7. Boyz N The Hood – Ice Cube (dir. John Singleton, 1991)
John Singleton wrote and directed Boyz N the Hood at the young age of 22. When the film was released, it amazed critics and audiences alike because of its depictions of realistic violence and extreme humanity in the ghettos of Los Angeles. The film earned Singleton the first ever Oscar nomination for an African-American in the Director category. Singleton is also the youngest director to ever be nominated in the history of the Academy.
The film chronicles the lives of three young black males (Ricky, Tre, and Doughboy) growing up in the harsh, gang-infested streets of South Central LA. They talk, joke, and dream about something more than what their neighborhood provides. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the most level headed of the friends, has a strong, loving father (Lawrence Fishburne) that serves as his moral compass.
Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) are brothers that diverge in their life paths. Whereas Ricky seeks escape through sports as a high school football hero, Doughboy becomes corrupted and gets immersed into criminal activity. The excellent cast also includes Angela Bassett as Reva Styles, Tre’s mother.
Boyz N the Hood was released one year prior to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The film is beautiful and heart-wrenching as we watch each of these three young men try to cope with a dire situation. Ice-Cube is very effective in his role as Doughboy. Ice Cube was born South Central Los Angeles and saw his share of tragedy as a young person when his half-sister was murdered by her husband. In addition, the title Boyz N the Hood comes from Ice Cube’s song which was performed by Eazy-E with NWA. Ice Cube went on to star in several other films (including the acclaimed Three Kings), but he may have never been better than in Boyz N the Hood.
6. Boogie Nights – Featuring Mark Wahlberg (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
In 1997, Mark Wahlberg was better known for hip-hop, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, a criminal past, and his explicit Calvin Klein advertisements. This would mainly change with the release of PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights.
PT Anderson wrote and directed Boogie Nights as an extension of his short film The Dirk Diggler Story. The film chronicles the life of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) and his transition to Dirk Diggler during the rise and fall of the golden age of the porn industry from the 1970s to the 1980s.
The film was the first mainstream success for PT Anderson who went on to direct a number of remarkable films including Magnolia, There will be Blood, and The Master. Boogie Nights was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Screenplay. The film also launched the acting career for Mark Wahlberg who went on to star in films such as Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, and The Fighter. Years later Mark Wahlberg was nominated for an Academy Award in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, however he lost to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.
5. The People vs. Larry Flynt – Featuring Courtney Love (dir. Milos Forman, 1996)
Courtney Love became known as lead singer of Hole and became (in)famous as the wife of the late, great Kurt Cobain. However Courtney Love has had an impressive and varied career since her days as a punk rock goddess (despite an addiction problem that wreaked havoc on personal and professional life).
Love began appearing in films in the mid-1980s and one her first roles was in the story of punk rock icon Sid Vicious in the film Sid and Nancy. More recently Love has made headlines in a different direction for her collaborations in avant-garde opera piece entitled Kansas City Choir Boy.
In the early 1990s, Milos Forman directed The People vs. Larry Flynt, the biographical story of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and his renowned court battle with Reverend Jerry Falwell and the religious right. Love plays Althea Leasure, a stripper at one of Flint’s clubs, that later becomes his wife and partner.
Love won accolades for the role including winning Best Supporting Actress from the New York Film Critic Circles and a nomination in the Golden Globes. Since then she has starred in numerous films including 200 Cigarettes, Man on the Moon and recurring roles on the series Sons of Anarchy and Empire.
4. Moonstruck – Featuring Cher (dir. Norman Jewison, 1988)
Moonstruck stars Cher as Loretta Castorini, a Brooklyn bookkeeper engaged (but not in love) with straight-laced, nice-guy, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). When she meets Johnny’s younger brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) she has to choose between having a life that is safe and comfortable versus passionate, real, and explosive.
At the time, Cher was still better known for her association with Sonny and Cher than her solo music career or film work. However Cher is incredible in the role. Moonstruck was nominated for six Academy Awards and won three including Best Actress for Cher. She beat out the likes of Meryl Streep in Ironweed, Glenn Close for Fatal Attraction, and Holly Hunter for Broadcast News. Moonstruck was directed by Norman Jewison who over his career was nominated for several Oscars including A Soldier’s Story, In the Heat of the Night, and Fiddler on the Roof.
Years earlier Cher had been noticed for her acting ability in such films as Silkwood, Witches of Eastwick, and Secret. In 1985 Cher won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the mother of a teenager son with a significant facial deformity in the film Mask.
3. Two Lane Blacktop Featuring – James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (dir. Monte Hellman, 1971)
The so-called existential road movie Two-Lane Blacktop was not a hit with audiences upon release. Those expecting a movie like Easy Rider were sadly disappointed. However Two-Lane Blacktop has an intensely loyal and ferocious cult following. To those that cherish the film, there is no better car movie than this one. In 1971, Esquire magazine called it the film of the year. More than forty years later, it was one of twenty-five that were added to the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress.
Two-Lane Blacktop stars singer-songwriter, James Taylor, referred to only as ‘the Driver’ and Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson as ‘the Mechanic.’ The two men talk little and drive an extremely souped-up 1955 Chevy across the country looking for cars to race against. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker called ‘Girl’ (Laurie Bird), and bump into a man in New Mexico dubbed ‘GTO’ (Warren Oates). GTO of course drives a 1970 yellow Pontiac GTO. The three men do not get along. Because of this adversarial relationship, the Driver challenges GTO to race to Washington DC for car pink slips.
Who will win the race? Who will get the girl? Will anyone arrive in Washington DC… ever? Subtle, mesmerizing, the film is unlike any other road movie produced.
Two-Lane Blacktop was the first professional acting role for both James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. And neither did much acting after this film. Monte Hellman had no intent on casting musicians for any of the roles. However he wanted James Taylor after seeing him on a billboard, and not finding any other actors that seemed right for the part. Both Taylor and Wilson excelled in the roles and are perfect in the film.
The film also features Harry Dean Stanton as a gay hitchhiker.
2. Videodrome – Featuring Debbie Harry (David Cronenberg, 1983)
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of the most perverse, scary, and original films of the 1980s. It stars James Woods as Max Renn, the president of CIVIC-TV, a sensational TV station specializing in violent and pornographic content. When his assistant, Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), unscrambles a program called ‘Videodrome,’ portraying women being stripped and tortured against a clay-like wall, Renn is mesmerized and wants it for his station.
The film also stars Deborah Harry (aka Blondie) as Nicki Brand, a local radio host with a taste for sadomasochistic pleasures. She hooks up with Renn and both seek to expose the truth about Videodrome. However, soon they discover that Videodrome is more dangerous than a simple sexual viewing perversion.
As Nicki Brand, Debbie Harry is strong, beautiful, seductive, and a bit dangerous with cigarettes. At the time she was a relatively inexperienced actress, but Cronenberg wanted her for the role as she was immersed in the thriving New York City art scene. Cronenberg contacted her agent to introduce the part. Once accepted, he dyed Blondie’s hair brown and Nicki was born. ‘Long live the new flesh.’
1. The Man Who Fell To Earth – Featuring David Bowie (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)
After starting his career in the camera department in 1950s and 1960s, Nicholas Roeg directed some of the most arresting and emotionally impactful films of the 1970s and 1980s. His resume includes several classic films including Performance (starring Mick Jagger), Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, Bad Timing, and Insignificance. However by the 1990s, Nicholas Roeg all but disappears from film.
Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth stars David Bowie, in his first major film role. He plays Thomas Newton, an alien that falls to earth seeking water for his devastated drought-stricken planet. Because Newton’s world is so advanced, he is able to quickly create several basic patents on earth that make him extremely wealthy and provide him the means to send water to his home planet. However with his new found prosperity, Newton also acquires several human vices (including TV, alcohol, women) and makes a few enemies that are suspicious and seek him harm. As Newton is about to embark on a mission to save his family and planet, the forces around him aim to reveal the stranger that he is.
Bowie is the quintessential rock star in film. He made a career in films with characters that are other worldly and challenge our sensibilities. His style and personality continually seize your attention. Some of his best work includes The Hunger, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Temptation of Christ, and the fan favorite Labyrinth”
The Man Who Fell To Earth is essential viewing for those who seek a dark, thoughtful, science-fiction film that expands the genre and reveals something unique about humanity. The film is illustrative of a classic rock ‘n roll tragedy; a man with fantastic talents and abilities that is eventually corrupted by his success, temptation, and the greed of others. No other actor of the time could have so believably metamorphosed into the intelligent, fragile, and human-like alien that Bowie embodied and there is no other film quite like The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Author Bio: Michael Apostolidis is movie fanatic and an aspiring filmmaker born in Queens NY and living near Chicago. He has written and directed three short films. He enjoys a wide variety of film genres including sci-fi, indies, classics, and trash cinema.