Best guy movies? I’m not one but I’m the mom of one and I want to give him a proper education

Okay, us gals have done our swooning and debating over Edward versus Jacob. What about the guys?

As a debatedly conscientious mother of a growing male, I am committed to providing opportunities for him to enrich his mind and spirit. I try to expose him to great literature, music, theater, art, and—even, Dudes—musicals and ballet.
And, as someone who loves movies and grew up watching way too many on TV, I especially want to give him a solid introduction to the best of cinema. In particular, as he continues to grow and when he’s ready, I want to give him the opportunity to see those films that are particularly essential to the shared cultural identity of the American male.

Google “Best Guy Movies,” and you’ll get various lists. One implication of these lists is that to be a 21st century man of sophistication, you should at least be familiar with some of these films—even if you don’t necessarily like them.

For better and for worse, these films are part of our collective history and culture. (And, my womyn friends? Feminist film theory and concerns about the patriarchy aside, that includes us.)

These films reflect back to us our ideas about masculinity, as well as our shared mythology of what it means to live, work, struggle, and die in this nation of ours. (No, I’m not gonna go Sarah Palin treacly on you.) I’m sure a lot of readers have their own list of favorite guy movies. Here are mine.

Sure, I’m a girl, but I should add that you don’t need to be a guy to love or at least appreciate some of these movies. Some of them happen to be among my own favorites, so I take great pleasure in introducing them to my son.

My list is in no way complete. I’m sure some have slipped my mind, and I don’t list certain obvious ones—notably the James Bond, Star Wars, Spiderman, Batman, and X-Men franchises. Or any of the John Apatow ouvre. Also, you won’t see many Westerns, notably those of–genuflect–John Ford. Sorry, I just never got into Westerns… And, my list probably skews more towards classics, so I’d love to get some more current flicks.

Anyway, here we go, and feel free to chime in with picks of your own:

The Top Two

That is, based on the obsession of male friends for multiple viewings and attempts at quoting, word for word, extended scenes from the movies.

The Three Stooges: When I was growing up, my brother, like all males, loved them; I hated them. Then, I watched them with my son. When Larry, Curly and Moe are at their best, they are amazingly funny in a slapstick, crazed way.

The Marx Brothers: Try their early 1930s “pre-code” films, notably Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933), when they were at the height of their genius for unsentimental comic anarchy.

Mel Brooks: The Producers (the original 1968 film with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, a breezy comic gem, not the bloated musical version), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Young Frankenstein (1974–Frau Blucher!)

Woody Allen in his pre-serious mode (even though I love his mostly serious mode, too), and mostly with his great muse, Diane Keaton: Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Play it Again, Sam (1972), Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975).

My son’s favorites of late? Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer), Simon Pegg (Saun of the Dead, 2004), Jack Black (The School of Rock, 2003), Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder, 2008).

Essence of Cool
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942): Every real man needs to know how to wear a white dinner jacket in a night club, or a trench coat on a foggy night at the airport. He also needs to know how to cry into his whiskey over memories of lost love and Paris, be a good friend, and choose to do the right–if painful–thing in the end.
Rites of Passage

The Graduate (1967): Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson

Risky Business (1983): Tom Cruise when he was still dewy, fresh-faced, charming, and, we imagine, Scientology-free.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): In some ways, this Amy Heckerling-directed film more involves a rite of passage for the virginal Jennifer Jason Leigh character, who really wants to know what sex is about and lose her virginity, but you do have Sean Penn as Spicoli!)

The Breakfast Club (1985): The ’80s “Brat Pack” in full force!

Say Anything (1989): John Cusack as a noble underachiever goes after the class valedictorian.

Boys N the Hood (1991).

Rage Against the Machine

Spartacus (1960): Kirk Douglas takes on the corrupt Roman Empire in this Stanley Kubrick epic, which also features a homoerotic bath scene with Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier.

Gladiator (2000): Russell Crowe takes on the corrupt Roman Empire

On the Watefront (1954): Marlon Brando takes on corrupt unions attempting to control New Jersey docks.

Cool Hand Luke (1967): Paul Newman takes on a corrupt Southern prison

Serpico (1973): Al Pacino takes on a corrupt New York city police department.

Taxi Driver (1976): Robert DeNiro takes on the corruption in his own mind
To Boldly Go:

War is Hell

From Here to Eternity (1953): Burt Lancaster rolling in the Oahu waves with Deborah Kerr; Montgomery Cliff, jittery and sensitive; Frank Sinatra in the role that inspired the character of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather!

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957): One of my top-ten favorites. Best Picture winner that has gorgeous Southeast Asian jungle locations that made me want to see the world; Great debates about honor, duty, and self-preservation, and one of the most thrilling film endings.

Paths of Glory (1957): Stanley Kubrick’s view of the corruption of power among generals blithely deciding the fate of front-line soldiers fighting a hopeless battle in the trenches of World War I. Hmm, sound familiar?

The Great Escape (1963): Steve McQueen tearing through Alpine countryside, escaping the Nazis. So cool.



Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941) and as Harry Lyme in The Third Man (1949).

Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960): Says Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Dana Andrews, as the obsessed homicide cop in Laura (1944) and as the lost-soul former World War II flying ace trying to return to civilian life in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
James Stewart
in Vertigo (1958)
Clint Eastwood
(jazz radio host facing a stalking fan) in Play Misty for Me (1971).

Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris (1972): Of course, for mature audiences only! And bring me the butter!

Peter Finch in Network (1976): “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Special mention: Humphrey Bogart as the scheming, gold-digging loser Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948); as a down-on-his luck screenwriter with an anger management problem in the romantic, melancholy In a Lonely Place (1950); and as a nutty, controlling, OCD World War II navy Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954).

Cops and Robbers

Manhattan Melodrama: The 1934 film that solidified Clark Gable’s stature as “king of Hollywood,” and that drew John Dillinger out of his hidey hole so that he could get shot up by federal agents.

Bullitt (1968)

Boys Do Cry
Gary Cooper as the terminally ill Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees (1942).

James Caan and Billy Dee Williams as real-life Chicago Bears football pals, one diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, in Brian’s Song (1971).

Last Man Standing

12 thoughts on “Best guy movies? I’m not one but I’m the mom of one and I want to give him a proper education

  1. Wow…I'm scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling. You've compiled an awesome list.

    My husband is introducing our almost 3-year old to all the Disney DVDs. At first I was skeptical of television habits, but she should know who Snow White and Cinderella are before we head down to Disneyland. 🙂

    It only took about 6 months to fully educate her about Lady and The Tramp, Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmations…oh…I'm going to get it on this one. Beverly Hills Chihauhau. Yes, my 3-year old can name her choice in DVDs.

    Its a love/hate with television in our house. All in all, I'm happy she delights in these movies.

    My husband will enjoy your post today. Speaking of movies, we're out the door to Chabot Space and Science Theatre to watch Dinosaurs.


  2. What a great list! I'll have to look at it in more length later.

    A couple remarks in the meantime: I LOVE “The Big Lebowski” and its droll humor and excellent casting. I can't tell you how many times I've watched it — and I'm a woman. (Like many movies, it's best seen on cable or as a rental so that you don't have to suffer through the networks' blipping out of common expletives. Did I say “rental”? Actually, I finally broke down and bought the darn thing!)

    As for Woody Allen: his portrayal of women is so godawful, I cringe at the thought of young men being brought up on his films. Allen portrays them as either empty-headed bimbos or cold, emasculating braniacs. (I suppose one could argue that his portrayals of men aren't much better — as being insecure or vain. But the men tend to get the best lines and last word in his films, possibly because they're his alter egos and most of them even use the same word choices and deliveries as Allen's comic persona. Oh, don't get me started.)

    One last thought for now: that Charlton Heston photo from way back when. Yowza, he looked pretty damn good back in the Apes days. Kind of a disturing realization. I must now go find a good-looking image of a non-NRA Republican male to look at and restore my sanity.

    Thanks for the cool list! Must've taken quite a while to compile.

    p.s. Another really interesting movie, for its casting and plot quirkiness, is an early Stephen Frears movie, “The Hit.” Again, an excellent small cast, mainly Terrance Stamp, John Hurt and — in what may have been his film debut – Tim Roth. (Also a great supporting role by Laura del Sol, known for her roles in Carlos Saura's flamenco films.) This film never seems to show up on cable, so I finally bought that one, as well.


  3. Dear 7:41 a.m.
    You'll have to see Last Tango…

    And, then you'll get the butter reference. I'm sure you can imagine. I think, around the time the movie came out, the butter reference was something of a pop culture joke. Hey, I was pretty young when it came out, and I vaguely remember something about it. I also remember how terribly shocking and brutally “naked” in more ways than one this film was.

    That was back when really cool, adult movies were getting X-ratings. Like Midnight Cowboy.

    I saw Last Tango as a young adult and thought it was terribly, tragically romantic. Then I saw it more recently, and found the side story of the filmmaker (played by that guy, I think, who was in all the Truffaut films, to be rather annoying).

    (No, my son doesn't read my blog. It's not terribly interesting to him.


  4. 2:58 p.m.

    As for Charlton Heston, yes, he was kind of beautiful, especially in his Ben Hur days.

    Woody Allen and women: I do know what you mean. But what might be a little scary, for me, and for other women, is that some of his female characters, to me, are very recognizable. I'm talking of more of his films in in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

    I recognize parts of myself in them. Or, of women I know. He was heavily criticized for his portrayal of Mia Farrow in Husbands and Wifes, as a dowdy, whiny, passive-aggressive bitch. It was made when his relationship with her was falling apart, and so the film was seen through that context. I LOVED that film. And I thought there was something true about the Mia character. And I liked how Judy Davis, a cold, controlling, neurotic housewife, is letting her mind wander when hunky Liam Neeson is performing certain delights on her while in an intimate moment. Let's just say, I've been there. And maybe some other women have, too? Sorry, boys.

    (Again, my son doesn't have much interest in reading this blog.)


  5. Some others that once as a young man made an impression on me, Patton, Dr. Zhivago, the Dino de Laurentis version of Romeo and Juliet.


  6. 9:34 a.m. Sorry, it was just a throw-away line, a reference to a famous moment in the movie.

    LeftCoast: I have never seen Patton, but know it's supposed to be great. And the Dino de Laurentis version of Romeo and Juliet: my sister, a high school teacher in San Ramon, showed it to her students, and they really liked it. Much more than the newer, rock n roll version with Leonardo di Caprio and Clare Danes.


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