I love lists. I also realize that, when it comes to ranking films, lists can be somewhat silly. I mean, how can you rank a comedy as compared to a heavy drama? But hey, I can't help that my brain works this way. I actually keep a running list on my phone of my 100 favorite films, and the list is constantly changing. I decided that, rather than keep it to myself, I should share it with you. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting my 100 favorite films of all time. They'll come in increments of 25, with this post featuring numbers 75-51. Keep in mind a few things: 1) these are my personal favorites, so I'm not saying these are the 100 objectively best films ever made and 2) I am not giving a blanket recommendation for every film on this list. You should certainly keep in mind age and content maturity when viewing some of these films (for more info on that, check out this post). Also, this series will only focus on feature films, so you won't see any documentaries. Finally, for any films that I have previously reviewed, there will be a button below each title for you to click through to the original review. My plan is to post this series every year to see how my rankings have changed. But enough intro, let's get to the list! Here are numbers 75-51...
75. Ex Machina
75. Ex Machina - Alex Garland (2014) Alex Garland is surely one of my favorite directors working today, and all you have to do is scroll down a little farther for another film that shows why. His films are so cerebral, yet visually stunning at the same time. Ex Machina incorporates a profound investigation of what it means to be human through the story of a master coder (Domnhall Gleeson), a tech magnate (Oscar Isaac), and the world's first true artificial intelligence, named Ava (Alicia Vikander). I absolutely love the ending to this film, and the entire story left me thinking for a long time. I look forward to watching it again, and if you'd like to see more of my thoughts on it you can head over to my capsule review of the film for Filmotomy's British cinema roundup.
74. Brief Encounter
74. Brief Encounter - David Lean (1945) On paper, you wouldn't think that an extramarital interaction over the course of a couple weeks would make for a great visual narrative. Such stories showcased in modern films often seek out the overly-salacious aspects, but there is no overt sexual content in this film and certainly no nudity. The story is revealed through subtext, at first, and then gradually we get more information about the relationship between Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). Again, none of that sounds like the makings of a great film. But in the hands of the legendary David Lean, what doesn't look intriguing on paper becomes an enthralling story. Lean is most famous for his grand epics, but he brings that same mastery of cinematic technique to this story which focuses on small moments and interactions. The black and white shots of the smoke filled train station are strikingly beautiful, and the characters make you feel for their inner turmoil. At the same time, it is Johnson's incredibly-evocative performance that elevates the material to new heights. This is another film that I've reviewed for Filmotomy, and it is a wonderful example of the art of filmmaking.
73. Heat - Michael Mann (1995) All you need to know about this film to be intrigued is the fact that this was the first film where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro appeared on screen together. They are two of the greatest actors of all-time, and they are both incredible in this film. Even so, this film is far more than just a vehicle for these two actors. Its narrative is strikingly unique in the way it looks at law enforcement and criminals - especially the effects of their jobs on their relationships. I've already discussed how influential Michael Mann's film was on so many that came after it, especially The Dark Knight. Mann's direction here is so stylish and inventive. And the final scene is absolutely incredible, both visually and thematically.
72. Inglourious Bas****s
72. Inglourious Bas****s - Quentin Tarantino (2009) This is my favorite Tarantino film, and it is the only one of his films to show up in my Top 100. That is mainly due to the power of two scenes, in particular, though the film as a whole is stellar. If my censoring of the title didn't give it away (despite the intentional misspelling by Tarantino), this is not a film for young viewers. Even by Tarantino's standards, this is a gory, violent film. However, the opening scene is one of the great examples of using tension. Here, Tarantino follows the Hitchcockian "bomb under the table" approach of letting the audience in on a key element to crank up the tension even further. This is explained beautifully in this YouTube analysis by Lessons from the Screenplay. Then the later scene in the tavern basement is another example of Tarantino artfully using tension. In both scenes, we get fantastic acting peformances - from Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in the first, and Michael Fassbender as Lt. Archie Hicox in the second. This is Tarantino's best-written film, and that is saying a lot.
71. Annihilation - Alex Garland (2018) Let me start out by saying that I saw this movie twice...in the same theater...on the same day. It gripped me that much. I definitely think this is a film that demands to be seen in the theater - the visuals and themes are just so large and breathtaking. Natalie Portman gives a moving performance, and Oscar Isaac is (as always) fantastic in his supporting role. The closing to this film wrecked me emotionally. Part of that is the incredibly-moving score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Part of it is the performance by Portman. Part of it is the writing and direction by Garland (adapted from a novel by Jeff VanderMeer). It remains my favorite film from 2018, though there is certainly still time for that to change. To read my original review, simply click on the button in the image above. I also reviewed this film for Filmotomy, as part of their first half recap of 2018.
70. Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villenueve (2017) We're in a stretch of my list that is dotted with visually-striking science fiction films. Few in recent memory have been as masterful as Blade Runner 2049 - the sequel to the 1982 cult classic. It's not often that a cinematographer deserves top billing for a film, but when you're talking about Roger Deakins I think it's warranted. This may be his career-best work, though that is an impossible choice to make. He won his (to this point) only Oscar for his work on this film, but he should probably have about seven by now. In any case, his futuristic stylings are simply breathtaking here. The score, too, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is absolutely incredible. Denis Villenueve is known for his ponderous approach (his 2016 film Arrival just barely missed the Honorable Mentions for this list), and I think it holds the film back here in the second half. Also, while I understand that the film is attempting to unpack themes of objectification and what it means to be human, its use of nudity ultimately detracts from the film, in my opinion. In any case, the incredible visuals alone are enough reason to see the film, and I think it even supercedes the original in quality.
69. 2001: A Space Odyssey
69. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick (1968) When you're talking about visually-striking science fiction films, the conversation begins with this Kubrick classic. It changed filmmaking in ways that have been reverberating ever since. Nearly every science fiction film released after 2001: A Space Odyssey has been influenced by it in some fashion. It stands alone in the genre for its early use of special effects and its profound themes. You can certainly tell the difference between the effects used here and the CGI effects of modern films - but that's what is so amazing about this film. With tactics that would be deemed rudimentary by today's computer-enhanced standards, Kubrick, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, and visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull were able to create jaw-dropping scenes like the famous Stargate sequence and some of the most memorable images in the history of cinema. So why is it only number 69 on my list? I've only seen it one time, and I wonder if this is a film that needs to be seen two, three, even four times to fully appreciate. Its pacing is certainly slow, and it doesn't give us answers to many of the big questions it presents. One thing is for sure - once you've seen this film, you will never forget it.
68. Annie Hall
68. Annie Hall - Woody Allen (1977) It's hard to know exactly what to do with the films of Woody Allen. On the one hand, he's clearly one of the best writers the medium of film has ever seen. But the sexual assault allegations against him (of which he was acquitted in court, but his adoptive daughter continues to affirm) are impossible to overlook - especially considering he had an affair with and ended up marrying his ex-wife's adopted daughter and the fact that so many of his films contain a storyline where he dates younger women. There was a time when I would have said Annie Hall was my favorite romantic comedy. While I can't change the feelings I had about the film upon first seeing it, I'm certainly conflicted about it now. It shows up here on my list because it fully displays Allen's talent for direction and writing. It is a testament to the film's quality that it not only won Best Picture, but it beat out one of the most influential films of modern cinema (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) to do so. This is an incredible film, and it certainly represents the work of many people besides just Allen. However, Allen's films (including this one) are so tied to his own persona, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone who says they can no longer watch his films. I haven't revisited them in some time, and I'm still processing how to navigate this going forward.
67. North by Northwest
67. North by Northwest - Alfred Hitchcock (1959) Many say that Hitchcock is the greatest director who ever lived. His filmography is certainly as impressive as any other name you might throw into that discussion. He's known as the "Master of Suspense" and he certainly knew how to thrill an audience. In many of his films, you could say that he finds the fears within all of us about what we might do in situations that are out of the ordinary. Certainly Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) finds himself in a situation here that we would deem "out of the ordinary." Grant's performance, along with a wonderful supporting turn from the legendary Eva Marie Saint, add depth to the film, but it is Hitchcock's direction that makes it a classic. So much has already been said about the crop duster scene, but it bears mentioning that this is one of the best showcases of Hitchcock's ability to use visual tricks in setting up his scenes. That plane was nowhere near Cary Grant during filming, but you wouldn't know that from watching the sequence.
66. Citizen Kane
66. Citizen Kane - Orson Welles (1941) Well, I guess you can stop reading my list now. I mean, what kind of bozo would put the movie most often listed as the greatest of all time as number 66 on his list? My ranking here is by no means meant as a slight against this classic film. It is incredible, especially when you consider that this was the first film Welles ever made. It is visually interesting and thematically powerful. It contains some of the most famous images in film history. "Rosebud" is forever etched as one of the great movie plot lines. It's a classic, no doubt about it. This is another film that I've only seen one time, and I didn't resonate with it emotionally as much as the films ahead of it on my list. But it certainly would not surprise me if this film moves up my rankings in the future.
65. Dr. Strangelove
65. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - Stanley Kubrick (1964) "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!" This has to be one of the funniest films ever made. Just the scene of President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) on the phone with the Russian president is enough to have me rolling on the floor in laughter. A farce about an accidental nuclear crisis may sound iffy at first, but Kubrick and company handle the material perfectly. Sellers plays three roles in the film, but there is another story about its production that has always fascinated me. Kubrick and George C. Scott had competing ideas regarding Scott's portrayal of Gen. "Buck" Turgidson. Kubrick asked Scott to do some zany, over-the-top takes that he assured the actor he wouldn't use. However, unbeknownst to Scott, Kubrick left the cameras rolling. These takes were the ones that ended up in the film, and Scott vowed never to work with Kubrick again. While the film is obviously a farce, it may have gotten a little closer to the truth than anyone in the U.S. defense command would have like to admit. I also wrote a capsule review of this film for Filmotomy's British cinema series.
64: The Two Towers
64. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Peter Jackson (2002) Here it is, the first of the LOTR trilogy to appear on my list - but certainly not the last. Surely arguments will continue for decades as to how to rank the films in this trilogy. The bottom line - each film is fantastic, and they all helped change the way visual effects would be used over the next decade of filmmaking. The Two Towers has one of the best sequences in the entire trilogy (Helm's Deep), and its opening scene is incredible. The sheer undertaking upon which Jackson and his team of creators embarked is utterly astounding. While I prefer the other two films in the trilogy, this remains one of my favorite films ever made. I will always have a soft spot for this trilogy.
63. Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock (1958) There are multiple films in this section of the list that I could envision moving farther up in future iterations of this countdown. Vertigo is one of them, and it is another film that is frequently on the shortlist for films considered to be the best of all time. I had the pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen, and it made me appreciate it far more. Hitchcock's use of color is surreal, and it draws you into this story of obsession and intrigue. There are many great scenes in the film, but I am always astounded by the scene where Scottie (James Stewart) saves Madeleine (Kim Novak) from the water with the majestic Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Stewart and Novak are both incredible in this film. While it is almost impossible to pick which of Stewart's performances marks his career best, this might just be it. Finally, I cannot help but remark on the inimitable talents of two Hollywood legends - score composer Bernard Herrmann and costume designer Edith Head. Herrmann created some of the most indelible scores in film history, and the music here is haunting and beautiful at the same time, much like the film as a whole. The costumes that Head creates evoke different shades of each character, and they add to the film's entrancing use of color.
62: Cries and Whispers
62. Cries and Whispers - Ingmar Bergman (1972) Speaking of entrancing uses of color, Bergman's 1972 film Cries and Whispers is a wonderful example of the power that quality set design and cinematography can have on a film's impact. Sven Nykvist (cinematographer) and Marik Vos-Lundh (art director) support Bergman's story and visual narrative with the juxtaposition of the striking red walls of this mansion and the pure white of the costumes. This is a story about pain and our attempts as humans to deal with it. The acting performances are incredible, especially from Bergman regular Harriet Andersson. This is another film that grew on me after watching it a second time, as there is so much here to unpack. The closing scene ties the film's thematic elements together beautifully, and this is yet another example of Bergman's complete mastery of the art of filmmaking. I reviewed this film for Filmotomy, as part of their Bergman 100 retrospective.
61. Psycho - Alfred Hitchcock (1960) In case you haven't noticed yet, the titles for these posts are quotes from one of the films in that section. This post's title is, of course, one of the famous lines from this classic Hitchcock thriller. This is my personal favorite film from "The Master of Suspense" and it is a perfect example of how he would toy with the audience. The film is surely not as frightening today as it was when it was released, but that is a sign of its power as a film. It doesn't need to induce jump scares to evoke fear and concern, because it plays on emotions and worries that are inherent in all of us. We all know the feeling of having been caught in a lie and the lengths to which the human heart will go to cover up that embarrasment. This makes us resonate with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the early parts of the film, but we cannot possibly be prepared for where the film will take us from there. Hitchcock made many incredible films, but this is his best, in my opinion.
60. Faust - F. W. Murnau (1926) I was absolutely floored upon watching this film for the first time. How in the world did a director create such imagery with the tools on hand in the mid-20s? How did Murnau do it? He is surely one of the great directors, and this film is a perfect example. Its story is one that has been handed down for generations, and if you've ever heard of a "Faustian bargain" you basically understand it. The demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) makes a bet with an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) that the goodhearted Faust (Gosta Ekman) can be corrupted. In an attempt to save his plagued village, Faust makes a deal with Mephisto and we watch as he descends into darkness. Along the way, Murnau treats us to what must be some of the most incredible images ever committed to film. I simply don't understand how he did it, but I will never stop marvelling at his unique achievement. This is another silent film, and while I wouldn't label it as "scary" necessarily, it does deal with some frightening themes. However, if you're a fan of striking imagery, you absolutely must see this classic from the silent era.
59. Marty - Delbert Mann (1955) Paddy Chayefsky may just be the best screenwriter that the movies have ever seen. He remains the only person to win three Academy Awards for screenwriting having been the only credited writer for each. His first such win came for this film, an Oscar underdog if there ever was one. It doesn't tell an epic story. It had a small budget, and its acting lead (Ernest Borgnine as the title character) was known more for his supporting roles to that point. Not after his performance here. Borgnine would go on to beat the likes of Spencer Tracy, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, and James Cagney for Best Actor. This is a film that is executed perfectly by the cast and crew alike. We feel Marty's loneliness in a palpable way. This is mainly a testament to Chayefsky's wonderful screenplay, but that material is elevated by the acting and the technical prowess displayed.
58: All the President's Men
58. All the President's Men - Alan J. Pakula (1976) The Watergate investigation is one of the seminal events in recent history. Its impact is still being felt today - both in the political sphere and in the movies. We've seen a few major "newspaper movies" come out in the last few years. All of them - except for one - are in the shadow of this 70s classic. You have two great performances from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles, and an even better performance from Jason Robards in a supporting role as Ben Bradlee Sr. This film handles its material so well. Think of all the different avenues this story provides. It navigates the pitfalls that have plagued other journalism films by staying focused on its main story - finding the truth. There are few better examples of that search than the work done by investigative journalists Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman). This film is a classic for a reason.
57. Rashomon - Akira Kurosawa (1950) Talk about classics! Akira Kurosawa is considered one of the most influential directors to ever live. He was a master of filmmaking, and here he toyed with narrative structure in a way that would be copied for years to come. Here we have the beginnings of nonlinear stories, unreliable narrators, and competing narratives that have become commonplace in modern cinema. In fact, Kurosawa didn't only influence moviemaking with his revolutionary techniques in this film. In legal circles, there is a specific name given to the phenomenon of two eyewitnesses giving contradictory statements. Know what it's called? The "Rashomon effect." (For more information on this film's impact, I'll direct you to this wonderful article from Criterion.) Here, multiple characters tell the story of the same crime but in different ways. We are allowed to "see" the crime from each perspective and come to our own conclusions about the truth. Kurosawa is a legend, and this is one of his finest films.
56: The Revenant
56. The Revenant - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2015) This film is a visual splendor thanks to the immaculate combination of director Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki. This was part of Inarritu's back-to-back Oscar wins for Best Director, but Chivo had him bested with three wins in a row for Best Cinematography, including his work here. They decided to shoot this film only in natural light, and it makes for some absolutely incredible visuals. Of course, this film also represented the first ever Oscar win for Leonardio DiCaprio. His acting here is visceral. He even ate real bison liver in one scene to add to the verisimilitude. One thing is sure after watching this film - I never want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild.
55: On the Waterfront
55. On the Waterfront - Elia Kazan (1954) Want to see an acting clinic? Watch Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in this film. It's some of the finest acting you'll see. Kazan remains one of Hollywood's most influential directors long after his passing due to his co-founding of the Actors Studio in 1947. Along with the likes of Robert Lewis, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasburg, Kazan helped introduce "method acting" to the United States. Kazan is also famous for testifying as part of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952 when fears about Communist infiltration were at their height. This film - with a main character who testifies against the mob - is thought by many to be Kazan's answer to those who ridiculed him for his own testimony. That political context adds another level of intrigue to this film, but it is a classic in its own right, thanks to the incredible talent across the board.
54: 8 1/2
54. 8 1/2 - Federico Fellini (1963) One of the best films about filmmaking to ever grace the screen, this classic from Italian master Federico Fellini is intoxicating from beginning to end. Fellini had such a wonderful eye for visuals, and creates some legendary ones here (including the famous shot featured in the header image above this post). Legendary Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni gives a wonderful performance here as aging director Guido Anselmi. If you are a cinephile, this is a movie that must be on your list to watch. It has interesting things to say about the art of filmmaking itself, and it is one of the best examples of the type of art to which filmmaking can aspire.
53: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
53. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - Adam McKay (2004) You should feel free to tweet at me with any feedback you have on this list. However, let me stop you before you start berating me for ranking this 2004 comedy over whatever film you deem to have been snubbed. First of all, this is a bona fide great film with one of the best comedic performances (Will Ferrell) ever. The Ron Burgundy character is now, well, a legend. Second, there are few films that have implanted themselves into my memory like this one. All my friends knew the quotes. I've seen it countless times. I even dressed up as Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) for a college costume contest (which my friends and I won, by the way). So you can tell me I'm wrong all you want. I'll simply sit back and remark - "Well, that escalated quickly."
52: True Grit (2010)
52. True Grit - Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (2010) Here is the first movie from the Coen Brothers to show up on my list, but it certainly won't be the last. Full disclosure - I haven't seen the original for which John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar. While that means I have no framework for how closely this remake follows that film, I do know one thing - this film is incredible on its own. First and foremost, you have a gritty and, at times, hilarious performance from Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. Matching him step for step is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. This was Steinfeld's breakout role, and she nailed it even as a 14 year-old. The Coens are masters of their craft, and their talent is clearly on display here. This is a film that is easy to rewatch and has more treasures in store every time.
51. Inception - Christopher Nolan (2010) That ending is famous. I still remember the cultural discussion that surrounded it upon its release. Everyone wanted to know if you had seen Inception and what you thought of its ending. Putting its puzzle of a plot to the side for a moment, this is simply an incredible film. Nolan's direction is fantastic. The music from Hans Zimmer is some of the best he's ever created throughout his storied career. And the ensemble cast is wonderful throughout. The lead performance from Leonardo DiCaprio gets the headlines, but look at all the acting talent riddled throughout this cast - Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, and the legendary Michael Caine. Cotillard is, I think, deserving of specific praise. Considering the plot of the film, it may be too much to say her performance is "dreamlike" but there is certainly an ethereal quality to her work here. No matter what you think of the ending, this film as a whole is one we will be watching and discussing for years to come.
We're nearing the Top 50! Let me know where I messed up by either leaving a comment below or tweeting at me. And make sure to check back next week for numbers 50-26. Thanks, friends!