The 5 Movies that Sum Up My Love For Movies

love movies

“Summing Up” is a fun exercise I used to take part in during public speaking courses in high school. The premise is simple: you’re tasked with sharing five things about yourself to someone else so that they can properly sum you up.

We would do this with books, sports, TV shows, and of course, movies.

I’m sure you can all relate with how frightening it is to tell someone your favorite movie, even if you’re reasonably confident and have good self-esteem. For whatever reason, many of us can have this lingering doubt that the movie we pick is somehow embarrassing or, worse, wrong (whatever that means).

Choosing a “favorite movie” says a lot about who you are, whether you like it or not. You immediately put that movie on a pedestal above legions of others movies that are probably better, and this creates a slight conflict between you and the person who’s listening.

love movies
The Godfather: Part II

For this reason, I used to play “Summing Up” when I was still figuring out my movie tastes. Instead of telling people that my favorite movie of all time was this or that, I gave them a few movies that illustrated my love for movies.

And you know what? That’s way more fun than just boldly implying that “your” favorite movie is something special, even if you really think it is.

Nowadays, I just tell people what my favorite movie is because it hasn’t changed in a long time and probably never will. But looking back, I’m compelled to revisit this exercise more often, and as it turns out, my favorite movie is on this list anyway.

If you’re thinking of movies right now that fit this exercise, please share in the comments at the end of the post so we can get to know you in a non-creepy way. For now, here are the 5 movies that sum up my love for movies, starting with #5.

#5 Star Wars (A New Hope)

love movies

OK, let’s just get this one out of the way. While A New Hope isn’t necessarily the best “Star Wars” film, it’s certainly the most iconic, at least for me. No, Yoda isn’t in it, and Vader’s big twist isn’t until the next one, but I’m talking about story, not set pieces.

The story arc of A New Hope is my personal favorite version of the Hero’s Journey (or monomyth), made famous by Joseph Campbell. You have a central hero, impossible circumstances, a ragtag team of allies gathered along the way, and beautiful locations to watch them complete their journey.

You have a progression from zero to hero, a damsel in distress, and a main character who returns triumphant and transformed. A New Hope is my favorite movie that has this admittedly common storytelling, and it’s one of the first movies I ever watched that captured my imagination for heroes and adventures.

For that reason, most of the adventure movies I watch now end up getting compared to this one, rather than Empire Strikes Back or the Indiana Jones films.

#4 The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

love movies

Based on an adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas, this retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most satisfying story arcs I think I’ve ever watched on the big screen.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the basic set up, this movie is about a lovable adventurer named Edmond who is betrayed by his best friend for a crime he didn’t commit and is sentenced to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, his best friend steals his fiancé without batting an eye while Edmond plots his revenge in jail.

I won’t spoil the rest, but you can probably tell what’s coming. This movie is such a well-crafted revenge story that manages to be decently faithful to the source material. As someone who loves a great revenge movie starring Guy Pearce, this movie doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Every scene is pivotal, the relationships between the characters are unforgettable, and the actual message of the whole thing is timeless.

#3 You’ve Got Mail

love movies

Yes, I realize this movie is a bit of a ham, but I’ll never stop loving You’ve Got Mail. Even though the movie was considered underwhelming during its time, I’ve found it better and better the more I’ve watched it. I honestly can’t say that for a lot of movies that came out in the 90s, especially comedies.

Choosing this movie as the “romantic comedy” of the list was a hard decision because it had to win over Crazy, Stupid, Love. But really, the big difference between these movies is that You’ve Got Mail is more than just an archetype for what Crazy was trying to poke fun at.

Mail does much more with its subject material in that it contrasts relationships within the context of technology and even touchy subjects like capitalism, all set in the “center of the world,” New York City. The story works on a lot of levels, even if you’re not that entertained by the budding romance between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, so every time I rewatch this movie, I find more things to like about it.

While that doesn’t put this movie in the league of superior rom coms, of which I’d actually include Crazy, Stupid, Love, it’s still a movie that perfectly sums up what I look for in a movie about people falling in love.

#2 The Lion King

love movies

This may surprise a lot of you who were expecting to see Toy Story be my animation pick, but as some of you know, The Lion King is the first film I ever saw in theaters, so it had a much bigger impact on me. Though to be fair, both movies cover a compelling story about redemption, which is where I’m really going with this pick.

Granted, The Lion King is basically Disney doing Hamlet with lions, but if we can give Robin Hood a free pass, then why not this? Watching both stories, I certainly enjoy The Lion King the most because it does a much better job of getting me to invest in its characters, while Hamlet suffers from being bound to an older story that was made for a different audience.

So for that reason, The Lion King is an animated movie that I compare to almost every movie I watch that tells a story about someone finding redemption after a major tragedy and achieving their destiny.

This is actually why I enjoyed the recent Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Southpaw, which tells a similar tale with a boxer who realizes he isn’t as great as he thought it was. Even though the movie isn’t a classic, I gravitated toward Southpaw‘s story because it reminded me so much of other great redemption arcs like The Lion King and even Rocky III. 

True, I could include a host of other great animated flicks that would fit well here, like Finding NemoThe Prince of Egypt, and Aladdin. But I can’t help but hold Lion King to a much higher standard all these years later.

#1 The Mask of Zorro

love movies

This is my favorite movie of all time. Not because it’s objectively the best movie ever, but because in my eyes, it’s the perfect superhero movie.

Yes, this is my superhero pick, and it’s based on one of the first superheroes ever fictionalized (unless you count Greek mythology).

The Mask of Zorro has everything you could possibly want in a superhero film. It establishes its credibility with an original Zorro who has a compelling backstory. We watch the new Zorro train, fight, and fail under motivations that get you excited to see his transformation pull through. Even the romance plays an integral part in the story and doesn’t feel forced like some other superhero movies.

And the action scenes, even to this day, are some of the most fun moments I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Every set piece is a marvel, there’s tension when there should be tension, and there’s swashbuckling fun when there should be swashbuckling fun.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean does a good job of capturing this too, which is why I also hold that movie up to a pretty high standard for adventure films. But unlike Pirates, Zorro doesn’t rely on one interesting character to make its story intriguing. And at its heart, it’s still a superhero movie that fully delivers on everything you expect to see in one.

So there you have it! These are the five movies that sum up my love for movies. Adventure, revenge, romance, redemption, and superheroes. All of these movies are my first thoughts when said tropes are brought up, and they’ll probably stay that way for a long time.

What are your picks? Let everyone know in the COMMENTS.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni


A Day in Haiti

I woke up at 6am, sweating. I had done this every day by now, so the simple act of waking up consisted of only adjusting to the sound of the generator’s uproar and leaping from a bunk bed with no ladder.

I’m in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

One of the pictures I took during my 10 day trip in Haiti to set up eye clinics and document our work there

Ready to do my daily leap of faith from my bed, I peered out the window to see if the dogs I heard fighting last night had resolved things. Sadly, I knew that their differences would come back to light that night anyway.

No Internet meant checking my phone was a simple process of checking the time and making sure I didn’t need to add some charge before the power would go out. 60% meant I could forego charging my phone for charging my camera equipment.

The inconsistency of not knowing when I’d have power – or water – meant that my schedule was constantly in flux. I couldn’t charge anything during the night, at least for long, due to the inconsistency of the generator’s runtime.

Luckily, that particular morning gave me about an hour of charge time before we would venture out into the city for the day’s activities.

Living in a room with two elderly meant that I didn’t have time to shower in the morning, a habit I had grown accustomed to. Getting ready instead consisted of splashing water on my face and covering myself with insect repellant, a combination that made me sweat even more.

As always, breakfast consisted of oatmeal, black coffee, and any fruit that lay on the table. As I tried to multitask gathering my equipment and eating, I watched the doctors get a few sparse moments of rest before the taxing day would begin. I didn’t envy them.

The day was off to a great start. My GoPro had two fully charged batteries, a rarity. My Canon only had one fully charged battery, but the spare was gathering as much as it could in the corner of the room. As I slurped down my oatmeal and did a final check on my equipment, the truck came in through the gate.

Our guesthouse was in a convenient part of the city. We were only 5 minutes away from our main eye clinic, of which we had spent a full day stocking with equipment the day before. I had both cameras along with a harness, headgear, flashlight, snack, water bottle and handkerchief stashed into my bag and slung around my neck.

I was ready.

In Haiti, most people don’t have their own vehicle. If they do, it’s a motorcycle (they just say moto) or dirt bike. Public transportation solely consists of vans and pickup trucks with a makeshift roof.

After piling about 20 boxes of eyeglasses into the back of the truck, the rest of our team piled in with our escort hanging off the back and another sitting on top of the car.

I had a feeling that eventually, I would be hanging off the back sometime this week. I would do anything to capture the best video possible on the GoPro.

There wasn’t a single moment I was used to my surroundings in Haiti. The heaps of garbage, ditches full of waste, and irreverent faces of the destitute we passed all caught my attention fully, every single time.

The founder of the organization, HIS Vision, always seemed to notice this from me. Melinda would frequently tap my shoulder on truck rides and ask me how I was taking everything in. I always suspected that she knew exactly what was bothering me.

After a short trip, we pulled up to the clinic and saw an interesting site. The day before, the area was deserted. Today, there were over hundreds people waiting in the courtyard. Vendors were even selling food by the gate.

I began to record video for the first time that day as we pulled up. The shot panned the front line of people staring at the camera sitting precariously on my head. I have to wonder if they thought the camera was going to fall any second.

I had learned pretty quickly that Haitians don’t like cameras. I would learn this lesson even better in just a few short days.

But at the time, I was anxious and bold – ready to capture everything I could.

The team began setting up their stations at 8am, preparing the equipment for what would be a full day of eye exams and prescriptions. Because my station had not yet been determined, my sole function was just to take photos and record video.

The problem? Conserving battery was a losing battle against time. I took key shots of the crowds and “before” shots from the roof. To save battery, I knew my time was better spent doing physical labor inside the clinic, sneaking pictures along the way.

What I thought would be physical labor ended up being more akin to simply organizing boxes and making everything as clean as possible. To our benefit, the lack of electricity meant that our only light came from the barred windows, so there wasn’t a lot of light that would illuminate things like dirt and dust.

I learned that this was important because the Haitian people value appearance highly, and our goal was to position our clinic as clean, good-looking, and accessible.

The day started slowly, and I began to grow more anxious. I periodically snuck away from the clinic to explore more of the area – something that was not advised for very smart.

With my camera still placed on my head and recording, I began to explore the village we were in. Everyone stared at me with exact same expression that asked – “Why is this ‘blanc’ recording me?”

I wanted more action shots, so I began to run down the road at a brisk pace. After about 20 seconds, I noticed that some Haitians were also running behind me. Instead of thinking they were chasing me, I just assumed that we were racing. We ran for about 5 minutes before I stopped and ventured back. We didn’t say a word to each other.

100 numbers were handed out to 100 Haitians that day. Our goal was to see to all of them before dark, but there was a slight problem: we saw 19 by noon.

Not even halfway done, we struggled to move patients through the clinic quickly. I added to the confusion by tape recording brief and sudden interviews with the volunteers during their most stressed moments. I knew I would get the best insights this way at the sacrifice of their positive opinion of me.

Cornered in their small examination rooms with no air conditioning or windows, the two eye doctors were sweaty, exhausted and flustered. But they knew they had to keep their cool if they were to complete their work on time. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with the patience of a human being.

For lunch, we huddled in a small office and ate PB&J sandwiches away from the public. Melinda stressed that it’s important we eat in private, as many of the people in the area would have no idea where their next meal would come from.

But I didn’t think much about them while I ate. I instead thought about the poor lighting in the clinic that was making it hard for me to snap pictures. I was thinking about the dwindling battery life in my GoPro and how exhausted my feet were from moving about so much.

The only times I didn’t think about this silly inconveniences would be when I started working at the reading glasses station. I knew I needed something to help the time pass more quickly, or I would go insane.

So I learned how to read prescriptions and give out the glasses people needed. Only one person was handling this station, Erin, and she had a lot of people waiting to receive their pair of glasses.

I thought matching the prescriptions would be pretty easy. The doctor would write down a number, and my job was to match the number with the one on the bags of glasses. The numbers were categorized according to each box of about 50-100 glasses.

It wasn’t long before I realized that this would be anything but easy, especially because most of the numbers the doctors prescribed didn’t match anything we had. Additionally, we had to test the vision of the patients once they had their glasses to make sure the prescription was correct.

It’s a good thing I work well with people. I don’t think I’ve ever had to be so persuasive in my life. Helping the Haitians pick glasses that they actually like cosmetically was a unique challenge, especially due to the fact that I don’t speak French or Creole.

I had to rely on the occasional availability of an interpreter and a short list of phrases that I happened to know. I was desperate enough to try to speak Spanish many times, which actually worked occasionally.

Once I started streamlining this station, I noticed that the patients were being moved along faster. Everyone was settling into a rhythm, myself included, but it also started getting dark.

The sun set unfairly quickly.

We had to resort to using flashlights to find prescriptions and finish up the last of the patients. I found that by attaching my flashlight to my headgear, I could navigate the clinic and provide ample light for the team.

I was growing anxious at the fact that it was pitch black with the exception of a few flashlights, and we had to clean the place up once we were done.

But no one missed a beat. As soon as the doctors finished the last round of patients, they didn’t rest. Everyone was dedicated to gathering everything up and getting it into the truck.

We would be going to a different clinic, a mobile one, the next day, so we had no choice to bring almost everything with us.

We finally managed to get everything loaded into the truck, but we wouldn’t fit in the truck now that we had more people with us – the eye doctors we were training – so I would have to ride on the back of a moto.

I thanked my lucky stars that I saved some battery (and memory) in my camera for the ride, and I was on the back of the motorcycle within a minute of being told I would.

The rush of being on the back of a motorcycle on the busy Haitian streets wouldn’t be matched until the next day. Each bump that gave us air reminded me of a loved one I had forgotten to say goodbye to before I left America.

Just a few minutes in, we stopped in the middle of the road by a large group of Haitians socializing on their motos. It’s hard to describe the scene. Many of them were offering rides and taxi to the ones without vehicles. Some were fighting about food and money, while many were just passing by. We had stopped because we ran out of gas.

And I had run out of battery.

I knew that this was a prime opportunity, however, for me to capture some honest footage of the people, and there was still some light left for me to do it.

I used this opportunity to switch out the battery. I knew my spare still had some life in it, but I also had to switch the memory card because it was full.

The anxiety was palpable. I was surrounded by people who didn’t like the fact I had a camera on my head, and my only protection was one of the female volunteers with me, Stephanie, and our Haitian driver, Jimmy.

Somehow, I still managed to fidget with the camera enough to switch everything out in time for our last few minutes of driving.

The scenery, and my up-close angle of it, was breathtaking.

All I could think about as we ate dinner that night was how many more memories I was about to make. I prepared my equipment for the next day, charged everything I could, and then found out that we had no water for showers.

But I didn’t care much. I was more focused on getting to sleep as soon as possible. I climbed the bunk bed without a ladder by the only window in the room. I turned on my flashlight and read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for about an hour before I finally stopped sweating and was ready to fall asleep to the sounds of the generator right outside and the vocal Haitian nightlife.

I was sweaty, aching, and perpetually terrified about what would happen next. But I’ve never felt more alive.

Day 3 of my adventure in Haiti was complete.

More of my work around the web:

Yes, It’s Possible to Be Both Introverted and Extroverted

Should Everyone Get a “Trophy”?

10 Tips to Write Better, Faster and With Insight

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