Talon Top 5: Mr. Cook’s Favorite Movies

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Chase Willet: Hello, and welcome to Talon Top Five, where teachers take you through their top fives. This week, Mr. Cook ranks his top five movies of all time. 

DJ Cook: Alright, okay. My name is Mr. Cook, I teach here at Oak Park High School. The current classes I’m teaching are World History, Geopolitics in the World Today, and CP Economics, and I’ve been invited to be on the podcast, which I’m very excited to be about discussing movies. 

Willet: Take me through your list. 

Cook: Okay, excellent. Well first of all, one of the hardest lists to ever come up with, because I couldn’t do a top five for each genre that I like, much less top five favorite movies, so for me I had to come up with a criteria that would make the top five. There are some moves that I love – love, love, love – but they’re such difficult watches that it’s a one-time watcher, you know?

Willet: Yeah. 

Cook: So, I think there has to be some sort of rewatchability; every movie on my list, I’ve seen at least half a dozen times, each one of them, so that’d be part of it. Even though there are movies that are better than some of the ones on my list, for my best five, it’s got to be something I could take to a deserted island and watch a few times. So that was my criteria. 

Willet: Yeah. 

Cook: So I narrowed it down to six, so I’d like to mention one that’s an honorable mention that I use in my AP Psych class, and that’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

[Audio clip from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”]

Cook: Love that movie, love Charlie Kaufman as a writer, love Michel Gondry – he directed all kinds of great music videos back when MTV was still about music and that kind of stuff. I just love the surreal nature of that movie, I love what it says about relationships, I love how real it is. That movie just blows my socks off. So I love Charlie Kaufman, I love Michel Gondry; that’s my honorable mention. 

Cook: Coming in at number five is a movie that was directed by Sean Penn based on a John Krakauer book – let me make sure his name’s John before I quote that – uh, yeah, John Krakauer, and it’s “Into the Wild.”

[Audio clip from “Into the Wild”]

Cook: Now, the reason that comes in at number five for me is one of these days, I might pull what the main character did in that book and just disappear and live on my own, out in the wild. In fact, my dream is to go live on a sustainable farm all by myself with about twenty dogs. Just me and the dogs, taking care of the dogs, completely detached from society, that is like a pipe dream to me, and in “Into the Wild” the main character almost encapsulated all of that – almost captured all of that – but unfortunately, he died on that magic bus up there in Alaska. So that would be number five. 

Cook: Coming in at number four would be “Reservoir Dogs.” 

[Audio clip from “Reservoir Dogs”]

Cook: I remember when I saw “Reservoir Dogs,” it was Quentin Tarantino’s first film. That movie just changed the way I saw film. It also is written from an independent film style where you can’t have big sets, it can’t be big budget, it can’t be sci-fi; it has to be under your parameters, and the way he wrote that is genius, because it takes place in a warehouse, and it takes place in a restaurant, and then there’s a few street scenes in which Tarantino didn’t even have permits to shoot on some of those scenes. It also changed the way dialogue was written in movies, and oftentimes dialogue – when you’re going to film school – is supposed to be the last thing you worry about, the laziest thing, especially with voice-overs and stuff like that. It was one of the rare movies that – oftentimes musical cues in movies are lazy, except for Scorcese and Tarantino, and it reinvents the song forever. Whenever you hear the songs from “Reservoir Dogs,” you automatically think about the movie over the songs, and that’s a hard thing to accomplish in my opinion. 

Cook: Coming in at number three, a movie I definitely use in AP Psych, “Good Will Hunting.”

[Audio clip from “Good Will Hunting”]

Cook: “Good Will Hunting” I identify with in a lot of ways. The main character – Will Hunting – was basically neglected and abused as a child. I’ve got a lot of that in my family history; I basically kind of took care of myself from age thirteen on, and the people that were supposed to be the ones that were the most trustworthy were the least trustworthy, so I’ve got a thick wall that a lot of people have a hard time penetrating, but if I let you into my world, you only get one chance, and if you betray me one time, that’s it. You’re done. You’re done with me, and I really like what that movie says about trust, about friendship, about overcoming defense mechanisms and difficult times. 

Cook: Coming in at number two is a tie, because these two movies both had the same impact on me in different ways. I grew up in the 1980s in a very poor community where everybody – all the dads – were ex-Vietnam vets. They’d either done or seen a lot of bad stuff, and they were dealing with that. My football coaches were abusive PTSD guys, you know, doing things to children in physical ways that would definitely not fly these days, so the movie that encapsulates everything about Vietnam to me is “Platoon.”

[Audio clip from “Platoon”]

Cook: And I love stories about good and evil but it’s hidden. The opening of “Platoon,” you see the Willem Dafoe character, he’s carrying a BAR like Christ carrying the cross, and then the first time you see Tom Berenger, he’s got scars on his face and the background’s red like the devil, and the soul they’re competing for is that soldier – that Charlie Sheen soldier. And that good and evil fight, that tug-of-war, is what Vietnam, in a broader sense, was about. All of these boys being sent against their will to fight a bunch of people they had no quarrel with, and they’re forced to do so, and it’s two entities pulling you back and forth, with your life on the line. 

Cook: On the other side of that coin, both of my grandparents fought in World War II. My grandfather on my dad’s side – which, his papers are on the wall right there that proves it – was at Normandy. He was at Omaha Beach, second wave, saw a lot of bad stuff. And I remember I saw “Saving Private Ryan” – which is my tie – in the movie theater on the night it came out, and there were World War II vets sitting in the crowd with me, and I will never forget two old men behind me weeping uncontrollably during that film, because they were there. They saw that fight, and that movie did such a great encapsulation of what Normandy looked like, it reinvented the genre. Every movie from “Saving Private Ryan” on, including the video games that copied it, copied “Saving Private Ryan.” And “Saving Private Ryan” has some flaws, it has some lags in the middle, but what that movie did when it came out – it was a genre-defining film – it changed everything. So every Call of Duty game that anybody’s ever played has some “Saving Private Ryan” in it. Every single “Band of Brothers” TV show, every WWII movie that was shaky-film, realistic violence, is all based on “Saving Private Ryan.” 

Cook: And then my number one movie, because I have seen it twenty-five, maybe thirty times, is a comedy: it’s “Anchorman.” 

[Audio clip from “Anchorman”]

Cook: I will go to war for “Anchorman.” That movie cracks me up every time I see it, I could probably do every single line in the movie beginning to end, and it was one of the few movies I saw in the movie theater multiple times. I saw it three times in the movie theaters: one time with my friends, one time with my brother, and one time with another group of friends. I said, “you gotta come see this movie,” and I think “Anchorman” really changed comedy moving forward, because it came out in 2004 and that really opened the door for the Apatow universe, and if you think about all of the Judd Apatow movies and all of their offshoots, it all started with “Anchorman.” All of these HBO comedies that are hilarious, like “Eastbound & Down,” and “Righteous Gemstones,” all started with “Anchorman,” and what Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have been able to build from a small, “Saturday Night Live” start into the massive, billion-dollar entity that they’ve created today, is what puts “Anchorman” as my number one. 

Cook: Now, that was a tough list to come up with, because I had to cut out things like “The Godfather II,” “Twelve Monkeys” – which is literally about a pandemic across the world – all of these movies that were on my list, I had to put to the cutting floor because my ultimate parameter was that rewatchability. 

Willet: Thanks for listening. See you next time, from Talon Top Five.

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