My Favorite Film & Television Dystopias

A dystopia is generally defined as an imagined society where suffering is plentiful with people living in either a totalitarian or post-apocalyptic state. As you’ll see from my list, my preference leans on the tyrannical side of things. I tend to think societies won’t collapse in as dramatic a fashion as Mad Max, but rather people will reassemble a twisted skeleton of what is familiar & comfortable. To hold things together, people will accept the glue of authoritarian rule, whether through an individual despot or a faceless corporation. In most of these dark futures, there is not tangible governmental leadership; instead, it operates behind the scenes and is typically a merger of government & private corporations.

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The Cinema of Misery

Doesn’t the world feel exceptionally shitty these days? Would you like to watch a movie that will lift your spirits? Well, that’s not this list. When I originally planned this list, COVID-19 cases were going down, and it seemed like the BLM uprisings were pushing back at power semi-successfully. As I publish this, we have soaring case numbers and now federal stormtroopers acting in outright violation of the Constitution in Portland, Oregon. Just yesterday, political commentator Michael Brooks passed away suddenly at the age of 37. Brooks was in my home every day through his work on The Majority Report and his own podcast. Add to this anxiety surrounding schools opening back up soon while the virus rages, and I can safely say my head is not in a good space these days. Seems like the perfect time for such a list.

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My Favorite 2010s Summer Blockbusters

The summer blockbusters of the 2010s feel like an entirely different world from what we saw in the 1980s. Not only has the technology drastically changed, but social mores have opened the door to more politically overt material and fantastic fare that obscure fascistic leanings (see almost every superhero movie). The blockbuster genre doesn’t shy from being self-reflective and commenting on itself now, yet indulges in some of the laziest nostalgia bating. These movies are slicker and, as a result, exist on two extremes of a spectrum: sharp modern fantasies & transparent corporate merchandising efforts. Our first summer of a new decade is off to an extremely troubling start who knows what the future holds for big summer tentpole movies.

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My Favorite Unsettling Films

The Butcher Boy (1997, directed by Neil Jordan)

In 1960s Ireland, 12-year-old Francie Brady allows his imagination to take over his mind and body quite often. His mother suffers a nervous breakdown and commits suicide, and his father becomes emotionally distant, relying on alcohol to get through the day. Francie’s fantasies become full of aliens, monsters, comic book heroes, and most upsetting nuclear annihilation. Francie is driven to committing a horrific act in his community, which makes him an outcast and lands him at a reform school where he’s habitually molested by one of the priests and communes with a foul-mouth Virgin Mary statue. The line between his fantasies and the trauma of his abuses finally coalesce in a violent, bloody act.

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My Favorite 2000s Summer Blockbusters

The 2000s were a very different decade when it came to the summer blockbuster. Gone was the awe & wonder of Spielbergian pictures, and things became a little darker, edgier. Instead of shooting for PG ratings, it was PG-13 that dominated, movies that were friendly enough for families but with more of an edge. The whole ten-year span felt like Hollywood was trying to figure out a direction that worked, which resulted in very eclectic summers, as you will see by this list. 

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A Brief History of America on Film

This Fourth of July seems more shallow than past iterations of the holiday. We are in the midst of a viral pandemic and civil unrest that has ripped the mask off centuries long systemic oppression. These are not super patriotic times in my opinion, particular as I look around and see my fellow Americans unwilling to undertake the most minor inconvenience in order to treat their neighbors with dignity & love. This is not a list about how great America is, I eschew the Exceptionalism myth. These are movies that speak to the shrouded dark heart of a flawed experiment called the United States.

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My Favorite 1990s Summer Blockbusters

The 1990s kept the summer blockbusters coming, but they weren’t quite the same as those that captured the 1980s. The development of computer-generated effects started to be used more liberally, and the practical effects of the previous decade began to fade. You still had some incredible matte painting work and animatronics in the nineties, but more and more computers were being used to paint fantastic landscapes even though the tech wasn’t quite there yet. These films have a different feel than their predecessors, a little more violent and dark, compare E.T. to Jurassic Park. Cynicism was creeping in more, but you also had experimentation of what could be a great summer blockbuster.

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My Favorite 1980s Summer Blockbusters

The blockbuster movie is defined as a piece of mainstream, fast-paced entertainment that resonates with the culture at a rapid pace. Director Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws is considered the first film that was a real blockbuster. This set the standard for summer and winter to be period where Hollywood studios put out big-budget high concept films with fantastic concepts that would appeal to all audiences. Today I will be looking at my top 10 favorite summertime blockbusters and explaining why they are great examples of this seasonal entertainment & why they still appeal to me so many years after I first saw them.

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My Favorite Movies of 1995

The Brady Bunch Movie (Directed by Betty Thomas)

Film parodies and adaptations of old television franchises were reasonably common in the 1990s. You had Dennis the Menace, Leave it to Beaver, The Flintstones, etc. My favorite of all these was The Brady Bunch Movie, which, without explanation, dropped its titular 1970s family into the contemporary 1990s. This leads to lots of culture clash with the Bradys being consistently oblivious to how they were getting it wrong, and it helps to underline the cynicism in the present-day characters. The movie is all about gags and bits with some very loose overarching character arcs. I think the picture was heavily influenced by Wayne’s World in terms of a comedic tone. I personally think it works and the actors cast as Marcia and Jan steal the show from everyone. They are so true to the characters they are playing yet also have great comedic timing playing off of modern tropes.

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A Hypothetical Birthday Film Festival

Today is my 39th birthday. Last year, I posted a film for every year I’d been alive, so this year I will present a collection of movies where birthdays play a crucial role in the plot. I’m quite excited about next year, where I will be starting a series on my 40 Favorite Films of All-Time. For now, there are some pictures where getting a year old causes some complications.

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