Hercules (1997)

We melted the tape.

This Disney animated film arrived three months before my first nephew came bouncing into the world, and when he was a wee one, this was on a constant loop in the VCR.

It competed with Babe and the animated version of The Mummy, with a little Bear in the Big Blue House thrown in just cause.

Ultimately, though, this was always his first choice.

And, while it might not fully stack up against legends like Bambi or The Jungle Book, it’s a pretty funny romp featuring James Woods in fine form as the devious Hades.

 

The Virgin Suicides

A horror film in slow motion.

There are no boogeymen with sharp knives, no jump scares, but this film, Sofia Coppola’s debut as a director, scars in ways Freddy and Jason never could.

It’s the tale of five sisters who slip away one after another, their self-inflicted deaths leaving behind a mystery which will haunt the young boys from their ’70s neighborhood the rest of their life.

Was it isolation, a deep internal sadness, possible mental illness – there are no concrete answers, just the raw ache of lives ruined, on both sides of the grave.

A cinematic gut-punch that endures.

The Onion Field

A powerhouse story of wrecked lives.

Based on a true-crime novel, the film burrows deep to follow the aftermath of a cop killing, tracking the men responsible, and another officer haunted by his own survival.

John Savage, a truly-great (and largely unknown) actor, had an incredible three-film run from 1978-1979, with this pic slotting in between The Deer Hunter and Hair.

Here he plays LAPD detective Karl Hettinger, who escaped death by a quirk of fate, but must now deal, day after agonizing day, with his inability to save his partner, played by future Cheers bartender Ted Danson.

Raw and uncompromising.

Once Upon a Time in America

Memories will murder you.

Haunted by the past, and by the evil men do, Robert De Niro slips into an opium-induced haze at the end of Sergio Leone’s epic-sized ode to gangster life.

Never, ever waste your time with the horribly-mangled 139-minute cut stupid producers originally threw into theaters.

Instead, always seek out the 229 or 250-minute versions.

They capture every last moment of eternal regret, as we watch bright-eyed schoolboys become hardened killers, then go steadily downhill from there.

Backed by Ennio Morricone’s sweeping musical score, De Niro, James Woods, and Co. lead us down dark alleyways of the soul.