Almost ten years ago, I did a list on here of my top 20 favorite films. It’s been a long time since those days. So much of my life has changed. I’m not in college anymore. I’m not the shit-kicker I used to be. Well, at least I’m not picking fights with idiots the way I used to. Now I am so much more of a shit-kicker in other ways. A full decade later, having grown as a person I thought I would come back to this topic. Here’s the criteria for my favorite films – if you were to put this on in front of me, my super tall self would sit my ass down and watch it and enjoy it, no matter what I was doing. These are not the films that I think are the best made, though I do think they are all of quality. No, these are the films that are my absolute favorite to watch on any day when I am feeling the need for a good movie that I can sit and enjoy. Enjoy.
20. The Martian
This film has come into my life recently, but man has it left its mark. I love this movie. Some of you might know from being continuous readers of this site that I LOVE me some smart science fiction. With all the crap like anything JJ Abrams puts out and all the big budget films that treat smart science like a dog to take out back, having a film like this be as good as it is just makes me feel so good. Telling the story of an astronaut who ends up trapped on Mars, and the effort to bring him home. I love Matt Damon’s role as Mark Watney. It was so brilliant to have him recording logs into the camera. That way they could have him acting and showing off his personality without talking to himself. There isn’t a single bad role in this film. If you haven’t seen this yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
19. The Boondock Saints
Some of you who have been readers more recently may not be surprised at this pick. After all, I’ve made no secret that I think there is a problem with the broken nature of this country, and a film about two antiheroes looking to do some vigilante justice is just up my alley. After being put in a situation where they have to kill two Russian mobsters, the MacManus brothers get a vision from God that they need to take their justice further, thus starting their crime spree across Boston. This film is just a joy to watch. It’s got some hilarious dark comedy. The action scenes are fantastic. Willem Dafoe is a joy to watch in his role as the effeminate FBI investigator who is trying to track down the ones responsible. The three vigilante heroes, though, are just the best. Norman Reedus really showed off his chops here. So did Sean Patrick Flannery. This film is a cult classic, and for damn good reason.
Far and away my favorite of Pixar’s creations, this is a film that is just some good soul food for me. I’ve talked about it before, but I love to cook. There was a running joke back when my girl and I were first living together that I was the one who made us sandwiches after sex. It’s true. Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was young. So the story of Remy, a rat with a passion that is being restrained by his life as a rat is just so touching. It helps that the main character is voiced by Patton Oswald. Anything that guy touches is gold. He’s naturally funny, and brings so much of his sarcastic charm to the role. One of the reasons I love this film so much is that Brad Bird made it. He came up in animated films, and it’s clear that they drew this film before they animated it with CG. That level of care and the knowledge of how that sort of filmmaking works goes so far in making the world of Paris come alive. Not a lot more to say. It’s a feel-good movie, and that’s all it needs to be.
What a criminally-underappreciated movie. Kills me inside to think that there isn’t going to be a sequel. This movie opened to absolutely abysmal numbers, but thankfully it has gone on to have a fantastic legacy. One of the things holding it back was the unfortunate comparison to the Stallone film Judge Dredd. But this film is an improvement on that hackneyed piece of shit in every way. For starters, this movie is violent as fuck! Add to that Karl Urban as the titular character, who never shows his face, and you have not just a fantastically violent action movie, but a fantastically violent superhero film as well. The story goes that Dredd is taking a rookie out for her assessment. After responding to a call, they end up in a game of cat and mouse, desperately trying to survive from a criminal warlord called Ma-Ma. If you haven’t seen this movie and miss the days of genuinely violent action films, you have to check this out. All the roles are pretty great as well. I gotta give it to Karl Urban. The level of dedication he put into his frown, and the decision to never show his face, makes the character true to the source material.
16. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
When Disney released this back in 1954, audiences weren’t sure how to feel about it. The people who liked Disney films for being light-hearted and fun wouldn’t warm up to the haunting role of Captain Nemo, brilliantly played by James Mason. The fans of serious stuff wouldn’t get into Kirk Douglas’ role of Ned Land, playing a song on the ship with a guitar. However, when I first saw it, this film touched me deep inside almost immediately. Mason’s role as Captain Nemo is just incredible. The level of depth he brings the character, going from a man clinging to virtue, to a tortured survivor, to a brilliant scientist, and lastly to a deranged man on a question for revenge, it’s amazing he makes all those roles work. The story is of Professor Aronnax and his companions ending up on the “submarine boat,” the Nautilus. The journey they make and the emotional depths they are taken to is gripping. It makes how tragic the ending is that much harder.
15. The Secret of NIMH
Some of you will know my love for 2D animation, and the absolute level of heat-break it takes me to in thinking that it’s gone from film. Nobody understood how amazing and visually captivating this medium could be like Don Bluth. The level of detail and the worlds that he would create was captivating. I love each and every one of his films, but none more than the tale of Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMH. The story goes that Mrs. Brisby has to move from her home before the plow comes for the field that they live in. However, her child is sick, and she’s out of options. A visit to an unforeseen source gives her the information she needs. She must go to the rose bush and seek out the wisdom of a group of rats living there. This is a fantastic film, about science, nature, and the unknown. It is a surprisingly smart film, especially since its targeted at children. The animation is breath-taking, and the story is engaging. Don’t need much more than that.
14. Spirited Away
It’s really hard to mention the great anime movies without talking about Hayao Miyazaki This guy’s legacy of creating some of the most memorable films in the medium speaks for itself. And make no mistake, you haven’t seen the last of Studio Ghibli’s works on this list. You literally can’t ask for a more feel-good and warm fuzzy film than this. Telling the story of Chihiro, who is moving to a new town, her family ends up lost in the woods and finds their way to a strange shrine and an abandoned town beyond it. After her parents get turned to pigs, she winds up at Ubaba’s bathhouse. She has to work there, while finding a way to save her family. This film is cute, has a sweet story, and all the voice actors they got were on point. I’ve said before that I only watch anime dubbed. This film got all the right people. If you’re ever feeling down and need a movie to watch, you can’t go wrong with this one.
13. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
My absolute favorite of the old Star Trek films. Ah, for the days when this franchise wasn’t a giant pile of shit. Before the days of Star Trek: Picard, which tried to make this franchise super dark and gritty. Never mind that the original shows in the good times of the franchise had already done that. It’s hard to watch the episode of DS9, “In the Pale Moonlight”, without feeling chills. Some people have made the comparison with the shitty Picard sequel and this film. After all, doesn’t this film get super political? The whole premise is modeled after the end of the Cold War. That’s got to be a political screed, right? Here’s the thing – unlike Star Trek: Picard, this film takes an actually hard look at the characters with its political allegory. Capt. Kirk is framed as a man out of time, being left behind by a changing world. Spock is ruminating on aging and the concept of his world being an illusion. Bones just laments that they are too old to be in the situation they are, and that they were supposed to be retired by now. While the franchise as a whole has lost its damn mind, the best aspects of it survive in films like this. The perfect send-off to the original crew. At least until that other movie came around…
12. WIII: Patlabor
An anime film about two detectives trying to solve a mystery surrounding mecha, with an edge of creature horror. It sounds like a giant clusterfuck, yet it is one of the most zen movies I’ve ever seen. What clinches it for me is the music. Kenji Kawai scored this film, and when I need to decompress, this is what gets me. It’s also a neat narrative too. The mystery is that a mysterious force is destroying giant robots called Labors. Two detectives are investigating, and quickly realize that all is not as it seems. After coming face to face with the creature responsible, it becomes a race against time to contain the situation before the city goes into a panic. The science is smart, the dub work is great, and the plot is nice and zen. It doesn’t need to be anything more.
I remember when I first found this movie, a long time ago. It was a very strange sort of film. A young girl, raised in the middle of nowhere, trained to kill. Her father was cold to her, and she grew up with no social graces. Now, she takes on the next part of her mission – to find the woman responsible for killing her mother, and give her the same treatment. This is probably the strangest spy film I’ve seen in a long time. Saoirse Ronan plays the role of the titular Hanna with a strange kind of dark innocence. Cate Blanchett as the villain is perfect casting. The action scenes are brief and direct. It feels like battles between trained combatants. The scenes where Hanna is desperately trying to fit in with the normal family she finds is just touching, marred by how it all ends up. The ending is definitely very tragic, but fits. If you like a good spy film, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Again, loves me some smart science fiction. Based on a book by Carl Sagan, this film tells the story of a young astronomer, played fantastically by Jodie Foster. She is on a mission – to get a radio that can hear out into the stars. She wants to find the truth, and maybe, just maybe, find closure to her own pain. This is a very mellow film. What I love about it is just how down to earth some parts feel. The battle against the forces of bureaucracy and personal bias, underpinning a story of faith vs. science and dogma vs exploration. Sure, the romantic subplot could have been excised, and the bit where she meets with her father on the beach was kinda sappy, it was still a narrative that kept me going. Now much more to say, really. It’s a feel good smart science fiction film. I’m okay with that.
9. Howl’s Moving Castle
I told you that Studio Ghibli would be coming back to this list. And we’re still not done. What baffles me is why so many people don’t like this movie. I think it’s fantastic! The story of a young woman who falls for a wizard named Howl and all the trouble that brings to her life is really fantastic! The thing that really sells this movie is the voice acting. The dub for this couldn’t have possibly been more perfect. For starters, both the women they got for old and young Sophie. Then you have Billy Crystal as the voice of Kalcifer, the fire demon who is quite affable. Finally, you have Christian Bale as Howl. It’s nice to see him be able to be the carefree wizard and also a very serious and deep character. For whatever reason, this film is a black spot on Studio Ghibli, and for the life of me I cannot think of why.
Oh boy. I know so many comic book nerds who despise this movie. It’s kind of funny and kind of frustrating at the same time. These people need to get a life. For my part, I just love this film. Keanu Reeves brings the character and his brooding dark humor to life in a way that I honestly can’t think of anyone else being able to. Tilda Swinton is a fun villain, and even Shia Lebouf isn’t bad. Telling the story of a man trying to buy his way into Heaven after he committed suicide as a young man, this is a very grim look at the war between the two sides, and all those caught in the middle. I can never get enough of how Keanu Reeves does brooding. The dude really sets the standard, as far as I’m concerned.
7. The Sky Crawlers
On my initial list of best films, this one was at the top, and to be clear, I do still love it. However, it isn’t the same love I had for it initially. Far and away Mamoru Oshii’s best work, this film is tragic, somber, telling a narrative of a war that never ends, by design. The film follows a squadron of fighters at a small base. The pilots are cloned children who never age. Their whole life is a war that is being fought between two corporations. This war is allowing the world to have peace, believing that their peace is being fought for. What’s more, these cloned children never really die. If their body is killed, their mental data is taken and then reconstituted into a new clone of them. None of the memories, but all of the skills they gained in battle. I love what a dark and slow burn this film is. For anime, it’s weird. Every character has a ton of personality, and by the end it has you hoping for that way out that the main character mentions.
6. Reservoir Dogs
Far and away, Quentin Tarantino’s best work. At least in my eyes. Maybe not from a filmmaking standpoint. To me, this film is the one that best exemplifies everything I love about Quentin Tarantino and the films he makes. It’s a story about the telling of stories. All of which is done, brilliantly, through dialogue. The conversations in this film are just the best. When you can have a scene with tons of dramatic tension play out entirely in dialogue, that’s brilliant! My favorite is Mr. White and Mr. Pink, when they first get to the safe house. Steve Buschemi owns that scenes so hard, but Harvey Keitel is pretty great too. Telling the story of a jewelry store heist gone horribly wrong, all without ever showing a single second of what happens there and having the whole story ignore the “show don’t tell” rule in the most brilliant way imaginable. Tarantino is a world-class writer, and it’s truly tragic that his next film will be his last. The man wants his life’s work to be ten films long, and the next one will be it. People have their preferences with his work, and this is mine.
5. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
It should be no surprise that a film based on my favorite anime series of all time makes this list. This film was absolutely fantastic. The animation is some of the best I’ve EVER seen. You have the voice-cast from the original reprising their role. I could listen to Steve Blum as Spike for forever. The dude has so much cool. The action is slick, and the plot is engrossing. Really, this film is like a really long and really good episode of the series. What’s more, it doesn’t take place after the series. A lot of people thoughts it did, for a while. It takes place towards the end, but not after it. Just another day in the life of the chronically-broke crew of the Bebop, trying to track down a terrorist on Mars. There’s not a whole lot to say, really. It’s slick, it’s fun, and has some of my favorite characters. I love this film.
4 Summer Wars
This film is such a fascinating anomaly. The director of the Digimon movie wanted to remake the second film in the anthology (and the only one people remember), but without it being tied to the Digimon franchise. So, studio Madhouse gave him the budget and told him to go nuts. And I love this film so much. Not only does it have fantastic plot about battling a program in a massive social network, but you have a touching family drama as well. The animation on this film is impeccable. The action has that slick Madhouse formula that only they can do. I love every single one of the human characters who all have so much charm as this enormous family going through this crazy situation together with their own drama. This is a fantastic movie. As anime action movies to, it’s hard not to think this is in a class of its own. Everyone only remembers the Digimon movie for the second major plotline, so no wonder it worked so well made into an original film away from the license.
3. Blade Runner
The original cyberpunk film that is single-handedly responsible for making the entire genre. A movie directed by Ridley Scott at the height of his talent. An engrossing neo-noir detective story in a futuristic world that’s grimy, run-down, and filled with uneven power relationships. This film is a marvel. I recently got in blue-ray with the Final Cut, and holy shit! I cannot begin to tell you how absolutely well the visuals in this film aged, and how amazingly they convert to high definition. The effects in all their blu-ray glory are absolutely breath-taking. I cannot begin to imagine how much effort went into making this film look good. It’s ironic that Harrison Ford actually hates this film because he feels like he never got to be a detective in it. Well, his opinions of it aside, he’s great in the role of Deckard. A blade runner who is on the trail of some rogue Replicants who have come back to Earth on a mission to stop themselves from dying. This movie has it all. Atmosphere, great acting, an incredible soundtrack, and that slow-burn pacing I love SO much. The sequel was pretty good, but nothing can match up to the original.
2. Princess Mononoke
The greatest film that Studio Ghibli ever created, bar none. When Hayao Miyazaki originally began production, this was meant to be his life’s work. And given how this movie nearly bankrupted the whole damn studio, it’s not surprising. Every scene of this film is a masterpiece. It’s a 10 out of 10 movie, make no mistake. The animation is in a class of its own. The action is smooth and beautiful. What’s more, here’s where all the anime dub purists will get to be super angry at me, but the dub for this is incredible. Every role is just the best. My two favorite roles are Billy Bob Thorton and Minnie Driver doing the roles of Jigo and Lady Eboshi, respectively. Thorton brings a kind of dark cynicism to the role of Jigo, making him simultaneously scummy, but you can’t hate him because you see early on where his philosophy comes from. The dude is only in it for himself, but not actively hateful. Driver, on the other hand, makes Lady Eboshi a very enigmatic character. She is a violent woman and has no problem killing her enemies, yet you see her softer side when you meet the lepers and have her asking Ashitaka for his help to look after the people of Iron Town. Neil Gaiman (yes, THAT Neil Gaiman) did the ADR directing, and no dub is more faithful to the source material while making the language not stilted for an American audience. This is a true masterpiece, and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so.
And my favorite movie of all times is…
Those who have read this site for long enough probably saw this coming from a mile away. This is, without any question, the greatest film that Disney has ever produced. It will never be topped. Sales numbers be damned, no film has as much creativity and artistic poetry like Fantasia does. The music is beautiful. The animation is sublime. The visuals they have to go with each piece are perfect. Not a single frame is wasted. This film also nearly bankrupted Disney to make, but holy shit! No film can make color, sound, and motion come together like this. It makes how terrible Disney has become that much more heart-breaking, but it is what it is. This film got me into 2D animation and classical music. I love it from the bottom of my little black heart.
What are your favorite films? Let me know down below.
Until next time, a quote,
“Look everyone! This is what hatred looks like! It’s eating me alive, and very soon it will kill me.” – Ashitaka, Princess Mononoke