This is the second and final part of a list of my top 50 favorite movies of all time. 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!
Fiddler on the Roof
🎶If I were a rich man. Daidle deedle daidle Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb🎶
The Avengers began an incredible era of superhero filmmaking, and despite being relatively small compared to films it would later spawn (like Endgame) the first Avengers movie still remains one of the strongest Marvel entries in terms of memorable character interactions and action sequences.
The Sound of Music
This movie’s music is, as the kids say, fire. Julie Andrews? Perfect. Everything else? The ideal movie musical.
Pete’s Dragon (1977)
Pete’s Dragon holds a special place in my family’s history, but even without the nostalgia, this film is the ideal family movie. The story of a boy and his dragon has memorable performances by Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, and Helen Reddy, the music is catchy, the animation and live action hybrid isn’t too shabby, and if you have only seen the lifeless 2016 remake, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Do I really need to defend Finding Nemo? Pixar’s ocean odyssey about parent-child relationships and letting go is breathtaking storytelling, a true epic.
Bong Joon-ho’s whimsical and dark parable about the modern food industry didn’t convince me to go vegetarian, but it did take my breath away. The energy and boldness of the film is only comparable to Sorry to Bother You (also on this list). If an Alice in Wonderland-like adventure into a funhouse mirror version of our corporate food-branding landscape isn’t intriguing enough, watch it for Jake Gyllenhaal basically playing a Batman villain, Tilda Swinton playing twins, and Paul Dano giving a performance that may make you cry.
Taika Waititi’s sweet and spunky story of a boy and his foster dad running through the New Zealand wilderness to hide from the authorities is laugh-out-loud funny and often touching. Sam Neil is at his grumpiest and newcomer Julian Dennison is a talent to be watched. Don’t believe me? Please just watch this scene with Taika Waititi’s cameo.
As I say in my review of the film:
“There is something otherworldly and magical about seeing prestigious actors in B-level fantasy roles that I will never grow tired of. Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, Jim Broadbent watching on as Andy Serkis is eaten by a mythical shadow-monster, and Paul Bettany talking to a ferret and breathing fire is the movie I never knew I wanted.”
Get Out is the kind of film that could only be made by a comedian, and it’s just an added bonus that Jordan Peele is already a master horror director on his first go. Comedy and horror both explore a culture’s taboos and anxieties, poking and prodding at them in different ways that may make you laugh or scream, or in the case of Get Out, both.
This Disney animated princess movie is also a full-blown war movie, with stunning animation and a great soundtrack. Don’t mess it up, upcoming live-action remake!
People talk about the first ten minutes of this film being one of the best (and most emotional) scenes in cinema, and it is. But the rest of the movie is just as excellent as a meditation on moving on without loved ones, chasing old dreams, and realizing the life you are given is the best adventure you can have.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This underrated Disney adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic has major tone problems, but when it’s not trying to do a Genie rip-off with Jason Alexander’s gargoyle, it’s a dark and sophisticated tale about injustice and a look at what can happen to a religious man who doesn’t understand his own religion. I can’t watch the “Hellfire” sequence without getting chills.
I’m a wimp when it comes to horror movies, but It (the first one) captured my heart with its Goonies-style “Losers Club” and a scary, but more just odd, Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard. It’s immensely watchable and unnerving.
Have you ever wondered why corporations are able to monetize activist movements so efficiently? Have you ever felt the effects of capitalistic dehumanization? Have you ever wondered what a half horse-half man abomination would look like? Well, Boots Riley has the movie for you in this bizarre retelling of Dante’s Inferno, as our protagonist travels further and further into the darkness of our societal ills.
One of the reoccurring motifs in this movie comes from the fact that the youth at the care unit are there voluntarily, and if they run past the gates, they’re free and the staff can’t touch or restrain them. So frequently kids go awol and try to run away. The staff members run after them and follow them as far as they can, walking behind them, and waiting for the kids to collapse or choose to go back with them.
This image, of walking with someone, refusing to leave them, never giving up on them, and always being there to listen, struck me deeply as a moving portrait of the good shepherd in the Bible. It’s a depiction of what Jesus says he does for us, and in return, we can do for others. This is what it means to live life with people.
Shoplifters tells the story of a makeshift family at the edges of society in modern-day Tokyo. It raises questions about when doing the moral thing is not the legal thing with sensitivity and care.
My favorite film of 2018, this psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman brings up questions of self-destruction with a sinister yet stunning alien backdrop. Come for the sci-fi adventure, stay for an existential crisis.
Paul Schrader’s story of a pastor with a crisis of faith over his fear of climate change still haunts me.
There is a unique form of persecution that comes with telling people Avengers: Age of Ultron is your favorite and the best Marvel movie. This film has signs of growing pains, as it was one of the first MCU movies to really start expanding the universe and setting up multiple movies in one film, but despite these problems, it is the most thematically coherent (and bold) of the Marvel films and has some of the best character moments of any superhero film. It sets the MCU on the journey it takes through to Endgame. Not to be dramatic, but I will stand by this film until I die.
Little Women (1991)
Little Women is the movie equivalent of being given a reassuring squeeze of the hand by a loving family member. Louisa May Alcott’s classic has been adapted many times (and we’ll get another interpretation next week from Greta Gerwig) but I think this adaptation captures best the novel’s energy and tenderness. Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, in particular, give charismatic performances.
The Princess Bride
You can quote it, I can quote it, we all can quote it, and with good reason. The Princess Bride is a perfect film.
The Unknown Girl is a movie about boundaries and thresholds. Characters attempt to cross thresholds, both physically and metaphorically. Our heroine must cross various cultural boundaries to try to find and share the truth- and it’s hard. She isn’t always successful, and we see the fallout as people try to stop her.
As a Christian, I worship a man who never saw a boundary he wouldn’t cross. He never hesitated to talk to people because of their gender, ethnicity and nationality, class, history, or reputation. He never let cultural lines and customs stop him from reaching out to others in love or saying what needed to be said. The Unknown Girl gives me an example of seeing this in a modern context, and it gives me more courage to do so in my own life.
Return of the King
It’s hard to stick the landing, but Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy does so with gusto. And no, there are not too many endings.
Fellowship of the Ring
The one that started it all is basically a flawless film. The fellowship is brought together, the conflicts between characters foreshadow the larger conflicts between countries and ideologies to come, and there is memorable line and after memorable line (One does not simply walk into Mordor. You… shall not… pass!!!! Yes, but what about second breakfast?)
The Two Towers
The middle movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is my favorite because it best balances the expanding scope while still having small character building moments. Gollum and Eowyn are introduced into the story, we get a mini Shakespearean drama with the court of Rohan, Aragorn starts being pulled out of the shadows into the light, and Merry and Pippin are fleshed out beyond being comic-relief. My fan side and critic side are united.
Postscript, 7/10/2021: Honorable mention is Mamma Mia! (2008)