quirkiness with an ending you could never anticipate. Love it.
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. A documentary about "way out of the box" Christians who had a multi-year successful run of beating casinos at blackjack as a team.
October Baby A solid first-feature effort by the Irwin brothers. I liked their work on "God Provides."
Senna A documentary with a surprising story arc that profiles Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula One racing, and a hero in his native Brazil. I'm not a Formula One fan (at all) and I found this riveting. It has an intriguing faith element.
A Separation Stunning. Best film of 2011 (Ebert & Taber). Humble, believable, Shakespearean, Persian, exhausting.
The Victor Marx Story. A compelling documentary about the life and faith journey of martial art expert Victor Marx. Left for dead at the age of 5 in the deep south, Victor had a series of experiences that only Christ could overcome.
Argo Wow! Ben Affleck is back (both sides of the lens). Very good telling of the unknown story of six American captives "exfiltrated" from Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis.
Atlas Shrugged Based on the Ayn Rand novel, this political philosophy film is what "Left Behind" must have felt like to a non-Christian.
City of God A sobering look at the tragically violent life inside the flavelas (government housing projects) of Rio de Janeiro. Stunning film making.
Of Gods and Men A historical drama that relates the ordeal of seven French Trappist monks in the mountains of Algeria who are taken captive by Islamic fundamentalists. Because we lived in France during the Algerian civil war of the 90's we read daily reports of the devastation of the war across the Mediterranean.
The Mill and the Cross Pieter Bruegel's 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary is transformed through special effects into a big-screen epic. Fascinating story technique.
Nirvana: Nevermind A documentary about the rock band Nirvana and the making of their history making album "Nevermind." A poignant telling of the tragic story of Kurt Kobain.