It’s been three years since I last took the time to make a personal top ten list. Lists can be intriguing and educational, useful for finding new films and tempting us to revisit old ones, but they’re often taken too seriously. The following list attempts to include the films which I love the most. These are most likely my favorite films, but there are hundreds more that I love as well; maybe some days I would rather watch The Babadook or You’ve Got Mail. What separates the following ten films is that they all represent a part of me and my view of what ideal cinema, and art, is. The list is in an estimated descending order of preference (the first to appear is my most commonly claimed Favorite Movie). The truth is, as time goes by I will find more films to rival these. I rarely bother to overthink which films are my favorites because I know that the task of choosing between hundreds of great films is usually a silly one. I also think that lists like these are largely dependent on which films I have seen and loved recently. But in an effort to update this blog, I’ve made an exception. And so yet another list has entered the internet.
There are two things you might immediately notice about this list that I’d like to briefly discuss: 1) There are two lists, including twenty-two films between them. I did this because there were a few I couldn’t decide between, a few sequels which I would rather not detach from the originals, and plenty of films I would hate to leave off of a list of favorites. 2) Many of my favorite films are less than ten years old. I try to have a view of film that considers the history and the art of film, what’s important and what’s timeless. The following is merely what I think I enjoy the most at this point in my life. But I’m only twenty years old. I’m growing up. This list will change, these films will age (for better or worse), and I’ll return with a revised list in a few years when I’m older.
MY TEN FAVORITE FILMS
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A kaleidoscope of flavors, emotions, and cultures that is as rich as great literature and as sprawlingly immersive as a film can be in a mere hour and forty minutes. I could go on and on.
The Godfather & The Godfather Part II
Artful, operatic bliss of epic proportions. New Hollywood filmmaking of the highest order in which each shot is textured, each scene of acting is intriguing, and each note of music is sublime. Again, I could go on and on.
An intensely moving documentation of humanity and the American Dream. It’s about two young men from Chicago, but it captures emotions that are essential to that American hope of earning a new life that seems impossible and to knowing why we throws balls through hoops in the first place.
Into the Wild
In 1992, a 22-year-old burned his cash, abandoned his car, and hitchhiked to Alaska. This film is specifically tuned to the spirit of early adulthood: frugal living, a somewhat naive belief in human goodness, a thirst for adventure and purpose and identity, expectations of a bright future that can become assumptions. This story and this film captures so much of what I have felt growing up.
The Tree of Life
Director Terrence Malick’s ambitious framing of a small-town Texas family within the context of the creation of the universe is one-of-a-kind. For a Christian, it offers that joyful reassurance that striving for grace and love in our own lives is the beginning of an eternal life beyond our comprehension.
Singin’ in the Rain
Pure joy. This is just about the most fun that can be had at the movies. It’s Hollywood doing its silliest impression of itself.
An absorbing horror film and an elusive mystery. Kubrick took a Stephen King ghost story and made a diabolically cold masterpiece.
The Social Network
The next two films are great Hollywood dramas that feel like two of the defining films of the times. The Social Network elevates corporate politics and late nights in a dorm-room to the level of Greek tragedy. Fincher’s technical proficiency and Reznor & Ross’s score were the reasons I fell in love, but the craftsmanship and acting across the board is captivating.
Her is a radiant and tender, awkward and goofy, yet always honest exploration of love in the digital age. Sometimes indirectly, but always with originality, it ponders our ever-growing relationship with technology and speculates the sights, sounds, and feelings of the near future.
A FEW MORE FILMS THAT CAN BE CONSIDERED FAVORITES
Midnight in Paris
I once spent a day in Paris. The Louvre was closed (evidently, it always is on Tuesdays). The city was just different than any other place I’d ever been too. It felt modern, and yet it felt like it had always existed. Walking down the streets and exploring its architecture was an experience, an interaction with a storied history. Woody Allen’s tribute to the City of Light captures that romantic perception of Paris and its past, which I experienced at the age of 18, with the wit and creativity of Woody at his peak.
The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight)
Linklater’s trilogy is one of the ultimate cinematic marriages of romance and philosophy. The first two films dive into the romantic what-ifs typical of so many rom-coms with refreshing frankness and intelligence. The most recent chapter (the films might yet get another installment) depicts the ups and downs of a long-term relationship with equal fervor and skill.
F for Fake
Two films that push the boundaries of cinema in surprising ways. Brazil pushes outward: into the infinite space of dreamlands and a wacky dystopian society. F for Fake pushes inward: presenting a few stories of frauds so that Orson Welles, one of the most fascinating figures of the last century, can break the fourth wall, show us some magic tricks, and lay bare the concept of fakery and illusion.
No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers’ tales of hitmen and the cops that chase them can turn humor out of violence and vice versa. Both are modern classics of American movies. Fargo is the funny one. No Country for Old Men is the philosophical one.
Ridley Scott’s two essential contributions to cinema are science fiction epics of the first order. The rest of his films since have never matched the creative power of his textured and sense-shocking horror-sci-fi crossover, Alien, or his philosophically dive into shadowy analog world-building in Blade Runner.
Vertigo is the acclaimed, endlessly compelling tale of obsession by one of the greatest of all film directors, Alfred Hitchcock. Casablanca is peak Hollywood glamour that shows no sign of souring with age.
And just to prove the futility of these lists, here are more films which I love just as much. Some are masterpieces. Some are as much fun as I’ve had at the movies. Some are classics and a few others might be considered classics to future generations:
Amelie, The Apartment, The Babadook, Babette’s Feast, Casino Royale, Children of Men, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, City Lights, The Conversation, Day for Night, Die Hard, Do the Right Thing, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The 400 Blows, Gone Girl, The Grapes of Wrath, Groundhog Day, Halloween, Home Alone, Hot Rod, Inside Llewyn Davis, In the Mood for Love, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Manhattan, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Master, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, the Mission: Impossible series (except M:I 2), Mon Oncle, Moonrise Kingdom, My Dinner with Andre, My Neighbor Totoro, Ocean’s Eleven, Playtime, Psycho, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Red Shoes, Shadow of a Doubt, Sherlock Jr., Shutter Island, Slacker, the Star Wars series (ALL OF THEM), The Third Man, Tootsie, Toy Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Up, Vertigo, Waking Life, Yojimbo, You’ve Got Mail