by Miguel E. Rodriguez

At last. The acme. The zenith. The tippest of the top. The ne plus ultra.

As part of a challenge from Jim Johnson, I created a ranked list of 100 of my favorite movies. To reiterate, this is not necessarily “definitive” by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, please…can I switch numbers 35 and 88? Absolutely. But lists are lists, and here we are.

Per the rules, here are my top 10 most favorite movies of all time, followed by a complete list of all 100 for the curious. Feel free to argue/tell me how wrong I am in the comments.

10. THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) – Another Peter Weir film that is hypnotic and compelling, especially during the final sequence when I thought I would levitate from my seat in the theater out of pure joy. I’m not exaggerating. As someone who had a strict religious upbringing, I identified strongly with Truman, someone who experiences life, love, and the world only as far as the people pulling the strings will allow. I felt his wonder and curiosity and slow realization that there just might be life outside of Seahaven, the island home he has never left since he was born. When the true nature of Truman’s world was revealed, I wasn’t exactly shocked (the trailers did an uncommonly good job of spoiling that surprise), but I felt a kinship to his situation. And when he finally overcomes his fears and heads into the unknown…I all but cheered. This movie was an acutely personal experience that I will never forget. Others may not have felt the same thing, and that’s fine. But for me, The Truman Show is absolutely in my top-ten.

9. CASABLANCA (1942) – One of the greatest movie-going experiences of my life was seeing the 50th-anniversary screening of a new print of Casablanca at Tampa Theatre in 1992. I had still not seen this so-called classic, so I figured, why not now? I went with a friend of mine who HAD seen the movie, and we sat in the balcony. Surprisingly, I do not remember the acoustics interfering with the movie’s dialogue as much as it normally does. I heard every line crystal clear…and I also heard the full house cheering with every famous line. “I was misinformed.” “Round up the usual suspects.” “Play it, Sam.” At first, I was annoyed, but as the movie went on, I was amazed at how caught up in the story I was getting, despite how clichéd a lot of it was. By the end, as Rick and Renault walked off together, I was sold on Casablanca’s place in Hollywood history, and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. I have heard and read numerous arguments against Casablanca, and those good folks are entitled to their clear, concise, and well-stated opinions…no matter how wrong they are.

8. DR. STRANGELOVE or: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) – George Carlin once said that you can make a joke out of literally any subject, no matter how dark or taboo. Stanley Kubrick’s satirical take on nuclear holocaust is a case in point. What started out at the screenplay level as a straight-up thriller morphed into a Python-esque comedy where statistics about warheads and megadeaths rub shoulders with an American President named Merkin Muffley and an eccentric German scientist whose right hand seems to have a life of its own. Peter Sellers pulls off a hat-trick by playing three vastly different characters, some of whom share screen time, and making each one so unique that, when I first watched it, I had a hard time believing they were all played by the same actor. Kubrick shoots some thrilling combat footage, foreshadowing what he would later accomplish with Full Metal Jacket 24 years later, then contrasts it with scenes like the one where George C. Scott’s character gets so keyed up while describing the capabilities of his long-range bombers that he forgets he’s describing how the apocalypse might literally begin. (Dr. Strangelove was so effective at combining humor with the unthinkable that, when Fail Safe was released 10 months later, it was not quite as successful as it could have been because audiences could not take it seriously.) This movie reaches my top 10 for its sheer audacity and wit in the face of material that seems incapable of supporting a comic premise.

7. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) – Breathes there the man with soul so dead they have not yet seen It’s a Wonderful Life? If so, I pity that man. Frank Capra’s ultimate Christmas movie has turned many people off, it seems, by the thoroughly depressing plotline during the first 80% of the film (approximately). George Bailey, an everyman with dreams of traveling the world, is forced to put those dreams on hold to save the family business. In the process, he meets and marries the love of his life, has four kids, and flirts with bankruptcy every fiscal year. When a crucial bank deposit is misplaced, putting his entire livelihood in jeopardy, George contemplates suicide – on Christmas Eve, no less. So, yeah, this ain’t exactly the Marx Brothers. What turns It’s a Wonderful Life into a true classic and a perennial favorite is the last 20% of the movie, where George’s guardian angel appears and offers him a gift: the chance to see what the world would be like without him. In a lesser film, that plot point would provide the engine for at least half of its running time. Capra wisely realizes that George’s “redemption” only means anything if we see just how far and fast he falls, and what’s at stake, and so his redemption scenes function more like punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. The rapturous finale is, let’s face it, corny as hell…but by God, it works. Best. Christmas. Movie. EVER.

6. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) – I will never forget a moment when watching Schindler’s List for the first time, when Schindler is observing the evacuation/extermination of a Jewish community from a nearby hill. As Schindler keys in on a little girl in a red coat, German soldiers line up several Jews single file, then fire their pistols at one end just to see how many Jews the bullets will kill before losing power. I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, how horrible,” but I also remember a faint smile on my face, because I was also thinking, “Wow, here’s a movie that isn’t going to pull any punches.” …and then I had a sobering moment when I reminded myself, wait, this isn’t just a director lining up a shot to make a point about the horrors of war…someone probably witnessed this exact moment, which made it into a book, which made it onto film. That realization opened my eyes and brought a whole new clarity to everything that had come before and would come after. What makes Spielberg’s film even more astonishing is that he and screenwriter Steven Zaillian, sorcerers that they are, managed to somehow bring just the right level of entertainment to the screen without feeling they were downplaying the seriousness of the subject matter. Perfect example: when the little boy points out who killed the chicken – it’s an awful, awful scene, but the punchline gets a laugh, and it doesn’t feel out of place. Schindler’s List is some kind of miracle and should be required viewing for…well, everyone.

5. AMADEUS (1984) – When I was just hitting my teenage years, I wasn’t listening to a lot of pop radio, so my dad got me into classical music by buying a box set (on cassette!) of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. I got familiar with the style and flow of classical music, and started slowly realizing the connection between movie scores and classical music, etc. And then Amadeus started airing on cable. The first thing I remember is coming across it towards the end, during the scene where Mozart is dictating his music to Salieri. I had no idea what I was watching, but the way that scene represented classical music being broken down into its component parts, and how a composer must know each little section inside and out to make sure everything works when it all comes together…that scene blew me away. Then I watched Amadeus from the beginning, and I was mesmerized from start to finish. I identified with Salieri’s frustration: “God, I am your true servant, yet you allow this vulgar man to flourish while I toil in obscurity.” Sure, I was only 13, but that captured one of my eternal questions when it came to religion in general. But even aside from the movie’s grand themes, Amadeus embodies the word “sumptuous.” Not until Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette had I ever seen a movie with such exquisite sets and costumes. And I had to wait until I saw a “making-of” documentary to be convinced that old Salieri and younger Salieri were played by the same person. Amadeus uses some of the greatest music ever written to support a story with which anyone can identify: Am I destined to only recognize greatness without ever achieving it myself? A stone-cold classic.

4. PINOCCHIO (1940) – Animation has held a special place in my movie-loving psyche ever since I discovered how laborious the animation process is, particularly when it comes to hand-drawn animation. The idea that every single frame was painstakingly drawn, painted, and photographed was mindboggling to me, especially when animated movies seemed so free in movement and the characters looked convincingly heavy and real. What sorcery is this? The high-water mark of hand-drawn, or ANY, animation is and shall remain Walt Disney’s second feature film, Pinocchio. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times, if not scores, and it never ceases to amaze me. Look at Pinocchio’s facial expressions in any given scene. Look at how Monstro the whale evokes immense size and weight. Look at that fantastic underwater section as sea creatures of all shapes populate every corner of the frame. And especially consider the story that pulls no punches when it comes to dramatic impact. Nowadays, many films aimed at kids are all sugar and sweet and give mere lip service to danger and/or peril. Compare them to Pinocchio, a movie that puts the hero in creepy danger (Stromboli), then creepier danger (Pleasure Island and those donkeys), then in utter mortal danger (Monstro’s pursuit). This may be an animated film, but it refuses to talk down to its audience, children or otherwise. Pinocchio is a classic that has rarely been equaled (opinions vary), but which will never be surpassed. Change my mind. [Spoiler alert: you won’t.]

3. CITIZEN KANE (1941)The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] was one of the first movies that convinced me that “old” movies could be as thrilling as modern films. But the first movie that convinced me that older films could be BETTER than modern films was Citizen Kane. After years of hearing about it by reputation, I rented a copy from Blockbuster and was thunderstruck at how engrossed I was after the first five minutes…and that’s just the newsreel. From there on, the mystery of Kane’s life and his cryptic dying word just got better and better, visually and story-wise. Especially visually. Volumes have been written about Welles’s vision and his close collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland to accomplish some of the most iconic and virtuoso shots in the history of cinema, so I won’t go into details here. The visual aspect of this film is as closely related to its success as any other element. Certainly, it’s filled with brilliant performances and breathtaking rapid-fire dialogue that feels lifted from an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. But it’s the camerawork that caught my attention more than anything else the first time around, and it still amazes me today. I have yet to see a black-and-white movie that demonstrates more visual virtuosity than Citizen Kane. (And to those who claim it’s “boring”…um…I literally have no response to that…)

2. HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) – When I was performing in a show in my mid-20s, I had fallen into a kind of depression, or at least a deep funk. Due to a variety of factors in my life at the time, I felt redundant, powerless, talentless, and terribly cynical about the world in general. A fellow cast member noticed my pain and brought in a VHS copy of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude for me to borrow and watch. He told me, “I recognize myself in you from 20 years ago. So, trust me when I tell you that this movie will change your life.” I was naturally skeptical, but I took it home and watched it…and I am not exaggerating when I say, Harold and Maude literally changed my life. Maybe not overnight, but it absolutely changed my perspective on a great many things. The story is quirky, to say the least: a depressed young man from a very rich family stages fake suicides and attends funerals for strangers to pass the time. At one of these funerals, he meets a lively 79-year-old woman who shares his fondness for funerals, but who has a very different outlook on life. She takes him under her wing, encourages him to not to take life so seriously, teaches him to appreciate the little things, and so on. He falls in love with her unshakeable positivity…and with her, romantically. What happens next, I shall not reveal, but when I reached the film’s final sequence, I was transported. When it was over, I felt I was seeing the world around me with blinders off. It is no exaggeration to say that, without Harold and Maude, I would not be where I am today: in a stable relationship with the woman I love for over 20 years, in a job that I – well, “love” is a strong word – a job that I ENJOY as opposed to one that I don’t, a sturdy support structure composed of my closest friends and family, and making enough money to pay the bills while still being able to travel and indulge in my passion (acting) on the side. “Harold, EVERYONE has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” Words to live by.

1. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Great Britain, 1962) – This has been my favorite film of all time since seeing it on TNT over 30 years ago. Even in a non-letterboxed format (sacrilege!), the majesty of David Lean’s magnum opus was undeniable. Then I saw it on a 2-volume letterboxed VHS, and I got to see even more of the desert scenery and carefully planned details in the corners that I missed on network TV. On DVD, things got even better. But THEN…the Blu-ray came out…and I was blown away. Now I could see the Bedouin through Lawrence’s binoculars. I could see the tiny speck on the horizon before it resolved itself into the figure of a man on camelback. The sand and dust and smoke and blood all reached a level of detail that made me fall in love with it all over again. (And I don’t think I can talk about seeing it on the big screen in 70mm for its 50th anniversary without making this a novella.) This movie hits all the bases. Visually, it’s simply magnificent. This was the early 1960s, so Lean took the gigantic movie cameras of the day to the real Jordanian deserts and shot virtually everything in the film on location…IN THE DESERT. The widescreen compositions and movement are unparalleled. Story-wise, this is, of course, the story of a man’s life against an epic backdrop, so right away you’ve got me. The details of Lawrence’s life during the Arabian campaign during World War I are provided with just enough information to let the audience know exactly what’s going on without overwhelming you with a deluge of minutiae. But the real engines driving the film (aside from David Lean, of course) are the powerhouse performances from the cast: Omar Sharif, a fiery Anthony Quinn (regrettably in “brownface”, but fiery nevertheless), and of course Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. With his piercing stare, lanky frame, and soft-spoken presence, Lawrence comes across as just slightly north of mad, but his conviction and tactical brilliance in the field make him an invaluable asset for the British…until he decides Arabia should be free from ALL rule, not just Turkish, and sets out to LIBERATE Arabia. The feeling I’m left with after watching all 227 minutes of Lawrence of Arabia is the same one I get after finishing a long, extremely entertaining novel. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I will ever get tired of watching this film. Lawrence of Arabia is as close to cinematic perfection as anyone is likely to get, and it is my absolute favorite film of all time.


  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. Harold and Maude
  3. Citizen Kane
  4. Pinocchio
  5. Amadeus
  6. Schindler’s List
  7. It’s a Wonderful Life
  8. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  9. Casablanca
  10. The Truman Show
  11. The Red Shoes
  12. Pan’s Labyrinth
  13. Cloud Atlas
  14. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  15. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  16. The Godfather
  17. The Godfather: Part II
  18. Parasite
  19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  20. Blade Runner 2049
  21. The Last Emperor
  22. Prometheus
  23. The Exorcist
  24. Wall*E
  25. Children of Men
  26. Requiem for a Dream
  27. United 93
  28. Spirited Away
  29. The Deer Hunter
  30. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  31. Saving Private Ryan
  32. Pulp Fiction
  33. Baraka
  34. Nostalgia for the Light
  35. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  36. Network
  37. Chinatown
  38. Midnight in Paris
  39. The Remains of the Day
  40. Being John Malkovich
  41. Notorious
  42. Psycho
  43. Breaking the Waves
  44. To Be or Not to Be [1942]
  45. Match Point
  46. The Iron Giant
  47. Up
  48. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  49. Look Who’s Back
  50. Inglourious Basterds
  51. Double Indemnity
  52. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  53. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  54. The Apartment
  55. The Piano
  56. The Sting
  57. Fight Club
  58. Magnolia
  59. Jaws
  60. Aliens
  61. Roma
  62. Ready Player One
  63. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  64. Inside Out
  65. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  66. The Social Network
  67. Stranger Than Fiction
  68. Life Is Beautiful
  69. Incendies
  70. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  71. Toy Story
  72. Lost in Translation
  73. Bound
  74. Skyfall
  75. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  76. Whiplash
  77. Get Out
  78. The Babadook
  79. Hotel Rwanda
  80. Promising Young Woman
  81. The Dark Knight
  82. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
  83. Dark Days
  84. A Separation
  85. Monterey Pop
  86. Run Lola Run
  87. There Will Be Blood
  88. Dark City
  89. Hoop Dreams
  90. Finding Nemo
  91. Little Miss Sunshine
  92. Hereditary
  93. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  94. Logan
  95. Love Actually
  96. Atonement
  97. Joker
  98. Star Trek [2009]
  99. Avatar
  100. I, Daniel Blake

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