Every once and a while there is a movie that represents what is happening in the current state of the world. Father Time keeps moving forward and changes every year. From loss to politics to war to genocide, every generation must struggle in the circle of life. Yes, I ripped off “The Lion King” there. You also have movies that tell a great story at just the right time. Here are my Top 10 Timely Movies. Once again this is not a list of best overall movies, simply films that came out at the right time.
10. “Frankenstein” (1931):
During the early days of cinema, monster movies became a must see once ‘talkies’ were popular. Dracula, The Wolfman, and The Mummy were a few of many horror fests for audiences still adjusting to the movies. Nothing was bigger than “Frankenstein”. Based on the classic Marry Shelley novel about a monster created out of dead peoples’s body parts, the original screen adaptation had people in the audience terrified. While it does not have the same impact today, “Frankenstein” represents a generation still understanding a new art form.
9. “The Breakfast Club” (1985):
I will admit, this is not a movie that I ever liked. Director John Hughes has several films better. Yet, when it comes to 80’s high school comedy it is hard to argue against a beloved pop-culture history staple such as “The Breakfast Club”. Five misfits including an athlete, brain, hot popular girl, basket case, and a criminal come together for one crazy afternoon that none of them want to be a part of. While not my jam personally, I cannot deny that “The Breakfast Club” is a well loved look at the teenagers growing up during a decade far different from the world of today.
8. “The Terrorist” (2000):
Released just over a year before 9/11 happened, Director Santosh Sivan’s reflection on a culture of reacting to people being killed unjustly then reacting with bombs and missiles shows the human aspect of the casualties of modern warfare. A young girl who is brainwashed by an unnamed terrorist group in Malli (Ayesha Dharker) is recruited to be a suicide bomber against the ‘White Devil’ after suffering serious losses in her life. A movie not concerned with in your face violence, “The Terrorist” cares more about the question of what is right and wrong. Having come out before the Bin Laden attacks, it is a stark reminder of what can happen when even the best people from a culture have no other options.
7. “The Avengers” (2012):
While Robert Downey Jr. started it all with the original “Iron Man”, the comic book superhero Mecca was 2012’s ultimate team-up “The Avengers”. Combining all the original crew of heroes, the movie was so big that it reflected what filmgoers wanted to see in the 21st century. Punch festival action with virtually invincible super-humans. It was like the action movies in the 90’s with good guys never running out of bullets being replaced with costumes and shields. The epic action adventure changed in people’s eyes, and protagonists fighting giant armies were replaced by an alien invasion. Nerd culture became the top place to be in theaters.
6. “Modern Times” (1936):
Despite the introduction of sound in cinema nearly 10 years earlier, the silent film legend Charlie Chaplin stuck to what he knew and made one of his most beloved classics. “Modern Times” is a timely look, no pun intended, at the daily life of workers during the United States industrial revolution. Chaplin’s iconic Tramp character finds himself on an assembly line. Perfect Charlie hilarity ensues including him running behind on the line, getting caught inside a machine, and being strapped into a hands free corn-on-the-cob feeding machine complete with its own face cleaner. While not completely silent, “Modern Times” is a comment on both the changes in the workforce as well as in cinema.
5. “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975):
Unrest in America was at an all-time high in the mid-70’s. With the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and college students battling with police, the streets were a boiling pot of violence. Perhaps the best metaphor for this heated environment was director Sidney Lumet’s bank heist turned bad decision in “Dog Day Afternoon”. Coming off of making the famous first two “Godfather” movies, Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a man at the end of his rope leading a group of untrained misfits to rob a bank to get the money required for his transgendered wife to undergo a sex change. Things go wrong and a simple robbery becomes a hostage situation. What make “Dog Day Afternoon” so timely is how the angry public actually gets behind Sonny and his cause instead of the cops in black and blue. Pacino coming out yelling “ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!”, based on the 1971 prison riots for better conditions, has the crowd chanting along with him.
4. “Bowling for Columbine” (2002):
Yes, I know conservatives and gun enthusiasts hate Michael Moore and probably cannot stomach this movie. The problem is, while several of his projects and public statements go too far, this is the one documentary where he is just right. Sorry. Looking at school shootings in the infancy of those tragedies, “Bowling for Columbine” makes an argument that I do not understand how a sane person could not see. From going hunting to buying guns at a local super-mart to NRA head Charleton Heston holding an NRA convention days after the Columbine massacre, why this is still a conversation makes no sense. “Columbine” was Moore’s only documentary that made a definitive material change when he, along with a victim from the school shooting in a wheelchair, convinced K-Mart to stop selling bullets in its stores. I get the whole 2nd amendment argument, but as the shootings continue, it does not hold weight. The only argument gun nuts have left to stand on is simple; “Fuck you, I like my guns!”
3. “The Social Network” (2010):
I could maybe name one person who does not have some kind social media account. MySpace started it, but Facebook became the behemoth that made being plugged in essential. Director David Fincher’s Oscar nominated “The Social Network” chronicles the rise of a society altering juggernaut that changed the way we interacted far more than anything before or since. A new relationship was no longer real unless it was Facebook official. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of billionaire Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is cold and calculated, which is heavily at the core of social media.
2. “Traffic” (2000):
There is one war that is un-winnable, and that is the war on drugs. There have been countless movies centered around drugs and alcohol abuse. For me, nothing humanizes and frames a never ending struggle better than director Steven Soderbergh’s no-holds-barred look at the drug world in “Traffic”. Shown from multiple aspects of the drug trade, “Traffic” shows the scope of the epidemic that never ends. Police officers battle giant Mexican drug cartels. Wives of cartel leader’s assassins threaten their children. Key witnesses are eliminated. And the United States Drug Czar, played by Michael Douglas, has a daughter in prep school so addicted to heroine that he has to find her in a ghetto dealer’s house unconscious. Made at the perfect time, after the Crack epidemic and just before the Opiod outbreak, Traffic is the ultimate example of how addiction and drug trafficking cannot be solved by programs like ‘D.A.R.E.’.
1. “Dr, Strangelove” (1964):
At the height of the Cold War in the 1960’s, both American and Russian citizens as well as the rest of the world were in fear of a nuclear apocalypse, practicing duck-and-cover routines in schools. Rather than take it seriously, the great Stanley Kubrick made perhaps the best farce in comedic history with “Dr. Strangelove”. Instead of making a film based on fear, Kubrick said to hell with it and laughed at the idea of a nuclear apocalypse. One top end general loses his mind and orders a nuclear strike on Russia. What follows is a series of ridiculous events and characters so crazy that they probably are not far off from real political figures at the time. Correction, in today’s world as well. You’ve got unexpected hijinks like a hissy-fit fight in the war room, a Nazi doctor in a wheel chair, and a Air Force pilot riding a nuclear bomb. When all seems lost and dire, never be afraid to crack a smile.