This is part one of a list of my top 50 favorite movies of all time (part two will come next week). The films are NOT in any numerical order because each film means something different to me, and their significance has changed as I have changed. This is under no pretense a “best movies of all time” list.
I judge these films on three criteria.
- Quality of the filmmaking
- Relevance and message (social perspective, if it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and what I believe it adds to the world.)
- How much I like it (enjoyability factor, my viewing experience, personal significance, etc.)
These are all, of course, my opinion, and will change over time and as I see more great films. I hope you will share your favorite movies, and maybe want to check out a few of mine!
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This is my favorite of the Harry Potter films because it turns the series from being about a boy at magic school to a story about a boy and his friends fighting fascism and systematic suppression of information! It explores Harry’s relationships with the various adult figures in his life as he is caught between their various ideologies and becomes more aware of the way they are each trying to use him for their personal agendas.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuaron’s best film stays with you, feeling both relevant and timeless, with evocative imagery and a call for empathy.
I’m not gonna lie- this is a terrible movie from just about every standpoint except the acting. But it is so ridiculous, over-the-top, and shameless that I can’t help but love it.
An incredible screenplay, brilliant framework and a masterclass in detailed-oriented storytelling. Memento is one of Christopher Nolan’s best works.
Three things keep this movie afloat:
- Absolute sincerity in the central young-adult romance
- A truly puzzling ethical dilemma the characters wrestle with
- Gary Oldman and his luscious locks hamming it up
The Emporer’s New Groove
The Emporer’s New Groove never fails to make me laugh. This animated, 100 jokes a minute comedy is perfected by delightful voiceover work from Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt as Kronk and Ezma.
A Christmas Story
A favorite of my family, A Christmas Story contains classic scene after classic scene that satirizes the American celebration of Christmas while also ultimately being a sweet ode to every family’s holiday eccentricities.
The Three Amigos
This movie is about the importance of coming together as a community to fight injustice. It’s about living your life not as if it’s a dress rehearsal, but the real deal. It’s about facing your personal demons, which just may be, in the case of this movie, a big scary man named El Guapo.
This may be the best modern film about pre-teens out there. Comedian Bo Burnham uses his characteristic wit and sharp observations to make something bittersweet and ultimately hopeful. The kids struggle, but they’ll be alright.
The Florida Project
When it comes to films about poverty- particularly when they involve children- they are usually accused of either being too upbeat or being “poverty porn.” The first accusation can stem from a failure to recognize the humanity of people who are usually only acknowledged as political talking points. The second accusation can often be correct, especially if the filmmaker has no personal experience with poverty, but the accusation can also be made out of disgust and fear. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, in my mind, is neither of these things. The story of a girl growing up in a budget hotel outside of Disney World is not precious, but also gives its characters moments of joy and beauty. It also showcases William Dafoe playing a real-life superhero.
I’m sorry Megamind fans, but this is the better of the animated villain-turns-good-guy movies. Steve Carrell charms as Gru, a lower-level supervillain who ends up adopting three little girls and becomes the super dad he never knew he could be. Yes, it’s hard to revisit this movie if you have minion-PTSD, but trust me, it holds up.
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
This was the first movie I remember seeing in theaters. The soundtrack is true art, the animation and voicework excellent, and, fun fact, because of this movie I begged my parents to name my younger sister Jonah. They didn’t.
Modern Christmas classic. You’d have to be a cotton-headed ninny muggins to dislike Elf.
Brad Bird’s film explores complicated family dynamics and the ethics of being extraordinary, all while being smart, hilarious, and exciting.
Don’t despise this film for its youth. The Hate U Give, based on the young-adult novel by Angie Thomas is a nuanced and unflinching look at police violence, how it affects the family and friends of its victims and the discourse around such incidents. Amandla Stenberg here is a revelation.
Joe vs The Volcano
This absurdist satire with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is criminally underrated. The two stars have great chemistry and plenty of ridiculous scenarios to act against in this subversive rom-com.
You have to watch Tree of Life knowing two things. One: it’s not going to make much sense the first watch. Two: it’s a lyrical retelling of the biblical story of Job. Be patient and openminded, and let the beauty of Terrance Malik’s magnum opus sink in.
It also has dinosaurs in it.
AND Roger Ebert.com just named it the #1 film of the decade!
West Side Story
♪When you’re a jet you’re a jet all the way!!!!!♪
The Muppet Christmas Carol
This is- objectively- the best A Christmas Carol adaptation. This is not up for debate.
College Road Trip
This woefully overlooked comedy starring Raven-Symone and Martin Lawrence still makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it, mining comedic gold out of an overprotective father’s efforts to keep his college-bound daughter close to home. It also features Danny Osmond in a singing, John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles– esque role.
I don’t think I need to explain why this film is great. It lives up to its hype.
You can’t get more classic-adventure-movie than Goonies!
Night of the Hunter
L O V E / H A T E on the knuckles. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” This sinister film is a stylistic masterpiece and highly memorable.
Dead Poet’s Society
“O Captain my Captain!” TEARS.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight changed superhero movies forever, ushering in a dark age (both literally and metaphorically) with its more grounded aesthetic and political undertones. The movie is nonstop action and intrigue, driven by the iconic Joker performance by Heath Ledger.