Top 100 Favorite Films: 2017 Edition

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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