Okay, so let me preface this by stating right off the bat this is probably one of the hardest, most heartbreaking tasks I’ve had to do in recent memory. Watching movies I’ve cherished my whole life fall off the list and into the netherworld beyond was like watching Mufasa plummet down the gorge all over again. Coming up with some sort of criteria for these lists is almost impossible – these lists are entirely subjective and reliant on the person writing them. If a guy says Chicken Run is his number one favorite film of all time, I’m not going to argue with him about it. For me, the entirety of films on this list means something to me. Whether pure nostalgia, the wonder it consumed me with, the infatuation I had with the characters, or the appreciation of cinema they gave me, all the films on this list captured me in one way or another at one point in my life and helped groom the love of cinema I have today.
Now, for the sake of the list and you readers, I tried to limit myself to only one film per franchise, to avoid the inevitable Star Wars and Lord of the Rings flood the list would have otherwise had. These are not reviews of the films themselves, but why they are important to me and how they have placed their roots in my love of cinema.
10. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Brothers) – 2013
Perhaps an odd film to find on someone’s “Favorite Films Of All Time” list, Inside Llewyn Davis sticks apart from the majority of films in this list. The main character is a humongous asshole, it’s very deliberately paced, the color palette consists of various monotonous shades of gray and black, and it seems like not much happens throughout the course of the film.
But dammit does this movie work. Although an asshole, Llewyn Davis remains a fairly likable character throughout. I found myself consistently coming back to rooting for him, even after various mishaps (some of which may or may not be his fault). Very deliberately paced, the film never seems to drag. Every scene, no matter how minute or seemingly unimportant, exists to propel our main character forward through his bleak journey to become a successful folk musician.
The music remains sensational throughout, with a folk soundtrack provided by Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and some of the rest of the film’s cast playing several pivotal roles in the film. Oscar Isaac carries the film with a standout performance as Llewyn Davis and proves himself one of the best actors of his generation. A film about perseverance, failure, luck, and conformity, Inside Llewyn Davis is a must-watch for all up-and-coming artists.
9. Everybody Wants Some! (2016) – Richard Linklater
This is the perfect “pick-me-up” film. A film that hits close to home, Richard Linklater’s 2016 film Everybody Wants Some! tells the story of an incoming college freshman baseball player in the 1980s. The sense of comfort the film portrays with our protagonist and his new life-long friends hits close to home – a junior in college as I write this, watching the shenanigans of this groups of friends is reminiscent of my own experiences when I entered that stage of my life.
Perhaps what really got me to love this movie was its relatability. The characters feel so genuine and filled with so much heart and realism, even if the circumstances and setting are so different when compared to the time I grew up in. A film jam-packed with testosterone, most of the male characters seem like jerks and typical sexist college males, but as the film continues to roll on, the characters grow into such real and dynamic characters that they feel like real people. Obnoxious? Yes. Cocky? Extremely, but the film ultimately paints it’s characters in realistic ways, leaving every character flawed yet extremely likable when the film comes to its close. The anxiety, the freedom, the power of friendship, and a soothing sense of nostalgia sweep over the film like a warm blanket.
8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Wes Anderson
I must admit, I put off watching this film for a very long time. The animation style was off-putting for me at first, and I wasn’t too big of a Wes Anderson fan leading up to my first viewing of this film (I was just coming off of The Darjeeling Limited, the only Anderson film I had seen at the time). Bored and reluctant, I fired it up one afternoon and decided to give it a shot. After my initial viewing, everything seemed to fall into place.
I fell into a Wes Anderson craze. The Wesening enveloped my entire life, and I had to see EVERYTHING Mr. Anderson had put out. I had a fever, and the only prescription was more Anderson. Fantastic Mr. Fox did more for my love of cinema than just introducing me to Wes Anderson’s vibrant and colorful style. As a movie-goer, my first viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox was towards the beginning of my realization of my love for movies. Before this, I knew and respected animation as a form of cinema, but besides Disney Animation Studios and Pixar (which played huge roles in my childhood), I shrugged off other studios and various animation styles. Yes, I saw the Shreks and the Road to El Dorados, but none of Dreamworks or Laika Studios could hold a candle to Pixar, so I paid them no mind.
Fantastic Mr. Fox won me over like no animated film had since Pixar’s Ratatouille. Charming, elegant, smart, and witty, Mr. Fox relies on stop-motion figures to help bring to life Roald Dahl’s timeless children’s book of the same name. Wes Anderson’s colorful and symmetrical style perfectly suit the film and helped bring the realized world to life, keeping it’s joyous and charming roots intact.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – Gore Verbinski
While not as masterful as other films on this list like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl stands proudly beside these other titans of films, holding down its number seven spot on this list with pride and gusto. Introduced to this film during its initial theatrical run, I was swept away by the fantastical story and set-pieces. The naval battles were gripping and intense, the fight choreography was fast-paced and engaging, the banter full of wit. The characters were brought to life by their respective actors, and Captain Jack Sparrow quickly became one of my favorite movie characters of all time, only behind Luke Skywalker.
An iconic tale of adventure and a swashbuckling story of greed, double-crossing, and friendship, Curse of the Black Pearl is a perfect mix of campiness in the dialogue and story, with undertones of darker, more mature themes that the latter Pirates films couldn’t seem to go back to.
6. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) – Sergio Leone
Perhaps the greatest western of all time, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly remains a pinnacle of cinema. A vast and empty landscape, the film takes its time setting up its plot and characters. After cleverly introducing our three main characters, the viewers are thrust into an adventure of greed, betrayal, and war as our three leads scour the desert in search for an insurmountable amount of gold.
Visually spectacular and backed with memorable characters, Leone constructs an epic tale of good vs evil with a little dash of the gray area in between. Leone sprinkles scenes of intense tension like a Michelin-caliber chef sprinkles salt on his food, carefully constructing scene after scene until we get to the climax at the graveyard – perhaps the tensest and most satisfying scene ever put on film.
5. La La Land (2016) – Damien Chazelle
Magical and whimsical, it had been a long time since I was swept away by a film like I was with La La Land. Bright, lively, and joyous, the charisma the film exuded kept me upbeat and happy like almost no other film has done. I felt like a kid again watching this film and being transported to a world of magic, where dreams and love rule over our two main characters and drape the film like a curtain. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play their roles with such care and charm, pulling you into their lives and situations, leaving the viewer so invested in their lives we can’t help but fall in love with them. This is a film where love and the power of dreams reign supreme. This is a film where the magic of cinema run amok, dazzling and entrancing from start to finish.
The film is about dreamers, for dreamers. No dream is too stupid, or too far- fetched to be achieved in this world, and La La Land really drove that idea home for me, during a time where I desperately needed it.
4. Cinema Paradiso (1988) – Giuseppe Tornatore
Another film about the magic of cinema, yet a little more on-the-nose. This Italian film chronicles the life of young Salvatore Di Vita, a young boy raised in a small village in Sicily during and after World War II. Salvatore, with the help of projectionist Alfredo, discovers his love of cinema, something that will influence him for the years to come.
The film showcases love in its purest, undistilled form. A love of cinema, love of life, and love between two star-crossed lovers, the film is cloaked in a sort magic that only comes around in a movie once every couple of years. A film of escapism, Cinema Paradiso, like La La Land encapsulates everyone’s feelings toward the art of cinema – the sense of escape from our real world into the world we’re viewing on screen. A film of beauty in this magnitude is a rare occurrence, a film that exemplifies love, joy, loss and fantasy in one carefully constructed package.
A film that somewhat resembles my own life and experiences, the movie strikes a chord in me that no movie besides La La Land can. After one viewing, I knew this was a film that I would carry with me for the rest of my life, and a movie that I would always hold dearly.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Steven Spielberg
A tale of whimsy and adventure, Raiders of the Lost Arc remains a pillar of cinematic achievement. A film that helped morph my early teenage years, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I thought archeology was doing all the cool, fun stuff Indy does (minus the Nazis), and vividly remember wanting to be an archeologist for a solid two years of my youth. Looking up to Indy and Han Solo, I grew idolizing Harrison Ford and thought he was the absolute coolest man to ever walk this planet (still not sure he isn’t, though).
From the iconic Indiana Jones theme, to the boulder run, to the whip and hat that become part of Indy’s character, Raiders is jam-packed with some of the most iconic scenes and themes in the history of cinema. A tale of wondrous escapism and adventure, Raiders helped solidify Spielberg as my favorite director and helped cement my undying love for action-adventure films.
2. Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Irvin Kershner
I easily could have picked at least 3 Star Wars movies to place somewhere on this list, but it didn’t take a lot of thought before I realized there was only one Star Wars I could realistically put on here – a film that helped shape my entire childhood.
There isn’t much to be said here that hasn’t already been said countless times before. A near perfect film, this is the defining film of a generation, and countless generations to follow. The battle on Hoth, Yoda’s training of Luke, Bespin, “I am your father”, you could go on and on about how iconic of a film Empire is, but it would be falling on deaf ears. Revolutionary, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back have affected more lives and more films than almost any other movie in recent memory.
A film dear to me since childhood, I remember watching these films since I could first walk, introduced to me by my father. Collecting all the toys as I was younger, I, like many others before me, remember playing and acting out these films with my own characters. Empire was the first film I can remember that drew me in so effectively that I found myself falling in love with the characters. I cried when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, I cried again when Luke had his hand off, I cried yet again when I realized the film was coming to a close and there was still no Han and our heroes were separated. I had never seen a film before that resulted in a catastrophic loss for our heroes, and it absolutely blew me away, like thousands of others before me. Oh, what I would do to see this in its original theatrical run in 1980.
A film I go back to more often than most, I can thank George Lucas and Irvin Kershner for the film that has influenced my life more than any other – except for one.
1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) – Peter Jackson
The one film that reigns supreme. Underneath the countless orc costumes, set designs, lines of dialogue, battle sequences, and score, lies an underlying love, passion, and heart that was put into these films that are unprecedented in a film and unequaled by any other, with the sole exception of the original Star Wars trilogy.
I remember watching these films as a kid with my dad on the weekends (extended editions, duh), and being absolutely mesmerized and swept away in this classic tale of good vs evil. My first introduction into a sprawling fantasy epic filled with elves, dwarves, and humans, I instantly fell in love with the genre as a whole.
A crowning achievement of cinema, Peter Jackson set out with one of the most ambitious and inspiring dreams of movie-making to ever be achieved. Beautifully constructed, Jackson did the impossible by bringing to life Tolkien’s Middle Earth with such a respect and love for the story, the two visions remain inseparable, with Jackson’s becoming the automatic vision of Middle Earth to book readers. A spectacle, Jackson blends together CGI with practical effects and hand-made sets to perfection and gives the film a dark and realistic tone that, if made at a later time, would be impossible to do thanks to the rampant use of CGI.
An immense feeling of nostalgia surrounds these films for me. Realistically, I could have easily placed any of the three Lord of the Rings films as my number 1 favorite movie of all time, but I would have been lying to myself if I even tried to think of reasons as to why I would place Fellowship or Two Towers over this, although great films on their own.
An incredible cast, amazing set-pieces, stunning effects, and perhaps the best musical score ever recorded for film, Return of the King remains a timeless masterpiece, and one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time.