I love what film can do. It can inspire us, stretch our minds, make us laugh, make us cry—in some ways, I think it can teach us more about real life than real life can. Sometimes it does this by bringing us deeply true stories—whether based on fact or fiction—that give us insight into some forgotten perspective, reminding us how hard life can be but also how strong we can be (Fruitvale Station, A Separation).
But most films struggle to properly portray real life, so the majority of my favorites are a bit more off the wall. I love science fiction and fantasy; although both genres have a lot of misfires, the ability to design an immersive new world with new rules allows the creativity and flexibility to address questions that other films can’t (The Lord of the Rings, 2001: A Space Odyssey, District 9, The Empire Strikes Back). My favorite television show, the sci-fi western Firefly, riffs philosophically on governments, sexuality, religion, and even metaphysics, all while following a gun-totin’ crew of smugglers from planet to planet as they try to make a buck and outwit the authorities—what more could you want?
Of course you don’t have to introduce elves or extraterrestrials to play with reality. While Annie Hall and I Heart Huckabees jump to mind, I simply must mention screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. His films Being John Malkovich (about a puppeteer), Adaptation (about a screenwriter), and Synecdoche, New York (about a theater director) play with the very idea of fiction and attempt to encapsulate just what it means to be a human on this planet, in all its tragicomic glory.
I also really like The Social Network, The Dark Knight, Once, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and, perhaps dearest to my heart, Spider-Man 2.