You know how AFI has their carefully crafted and curated lists of the greatest films ever made? Yeah. Well, our own Annemarie has decided we should have our own AFI-style lists. If AM had it her own way, we would already have these lists overall and for every genre. But, that’s … quite ambitious. So we’re going to start with our personal Top 25 lists.
Ranking things is hard. So I’m going to choose to instead rank them arbitrarily in alphabetical order for several reasons: 1) I’m lazy 2) I can 3) I love different movies for different reasons so I don’t want to rank them against each other 4) I haven’t seen most of what’s on the “Top” lists so there’s a lot that I think “Wow, yeah I want to see that!” but I haven’t so I can’t include them. Let’s start with “Z” and work up to “A”!
25. Zombieland — There’s parts of this I can’t watch. I don’t do gore and there’s nothing gorier than humans eating each other. Gah. However, this movie is really fun, has the best celeb cameo in the entire world and even though it probably has given me nightmares, I greatly enjoy it.
24. Titanic — Come on. This came out when I was 14. I already loved Leo from Romeo + Juliet and I used to be a Celine Dion fan. I mean, she’s amazing and super talented, so I’m still a fan to be honest. Titanic was practically made solely for my enjoyment. There’s some parts that haven’t stood up (I’ve never loved Bill Paxton’s rendition of “getting it” at the end) but overall, you had my favorite actor, Kate the Great, an amazing soundtrack and effects and a tearjerker. The 14-year-old me swooned and I still do.
23. Toy Story 3 — I’ve determined that if you don’t weep openly several times during this movie, your soul is dead. The perfect nostalgia of going off to college and leaving home for the first time just got me, and the toys accepting their fate in the landfill burner was the most perfect moment. I can’t even think about it without getting teary. Because it’s Disney, that’s not how the story ends, but it could have. I’ve never disliked a Pixar feature (or short), but this one is my favorite, hands down.
Clip content belongs to Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.
22. Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back — I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, but I’m not a particularly dark person, so it’s always been curious to me why I love this one the most. Perhaps because it wasn’t written by George Lucas and perhaps because there’s just so much story to unpack and reveal, or the cliffhangers at the end to be deliciously resolved in Return of the Jedi. It all just works and you also get lots of screentime with Yoda. He’s the best.
21. Speed — Cheesy action thrillers are fun in my book, and there’s nothing better for me than Speed-era Keanu & Sandy, despite the fact that Annie went to my hated rival, the University of Arizona. I’ll set that aside for all the other reasons I love this movie. I’m sorry Harry had to die, but he kind of did in order for Jack to conquer the evil guy on his own. It’s just poetic. I’m also always struck about how needlessly and awesomely destructive this movie is. Why just explode the bus when you can also explode a plane?!
20. Sleeping Beauty — I get “accused” of being a Disney princess a lot of the time, and also get asked which animated feature is my favorite. This one is it as far as the look and music of the film is concerned. The story isn’t spectacular and would resoundingly fail a Bechdel test as far as the main (title) character is concerned (she has like 10 lines), but it’s visually stunning and a classic fairy tale through and through. Plus I enjoy the dads getting drunk together.
19. Robin Hood — This is my other favorite Disney movie. Have you never heard of this one? There’s very few references to it in today’s Disney canon, but it’s awesome. Hands down, my favorite in terms of story and characters. One of the reasons Brooke and I decided to become friends was because I quoted this movie and she knew what I was talking about. “HISS! YOU’RE NEVER AROUND WHEN I NEED YOU!”
18. Pride & Prejudice — Of all the versions, the Keira Knightly one is my favorite. Romantic, classic and so very Jane.
17. Pitch Perfect — I debated between this one and The Sound of Music. And even though I do enjoy Julie Andrews bitch-slapping Nazis, I realized that Pitch Perfect has to have a spot because it makes me smile. Anna Kendrick is at her saucy best, and I cannot watch the finals without a big grin pasted on my face.
16. Man on Wire — This documentary of the French guy who nuttily walked across the World Trade Center towers in the ’70s is great for the suspense and also the nostalgia factor of a post-9/11 world. It would be nice if a tight-rope walker was the worst problem that the WTC ever had, but I’ve also never been so nervous for someone. It doesn’t matter that the walker himself is doing on-camera interviews 30 years after the fact, I was pretty convinced he was going to die.
15. Mad Max: Fury Road — Great example of a movie I almost didn’t see at all. I had no interest in the Mad Max series, but I do like me some Tom Hardy. And someone (probably Brooke) told me repeatedly to see it. There’s some grotesque moments, for sure, but overall this is just a high-speed chase masquerading as a movie and I couldn’t take my eyes away. No one is more badass than Charlize, too.
14. Muppets Christmas Carol — This is by far the best version of the classic Dickens tale. I love most of the Muppet movies, but this one holds a special Christmas place in my heart. Gonzo and Rizzo as narrators are superb, and there’s something that’s always tickled me about the Muppets and their shenanigans doing a story like A Christmas Carol, which is inherently serious and thought-provoking. Plus, if I could get an invite to the penguins’ annual skating party, that’d be so amazing.
13. It’s a Wonderful Life — I’m a sucker for holiday films, and this is another one that I can’t watch the ending without a big happy smile on my face. It truly IS a wonderful life! Plus Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are delightful, and just like Clarence, I’d really love a mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!
12. Guardians of the Galaxy — This is another one I didn’t have a great deal of interest in. Superhero movies are entertaining, to be sure, but I was burned by not enjoying an X-Men back in the day, as well as the disappointment that was Phantom Menace, so my expectations are always tempered. Anyway, I could not have been more pleased with this movie. Groot is someone everyone should be best friends with and Chris Pratt was the perfect choice for the hero. Wildly entertaining.
11. Groundhog Day — Everyone’s seen this movie, and I know I saw it when I was a kid. I had no idea how deep this film goes until I saw it as an adult. The perfect punishment for an unlikable man having a bad day? Make him re-live it until he gets it right. Bill Murray is now a cult hero, but he’s the epitome of reformed curmudgeon who truly earns the love of Andie McDowell. This is another film that the ending just makes for me, so I’m sensing a theme about how I like my movie endings.
10. The Great Muppet Caper — “We’re gonna catch the thieves red-handed! … What color are their hands now?” Just like the Dickens rendition covered by the Muppets, this one is a classic for me. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the gang go over to jolly old London and get involved with international jewel thieves. It’s hysterical and full of fun inside jokes and set pieces, like every Muppets endeavor. Also, just watch this. We quote this constantly and I could not love Neville (John Cleese) and Dorcas (Joan Sanderson) more.
9. Grandma’s Boy — I credit Justin for this one, and likely not one I’d have ever seen on my own, despite the fact that Adam Sandler and his crew used to make pretty good movies that I by and large enjoy. Again, with zero expectations, I was very pleasantly surprised and the whole thing holds up to multiple viewings. I’m not a gamer, but I do appreciate a world in which people are paid to play (not unlike agency life sometimes) and what you do when you start to get a bit older.
8. Good Will Hunting — Matt & Ben’s script holds up remarkably well for it being their first shot at it. Which begs the question, why haven’t they written another together? We’re due a redux from those guys. And Robin Williams. You can’t say enough about his comic genius and how it shines even in a dramatic role. So so good.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop — This Banksy documentary was completely weird and also somehow a crystal clear explanation of why an artist like Banksy would choose to remain anonymous. I took from it the great power that comes from popularity and how dangerous that can be to the creative spirit and one’s soul.
6. Die Hard — We have a college drinking game to this movie, which is partly why I love it. Also, Alan Rickman is amazing in it and more importantly, it takes place at Christmas. Absurd action and a simple storyline? A cop no one will believe but is the true hero (well, co-hero with Bruce Willis)? Ridiculous German accents? Done.
5. Braveheart — I sometimes group this movie with Die Hard if I have to choose less than 25 for my top favorite movies. Because I can. Braveheart doesn’t actually have that much in common with Die Hard, it being a period piece and “based” on history. Sure, there’s violence, but that’s about it. This came up in discussion recently how we can still view this movie as being so awesome even though Mel Gibson’s star has rightfully fallen for acts of racism. The answer: Obviously William Wallace is greater than Mel Gibson and it’s still a fucking cool movie.
3. Back to the Future Trilogy — Again, my list, my rules. I think all three of these can and should be included in one group as they really work together better than they do apart. They’re different chapters to the same book, not a series of three books. I am disappointed that we don’t have all of the technology updates we were promised by 2015, but I can only hope that a 3-D shark hologram version of Sharknado is just a few years away. Fingers crossed.
2. Apollo 13 — For obvious reasons. Come on. I will say that Kathleen Quillan is probably the most underrated thing about this movie. Can you imagine your husband (or father, or friend, or sibling, for that matter) going into space and having it go badly in front of the whole world? I can only hope I’d show as much grace as Kathleen does. And I always think about how the real Ken Mattingly must have been SO relieved and also felt so guilty that they thought he had the measles. Sure, he got to help bring the guys home but was in no danger himself.
1. American Honey — This one is #1, but technically, it could go anywhere in my list. It does hold the distinction of being the only 2016 film on my list, however. We waxed poetically and for quite some time about our love for this movie, so I’ll keep it brief here. There are not many pieces of art you just can’t get out of your head, and this was one of those for me.
I cannot begin to express how pleased I was to see that Annemarie bucked the idea of numerically ranking her top 25. I spent far too long culling this list already and the thought of assigning an order that final gives me anxiety. And, do you know what happened after that? I got anxiety about not really committing to the thing. So here they are, my personal Top 25, in order, at least for this instant:
25. Titanic — Now, I find James Cameron to be one of the more irksome people in Hollywood. I jumped for joy when Kathryn Bigelow beat him for Best Director when The Hurt Locker went up against the bloated nonsense that was Avatar, but dammit if I don’t absolutely adore Titanic in spite of all that baggage. I was a newly-minted 9-year-old when this movie came out (actually, it hit theaters four days before my birthday, but I had to wait like some kind of pleb). It was the first time I’d seen Leonardo DiCaprio outside of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and he played a significant part in teaching me what lust is. He was just so adorable. This is also one of the first moments I became aware of how much I love a solid costume drama. It’s a genre that brings me to my knees on a regular basis and I still swoon over Kate the Great’s dresses (and performance) every single time.
24. Desperately Seeking Susan — I’ve written before about what an icon Madonna was for me as a youth. My mom special ordered this movie on VHS for my birthday when I was in second grade and I watched the hell out it. Madge herself is in a really too scant portion of this movie, but she is at the peak of her star power when she is on screen. When the movie was shot, no one knew who she was, it’s even been said that a number of passersby mistook her for Cyndi Lauper making a bid at movie stardom. By the time the movie came out, Like A Virgin had made her a superstar of course, but this glimpse of immediately pre-fame Madonna reminds us why she is Madonna. And quite beyond that, coming to this movie later in life, I realized that Susan Seidelman’s done some extraordinary work here. The story dares to ask complex questions about the nature of being a woman and how labels limit women. We’ll be paying this one a visit in Required Viewing very soon.
23. Cruel Intentions — Put another check in the column of movies you might be surprised to learn I was obsessed with before I even hit double digits. That makes us 3 for 3 now, yes? I didn’t know it at the time, but Cruel Intentions has always been so engrossing to me because it pushes all the same intrigue buttons that costume dramas do, being a teenaged update of Dangerous Liasons. The lush sets and complicated social entanglements fascinated me then, and they still do now. Oh, and for a surprisingly satisfying double feature, pair this picture with another Roger Kumble directed flick — The Sweetest Thing.
22. Crazy, Stupid, Love — Crazy, Stupid, Love. is one of those movies that really just has it all. It’s romantic without going too over the top, it’s comedic and it is jam-packed with talent. Where else can I get Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Kevin Bacon, Steve Carrell and the one and only Marisa Tomei in one picture? Even if the rest of this movie weren’t perfectly lovely I would watch it just for the Stone-Gosling Dirty Dancing scene.
21. Clueless — To be quite honest, I can scarcely remember a time before I knew every single line of Clueless. I don’t think I saw it in theaters, but I dealt some serious use and abuse to that VHS tape. Perhaps some part of me was already responding to Jane Austen’s Emma underneath the layers of glossy Los Angeles high school drama, but more likely, I just loved the quips and the music and young Paul Rudd. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that we had sub-par slang by the time I reached high school (except for “fetch” of course), and even more so that I never burned anyone with a line as fierce as “you’re a virgin who can’t drive.”
20. Donnie Darko — I didn’t see Donnie Darko until 2005. It was the week Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the book) came out. I was visiting family in Iowa with my dad and was stunned to see Donnie in a grocery-store based DVD rental spot in Maquoketa, Iowa — a city with a population that hovers around 6,000 people — of all places. I took it as a sign and rented it. Everyone else passed out before I even started it, so I sat and tried most desperately to contain my laughter as I watched Donnie and Elizabeth snark at each other over dinner for the first time. I fell in love with it then. I wasn’t sure if I loved Donnie’s rant about Smurfs or Drew Barrymore’s cool teacher or Sparklemotion more, but I knew it was a movie I would watch time and again.
19. American Honey — There have been a handful of movies I have truly, truly loved this year, and though I don’t foresee rewatching it as often as The Hunt for the Wildepeople, I know that American Honey is the one that will stick with me the longest. This movie just plain knocked me flat. It was mesmerizing and horrifying and heartbreaking and beautiful and I don’t know when I’ve ever seen anything else like it.
18. Revolutionary Road — I had a professor recommend two books to me during a longform creative fiction class. One was The Moviegoer. The other was Revolutionary Road. Both wrecked me. The movie came out later that same year and it was such a powerhouse of performances that I could barely stand it. I like to tell people who have never seen Revolutionary Road that it is the movie of what would happen to Jack and Rose if Jack hadn’t died. Kate the Great, y’all. She earned the name.
17. Inglorious Basterds — Like any self-respecting film brat I love me some Quentin Tarantino. I will happily say that Inglorious Basterds is far and away his finest work. It’s an epic bacchanalia of alternate history that delivers all of the expected violence, plus unexpected gravitas. The dialogue is whip smart and the story complex. And then there are those performances, great turns at every, er … turn.
16. Mean Girls — If you know me, you know that my reverence for Tina Fey has no bounds. A good measure of that affection began with Mean Girls. I was in the end of my freshman year when the movie came out and it was everything my movie loving self hoped for. A comedy that lived in my world and blended the dark humor of Heathers with the universality of The Breakfast Club. To this day I use Mean Girls quotes as a barometer when getting a feel for new people.
15. The Avengers — Joss Whedon is the author of so many things that have brought me joy, not least Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and his vision for the superteam that solidified the MCU as an absolute juggernaut is still among the best we’ve seen from the Marvel-Disney machine. As a Whedon fan, I could hear his voice and feel his touch in every single frame of that picture and it spoke to my very soul. By Age of Ultron it was clear Joss didn’t have the same creative control he did when no one believed The Avengers could work, but we got one very nearly perfect movie out of the partnership before creative differences drove a wedge between Whedon and the house of mouse. The Avengers is a movie as ambitious as they come and it works because it was made with pure love.
14. Out of the Past — Noir may well be my single favorite genre — certainly its my favorite style to visit in classic Hollywood — and I really wrestled with which of the iconic titles I would include here. It seemed a crime at first not to have Bogey or to call on Barbara Stanwyck as the ultimate in femme fatales, or even to give a nod to Sin City, which taught me about the hard-boiled genre before I really had any exposure to the greats. But ultimately, it had to be Out of the Past. It’s an infinitely watchable picture with a remarkable cast and voiceover dialogue that will lodge itself in your brain for days on end. “I didn’t know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don’t know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end.”
13. Reality Bites — Annemarie often tells me that I am the “worst millennial ever.” That statement is not what you’d call inaccurate — and my affection for movies that are before my time, and instance that she watch any number of them doesn’t exactly help my case. But Reality Bites is one of those pictures that just clicked with me. From almost the first minute of my first watch I knew it would take hold. I quoted Janeane Garafalo’s quip about her Social Security number being the only thing she’d really learned in college for years before I started applying to college. I drank innumerable Big Gulps and I still dream of hearing My Sharona in a gas station so I can recreate the dance scene.
12. The Breakfast Club & Sixteen Candles — The John Hughes oeuvre looms large over my childhood. Yes, I routinely quoted both of these movies from about the third grade on. Many, many people have captured in pages and pages of prose the beauty and power of these pictures. So, I’ll just say this: I’m still not over the fact that there was no Jake Ryan in my high school experience.
11. Halloween — I’ve already aired quite a lot of my thoughts about this movie on this site, so I’ll keep it brief here. John Carpenter’s classic hits on just about every trope in the genre and does it remarkably well. I never tire of this movie.
10. The Holiday — And speaking of movies I could watch (and have watched) to no end, The Holiday is my own personal perfect rom-com. It’s steeped in movies and the English countryside and peopled with these incredibly relatable characters that I just want to be best friends with in real life. I never fail to swoon for Miles writing theme music for Iris or to laugh at those precocious little Brit-kids, or cheer for Amanda when she can finally cry again. It’s almost too delightful.
9. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — You know that bit about how I love costume dramas? Miss Pettigrew hits every single one of the beats that delight me in those pictures and adds in a twist of Frances McDormand, Amy Adams and Lee Pace just to up the delightful bar a few more notches. This movie is dreamy and melancholy all at once. I never know if my heart is more broken or full when it ends, I just know that I’ll be back to mull it all over again.
8. Brooklyn — Around this time every year I am deep, deep, deep in the throes of awards season, or, as I like to call it, prestige season. Brooklyn had a lot of buzz for Saoirse Ronan going for it last year, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t just a performance movie with pretty costumes. Brooklyn is a near-perfect picture that is sweet and heartbreaking, and a rare piece of cinema with near universal appeal. All of us grow up at some point, and the story we see here is as relatable in the 2010s as it was at the time. I don’t expect that will ever change.
7. Dazed and Confused — Boyhood brought many people around to Richard Linklater as a filmmaker, but at the risk of sounding like a Linklater hipster, I was in his camp long before that. And controversial statement alert, I prefer the Sunrise-Sunset-Midnight trilogy as an experiment in revisiting characters over the span of many years. And I’d watch Bernie over Boyhood any day of the week, but my greatest Linklater love is the picture that first introduced me (and many, many others) to him, Dazed and Confused. It’s a picture that does nostalgia so well it can make a viewer who wouldn’t even be a thought for more than a decade after the era it depicts, long for the 70s. It’s a wonderful snapshot of a painfully specific point in life that every American teenager experiences.
6. Clue — I’ve been quoting Clue since elementary school. A couple friends and I spent most of the third grade and on periodically shouting to one another, “PICKED UP THE DAGGER, RAN DOWN THE HALL, AND STABBED THE COOK.” It wasn’t until years later, of course, that I realized how immaculate this cast is and came to fully appreciate the wordplay and the subtlety of the comedy. Clue is also the single greatest Quote-Along I’ve ever attended at the Alamo Drafthouse, and that is saying something, because they know how to movie geek.
5. The Silence of the Lambs — Picture this. I’m in fifth grade. Both my mom and I are sick with something on the bronchitis-pneumonia spectrum. This is before the on-demand era, so we were out of commission for ages and left with whatever HBO was showing for the month by way of entertainment. Unable to watch The Outsiders or Crybaby one more time, my mom convinces me that we should watch The Silence of the Lambs. It’s a great movie she says. And she’s right. It’s brilliant. It’s also the stuff nightmares are made of. Buffalo Bill. Hannibal Lecter. Murders. Woman suits. Creepy stories about screaming lambs. I was transfixed, and just as soon as I got past the trauma I became the Murderino I am today. I’ve also scarcely ever been scared by a movie since.
4. The Godfather — It might be a cliche, but The Godfather has reached the cultural status it possesses for a reason: it’s exceptional. I happened upon it on AMC one day, and the rest is history. From that day on, I’ve made jokes about oranges foreshadowing death and channeled Tom Hanks channeling Marlon Brando in my extremely poor impressions. And let’s just say the fact that Al Pacino was once a stone cold fox was a total revelation for me.
3. No Country for Old Men — The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is one of the single most intense viewing experiences I’ve ever had. (Only The Lives of Others — which should claim a spot on this list — and Zodiac compare in my memories.) It was Oscar Sunday. I saw it at a dollar theater with my Dad. It was cold and snowy out, but the theatre was packed and the whole place smelled like damp popcorn. We sat in the second row, our necks craned upward and watched a film that’s nothing short of exceptional play out with shock and awe. It won Best Picture while we were watching and I was left to agree with the Old Man that it was something I could easily sit there in our crummy seats and immediately rewatch.
2. Goodfellas — If The Godfather was enough to get me hooked on mafia pictures, Goodfellas was enough to prove that even when the genre is built on giants, there’s room to play. Goodfellas makes incredible use of music and tells a story that peels back the charm of the Corleones and reveals the real horror within its characters, even when they are the protagonists. It invites us directly into the dream of Henry’s life, and then shows us how quickly that world can turn into a nightmare.
1. Zodiac — David Fincher is my favorite director. I love that he takes a movie like Benjamin Button, which most people consider a love story, and finds a way to tell us it is actually a story about death. I love that he found ways to improve on Chuck Palahniuk’s seminal novel when he made Fight Club. I love that The Social Network is absolutely enthralling when it has no right to be. I love that I am beyond tempted to sit here and list what I love about almost all of his movies before I actually get into why Zodiac is the one I chose to list of all of them, and above everything else. What makes Zodiac brilliant is also what makes Spotlight brilliant. It’s a relentless procedural that somehow makes impossibly compelling work that is actually quite a grind. Fincher taps into Gyllenhaal’s talent for single-minded characters who are charming and alarming in equal measure. In casting Robert Downey Jr. he began the renaissance that gave us our beloved Iron Man. He fluidly tells a story that span counties and decades and does it all in such a way that left me breathless on my first watch and still gives me chills every single time I see it hit the climax. If you’ve made it through this whole list, you can see, as I am now for the first time, how Zodiac combines elements of all those films that made me the cinephile I am today. It pushes all of my buttons. But even more than that, it is an underwatched gem that enters masterwork territory.
Okay, dear readers, we’re going to publish this right quick before we both start to realize what we’ve neglected. Or just get excitable and write another 5,000 words.
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