(Proof that I’m still messing myself up over this list… at the last second, I took a look at my Honorable Mentions and realized “Holy shit, I didn’t include THAT?!” Will not beat my self up anymore, this post will accordingly have 11 entries and you can consider it “one for goodluck”.)
101. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998, USA)
On the one hand, you have a sober yet brilliant examination of what place free will has in the control of a cruel God. On the other hand, you have an ahead-of-its-time dissection of culture’s obsession with every facet of a public personality to the point of no privacy and braindead fixation on the tube. Around the edges is Peter Weir using Andre Niccol’s heady writing as a blueprint for realizing a disorienting facsimile of small-town life, populated with a cast very good at selling the plastic fakeness of the world while also cracking through those performances, and at the center is Jim Carrey channeling all of his goofy energy into a man who is trapped by his world and doing what he can to break the cage.
100. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938, USA)
The platonic ideal of the screwball comedy, driven largely by Katharine Hepburn’s unhinged performance. She’s just pulling out all the stops, unrelenting with her character’s breathless ability to quickly say something to get one up on them and with no real grounding or willingness to let the audience catch their breath. The perfect core for Howard Hawks to hone his sharp fast-paced filmmaking and the perfect aggressor towards Cary Grant’s befuddled victim of her wiles.
99. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008, USA)
Spoiler alert: this will be the only CGI animated movie that appears and I’m not quite sure I picked the right one for me. But WALL-E doesn’t just display a casual ability to treat animation as grounded cinema attached to the principles of focus, lighting and camera movement and applying those with sophistication towards storytelling. It also carries one of my greatest loves of visual storytelling: the charming ability of a character to communicate a full personality that has hopes and dreams without really speaking. And it carries one of my deepest personal loves: looking up at the stars at night by myself and thinking about what’s beyond that cosmic blanket. With those two anchors, it is no surprise that I’m a sucked for its romantic soul.
98. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003, France/Belgium/Canada/UK)
A caricature in motion: sketching a variety of novel visual personalities just from the desire to make them look as bizarre as possible and centering around the such recognizable cultural institutions as the music hall and the Tour de France with backgrounds that can’t decide on a single real-world analogue for the very-French city it takes place in. From there, we get a story with just as much weirdness to match: a kidnapping, a conspiracy, the dogged pursuit of a warm and dedicated grandmother. I am willing to accept that I’m warmer to this movie than necessary on account of it having a good dog named Bruno, but I’m also glad that animators working outside of any studio like Chomet were making wholly unique works like this in the 21st Century.
97. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982, USA)
Kind of corny having this in the same post as The Truman Show, isn’t it? In any case, as stimulating as cinema gets: the full impact of high-speed movement, the expanse of the natural and technological world, the thrilling hypnotism of Phillip Glass’ score. My first montage film and maybe it helps that it doesn’t have even a little bit of subtlety – thematically or atmospherically. But it is simply the ride that does it for me, if I may be forgiven for sounding like a dazed undergrad talking about this movie. I was a dazed undergrad when I first watched it.
96. The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924, Germany)
The camera and the face are such a perfect pair together and you’ll see a lot of movies on this list that stress that collaboration. The Last Laugh is one of the primary examples I think of regarding the representation of a face as an emotional anchor, given how the silent cinema necessitates the most expressive performances to function and Jannings was one of the most expressive performers of that era. Murnau’s guiding of the audience to intimate levels of watching the weary sadness on this poor humiliated man’s face is just the movie making no illusions about whose heartbreak we’re gonna feel. Assuming you cut the movie before the last scene, of couse.
95. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972, West Germany/Mexico)
Nowadays, Herzog stakes his claim as a crazy man who makes documentaries about volcanoes but once upon a time he was a crazy man who made movies about crazy men (often in the jungle). One could try and play dimestore psychiatrist about this approach to making art, but it resulted in a good crop of movies portraying the external collapse of an already dangerous mind within the pressures of an uncaring natural world. There’s not argument that the pinnacle of these portraits center around the infamously violent screen presence of Klaus Kinski and this always strikes me as the purest exemplar of Herzog and Kinski’s very volatile work together. Just leave a madman floating in the middle of the river and watch him break down as a mirror to the world.
94. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007, Canada)
If we’re to have autobiographical films, they may as well defer to their subjectivity on some level but Guy Maddin’s memoir is less deferential and more just jumping headfirst into a swirling mass of pseudohistories, Oedipal complexes, silent film, and a dream logic that really barely holds them together except by the strength of its associative momentum. My first introduction to Maddin, a much unreliable one that promised whether or not I could believe what was before my eye… I’d be thrilled.
93. Park Row (Samuel Fuller, 1952, USA)
All the President’s Men is normally the go-to choice for “Best Movie About the Press” and it’s certainly a masterpiece that made me consider a future in it. But when it comes to cheat-thumping passionate declarations about what the journalist truly brings to society, it has to be Samuel Fuller’s passion project where he uses all of his powers as a filmmaker of melodrama and masculinity to advocate for an idealized social honesty that could save the nation allegedly. Could a man who didn’t believe so passionately in this lost cause come up with something as hokey as beating a man against a statue of Benjamin Franklin?
92. The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006, USA/India)
If you ask me to talk about movie images that branded themselves in my brain, this will likely be the most recent movie I pull from. It’s not just gorgeous, but it’s fully audacious: Tarsem Singh used all that music video goodwill to shape a globetrotting adventure lifting in inspirational from nearly every culture in the world and the only thing that could bring the illogical heights is grounding it to a story of two friends translating the way they see hope and hopeless in their lives into a word game. On top of its marvelous location photography and florid colors and designs, it maybe boasts the best costumes of Ishioka Eiko’s way too small film career but one could say that of all Ishioka’s work.
91. The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925, USA)
The quintessential showcase of Chaplin’s deft ability to weave his sincere sentimentality and his uproarious sense of physical humor. So good that he can make light of the horrifying possibility of frost and cannibalism and the general bloodthirsty nature of desperate men without ever spoiling the fun or pretending the peril isn’t real. I can guarantee if you hear his name, the first image in your mind is something from this picture: his blank face hanging over dancing dinner rolls, the teetering house on the edge of the cliff, the casual repast of a boiled boot. For me, it’s his sad tramp standing in silhouette against a party all alone in the shadows. Don’t know what that says about me.
2 thoughts on “My Favorite Movies of All Time, circa age 30 – #101-91”
This is awesome and looking forward to the rest of it
It really is incredible though how every five years since it’s been made, there’s some new trend that makes The Truman Show feel more prescient. Peter Weir really nailed reality TV, social media, the attention economy, and “influencers”