Much like our book series, "Movies That Should Be On Your Radar" aims to share indie darlings, worthy blockbusters, long forgotten gems, and rewatchable classics with aspiring screenwriters and authors alike. Feel free to share your own favorite flicks in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or by tweeting us @WritersBone.
“Kong: Skull Island”
Sean Tuohy: My father bought me the 1933 version of “King Kong” and it terrified me. The giant, landmark-climbing ape has a special place in my heart. "Kong: Skull Island" did it right. It was fun and exciting; it knew what it was and what it needed to be. The filmmakers added enough backstory for us to care about the characters, got into the action quickly, and kept it up. The biggest surprise was John C. Reilly as a World War II pilot stranded on the island. He was played up for laughs in the trailer, but he becomes the heart of the movie. The character has depth, and, besides a couple of expected jokes, he is a very heartfelt and wonderful character.
Mike Nelson: “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
You should be picturing Drew Barrymore innocently throwing a Jiffy Pop on the stove right now. Her off-white sweater hanging loosely over the counter, a cordless landline phone pressed against her ear. That phone soon to be a symbol of terror, that well-done Jiffy Pop soon to be taken off the stove a moment too late by her childless parents, that sweater soon to be the only buffer between her flesh and a slashing blade.
The answer to that question, for me, was “Scream” from the moment I heard that line. I had heard “Get Out” would make me question that answer, so I bought into the hype and bought into the 7:30 p.m. showing on a Monday night that may or may not have begun at TGI Fridays. After abusing my senses with Oscar nominees for the previous month, I was excited to enter the theater with no hopes but to be entertained.
“Get Out” delivers. It delivers as a scary movie, it delivers as a comedy, it delivers as a social commentary. Would you believe me if I said I enjoyed it more than 75% of the “Best Picture” nominees from this past Oscars? Well, you don’t have a choice (I did). Forget all you think you know about scary movies. Forget all you think you know about comedies. Just know that for many people in the theatre, the answer to “What’s your favorite scary movie?” is being answered on the screen.
Daniel Ford: I watched “Moonlight” just before a couple of old people at the Oscars botched the film’s coronation.
Mike Nelson—who drunkenly (I’m assuming) sent me a slew of potential “Moonlight”-related tweets too provocative to ever be published—said on Oscars night that the first third of the movie might be the best movie of the year. I can’t deny that, especially considering Mahershala Ali’s breathtaking performance, but the third, and final, act in the film hit me just as hard. The grown up Chiron visits his childhood friend/crush Kevin at the diner where the latter is working in obscurity. Their troubled bond and unrequited love leads to a tense and tender finale, one that was filmed with a hint of potential violence and heartache.
There was plenty of great storytelling on display at this year’s Academy Awards (again, despite the bloated, inert telecast), but “Moonlight” glows far above the rest.
“Beauty and the Beast”
Stephanie Schaefer: I rounded up my #girlsquad and purchased my $19.25 ticket to see “Beauty and the Beast” in 3D well over a month in advance. Some would call that a steep price to pay, but can you really put a cost on the magic of kicking up your feet (reclining seats for the win) and feeling like a kid again? No, you can’t.
Disney’s latest live-action thriller was highly-publicized to the point where I started to wonder if it would live up to its hype (and this is coming from a former Disney publicity intern). Let’s just say I didn't regret dropping a cool $20 on the rebooted fairytale, or the $13 “glass” of movie theater wine for that matter.
The film was filled with everything I’d hoped for: catchy Disney tunes (that I can’t stop humming), standout costumes, modern special effects, and, most importantly, 2-plus hours of nostalgia. Plus, I appreciated the small updates that made this “tale as old as time” a bit more feminist and open-minded.
Mike: When I left the theater after “Logan” there was something inside me saying I should feel sadder.
The thing about sadness is it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. The other day I was walking through the mall next to my office—on my way back from a standard-issue middle class 2 p.m. Starbucks run—and I saw a woman shoveling mall Chinese food into her face on a bench in the middle of the hallway (you probably envisioned this woman as overweight because I said “shoveling,” but she was not). To me, that would be a sad moment. For her, it may have been the highlight of the week. A forbidden treat in the midst of a “me” day at the mall, perhaps. Interpreting emotions isn’t an easy game to play. Trying to figure out how you “should” feel is even harder.
But interpreting greatness is a lot simpler. And knowing when you should think something is great is just about as easy as it gets. You don’t even need to justify it, you just need to think it and assert it. Proof:
Me or my friend Brendan and basically no one else: The McChicken is the greatest.
Some jerk loser: What, why?
MoMFBaBNOE: Because it is.
That’s pretty much it. You just have to feel it and communicate it and then it becomes law.
“Logan” is a great movie. I know that. It takes the Wolverine character and spins him under a jeweler’s loupe while some guy calculates the worth of a diamond. The audience peers through and judges. The supporting characters peer through and judge. Logan peers through and judges. Time peers through and judges. What good is this man? What purpose does this man have? Did he do good things in his life? Might we have been better off without him? These questions aren’t just held up against Logan himself but against a handful of characters who have past actions to answer for.
Someday we’ll all have to answer for our actions or inactions, for better or for worse. Have to own up for who we are, who we were, and the future we may have put into motion by existing. You can scale that to something as grand as the world as a whole or to a small, close group of people in your life. The ability of “Logan” to not only show you that contradiction, but also make you think about it, is exactly what makes it one of the most brilliant “superhero” movies ever created.
Listen to Sean Tuohy's recent podcast with "Logan" screenwriter Scott Frank:
“This Is Spinal Tap”
Caitlin Malcuit: If you're scrolling through Netflix one evening and should happen upon “This Is Spinal Tap,” your initial reaction should be, "Oh my god, 'Spinal Tap' is on Netflix!" followed by watching “This Is Spinal Tap.”
For the uninitiated, "This Is Spinal Tap" is a rockumenatry mockumentary. It follows the titular heavy metal band along an anemic U.S. tour, churning out a million quotable jokes—and dead drummers—as everything falls to pieces. One doesn't have to be a metalhead to appreciate “This Is Spinal Tap” and its acerbic look at the music business and the pretentious, washed up players.
Technically written by stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and director Rob Reiner, the beauty in the movie's humor is that most, if not all, of the lines are ad-libbed and delivered with deadpan cluelessness by the Spinal Tap crüe (“They said the album cover is a bit sexist.” “Well, so what? What's wrong with being sexy?”). This is the style that set the precedent for Guest's future features, including “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and “For Your Consideration.”
A lot is crammed into a humble 85-minute runtime, so it's worth keeping “This Is Spinal Tap” in the queue to catch what you probably missed the first go around. It'll grow on you faster than the cold sore on David St. Hubbins' mouth.
“Everybody Wants Some”
Sean: This (soul) sister movie to “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” will put a smile on your face and wistful memories in your mind. Following the first three days of a college freshman baseball player, the movie is filled with characters that you met in college. Filmmaker Richard Linklater is able to remind us of college: free-spirited days filled with no responsibility and with nothing but bright futures ahead.
“Shakespeare in Love”
Daniel: I held a long grudge against “Shakespeare in Love” because it won an Oscar over “Saving Private Ryan.” It turns out I’m stupid.
Pithy, rapid-fire dialogue, #writerproblems, and a sassy, curmudgeonly Queen Elizabeth makes this film a literary feast for the eyes and ears. While a pre-Goop, pre-conscious coupling Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar for her once-in-a-lifetime performance, Joseph Fiennes’ twitchy and tortured portrayal of the Bard of Avon is tops for me.
My favorite scene is when Shakespeare is directing on stage, and “the money” walks in and inquires of Philip Henslowe, The Rose’s manager, “”Who is that?” Henslowe dryly replies: “Nobody. The author.”
We’ve all been there, amirite?
Daniel: Ava DuVernay’s documentary will haunt you. And it should. It is the definition of a necessary film.
An engaging, informed, angry, intelligent, and moderately sleazy (in the case of Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist) group of academics, activists, and politicians discuss the sordid (and racist) history of mass incarceration in the United States. You’ll see the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter in a whole new light. The documentary will force you to ask, “How far have we really come?” and “Where are we going?”
Adam Vitcavage: Recently, a subreddit I prowl asked redditors for their top five favorite films. Luckily, the hashtag #7favfilms was popular a few months back and I kept the note in my phone so I can share my list on a moment's notice. Of all of the films on that list—“Before Sunrise,” “Chasing Amy,” “Clue,” “Dark Knight,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Royal Tenenbaums,” and “School of Rock”—most people wanted to discuss “Clue.” It turns out not everyone on this planet has seen or even heard of the film. I was flabbergasted.
The 1985 cult classic comedy based on the board game came out at a time before Hollywood was out of ideas and making films based on board games (see Rihanna’s “Battleship”). This was a bold move that paid off. “Clue” has a stellar cast of comedic geniuses. Eileen Brennan plays a pretentious Mrs. Peacock while Michael McKean plays the neurotically hilarious Mr. Green. Everyone in between is equally top notch. There are so many one-liners that fill this movie—the best being the flames on the side of Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. White’s face—that I quote constantly.
Only a film based on a board game has the balls to produce three endings that were shown randomly in theaters. Filmgoers had no clue if they were seeing Ending A, B, or C when they walked into it. How outrageous is that? Luckily the DVD has all three that you can either play randomly or—and most recommended—watch all three unfold at the end of the film.
The murder plot of the film is just a red herring. You need to see this film to understand comedy at its most basic form. All you need is a group of genius comedians in a room, then watch magic happen.
Wait…it’s awful that I only mentioned three members of the cast. I’m giving a standing ovation to the rest now. Thank you Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren for this extremely rewatchable film that taught me how many bullets were in a revolver.