Today, August 26th, I turn 40 years old and I can tell you this. I am quite susceptible to the “mid-life crisis” I know is coming or already happening. Weirdly though, while fully feeling every measure of mortality and all the uncertainty that comes with that, I can happily say that I’m rarely alone. When I’m not a school teacher on the job or a devoted husband and father, I have the movies and the urge to flex the creative muscle to write about them. I can never see “everything” and never will, but I value what I get and pull every intellectual and emotional strength I can from the art and entertainment that I’m lucky enough to see and enjoy.
So, in true “Every Movie Has a Lesson” and “What We Learned This Week” fashion, this week’s lessons will be 40 birthday candle movie favorites of formative and favorite films for me made me who I am today. I’d watch every single one of them right now instead of heading into my first day of school at a new job as we speak and read this column on August 26, 2019.
1. CASABLANCA taught me how a great movie is the sum of many parts coming together in all the right ways and the value of classic films.
2. THE WIZARD OF OZ taught me to love whimsical fantasy in a way that few films have ever equaled or topped since.
3. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE taught me wholesome Midwestern values and true-blue heroism.
4. GHOST taught me how much I will always love melodrama and pine for fantasy fulfillment in many shapes and forms.
5. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL taught me how to have an empathetic heart at a young age.
6. TOP GUN taught me way too much about adult things at an impressionable young age and how to watch a movie over and over to celebrate that.
7. REAR WINDOW taught me the focus and value of suspenseful storytelling and the ramifications of voyeurism.
8. THE MASK OF ZORRO taught me that swashbuckling and practical stuntwork should always have a place in the movies.
9. RUDY taught me that even as a little guy I can have the same or greater heart as those bigger, stronger, and faster than me.
10. BACKDRAFT taught me how me about hero worship and how to be a good big brother at a young age.
11. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK taught me about value of a damn good cliffhanger and the character investment that comes with one.
12. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL taught me about the intoxicating genre of film noir that I never discovered up to that point.
13. SHANE taught me about father-figures and how I longed for them to come along in my life like Little Joe did.
14. BACK TO THE FUTURE taught me how to love just about any time travel movie you’ll ever put in front of me.
15. DESPERADO taught me Robert Rodriguez and how no one makes a good sexy shoot ’em up anymore.
16. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE taught me how to ride off into the sunset.
17. BATMAN taught me that the comic book heroes of my youth could go dark and become endlessly interesting and still entertaining at the same time.
18. TWISTER taught me how to turn my brain off and have a blast in a loud, dark, and air-conditioned movie theater
19. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION taught me the most about human dignity than just about any other movie to date.
20. FIELD OF DREAMS taught me how to a better dad than my own.
21. SLEEPING BEAUTY taught me how to love old Walt Disney movies.
22. INDEPENDENCE DAY taught me how to cheer at the movies.
23. GHOSTBUSTERS taught me how to have fun while been spooked at the movies.
24. JAWS taught me how to good suspense is built with patience and tone.
25. WHIPLASH taught me how to never be a mean teacher again.
26. CONTACT taught me to ponder and blend spirituality and science.
27. LEGENDS OF THE FALL taught me natural cinematography, James Horner, and more of that melodramatic brother strife from Backdraft.
28. MEMENTO taught me Christopher Nolan and the value of nonlinear stories better than Pulp Fiction did.
29. JURASSIC PARK taught me the merger of scientific wonder and silver screen entertainment.
30. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY taught me how dialogue and romantic comedy from that era absolutely eclipses the stuff that came after it to this day.
31. TOMBSTONE taught me how cool westerns are why their movies get the best tough-talking lines.
32. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE taught me how to never consider suicide as a husband and father.
33. PULP FICTION taught me that all things retro can be cool in the right measures.
34. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD taught me that not all heroes where capes or uniforms.
35. OFFICE SPACE taught me how to deal with authority and leave work at work.
36. CHRISTMAS VACATION taught me what it would be like to be the hapless and overachieving father I will probably turn out to be in the next decade.
37. NORTH BY NORTHWEST taught me that Hitchcock can be breezy fun and not always odd and twisted.
38. UP taught me how much I look forward to loving my wife for the rest of my life.
39. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY taught me the true meaning of “epic” that isn’t going to be topped any time soon.
40. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF taught me to love the city I call home.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#113)