TG10 Murph’s List: It’s a Big and Small World

Welcome to TG10s. This year, echoing another publication, we are posting our top 10s, and taking votes from you. Keep reading The Twin Geeks for lists from our regular writers, as well as some extra special selection of lists from some amazing guests.

Making lists of favorite things is hard. I think everyone should decide on at least 1 movie/game/show/song to be their absolute favorite, but having to decide what is just below that feels impossible. When sharing said lists there can be a lot of conflating “Favorite” with “Best” so one may feel the need to self-censor and take out weak-seeming entries in favor of putting out crowd-pleasers.

You want to hit that tone of the list being a portrait of yourself, which is what I’ve attempted here. At the bottom you’ll find my favorite movie, and those that proceed it are dear to me and my development as a human being, but they are in no way ranked.

Without further ado, I am Murph, here’s movies I like:

In Bruges

In Bruges (2008) Dir. Martin McDonagh

“I really hope I don’t die…”

Funny relationship to this movie. Round about 2015 I decided I was going to be a film-head and maybe a future director. I changed my university major from Communications to Film and made a vow to watch one movie a day that I had never seen before. I think that vow only really lasted a week, I wound up splitting my major between Film and Communications, and I talk about video games on the internet instead of film.

But anyway, In Bruges was the first movie I watched as part of that vow. It was playing on cable, I had never heard of it before, the poster was bright and colorful and the genre was listed as comedy. I thought it was going to be an easy watch.

In Bruges is not an easy watch. It is a comedy, but one of the blackest and bleakest I know. The movie deals in depression, suicide, and what comes after death. It does this with a lot of coarse language delivered by a relatively small cast at the peak of their craft. When I think about In Bruges I find myself thinking about the small things. The little cause-and-effects that become apparent on rewatches. The little lies characters tell themselves. The little hopes the movie leaves you with.

The dialogue feels like modern Shakespeare. No one talks like this, yet you know people who would talk like this if they could. The movie subverts moments of bleak violence by lilting into the theater of the absurd. The murder of a child is followed by a conversation about a karate-performing lollipop salesman. Perhaps that’s part of the movie’s grand theme: Light in the dark, laughter in the pain, hope at the end of tragedy.

I may not have kept to my vow of becoming a film-head, but if not for that brief moment of wanting to I would never have seen In Bruges.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) Dir. Ben Stiller

…That is the purpose of life.

In the words of Stanley Kubrick: “You either connect or you don’t. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a movie.”

I accept that Walter Mitty is somewhat Walter Mid-y. Most people I try to show it to get put-off by the obnoxious and over-produced dream sequences that choke the first 30 minutes of the film. Others have difficulty connecting to the Walter Mitty character, or the overall themes. Most people think that because it’s a Ben Stiller movie it needs to be outwardly funny.

And yet…no other movie makes me want to get out of my comfort zone like Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Each time I watch it I want to book a flight to somewhere I’ve never heard of and experience the world. I think it’s because it’s a travelog film that’s not about the big moments of travel. Walter doesn’t visit any grand or important sites. He goes to small towns populated by small town people. His journey into the Himalayas culminates in a soccer game with the locals. It’s a movie about the grand scope of the world and how it is made up of very small lives enjoying very small moments. The movie has an undeniable amount of heart, especially in its closing moments. It’s a 6/10 film I will treasure always.

Also the soundtrack slaps.

The LEGO Movie

The Lego Movie (2014) Dirs. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

“If…If the construction guy could say something to President Business, what would he say?”

If there’s one universal experience for everyone who’s seen The LEGO Movie I think it’s when we all saw the 99% Rotten Tomatoes score before the movie’s release and went “There’s no way…”

Turns out there is way. It’s not just that the movie is funny as hell, with increasingly inventive gags and fantastic line reads from its celebrity cast, it’s that the movie celebrates its brand in one of the least cynical ways I’ve seen. It acknowledges the breadth of the LEGO franchise. How there’s a LEGO set for everything, every kind of structure, every brand under the sun. Even Milhouse from the Simpsons has a minifig. 

And it would be easy for the movie to end there. Have it be a tacit celebration of pop culture with cool visuals, but The LEGO Movie goes many steps beyond. If there’s a LEGO set for everything, then there’s a LEGO set for anything. It’s an art medium. By honing in on this the movie creates a narrative about self-expression and self-suppression. When the pieces fall into place and you realize what is really going on behind the scenes, the movie becomes something wildly special.

Maliglutit (Searchers)

Maliglutit (2016) Dir. Zacharias Kunuk

How could someone do something like this?

This is my highbrow “I watch movies you don’t. My tastes are so obscure. Hahaha!” entry for the list. Maliglutit is from Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk. It is a Inuit adaptation of the John Ford moving picture The Searchers. Kunuk’s take on the narrative strips away the racial aspect from the text and condenses the timeline of the journey to barely a handful of days.

In this stripped down version of the narrative Kunuk creates a story that is about man’s inhumanity to man in its rawest form. The movie is set and filmed within the arctic circle. You see how tight-knit the Inuit communities are. How necessary every member of the family is to daily life, survival, and human connection. So when a group of assholes come along to kill and kidnap you feel the shock and pain of the main characters in a way John Ford just can’t capture. When the movie reaches the climax, the camera pulls back as far as it can go, showing that these are the only people for miles. The desperation is palpable as the stakes are put to the highest they could ever be: If our heroes don’t recover their stolen loved ones, then they are doomed to isolation in the frozen north.

While the narrative is simple, the visuals are not. Kunuk has a dreamlike quality to his frame. He makes the expanses of snow and rock of his homeland feel truly endless. The movie is ingrained in Inuit tradition, myth, and culture. Fire has never looked so warm, so essential. Maliglutit is a movie that humbles me every time I watch it. It led me to consuming the breadth of Kunuk’s work and left me hungry for more. If there’s one movie you seek out from this list, seek out this.

Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin

Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997) Dir. Karl Geurs

Come out moon. Come out wishing star…”

I’m prone to hyperbolic statements when praising things I’m somewhat ironically passionate about. Wanted to get that stated before I said that the direct-to-video sequel to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is the most criminally underrated Disney film ever.

For starters it has the best song line-up in the Disney canon bar none. You can @ me on Twitter if you think there is better. Each musical number bursts with character and fun visuals. There’s fun songs, there’s sad songs, there’s triumphant songs. I’m not even talking just about the musical numbers, the background music also strives for distinction and quality not seen in other Disney releases from this time. Again, you can @ me if you feel these takes are too tough for you to swallow, snowflake.

Sub-textually the movie is about getting older and having to face the unfamiliar. The imagery in this movie is way more intense than you’d expect. A forest choked with thorns, a log bridge scene right out of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, deep pits into unforgiving spikes. The scene that will always stick with me is Eeyore on a lonely cliffside, calling out for Christopher Robin as the mist behind him forms demonic faces. Pooh’s Grand Adventure is out here body-checking every hack attempt to use children characters to tell R-rated stories by being actually scary and having a payoff for doing so. 

Because the true message of the movie, what I internalized as a child, but can only articulate now as an adult, is that facing adversity is a certainty. You’re going to confront situations and emotions you’re not prepared for, and there’s no shame in being afraid or distraught. What’s important is that you try, because in trying you’ll learn things about yourself you’d never know otherwise. Am I hyping up a movie for actual toddlers? Yes. Because I can cast my mind back to being a toddler and watching this and the emotions it made me feel and how processing those emotions helped me develop into who I am now.

And, I don’t know, I think that’s important to call out. So yeah, it deserves its spot on my list of favorite movies.

Bullet Ballet

Bullet Ballet (1998) Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto

In dreams you can kill people and never get caught.

This is the only movie that’s here almost by honorary mention, because since seeing Bullet Ballet I have not stopped thinking about it.

Bullet Ballet is a gross movie. It is one of the most deeply unsexy portrayals of the world I have seen. Everything is dark and grimy. Everyone is a greasy asshole. Bloodstains spread fast and never wash out. It’s a kinetic noir about a man’s quest for a gun and a reason to use it. 

When the violence does escalate, the film doesn’t revel in it. Being shot to death in an abandoned building isn’t sexy, its food for the rats. The movie is Japanese all the way through, but I can’t help but feel the commentary on American gun culture. What if Taxi Driver was more explicit about how you really shouldn’t be Travis Bickle? How joyless your existence is when you make your personality “I can kill anyone who crosses me.”

I feel like I dreamed this movie more than watched it. Sometimes when I close my eyes, scenes from this movie replay against my will. Do I think this is some eldritch darkness that taps into the shadows on the human heart? Not really, but the unintended obsession my brain has with it seemed to merit being on this list.

Local Legends

Local Legends (2013) Dir. Matt Farley

The first rule in that book is never have a narrator.”

I expect this movie will be on other people’s lists, as this website is two steps from becoming a Matt Farley Fan-site. So I’ll just say my piece.

Matt Farley’s introspection of his own world of micro-budgeted local artists got me to rethink what I want out of life. We live in a culture that encourages catering to the masses. Art’s not art if it’s not making cash and praise in excess. Matt puts the brakes on that thought process, shrinks the scope to his small new england town, and reminds us that the amount of truly famous art in the world is a puddle compared to the ocean of content enjoyed by a few. It’s a reminder that you can make your own life’s meaning, have your own standards for success, and be happier for it.

The realest scene in this movie is when a relative, hearing that Matt makes movies, gives him a book about how to make movies that Hollywood will like. As I write this I am adjacent to a shelf that has 10 books on screenwriting and novel writing gifted to me by my grandmother.


8½ (1963) Dir. Federico Fellini

“Because he doesn’t know how to love.”

I’ve always read Federico Fellini’s as a story about the failure of language. Its about a director who has this grand vision for his next movie. He’s going to say something true about truth and love and faith. The issue is he can’t conjure the words. It’s not quite writer’s block that impedes him, it’s more…he legitimately might not know anything true to say about truth and love and faith.

That much becomes evident when we see that his idea of a happy marriage is a polygamist arrangement where every woman he has ever been attracted to waits on him hand and foot (Deep-Voiced Stewardess never fails to get a laugh out of me). The movie is Fellini telling on himself and his newwave peers that maybe they’re simply sociopaths who got lucky in connecting to the public for their first few features. Maybe a lot of provocative and influential works of the past were, to use a common phrase, “The writer’s poorly disguised fetish.”

And while that all may seem like the film leads to a negative conclusion, motivates me in an odd way. It’s kinda of like A Christmas Carol in a way. It interrogates the past, present, and future of a flawed individual and comes to the conclusion that said individual needs to be better. The fact that the person interrogated is Fellini’s loosely disguised self-insert is what makes it inspiring. It presents the act of creation as its own form of therapy. If you’re of the mindset that flawed people should be barred from art, then you’re denying them an avenue to explore themselves and even potentially, in time, self-confess and apologize to those they’ve hurt before.

Kung-Fu Hustle

Kung-Fu Hustle (2004) Dir. Stephen Chow

Do you want to learn? I will teach you.”

Did you know this is Bill Murray’s favorite comedy? 

For a time, this was also a favorite of my dad’s. First time he showed it to me I was deeply confused that he was laughing because I was deeply wrapped up in the plight of Pig Sty Alley, the reluctant chosen-one Sing, and their wild battles against the Axe Gang. Yeah there are some very clear gags, but overall little Murph thought this was just as serious as, say, Titanic.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m going to say here that I won’t say for the movie at the end of this list. The blend of comedy and drama in both is just sublime because both know that a comedy never works if there isn’t a moment where the jokes just stop and the plot has weight.

I suppose what Kung-Fu Hustle has over that bottom film (if you’ve resisted the urge to scroll down and peak, good on you) is the soundtrack. The dancing strings that build to feverish pitch in the opening action scene lives rent free in my head, but so does the absolutely heartbreaking music that accompanies Sing and Fong’s reunion. I’ve always said that you could watch this movie with eyes closed and still know what’s going on just by the music. 

I think Bill Murray and my dad are right about this one.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017) Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

Even if you want to remain alone, you can’t help being connected to others.

Sometimes you love a movie because it speaks a truth you believe. Sometimes you love it because it tickles your fancy just right. And sometimes you love it because it makes you feel terribly exposed and you have to put respect on it.

For me, Night is Short, Walk on Girl does all three.

The movie is a dreamlike anthology of an endless summer night and all the incidents that can happen on such a night. An unnamed boy is in love with an unnamed girl and spends the night trying to connect with her. The truth it speaks is a concluding message of how human lives cascade and connect. We’re all background characters to someone else’s story, witnesses to their revelations, heartbreak, and lust for life. It’s a moral I try to internalize in my own life and I don’t think I’ve seen it done much better than here.

The fancy it tickles is the wonderful imagery brought to uncanny life by veteran animator Masaaki Yuasa. The movie is one of magical realism. Mild events are elevated to mythic levels to properly convey their intensity. The recurring cast each have such distinct designs, but their personalities subtly evolve as they’re repurposed for each segment of the plot. The movie is warm and nostalgic. An odd texture blend of an animated movie you saw once as a child, but never forgotten, mixed with your best episode of your favorite friday night cartoon. 

For the terribly exposed, that comes at the end, where our unnamed male lead has an internal dialogue with himself about whether he’s actually in love with the unnamed girl of the title…or if he’s just terribly lonely and afraid of growing old never knowing the seemingly universal experience of young love. It is a scene that was distressingly similar to my own internal conversations before I realized that I may fall on the Aro/Ace end of the sexuality compass. It’s not the only part of the movie that feels universal, but it’s definitely the part that felt like the writer was speaking directly to me, and when you find a movie that does that you want to hold onto it tight.

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (1987) Dir. Rob Reiner

As you wish.

The Princess Bride is my favorite movie of all time. I think I decided that in the summer of 2015. I’m not entirely sure I can explain why. It doesn’t speak to my soul. I don’t think it has a particularly powerful, deep, or important message. It doesn’t make me cry. I’m not even sure if it gives me goosebumps.

I think why I’ve picked The Princess Bride as my favorite movie is because I view it as the pinnacle of art I want to make. I would kill, more than once, to create characters so memorable, a script where near every line is quotable, and a tone that switches from theater of the absurd to committed drama at the drop of a hat. The movie is lightning in a bottle that I haven’t seen captured anywhere else. 

I guess since I have a whole “art is good” motif with most of my entries I can try tying that in. If you pull out of the story of Westley, Buttercup, Fezzik, Inigo, and Humperdink, The Princess Bride is about a grandfather sharing a story with his grandson and how that act of sharing gives them a common language to express feelings that may be too naked and raw to express naturally.

I like sharing stories with people, and I like when they share stories with me, and when you share a story just right it becomes immortal.

That’s all I really have to say.

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