If the World Ends This Week, What Were Your Favorite Films?

If the World Ends This Week, What Were Your Favorite Films?

Image: Nathan Shegrud

I’m actually not worried about it. I believe The Bible over the Mayans. But just for fun let’s say the world is going to implode this week. That means no more movies. Well, cinema, we had a good run. I was really looking forward to Les Miserables, Man of Steel, and Star Trek Into Darkness, but I guess it’s quittin’ time. If I’m going to be destroyed, I’m going to need some closure on my whole movie obsession first.

If there were no more movies, what would you say, looking back, have been your favorites? Not the best, necessarily, but your favorites (Citizen Kane may be a “better” film than Three Amigos, but I’d rather watch the one that taught me the word “plethora“). Scroll down for my top 31 favorite films (since I’m 31 years old, why not?). Then share your picks, no matter how long or short your lists, in the comments below!


Note: Some of these choices are rated R. I generally avoid that rating, so if you share my sensibilities, you can seek those titles out on TV or buy an edited copy

#31- UNBREAKABLE (PG-13, 2000)

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is like a meteor. He burst onto the scene with The Sixth Sense, reached the apex of his brilliance soon afterwards with Unbreakable, was slightly less brilliant (but still impressive) with Signs, and everything since has been a perpetually dimming trail of what once was. Still, this film is a near-masterpiece of slow-burning mystery and dramatic tension, culminating in an amazing third act. It was also ahead of its time: audiences looking for supernatural scares a la Sixth Sense were put off by this grounded and “realistic” superhero movie (comic book movies weren’t en vogue yet). However, the film has amassed a growing, and much-deserved, fan base over the years. Highlights include wonderfully subtle work by Bruce Willis and Robin Wright, equally fine (but less-subtle) acting by Samuel L. Jackson, stunning cinematography, and James Newton Howard’s ominous and emotional score.


 


#30- THE INCREDIBLES (PG, 2004)

Disney-Pixar combined with director Brad Bird (Mission Impossible 4, The Iron Giant) to create this endlessly inventive animated favorite. Though it’s dressed as a superhero action comedy, at its core it’s a poignant drama about family strife and solidarity. Plus, the action sequences rival those in the best live-action comic book films

 

#29THE MATRIX (R, 1999)

Though the convoluted (yet thematically fascinating) sequels have tarnished its legacy somewhat, as a standalone action film few movies rival The Matrix. It has a mind-blowing story-line and well-developed characters to buttress its mythology, gun-play, explosions, visual effects, and Hong-Kong-style martial arts. It never gets old.


#28- GROUNDHOG DAY (PG, 1993)

 

Smart, romantic, and brutally funny, with an admirable moral about finding happiness through helping others. Bill Murray at his best.

 


#27- THREE AMIGOS! (PG, 1986)

A family favorite growing up, with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short as washed-up silent film stars who are mistaken for heroes and recruited to liberate a persecuted Mexican town from the vile bandit El Guapo. Boasts many of my all-time favorite comedy bits, including the one below.

#26- THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (G, 1956)

Cecille B. Demille brings the Old Testament to life, with some creative license and a whole lot of masterful filmmaking. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner are in fine form here, and the enormous sets are amazing.

 

#25- SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (R, 2008)

The most beautiful love story of the past decade (and the most ridiculous R-rating ever), as an impoverished Indian uses his national exposure on a popular game show to reach out to his childhood sweetheart. Exposes both the cruelty and compassion of mankind.
#24- GLORY (R, 1989)



An Oscar-winning turn by Denzel Washington and equally fine performances by Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Cary Elwes highlight this true story of the first African-American regiment in the Civil War. The score by James Horner is one of my all-time favorites.

 

#23- ROMAN HOLIDAY (G, 1953)

When it comes to romance, Old Hollywood trumps modern Hollywood hands down. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck star as a princess-in-disguise and the American journalist she falls for while ditching affairs of state. Bittersweet, funny, and ultimately a tale of utmost integrity.


#22- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (PG-13, 2011)

The final film in the Potter story was so expertly crafted, exquisitely acted, and emotionally satisfying that many (including me) feel that it was robbed of a Best Picture nomination (as well as a Best Supporting Actor for Alan Rickman’s gut-wrenching performance as Severus Snape). Seven films of build up is a lot to live up to, but the payoffs here were worth it.


 


#21- IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (PG, 1946)

Its perpetual rotation on TV during the holidays is terribly annoying until you actually sit down and watch it from start to finish for the first time. That’s when you realize: “It really is that great, isn’t it?”


#20- BACK TO THE FUTURE (PG, 1985)



More than anything, this movie is just loads of fun. Clever, adventurous, heartfelt, and very witty.

 




#19- THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE (G, 2000)



Not just one of Disney’s better movies, but one of the funniest comedies ever. If groups of adults, with no children in sight, choose it repeatedly for their entertainment (and they do), that tells you something right there.




#18- THE MASK OF ZORRO (PG-13, 1998)


A passionate love story, a gripping quest for justice, moving family drama, loads of comic relief, and dazzling stunt work wrapped into one perfect slice of old-school escapism. Banderas and the never-lovelier Catherine-Zeta Jones have piping chemistry. The swordplay is the best I’ve ever seen. Great music by James Horner as well. Directed by Martin Cambell, who also gave us the exemplary Bond films Casino Royale and GoldenEye.


 


#17- HOT FUZZ (R, 2007)

I got this British comedy from Cleanflicks, and I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed harder watching a film in my life. Relentlessly clever, with dazzling one-liners that come at you so fast you’ll miss the next one because you’re still laughing. Drags for 10-15 minutes in the middle, but the third act is absolutely uproarious. The characters are a hoot and the humor builds on itself. A gloriously intelligent English homage to shamelessly stupid American action movies.
 


#16- UP (G, 2009)

Much has been said about the beautiful and heartbreaking first five minutes, and rightly so, but what I love is how that setup colors everything that happens afterward in this marvelously creative, frequently-hilarious, and life-affirming Pixar treat.

#15- BEN HUR (PG, 1959)

 

So much more than the famous chariot race, this epic is ultimately one of the most profoundly Christian films to ever come out of mainstream Hollywood.

 


#14- DIE HARD (R, 1988)

The sequels are good, but the first Die Hard is a masterpiece of action film-making, and I don’t say that lightly. The stunts and fights are superb, but without a smart story that wouldn’t mean much. Thankfully, Die Hard literally does everything right. It’s well-written, well-acted (Alan Rickman, in particular, is a delight as the villain), funny, heartwarming (yet tough-as-nails), and chock-full of wholly-realized characters. Heck, even the henchman come across as three dimensional people! It’s got nail-biting tension and it works as an unorthodox Christmas movie.

 


#13- SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (G, 1952)


Sheer joy captured on celluloid, with arguably the best on-film dancing as well.

#12- THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (PG, 1980)


I love all the Star Wars movies, but this is the only one where they absolutely perfected the formula. George Lucas produces while a superior writer and a superior director work out the details. Han and Leia’s bickering chemistry is a wonderful exercise in unsentimental romance while Luke’s training with Yoda is loaded with meaningful truths. Also, Darth Vader has never been more awesomely imposing. You can still buy the unaltered theatrical version of this, as well as Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, on DVD.


 


#11- THE COURT JESTER (G, 1955)


Danny Kaye (White Christmas) provides a master class in film comedy, with terrific tongue twisters, perfectly-staged physical comedy, catchy songs, rapid-fire one-liners, and inspired silliness all across the board. A delightful movie.



#10- THE DARK KNIGHT (PG-13, 2009)


All of Nolan’s Batman films are exemplary, but this one’s a cut above the rest, thanks to amazing performances (by Heath Ledger, yes, but also by everyone else), a breakneck pace, unpredictable plot twists, and a story that takes audiences to the brink of chaos before letting humanity’s capacity for selflessness and morality shine a light into the darkness.


 


#9- JAWS (PG, 1975)

It doesn’t matter that the shark looks fake by today’s standards or that we’ve all seen enough of Shark Week on the Discover Channel to know that the premise (Great-White-as-serial-killer) is preposterous. Jaws is so well-crafted (by Spielberg in his breakout film), well-written, and well-acted that everything else melts away and you just get sucked into the character-driven story. Exceptionally entertaining, frightening, and funny, with not one wasted scene.

 


#8- RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (PG, 1981)

Temple of Doom and Last Crusade are both spectacular entertainments (the less said about Crystal Skull the better), but the first Indiana Jones adventure is still the finest. Spielberg is in his prime here, as is Harrison Ford, romancing Marion (a fiesty Karen Allen) and battling Nazis to protect the biblical Ark of the Covenant. John Williams’ music is simply iconic.





#7- CITY LIGHTS (G, 1931)



Charlie Chaplin’s best movie is as touching as it is funny, with his “little tramp” character enduring all kinds of hilarious hardships to help a blind girl he’s fallen in love with. What’s terrific about this (arguably first) romantic comedy is that he isn’t helping her to win her heart, he’s helping her out of pure kindness, whether she returns his affections or not. This is a wonderful film.

 


#6- THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (PG-13, 2001-2003)

I’m cheating a bit here, but as all three films tell one giant story, I’m counting it as such. I’m not going to drag on about why I’ve included this one. The super-trailer below captures the “why” better than my words could.

#5- STATES OF GRACE (PG-13, 2005)

A challenging film that upset some viewers, States of Grace is hard-hitting and uncompromising, but purposefully so. It’s a parable about of the heartache caused by sin and human judgement, the depth and reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the meaning of the Gospel amidst the cruelty and corruption of the world, and ultimately, the true significance of Christmas.

 


#4- FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (G, 1971)

As a bittersweet examination of the clash between tradition and social change, as well as the relationship between family and religion, Fiddler on the Roof offers plenty of food for thought and no easy answers. It’s also a first-rate, faith-promoting musical whose song-and-dance numbers are cream of the crop. Topol is terrific here.


#3- SERENITY (PG-13, 2005)

From writer-director Joss Whedon (The Avengers) comes Serenity, which works both as a standalone adventure for newcomers and, for fans, as a cap to Firefly, the short-lived (but much loved…after the fact) TV series that preceded it. This film is a glorious hybrid of action, sci-fi, comedy, horror, romance, martial arts, and Westerns. It shouldn’t work, but the cocktail proves delicious and the story, set 500 years in the future, deftly sheds light on themes that are relevant today: moral agency, excessive governments, and the fortifying power of human relationships. If that sounds too heavy, I should add that it’s also really funny.

#2- LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (PG-13, 1997)

Heart-wrenching and uplifting fable about an Italian Jew who uses his gift for humor and creativity to protect his family in a Nazi concentration camp and keep their hope alive. There may not be a film that inspires me to be a better man more than this.


#1- 3:10 TO YUMA (R, 2007)

A terrific film that will stay with you for days if you let it, demanding some thought and at least a second viewing to reveal itself to you. Christian Bale is perfectly restrained as a down-and-out rancher whose family is close to starving. He takes a job escorting a charming, but ruthless, outlaw (Russell Crowe) to the titular train which will transport him to the noose. Nobody in the movie respects Bale’s character, mistaking his humility for weakness. Nobody, that is, except for Crowe, whose self-serving killer justifies his actions because he believes all men are like him at their core. As such, he is deeply fascinated by the meek rancher and is constantly testing his integrity for weakness. Exceptionally acted by Crowe and Bale, who are clearly pushing each other to perform at the top of their game. If you want a toned-down version, catch the one on TV, as edited DVD companies tend to cut out some vital dialogue because it has mild profanity, as well as a crucial scene with implied (but not shown) nudity.


So there you go, dear readers. Those are my favorite films. What are yours?
 
 

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