My 16 Favorite Movies, In Order, With a Reason For Each

Revised, May, 2019

(Revision of the original list, from year 2000….)

[Note: The first number after the year is the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) user rating; the first percentage is the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score and the second is the RT Audience Score.

    1. Casablanca

      (1942) 8.5 97% 95% Other movies come and go; Casablanca endures…. What makes it great are (a) the superb cast and (b) the fact that it was made at the height of Axis power when it actually seemed that Europe might end up permanently under Nazi control. The latter gives the movie an urgency, a truthfulness which others lack. (Link to my 37-page website about the movie – with clips.) [formerly #1]

    1. The Imitation Game

      (2014) 8.0 90% 91% I have created a webpage with detailed thoughts about The Imitation Game . The strengths of the movie are three:

 

    1. Day For Night

      (1973) 8.0 100% 91% (in French with subtitles, not the dubbed version — which is hideous). Bubbling over with joie de vivre and Truffaut’s love for his characters. 2-minute trailer . Georges Delerue is responsible for the wonderful score. [formerly #3]

    1. Shakespeare in Love

      (1998) 7.1 92% 80% A very clever script.

                   A beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow, as Viola de Lesseps, and a very energetic/handsome Joseph Fiennes as Will

                  Clip 1:  Sunday morning, preceding her command performance at Greenwich (3 minutes)

                  Clip 2At Greenwich, before a stunning Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench): “I bear witness to the wager and will be the judge of it as occasion arises.” (3 minutes)

                  Clip 3 Geoffrey Rush, as Philip Henslowe (2 minutes)

                  The same great spirit as Shakespeare’s plays. [formerly #6]

    1. Sophie’s Choice

      (1982) 7.6 77% 85% Intense, terrible, beautiful and poetic. Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep are sublime. (I do not generally care for Meryl Streep’s acting, but this is a huge exception.)  I wrote in my original list that the omission of Sophie’s Choice from the original (1998) AFI Top 100 list was criminal. That was partially rectified in 2007 when it appeared on the revised AFI list (at #90).     (I say “partially” because it should, of course, be higher than #90.) Nevertheless, I have moved Sophie in this list from #2 to #5.   I’ve been giving less weight to movies’ “morality”.  I’m not sure that it’s the job of movies to show us what is “right”.

                    A fascinating youtube: Styron, Streep, and Kline on the making of Sophie’s Choice . [10 minutes] [spoiler alert.] [formerly #2]

    1. Annie Hall (1977) 8.0 97% 92% Some would say that Woody Allen is a despicable person – which may or may not be true – but this movie remains, for me, very warm, funny and truthful…. A recent re-viewing prompted a cascade of thoughts/feelings. [New to the list]
    1. The Day the Earth Stood Still

      (1951) 7.8 94% 87% Somewhat maudlin and earnest, but with a beautiful and pure message at its core.

      • Clip 1: Klaatu (“Mr. Carpenter”) helps Prof. Barnhardt with a math problem
      • Clip 2: Klaatu’s departure [formerly #9]
    1. It’s a Wonderful Life

      (1946) 8.6 93% 95% See the preceding. Favorite scene:  the “over-the-top” finale . [formerly #10]

    1. The Lives of Others

      (2006) 8.4 92% 96% About an East German playwright and his actress-girlfriend whose apartment has been bugged by the State Security Service. The agent eavesdropping on their secrets and their most intimate moments is an apparatchik, but we discover in him a certain humanity – an unexpected desire to do what he, individually, feels is right. (In German, with subtitles)

                   A two-minute clip, near the end of the movie. [New to the list.]

    1. The Big Short

      (2015) 7.8 88% 87% High finance isn’t nearly as sexy as The Big Short would have us believe. Betting against the market is a lonely, soul-numbing business. (Michael Burry’s Scion Capital Fund lost more than 20% of its value in the two years preceding the housing crisis – during which time the S&P 500 gained 20%.)

                  But this is a really good movie, featuring the largely true, parallel stories of Michael Burry, Mark Baum, Jared Vennett, and Shipley/Geller.  Some really good acting.

                  Certain characters speak directly to the camera, commenting on the proceedings, – which I really like, when done well….

                  The 2-minute trailer

                  Clip: Mark Baum debating Bear Stearns CEO in a public forum. (Note: everything after 4:40 is an advertisement.) [New to the list.]

11.  The World of Apu  

(1959) 8.3 100% 94%  The third and final film in Satyajit Ray’s “Apu Trilogy”. The first two (Pather Panchali and Aparajito) are also very good, but I like this one the best. (It stands on its own: it’s not necessary to watch the others in order to appreciate it.) (In black-and-white; in Bengali, with subtitles.) Wonderful music (by the then-unknown Ravi Shankar) and cinematography.      This two-minute clip gives you a good sense of both. The second half of the film is stronger, more consequential than the first. Be patient.  [Warning:] a tragedy occurs…. [New to the list.]

12.  Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet

(1968) 7.6 94% 74% Lush, luscious – musically and visually – over-the-top Shakespeare. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s freshness and youth more than compensate for their inexperience. ( 5-minute clip of their first meeting.) [formerly #5]

13.  Walk the Line

(2005) 7.9 83% 90% Outstanding performances by Joaquin Phoenix (– for my money, the best actor currently working –), as Johnny Cash, and Reese Witherspoon, as June Carter Cash.

They both did their own singing.   I especially love “Jackson” and Reese’s “Wildwood Flower“. [New to the list.]

14.  Downfall

(2004) 8.2 91% 94% An intense, brutally realistic dramatization of the final ten days of the Third Reich. Bruno Ganz (4-minute clip) is amazing as Hitler! (In German, with subtitles.) Bunker staff fiddle while Rome burns (2-minute clip). [New to the list.]

15.   Citizenfour

(2014) 8.1 96% 87%  A “real-time” documentary. I don’t see Snowden as an attention-seeker.  I think he’s someone who very much believes in what he’s doing and made a huge sacrifice of his own personal freedom in doing it.  Was the film necessary? I think that filming the proceedings was a form of protection against abuse/misrepresentation, by the authorities.

Clearly, there’s a down-side to this NSA info becoming public and I think that certain innocent individuals have suffered as a result, but I do think that, on balance, it was a good thing.  Something which needed to be done.

There’s an interesting scene in which President Obama says that Snowden shouldn’t have done this, that there was an on-going government investigation which could have given a better result.   Frankly, I don’t buy it.

2014 Academy-Award winner for Best Documentary.  One-minute trailer.  

16.   Dr. Strangelove

(1964) 8.4 99% 94% For its irony and sense of the absurd: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room”. Tour-de-force performances by Peter Sellers in three different roles. Five-minute clip of Sellers (as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake) with General Jack Ripper, early in the film. The entire movie can be found here (for free) . 1:07 – 1:10 is one of my favorite scenes. [formerly #8]

 

Demoted….

                                        Rita: How are you doing this?

                                       Phil: I told you. I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsatawney, and it’s always Feb. 2. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

                                      Rita: Maybe it is really happening. I mean, how else could you know so much?

                                      Phil: Well, there is no way….

                             But … no longer in my top 13 (or 16).

 

Why are these four universally top-rated movies not on the list?