by Miguel E. Rodriguez
This is the first part of my answer to a “challenge” from my friend, Jim Johnson, to me and my other Cinephiles: Thomas Pahl, Anthony Jason, and Marc Sanders. The challenge: in the wake of the most recent Sight and Sound listing of the 100 Greatest Films of all time, to create my own ranked list of my 100 favorite movies of all time.
This list was not created without some major heartbreak, and I reserve the right to say, at any point in the future, that my ranking has changed. By nature, these lists are intended to engender discussion and (ahem, Marc) argument.
I make no claim that these are the GREATEST films of all time. These are merely my FAVORITE movies of all time. You won’t find much Bergman or Italian neo-realism or anything like that on my list. These are movies that reached into my soul and stirred something there like few other films have.
These 100 films do NOT represent ALL of my favorite films by any stretch of the imagination. (A rough estimate of ALL of my FAVORITE films goes to about, oh, let’s say 1,207.) But since the challenge is to pick only 100…sacrifices had to be made. As my fellow Cinephiles have heard me say multiple times: I REGRET NOTHING.
Anyway, here’s the first 25. Numbers 100 to 76 of my 100 Favorite Movies of All Time.
100. I, DANIEL BLAKE (Great Britain, 2016) – A heartbreaking evisceration of the unnecessary bureaucracy in the British social services system. This movie made me sad and mad at the same time.
99. AVATAR (2009) – Say what you will about the screenplay, this is one of the best big-budget visual effects extravaganzas in years. Turn up the volume, adjust the brightness, and leave your brain behind.
98. STAR TREK (2009) – Purists may and will squawk, but J.J. Abrams’ re-imagination of Gene Roddenberry’s timeless universe punches up the visuals (and the lens flares) without sacrificing what made Trek timeless in the first place: a damn good story.
97. JOKER (2019) – Speaking of reimagining a classic, Joker mixes Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and Batman and, against all odds, winds up with a brilliantly compelling take on what drives the greatest comic book villain of all time. (Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance is stunning.)
96. ATONEMENT (2007) – Part love story, part redemption story, Atonement is a sumptuous period piece that performs one of the greatest “head-fakes” since Psycho: making us think it’s about one thing when it’s really about something else. I won’t say anymore lest I give anything away. If you know, you know.
95. LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) – One of the very few romantic comedies on my list, and for good reason: it combines the inherent corniness of being in love with the devastating effects of love gone wrong. Haters can debate that sequence with the “flashcards” all they want. This movie is a warm blanket and a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.
94. LOGAN (2017) – In the annals of comic book films, few characters have been given a better final curtain than the one provided to Hugh Jackman’s iconic interpretation of the Wolverine. At last, we get to see the real effects of those adamantium claws on human flesh and bone, but the blood-soaked action is tempered with a real story. (gasp!)
93. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) – This gets points for its non-stop humor and pure originality at just about every level. I defy anyone to accurately describe the plot and style in 25 words or less. (“Bread makes you FAT?!”)
92. HEREDITARY (2018) – It wasn’t until about 2 weeks after seeing this movie, when I couldn’t get its imagery out of my head, that I realized Hereditary is one of the most effective and flat-out frightening movies I’ve ever seen. The very end may be a bit of a head-scratcher, but so what? I guarantee you’ll still be thinking about that last sequence for days.
91. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) – You just want to hug this movie after it’s over. Or maybe hug the filmmakers in gratitude for providing one of the warmest, funniest family comedies – with an edge! – in years. You may never hear “Super Freak” the same way again.
90. FINDING NEMO (2003) – One of Pixar’s major triumphs, evoking no less than Bambi in the opening scene, and evolving into a road/odd-couple movie for the ages, with Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory stealing every scene she’s in. EVERY. SCENE.
89. HOOP DREAMS (1994) – One of the most celebrated documentaries ever made (that got shut out of the Oscars, Google that story if you’re unfamiliar with it). Filmmakers follow two inner city kids and their families for years – YEARS – as they each pursue that elusive dream of one day playing in the NBA…with varying results.
88. DARK CITY (1998) – A man wakes up in a hotel bathroom with no memory, blood on his forehead, and a dead woman in the bedroom. What follows is a visually stunning sci-fi tale that continually surprises and entertains. (Avoid the original cut…find the Director’s Cut if you can, the one that eliminates the spoiler-laden voiceover at the beginning.)
87. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) – One of a precious handful of films that genuinely inspire me to be a better actor. The movie itself is hypnotic and entertaining, but it’s the Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis that propels the film into the stratosphere. One of the greatest acting performances of all time.
86. RUN LOLA RUN (Germany, 1998) – Call it an MTV-esque illustration of “The Butterfly Effect”. Franka Potente and her shocking red hair sprint through city streets three separate times, each with subtle variations that have enormous consequences on the outcome each time. Sounds ridiculous, but the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts.
85. MONTEREY POP (1968) – This landmark concert film captures the last gasp of “The Summer of Love” before Woodstock and Altamont ushered in the ‘70s. Here in Monterey, in a veritable sea of peace symbols and “longhairs,” Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire, Pete Townshend SMASHED his, Janis Joplin put herself on the map, and Ravi Shankar gave one of the most electrifying musical performances ever captured on film. Seriously. It’ll give you goosebumps.
84. A SEPARATION (Iran, 2011) – Another great “head-fake” movie: what starts out as a simple domestic drama morphs into a powerful statement about what happens when religious ideology gets tangled up with law enforcement. The final scene where a difficult choice must be made is one of the most powerful finales I’ve ever seen.
83. DARK DAYS (2000) – This little-seen, little-known movie is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. Director Marc Singer (no relation to the actor from Beastmaster) followed the lives of several homeless people who live in the train tunnels underneath New York City. The ingenuity of these people must be seen to be believed: they have access to fresh water (albeit very COLD), electricity, building materials, pets…and wait till you hear what single item they sell the most of to make some cash. If a “regular” movie ended the way this documentary does, it would be accused of shameless manipulation. Look it up.
82. HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (1991) – The ultimate behind-the-scenes DVD extra. Eleanor Coppola – Francis’s wife – shot hours and hours of home video on the various sets of Apocalypse Now during its long, troubled production. After judicious editing, she emerged with one of the most intimate portraits of a director, and a film, and a cast, in crisis. After watching Hearts of Darkness, you’ll wonder how Apocalypse Now ever made it to screens.
81. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) – Christopher Nolan raises the stakes and the spectacle with this, the best of the Nolan Batman trilogy. While the story and actors get their due (especially Heath Ledger as maybe the creepiest Joker ever), the real draw here are the sensational action sequences, starting with that bank heist and reaching a thrilling apotheosis with the Batpod chase. Comic book movie bliss.
80. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020) – To make a thriller that not only thrills but also has something relevant to say is never easy. Screenwriter and first-time director Emerald Fennell made it look easy. I defy anyone who watched the movie to claim they saw that ending coming. Nuff said.
79. HOTEL RWANDA (Great Britain, 2004) – This gets on the list, not just because of its message of hope, but also because of the disturbing reality of some of the most frightening scenes. Set during the horrific ethnic cleansings in Rwanda in 1994, a hotel manager turns his hotel into a haven for Tutsi refugees, at extreme risk to himself and his family. As he talks his way out of one tense situation after another, the sense of imminent danger is palpable in a way few other films have accomplished. Philip Seymour Hoffman may have won the Oscar that year, but I personally believe it should have gone to Don Cheadle for his career-best performance as Paul Rusesabagina.
78. THE BABADOOK (Australia, 2014) – A ghostly creature terrorizes a widowed mother and her precocious, borderline autistic son. At the end of the film, the mother’s method of dealing with this creature is one of the great revelations in horror movies because it resolves the story AND makes a compelling statement about the nature of grief: it is necessary and must be given a voice…before it consumes you. And, oh yeah, by the way, the movie is SCARY AS ALL HELL.
77. GET OUT (2017) – Jordan Peele takes the basic structure of all the best Twilight Zone episodes and applies it to another one of those ingenious “head-fake” movies that make you think they’re about one thing and turns out to be something altogether different and creepier. Its buried – well, maybe NOT so buried – subtext about race relations and phobias in America may not occur to you until watching it for a second time. When it hits…its as potent as any Spike Lee movie.
76. WHIPLASH (2014) – Watching a music teacher with distasteful methods berate and belittle his students for nine-tenths of a movie’s running time may not sound like a good time, but it’s all necessary to accommodate that whopper of an ending, which I did NOT see coming. The beauty of the movie is, the teacher uses that same logic to justify his abusive methods, asking the question: can great art only be achieved through great suffering? Whiplash has provided an answer. Is it THE answer? Discuss.
To be continued…