Films That Shaped My Youth

Bonus post day: I wrote a guest post that is now available over at Rinse Before Use on dating in sobriety. If you have a moment, have a look! It’s a subject dear to me as it’s something I’m dealing with quite a lot at the present season of my life.

I’m no film expert, but I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life. While I do enjoy every genre, cerebral stories and visually-stunning cinematography have always drawn me in far more easily than explosive action and romantic comedy. As with the books I read, I prefer films that make you think. There’s no one genre or region that does this better, each having their own stars. To kick off a new, presumptuously sporadic, series on film, here is a list of my favorite films from my youth which developed my film tastes. Note: there are spoilers in this list so if you haven’t seen one of the movies below, and intend to, skip it!

run lola run

Run Lola Run, or Lola Rennt, was not only the first self-chosen foreign-language film I was exposed to, it was also the first movie I’ve ever purchased. It’s perfect for someone like me, an obsessive music snob with extreme ADHD. The soundtrack and pacing of the movie are both blistering and accompany one another perfectly. The plot, at least back then, was unique to me. Run Lola Run was the first film I’d watched that was split into corresponding parts… Without giving too much away, Lola is a German girl whose boyfriend, Manny, loses a bag of money belonging to his drug dealer boss. Both Lola and Manny need to find $100,000 (well, marks not dollars) before the end of the day. That story is not unique, of course, where the film shines is in how the story is told. Lola dies several times throughout the movie, each death starting her at the beginning of the day in a Groundhogs Day situation, only she doesn’t recall her previous lives the way Bill Murray does in that film. It’s been a long time since I’ve last watched it and I think a viewing this weekend is in order.

requiem for a dream

Requiem for a Dream punctuates a theme throughout my film world in which great soundtracks really draw me in. The Kronos Quartet absolutely kill it on this soundtrack and it is to this day one of the only film scores that I own. Requiem follows three friends and their acquaintances through the ups and (mostly) downs of heroin addiction. It’s not a nice movie and will probably leave you feeling slightly depressed upon its conclusion, but the thing about great art is that it isn’t all supposed to make you giddy. Requiem starts on a high note and gets more and more melancholy until the conclusion in which everyone’s lives have been shattered by drug addiction.


Memento blew my mind the first time I saw it as a youth. The story is told backwards through the point of view of a man who has sustained a brain injury which makes him incapable of making new memories. His body is covered in tattoos meant to remind him of things that happened recently and he can never be sure who he’s met before or how he knows them. At the center of this story is a criminal plot to manipulate his condition that is slowly revealed as he backtracks through recent history. You never know who to trust and, rare in film, the main character is a very unreliable narrator as he himself has no clue what is going on.


I won’t lie to you, but Pi gave me a headache the first time I watched it. The movie tells the tale of a conspiracy centered around a semi-insane mathematician who may or may not have developed an algorithm based on the Qabalah that can predict world events. He’s attacked by several factions who all desire control of his technology and are willing to kill to get it. It’s dry. All of Darren Arenofsky’s films are. Even so, it was the first “art” film I’d ever seen and holds a special place in my heart. The special effects, what little there are, are extremely dated and the dialogue is delivered like a high school calculus lecture, but it’s worth a watch.


Alien might stand out on this list as it’s more mainstream than the others, perhaps slightly less so in 2019. The first two films of the franchise were two of my favorite sci-fi films for a good portion of my life. Unfortunately, the sequel Aliens doesn’t stand the test of time the way the original does. While the sequel is a cheesy (at some points embarrassing) action movie, the original is the epitome of 80s sci-fi horror which countless movies have tried to emulate. I’d be hard to convince that all of you don’t know the plot to Alien already but just in case, it’s a movie about an alien organism that infests an interstellar star ship and slowly massacres the crew. Like Run Lola Run, the story isn’t what makes the film unique; the cinematography, sound design, and overall atmosphere evoke dread and terror better than many horror films, although many have tried to replicate the formula.


Kikujiro is only one of the Beat Takeshi films I’ve seen but it’s the one that stands out in my mind the most. Kikujiro is an older man who lives with his wife next door to a young boy and the boy’s grandmother. Upon finding a photo and address of his mother, the boy decides to search for her and Kikujiro reluctantly accompanies him on the long trip across the country. At its core it’s a road-trip comedy, but it’s unlike any other I’ve seen. The main character is entirely unlikable from the outset and slowly grows on you as he grows closer to the boy. Along their path they meet several interesting characters who add some flavor and comedic relief to the sometimes tragic and sad film.

road warrior

I’ve probably seen The Road Warrior over fifty times. In middle school, I used to come home and watch parts of it every day. Obsession is, after all, a character trait of addicts! Friends would come over, see me watching the movie, sigh and turn right back around! The Road Warrior is peak post-apocalyptic action. If it seems tired, that’s only because every post-apocalyptic movie since has stolen some part of its design or lore from this story. Loosely a sequel to Mad Max (all the films in this universe are only very loosely related, in fact) it is an improvement in every way upon the original. It’s the story of a world ravaged by resource wars, where survivors scavenge for food and gasoline to keep on moving for one more day. The terrain is plagued by raiders and cannibals, with the “good guys” being a tiny minority. Max returns as the anti-hero and reluctantly agrees to lead a group of said good guys across the desert to a legendary paradise which may or may not actually exist. The film culminates in an automotive battle scene that is legendary and rarely topped.

I’ve seen hundreds of movies in my life, as I’m sure many of us have! This is just a short introduction for my readers to some of the films which have defined my youth. By no means is the list exhaustive, and I could easily add another hundred to this list if you or I had the time for such a compendium (The Wong Kar-Wai films for example are easily some of my favorite films of all time)! In the future, I’ll delve deeper into these films and others as I intend to watch them all again. Hopefully you’ve spotted something here that you’re interested in watching this weekend; I highly recommend every one of these!