A list of my favorite movies can seem near-impossible at times. The list fluctuates so much and can easily change depending on what I've seen most often and how I'm feeling that day. If anything, consider these my desert island movies at least, the ones I could watch a hundred times and not get tired of them. I've also tried to be representative of different directors/creators to avoid filling this up with Pixar and Ghibli movies.
10. Sherlock Jr.
As a general rule, if somebody likes silent films, they lean towards either Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. There's little middle ground here. To me, Chaplin's stories are always better...but Keaton can run around him a million times in terms of comedy. Sherlock Jr. is brief in its runtime (less than an hour), but filled to the brims with great comedy moments. Keaton's wild ride on the handlebars of a motorcycle is one of his best stunts, and his trick pool shots around an (in-story) explosive pool ball would impress Bugs Bunny. Short but flawless.
- Beauty and the Beast
It's incredibly hard for me to choose one Disney animated movie here. Lion King, Aladdin, and Bolt could easily take this spot. So why Beauty and the Beast? Because it's filled with plenty of flawless songs, gorgeous animation, and one of Disney's best reimaginings of a fairy tale (the servants being turned into talking objects? All Disney). Disney has had their highs and lows over the years, but it rarely gets anywhere as high as this.
Another one that could easily be replaced by...well...throw a dart at Pixar's pre-Cars-2 lineup. But I come back to Up every time for showing how Pixar's pure skill in their craft. Few movies put as much plot into them as Up has in its famous opening montage. And as you dry your tears from that, you're thrust into a world where a house can fly using balloons and one of the main characters is a talking dog. There's never any mood whiplash here, just a pure range of emotions, tied together with a catchy leitmotif and a villain who's a dark reflection of the main character, a perfect example of showing the dangerous path that he's on.
- Singin' in the Rain
My musical of choice. No matter how many times I see it, it takes seconds to start enjoying the songs and choreograhy, to smile at the historical premise turned as ridiculous as possible. I find myself having trouble coming up with things to say about it, possibly because it's just a pure feel-good pick-me-up movie, but it is the feel-good movie for me.
One of my favorite jokes in Airplane is when the control tower says “They're on instruments!” Cut to the crew playing instruments raucously. It's ridiculous, it's simple, and it makes me laugh. Where so many parodies feel the need to wink towards the camera, Airplane has its actors straight-faced in a world where the absurd is a step away. And where some movies carefully set up a big joke, Airplane fires them off so fast that by the time you're done laughing at one, five more have just happened. A movie that rewards rewatches and is endlessly quotable.
- Pulp Fiction
What exactly has drawn me to Pulp Fiction is so hard to say. In theory, it's a movie about almost nothing. Three events happen. At the end, half the cast is dead and the other half is changed. But that's where Tarentino's script changes things. The sudden and dark violence happens around conversations about religion, redemption, and yes, what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in other countries. While some movies make everything seem so big, Pulp Fiction's events ultimately feel just like another day in the life. Somebody getting shot in the head and somebody else overdosing on heroin is the chaos breaking up business as usual.
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Let's get it over with: there's about a thousand versions of A New Hope out there, and there are some people who could argue for ages about whether Han shooting first or not matters. To me, it doesn't. Ever since I was a kid, what's gripped me about A New Hope has been its witty dialogue, its great atmosphere, and its stunning alien makeup. Some movies you look at and immediately know that the alien is CGI, the planet they're on is a greenscreen. When I watch Star Wars, I still have that belief somewhere in me that George Lucas flew off to Tatooine and filmed a real Jawa. His later actions aside, the vision on show here remains epic close to 40 years later.
- Princess Mononoke
Generally, when I think Ghibli, I think lighthearted, fun movies that mix their melancholy with magical worlds and optimism. But there's a few exceptions to that rule, and Princess Mononoke is a big one. There's no fun fantasy world here. There's darkness, there's violence. There's a classic fight of man vs. nature here. But there's no quiet acknowledgment that the right side is going to win. The further it goes, the more doubtful it becomes that nature will remain, and that even if it gets defeated, man will still be alive afterwards. Miyazaki's darkness is unleashed here, and it's powerful.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Most creators would use Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a chance to parody the film noir genre, turn it to absurdity. Robert Zemeckis instead used it as a fitting tribute, taking classic film noir themes (the hardened detective, the femme fatale, the over-the-top villain) and injecting it with fantastic animation. There is never any doubt that Bob Hoskins is actually talking to a cartoon rabbit. Its jokes consistently work on every viewing, and its smart storyline is so well crafted that the rumor it started as a Chinatown sequel is doubtful (the dates don't add up), but always believable.
- City of God
When I first watched City of God, that was when I knew that whatever I did later in life, it would have something to do with movies. Nothing in my life before then told me that you could have three scenes leading up to the same scene--one of which just being a single shot telling the backstory of the apartment where the scene takes place—but once I saw it, I knew it was right. Its narrative hops over time but never loses you. And as much as it loves its style, it hits hard with its story. The dual narrative has one man looking for the glimmer of hope in a dark and violent world, while the other embraces the violence and creates a cycle that seems unbreakable as the movie goes on. One of the few movies I could actually say is perfect.