A Lifetime of Cinema: a Favorite Film for Every Year I’ve Been Around

This idea looked like so much fun that I had to steal it, title and all, from Sean Munger (click here for a pic of him and me and some dude named William Nolan).

Also? I’ll try not to steal all his, even though we share the same span of years, and probably had the same Crüe patches on our jackets.

Also also? I should maybe say: I’ve only ever seen two movies at the theater for seven nights in a row. The first was Exorcist III. The second was Scream. So in those two years, I think I know what wins. The rest, though, I’m going to have to do some digging, some hard remembering, some throwadart guessing [ my oh-so-rigorous method: I went through, filled in my favorite movies in their years, then searched all the other year’s movies to fill in the rest. if that came up dry, I searched by horror movies. then animated movies. then indie movies. then the following year’s Academy Award nominess. that last search never came close to helping me. mostly it just made me instasad ].

Too? I don’t have any solid idea what the first movie I ever actually saw, was. I know I came to movies very late. In 1984 I saw my first movie in a theatre, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Odessa, Texas, with a fourth-grader named Michael [I was sixth grade], because our moms were shopping the mall and needed somewhere to ditch us for a couple hours). And I’d seen The Watcher in the Woods by then too, I think, at my grandmother and grandfather’s house one Thanksgiving, when one of my uncles brought a VCR as side-dish, and let all the cousins watch this Disney movie, which then scarred me for life and is responsible for me still being sketchy about turning the lights off.

Okay, I’m remembering more, now: the first movie I ever saw on VCR, actually, would have been Trading Places (okay, could have been 48 Hours—I really don’t know the difference in those two). Of which I remember nothing. Zilch. And I’ve never rewatched either of them, assuming I even saw them once. But, man, do I remember the experience of watching something on “tape.” It was at my friend Teddy’s house; his dad had a VCR, and we got to watch it after midnight, but the three or four other sixth-graders there all fell asleep, leaving me all alone with this new and delicate technology. I was flat-out terrified. I watched through the credits, knew if I didn’t push the right button this amazing machine was going to blow up, and it was all going to be my fault. I stared at those blinking numbers until I went to sleep, I guess, but the way I remember it I was awake until his dad came in to see what we’d got up to the night before.

And, okay, I remember now: first two movies, anyway. But I can order them. The second movie I ever saw was Flashdance, at my parents’ friends’ house in town. Second grade. My mom held a pillow over my face for some of the scenes, which made me quite interested in what I wasn’t seeing, was only hearing. I still am interested, too; this is another movie I’ve never rewatched.

But, first? The Eyes of Laura Mars. We were living in town when I was in first grade, and somehow had cable, and I was somehow alone in the living room with the television and that came on, I’m guessing, HBO. And it flat-out terrified me. Nightmares and all. That’s all I remember of that film: terror, of the unbridled variety. Have never gone back to watch this one either, bold horror writer that I am.

Of note, too, possibly, is The Terminator. I didn’t see it first-run, and neither did my friend Brett—we were sixth-grade, and it was R, and we lived in the country anyway—but his high school brother Rob had seen it, and told Brett all about it. I still so, so distinctly remember being in Brett’s living room one forever afternoon while he acted out the whole movie for me, as his brother had told it to him. I still remember him dragging his leg at the end, and how I was right there in the scene, my heart swelling to bursting, my mouth about to split from smiling. It’s still one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what Brett did with the sex scene.

Possibly also of note is that, when I was in seventh grade, or maybe ninth grade—maybe both—there was this little gas station called Ranger Station right by Greenwood School & Church, Inc., and my mom would let me rent two videos each Friday. There was a wall of about . . . I don’t know, thirty movies, all showing ragged white at the corners of the boxes? Each and every single Friday, what I’d do is start at the A’s, like makes sense, and then walk out with the exact same two movies: American Ninja and American Anthem. I watched those things until the tape stretched, I bet. I’ve still got them pretty much memorized. As for why I never went deeper into the alphabet? Why would I? Starting there at the A’s, I mean, there were two sure-thing solidgood movies. Why go somewhere else when you’re completely happy right where you are?

All of which is to say that—and this can’t be any surprise—most of the stuff before about 1985 or 1986, that’s stuff I’ve had to go back and find, of course. Like, right now? I’m about to dial up a few ‘Best of 1972’ lists, I guess. Too, let’s none of us pretend this list will have any real integrity; I’ll be sniping in as the weeks and months pass, to sneak a title in, put a title on the scrap heap. I may even fix all the times I mess up.

And, while I’m tempted to annotate/mini-review each film, I’m going to resist, just because, trust me, with movies, I can just go on and on and on, and I’ve got fiction to be writing. What I meant there—this is second-pass Steve, here—is that I’m going to say all kinds of stupid stuff. But I do verymuch like the simple elegance of Sean’s list, too. Though I can’t imagine I’ll be so ethical as to only use legit-posted clips. But it does make his post look of a piece.

So, enough preamble, let’s get to the goods:

The 1970s, when I was mostly just riding a tricycle and dreaming of having the Star Wars action figures from the JC Penney’s catalog—having never seen Star Wars, all I had to go on was those little listings, and those names. Those fabulous, fabulous names

1972: Deliverance. I mean, is there really any other movie than Deliverance?

1973: Welp, I’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar, and that looks like the one to have seen from 73, so I’ll just leave this one blank

1974: Yep, it’s gotta be Chinatown, in spite of all the other good going on this year

1975: Jaws

1976: King Kong. This one’s my favorite of all the Kongs. Jeff Bridges is unbelievably beautiful in this film. I don’t know how he doesn’t just ascend slowly up into the sky

1977: Smokey and the Bandit, for life

1978: Halloween

1979: Alien

The 1980s, when I wore mostly super-short half-shirts and got my hair permed and listened to a whole lot of Quiet Riot and Queen

1980:  Wow. I mean, I’ve WATCHED Caddyshack the most of the 1980 stuff. But I LOVE Friday the 13th, just, I probably love it more for what it did to the (slasher) world I now live in than for its actual own merits. And, good grief, The Empire Strikes Back was this year too? Guess I’ll go with that. Luke riding the storm out in that tauntaun made me a better person, I’m pretty sure

1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes. Yes yes yes. And still. And please note the sacrilege here: I’m putting this ahead of The Howling. When I turn up animal-ravaged in a ditch somewhere, and the science-y people can’t crack what has claws and teeth like, well: you’ll know

1982: I mean, I’ll SAY The Thing, because I love it. But I probably didn’t see it until nearly ten years later

1983: Return of the Jedi, I think. Or, I say? But, again: I hadn’t even seen Star Wars in 1983. I have zero memory of how or when I ever did finally see it, either. But I’m sure it was amazing

1984: Footloose. Also? I vote 1984 to be the best movie year ever in the history of the world. Maybe because of how old I was, and that I was just discovering movies. But maybe also because:

  • The Terminator
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Ghostbusters
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Star Trek III: the Search for Spock (I was very, very worried)
  • Karate Kid
  • Red Dawn
  • Gremlins
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Dune
  • Conan the Destroyer
  • Friday the 13th: the Final Chapter
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Police Academy
  • Night of the Comet (I wouldn’t see this one until the 90s)
  • Splash
  • Body Double
  • Firestarter
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • This is Spinal Tap (again: 90s)
  • Top Secret
  • The Natural (baseball movie #1 on this list . . .)
  • Starman (Jeff Bridges again)

I would say Purple Rain, too, but, honestly, I never got into the movie. I did dig that album, though. Was the only Prince album I ever liked, but I liked it enough for all of them. A friend and me, in the back of a packed Buick driving to Colorado, walkman’d “When Doves Cry” for twelve straight hours once, just back and forth. Was pretty glorious

1985: The Breakfast Club. This and Footloose and the entries from 1991 and 1996 are probably the four most influential movies, for me—five most influential, if you count both from 1996. Which I kind of do

1986: Stand By Me. I am a person with a heart, I mean, and I was only two years away from having been twelve years old, that age at which you’ll never have friends like that again

1987: Lethal Weapon. Wouldn’t be long after this my brother and me would be rolling around in the cotton fields, trying to shoot a 9mm into, at first, a beer-bottle-as-target, and at last, well, pretty much just pulling the trigger and rolling like Riggs and screaming (we melted the barrel on that one, yes)

1988: Um, Die Hard. Saw it in the theater, even. Blew my mind, that that guy from tv was cussing so hard. That was the part I couldn’t get over

1989: Field of Dreams. And I say this with zero love for baseball


The 1990s, when I was mourning hair metal, mourning outlaw country, and getting all educated into a doctor

1990: The Exorcist III

1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1992: Unforgiven

1993: Oh, man. Tombstone or Jurassic Park? Come back to me later for this

1994: The Getaway, with Cindy Crawford and some Baldwin (Just joking. It’s The Shawshank Redemption. Obviously)

1995: Se7en. Because, c’mon

1996: Scream. Also and forever, times two: Twister

1997: Titanic & Henry Fool & Good Will Hunting, he said, cheatily

1998: The Truman Show, maybe? But that’s really digging, and compromising. I mean, I’m not as into The Big Lebowski as the rest of the world. And, know what? I’ve never even seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I remember it was cool in 98 to like Pi, but, really, I can’t remember much about it. Okay, how about Dark City? That’s my decision. Sorry for dragging you through all that, Alex

1999: The Matrix

The 2000s, when my new manual labor was being a professor, and I was publishing books, and I naively thought W. was the worst thing that could ever or would ever happen to America

2000: Final Destination, though I really like The Replacements & 28 Days, too

2001: either The Royal Tenenbaums or The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring. Probably the Tolkien

2002: The Ring, most definitely. I didn’t sleep that whole weekend after I saw it

2003: School of Rock

2004: Club Dread

2005: Sky High

2006: Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon (and Little Miss Sunshine, okay)

2007: Paranormal Activity

2008: Outlander

2009: Zombieland

The 2010s, when it looks like I lost the ability to decide

2010: Stake Land  & Hot Tub Time Machine & Toy Story 3 &&&

2011: You’re Next (I have rarely loved a movie like I love You’re Next)

2012: The Cabin in the Woods & Wreck-it-Ralph

2013: Monsters University

2014: The Lego Movie &  Starry Eyes

2015: Deathgasm & Inside Out

2016: Hunt for the Wilderpeople & Bad Moms (for a contrary view from some loser)

2017: Get Out, so far. Also Logan

Also? I should do a slasher-specific version of this list. It was hard, this time through, not to just go “slasher slasher slasher, and then another slasher,” I mean. Also it was tricky not letting Cannonball Run into these proceedings. Maybe if it had come out in 1998? I could . . . well, if I were allowed a few big jumps, and then a few clumps of titles, I could maybe do a television version of this too. Maybe maybe.

Anyway, in closing, an opening, one of the best ever:


It’s not what you do it’s how you do it / Be anything you want to be


Author: SGJ