I know that a few of my colleagues here at The Awards Circuit have been using this series to talk about the films they consider to be the Ten Best of all time, but I’m going to forego that and instead literally make this as subjective a list as possible and talk about the movies I feel are my favorites and thus the ones I consider to be my Top Ten of all time. I do this for many reasons, including not wanting to get into a debate over what can be considered the objectively best of all time (that gets into too many issues over film theory and different schools of thought on the art and I never want anyone to feel that they’re wrong in their thinking when it comes to film), but mainly…these are just the flicks I’m the most passionate about. This is the sort of situation where I prefer subjectivity over objectivity. I’ve written thousands of words on ‘Battleship Potemkin‘, ‘Casablanca‘, ‘Citizen Kane‘, and a whole host of over generally agreed upon classics in the past, and I called that film school (not that I didn’t enjoy those days or anything like that). What I cherish more, and have sought to do in my half decade or so at The Awards Circuit is to wax poetic on the films that bring me the most joy in life. Now, I’m not suggesting that a film that merely makes me feel good like ‘Little Miss Sunshine‘ or ‘Real Genius‘ be placed upon at Top Ten pedestal (though if someone had them on their own lists, I’d never begrudge them that), and by the same token my 100 favorite films of all time list (which I’ll include in the comments section of the piece once it’s published, which is now if you’re reading it) contains masterpieces like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, ‘City Lights‘, and ‘On the Waterfront‘, but the following ten films occupy a special place in my heart. I realize that for some, this list will skew too new for their tastes, but I just chalk that up as fuel to my argument that the modern age of cinema is not the shadow of its former self that so many have made it out to be.
A number of films made a rather strong bid for this list as I gave quite a bit of thought to what truly are my “favorite” movies of all time. I can tell you that had I received another ten slots to play with, the likes of ‘Back to the Future‘, ‘The Battle of Algiers‘, ‘Blazing Saddles‘, ‘Boogie Nights‘, ‘Dazed and Confused‘, ‘Fight Club‘, ‘Manhattan‘, ‘Requiem for a Dream‘, ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope‘, and ‘Taxi Driver‘ would have likely been there (and separate works from the likes of Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, and Mel Brooks, so fear not fans of those filmmakers), but I only had a Top Ten to play with, so here it is…the films that I personally feel are my favorites of all time, and thus the greatest in my mind.
Sera: Don’t you like me, Ben?
Ben Sanderson: Sera… what you don’t understand is – no, see, no. You can never, never ask me to stop drinking. Do you understand?
Sera: I do. I really do.
A heart wrenching film if ever there was one, Mike Figgis’ ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ elicits emotion out of me in a way that few movies can. One can be forgiven for not expecting too much from a drama about failed screenwriter and alcoholic Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) who goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death but falls in love with Sera the prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) in the process. That being said, there’s an amazing depth to this work, and a profound sadness as well. Like the quote above says, Ben’s only real requirement of Sera is that she never ask him to stop drinking. They share a the type of love that only broken and sad people can share, but while she sees a life with him and a happy future, he only sees his quest to die with the bottle in his hand. I was deeply effected by the idea here that love can save, but love can also sometimes just delay the inevitable. As much as anything though, I admire this film so much for the powerful lead performances of Cage and Shue. This is Nic Cage’s career best role (and a worthy winner of the Best Actor Oscar), and it’s shocking in its restraint, considering what we’ve seen him devolve into of late (though it’s still a very lively performance). The same goes for Shue, as she was never able to match this type of performance again. Well over a decade after first experiencing it, I’m still haunted by ‘Leaving Las Vegas’.
Alvy Singer: A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.
There’s an incredible braveness found in this film, as Woody Allen chose to actually chronicle a relationship, not just from the meet cute to the happy ending, but from the natural beginning to the natural end, just like most relationships in life. His first crack at more serious fare after a life in stand up and a newfound career as a comedy director, the film follows his alter ego Alvy Singer (Allen) as he falls for the unique Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). It’s a poignant and hilarious film, notable for its realism and fantasy merged together. The portion of Alvy’s life we see is one we can all relate to, and when funneled by his random musings and fantastical urges and daydreams, he only becomes a more relatable figure. This was Allen’s best performance, and he also got an amazing one out of Best Actress winner Keaton, as you find it impossible not to fall as in love with her as Alvy does. Allen has made a number of amazing films in his career (and is still going strong with his latest gem ‘Midnight in Paris’), but this is his most complete work, and a true American masterpiece. I absolutely adore it and cite it as perhaps the best Oscar winner of the 1970′s…yes, I said it.
Narrator: And there is the account of the hanging of three men, and a scuba diver, and a suicide. There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.” Someone’s so-and-so met someone else’s so-and-so and so on. And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that strange things happen all the time. And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”
There are few films more ambitious than this one from Paul Thomas Anderson. Full of audacity, powerhouse performances, and a whole lot of heart, this is the type of movie that rewards you with subsequent viewings. The first time around it’s easy to get sucked into what the prologue and climax mean in the grand scheme of things, but after that initial viewing, you come to appreciate the small miracles of the flick as much as the big ones. Almost a dozen California residents are bound together by different threads (some by blood, some by location, some by shared pain, and some by sheer coincidence), each one with their own standout moments. For me, the highlight is Tom Cruise’s bravado turn as a male chauvinist self help guru. As much as anyone else in the flick, he sums up the repressed feelings and hidden pain that form the glue of all the characters. And yes, I’ll admit that I’m someone who adores the surprise in the third act, though I can understand those who don’t. For me, this is the rare 3 hour film without an ounce of fat on it. The first time I saw it, I just sat their, paralyzed by its brilliance. That’s not my normal response to a film (especially of late). Only something special can do that, and this is something very special indeed.
Igor: Dr. Frankenstein…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: You’re putting me on.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, it’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: Do you also say “Froaderick”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No… “Frederick.”
Igor: Well, why isn’t it “Froaderick Fronkensteen”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: It isn’t; it’s “Frederick Fronkensteen.”
Igor: I see.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: You must be Igor.
[He pronounces it ee-gor]
Igor: No, it’s pronounced “eye-gor.”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: But they told me it was “ee-gor.”
Igor: Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?
Sometimes, you love a movie just because it’s hilarious, plain and simple. I grew up on the films of Mel Brooks, and while some may argue that ‘Blazing Saddles’ or ‘The Producers’ top this one, I can’t help but laugh the hardest here with this flick. I have a soft spot for good comedies, and horror films as well, so something as funny as this work, with the obvious love for the classic horror film it’s winking at, well…how can I not love it? I find it to be Brooks’ most confidently made film, targeting its bits with a little more precision than usual from him. It certainly doesn’t hurt that every single joke is a winner here as well, distinctly memorable and quotable (try me, I have almost every line memorized by this point in my life), while also being often original in its comedy and satire as well. This is my go to movie whenever I feel the need to have a good laugh. It never lets me down, and that’s the very definition of what a film on this sort of list should do, at least in my eyes. For straight up laughs, it’s hard to find anything better than ‘Young Frankenstein’.
Clementine: I wish you had stayed.
Joel: I wish I had stayed too. NOW I wish I had stayed. I wish I had done a lot of things. I wish I had… I wish I had stayed. I do.
Clementine: Well I came back downstairs and you were gone!
Joel: I walked out, I walked out the door!
Joel: I don’t know. I felt like I was a scared little kid, I was like… it was above my head, I don’t know.
Clementine: You were scared?
Joel: Yeah. I thought you knew that about me. I ran back to the bonfire, trying to outrun my humiliation.
Clementine: Was it something I said?
Joel: Yeah, you said “so go.” With such disdain, you know?
Clementine: Oh, I’m sorry.
Joel: It’s okay.
Clementine: Joely? What if you stayed this time?
Joel: I walked out the door. There’s no memory left.
Clementine: Come back and make up a good-bye at least. Let’s pretend we had one.
[Joel comes back]
Clementine: Bye Joel.
Joel: I love you…
Clementine: Meet me… in Montauk…
Getting at the root of what love is is maybe the hardest task on the planet. We choose to bond ourselves to another person, accepting their flaws as we hope they accept ours. More often than not, this ends in failure, but we’ve all retained memories and longing for the love of the past. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman are tackling the idea that you might be able to get someone out of your head, but getting them out of your heart is perhaps impossible. A sci-fi romance about what happens when Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) decide to heal their broken hearts after a break-up by undergoing a process that erases their memories of each other. The thing is, Joel is doing it in haste after seeing Clementine after the process, and he finds that he’d rather keep the memories, leading to him hiding those remaining bits deep within his brain. The set design is brilliant and imaginative, the cinematography beautiful, and the emotions deeply honest. I’ll confess that it took me a few times to really warm up to this film, but once I did, it’s gotten better and better with each viewing. I respond to it in a way that I only do with a select few other movies. It’s a film that brings me to tears almost every time I watch it.
Elaine Miller: Rock stars have kidnapped my son!
For my money the best coming of age story ever put on the silver screen, Cameron Crowe’s film is a love letter to the 1970′s, journalism, rock and roll, youth, but also to the pure joy of of doing what you love. The loss of innocence is handled with amazing restraint, but this is a movie that never really pulls its punches, resulting in a heart warming flick that isn’t toned down for the masses. The tale of William Miller (Patrick Fugit) getting to go on the road with a band while covering them for Rolling Stone and learning the ways of the industry never ceases to put a smile on my face, whether it’s from watching the outstanding ensemble cast or just feeding off of the good vibes that the movie gives off. Any of us who were writing at a young age (myself included) can relate to this movie, and I still think back to it oftentimes when I’m at a press screening and clearly the youngest critic in the theater by far. It’s incredibly memorable, and also has the distinction of being the film with the best soundtrack ever in my eyes (the runners up include ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘The Graduate’ ‘Garden State’, and ‘Harold and Maude’), so there’s that too. For all those reasons and more, it’s a classic in my eyes and an all time favorite.
Izzi: It’s all done except the last chapter. I want you to help me. Finish it…
A film has never blown my mind on an initial viewing quite like this one from Darren Aronofsky. Tackling so many things at once (science vs. religion, universal symbolism, faith, enduring love, etc) can be dangerous, but Aronofsky pulls it off by telling three linking stories set over a thousand years, dovetailing into the potential realization that this is merely one story, with two different extensions suggesting two different schools of thought (this is just my interpretation of it, I know there are many others out there, so just bear with me right now and we can debate it later on) on the matter. Depending on the part of the story, Hugh Jackman is either playing Tomas, Tommy, or Tom Creo, and in each of the stories he’s trying to save Rachel Weisz’s Isabel/Izzi. He believes in science, seeking to go to the ends of time to find a cure for death, while she believes in faith, choosing literature, spirituality, and writing as her way of preserving herself for all time. The culmination is their views on life merging into one and giving her a form of immortality through art (in this case, a book). It’s truly beautiful stuff, and to see it done with Aronofsky’s typical visual perfection is a real treat. This is one of the more divisive titles on my list, I know, but I’ll defend it to the ends of time, just like Tommy would (and did) for Izzi…
Esmeralda: What is your name?
Esmeralda: What does it mean?
Butch: I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.
What can you say about this awesome movie that hasn’t been said multiple times already? A shock to the moviegoing system when it first came out, Quentin Tarantino’s crime masterpiece is maybe the coolest film ever made. What film from the 90′s was more influential to as many up and coming filmmakers? It’s a rather hip piece of deranged brilliance, made even more amazing by just how funny and immensely quotable it actually is when you think about it. The interlocking stories of violence, redemption, and pop culture are all shocking and amusing in equal bits. Why do I love it so much though? It’s just incredibly entertaining, plain and simple. From the random conversations to John Travolta’s comeback performance to the tension fueled action sequences, Tarantino is just firing on all cylinders here as both a writer and a director. He nearly matched this with ‘Inglourious Basterds’, but ‘Pulp Fiction’ remains his masterpiece, no matter what Lt. Aldo Raine has to say on the matter. For me, this is the apex of QT’s filmmaking and indie film at its crossover best.
Silent Bob: She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away. So, I’ve spent every day since then chasing Amy… so to speak.
The rare romantic comedy that’s also honest, perhaps to a fault, Kevin Smith’s third film is an underrated gem in just about every way possible. I think it’s one of the very best original screenplays penned in the modern era, full of insight into relationships, human sexuality, sexual taboos/mores, gender roles, all done with humor, pathos, and heart. The story of the friendship between Holden (Ben Affleck) and Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) that turns into a complicated romantic relationship when the former falls for the latter, despite her being a lesbian. Alyssa is able to reciprocate the feelings, but Holden (along with Jason Lee as his best friend Banky) doesn’t especially know how to deal with being the less experienced on in bed for the first time. Their arguments are real and brutal, and the heartbreak they experience is perhaps inevitable. Affleck gives his best performance to date here, and Adams was incredibly snubbed by the Academy (as was Smith’s screenplay, which legend has it was surprisingly close to being nominated), but Smith is doing top notch work as well. His monologues are beautiful, while still being funny, and the message he’s sending is one we can all understand. I fully expected a standard romantic comedy with a happy ending when I first sat down to watch this movie well over a dozen years ago…what I got was something much much more. What I got was my second favorite film of all time. Regardless of what you may think of Kevin Smith (and everyone knows by now I’m a Smith apologist), it’s hard to deny the charm and power of ‘Chasing Amy’.
Andy Dufresne: Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Yes, this is my favorite film of all time, and it’s the movie I cite when asked to give an example of a perfect movie. It has everything. It’s epic yet intimate, gritty yet with a fairy tale quality, and dark while still retaining hope. The film is elegant and clever, a true testament to the soaring nature of cinema and the power of the human spirit. Never before or again has the voice of Morgan Freeman (plus the rest of him as well) been so perfectly utilized in a movie. He’s the heart and soul of the film, though Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne creates one of my very favorite characters in all of movie history. Not one moment of this movie isn’t incredible, whether it’s the uplifting moments or the times when things get pretty bleak for Andy and Red. I know I’m not alone in loving this film as much as I do, as the special edition of the DVD has no less than 2 documentaries on why the movie has the following that it does (it’s currently ranked as the greatest film of all time on the Internet Movie Database, for what that’s worth). This is a magical flick, plain and simple. If I’m not waxing poetic on it as much as perhaps you’d expect me to, it’s only because it’s hard for me to accurately express the perfection that it is. It’s been my favorite film since the first time I saw it, and I fully expect it to remain in that spot until I take my final breath…
There you have it…my cinematic soul humbly laid bare for you all. My #1-5 selections are on a level I don’t know that I’ll ever see another film reach in the near future, but I’m always on the lookout for my Top Ten to change, and I’d only be thrilled if that’s the case sooner rather than later. The only constant is change, and the more I see this list change and welcome new additions, the more I know that the world of film is still producing masterpieces.
Now, what do you think of my list? What are your favorite films of all time? Hell, what are your least favorites of all time? Whatever you want to say, I’m all ears ladies and gents, so have at it!