Top 100 Favorite Films

Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Courtesy of Miramax.

Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Courtesy of Miramax.

I was recently asked by a friend to rank my Top Five Favorite Films. It was so daunting to limit my list to only five titles that I decided to add 95 more. This is an ever-evolving list and does not represent the “best films” I’ve seen (though many of my picks are certainly among the greatest films of all time). Arthur Penn and Paul Thomas Anderson are included in the small handful of directors whose names pop up more than once (the others are Allen, Herzog, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Lynch, Scorsese, Spielberg and Wilder).

100. The Room (2003) Tommy Wiseau

The funniest movie ever accidentally made.

99. Titanic (1997) James Cameron

The last half is big-budget Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.

98. Life is Beautiful (1997) Roberto Benigni 

Gloriously old-fashioned tearjerker with Chaplinesque charm.

97. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Robert Mulligan

In the name of God, do your duty.

96. The Virgin Spring (1960) Ingmar Bergman

Absolutely shattering. 

95. Kissing on the Mouth (2005) Joe Swanberg

Revelatory micro-budget portrait of twentysomething sexuality.

94. The Wages of Fear (1955) Henri-Georges Clouzot

Excruciatingly suspenseful vision of hell.

93. Parenthood (1989) Ron Howard

A lovely mosaic of the rollercoaster known as adulthood.

92. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Steven Spielberg

More chilling and audacious than many people think.

91. Plastic Bag (2009) Ramin Bahrani

Does the same thing “A.I.” does, except with Werner Herzog as a plastic bag.

90. Heidi (1937) Allan Dwan

Shirley Temple at her finest.

89. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) Werner Herzog

Nicolas Cage at his nuttiest.

88. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Carl Dreyer

A performance so vivid, it might as well have been filmed yesterday.

87. Cinderella (1950) Clyde Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

The first film I ever saw.

86. Dick Tracy (1990) Warren Beatty

The first “action” movie I ever saw.

85. The Wrestler (2008) Darren Aronofsky

So raw and real it leaves you bruised.

84. Spirited Away (2001) Hayao Miyazaki

A fantasy that feels like a fever dream.

83. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) Elia Kazan

As lovely and fleeting as a summer breeze in September.

82. The Secret Garden (1993) Agnieszka Holland

A place so vividly realized it occupies a part of my soul.

81. Superbad (2007) Greg Mottola

Michael Cera IS me in high school.

80. Home Alone (1990) John Hughes

I know every single line of this movie. Every. Single. Line.

79. Grey Gardens (1975) Albert & David Maysles

Amazing real-life portrait of fascinating eccentrics.

78. Synecdoche, New York (2008) Charlie Kaufman

The most achingly poignant film of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s career.

77. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming

Hearing the opening music takes me back to my earliest memory.

76. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) Abdellatif Kechiche

Transcendently powerful study of a young woman’s evolving identity.

75. The Lion in Winter (1968) Anthony Harvey

Every family has its ups and downs.

74. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Arthur Penn

The last few minutes of this film changed cinema forever.

73. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) John Ford

As relevant as ever.

72. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Martin Scorsese

The most daring, provocative and inspiring film ever made about Christ.

71. Sister Act (1992) Emile Ardolino

There are so many ways to worship, and so many ways to irritate Maggie Smith.

70. Inherit the Wind (1960) Stanley Kramer

My favorite courtroom drama.

69. Contact (1997) Robert Zemeckis

Oh how I enjoy losing myself in this narrative of big ideas.

68. Ever After (1998) Andy Tennant

A feminist faerie tale with a startling dose of fire and spirit.

67. The Muppet Movie (1979) James Frawley

Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.

66. Enter the Void (2009) Gaspar Noé

Death’s like a movie, traveling back to your beginning.

65. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) John Cassavetes

Acting that will blow the roof off your theater.

64. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro

Imagery destined to take permanent residence in your nightmares.

63. The Blair Witch Project (1999) Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick

Shows nothing, terrifies you anyway.

62. Toy Story (1995) John Lasseter

As fun as films get.

61. The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Krzysztof Kieslowski

No plot, just feeling—sumptuous, captivating feeling.

60. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) Mervyn LeRoy

So profoundly enraging, so magnificently executed.

59. The Spectacular Now (2013) James Ponsoldt

Shailene Woodley is the very definition of radiant.

58. Moulin Rouge! (2001) Baz Luhrmann

Everything I loved (and loathed) about high school theatre.

57. Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón

Utterly jaw-dropping cinematography.

56. The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder

That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

55. Happiness (1998) Todd Solondz

See it with an audience, and you’ll laugh. See it alone and you’ll squirm.

54. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

The happiest movie ever made, and its happiness is infectious.

53. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Billy Wilder

Probably my favorite final shot of all time.

52. The Music Man (1962) Morton DaCosta

The most inventive of all classic musicals.

51. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Sidney Lumet

Al Pacino has rarely been this fun to watch onscreen.

50. Angels in America (2003) Mike Nichols

My favorite TV miniseries.

49. Romeo and Juliet (1968) Franco Zeffirelli

The perfect Shakespeare adaptation.

48. The Miracle Worker (1962) Arthur Penn

One of the great movie brawls ever staged.

47. Ordinary People (1980) Robert Redford

A psychodrama that made me understand what my dad did for a living.

46. Almost Famous (2000) Cameron Crowe

How can any journalist not fall head-over-heels for this one?

45. Adaptation (2002) Spike Jonze

So creative it makes me excited just thinking about it.

44. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s pessimism has never been so beautifully conveyed.

43. Groundhog Day (1993) Harold Ramis

The best riff on Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”… 

42. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1993) Brian Henson

…well, except for this one.

41. The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed

The greatest entrance (and improvised speech) in movie history.

40. La Promesse (1996) Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

It made me literally scream at the screen—in the best possible way.

39. Mother (1996) Albert Brooks

So funny you’ll hyperventilate.

38. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick

Reawakens your awe of existence.

37. The White Ribbon (2009) Michael Haneke

Nothing spawns monsters quite like repression.

36. Nine Lives (2005) Rodrigo García

Nine shots, each following a woman at a pivotal point in her life.

35. The Wise Kids (2011) Stephen Cone

One of the wisest films about people of faith I’ve seen.

34. Mary Poppins (1964) Robert Stevenson

My favorite Disney movie.

33. Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma

The guiltiest pleasure of them all.

32. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Robert Benton

Want to get the best out of your actors? Watch this film.

31. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Tim Burton

Goofiness elevated to an art form.

30. Moonrise Kingdom (2011) Wes Anderson

Saw it four times in the theater. Four times wasn’t enough.

29. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Irvin Kershner

Da bomb Yoda is.

28. Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog

A profound exploration of mankind’s delusions.

27. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Steven Spielberg

An exhilarating celebration of mankind’s dreams.

26. The Truman Show (1998) Peter Weir

Made me wonder whether my life really is a TV show.

25. In the Family (2011) Patrick Wang

A brilliant remedy for our divisive times.

24. North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock

The ultimate entertainment.

23. Kisses (2009) Lance Daly

Perfection on a shoestring budget.

22. The Straight Story (1999) David Lynch

A trip that’s rewarding beyond measure.

21. Monsieur Lazhar (2012) Philippe Falardeau

My eyes well up every time I think about that last scene.

20. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003 & 2004) Quentin Tarantino

A movie mix tape for the ages.

19. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

My favorite experience in a movie theater.

18. The Tree of Life (2011) Terrence Malick

The universe that exists within us all.

17. Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese

Beating life into submission until it beats back.

16. Fargo (1996) Joel & Ethan Coen

Killing them with kindness.

15. Hunger (2008) Steve McQueen

The debut of one of our greatest living filmmakers.

14. There Will Be Blood (2007) Paul Thomas Anderson

The Kubrickian horror of capitalism. 

13. The Sixth Sense (1999) M. Night Shyamalan

It’s not the end that gets me, it’s the scene before the end.

12. Best in Show (2000) Christopher Guest 

We could not talk or talk forever…and still find things to not talk about.

11. Young Frankenstein (1974) Mel Brooks

How I learned the art of comic timing.

10. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Alfred Hitchcock

Includes my favorite example of “pure cinema.”

9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) Julian Schnabel

An astonishing ode to human resilience.

8. The Sound of Music (1965) Robert Wise

There has never been and never will be another Julie Andrews.

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry

Heartache has rarely been captured with such exuberant genius.

6. Roger and Me (1989) Michael Moore

A master class in savagely satirical editing.

5. Magnolia (1999) Paul Thomas Anderson

The film that awakened me to the limitless possibilities of filmmaking.

4. Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen

We all need the eggs.

3. The Shining (1980) Stanley Kubrick

I could watch it forever and ever and ever…

2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra

The most life-affirming film of all time.

1. Mulholland Dr. (2001) David Lynch

The gift that keeps on giving.

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