People are always making lists on Facebook. You see these types of things go around fairly regularly. “10 most influential albums.” “What books formed your reading habits growing up?” Things like that. The other day an acting friend of mine sent out this list that was actually taken from an interview with Emma Stone he’d read. I thought it might be a good opportunity for my readers to get to know just how my opinions on movies may have developed throughout my life.
The first movie I remember watching: The first movies always seem to be at drive-ins, perhaps because it was easier for parents to deal with kids in that environment. The first movie I can remember was “Benji” (1974). I would’ve been 3.
The movie that inspired my fashion sense when I was a kid: I don’t believe I had any fashion sense as a kid (or now for that matter). Perhaps Steve Martin in “The Jerk” (1979).
The movie character I wanted to be: Han Solo. Ooooh, I wanted the Millennium Falcon soooo bad. I know it’s kind of an obvious answer, but hey! I was a kid. Before the final film came out and it was revealed that Luke and Leia were brother and sister, I was still convinced that the love triangle was going to end with Luke and Leia together. So, I created another character, Leia’s long lost sister Lesa. That way when I played “Star Wars” with my skiing buddy Colby, I could still get the girl. I also developed this plot where we discovered her in the snows of Hoth while we were skiing at Saddleback Mountain one day. We also discovered this magical medallion that gave Han the powers of the Force. That’s right, I wanted the girl and the Force, but I didn’t want to be Luke. It was Han Solo all the way.
The first R-rated drama I ever saw: This is a tough one. I honestly can’t remember what the first R-rated drama I ever saw was. I’m sure I saw some on TV, so they really weren’t R-rated anymore. That was when formatted for television also meant removal of the curse words and any on screen violence. I remember watching “The Godfather” (1972) on television pretty early on.
The first adult drama I remember really enjoying was “On Golden Pond” (1981). It was rated PG, but the ratings board was a little more lenient back then. It contained a slew of cursing. That was a big deal for a 9-year-old who was watching the movie with his mother. Ooo, but before that I remember seeing “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) in the theater. That was the first time I ever saw a naked woman. My parents were just as shocked to see the naked lady as they were that they had brought their 7-year-old boy to see it. Again, that was during those lenient 70s, when the ratings allowed naked flesh in PG-rated movies as long as it wasn’t in a sexual context.
For a long time, I thought my first R-rated movie was “Saturday Night Fever” (1977), which I also remember seeing in the theater with my parents. Years later, I watched it and was appalled that they had brought my 5-year-old self to see this movie that was filled with foul language, violence, drug use and a disturbing rape scene. Then I discovered that the movie was so popular upon its release because of the country’s disco fever that the studio released an edited PG version of the movie that had removed most of the language and the rape scene in its entirety.
One more movie. This certainly wasn’t my first R-rated movie, but it was the first one I ever saw in the theater. “10 to Midnight” (1983) is a Charles Bronson police procedural about a serial killer who likes to kill people in the buff. I was 12. My 15-year-old brother snuck me in with some of his friends. I think the only reason I was there was so my brother could sell the notion to my parents that we were going to see another movie. I remember he and his friends passing themselves off as 17 and saying I was under their care.
The scariest movie I've ever seen: Well, “The Exorcist” (1971) was one of those early R-rated movies that I saw on TV so it wasn’t really R-rated anymore. But I still saw it way too young, but it didn’t scare me until I was older and understood it better. I’m going to surprise some people with my final answer on this one, I think. “Paranormal Activity” (2009) is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I know that since they insist on throwing out an inferior sequel every year the whole concept of it is descending into schlock, but when I saw the original PA, I was as scared as I had ever been by a movie for the rest of the night. I felt like a little kid scared of the thing that was hiding in the closet after that one, at the age of 38.
My first movie-star crush: I don’t think I developed movie crushes until later in life, but the first crush inspired by a movie was in 1987. I was obsessed with the movie “Roxanne” for some reason, a Steve Martin modern take on Cyrano de Bergerac. I certainly didn’t crush on Daryl Hannah, but I was crushing on a girl I worked with that summer. She was very unusual looking and had an unusual name (that I won’t reveal) to go with her distinct looks. I imagined myself wooing her from beneath her bedroom window. I wasn’t going to use a hunky surrogate, though. But, I couldn’t bring myself to let her know my feelings, so I felt very much like Steve Martin’s character in that movie.
In college, I developed crushes on unusual choices, like Mary McDonnell in “Dances with Wolves” (1990) and “Grand Canyon” (1991) or Emma Thompson in anything. I had an uncomfortable crush on Natalie Portman in “The Professional” (1994) and “Beautiful Girls” (1996). It wasn’t a sexual crush. She was just so perfect. Then in 2003, I saw “All the Real Girls” and Zooey Deschanel took over as my new and current crush that has only been compounded by her television series “New Girl” (2011-present). But, it’s OK. She reminds me a lot of my wife.
The movie that made me want to be an actor: Alright, put your seatbelts on for this one. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977). You read me right. The Burt Reynolds bootlegging comedy was my inspiration to become an actor. I decided on two possible career paths after seeing that movie. I was either going to become a big rig truck driver, or I was going to become an actor. Now, the whole movie spoke towards becoming a truck driver and the television series “B.J. and the Bear” (1978-1981), which came the following year, hit the notion home. Of course, the truck driving thing would only work if I had a monkey to help me out. I realized that the likelihood of finding a monkey as talented as the one on the show was not good. So, I figured it was going to be acting at that point.
The scene in “Bandit” that sold me on acting took place before Burt Reynolds came across Sally Field. He had just escaped a trooper by hiding his car behind a small building. As soon as the fuzz had passed him by, he looked directly at the camera, smiled and winked. Now, that was the job for me. Charming a camera and millions of people at the same time. In a strange way, “Smokey and the Bandit” actually helped me along in becoming an actor too (and a writer). I wasn’t a great student. One of the reasons I was accepted into Hofstra University’s undergraduate program was because of the optional essay I wrote for my application. I wrote about how as a child I was sure I was going to be a truck driver. My intuition in how our childhood dreams evolve was sited as one of the reasons I had been accepted despite my slightly lower grades than the university standards.
The scene from my own movies that makes me laugh: I’ve only made two movies, neither over five minutes in length. One I acted in, one I directed. The one I acted in was a ghost story that took place in a college dorm room. Filmed while a student at Hofstra, the movie was ridiculous. It made so little sense, but I didn’t care. It was a movie. I guess my favorite moment was when my character finally got so scared he ran screaming from the dorm room. You couldn’t see it in the movie, but there was a beer bong party going on right outside in the hall of the room in which we were filming. The partiers had found a new game. Every time I ran out of the room for another take, someone had to shoot a bong. They had a blast that night.
The other movie was a short film I made of my childhood memories growing up with my brother for his 40th birthday. It starred my two sons as my brother and me. In one scene, they reenacted the time when my brother lit me on fire by squirting lighter fluid through a campfire onto my pant leg. Of course, I didn’t let the kids get anywhere near the fire, but through the magic of editing… Well, actually my editing was pretty bad, but that was part of the fun of the movie.
The movie costume I'd love to wear: I’d still like to wear Indiana Jones’ leather jacket, fedora and whip.
The last movie I bought: “Predators” (2010). I recently did a “Predator” marathon and found “Predators” in the $5 bin. I couldn’t resist that.
The remake I'd love to star in: “Macbeth”. It has always been my favorite Shakespeare, and through the years there have been many great versions. Orson Welles’ 1948 version is my favorite English version, but Roman Polanski’s 1971 version is the one that got me interested in Shakespeare. Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957) is my absolute favorite version, though. I envision an update that takes place on Wall Street in the late 80s, although considering the stock market crash of 2008, I might reset it during the bailout days.
The movie I can't turn off when it's on TV: I really have trouble watching a movie from any point but the very beginning, so I don’t often stop on a movie when I’m channel surfing. If there were one, it’d probably be only a minor favorite, because the best ones must be given my full attention.
The movie I've seen more times than I can count: “Star Wars” (1977). I lost count on that one long before I had kids. Once they became obsessed with it, forget it. I’ve even gotten to the point where I try to make sure I don’t see it more than once a year.
The movie musical I know every word to: I’m tough on musicals. I don’t think I’ve seen any enough to have all the words memorized. “Grease” (1978) probably comes the closest.
The movie I quote all the time: “Babe” (1995). There is no quote I like better to repeat than “That’ll do, Pig.” In a close second is Han Solo’s line “Sometimes I amaze even myself,” from “Star Wars”. And, when I drink something that tastes funky, I almost always repeat Jack Nicholson’s oddball reaction to whiskey in “Easy Rider” (1969).
The scene that reminds me what great acting is: Jack Lemmon’s scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1991) where his character Shelley Levine goes into a client’s house that is a bad lead. He knows the sale is unlikely, but he’s a seasoned veteran. He goes with gusto at first, but you can see his spirit die as he realizes the sale is impossible. Some might site his climactic scene with Kevin Spacey as a great acting moment, which it is. But, with Lemmon, he can show you every level of his character’s thought process with just a twitch. You see the light go out of his eyes in the sales scene, and it is devastating.
The last movie that made me cry: “We Bought a Zoo” (2011). I know. I’m a sucker for Cameron Crowe’s style.
The movie I'm always telling people to see: “Touching the Void” (2003). This is a documentary that plays like a big budget thriller. It recounts a failed mountain expedition in the Andes. Much of the mountaineering scenes are dramatized with actors playing the climbers. Their story is so unbelievable; their struggle is so suspenseful. It is unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen.
The movie I'm most looking forward to: At the moment, “The Dark Knight Rises”, but I’m also very excited to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, of which I’ve heard so many good things.
The five "desert island" movies that DON'T appear elsewhere on this list: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Alien” (1979), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Gates of Heaven” (1978), “American Graffiti” (1973), “Das Boot” (1981), “Kwik Stop” (2001), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). Oops, I did ten. I could keep going, but I won’t.