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)
#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
#29– THE MATRIX (R, 1999)
#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)
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)
#21- IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (PG, 1946)
#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)
#17- HOT FUZZ (R, 2007)
#16- UP (G, 2009)
#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)
#12- THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (PG, 1980)
#11- THE COURT JESTER (G, 1955)
#10- THE DARK KNIGHT (PG-13, 2009)
#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)
#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)
#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)
#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)
#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.