Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Twelve Days of Listmas Day 12: My Top 20 Favorite Movies of All Time

Well, here it is. The big one. The one you've all been waiting for (assuming you even care). You have no idea how hard it was to come up with this list, since there are a lot of things to go through and consider. In fact, we'll have a lot of preliminaries before we get to the list proper, so let's just get that out of the way now...

Things to Consider While Reading This List

1. Like all the other lists, this is simply my favorite films. It's not necessarily what I think are the best films from an objective standpoint, though I'll defend nearly every single one of these. For example, just because Citizen Kane is considered one of the best-made movies in film history and deservedly so, it's not going to show up here. I like it, it's an amazing movie, but it's not one of my personal favorites. This is all me, all my mind, Anything that gives me a visceral reaction.

2. Again, like all the other lists, as new films come out and older films rediscovered, the list is always subject to change. In fact, this list in particular I may just update once a year depending on what I end up seeing.

3. The criteria I used to make this list: they had to be single films or film series that either had a profound impact on my development as an artist and a person, and/or hits me with a visceral nostalgia when remembering it. That doesn't narrow it down nearly as much as it should, which why we have...

Honorable Mentions

These are a list of films and film series that were on the list at some point or another during the making of it, but were taken off to make room for things I remember liking more.

* The Fly (1986)
If it was a 21 list, this would be 21. It's an amazing work by an amazing group of people. It takes what's really a laughable concept and turns it into something deeply terrifying on a number of levels. I love Jeff Goldblum, I love the Brundlefly transformation. Ultimately, though, I felt it was far too depressing to leave on the main list in lieu of some other movies.

* Sin City
Oddly, given what I said about The Fly, this film stayed on the list the longest of the ones listed here. It's one of my favorite movies to look at and I'm always amazed by how they were able to reproduce the comic panels so faithfully. In the end, though, I had to make some room. And as fun as the hard-boiled Noir-on-steroids story is, it gets more and more uncomfortable to watch as the years go by.

* The Dark Knight Trilogy
As much as I do genuinely love these movies, and as much as I think they're extremely well-made, I eventually had to admit that there are a lot of movies I like more, and including them felt more like throwing the general public a bone and trying to prove I wasn't entirely crazy.

* The Land Before Time
If ever there was a film tainted by a legacy of direct-to-video sequels! However, the original film is still a work of pure art, and it gets me choked up every time I hear "When We Hold On Together." Why isn't it on the list? Again, I simply found more films I liked better than this one, but don't worry; The production team behind this gets its due in the list...

* The Collected Works of Mel Brooks, Pixar, and Monty Python
All three of these had the same thought process. I love 90% of their output. They were very influential to me. But I couldn't think of a single film that I like more than any of the films that made it to the list.

And now, without further ado...


20. Dogma
I'm a big fan of Kevin Smith, and I was worried that his works would go on the same path as the last honorable mentions. However, I remember Dogma the most fondly. Not only because it was my first Kevin Smith film, but because it's one of the first films that I saw that really made me think about religion (and it wasn't even my own religion). It's funny, it's poignant, it makes a lot of good points. And without spoiling it, it was one of the most esoteric casting choices for God. It definitely deserves to cling to the list.

19. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
and Wreck-It Ralph (tie)
I put these two together for two reasons. First of all, they're fairly new (Ralph is barely a month old), but they're also both the first movies I've seen that really captures the nostalgia of classic video games. Now, I was a '90s Sega kid so I was just on the tail-end of the Golden Age of gaming, but all these tropes hit home to me and I love how both these films use them to their advantage. They both have a heartfelt story about finding yourself, and they both have some sweet music. One test to how much I like a movie is how much I want to (or succeed to) rewatch them. I watched Scott Pilgrim ad nausium for about a week after I first saw it, and even though I didn't have the money to I wanted to watch Wreck-It Ralph again the second it was over. That's powerful.

18. The Harry Potter films
Given how I make it a point to reread the books at least once  year, these are surprisingly low on this list. There's just too much missing or changed for me to put them any higher. On the other hand, they're still good films, and whoever cast them should be given a medal because whatever else is wrong with these movies, the casting has always been pitch-perfect. And John Williams' "Hedwig's Theme" is certainly one of his best.

17. Kill Bill
There's something Quentin Terantino does in this roaring rampage of revenge (other than give it a killer soundtrack, I mean; Quentin always has the best Various Artists soundtracks). By putting so much of his love for the films of his youth into it, he makes me fall in love with it too even though my knowledge of spaghetti westerns and '70s kung-fu is extremely limited. There's only one other director I know who pulls this off so spectacularly, but more on him later. This film is also just as much David Carradine's swan song, and as Bill he, well, kills. I also think Uma Thurman is at her best (and oddly most attractive).

16. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
South Park is already one of my favorite TV shows. I really wanted to see what this movie would be like, and I don't remember what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't a musical. Certainly not, to quote Stephen Sondheim himself, "the best American musical of our age." And yet, it was. It was also parodying itself every step of the way, which is awesome.

15. Men in Black
and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) (tie)
I put these two together because I just realized that they are based on obscure comic books and should have been included on my Comics list. I'll have to revise that later. Anyhoo, when talking about MiB, I'm talking about all three (though mainly 1 and 3), and with TMNT as the date implies merely the first film. They're both a lot of fun to watch and have some good performances. I think the MiB series are better movies overall, but I was a huge TMNT kid growing up, and of all of that stuff I think it's this film that holds up the best. Even now, those turtle suits are amazing. Shredder was very much a Vader clone in that film, though. With MiB on the other hand you also have a lot of heart. Not much else I can say.

14. Little Shop of Horrors (1986 Musical)
I credit this movie with the launch of my modern love for film musicals, though the Disney films laid the groundwork for me as a kid. And that makes sense, since this is Menkin and Ashman we're talking about here. I've always largely preferred film musicals to stage musicals because the singing, even if it isn't always perfect, seems to have a lot more emotion and purpose given to it than a lot of musicals I've seen on stage. This one also has the great Frank "half the Muppets and Yoda" Oz as a director. The cast was pitch-perfect too, especially the one-scene cameos like Bill Murry. Now, I don't know whether or not this is a popular opinion, but I actually vastly prefer the happy ending slapped onto this film to the ultra-depressing original. I just feel like the film was a fun, if slightly dark, comedy up to that point and the original ending pushes it into just horrible territory. But that's just me.

13. The Fifth Element
If the futuristic sci-fi of Star Trek and the operatic space-fantasy world of Star Wars had a baby, this is probably what it would look like. Great story, great cast, hilarious, tense, fun, 'nuff said. I don't understand why this movie isn't more popular.

12. Pirates of the Caribbean
And I'm talking about all four here. Who'd have thought that a Disney film based (loosely) on one of their theme park rides would be so popular? And so much fun! And yes, as much as I do love the rest of the cast, Johnny Depp makes these movies. I'll never get sick of Captain Jack Sparrow. It's swashbuckling at its finest.

11. The Secret of NIMH
Don Bluth's first solo film, and still his finest. The character designs, the music, the story...I get chills of joy thinking about them. Not much I can say that I haven't already said in my Anniversary Review.

10. Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure
This is the first movie I can remember being a favorite of mine. Yes, it has plenty of nostalgic value for me because of that and because it's the first movie I ever shared with my now-wife. But I think it's wholly underrated on its own merits. The animation is spectacular. I remember noticing that even as a kid I just loved how everything moved. The songs are also fantastic. The characters are fantastic (except for the TwinPenny *shudder*). I remember I wanted nothing more in the world that the Blue Camel with the Wrinkled Knees (they're exceedingly rare; I just saw one on eBay for like $300). The story is a little anemic; it's mainly an excuse to go to these weird places. But I think it works.

9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
One of the best kinds of movies are the ones that you appreciate for different reasons at different times in your life. As a kid, I liked seeing all the cartoon characters together. As an adult...well, I still like seeing all the cartoon characters together, though mostly for nostalgia. I also appreciate the use of tropes not only of cartoons but of detective stories. The voicework and the live-action acting is great. I still think it's one of the best meldings of live-action and animation ever. And I only just really noticed this in the last few years, but Alan Silvestri's score for this movie is just spectacular.

8. Gremlins
Speaking of scores, this one wouldn't be on here if it weren't for Jerry Goldsmith's Gremlin Rag. That's not to say I don't like anything else about this movie (or its lighter sequel), it's this high on the list for a reason. But I wouldn't have bothered to give it a chance had I not been channel-surfing and hit the end credits where the Rag was performed in all its glory. Aside from that, I love the titular creatures (and Gizmo, of course). I actually like Chris Walas' designs from the first film better than Rick Baker's from the second, though Baker came up with some great creatures too. I like the storyline of A New Batch a little better because it's such a parody of itself and it feels like it has more to work with, but as a whole I prefer the original because the pieces just fall into place brilliantly. Sometimes I wish Joe Dante would make a third one (word is he's only holding out because he's afraid studios would force him to CG them), but the more I think about it, the more I think today that the Gremlins would spend all their time trolling the internet.

7. Jurassic Park
Unlike a lot of the other entries, only the first one makes it here. Not that I don't enjoy the other two, I actually enjoy them very much. Neither of them are on the same wavelength of this film, though. This was the first PG-13 film I saw in a movie theatre, and being a dinosaur nut for a long as I can remember I knew I had to see this movie. Even with the advances in what we know about dinosaurs, these guys are still the most realistic film dinos I've ever seen. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the CGI used here, the first time it was used to simulate a living being, is still possibly the most realistic CG to date outside of Gollum.

6. My Top 11 Disney Animated Canon films
Yeah yeah, I know it's cheating, but I love the Disney films so much that this is the only way a lot of these other films make it to the list. And my top 11 are pretty interchangeable as far as how much I love them. In case you don't feel like referring back to the list, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beauty and the Beast are at the top if you'd like an idea.

5. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit)
Yes I'm including The Hobbit even though we've only seen a third of it because it's obvious that Peter Jackson's still got it. I know this is blasphemy, but I actually widely prefer the films to the books. Not that the books aren't wonderful, but it's hard for me to get through them more than once. The films I can watch again and again (extended only, thank you). I love them for pretty much the same reason anyone loves them. There are few movies I get more invested in. Truly the definition of "epic".

4. Batman Returns
and Edward Scissorhands (tie)
Okay, so in my anniversary review of BR I put it a little higher on this list than it appears now. That doesn't change anything else I said about that film. I'm lumping it with Edward because these are the two Tim Burton films (well, films actually directed by Tim, but more on that later) that exemplify why, for the longest time, I considered him my favorite director. In Eddie's case, that's exactly how I felt at 13 (when I first got into it), so it spoke to me in that way. I will also state that Danny Elfman's scores for both these films are among my favorites of all time and always stir powerful emotions when I hear them.

3. The Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007)
Only the first of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films really ranks this high, but the other two belong on this list as well so I'm including them here. I've said what I can say about the first film, but watching it again the other day made me realize just how strongly I felt about it. That canary-eating grin that I can't stop whenever Willem Dafoe is on screen (a smile usually reserved for Gollum, Yoda, and Edward Scissorhands). Danny's score, and even that Hero song. Everything in that movie just works for me. While I do love the other two, and they would be on this list by themselves, they would be a little lower (2 actually the lowest, but more on that in a few years).

2. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Directed by Henry Selick, which makes this one difficult to talk about in a list of Burton works. I haven't seen it in a while, and actually haven't had the desire to see it in a while. So what makes it number 2? Well the reason is, and it's also the reason why I haven't seen/desired to see it, that it's the only film on this list that I know by heart. I'm not even joking, I can recite every second of this film's 74 minutes word for word, note for note, with about 97% accuracy. One of the first things I did for college was adapt the film in a stage script completely from memory after not having seen it for years. I've watched this film that much. And one doesn't watch a film that much if one doesn't love a film. And I really, truly, love this film. It's a holiday classic for weird kids like me. We need more of those.

And My Number One Favorite Film or Film Series Of All Time Is...

If you can't say it with me now, you clearly haven't been paying attention...

1. The Star Wars Saga
Tell me the truth. After everything I've written for this site; After all the essays, arguments, defenses, celebrations; Did any of you honestly expect anything different? Sure, I'll defend my tastes with the others, but Star Wars is the only one I will truly fight for. When I saw the special editions of IV-VI in the theatres in 1997, I lived and breathed those movies through Phantom Menace and for about a year after. And it was rekindled, however slightly, during the releases of Clones and Sith. And now I have The Old Republic video game to thank for my recent bout. Were it not for that game, I wouldn't have rewatched all the films, wouldn't have decided to seek out like-minded individuals, and wouldn't have decided to push back against the hate. I care about my Wife, I care about my Family, I care about Myself, and I care about Star Wars.

Now, with this not-so-stunning revelation, you may wonder whether or not I can think objectively about Star Wars. Well, I can, and to prove it, and to prove that nothing is perfect in this world, I will give you a 13th Day of Listmas tomorrow where I talk about the things I don't like about the Star Wars films and why, ultimately, it doesn't matter.

But first...

Bonus List:

Top 5 Film Directors
5. Mel Brooks
4. Kevin Smith
3. Joe Dante
2. Tim Burton
1. George Lucas


  1. This is an awesome list filled with awesome films! Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a film I'm horrified to find not many of my friends even know but it is a sure top 5 for me in my list for all the reasons you listed. I now feel the need to go and re-watch all the films I own in this list!

    1. Awesome idea. Let me know how it goes.