9. Stand by Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
It’s the Stephen King non-horror novels that make the best movies and so it is proven with “Stand by Me”, one of the best films about friendship ever made. “Stand by Me” tells a wonderful story of childhood friendship that ends with a rite of passage to adulthood.
The movie is told through a large flashback of writer Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) who recalls his childhood adventures. He particularly remembers the time when he and his friends went on a trip to see a dead body. The movie cuts to the writer’s childhood days and the magic of the story begins.
The four boys – all very different from each other – are driven by their morbid curiosity into all sorts of adventures. Therefore we have Gordie (a shy bookish boy who likes to tell stories), Chris (a tough boy from a dysfunctional family), Teddy (an eccentric loud mouth) and Vern (an overweight timid boy, often the target of bullies).
The trip is actually just an excuse for the four of them to talk about the future and the things they want to do in life. Full of pop culture references and amusing anecdotes the movie has a unique blend of feel good fun and nostalgia that is balanced just right. This is truly one to remember.
10. Bullet in the Head (John Woo, 1990)
“Bullet in the Head” if often viewed as the Asian “Deer Hunter” with a Hong Kong twist. Like “Deer Hunter” it tells the story of three friends who go off to war and return changed men. The Hong Kong twist consists in the fact that the friends are all part of a gang and unlike the before mentioned American film they do not go off to war out of patriotism but to deliver a load of contraband goods.
And so the friends travel from Hong Kong to Saigon (in the middle of the Vietnam War) hoping for a quick and clean return. In Vietnam things go terribly wrong and the three friends are exposed to the horrors and cruelty of war. It is here that each of them shows was he is made of.
In a scene similar to the famous Russian roulette scene in “Deer Hunter” the men are forced to kill other men for the soldiers’ amusement. This is the breaking point of the film as each of the three deals with this traumatic experience in their own way and does their best to survive. Some survive, some don’t, some keep their dignity, some don’t, but none of them comes back home an unchanged man. War is truly a test for any friendship.
11. Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
When it comes to movies that celebrate friendships between men we can think of quite several of the top of our head. But what about female friendship on film? Not so many titles come to mind. Still the first one that comes to the mind of any film lover is “Thelma and Louise”. This film is the ultimate female film; it celebrates the special bond that forms between two women tried by life and fate.
The film is about the adventures of waitress Louise (Susan Sarandon) and housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) who – after killing a rapist – take-off across the USA in a convertible car and experience freedom as they never have before. Also starring in the film is Harvey Keitel, as the policeman chasing them, and Brad Pitt (in his major movie debut) as a playboy hustler.
“Thelma and Louise” touches a nerve as it touches delicate subject like the female liberalism and the issues of rape. And even though their road trip has disastrous consequences the two women share the common memory that at least in the end they got to taste life.
12. Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
It was a pretty hard life for Afro-American boys in the USA of the 1980’s. Especially in rough neighborhoods like South Central L.A. “Boyz n the Hood” chronicles that hard life through the eyes of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr), a young boy who is sent to live with his father in a dangerous neighborhood in Los Angeles, after his mother fears that she will not be able to educate him properly alone.
Tre reunites with his childhood friends, Doughboy (Ice Cube) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut), and the three of them begin to sink in a harsh environment of drugs and crime. Tre still has a chance not to end up like most of his friends (dead or in prison) because of his strict father Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), a self-educated man who keeps the boy out of trouble with his firm hand.
Director John Singleton was only 23 at the time of the movie and the cast were all virtually unknowns to the movie industry. Singleton received Oscar nominations for best director and best screenplay making him the youngest person to receive best director nomination and the first African-American in this category. This was 1991.
Even though the images and actions depicted in the film are horrifying – and are probably thins most Americans were unaware of at the time – these people are just like anybody else: they talk, walk, fall in love, rebel against injustice and value the relationship that they have with each other. The film has very powerful anti-violence message expressed exactly through violence; that message reads, plain and simple, at the end of the film: “Boyz n the hood increase the peace”!
13. Grumpy Old Men (Donald Petrie, 1993)
In the small town of Wabasha, Minnesota a feud has been going on for decades. The feud is between retired school teacher and divorcee John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and former TV repairman and widower Max Goldman (Walter Mathau). The two are former childhood friends and next door neighbors. The feud begun over a woman – how else? John had “stolen” Max’s high school sweetheart, with whom he went on to marry.
Even though Max had a wonderful marriage he still resents that he lost to his friend. Even though the feud has been going on for a long time the two are actually still friends; because we have to remember this is a comedy. And just when things were starting to get better a mysterious woman arrives into town and moves next door to the two men. The “war” between the two reignites as they compete for the woman’s heart.
The tricks they pull on each other, the name-calling, the misfortunes of their romantic attempts – they are all part of the feel good experience of this movie. The film marks the return of one of the most beloved comedic duo of all time: Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau. But this time the two have reached that age where their just a couple of grumpy old men. But who says old people can’t have fun or fall in love?
14. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
If you look up any list in the genre “world’s greatest movies” – especially in the USA – you are most likely to find “The Shawshank Redemption” on a top position if not on the top position. This movie seems to have it all: a little action, a little drama, a little comedy, a little romance, a little slice of life. But all of these emotions center on the strong sense of friendship that the two main characters share.
The movie tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his unique friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman). When Andy, a successful banker, is falsely accused of killing his wife he is sentenced to hard years in prison. It is here that he meets inmate Red – the man who can obtain anything for the right price. After the initial fears and inconveniences of prison Andy manages to make life easy on himself by doing the warden’s finances.
Recognized as a financial wizard Andy is taken advantage of and is forced to make the warden’s dirty money seem legitimate. He complies with all this but at night he patiently carries out his secret plan towards freedom and life outside the prison cell. Red, on the other hand, seems at peace right where he is having been adjusted perfectly to life inside.
The two share ideas and goals and form a friendship that stands the test of time and loyalty. “The Shawshank Redemption” is the perfect example of a bitter-sweet film doesn’t allow you to forget the things most important in a man’s life; the little things.
15. Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)
This film is not your typical friendship divided by war film. This film is a farce; the Emir Kusturica kind. “Underground” begins just before the Second World War with the story of two friends: Petar Popara nicknamed Blacky and Marko Dren. The two are small time hustlers in Belgrade. With the coming of the war and the imminent Nazi bombardment the two men and their group of friends seek refuge in the underground of Marko’s house.
Blacky coordinates the operations bellow – he starts to manufacture guns in order to help the revolution – and Marko oversees the activities above. In October ’44 the Red Army frees Belgrade of Nazi occupation and pretty soon the war is over. However Marko does not inform his friend about this but uses the situation in his advantage. He lies to Petar that the war is still going on in order to keep him in the basement and sell the guns he is making.
As the years pass by Marko invents all sorts of strategies to fool the people in the basement. He modifies the clock, and the calendar, he constantly plays recording of air raids, sirens and political speeches. And while Blacky and the people downstairs are struggling Marko is prospering.
A micro community is formed underground where people are getting married, having children, dying – just like the real world. The movie reaches the highest levels of the absurd when Blacky’s son has a wedding with a girl he met in the underground. The grotesque and the comic come together perfectly under the wand of Emir Kusturica in that single long scene. As more and more years pass Marko is more and more consumed by guilt and Petar is more and more possessed by his desire of freedom.
The two men’s friendship was not destroyed by war but by greed and envy. Kusturica does not necessarily want to show the audience the effects of war but the effects of human behavior during critical times. The two men go from being friends to being adversaries in life to being enemies. “Underground” is a remarkable parabola of friendship and life itself.
16. Sleepers (Barry Levinson, 1996)
Although not a part of the Baltimore films (Barry Levinson’s home city) “Sleepers” goes into the director’s territory of friendship and loyalty. Still, the characteristic humor of Barry Levinson is completely missing in this haunting film about how one little stupid mistake can ruin your entire life.
The film begins in the New York of the 1960’s where a group of friends play a prank on a local hot dog vendor. The prank goes out of control and the boys nearly kill the man. As punishment they are sent to a juvenile prison for a year. Is it there that they life will be forever changed for the worse.
Inside the facility they are sexually abused and raped repeatedly by the guards. The film then cuts to present day where the audience learns that two of the boys (John and Tommy) – now ferocious gang leaders – have killed the guardian Nokes (Kevin Bacon); Nokes was the one that scared them the most. Michael (Brad Pitt), also one of the boys, has since become a district attorney manages to get himself assigned to the case and does his best in sabotaging the prosecution.
The main character Lorenzo (Jason Patric) is called by Michael to testify of the horrors he too has been put through in order to bring the rapist guards to justice. “Sleeper” is a visceral emotional film about survival but it is also a tale of revenge. But about above all it is about the human spirit than can endure a lot, during the course of a lifetime, in order to come out victorious.
17. Beautiful Girls (Ted Demme, 1996)
“Beautiful Girls” is a very beautiful movie about men, women and relationships. Its bitter-sweet tone against the background of a very cold winter is just right for a Sunday afternoon viewing. The film was written by action movie screenwriter Scott Rosenberg while awaiting the green light for his big budget production: “Con Air”. Rosenberg said that he was fed up, at the time, with action movies and wanted to write an intimate script about him and his friends dealing with the fact that they are turning 30.
The film follows piano player Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) who comes back to his hometown to rethink his life; he thinks about getting a full time job and marrying his longtime girlfriend. Once he arrives in town he reconnects with his old friends for a high school reunion. His friends (all pushing 30) seem to have the same commitment problems in their relationships. Tommy (Matt Dillon) can’t get over his high school sweetheart, who is now married with children, and that affects his new relationship.
Mo (Noah Emmerich) is happily married but still craves for his freedom. Paul (Michael Rapaport) cannot let go of his failed relationship and plots revenge schemes against his old girlfriend. But it’s not just the men who go through these existential crises; the women are faced with the same questions about maturity and settling down.
The feeling of belongingness and friendship in this movie is absolutely amazing. In order to convince the audience of the authenticity of their friendship the director had the cast live in the same house for about a month and also held a private screening of the first third of “The Deer Hunter”. These tactics really paid off as “Beautiful Girls” offers the audience a delicious taste of life with friends.