Townies Tally Movie Favorites

With summer blockbusters behind us, and holiday-viewing and Oscar-time lurking in the near future, what’s a movie-loving binge-watcher to do right now?

Current suggests thematic movie marathons. Filmmaker Heidi Philipsen reached out to several Ann Arbor area professionals from different walks of (work) life to give us their top-five favorite movies connected to their chosen fields.

Film-feature---thia-Kortman-Westphal_-Composer_-9.31.17CYNTHIA KORTMAN WESTPHAL

Cynthia Kortman Westphal is a Broadway keyboard player and conductor, and professor of musical theatre at the University of Michigan.

  1. THE LITTLE MERMAID – I was a classical pianist all my life, but this was the movie that put “musical theatre” on my radar. It was the spark that set me on a new path.
  2. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – When this movie first came out, I saw it 12 times, and in 3 different countries. I’ve now seen it countless times and the score of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is perfection. The early death of Howard Ashman (lyric writer) was such a loss–he was about as good as it gets.
  3. FAME – As a teenager, I went through a phase of being obsessed with artists who were passionate and suffering, and just trying to figure out life. This one fits the bill!
  4. AMADEUS – Visually and musically STUNNING. I credit this movie with making me realize I wanted to spend my life in music.
  5. RAGTIME – I had the privilege of working with Randy Newman on a musical he wrote. Most know him as the composer of Disney films like the Toy Story franchise, and A Bug’s Life. But Ragtime was his first film score, and it’s heartbreakingly gorgeous and evocative.


Jeff Kass, a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and a former sports radio producer and talk show host, is the Assignment Editor for Current magazine. When not writing and editing stories for Current, he teaches Tenth Grade English and Creative Writing at Pioneer High School. His debut thriller Takedown is brand new from 5th Avenue Press.

  1. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN – the classic celebration of journalists who search for truth and are unwilling to be cowed into submission by the powers that be. Also hard to go wrong with that combo of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.
  2. NETWORK – Brought us the classic moment of people opening their windows and shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Provoked a lot of questions about the role of TV news in our culture that might seem tame in today’s shoutfest alternative-facts era, but at least started the conversation about people getting their news and/or thoughts from the box in their living rooms.
  3. BROADCAST NEWS – Comedy with great dialogue and, also, I’ve had a long-time crush on Holly Hunter
  4. ABSENCE OF MALICE – Featuring Paul Newman and Sally Fields in a textbook on journalistic ethics, or non-ethics as the case may be.
  5. ALMOST FAMOUS – Gotta love the starry-eyed young kid figuring out what makes a good story. I’ve felt shy, ashamed and befuddled so many times when trying to track down a story so this film hits the heart.

Film-feature---Robert-FoxR.J. FOX

R.J. Fox teaches film at Huron High School and has optioned two screenplays to the film industry. He is the author of two books: Love & Vodka and the upcoming Awaiting Identification. His collection of childhood-themed essays entitled, Tales From the Dork Side, will be released from 5th Avenue Press on November 5th.

  1. AMERICAN GRAFITTI – We all have that one magical, epic summer night during our teenage years. No matter when you graduated from high school, this movie perfectly captures the fleeting moment between high school graduation and adulthood when you realize things will never be the same. Ever.
  2. BACK TO THE FUTURE – Marty McFly is that teenager we all wished we were, when in reality, most of us were either a Biff, or a George McFly. Timeless, innovative, and in the DNA of every 80’s childhood.
  3. ELECTION – A razor sharp satire about high school politics and the pitfalls of ambition at all costs. Reese Witherspoon ruthlessly fights to win class president, as Ferris Bueller himself (Matthew Broderick) sets out to destroy her, managing to destroy himself in the process.
  4. GREASE – Grease is the word. Enough said. The soundtrack to my early childhood….and beyond.
  5. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE – If only we all had dance moves like Napoleon Dynamite. And his fearless zest for life. A hero for any awkward misfit. Every year, I get at least one student like Napoleon Dynamite (I’ve even had some who look like him). And my day is so much more entertaining as a result.


Suzy Aoude earned her BA and MBA from the University of Michigan and is now a self-described “Bio-wife, Mom, Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer and – most especially—Motivator.”

  1. KICKBOXER – The classic movie that started the kick-boxing phase. I can’t help but feel motivated to create finesse in the moves I create after watching Jean Claude Van Damme in this film.
  2. ROCKY Another oldie but goodie. Rocky inspires me to never give up and that it’s never too late to follow your dreams and achieve greatness in what you love.
  3. DARK KNIGHT RISES – An action-packed comic book come to life. The time is sure to fly if you watch this during a cardio run. I feel moments of increased adrenaline that push me further than normal.
  4. STEP UP – What can I say? I’m a sucker for dance movies. This one twists classical dance with street dance and makes me feel creative and inspired.
  5. MILLION DOLLAR BABY – One of Clint Eastwood’s finest movies. It’s inspirational to all women who want to enter the world of man. Determination is key in this one!

film-feature---Judy-Huntington-PhilipsenJUDY HUNTINGTON-PHILIPSEN

Judy earned a Master of Science in Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry, and worked at Parke-Davis/Pfizer for 39 years. Currently an Independent Patent Information Researcher, Judy is writing a memoir about working as a woman in science beginning in the 1960s. She is also the mother of the author, Heidi.

  1. HIDDEN FIGURES – Female, black mathematicians work at NASA on the successful flight of Friendship 7. They had two strikes against them and yet they proved they could accomplish as much as white men.
  2. THE HELP – reminds me of growing up in the South.
  3. MRS. DOUBTFIRE – with Robin Williams and Sally Field, a wonderfully funny story but also points out the love of a father for his children and the sad effects of divorce.
  4. MAMMA MIA – I loved songs by ABBA when I was first married, and still love the musical today. Have watched this film at least 10 times.
  5. BEACHES – Because of all the songs Bette Midler sings in it, plus I like the story of the friendship between women.

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