Welcome to the Weekly Watchlist, a rundown of everything you should be watching.
This week, there are an absurd amount of incredible films celebrating huge anniversaries and seeing theatrical re-releases as a result. Whether you’ve never seen these films before or you’ve seen them dozens of times, they are all so good that you should absolutely get out to the theater if you can and check them out on the biggest screen possible.
5. American Graffiti (1973)
Perhaps you’ve heard of a little film called Star Wars? Well, without American Graffiti, Star Wars might still just be a daydream kicking around in the back of George Lucas’ mind.
Released fifty years ago, George Lucas’ American Graffiti was the filmmaker’s first bona fide commercial success and led to him acquiring the backing needed to get Star Wars made, and the whole thing was essentially made on a dare. Fellow masterful filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (who produced both Lucas’ first feature film, the meditative and transcendent science-fiction film THX-1138, and American Graffiti) challenged Lucas to make a simple feel-good comedy after the intellectual intricacies of THX-1138, and Lucas responded with an ode to his own past that was equal parts joyous and melancholic.
Remembered for its nostalgic capturing of its setting of the year 1962, American Graffiti is a great deal more brooding than that, as Lucas recreates the final gasp of American idealism. For as Lucas graduated high school in real life in 1962, the country went to war in Vietnam, and American Graffiti serves as an achingly poignant look at innocence lost, on both a personal and patriotic level.
4. Christine (1983)
Celebrating its fortieth anniversary is John Carpenter’s incredible Stephen King adaptation, Christine.
Serving as a fascinating nexus point of both John Carpenter and Stephen King (this is the one time that the two’s paths really crossed, aside from Carpenter’s later ribbing of the author in In the Mouth of Madness), Christine is a masterpiece of the genre that doesn’t get the praise it deserves. Released in the immediate aftermath of Carpenter’s The Thing (a film which is rightfully seen as one of the greatest works of horror cinema ever committed to film now, but was roundly trounced by audiences and critics alike in 1982), Christine has all the bearings of a vintage John Carpenter film and all the subversive emotionality of a Stephen King book.
Aside from The Shining (an adaptation made so filmically immaculate by the legendary Stanley Kubrick but so divorced from King’s own work that the author infamously is not a fan), Christine is my pick for the best Stephen King horror adaptation to date, as Carpenter absolutely knocks it out of the park with a film entrenched in exploring the generational horrors that persevered from the ‘good old days’ of the ‘50s into the excess of the ‘80s.
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
You probably think you know Jurassic Park. The T-Rex, the cup of water, the velociraptors in the kitchen, etc. These are singular moments so iconic that they have become ingrained in pop culture, preserving Jurassic Park itself in a kind of nostalgic amber, not at all unlike that which preserves the mosquito that kick-starts the film’s story. Pair that with the more recent and increasingly worsening sequels, and there’s a definite feeling of overfamiliarity with the work as a whole. But if you haven’t seen Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park lately, you need to see it again, because it’s amazing.
Pairing up with John Carpenter’s longtime cinematographer, Dean Cundey, and overtly returning to his horror roots for the first time since Jaws kick-started his career back in 1975, Jurassic Park is a remarkable reminder of just how much of Spielberg’s craft has always been rooted in the visual vernacular of horror.
It is a stupendous work, one that is even more affecting now than it was thirty years ago, serving as a somewhat prophetic meditation on the bleeding edge of technology and all the ways in which humanity is destined to destroy itself in pursuit of it, all while the film itself is on the bleeding edge of technology, with ILM’s still unbelievable VFX work.
In a perfect world, every theater in America would be constantly showing at least one Steven Spielberg movie, because no modern filmmaker knows how to work out a big screen quite like him. Give Jurassic Park the big screen viewing it deserves.
2. Perfect Blue (1997)
Have you seen Satoshi Kon’s ludicrously magnificent debut feature film, Perfect Blue? If the answer is no, go see it on the big screen while you still can. The Japanese animated film is a staggering meditation on the trials and tribulations of living a public life in a modern, technology-fueled world and it is absolutely astounding. A thematically rich horror film that will leave you with plenty to chew on for days, if not weeks, Perfect Blue is a monolithic accomplishment of animation and cinema.
Don’t look up anything else about it; just go in blind and be blown away by the mastery of Kon’s filmmaking.
1. They Live (1988)
This is a Carpenter-heavy list, and that feels good. John Carpenter’s They Live is yet another masterpiece from the maestro of horror and is celebrating its own thirty-fifth anniversary with a re-release in theaters. A perfect encapsulation of Carpenter’s artistic passions and own worldview of cynicism mixed with a bit of unfailing long-term optimism, They Live is incredible. A horror-driven science-fiction action film that features the longest single fight scene in cinematic history (its every bit as insane as it sounds), overt references to the ‘50s science-fiction films which Carpenter grew up on, a systematic and precise takedown of the Reganomics of the era, and a film which features Carpenter unequivocally telling all of the critics who maligned his own The Thing to fuck off (literally), They Live is a brazen and masterful work from a storyteller at the top of his game.
So much of its storytelling and imagery has been bastardized by smaller minds since (Obey branding, ‘politicians are lizards’ conspiracy theories), but returning to the source makes it abundantly clear: Carpenter’s They Live absolutely rips.