Mayan Apocalypse Film Festival – 21 Films for Our Final 21 Days

The ancient Mayan calendar draws to an end on Dec. 21. Here 21 films to see—and what they taught us about our species—before doomsday

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The Mayan apocalypse — we all know about the calendar, the prophecy, and the debate. The ancient Mayan calendar draws to an end on December 21st, as the winter solstice syncs up with the end of a calendar cycle. Many scholars say there’s nothing to indicate that the Mayans predicted doomsday for humanity (read an expert’s take on all the Doomsday chatter), but the abrupt end to the Mayan vision for the future has fueled theories and speculation for decades, that perhaps they knew something we don’t about a coming cataclysm.

Well, Dec. 21 is now only 21 days away; three weeks, it would seem, until our untimely extinction. As I was reminded this morning by colleagues of the nearing Mayan cliff, I started pondering how I would spend my last three weeks on this planet. Would I return to my hometown? Spend three weeks traveling the globe? Nah. As a lifelong movie addict, I’m far more intrigued by the possibility of maxing out my credit card, renting out the glorious Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a month, and overnighting prints of my 21 favorite films. Call it the Doomsday Film Festival, but I’ve learned more about this planet, its people, and our common experience through cinema than through any vacations.

(MORE: The all-time greatest movies about the apocalypse)

I’d spend my days in the balcony with a big tub of popcorn, remembering all that’s made humanity wonderfully complex. Here are my 21 initial choices, and what those films taught me about our species…They aren’t the best films ever made — just the comfort food that I return to over and over again. These aren’t the favorites of my brain, but my heart.

What would your list be? Post your thoughts in the comments below. And without further delay, my Doomsday Film Festival:

Dec. 1-7: Youth

Discovering the world: Beasts of the Southern Wild, with perhaps the greatest opening sequence of all time and the most inspired depiction of a strong and independent child (for the record, young Quvenzhané Wallis deserves an Oscar nomination). Also: The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s meditation on the majesty of Mother Earth.

The magic of youth: Spirited Away, one of the greatest works of fantasy and one of the most beautiful pieces of animation. This is imagination at its most vivid.

A parent’s love: Late Spring, still perhaps my favorite film by Yasujiro Ozu, about a father’s sacrifice to ensure his daughter’s happiness.

First love: Before Sunrise, which captures the nervous energy of meeting your soul mate — the night that begins the rest of your life.

True love: L’Atalante, Jean Vigo’s nostalgic drama about a newly married couple, and the heartache of an early separation.

The joy of music: The Blues Brothers. No, it’s not the best musical ever made, but you can blame my dad, who ensured I watched the film a few times every year.


Dec. 8-14: Hard Truths

The war fields: Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s scathing vision of bloody battlefields, indifferent commanders and the utter absurdity of war.

Greed: Heat, Michael Mann’s crime epic about just how much two men will throw away for cold hard cash.

Betrayal: The Godfather: Part II, in which Michael’s discovery of his brother’s betrayal leads to one of the darkest decisions in the movies.

Obsession: Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Werner Herzog’s masterpiece about the treasure hunters who lose everything in their obsessive hunt for the fabled City of Gold. Look deep into Klaus Kinski’s eyes, and you will learn something about the darker side of the psyche.

Arrogance: The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky’s criminally underrated sci-fi epic (I’m well aware I like the movie more than anyone else on the planet) about man’s neverending struggle against mortality, convinced we can bend the universe to our will.

Broken hearts: Vertigo, Alfred Hitchock’s vision of a man who’s fallen in love with an imaginary woman, and the woman who, loving him, agrees to play the part. The lies we tell ourselves.

Empty wallets: Bicycle Thieves, one of the great visions of poverty, parental pride and how an empty piggy bank upends all other Earthly concerns.


Dec. 14-21: Sweet Memories

Pets!: My Dog Skip, which, admittedly, runs counter to my life. I’m a cat guy, but this movie about a boy and his dog has to be one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

Friendship: The Big Lebowski, perhaps my favorite comedy, about the Dude and his crazy friends who somehow avoid getting killed while botching a ransom and pulling a piece out on the lanes.

Redemption: Before Sunset, Richard Linklater’s real-time stroll through Paris, awash in regret, romance and second chances.

Power of prayer: Wings of Desire, the meditation on mankind’s loneliness, despair, hope, joy and transcendence. An angel gives up immortality for the mere chance to taste the joys of being a human.

A city’s electricity: Chungking Express, Wong Kar-Wai’s sexy, thrilling, sumptuous love letter to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.

The majesty of the planet: Baraka, the non-narrative 1992 documentary that captures many of the world’s most incredible sights in rapturous 70mm.

The great unknown: 2001: A Space Odyssey, the greatest of all films (and the most important movie in my life). About mankind’s evolution, and the NEXT chapter beyond Earth, I’d keep the film on repeat through the apocalypse, hoping that the end would come during the psychedelic journey through the Star Gate.