As per several requests, here are my favorite movies of all time. I really enjoyed making this list and hope you all get some nice recommendations out of it!
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 93% | Metacritic: 89
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is mind-blowing. Charlie Kauffman’s convoluted indie sci-fi masterpiece, it’s about a couple that undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. In doing so, it warps its way through time, the characters, and, indeed, their memories. Naturally, the screenplay is baroque and reverse-order—but still gets hell of a lot more complicated than you’d expect. Remember: You can’t travel through your past without revisiting (and hence manipulating) it! So if you like Inception, check out that fan trailer above.
9. The Dark Knight
2008 | PG-13 | Rotten Tomatoes: 94% | Metacritic: 82
I’ve never heard somebody call this just “good.” The Dark Knight’s vast scope of madness and epicness deserves far more than that. I mean, Heath Ledger put his life on the line (rest in peace, man) to get into his role’s psyche. He single-handedly changed what it meant to be a villain: He took the Joker from a petty trickster to a psychopath/anarchist with a personality as unique as Hitler’s. Every step. Every smile. Each is a move engraved, deeply, into the Joker’s dark and disturbed mind. This historic performance shows the depths Christopher Nolan explores here. And yet, those depths have little to do with the other characters. All we need to know about them is that they face a state of collective existential despair, whether from fueling or facing the relentless terrorism; they just sit back to play their own roles in the grand picture. The story alone soars to those depths on its own—torching us with a dark, mystic aura of wonder.
2015 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 98% | Metacritic: 100
Boyhood used to be my favorite. If I could only watch each film once, it’d still be #1. The experience isn’t as unique once you’ve already seen it a few times, but I’ll never forget the way this film invaded my consciousness that first time. Why? Richard Linklater literally filmed Boyhood (same cast, same characters) over the course of 12 years, so you actually get the full experience of growing up. I, having grown up at the same age in the same area (suburban Texas) as Mason, watched the trends and anecdotes of my youth (from Ripsticks to Wii Sports to Soulja Boy) unfold within his life just as they did with mine. He and I also encountered the same struggles, realizations, and more. You will find similarities too—and an experience unlike anything else you’ll ever encounter.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2014 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 92% | Metacritic: 88
Seriously. We all know that Wes Anderson is a genius of his own kind, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is his magnum opus. The shots are so, so beautiful. The sets are so ornate. The characters are super animated—and the ensemble nailed the roles. Alexandre Desplat’s score is the perfect topping to the film’s fast pacing. Even the fact that its social commentary is very much a subplot to the already chaotic movie shows how dynamic and artful it truly is. Don’t miss the trailer!
6. Pulp Fiction
1994 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 94% | Metacritic: 94
Just like that of The Godfather, Pulp Fiction’s legendary status speaks for itself. It is by far the best film of the 90’s (although 1994 was already packed). This is a non-linear epic that would be in every home if it weren’t so brutal. Alas, the brutality only heightens the Pulp flavor. Pulp Fiction bears everything you want in a black-cult comedy, mobster story, and Interstellar-like mind twist—combined. And yet, containing such things in one blender renders it nothing like any of its ingredients. It created its own genre, one that Tarantino has since propagated through Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and Django. But all of them are mere children to their daddy, Marsellus Wallace. Keep in mind that, although it doesn’t have any graphic nudity, this is one of the dirtiest films you will ever see. That’s how Tarantino does it: He’s all up in your face. And, in doing so, he made what is objectively considered one of the greatest films ever made.
Time for the top 5.
5. Fruitvale Station
2013 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 94% | Metacritic: 85
Wow. I will never forget the tear-stormed agony I felt when I saw Fruitvale Station in my freshman dorm. It happens every time I watch it, because Ryan Coogler’s drama is so much more than the social importance for which it is (duly) praised. Despite an ultra cheap budget and thus a few poor side actors, its devastating realness will make you feel like you’re watching an actual documentary about a tragedy. Bravo to the cast for meandering through the joys, mistakes, and tragedies of humans with such sprawling emotion! And Michael B. Jordan put in a lead performance that everybody in film school should study. Centered around him, Fruitvale Station is the most emotional film I’ve ever seen. It is also the To Pimp a Butterfly of cinema.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth
2006 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 95% | Metacritic: 98
Pan’s Labyrinth is uniquely unique, to put it bluntly. There’s not a single film to which it is remotely “similar.” The closest I can think of is Schindler’s List, but even that is quite a limited comparison. Maybe we can compare it to Picasso’s Geurnica.
Intertwining horror, mystery, fantasy, and history (post-revolution 1944 Falangist Spain), Pan’s Labyrinth emits its own harrowing sense of magic. But make no mistake: This is not like a “fairytale story.” It is modern. It is realistic. And it is disturbing, as demonstrated by Captain Vidal’s psychological warfare. “Don’t fuck with me.” He is disturbing in a quasi-apocalyptic “What has this world come to?” way that rang throughout the 20th century, from Brave New World to Hitler to Dr. Strangelove to Saddam Hussein. The fairytale aspect just embodies the “Escape from reality” and/or rebellious response one would logically have in such circumstances. You’ll just have to see the incredible ending to find out how it all intersects. Alas, it remains quite a well-rounded experience.
2015 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 94% | Metacritic: 95
Goosebumps. If I were to describe one film with the word “perfect,” it’d be Carol—literally everything about it is perfect. But before I get into it, let me ask this: If you don’t want to watch this film because of its same-sex nature, why? The main point of art is to experience different perspectives. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then shouldn’t you be disturbed by watching people die in films? Shouldn’t the fact that Michelangelo’s David has a penis deter you from seeing the greatest work of art ever made? There’s also only one (brief) graphic scene in Carol, and I hope it doesn’t cause you to miss out.
I am far from a “romantic,” nor do I watch many romance films—and yet, just the way Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett look at each other gives me the feels. It’s like you can reach out and touch the tension that slowly builds, eventually boiling, from the moment they meet to the final scene (which would be an amazing avant-garde short film on its own). The quality of the acting is simply astonishing. I’ve never seen a duo this good.
Like, when we discover aliens, we should send them Carol as a description of human love. And this film is a paradigm achievement in many, many more ways too. Its directing. Its cinematography. Its color palette & color grading. Its set (which really makes you feel like you’re in 1950’s New York). Its score. And even its beautiful costume design (which compliments such beautiful and talented actresses). By the way, it is the most critically acclaimed romance film since Casablanca as per Metacritic (Rotten Tomatoes’s superior). It even got a 10-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Festival. All in all, to watch Carol is to be intoxicated by cinematic heaven.
2. Spirited Away
2001 | PG (Should be PG-13) | Rotten Tomatoes: 97% | Metacritic: 96
Not only the best animated film, Spirited Away is also one of the best films—of any type—ever made. We all bow to and love Pixar. Literally all of us. And yet, Pixar bows to Spirited Away’s director Hayao Miyazaki, as he continuously produces masterpieces through the decades. But his others, even Princess Mononoke, aren’t even in the same ballpark as Spirited Away. It shook the world, becoming Japan’s all-time highest grossing film in weeks. And make no mistake: It continues to shake us.
“A surrealist visual mind trip. A postmodern coming-of-age tale, serenely dressed in political and ecological messages. A tango between the psychological allurements of evil and merits of goodwill. An identity-bending hybrid of traditional Japanese & modern global culture. A whirlpool of life and death, reality and fantasy, imagination and insanity.” There are so many such directions I could go. What I will say about the so-called “character development” is that you watch a girl go from petty, annoying child to brave, mature adult in a setting more frightening and difficult than any of us went through. Her parents are turned into pigs. She gets sucked into an alternate reality—a netherworld filled with spirits, demons, dragons, monsters, and human-eating animals. There’s a villain going after her named No-Face that can create gold, go invisible, and devour anybody. Etc.
So yeah, contrary to popular belief, this is neither a kids film nor your classic “anime.” But it is a film that all teens and adults must see. I mean, it’s the most creative work of art, of any type, I know of. The visuals alone are of historical importance. Heck, the soundtrack even inspired me to learn the piano. My only request is that you watch it in its original Japanese language with English subtitles—the English voices make it sound cheesy! Prepare to be Spirited Away, as I myself have found after watching it like 25 times.
1. Lost in Translation
2003 | R | Rotten Tomatoes: 95% | Metacritic: 89
Lost in Translation truly changed my life. If you are a film nerd—or simply into philosophical and/or intellectually stimulating stuff—you MUST see it. Nothing in the universe compares to the way it makes me feel. Nothing.
Transcending the romantic indie comedy+drama stereotypes, LiT radiates many philosophical nuances about love, isolation, and loneliness. You know, when you feel lost in translation. Bill Murray and (at the time of filming) 17-year-old Scarlett Johansson—both mastering their roles—are star-crossed lovers. And their interplay, like that of Carol, is unprecedented. Director Sofia Coppola rose above the low budget, coupling a stunning screenplay with wondrous, yet often hilarious, dialogue. And the cinematography, oh the cinematography. Just look at those expertly shot views of Tokyo and creatively shot scenes of them darting through the city’s liveliest spots. The soundtrack, headed by Phoenix’s Thomas Mars, further saturates the visual experiences (so indie). And, like those of Carol, even the film’s most acute technicalities (the lighting, ambiance, camera angles, etc.) are revolutionary,. The only thing I’d change at all is the trailer, which really kind of sucks.
And while slow in an archetypal critically-acclaimed avant-garde film way (i.e. in a Radiohead/Pink Floyd way), it is simply unbeatable in its power to distill happiness, love, and hope to even the loneliest and most heartbroken of viewers. It packs the most explosive punches in the slightest moments. I can always testify to that; I reach the ultimate state of peaceful euphoria every time I watch it… or even think about it. As such, though it has little to do with the well-known comedic and romantic elements, Lost in Translation is my all-time #1 film. To try to convey the impact this beautiful art had on me in my hardest times would do it an injustice; you just have to feel it on your own.
- My next 10: The Social Network, Her, The Godfather, No Country for Old Men, American Beauty, The Master, North by Northwest, Princess Mononoke, Whiplash, and The Truman Show.
- Comedies: 500 Days of Summer, Superbad, Anchorman.
- Horrors: Get Out, The Conjuring, The Strangers.
- Wars: The Hurt Locker, Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove.
- Historicals: 12 Years a Slave, Gladiator, Doctor Zhivago.
- Pre-Hitchcocks: The Great Dictator, Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca.
- Sci-Fi’s/Fantasies: Interstellar, The Tree of Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- Pixars: Ratatouille, Wall-E, Inside Out.
- Sports: Moneyball, Creed, Hoop Dreams.
- Documentaries: Citizenfour, Man on Wire, Inside Job.
- TV Shows: Game of Thrones, Criminal Minds, Mr. Robot.
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