Oldboy – At the time I was living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, working two jobs, one as an overnight counselor at a children’s home where mostly I read books and played Advance Wars, though I also attended to restless wards of the state. During the day I worked at a package delivery company, and in my free time I played Tales of Symphonia. I also started a MySpace page. I listened to Girl Talk and M.I.A when I drove to get my food at the Sunshine Food Market. More than anything, I was depressed. Going to the video store was my main social activity. I read the Vagrant Cafe then, an alt Christian message board comprised of ex or soon to be ex Christians who gave out great movie and music recommendations. Which is how I found out about Oldboy. “Horton” mentioned it, and anything Horton mentioned I gobbled up, so I went to my local Hollywood, which, for a town like Sioux Falls where a movie like Jim’s Greatest Fishing Trips would have been popular, had a deep selection of weird movies. Many times I went there not having any idea what I would get and I’d come back with Audition or Sherman’s March or any number of titles other rental places didn’t have so as to compete with Netflix. Anyway, that part of our American history is short-lived and now it’s gone and in that time, maybe 2005, I watched Oldboy. And when it was finished, after I picked up my jaw from the floor, I was sure I had seen the most tragic, fantastic movie. Certainly the best in the long-game vengeance training regiment motif, like a Kill Bill or V for Vendetta, where the retribution won’t come cheaply, but it also won’t come without a badass. I watched hundreds of movies in those two lonely years in Sioux Falls, but Oldboy was better than all of them. I like to think it taught me something about delayed gratification.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – If others are like me, I don’t know. But the first time I saw Eternal Sunshine I did not like it. At the time it was linked, at least tangentially, to stuff like Garden State, the proto-mumblecore films all steeped in cliche. Also, I didn’t like it because I had waited too long and thought, if this is by the same guy who made Science of Sleep, then it’s just another one of his twee crafternoons. But there must be something in the way Charlie Kaufman reigned in Gondry, or added to him, or subtracted from, because the second time I saw Eternal Sunshine I understood its brilliance, that it scientifically melted the viewer’s heart, like a Primer for the English major. As well, with more viewings the more the dialogue, which had seemed overwrought at first, began to feel perfect. What I came to understand was that Clementine and Joel’s breakup and relationship and getting back together was the kind of breakup and relationship and getting back together other couples wish they could have, if only they were a bit smarter, or a little more expressive. Some might say In The Mood For Love, and others still might say Wall-E or Before Sunset, but Eternal Sunshine is the best love story of the 00s, artfully-detailed yet familiar in a throat-catching, ineffable way.
There Will Be Blood – I was visiting my friend, Jason, in Seattle when I heard about There Will Be Blood. Jason was the former editor of a Christian music magazine where I interned and we were waiting for a bus somewhere around Key Arena. Right then, Jason pulled me close and whispered something about a movie on 9/11 he wanted to show me when we got back. Understand, Jason was, and maybe still is, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and though I would never get into the Truther movement, the next thing he did has stuck with me. Before the bus came he pulled out from his jacket pocket a promotional business card, the kind you see stacked up beside a cash register. There was an old-timey looking Daniel-Day Lewis on it and the western font of There Will Be Blood. “PTA, baby,” Jason said, then took the card back. I didn’t know what that meant (Paul Thomas Anderson), all I knew was that whatever Jason was sharing would be awesome. And it was. About a year later, after I had moved from Sioux Falls to Seattle, I saw There Will Be Blood in an art theater in Capitol Hill on a date with a girl I met on Craiglist (2007). And I remember thinking it was as good as I could have imagined the year before when I saw that card. Sometimes, for however corny it may be, a movie can have real magic.
The Fountain – It was weird our mega-complex movie theater in Sioux Falls would show The Fountain, but I was glad nonetheless. I don’t know why anymore, but I had kept up on the movie. At the start it was planned as a big budget weird love story through the history of time, with stars like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and expensive special effects, directed by the same guy who did Requiem For A Dream. But then everything had fallen apart, and the director had to scramble and get his wife to be the lead and scale everything down to fit a much tighter budget. Online, everyone painted the circumstances as unfortunate, though for me they only made the movie more appealing. Knowing the director had enough resolve and vision to make his epic story, I loved that. It seemed The Fountain would be the grown-up movie for the grown-up I was becoming. So I went opening night and was one of maybe 10 people in the smallest theater there. And though I left bewildered by what I’d seen, I was sure it was something I would always love. But it also made me more alone, knowing I lived in a place where only a handful of people would go to see a movie on the first night with a protagonist that traveled through the distant future where people lived in thought bubbles whizzing through space at tremendous speeds and then who go back in time to become a conquistador and find the Tree of Life and say “Xibalba” over and over. It was strange, yes, but I liked that the main character would do all that if it meant saving the one he loved. It reinforced the hopeful idea I had that there are no boundaries for a person whose heart is willing. It applied to my life. Which brings us to the end.
Punch-Drunk Love – There is no movie’s lead character I identify with more than Adam Sandler’s in Punch-Drunk Love. Maybe that’s not a good thing (probably isn’t) but when I saw this movie I was 25. Stunted and quiet, I lived in Sioux Falls with emotions flowing inside of me which I could not, or did not, want to express for fear of freaking out the people closest to me (killing myself, wanting to not be a Christian anymore, fearful of being alone for life). I just knew acutely how Barry felt when he threw that chair and broke the glass sliding door. And more so when he said, “I have so much strength in me, you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.” Weirdo or not, Barry was me. As well, Emily Watson was perfect as the anti-Clementine. I loved her in Breaking the Waves, but even more in her role as Lena. And Philip Seymour Hoffman was good, of course, and somehow a Paul Thomas Anderson movie ended happily. Things got better after that year I saw Punch-Drunk Love, so that’s how I’ll end this too, different from everything else.