The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone, 66) The first true epic I remember seeing all the way through, from beginning to end, with my parents Buddy and Lynn, at the Atlanta's long gone Northeast Expressway Drive-In around 1971 or so. Never will I forget the red cursive scripts notating each characters' arrival, nor the film's final lines--and Ennio Morricone's eternal score--being broadcast through hundreds of drive-in speakers at once. Watching Leone's movie for the first time remains a remarkable event in my life.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 68) THE formative film for me. I first saw it in 1979 at Atlanta's sorely missed Rhodes Theater, alongside the woman I credit with teaching me how to read (she denies it--she says I already knew how to read--but she taught me how to read movies as well. Thank you, Jane Garvey!). Back in the drive-in days, years earlier, I can still remember my parents complaining about the film: "All this crazy stuff, and then a baby shows up at the end?" They laughed hard about it, but I was in the backseat saying to myself "This sounds incredible." A film I've seen over 40 times on film on the big screen; in every way, it shaped my way of approaching a filmmaker's view (no matter how secretive), and it established my own parameters in judging a film's--any film's--craft. My mother later became a vociferous 2001 fan, by the way. Also, I should add: the last time I saw 2001 in 70mm was at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006 or so, with Matthew Modine, Buzz Aldrin, MIT A.I. expert Marvin Minsky, and Ann Druyan Sagan as part of the after-film panel.
A Little Romance (George Roy Hill, 79) At age 12, I saw it alone at Atlanta's Toco Hills Theater (a few times), and on cable numerous times afterwards, and it left me a changed person, because it transmitted deep lessons about love and attraction that, to this day, have never left me. It's also the only film that, when I now see it, ultimately delivers me to that exact moment when I first experienced its pleasures. Thus I cry like a snotty baby, still, when A Little Romance ends. I cannot help it.
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 79) I traveled on numerous occasions to see it at Toco Hills, Atlanta, 1979; I watched it over ten times, over three weeks, and I simply could not get enough of its energy, sexiness, darkness and power. I still see All That Jazz as one of the movies that should be adored by everyone. It gets the heart pumping, ironically enough.
Napoleon (Abel Gance, 27) My first big screen silent film, with Carmine Coppola conducting his newly-made score; saw it at the Fantastic Fox Theater in Atlanta around 1981 and it left me struck absolutely dumb. There is nothing in my memory that likens this experience!
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 62) I had somehow avoided it on TV. I saw it, for the first time ever, with soon-to-be screenwriting star Gary Sherwood at NYC's Ziegfeld on its 1989 restoration, on a stormy night, with a hilariously irritating, chatty woman behind us. Despite her contributions, the film changed my view of cinema forever.
Robert Schneider's Kegel exercises in 16mm 3-D (Robert Schneider, 70-75??) No one's gonna be seeing this beyond-unusual film anytime soon. But what a night it was--The Pagan Festival of the Dead--with hundreds of friends in attendance, and with The Subsonics playing live, all in secret underground mode, at the Plaza Theater, Ponce De Leon, Atlanta GA, 1994!! "It's trying to communicate!" (a reference to Cameron's The Abyss, posited by my good friend Patrick Flynn).
The Gods of Times Square (Richard Sandler, 99) Sandler's landmark documentary--available in a longer director's cut now on DVD--was my crowning get as programmer of the Dahlonega International Film Festival, located in North Georgia, 2001-3. That I got to see it on the big screen, with a large and rapt audience, as the closing night film for a film festival I had programmed, and in a unexpectedly LONGER directorial cut, was just mindboggling.
The Matrix (Andy and Lana Wachowski, 99) I saw it at midnight, at the North Dekalb Mall, on opening day, happily and horrifyingly under the influence of LSD, with my cousin Greg as companion; perhaps the most exciting and energetic story I have to impart about going to the movies. This story, I need to save for another time...
Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) It astounded me and my mother outright at Atlanta's Phipps Plaza. Even though I was dead-ass sleepy before it started, I was soon awakened, and how!
Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 97) The original, for infuriating and fascinating me like no movie ever had or has: I saw it on video, by myself, on a sunny afternoon, and afterwards, I had to go out and blow off steam about it to everyone I encountered.
The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005) Its utter beauty made me weep wholly unlike any other movie ever; and the ticket guy at the Lafont Sandy Springs theater warned me AGAINST seeing it. I took my friend Jane Garvey to see it one night, and my friend Brian Matson the next night, and both were equally overwhelmed.
Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 71) For shocking me to my marrow; I saw it on video in the thick of the George W. Bush days, while completely alone and scared outta my gourd. How does this movie even exist?
Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino et al., 2007) For thrilling me and my best friend, the late Patrick Flynn, the last time we went to the movies together, in the middle of the day, at Landmark's Midtown Promenade, Atlanta. Doubled over with laughter and working on a smuggled six pack of beer, we could hardly process the accuracy and adoration that went into this work.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) It was 8:30 am on a Friday morning at the Walter Reade Theater press screenings for that year's New York Film Festival. I was sitting beside my friend Tony Dayoub (of Cinema Viewfinder). I had idea what to expect, and no inkling of the movie's power, and though I had no coffee in front of me, and though it was the first film I had seen at that year's festival, and one I had never heard of prior, I was immediately captivated. As of 2013, none of this young decade's films have affected me as deeply as this one.