|(My top twenty favorite *not necessarily greatest* films of all time.)|
1.) All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
A brutally honest, semi-autobiographical film by Bob Fosse about Broadway life which is, in my opinion, a timeless masterpiece and one of the greatest musicals ever filmed. The movie centers on choreographer Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider, who "came to believe that show business, work, love, his whole life, even himself and all that jazz, was bullshit." This movie is best described by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz as a "spiritual autopsy," and legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said it to be "the best film I think I have ever seen."
2.) Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
There's probably no screenplay that I could come closer to reciting by heart than this one. Everything there is to love about movies can be found here, a love letter to cinema written on celluloid by Quentin Tarantino. My biggest disappointment in moving to L.A. was the realization that Jack Rabbit Slim's is a fictional restaurant and that I'd never partake in their world famous twist contest. This film comes recommended alongside every other movie that Tarantino has touched, even as a ghost writer.
3.) Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
Howard Hawks directs what Roger Ebert called "one of John Wayne's best performances." What I love most about this film is that it takes the time to just hang out with the characters, a rare quality in movies, allowing them to become your friends. Sure, there are terrific scenes of action involving shoot-outs and dynamite, but the real fun is when the movie slows its pacing to crawl as our heroes sit around a jail smoking and drinking while Ricky Nelson strums his guitar and they all sing not one but TWO full songs in a row. Film critic Robin Wood said in his estimation that "if there was ever one movie to justify the existence of Hollywood commercial cinema, it would be "Rio Bravo." I can't say that I disagree.
"When I'm getting serious about a girl, I show her Rio Bravo and she better fucking like it." - Quentin Tarantino
4.) Blow Out (Brian DePalma, 1981)
The most creative and original suspense movie I've ever seen, littered with political subtext and cross-references to other films and historic events, stars John Travolta in what is easily his best performance as an artist who discovers a hidden crime through his work as a sound effects editor on B-movies. The first five minutes feature a movie-within-a-movie, a sleazy low-budget horror film called "Co-ed Frenzy", which will make you feel like you've wandered into the wrong theater. DePalma was inspired by Hitchcock and, in many ways, may have outdone the Master of Suspense with this dreamlike thriller.
5.) Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
Based loosely on the true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who in 1958 went on a two-month killing spree across Nebraska and Wyoming, this movie not only avoids making sense of the killings, it refuses to even focus on them. The result is hypnotic. This film will also make you want to build a tree house even more than "Swiss Family Robinson." I usually dislike voice-over narration, but Sissy Spacek's dialogue is so poetic, funny and strange that it adds to the movie like music.
"Before we left, he shot a football that he considered excess luggage." - Holly Sargis
6.) The Sugarland Express (Steven Spielberg, 1974)
While "Jaws" may hold a dearer place in my heart, this was Steven Spielberg's first theatrical film and its success would make or break the director's future of bringing us "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List." Thankfully, this husband-and-wife-on-the-run story was critically acclaimed (and a hell of a lot of fun), with The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael calling Spielberg the "new generation's Howard Hawks." It is easily one of the greatest debut films in the history of cinema.
*Winner of the 1974 Cannes Film Festival Best Screenplay and nominated for the Palme d'Or.
Nothing makes me happier than the work of Laurel & Hardy, and of their 107 films this has always been the movie I use to introduce newcomers to the Academy Award-winning duo of "The Boys." The magic of their comic invention and universal, timeless humor takes second place to no one. William A. Seiter, a director known for romantic comedies and dramas, directs Stan and Ollie's best and most subtle feature here, which is sadly his only film with them. "Sons of the Desert" was finally deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress in 2012 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
"They lived life the way it was supposed to be lived and showed us all that it doesn't work. To me it was the greatest love story of all time - I think that was the basis for the longevity of their films, that they obviously loved and cared about each other very, very much." - Dick Van Dyke
8.) Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
It's unreal that as of 2016 this movie has yet to be released on Blu-ray. It is Sofia Coppola's most beautiful film, a historical picture which avoids being informative and instead allows us to connect with the loneliness of its central character, in what is probably Kirsten Dunst's best performance. The movie is equal parts epic and quietly restrained, and always complete eye candy (the pink and black opening titles set to the blasting of Gang of Four's "Natural's Not in It" with Dunst looking at the camera is the perfect start.) The costumes and production design transport you to a different world, and Versailles is as much a character in this film as Tokyo was in "Lost in Translation."
"This is Sofia Coppola's third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you. It shows Coppola once again able to draw notes from actresses who are rarely required to sound them." - Roger Ebert
9.) Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2014)
The story of a woman who lost her way in life, determined to get herself back on the right path by hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail alone, is a raw, dark, funny, and powerfully emotional adventure about loss and redemption, completely defying convention. The nakedly personal book by Cheryl Strayed, on which the film is based, provided Reese Witherspoon with the best (and most complex) performance of her career.
"If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve." - Emily Dickinson
10.) It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)
An epic 192-minute comedy packed with more comedians than the film itself can handle, this was marketed as "the comedy to end all comedies." Few things will ever make me happier than seeing Jonathan Winters destroy that gas station with his bear hands, watching Jimmy Durante literally kick the bucket, and Ethel Merman slipping on a banana peel. This is also the one movie where The Three Stooges can do absolutely nothing and get a laugh.
"This superscaled tribute to slapstick remains a landmark for bringing together several generations of brilliant comic legends from vaudeville, radio, television, and the movies, many provided with the best-written and most memorable screen roles they were ever given. It's a flat-out joy, as well as Kramer's most fondly remembered picture." - Lou Lumenick, New York Post
11.) Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
This was my favorite movie of 2014. P.T. Anderson wildly succeeds in taking on the impossible task of adapting Thomas Pynchon's novel for the big screen. It is a fun and complex film noir filled with characters addicted to their nostalgia as much as they are to their drugs, all played flawlessly by some of Hollywood's most underrated and greatest actors. I can't believe this movie exists, and I'll be forever happy that it does.
"Inherent vice in a maritime insurance policy is anything that you can't avoid. Eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters - and Doc wondered what that meant when it applied to ex old ladies." - Sortilége
12.) Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993)
It's hard to pick only one Robert Altman movie for this list (a younger me would have insisted it be "Popeye"), but this dark and funny film, based on the writings of Raymond Carver, about the lives of twenty-two strangers in Los Angeles unaware of their connections to each other, popularly referred to as an "L.A. jazz rhapsody," is the director's most compassionate project. This is my favorite Robert Altman movie, just barely beating out his remaining 87 directorial efforts... though they're all perfect. Even "Popeye."
13.) Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Tim Burton's tale of the "worst director of all time" is one of the funniest and most endearing biopics about Hollywood ever made. Martin Landau's performance as Bela Lugosi is worthy of its Academy Award and Johnny Depp's undying optimism as Ed Wood will forever be in the back of my mind... "Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!"
14.) Modern Romance (Albert Brooks, 1981)
The funniest movie about jealousy ever made.
15.) Used Cars (Robert Zemeckis, 1980)
Before Robert Zemeckis made my childhood favorites, "Back to the Future", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and "Death Becomes Her", he directed this dirty comic gem starring Kurt Russell as a used car salesman in a film that celebrates the main character's genuine love for a rotten business. This movie is pure foul-mouthed fun and a primary example of why Russell is one of my favorite actors.
"This classic screwball fantasy is more like a restless and visually high-spirited version of the W.C. Fields pictures. The director, Robert Zemeckis, developed a homegrown surrealism out of earlier American slapstick routines. This picture has a wonderful, energetic heartlessness; it's an American tall-tale movie in a Pop-art form." - Pauline Kael
16.) To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943)
Jack Benny, my favorite television personality, never had much luck in the movies, this being his one true exception. The Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America, Geoffrey O' Brien, sums up this dark Nazi comedy far more eloquently than I ever could...
"To Be or Not to Be did something rare, then or at any time, by interweaving farce and disaster in such a rigorously structured fashion as to elicit, in the very same scenes, genuine anxiety and a hilarity so acute that it has something like an ecstatic kick. For many, myself included, it is close to being the funniest film ever made, featuring Carole Lombard in her last and greatest performance, and Jack Benny in the only film role that did justice to his comic genius."
17.) The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
A small, subtle, rich, complex, detailed and beautiful film about love, loss, sexual misadventures and the death of a small town which pulls off being set in the 50s so well that Roger Ebert referred to it as "the best movie of 1951."
18.) One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)
With its rapid-fire machine gun delivery of jokes, spoken so quickly by James Cagney (in his final starring role) that you'll probably only catch 20% of the punchlines the first time out, this screwball Cold War comedy by Billy Wilder comes recommended along with every other film the director has ever made ("Some Like It Hot", "Sabrina", "Five Graves to Cairo", "The Apartment", "Ace in the Hole", ect.) as my favorite of the bunch, along with it's running theme that everything is "hopeless, but not serious."
19.) Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997)
The first film to make me aware of Woody Allen captured my imagination as a kid by having Robin Williams portray a character who is losing focus, so much so that he is literally blurry the entire movie. It felt like a movie that shouldn't have been allowed a green light (like most of the director's films), especially after the introduction of cannibalism and a trip to Hell where Billy Crystal plays the Devil. It might be Allen's most personal, self-hating, vulgar film. I don't know if it's his best, but it's definitely my favorite (possibly tying with 2003's "Anything Else" and 1996's "Everyone Says I Love You".)
20.) To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)
"A lot of movies are about life, mine are like a slice of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock
*BONUS - Universal Monsters (1923 - 1956)
No, I couldn't pick just one (though James Whale wins for my favorite Golden Age horror director.) There's just something about the Universal monster movies which belong to a space completely separate from any "top movies" list as a collection that must devoured as a whole to ever experience the full effect of what they have to offer. Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Claude Rains, Lon Chaney, Jr., Ben Chapman and Elsa Lanchester (even "The Munsters", if we count television) feel like family at this point, and below is a complete list of my favorite spooky films to get you acquainted...
1.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wallace Worsley, 1923)
2.) The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian, 1925)
3.) The Man Who Laughs (Paul Leni, 1928)
4.) Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931)
5.) Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
6.) The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)
7.) The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932)
8.) The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)
9.) The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934)
10.) Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)
11.) Dracula's Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
12.) Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee, 1939)
13.) The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941)
14.) The Ghost of Frankenstein (Erle C. Kenton, 1942)
15.) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Roy William Neill, 1943)
16.) House of Frankenstein (Erle C. Kenton, 1944)
17.) Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton, 1948)
18.) Abbot and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (Charles Barton, 1949)
19.) Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (Charles Lamont, 1951)
20.) Abbot and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Charles Lamont, 1953)
21.) Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954)
22.) Revenge of the Creature (Jack Arnold, 1955)
23.) This Island Earth (Joseph M. Newman and Jack Arnold, 1955)
24.) Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy (Charles Lamont, 1955)
25.) The Creature Walks Among Us (John Sherwood, 1956)
CUT! That's a wrap, folks!
Click here for Alyssa Merwin's Top 20 Favorite Films!