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Check out John Gallagher, Jr.'s ten favorite movies

Written by
David Ehrlich

The frighteningly talented john Gallagher, Jr. is best known for his work on stage—he won a Tony for originating the role of Moritz in Spring Awakening—but he's starting to pop up in all sorts of places, and we're not complaining. Between absolutely killing it on HBO's heart-shattering miniseries Olive Kitteridge and redirecting his Broadway chops towards a side-career in rock and roll (try to catch one of his semi-regular sets at Rockwood Music Hall), Gallagher has also emerged as one of the indie film world's most exciting young actors. His pivotal turns in dramas like Margaret and Short Term 12 displayed a rare sensitivity, and his lead performance in last year's The Heart Machine showed how skilled he can be at subverting his charms.

And it's no surprise that Gallagher is diverting more of his energy towards the big screen, because this guy really loves movies. 73 actors submitted ballots to our list of the 100 best movies of all time, but none of them were more passionate about sharing their picks. We were so thrilled to see how much thought and love Gallagher put in to his ballot, and we couldn't be more excited to share his top 10 listand the amazing commentary he sent along with it.

1. The Paper I was first drawn to the movie theater to see this 1994 Ron Howard deep cut by the massive crush I had on Marisa Tomei, who is featured wonderfully in a top notch ensemble that includes Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards and Spalding Gray. Once in my seat with the lights dimmed and the projector on I was swept away by the characters, the great script, the humor and the high stakes that play out over the course of 24 hours behind the scenes of a little New York newspaper that could. I ended up going back to see it three more times. This script was David Koepp’s follow up to Jurassic Park. He wrote it with his brother but couldn’t get it made until after JP’s success. For my money, it houses Michael Keaton’s great unsung performance.

2. Withnail and I Every line of dialogue is instantly quotable gold. The first time I saw it I wanted to write down each word that each character spoke but was far too mesmerized to follow through. As hilarious as it is heartbreaking. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann’s portrayals of perpetually drunk anxious drug addled out of work actors and best friends in states of arrested existential development are pitch perfect. I heard Bruce Robinson originally imagined this film as a novel which makes sense given its sweeping literary tone. It plays out like a grand old classic. 

3. You Can Count On Me Simple and stirring, Kenneth Lonergan’s first feature film proves his elegance and tastefulness not just as a playwright but a filmmaker as well. I feel like Mark Ruffalo’s performance in this film will one day be pointed to as the grand arrival of one of his generations greatest actors. The final scene between him and Laura Linney at the bus stop makes me cry every time. 

4. West Side Story My mom showed me this movie when I was a kid. During the opening street fight sequence between the Jets and the Sharks I was making fun of the dancing gang members but by the rumble under the highway and the havoc it wreaks on every character I felt devastated and changed. Also I really wanted to be Russ Tamblyn. There are days when it is hard to think of music more beautiful than what Bernstein and Sondheim wrote for this and in an age where reworking a classic tale is now commonplace it’s easy to forget just how daring an updated musical version of Romeo and Juliet was at the time. Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking choreography stuns on screen and the Quintet number never fails to give me chills when it reaches its crescendo. 

5. Jaws I still can’t believe that Steven Spielberg came along and changed the whole game with this movie before he was even 30 years old. Now, 40 years later it is just as compelling, thrilling and terrifying as ever. If this were a new film that was released tomorrow I am certain I would be blown away all the same. From the sparse and eerily tangible practical special effects (which become accidentally iconic due to the malfunctioning mechanical shark that had to be featured less and less as filming went on, thus giving it its power) to John Williams’ unforgettable theme music, this to me is a perfect film. Robert Shaw as Quint is one of my favorite performances of all time. Choosing a favorite Spielberg film to put on this list was tricky. He has made so many amazing movies but this one is special in the sense that you can see so many of his themes and strong suits materializing at an early stage. It was also one of the defining films of its era and is often pointed to as the first real blockbuster.

6. Goodfellas Everybody has at least one movie that trumps all other activities and responsibilities should they turn on the TV and find it on at any point in the day and any scene in the film. I have several. This is one of those for me. If it's on, I have to watch it. The sheer epic scope of the passage of time noted by voice over, music and stellar production design alone makes it a masterpiece in my eyes. There isn’t a false note to be found among the many sprawling performances by an utterly perfect ensemble. No matter how many times I see it, I am exhilarated by the humanity in the actions of the characters and the way in which the camera frames it all. It is hard to pick a favorite Martin Scorsese film because I love them all so much but this one has a special place in my heart.

7. The Exorcist I feel like this is one of the few horror movies to defy and transcend the genre thanks, in part to William Friedkin’s relentlessly realistic directing style and the loyalty to the great William Peter Blatty novel upon which it is based. He also wrote the script. If you are a movie fan but have never really considered the wonders of film editing, watch this movie and focus on that element. It’s magical. The pace at which the story unfolds is hypnotic and unsettling. From the second the opening title appears in red letters on a black screen accompanied by the sounds of screeching strings and a call to prayer, this film has me by the throat every time. The performances are all hit out of the park by the stellar cast. Ellen Burstyn’s devotion to her young daughter as she helplessly watches her be pulled under by a strange phenomenon that is finally, only after a series of brutally upsetting and unexplainable events, acknowledged as demonic possession, is riveting and terrifically sad to behold. Jason Miller’s crisis of faith and guilt over his dying mother is palpable. And Mercedes McCambridge off screen performance as the voice of the demon is truly spine tingling. Dick Smith’s make up and practical effects in this film still evoke l more dread and awe in 2015 than any CGI effect I’ve ever witnessed. Even Max Von Sydow’s age make up is a thing of beauty. There had never been anything quite like it before this movie and despite many attempts at both homage and copycat, there never really has been since. Read William Friedkin’s book The Friedkin Connection if you want to hear some amazing and insane stories about the making of this movie.

8. This Is Spinal Tap It just never gets old and it never gets any less funny. For me this movie works as so much more than an improvised comedy which by the way it also functions perfectly as because well, it is. The unwavering commitment that Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer have to their characters prevents this from being just a parody of an uber serious, egocentric British rock band struggling to stay afloat amidst waining popularity and low record sales though once again, it succeeds marvelously at that as well. Despite the hi jinx and hilarity that ensues as the cameras roll on this Rob Reiner helmed mock-rockumentary, David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls feel like completely real people to me. Even as they perform their laugh-out-loud overblown anthems that still land with an earnest impact thanks to the scholarly and serious way the film’s three brilliant stars composed and play them, I feel the stakes of these people. I wince at their setbacks and cheer at their success. If comedy is only funny because it’s true then this is one of the truest and thus funniest comedies I know.

9. Batman I am starting to panic here as I reach number nine on my list. I’ve never tried to structure any of my favorite films into a top ten list before and am starting to realize not all of them are going to make it. Not even close. This one, however, I don’t know how to leave off. I think my love affair with movies (and Batman) began upon seeing this because it is probably the first film I can clearly remember seeing in the theater although if I’m being honest I have a very vague recollection of seeing The Little Mermaid on the big screen and that was released first. Batman left a bigger mark on me though. I recall the lights dimming and the first strain of Danny Elfman’s soaring score filling the room. I remember the unknown thrill of the dark opening credits and my dad’s laughter after the pullback to reveal the whole sequence had taken place inside a stone cutout of the bat signal. I didn’t really know what he found amusing but I knew then that I was into it and the rest of the movie rocked me to my young little core. I soon found out what that laughter was. It was finding something clever and exciting that happens on screen in a movie so amusing and so darn cool that you have no choice but to laugh out loud. I’ve been doing it ever since. I love the tone that Burton injected into this take on the dark knight. A cocktail of gothic starkness and campy fun. All of the performances land on the right side of the line as well. It was such a breakthrough for superhero films and that influence can be felt today. 

10. Ghostbusters I guess I have to include this movie if for no other reason than I have watched it again and again for over 20 years and it hasn’t lost any potency in the process except for maybe the ghost in the library at the beginning. When I was a kid I used to cover my eyes at that part and now I can handle it. I love this movie for so many reasons that are ever evolving. I’ll never know how Ivan Reitman and company managed to make something so silly, edgy and funny in different ways for all ages that also manages to be a genuine adventure. I owe this movie a lot. I would watch and rewind and watch again my VHS copy of this film while wearing the homemade Ghostbusters uniform my mom made for me and my toy proton pack and eventually decided I wanted to be Dr. Peter Venkman when I grew up. Once I found out that there was no real Dr. Peter Venkman but an actor named Bill Murray who played him, I then decided I wanted to be Bill Murray when I grew up. Soon thereafter it became clear to me that nobody could be Bill Murray but Bill Murray. So if I couldn’t be a Ghostbuster and I couldn’t be Billy Murray, I figured I would settle on aiming for becoming an actor.

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