Here it is: The first list or ranking published on The Goods.
I figured I’d start with a big one: My all time favorite films.
I want to emphasize that these are my favorite films and not the greatest films, to whatever point that distinction matters. That is to say: this list is rife with my biases and nostalgia, and it contains clusters of some of my favorite creators, studios, and eras. That might not make the most diverse list, but damn it, that’s what my heart says.
(Despite that prelude, I think every one of these films is objectively great, either a masterpiece or maybe a small tier below that, and I will defend each of these as genuine artistic achievements.)
Short films are permitted, but mini-series are not this time around. Sorry, Over the Garden Wall.
I have watched all of these movies at least once since 2020 — most several times before that, too — so I feel confident about my enduring love for every one of them. Films for which I’ve written a full-length review or recorded a podcast episode, I’ve provided a link.
I also published a two-part podcast episode going through this list (along with my friend and co-host Brian, who shares his own Top 100 list):
Without further adieu…
100. Inside Out (2015)
My friend described Pete Docter’s movies as “universe-explaining Rube Goldberg machines.” He meant it as an insult, but it captures the sense of wonder and satisfaction I feel watching his movies. In Inside Out, we follow the inner workings of pre-teen Riley’s brain during a stressful week, her emotions personified. Feelings with feelings.
Whenever I worry that its laborious narrative is too much of an inelegant slog, I simply watch the final 20 minutes again and remember how sharp Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is and how riveting Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson’s shout-off chemistry is.
98. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Surround yourself with good people, try to do the right thing, and you will always find your magic again. This isn’t Hayao Miyazaki’s heftiest film, but it’s one of his most delightful and inspiring.
97. Pinocchio (1940)
Some of the most gorgeous and scary animation ever created. The narrative is a bit blocky, but it all builds to an overpowering third act.
One of the all-time great westerns. It’s always a bit of a bummer when the first scene is the best in the film, but when the scene in question is one of the most badass in the history of cinema, a tense showdown at the rail station, it’s understandable.
My favorite James Bond movie, and also the one that came out at the perfect age for me (18). I love Bond’s emotional core — it’s the only time I’ve ever cared about him as a character — and it never goes more than a few minutes without a great scene.
I’ve only barely dipped my toe into Fellini’s work, but I can tell I’m going to love him. This is my favorite of his I’ve seen, an episodic dramedy about a prostitute in Rome navigating her transactional life of romance and her relationship with God. It has one of the greatest final shots in cinema history.
93. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is a tough one for me to place on this list. It’s a Platonic ideal of a thriller, simpler and leaner than its devout reputation might suggest. It spawned a confusing series with four timelines, and none of the sequels are within, like, two tiers of the original. This is the prototypical slasher — defining and mostly perfecting the subgenre’s beats.
92. Parasite (2019)
A rare buzzy instant classic that (mostly) lives up to the hype. I’m not wild about the tonally adrift denouement, but as a unique thriller with an unmatched sense of space and place plus a moving anticapitalist core, it’s really special.
91. Up (2009)
Every time I watch this one, it slides up or down my Pixar ranking. Currently, it sits quite high. We all know the opening is legendary, but I’m warmer on the rest of the film than I used to be: It has strong echoes of the emotional complexities of hesitant yet loving parenthood, which is the uniting theme of Pete Docter’s corpus.
Too long, too shaggy, too puerile, a bit misogynstic, etc. — all true and valid criticisms. But it’s simultaneously one of the funniest movies I’ve seen and also immensely satisfying storytelling as Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl have a physical birth and romantic rebirth. If the ending doesn’t make you cry at least a little, you are probably not a parent.
The more I think about this one, the more it grows on me. Funny, dark, romantic, great satire, terrifically acted, incredible setting design, and perfectly filmed by Billy Wilder. As a romcom, its mid-film twist weighs it down; as an investigation of humanity persisting in a cruel corporate world, it’s unmatched.
Am I being a bit indulgent including this movie? Or am I just surf surf crazy? It is indeed a product of its Disney Channel trappings, but so sneaky-smart and colorful and obscure (Beach Party riff?) and bizarrely alchemical. More than it has any right to be. It’s got an all-timer throwback pop soundtrack and delightful choreography. No ands-ifs-buts, we’re nuts for the beach!
PT Anderson’s breakthrough is an excessively huge and generous epic about the porno chic era. The filmmaking and acting are outstanding, even indulgent. (Dare I complain about too many virtuouso single-take scenes?)
86. Hercules (1997)
If Hercules feels a bit slight compared to other Disney Renaissance works, that’s only because its tone is so screwball and zesty. This has my favorite character designs of any Disney film, a peppy soundtrack, and a cinematic joyfulness. (Watching it about 150 times as a kid probably helped, too.)
“That’s Phil’s boy!”
What makes this the best Indiana Jones sequel is not just that it is so damn muscular and imposing, but that it is so different in tone and style from Raiders. It’s basically a fever dream, filled with insane and dark moments that are anti-crowd-pleasing yet so great. Harrison Ford’s best performance?
The single best specimen of CGI animation as visual art. As a story, it’s a terrific, hyperacitve, pomo comedy-adventure. If anything, it has too many brilliant ideas in it, but it’s one of the most compulsively watchable films in years and years.
Why do curmudgeons make the best Christmas protagonists? The Chuck Jones animation is a bright, almost abstract, delight. No surprise there, I guess. The faces in particular are amazing. Love the comedy, the set pieces, and the sentimental finale.
My favorite Harry Potter movie, and the one that most feels like a capital-F Film. The predestination time-travel makes for a fun, twisty final act filled with narrative and thematic payoff.
81. The Spectacular Now (2013)
One of the great teen dramas of my lifetime. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have magnetic chemistry and plumb the depths of youth that’s alternately dazzling and cataclysmic. Funny, sweet, romantic, sad.
80. Before Sunrise (1995)
Richard Linklater is perhaps my favorite active filmmaker, and this is one of his defining works. The chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is off the charts as we follow them on a night together where they talk about lots of little stuff that is only a thin veil to lots of big stuff.
79. The Lion King (1994)
I have encountered a weirdly big and intense group of haters of this classic online, but I am not among their ranks. The animation is some of Disney’s best ever, the production values are massive, and the score is legendary. I love it.
78. Drinking Buddies (2013)
My all-time favorite mumblecore film. The cast chemistry is blistering, the treatment of the casual alcoholism in the craft beer scene is so resonant with me, and I am a sucker for that signature bittersweet, not-much-happens mumblecore vibe.
77. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
No film less needs an introduction than The Wizard of Oz. I found in my most recent watch that it’s much scarier and more bizarre than most childhood favorites I revisit. The colors will melt your heart.
Great blend of stoner comedy and hard-boiled detective mystery where every scene is a masterpiece in micro. The script is absurdly well-written even if the narrative never really goes anywhere. Its ascendant reputation (can you even call it a cult classic anymore?) is well-deserved.
75. Brick (2006)
Pitch black blend of hardboild detective noir and teen drama. The argot of the dialog is really unique, and there’s a prickly energy to the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great.
A hilarious, dark suburban satire sitcom shot and edited as if it’s a horror comedy. The constant escalation of anarchy, leading to an explosive and controversial finale, is riveting.
I’m not sure there’s ever been a movie I’ve ever more desperately wanted to hop into and join a party. It’s a slightly-shallower Dazed and Confused for college rather high school, but that’s a pretty surefire pitch, in my opinion.
72. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
This is my favorite Phil Lord and Chris Miller joint, with all of the postmodern comic energy that implies, even accounting for Lego and Spiderverse. Cloudy is hysterical, inventive, and outlandishly baroque in all the right ways.
71. Die Hard (1988)
A perfect action movie, maybe my favorite in the genre ever. It’s sunk just a hair in my all-time rankings because of the subplot where the dad from Family Matters admits to police brutality and killing an innocent person, and we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him. Small ass-wart to an all-timer movie with heroic turns from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman grappling with violent modernity in a skyscraper.
A borderline unrateable movie for me: Replacement-level ’90s crime thriller for most of its run, and then all at once a thought-provoking, audience-alienating piece of metafictional bravura. I value the latter a lot.
69. Spirited Away (2001)
One of just a couple entries that makes my Top 100 but still might be overrated by the general consensus just a smidge. No question, though, it’s a powerhouse, with Miyazaki doing things as a storyteller and animator that nobody else can: dreamlike and playful without sacrificing its profundity.
One of my first indie movie loves, a terrifically-written and biting comedy about a dysfunctional family road trip. The cast is full of all stars that understand the tone required perfectly, stinging with cynicism without descending to dourness.
One of the best superhero movies, full stop. It pretty much laid out the comic book movie template and tone that’s still being followed today — the difference being that it managed to feel homespun and heartfelt in addition to slick and epic. It hasn’t really been topped as an origin story. Special shout out to Willem Dafoe as the best comic book villain, probably ever.
66. Shithouse (2020)
Ignore the crass, ironic title. This is a bracing, deeply humane story about romantic intoxication and hangover. Cooper Raiff (only 23 when it debuted) stars and directs, capturing a radically soft masculinity in his portrayal of a homesick college freshman who connects with Dylan Gelula’s Maggie across one magical night.
The best of Pete Docter’s Pixar movies, and one that skyrockets up this list every time I watch it. It has the tone of a Looney Tunes madcap comedy but barely under the surface is a rumination on nurturing the next generation and cooperative problem solving. The door chase is an all-timer set piece.
Christopher Nolan is not an intimate filmmaker, but he made an intimate film anyways. The story of competing magicians is a puzzle box, piecing together one thread at a time until it’s a cohesive whole, as Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman throw their literal selves into creating the perfect trick. Outstanding reflection on the cost and power of making great art.
(Full review here)
A lovely opus by Sofia Coppola about finding an unexpected connection in a time and place where you feel totally alienated. Probably Bill Murray’s best performance: he plays a comedian past his glory years, much like himself. The filming has a beautiful naturalism and lyricism to it.
The most quotable comedy ever. I somehow still find portions of it funny despite having the entire script chiseled onto my brain; e.g. there’s no way I will ever laugh at a knight saying “ni” ever again. Doesn’t matter, though. The sheer density of gags and the movie’s ramshackle, epic silliness is for the record books.
Cuckoo’s Nest is a washed out near-masterpiece of magnetic rebellious spirit. I used to have this a bit higher in my personal pantheon, but it’s been harder to buy in to McMurphy’s vision of free-spirited liberation that basically boils down to debauchery. Booze and boobs.
The three-minute Best Picture winner is a faux-Technicolor wonderland of Hollywood dreams shattered and then rebuilt; romance built and then shattered.
One of the great, unimpeachable films that was also truly formative on me. It’s slightly uneven, but there’s so much electricity in the dialogue and acting that it’s irresistible to watch.
Haunting and immaculately constructed. Silence is a perfect piece of thriller filmmaking. The tension is unrelenting, the acting remarkable, the depravity mostly engaging and artfully done. (The “transsexual” talk and themes have not aged well, though.)
Adventureland is a radiant piece of nostalgia romcom that traces an aimless summer for a recent college grad played by Jesse Eisenberg. He becomes the most popular theme park wage slave in 1987 because he has an extra baggie of pot. He connects with Kristen Stewart (back when she was known as the Twilight girl) in a surprisingly tight screenplay accompanied by one of those perfect throwback soundtracks.
This has become one of my go-to Christmas films. It’s easily my favorite Christmas Carol, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Who would have guessed silly puppets would accompany the ghostly Christmas story so well? Gonzo’s narration of Dickens’ prose is pitch-perfect, Paul Williams’ score is a miracle, and Michael Caine’s unwinking Scrooge anchors the outstanding production.
“Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water… BAM! A fuckin bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?”
The opening is a little rough, but the second half is maybe my all-time comfort comedy. Marisa Tomei deserved that Oscar.
Speaking of courtroom movies, 12 Angry Men is pretty much flawless as a real-time chamber drama. It’s gotten better with age as I need some reason to really believe in the American justice system again.
I’ve made it through about half of Woody Allen’s filmography, which means I’ve still a ridiculous number of movies (dude was a machine for four decades). This is my oddball favorite of his — a 1940s nostalgia piece about the power of radio and imagination. Most cinematic midwar depictions are brown and dreary; not this one, which is drowning in color and comedy.
The first half might be the greatest half of an animated movie ever made, bubbly and Broadway and aching with desire. Alas, leaving the water and losing her voice undercuts Ariel’s onscreen charm, let alone her arc, but this is still one of Disney’s greatest.
Absolutely fucking mesmerizing filmmaking that’s as stark and gritty as Robert Pattinson’s descent to madness. Willem Dafoe’s performance is one for the pantheon.
50. Superbad (2007)
A royal tapestry of dick jokes and best friend bonding on an epic party odyssey for the ages. It’s the funniest movie of the century so far. “Okay, so we have an African Jew wearing a hoodie…”
A perfect summation of an era and the end of adolescence via nostalgia hangout piece. It has single best rock soundtrack in movie history and culminates in a sunrise apotheosis so beautiful and iconic you’ll remember that George Lucas is the director.
One of the few perfect crime epics I’ve seen. It’s so rich and huge that it’s almost daunting to watch. It is perhaps a bit too swaggering and romantic about gangsters, but examination of that concept is very much the point, and it works.
47. House (1977)
I recently picked it as my favorite horror movie of all time for part of a feature in The Cinematique. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s been argued by psychologists that the reason we love horror movies is to recreate the childhood sensation of experiencing fear of a dangerous world beyond our comprehension. If that’s true, it’s no wonder the 1977 movie House by Nobuhiko Obayashi is so evocative: Obayashi literally took notes from his daughter’s phobias and nightmares as he wrote the film. The cult masterpiece – unsurprisingly in the lineage of haunted house films – follows a group of schoolgirls who take a vacation in a house owned by one of the student’s widow aunt. One by one, the students fall prey to some of the most inventive and bizarre fates in cinema history. The film is essentially a vehicle for one delirious set piece after another, including a literal bloodbath finale. What elevates it into masterpiece territory is the undercurrent of Japanese post-nuclear trauma: The teen girls (fitting into and named after various Japanese film tropes) are carefree, unburdened, and sexually liberated, whereas their elders are still psychologically trapped in their post-war wounds. It balances the film’s whimsy with darkness and genuine grief. The movie often plays more like an ever-escalating absurdist comedy than anything else, but that’s my favourite kind of scary movie, and House is one of my favourites ever.
“Now I have the freshest cereal.” A hilarious and personal comedy about a sour breakup that has stuck with me for myriad reasons: the lovely Hawaii footage, Mila Kunis, the Dracula musical, Paul Rudd’s stoned surfing instructor, the drunken-sad Muppets song, Mila Kunis…
Unmatched visual rapture and tender longing. Two beautiful humans boxed in from all sides: joyless marriages, tiny rooms, strict social norms. The final act is an emotional wrecking ball.
Comes close to matching and in some ways improving the original by expanding the scope of the emotional breadth and literary content of the Toy Story premise. You can pinpoint “When Somebody Loved Me” as the exact moment that Pixar entered its imperial phase.
What is there to say except that it deserves its reputation as one of the greatest films ever made? I fear I won’t ever be able to see it with fresh eyes ever again, so ingrained is it in my brain and pop culture.
Brad Bird’s first masterpiece. It’s an endearing Americana fable, but one in which he handles serious themes, bittersweet emotions, and national angst at a more mature level than most great dramas let alone most kids movies.
I’m so faded on nostalgia for Jurassic Park that asking me to provide an honest evaluation is impossible. I guess what’s important is that it makes dinosaurs real and scary. What else matters to a 12-year-old-at-heart like me?
The sequel by which all others are measured. Not quite as elemental and direct as the original, but it does so much to expand the shading and scope of the galaxy.
39. Fargo (1996)
A mordant black comedy about a criminal conspiracy gone haywire in icy Minnesota, with some hilarious performances, a perfect script, and mind-bogglingly great cinematography.
38. Titanic (1997)
Near, far, wherever you are. To me, is the peak of what the cinematic experience can be as great melodrama and spectacle. Filled my heart and broke it, and I’m going to check out the 25th anniversary release in IMAX to do it all again.
37. The Incredibles (2004)
Brad Bird’s second masterpiece. His debut effort from Pixar remains one of the most visually inventive superhero and spy movies ever created. It’s drowning in metaphoric content on the strain of a modern family and only slightly marred by its Randian leanings. (“When everyone’s super, no one is.”)
Never has cinema felt so hot. This vibrant slice of life epic gradually shifts from a hangout movie with racial tension to a race riot with character’s we’d die for (and/or kill). Tragically still so relevant it could have been made last week.
35. Ratatouille (2007)
Brad Bird’s third masterpiece. So strange on paper that it remains an object of curiosity and parody (see: Everything Everywhere All at Once). But in addition to being eminently entertaining and kinetic, it’s a profound look at art as an egalitarian and noble cause.
34. Psycho (1960)
Its genre and structural gambits are so ingrained in our cultural psyche that it’s pointless to even list them out, but they’re all brilliant. What really blows my mind is that its best stretch is before it does all that reinventing cinema stuff: the unimpeachable white-knuckle thriller first half.
My favorite seasonal special of any kind. The trifecta of Bill Melendez’s minimal, sketch-like character animation, Charles Schulz’s reflection on holiday ennui, and Vince Guaraldi’s classical-jazz score create a tone of seasonal depression. The pivot to spirituality and rebirth in the closing moments is textually Christian but so sublime and universal that it is for us all, I declare.
32. WALL·E (2008)
That rare breed of masterpiece that gets slightly less interesting across its runtime. That’s not saying much, though: that opening act is such a radical triumph, using narrative minimalism to contrast WALL·E’s emerging soul from the desolate and lonely world that surrounds it.
31. Before Sunset (2004)
Rarely has a sequel so deepened its original, refracting youthful passion into bittersweet regret. It takes the original’s all-night chat framework and turns it into a sunny, Parisian stroll without compromising its effectiveness. Wonderfully ambivalent finale.
30. Groundhog Day (1993)
It invented a story framework that it also perfected. The Groundhog Day time loop is up there with the Rashomon subjective retelling and the It’s a Wonderful Life counterfactual non-birth as far as frequently-recycled stories associated with a single film go. What’s amazing is how a single, repetitive day expands into an entire life of experiences and trials.
29. Gates of Heaven (1978)
I fucking love weird documentaries about weird people, but this one takes the cake. It’s poetry. An investigation of a pet graveyard becomes a treatise on ironic morality and inevitable mortality, its two episodes connected by the greatest single-take monologue in cinema history. Director Errol Morris seems to equally love and ridicule his subjects, or maybe he just can’t make up his mind. I know I can’t.
The Truman Show is lovely and deeply compelling as both a high-concept story and a clever satire. There are existential and religious undercurrents here, too. The strange thing is that the satire becomes more and more prescient with each passing year: first it was about reality TV; now it’s about social media; in ten years, it will probably be about the Metaverse or something.
27. Amadeus (1983)
I’m not wild about musical biopics in general, but Amadeus, the life story of Mozart, transcends that. It’s high art — a murder confession that doubles as a tug-of-war with God. It’s also one of the most luscious costume dramas ever made and probing character study of Salieri in an all-timer performance by F. Murray Abraham. Being scored to a few dozen of Mozart’s masterpieces helps, too.
26. Brief Encounter (1945)
25. The Third Man (1949)
Two 1940s British masterpieces with innovative scores, unspeakably gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, evocations of the complicated nature of memories, and deconstructions of postwar ennui. Yet they come from entirely different angles: Brief Encounter as a wrong-place-wrong-time romance; The Third Man as a life-and-death mystery and conspiracy noir. Both are unmissable.
A masterpiece by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman that’s both a high concept love story and an exploration of the nature of identity, memory, and attraction. The Lacuna technician thread is some minor satire, and the overall tone is a little bit too cynical on the possibility of long-lasting romance. But the way that it captures the annihilation of Joel’s memories in an elastic, against-type performance by Jim Carrey, is dizzying and heartbreaking. This is also my favorite Kate Winslet performance as mercurial love interest Clementine.
23. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Cloud Atlas shows in six timelines stories of wildly different scopes and tones that all somehow merge into a symphony on the power of radical acts of kindness and dignity. With the Wachowskis’ magical touch, it has a slight sheen of camp on it, massive production values, and an all-time great score that makes great use of motifs. The cast recurs across the six timelines, and includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and bunch of other greats, playing wildly different characters. It’s a massive, three-hour feast of cinema.
The original Spider-Man makes my Top 100 as well, but the sequel tops it for me. I love how it dives deeper into Peter Parker’s psyche as he faces an existential crisis about the value of his self-sacrifice for the good of the world. This is a four-quadrant crowd pleaser mega-blockbuster that also manages to feel hand-crafted by Sam Raimi, almost intimate. The clocktower and train fight scene and denouement is one of my favorite movie scenes ever, a blend of perfectly constructed action and sentimental payoff on the spiritual stuff that’s under the hood of our society’s love of superheroes. My only regret with Spider-Man 2 is that Alfred Molina as Doc Ock isn’t an all-timer like Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin. But he’s still pretty great — probably a top 10 superhero villain.
This is my favorite Wes Anderson film, somehow the only one to crack this list though I love his work. It has that incredible symmetrical and bespoke aesthetic that is Wes Anderon’s calling card, but what I really love about Moonrise Kingdom is how the visuals blend with a beautiful story that grows in layers as the movie goes along. It’s remarkable how non-cynical the movie is: There are 100 points it could have mocked its childhood lover leads, but instead convinces us that love is worth the hassle and makes the world a better place. The movie has it all: Alexandre Desplat’s lovely “Heroic Weather Conditions of the Universe” score, a nonstop stream of deadpan humor, and an unquantifiable spark of life.
My Neighbor Totoro is the gentlest masterpiece in cinema history, a story of a pair of sisters who move to a new house to be near their sick mother. They encounter a fantasy world populated by fuzzy creatures call Totoros that say their own names, Pokemon-style: “TO-TO-ROOOO!” It’s the grandest and softest Studi Ghibli film, with transcendentally gorgeous animation and dreamlike worldbuilding. Its childlike vibes are unmatched, and it makes some powerful statements about fleeting innocence and imagination as a coping tool. (Interestingly, I’ve only ever watched with the excellent English dub because I only watch it with my kids who can’t yet read subs.)
A huge, colorful adventure that makes unprecedented and since unmatched use of CGI to create a sense of scope and vastness. The story of a dad and a son getting separated heightens and dramatizes real-life parenting themes of how to help your kid face a scary world. In spite of all of that, it manages to retain a sense of whimsy and playfulness with a quirky sense of humor and some great vocal performances. Finding Nemo’s script is on the episodic side, but the scenarios are so rich and sprawling that they add up to a massive physical and emotional odyssey.
Raiders is the perfect adventure movie, with some of the most proficient set pieces ever in the movies. The editing is tremendous; there’s never a lull in pace or a loss of thread of the action. But the Indiana Jones experience is so much more than just thrills: It’s a tribute to the sweeping and transporting power of cinema, as symbolized by that final shot of a warehouse filled with a million journeys to take and secrets to discover.
17. Star Wars (1977)
I used to put this a tier below Empire Strikes Back, but I’ve taken a Holdo maneuver to that stance in recent years. This has not only one of the best scores ever, but perhaps the best use of an orchestral score in motion picture history. It feels like an opera, where individual shots and cuts match up to cues in John Williams’ tunes. The script and acting aren’t the film’s strong points, but it’s so good at visually conveying the good-vs-evil, light-vs-dark, oppression-vs-rebellion saga that I just don’t care. It also has a mysticism later discarded by the series: This version of Darth Vader is a chaos wizard, and the Force is an ancient and unknowable magick art.
The Dark Knight is my favorite blockbuster of the 21st century to date and my favorite comic book movie ever. It’s a huge crime story that uses all the heightened genre elements of superheroes to bring everything to operatic scale. I especially love its focus on duality: our lives are driven by the struggle between various competing concepts like order and chaos, freedom and institutions, etc. Heath Ledger poured everything into a Joker performance for eternity. His death is a tragedy, but there’s no doubt it adds to the sense that The Dark Knight transcends the usual limitations of comic book movies into higher art.
One of our generation’s greatest dramas is also one of its wittiest. If you call it a biopic, it’s my favorite biopic. The dramatized retelling of the founding of Facebook is a manifesto on the dangers of commodifying our human interactions with technology. The groundbreaking score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor adds urgency and electricity to every moment. It’s got the works: Fantastic performances, especially Jesse Eisnberg in the lead; brilliant direction by David Fincher; and a masterpiece script by Aaron Sorkin. The Social Network is a terrific piece of entertainment that crosses over into being an art film. It’s everything a Best Picture should be, so naturally it was snubbed by the Academy.
14. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Flew away with my heart in a very true (or at least representational) sense: The sensation of soaring here remains my favorite in film history, true liberation for protagonist and viewer alike. The scenes of the bonding between scrawny Viking Hiccup and killer dragon Toothless are magnificent and soul-affirming as they discover the potential in each other. John Powell’s score is probably my most-streamed ever, a romantic, Williams-esque triumph with layered motifs. A few pieces of it are corny, but always charming and in service of the surprisingly mature story.
13. Toy Story (1995)
You don’t need me to tell you how groundbreaking this movie was, nor to remind you how much it holds up despite the most rudimentary CGI. Credit the terrific, prickly script, the underlying imagination that backs up the innovation, and the clever design that turns the limitations into strengths: e.g. the uncanny nature of the toys weaponized against Sid. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen give two of the great vocal performances in animation (“YOU ARE A TOY!”) and Randy Newman contributes a perfectly warm and sweeping score. Seminal.
12. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Tale as old as time, true as it can be: Beauty and the Beast feels both classical and modern. It’s a big Broadway fairy tale starring outsiders who desire agency and actualization. “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” is a lyric stenciled on my heart. The animation is Gothic beauty, the numbers are outstanding (“Gaston” is the funniest, “Belle” is the best), and the story is brilliant.
11. Back to the Future (1985)
Pretty much a perfect blockbuster — my favorite, at least. All the time travel stuff is really intuitive and still how we think about that story structure today. I always forget how slick the Bob Gale/Robert Zemeckis script is, with so much setup and payoff and sharp humor. Zemeckis gives it a grand sense of fun adventure, too. It’s maybe on the hollow side of great cinema, but is inexorably great nonetheless.
“Heavy metal rules, all that punk shit sucks.” It’s both my favorite documentary and my favorite short film, and I can’t really justify why. Heavy Metal Parking Lot is a slightly trashy blast of life and personality. The world’s best production designer couldn’t come up with better cars and haircuts and outfits; the world’s best writer couldn’t come up with these lines. Everything these kids say is hilarious, often ironic, occasionally profound (if unintentionally so). Be careful not to get within 15 feet of me or you might be at risk of having this shown to you. (For my 33rd birthday party, I invited a bunch of friends to a movie theater without telling them that we’d be watching this; I’m not sure they’ve all forgiven me.)
The famous time-turning, un-birthing scenario is a surprisingly small part of this sentimental holiday classic. A half hour at most. The majority of the film is a life portrait of a man who kept a community afloat, only to find himself at the brink. That’s when we get the speculative twist and the big payoff on 75 minutes of setup: When Harry proclaims “A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town” and a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” breaks out, I’m never not bawling. Emotionally manipulative perfection.
What a strange film: A dreamy — rather, nightmarish — tale of a Hollywood actress who crosses paths with an amnesiac victim of attempted assassination. The entire story is elliptical and always just out of reach. There’s a tragic sense of lost potential to Mulholland Drive, accentuated by masterful editing and a conclusion that you can either unspool as a puzzle box or just accept as a bleak, impressionistic statement.
A million things have been written and said about Casablanca, and they’re all true. It’s a story of a heartbroken cynic finding the one who got away. We get to watch the studio system firing on all cylinders. Bogey and Ingrid Berman have all-time star power and chemistry. There’s also the true sense of danger: When this was filmed, a Nazi invasion could have been right around the corner, making its call to resistance from despondency and evil — of putting the lives of others ahead of that hill of beans that is the human heart — all the more rousing.
No film on this list is more buoyed in its ranking by my personal sentiment and nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an outstanding achievement: The father-son relationship at the movie’s core is more tender and nuanced than any relationship elsewhere in the Disney canon, and the score is overflowing with bops. It’s funny and adventurous, making the most of its limited DisneyToon resources into something truly clever and evocative.
5. Rudy (1993)
My first-ever favorite movie, and still a favorite. I have so many personal connections to it that I might overrate a little bit — like, well, A Goofy Movie — but I also believe Rudy to be genuinely stirring, almost a religious text on the value of dreams and the power of work ethic. It follows a scrawny factory worker played by a plucky Sean Astin as he stares down the seemingly impossible: playing for the University of Notre Dame football team.
My basic filmbro top-5 pick, but one that I refuse to lie about how much I love. We follow two decades of the life of Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly imprisoned for murder. His time in Shawshank becomes a metaphysical struggle for his soul, for his last spark of hope, the tiny fragment of humanity that “soars higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.”
Toy Story 3 is an audaciously dark capper to cinema’s greatest trilogy. The once-simple story about cowboy and spaceman action figures reaches its armageddon: a finale to a 15-year spiritual epic that honors abiding love in the face of mortality. Millennals’ childhood ended in front of our very eyes. The first and second acts are underrated perfection, filled with genre pastiche and set pieces and laughs, not to mention the constant tension-ratcheting and misdirection towards the best ending in movie history.
The ultimate hangout film. The ultimate teen comedy. The ultimate soundtrack. Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. For me, it’s the ultimate movie. The screenplay, largely plotless, is also sneaky-deep: There are like 25 characters you can trace. Their cross-section of personalities and the way they interact has phenomenal richness and human insight. We follow a bunch of high schoolers — freshmen and seniors alike — through the last day of school and the big party afterwards. What I love most about it is how much I just want to hop into it. I wish I could’ve gone to that party. It’s texturally nostalgic but textually anti-nostalgic, with some nasty edge that prevents the thing from being a big pat on the back.
1. That Thing You Do! (1996)
There’s a running joke on my podcast that any conversation with me inevitably leads to a discussion of That Thing You Do!, like a wacky version of Godwin’s Law. I understand why it hasn’t entered the cinematic pantheon of feel-good delights — it’s wrong that it hasn’t, but I understand. It’s too low-stakes, the ending too diasporic and inconclusive. But this story of a one-hit wonder band from Erie, Pennsylvania in the late ’60s is a huge achievement by writer-director-star Tom Hanks: It puts a wholly invented musical universe front and center, gives every scene and character polish and passion, and fills every cranny with a lust for life. The title track, written by the late genius Adam Schlesinger, is my favorite movie song, a remarkable slice of retro pop. Hanks as a director and writer may up end being a one hit wonder indeed, but what a wonder it is.