Ryan Hall shares his all-time top five movies
October 5, 2018
An AP and regular Physics teacher at PHS for many years, Ryan Hall is known for, amongst other things, his “Movies of the Day.” It’s his own personal list of movie recommendations for students that he never fails to share at the beginning of every class. Every day, students that walk into his physics classroom are presented with a new movie from the list, along with a small anecdote about why the movie was specifically chosen for that day. Hall is also the head coach of PHS’ Scholastic Bowl team, coaching team members with his vast knowledge of geography, history, and popular culture, amongst many other things. I recently sat down with him to talk about his five favorite films, Tom Cruise’s stunts, Monty Python, and the changing landscape of comedy over time.
The Great Escape (1963)
Honestly, my love for movies, in some ways, comes from my mom. She was always recommending things to me. And as a kid, before I could even drive, I would ride my bike to the public library and rent a VHS tape and stick it in this little bag on my bike, and bring it back home and watch it.
I probably watched a ridiculous percentage of the movies that they have there. I’m not generally one of these people that keeps a list of like my top 100 movies, so even making a ranking of the top five is difficult for me. But I would have to say, my favorite movie of all time is a movie called “The Great Escape”, which is a World War II movie. I tend to like World War II movies in general, so I’m going to go ahead and lump together “The Dirty Dozen” and the “Bridge On The River Kwai” as well.
The three of those movies are probably three of my favorite movies, but I’m going to count them as a one for purposes of this discussion. I’ve been fascinated by the history of World War II and history in general. I really love history, and if I couldn’t teach physics, if I had to do something else, it would probably be history or some form of social studies.
The World War II period has always fascinated me because my grandfather was in the Navy during World War II, so the whole fight against the Nazis is sort of the ultimate good versus evil in modern history, which obviously sets things up perfectly to make good movies. I think that “The Great Escape” is my favorite because it kind of has a little bit of everything.
It’s about POWs in a Nazi camp in Germany, and they’re obviously trying to escape. What I love about it is that it’s a war movie, but it’s also very funny and has very comedic moments. It’s also very poignant, and it has great people in it.
And probably best of all, it’s a true story. I don’t know how accurate the history of it is, but that’s one of the reasons I love it. Plus, Steve McQueen does all his own stunts on the motorcycle and everything. Not a lot of people do that anymore, and I’ve just loved it since I saw it as a kid.
“The Dirty Dozen” is very similar, but it’s not a true story. It involves taking American prisoners that were in jail in prison for crimes they committed while in the military and using them to go behind enemy lines in France, and, in advance of D-Day, try to whip some discipline into them in hopes that they get their sentences commuted.
And again, great action movie, but it’s very 60s. It’s very anti-establishment, with the major in charge of training them being sort of a renegade who doesn’t get along with his army superiors, so there’s this very rebellious 60s feel to it.
“Bridge On The River Kwai” is about these British officers that are forced to build this bridge in Burma, I believe by the Japanese. They want to do it with British honor and pride. And of course, that butts up against Japanese pride, and it just makes for a great, great film. So I’ve always loved all three of those.
SP: With “The Great Escape”, you mentioned Steve McQueen doing all his own stunts. I definitely think Tom Cruise has become that actor now. We had Jackie Chan for many years, and he still does most of his stunts, but I think he’s got stunt actors now that he’s gotten older, so Tom Cruise has kind of become that person now.
RH: I’ve never been a huge Tom Cruise fan. There are movies of his I like, but it’s not necessarily because of him. Like “Rain Man” is a great movie, but I think Dustin Hoffman steals the show there. I’ve seen several “Mission: Impossible” movies and I heard that in filming one of those recently, he jumped across a roof, broke his ankle on the roof and just kept going, and that was that was the shot they used in the movie. So I gotta give him credit for that, that’s for sure.
SP: Yeah, I always think that whenever actors take like the stunts into their own hands like that, it just makes movies that much more immersive.
RH: Absolutely. You couldn’t say that for “Indiana Jones”, for example. Definitely.
Rear Window (1954)
If pressed, Alfred Hitchcock’s probably my favorite director, and if I had to pick a favorite movie of his, it would probably be “Rear Window.”
I love Jimmy Stewart. Anything he does with Hitchcock is gold in my opinion, and I just love the fact that Hitchcock can take just a few characters and put them in one room for two hours and absolutely have you on the edge of your seat. Also, even though it’s a very voyeuristic movie of him staring out his window and observing his neighbors, kind of in a creepy way, it doesn’t seem weird when you’re actually watching it.
You’re watching with him, right? You’re seeing everything he’s seeing and trying to figure out whether or not this guy he’s observing has killed his wife, or whether he’s just going crazy sitting in an apartment by himself, not able to get out of his wheelchair. It’s the master of suspense at its finest.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out when I was probably two or something like that. I kind of don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen that movie. My parents actually saw it on a date night and the movie they were going to see was sold out and they were like “Oh let’s just go see this ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ movie that we’ve never heard of,” and they were blown away and they loved it from from the get-go.
When I first saw it when I was six, I absolutely loved it. I can remember running around my parents’ bedroom with a sash from a bathrobe I had, and that was my whip. I made a little idol and had my little props that I would make and pretend to be Indiana Jones as a kid. It’s the perfect adventure movie. He’s bold, he’s sarcastic, he’s a romantic. It’s just a perfect action adventure movie.
SP: The Indiana Jones movies have a lot of humor in addition to the action. The blending of humor with other genres seems like a running theme throughout like your choices. You’ve mostly chosen movies that have good humor as well as suspense or action. Is that something you think is conscious, or do you just naturally gravitate towards humor?
RH: I’ve never thought about that. That’s a really good point. I mean, obviously, movies that are comedies, nobody is going to struggle to realize that, “Oh, “Holy Grail” has comedy in it.” Yeah, it’s nothing but comedy. It’s ridiculous comedy. But yeah, I do love movies that have humor interspersed, because that’s kind of how I live my life, right?
I feel like I look for humor in things, whether it’s a bad situation, or whether it’s just the humdrum of daily life. So yeah, I guess I can relate to that. I’ve never really thought about that.
The perfect example is this romantic moment on the boat in “Raiders” when he [Indiana Jones] and Marian found each other after he thought she was dead, and he’s been injured in fight, so he’s checking himself out in the mirror and she’s doing her hair on the other side. She flips the mirror and it catches him under the chin and he lets out this blood-curdling scream. It’s just this great blend of comedy with romance and adventure.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Speaking of great action adventure movies, “The Princess Bride” is another great one that’s got something for everybody; adventure, comedy, sword fights, and romance, the whole nine yards as well as great character actors.
It’s got Andre the Giant for crying out loud. Again, I saw that one from a young age. I just love the the framework of it being a grandfather reading a story to his sick grandson, kind of framing the story and interjecting his little comments about things like who’s kissing who.
Every kid can relate to that.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
I obviously didn’t fully understand it when I was in sixth grade, but that was the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that, and that that’s really shaped a lot of my humor going forward is humor. Monty Python really connected with me, and as I started to explore and see other things, like “Life of Brian” or “Flying Circus” episodes, their humor just really clicked with me. It helps that it’s also one of the most quotable movies of all time.
SP: Monty Python is pretty much the original comedy troupe. Do you see their influence with any other comedy groups today, like SNL-type groups or anything like that?
RH: Well, with Monty Python being British, I feel like a lot of Americans still can’t really handle British humor. So I don’t see a ton of that in American humor, to be honest. It might be for lack of looking, but to find something that’s sort of as farcical and out there as Monty Python is rare.
SP: Yeah, Monty Python definitely has their own brand of humor. The first time you watch one of their movies, you probably won’t get it completely, but you get more and more of their jokes with every rewatch.
RH: I just recently watched “Fawlty Towers” for the first time, and it’s only 12 episodes, but it’s John Cleese as a hotel manager. It might as well be a Monty Python sketch, but it’s only him. None of the other five members are involved, but it’s the same level of humor. Their humor just really clicks with me.
SP: I’ve noticed that if you show people comedy from a different country, like maybe New Zealand or Britain, not everybody’s going to get it or appreciate the humor. Have you found that often as well?
RH: I’ve definitely tried to show “Holy Grail” to people before class and they just don’t get it. And I and I think to myself, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. And that’s not only just with British comedy, I think comedy is a very personal thing.
What’s funny to me is not necessarily funny to you. So I guess that’s a good reminder not to expect everybody to think it’s funny just because you do. Like some movie like “Fletch” with Chevy Chase, which I love because it’s just stupid one-liners for an hour and a half, if I showed that to a class of students here, maybe one or two kids would get it and enjoy it and the other kids would be like “This is stupid.” It’s very different than comedy now with movies like “The Hangover”, which I guess is probably old now but you know, comedy changes over time and it goes with culture.
SP: I definitely see that with a lot of movies on this list because not a lot of them are modern movies. They’re very different because they kind of expect more out of an audience than a movie now right? They require audiences to put in a bit more work to enjoy it and some people aren’t willing to do that but obviously you very much are, seeing as these are all your favorite movies.
RH: Yeah. I feel like for me, I’m less likely to pick a new movie because to me, the movies I’m going to pick for a list like this are ones that I’ve had a long standing relationship with. So in some ways, my favorite movies aren’t the same list as the best movies. I would have a harder time choosing the best movies because they’re not necessarily the same thing.