My Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movies
I’ve been writing for House of Geekery now for about three years. In that time I’ve posted dozens of articles, everything from movie reviews to suggestions for casts, to why people shouldn’t pay attention to Rotten Tomatoes scores so much. Three years and I’ve run the gamut.
Yet the other day something occurred to me. Of the over 100 posts I’ve done on this site, I’ve never written the most obvious one: what are my top ten favorite films? I resolved at that moment to rectify the discrepancy. As I delved into the process I quickly discovered why I’d never attempted to rank my top ten favorite films.
I love too many goddamn films.
Seriously, this was like pulling teeth. You think NFL coaches have it bad trying to cut down their rosters? Try choosing between The Goonies or Ghostbusters sometime. Talk about a Sophie’s Choice.
OK maybe not that bad.
Seriously though, I didn’t know where to begin. After awhile I just said screw it and started writing down every movie I loved that came to mind. Soon I had a list over 100 films long. And then the real task began. Whittling the list down. Ooof. I set to like Jason Voorhees or Patrick Bateman. The bloodletting was fast and copious. My best option (in fact the only one that worked) was to make quick snap decisions, and trust that my unconscious mind knew the right answer. I knew that if I stopped to ponder the merits of Pulp Fiction‘s rogue but successful continuity verses Unforgiven‘s condemnation of violence, I’d find myself down a rabbit hole so deep that the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and Tim Burton combined wouldn’t be able to get me out.
And so after a long, arduous time (an hour), the task was complete. I felt like I’d gone fifteen rounds with Ivan Drago. (Yeah Rocky IV almost made this list, don’t judge.) But I’m satisfied with results. However, I admit the list will likely change over time. If you’re a hardcore fan of movies you know this truism is a Moses-esque-etched-in-stone fact. As the Dothraki say, “It is known.”
And so without further nerdisms, here be the list. Yar!
#10 The Dark Knight (2008)
Of all the films on my list, it’s the only comicbook/superhero movie. I hesitate to even call it that because The Dark Knight is top to bottom a great movie period. Qualifying it with the “superhero movie” connotation is insulting. From Hans Zimmer’s rousing score, to Wally Pfister’s cinematography, to Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction; The Dark Knight grabs you by the throat from the opening bank robbing scene and doesn’t let go until Bats drives off into the night. Soaring above it all is Heath Ledger’s perfect depiction of the Joker. Funny, malicious, philosophical, and menacing all in one, Ledger’s performance is one of the best of the 21st century to date. Considering some of the questionable nominees for Best Picture that year (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader), it’s no wonder that the Academy expanded its nominees for Best Picture to ten the following year. Regardless, The Dark Knight was absolutely one of the top five films of 2008.
#9 Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters is a special film for me because it’s the first movie I remember actually seeing in the theater. Ivan Reitman’s superb 1980s comedy/horror movie came out of nowhere to thrill and capture the imaginations of millions of people. Think about it. Who would have thought that a film about highly educated exterminators who fight a 100 foot tall marshmallow man in the third act would be so successful? On paper it sounds ludicrous. But you throw in the talents of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson, combine it with an up and coming star in Sigourney Weaver, along with cutting edge special effects and laugh out loud jokes, and you’ve got a recipe for magic. Thirty-two years later, this movie still entertains the Hell out of me.
#8 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of war movies, however I’ve always been a sucker for WWII films, in particular the European occupation. In my opinion Saving Private Ryan is the best war film ever made. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, which depicts the assault on Omaha Beach, lasts twenty-seven minutes and is one of the more astounding sequences you will ever see in cinema. I hate the phrase, “it’s like you are there,” but yeah that’s an apt description of the first thirty minutes. Usually when I walk out of the theater with my friends we immediately begin chatting about the film. After seeing Saving Private Ryan we didn’t talk to each other…for thirty minutes. It was that profound. Another stellar performance by Tom Hanks is overshadowed by an impressive supporting cast particularly Barry Pepper as religious sniper Private Daniel Jackson and BAR gunner Richard Reiman played by Edward Burns. Saving Private Ryan is arguably Spielberg’s best work and garnered him his second Oscar. Still a travesty it didn’t win Best Picture that year.*
#7 Braveheart (1995)
Back before Mel Gibson went all wacko** and became a focus of ridicule on South Park, he made one of the greatest epic historical war films of all time. Twenty years ago this was actually my favorite film. It’s the first movie I saw multiple times in the theater (3) and sparked my interest in the Oscars. Gibson’s film about the life of Scottish hero William Wallace, while historically inaccurate, nevertheless is a thrilling tale. Mel Gibson’s deft direction (he also produced and starred) crafts a momentous story of a lowly peasant turned hero. It intermingles the ideas of liberty, freedom, courage, betrayal, and battle sequences on a grand scale. Patrick McGoohan was robbed of an Oscar nomination as his portrayal of the cruel King Edward “Longshanks” was flawless. Braveheart also offers a superb supporting cast with actors like Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), Brian Cox (Rushmore), and David O’Hara (The Departed). Couple this with the late James Horner’s sweeping score (I’ve listened to the soundtrack for years) and John Toll’s Oscar winning cinematography, and you have the most sweeping epic since Lawrence of Arabia.
#6 The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Yeah I know. Technically this is three movies but it’s my list so piss off. Like many nerds, my indoctrination into the world of fantasy began with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. While there are far superior fantasy writers out there (George R.R. Martin being one) you never forget your first. When I first heard in 1999 that they were making Tolkien’s beloved work into a series of films I had a full on nerdgasm. The Fellowship of the Ring (which I saw six times) was actually my first midnight premiere show. I was riveted. I remember crying three times in that film. Peter Jackson brought Middle-Earth to life and while The Hobbit movies are ok, nothing compares to the originals. The cast was perfect, especially Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. The film also has significant historical value in that The Return of the King was the first straight fantasy film honored by the Academy for Best Picture.
#5 John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Seems like the older I get the higher this movie gets on the list. It’s one of those movies that whenever I’m flipping around the TV and it’s on I’ll stop and watch. The Thing is a perfect horror film. Set in the barren wasteland of Antarctica, The Thing contains all the elements for a great horror movie. Isolation, paranoia, a hidden enemy, sudden and unexpected scares, and a pulse-pounding score by Ennio Morricone, combine for a superb horror stew. It’s also the only film I’m aware of that Wilford Brimley doesn’t have a mustache. Almost three and a half decades later, Carpenter’s best work still scares the shit out of me.
#4 Back to the Future (1985)
I’ve written before about how much this series of films means to me. However the original is still the best of the bunch. If you grew up a nerd in the 80s and 90s, Back to the Future was automatically part of the Geek Movie Canon. I must have watched Robert Zemeckis’ movie 50 times by the age of twelve. Marty and Doc’s adventures never got old for me. (They still don’t.) For a film with a surprising amount of exposition, Back to the Future still succeeds on every level. The practical effects and performances still hold up to this day. If you didn’t want a DeLorean after watching this film for the first time you have no soul.
#3 Jaws (1975)
A lot of people attribute Star Wars to bringing about the modern blockbuster. However, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws did it two years before Han, Luke, and Leia. Another one of these movies that I’ll stop and watch whenever it’s on, the brilliance of this film comes from the absence of the shark, something that occurred for technical reasons not by choice, as the shark was always malfunctioning. The idea of something with giant teeth that sneaks up on you in the ocean, profoundly addresses an inchoate fear in many human beings. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw make for one of the great trios in Hollywood history. Shaw’s Quint is so iconic that even though he has some of the least screen time in the movie, he’s the film’s most memorable character. At least for me anyway. And speaking of iconic and memorable, is there a single red-blooded American who hasn’t heard John Williams’ score and not gotten a little tingle of dread?
#2 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
My third Spielberg film on this list, and for good reason. Raiders of the Lost Ark is undoubtedly the best adventure movie of all time. It’s the film that really catapulted Harrison Ford to stardom and struck a chord with millions worldwide. I remember my friend Justin wishing he’d been old enough at the time to see this movie in the theater to experience the zeitgeist of the moment. Have to agree with him there. If you ask me who my favorite movie character of all time is, it’s hands down Indiana Jones. George Lucas and Spielberg’s creation is the embodiment of dashing-cocky, heroic, handsome, and intelligent, but also with a strong moral compass. This is arguably screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s best work. Raiders is one of those films that sucks you in from start to finish. It’s still a joy to revel in the adventures of the whip-toting archaeologist as he galavants around the world seeking the Ark of the Covenant.
#1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
In a world that’s so cynical it’s easy to get jaded. It happens to the best of us, even me. But then I watch The Shawshank Redemption and I remember there’s hope. EVERYTHING about the this movie appeals to me. Morgan Freeman’s spectacular performance as Red, Tim Robbins even better turn as Andy Dufresne, Frank Darabont’s flawless direction, Roger Deakins cinematography, Thomas Newman’s score–I love it all. It also ties for the best ending in movie history.*** And the story, based on Stephen King’s work of short fiction, just captivates you. There’s something inherently rewarding in watching an injustice righted, the good rewarded, and the evil punished. It’s often not how the world works. But The Shawshank Redemption reminds us that there IS justice, that people CAN change, and that hope is REAL.
Movies are such a subjective topic. That’s why (even though I’ve written them) I sometimes dislike “Best Of” lists simply for the nomenclature. Because let’s be honest, it’s really just what that author’s favorite films are. Or if it’s a composite list, multiple authors. There’s no mathematic formula for determining what the “best” or “worst” is. I’m sure many of you will read this list and think some of these movies are crap or wonder why certain ones aren’t higher on the list. I welcome that in the comment section. Reason being that it sparks debate, interest, and conversation. At the end of the day that’s what great movies, whether they are your favorites or not, do.
*Seriously, fuck Shakespeare in Love.
**Look I know what Gibson did was shitty, like really shitty. There’s no excuse for it. However, can we please move on at this point? It’s been ten years since he directed a film. If you still want to give this guy shit yet are excited to watch every Woody Allen and Roman Polanski film that comes out, you’re a hypocrite. Can’t wait for Hacksaw Ridge.
***Tied with The Usual Suspects
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