A few years ago, I was 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. With a new year and fresh slate of films on the imminent horizon, I thought it would be appropriate to revise my original draft of this ever-evolving list, inducting some of my recently discovered favorites into the mix. However, my top three films have conspicuously remained the same, and what struck me about them this time around was their similarities. All three pictures explore the emotionally restless psyche of characters who feel trapped. In the midst of their isolation, they experience visions of an alternate reality that may or may not be imagined. These visions epitomize the essence of cinema, filtering reality through heightened lenses while recasting and rearranging the various people and places that populate waking life.
I am reminded of a quote from the Upanishads read by David Lynch prior to screenings of his tenth (and hopefully not final) feature, “Inland Empire”: “We are like the spider. We weave our life, and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true of the entire universe.” On that note, enjoy…
100. Only Yesterday (1991) Isao Takahata
Stay through the end credits, and you’re guaranteed to bawl.
99. Titanic (1997) James Cameron
The last half is big-budget Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.
98. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Robert Mulligan
In the name of God, do your duty.
97. Kissing on the Mouth (2005) Joe Swanberg
Revelatory micro-budget portrait of twentysomething sexuality.
96. Parenthood (1989) Ron Howard
An endearing mosaic of the rollercoaster known as adulthood.
95. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Steven Spielberg
More chilling and audacious than many people think.
94. Heidi (1937) Allan Dwan
Shirley Temple at her finest.
93. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) Werner Herzog
Nicolas Cage at his nuttiest.
92. Cinderella (1950) Clyde Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
The first film I ever saw.
91. Dick Tracy (1990) Warren Beatty
The first “action” movie I ever saw.
90. The Great Dictator (1940) Charlie Chaplin
In the name of democracy, let us all unite!
89. Spirited Away (2001) Hayao Miyazaki
A fantasy that feels like a fever dream.
88. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) Elia Kazan
As lovely and fleeting as a summer breeze in September.
87. Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) John Patrick Shanley
I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?
86. Home Alone (1990) Chris Columbus
I know every single line of this movie. Every. Single. Line.
85. Grey Gardens (1975) Albert & David Maysles
Amazing real-life portrait of fascinating eccentrics.
84. Synecdoche, New York (2008) Charlie Kaufman
The most achingly poignant film of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s career.
83. The Fisher King (1991) Terry Gilliam
Everything’s coming up videoooooes!
82. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming
Hearing the opening music takes me back to my earliest memory.
81. The Lion in Winter (1968) Anthony Harvey
Every family has its ups and downs.
80. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Arthur Penn
The last few minutes of this film changed cinema forever.
79. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) Abdellatif Kechiche
Viscerally powerful study of a young woman’s evolving identity.
78. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Martin Scorsese
The most daring, provocative and inspiring film ever made about Christ.
77. Sister Act (1992) Emile Ardolino
There are so many ways to worship, and so many ways to irritate Maggie Smith.
76. Inherit the Wind (1960) Stanley Kramer
My favorite courtroom drama.
75. Contact (1997) Robert Zemeckis
An entire universe in the blink of an eye.
74. Dead Poets Society (1989) Peter Weir
I couldn’t have survived junior high without this film.
73. Ever After (1998) Andy Tennant
A feminist faerie tale with a startling dose of fire and spirit.
72. The Muppet Movie (1979) James Frawley
Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.
71. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) John Cassavetes
Acting that will blow the roof off your theater.
70. The Blair Witch Project (1999) Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick
Shows nothing, terrifies you anyway.
69. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro
Imagery destined to take permanent residence in your nightmares.
68. The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Krzysztof Kieslowski
No plot, just feeling—sumptuous, captivating feeling.
67. Moulin Rouge! (2001) Baz Luhrmann
Everything I loved (and loathed) about high school theatre.
66. Aliens (1986) James Cameron
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is the greatest movie badass ever.
65. In Bloom (2013) Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross
And Lika Babluani’s Eka is every bit Ripley’s equal.
64. Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón
Utterly jaw-dropping cinematography.
63. Happiness (1998) Todd Solondz
See it with an audience, and you’ll laugh. See it alone and you’ll squirm.
62. La La Land (2016) Damien Chazelle
Had me floating from its first scene onward.
61. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
The happiest movie ever made, and its happiness is infectious.
60. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Billy Wilder
Probably my favorite final shot of all time.
59. The Graduate (1967) Mike Nichols
Definitely my favorite second-to-last shot of all time.
58. The Music Man (1962) Morton DaCosta
The most inventive of all classic musicals.
57. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Sidney Lumet
Al Pacino has rarely been this fun to watch onscreen.
56. Paths of Glory (1957) Stanley Kubrick
I got so caught up in Kirk Douglas’ rage that it literally made me shake.
55. Angels in America (2003) Mike Nichols
My favorite TV miniseries.
54. Romeo and Juliet (1968) Franco Zeffirelli
The perfect Shakespeare adaptation.
53. The Miracle Worker (1962) Arthur Penn
One of the great movie brawls ever staged.
52. Ordinary People (1980) Robert Redford
A psychodrama that made me understand what my dad did for a living.
51. Adaptation (2002) Spike Jonze
So creative it makes me excited just thinking about it.
50. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s pessimism has never been so beautifully conveyed.
49. Groundhog Day (1993) Harold Ramis
The best riff on Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”…
48. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1993) Brian Henson
…well, except for this one.
47. The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed
The greatest entrance (and improvised speech) in movie history.
46. La Promesse (1996) Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
It made me literally scream at the screen—in the best possible way.
45. A Light Beneath Their Feet (2015) Valerie Weiss
I didn’t get this film so much as it got me.
44. Mother (1996) Albert Brooks
So funny you’ll hyperventilate.
43. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick
Reawakens your awe of existence.
42. The White Ribbon (2009) Michael Haneke
Nothing spawns monsters quite like repression.
41. Mary Poppins (1964) Robert Stevenson
My favorite Disney movie.
40. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Robert Benton
Want to get the best out of your actors? Watch this film.
39. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Tim Burton
Goofiness elevated to an art form.
38. The Secret Garden (1993) Agnieszka Holland
A place so vividly realized it occupies a part of my soul.
37. Moonrise Kingdom (2011) Wes Anderson
Saw it four times in the theater. Four times wasn’t enough.
36. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Irvin Kershner
Da bomb Yoda is.
35. Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog
A profound exploration of mankind’s delusions.
34. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Steven Spielberg
An exhilarating celebration of mankind’s dreams.
33. The Snowman (1982) Dianne Jackson
An ode to the imagination we carry with us from childhood.
32. The Truman Show (1998) Peter Weir
Made me wonder whether my life really is a TV show.
31. The Sixth Sense (1999) M. Night Shyamalan
It’s not the end that gets me, it’s the scene before the end.
30. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) Marielle Heller
Bel Powley’s performance is the very definition of sublime.
29. North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
The ultimate entertainment.
28. Kisses (2009) Lance Daly
Perfection on a shoestring budget.
27. The Straight Story (1999) David Lynch
A trip that’s rewarding beyond measure.
26. Hunger (2008) Steve McQueen
The debut of one of our greatest living filmmakers.
25. Monsieur Lazhar (2012) Philippe Falardeau
My eyes well up every time I think about that last scene.
24. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) Julian Schnabel
An astonishing ode to human resilience.
23. The Tree of Life (2011) Terrence Malick
How the evolving cosmos reflect our own growth.
22. Inside Out (2015) Pete Docter
Pixar’s crowning achievement.
21. Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese
Beating life into submission until it beats back.
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 Wise Kids (2011) Stephen Cone
One of the wisest films about people of faith I’ve seen.
17. Fargo (1996) Joel & Ethan Coen
Killing them with kindness.
16. Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma
The guiltiest pleasure of them all.
15. Wet Bum (2014) Lindsay MacKay
A work of transcendent beauty, insight and heartache.
14. There Will Be Blood (2007) Paul Thomas Anderson
The Kubrickian horror of capitalism.
13. The Sound of Music (1965) Robert Wise
There has never been and never will be another Julie Andrews.
12. Best in Show (2000) Christopher Guest
We could not talk or talk forever…and still find things to not talk about.
11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry
Every memory is worth keeping, even the painful ones.
10. Stations of the Cross (2014) Dietrich Brüggemann
A shattering portrait of fanaticism and the life it snuffs out.
9. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Alfred Hitchcock
Includes my favorite example of “pure cinema.”
8. Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen
We all need the eggs.
7. Nine Lives (2005) Rodrigo García
Nine shots, each following a woman at a pivotal point in her life.
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. Young Frankenstein (1974) Mel Brooks
How I learned the art of comic timing.
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.