"The Goonies."
"The Goonies."

"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"
You know what? It has to be on the list. It's not just that it's such a monument either. When I re-watched it the thing that struck me was the honest and complicated portrayal of Elliot's family. Their relationship is filled with tough moments, heartbreaks, and sacrifice. It's actually pretty damn dark... but you never get the sensation they're going to end up on "Jerry Springer." These are people who rise to the occasion with dignity, regardless of the cost, and family comes first -- because that's what you do. It's worth noting that the both the alien and the initially terrifying government stormtroopers have a fair share of dignity too. Imagine that, no over the top black and white antagonist and we still get all the conflict needed...

"Pan's Labyrinth"

Ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful and beauty, at least for it's own sake, is sure to fade. Or at least work out pretty badly for everyone involved... Whatever, you get it. If that was all that was here it would probably still be enough to be make the list, but there's more. There's the raw wonder of visiting a completely new world played against the raw wonder of an unflinching look at a world you're very familiar with. Either of those would have put this on the list too, but you don't have to chose. You get both, with wonderful performances and a shit load of tension on top. I admit there's some stuff in here that might be a little tough for an extremely young audience, but most of it's worth the risk.And sometimes it's healthy to want to cover your eyes.


Another film that simply has to be here. This roller coaster has some pretty rough edges and at the time these weren't edges we saw regularly on the big screen. They're were just...  dirtier. Actually, there's almost no 'gloss 'to speak of. Maybe that's what made it feel so real and gave it a sense of possibility that was so infectious you stopped noticing and fell for the ride. Afterwards you got your friends together and broke a bunch of your parents shit looking for your own lost treasure map -- and it actually felt like you might find one.

JJ Abrams' "Super 8."
Paramount Pictures JJ Abrams' "Super 8."

"Super 8"

Man, what a set up. It's understated, powerful, and doesn't spoon feed. It trusts that the audience came here to pay attention, that they're watching... and then lets the pictures do the work. Basically, good cinema. I shouldn't even have to call this out, but I am. And this film is so accessible to a younger audience that you have to give them (yeah those guys) credit for not dumbing it down -- or maybe they figured the kids would engage less if they made it easier? I don't know, but part of me wants to. The other part doesn't care because it works. I love it when a film has clear expectations of the audience and tries to make them work while enjoying.  Add that to the powerful potential of kids collaborating to successes beyond their years -- hell, they save the town and manage to make their own movie -- and you've got a good thing happening. The ending was a mild disappointment, but I think it's because I'm old and jaded. I'll still be watching this with my kids.

"Christmas Story
My parents still have the letter I wrote Santa asking for the Millennium Falcon. I'm 40, but I totally remember unwrapping it...  it's almost an out of body experience, still so vivid that I can tell you what I was wearing. I remember the blue struts on the landing ramp were pretty flimsy and eventually broke -- you know the first ding on your new car? Thank god for crazy glue. The Millenium Falcon was (and is) the present by which I judge all other presents. "A Christmas Story" is the only movie I can think of that genuinely captures the sense of childhood dread... If I don't get this, how will I ever go on in this incomplete life? You watch this movie and you know that level of desire -- the need --  is on the dicey edge of right and wrong for all kinds of reasons... but damn do you want Ralphie to get that gun. You make a choice for the little guy, climb on his team and root for him regardless of all that 'shoot yer eye out' crap. I mean, it's Christmas, right?  Plus, he's got two eyes. The strength here for me -- like so many of the movies on the list -- is that it takes you to this complicated place (given Ralphie's perspective) but never takes the fun away from you. And it doesn't hurt that the world Ralpie lives in is presented, proverbial warts and all, in a completely non patronizing manner -- he's part of a real family, not just some kid who's gonna learn a hard feel good lesson.