Some years ago, I published a list of the top 100 movies that everyone in filmmaking should see. Today, I’d like to follow that up with my top 100 favorite films list – the ones I enjoy the most regardless of their historical or technical merits. Some appear in both lists, but I think it’s mostly different. I can’t realistically rank them because many are just too different so, as with the other list, they’re in chronological order. Also, it’s likely that I will go back and revise this post from time to time as my tastes change.
This list is also different, because I decided to give a micro-description of what I like about each one – although I might go back and update the other post in this fashion as well.
Either way, here it is:
College (1927) – Keaton included the greatest variety of his physical stunts and jokes in this movie. Also, it’s one of only a handful of films about college that I enjoy.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) – The best version of this story, even if it has little to do with the books. Also, this is where THE Tarzan yell originated.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) – There is so much to love about this period noir thriller. The acting, the editing, the psychology of the writing, and even the humor.
Bright Eyes (1934) – I had to put one Shirley Temple movie on here. This one is probably the most iconic, although Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) is arguably more fun.
Rainbow Valley (1935) – My favorite corny John Wayne western. Honestly, I don’t know why.
Great Guy (1936) – The best Cagney movie in my opinion, and also the only crime thriller I know of involving an agent from the Dept. of Weights and Measure cracking a crime ring.
My Man Godfrey (1936) – Even before I knew the dialogue for this was all improv, I loved this film because it combines some very fine acting with extremely salient social commentary that’s still relevant today (maybe even more than back then).
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) – This film is very sweet and a wonderful social/philosophical discussion piece. It’s also interesting because it’s sort of like a Shirley Temple film, but non-musical and from a male point of view.
Let’s Sing Again (1936) – Largely along the same lines of Fauntleroy, but this time with singing. I really love these old sentimental flickers with good music.
Swing Time (1936) – Tied for first place with the next entry as the best of the Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers movies.
Shall we Dance (1937) – This and the above movie had a lot to do with my taking a year of tap dance and earning 2 degrees in filmmaking.
The Saint in New York (1938) – This film is the first true American Noir movie to my mind. Also the only Saint movie that wasn’t a comedy.
Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) – The best of the Mr. Moto movies. Lorre did an amazing job in this role, but somebody seriously needs to remake these with an actual Japanese actor. Don’t make me do it myself!
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Best (non-comedy) Robin Hood movie ever! Classy, fun, action-packed, well acted. Great costumes too.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) – This film looks into so many aspects of life and humanity, and does it so well. This is one of the few movies with an incredibly sad ending that I absolutely love.
The Four Feathers (1939) – A story about how being thoughtful and non-conformist can get you shunned by people who follow blindly, but can also make you the smartest and most effective agent of change in your actions.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – Okay, the ending is extremely flawed by being unrealistically easy and optimistic. But the main drift of the movie about fighting against corporate corruption in politics and gullibility/pessimism in the public is well done.
Our Town (1940) – An excellent social/psychological/character study. Also, very sentimental and sweet.
The Mark of Zorro (1940) – The first super hero story! Well, sort of. I love the acting in this film, and the fencing scenes. And I like that the heroine isn’t a total idiot like in most superhero films.
Pimpernel’ Smith (1941) – A thematic sequel to Scarlet Pimpernel, this is a powerful adaptation of that story to rescuing victims of the German camps in WWII. Aside from the wonderful acting/writing/editing/etc of this Noir spy thriller, it was also an incredible bit of propaganda to get the Americans involved in the war. If you read up on the history of this film, you’ll find that watching it even influenced a foreign minister to smuggle hundreds of victims out of Germany himself and – that the film’s leading actor may have been a spy in real life.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) – If you only watch one of the Thin Man movie series, make it this one. It has all the best villains and all the cutest quips. My favorite of the series is really Thin Man Goes Home, but it’s largely because that film turns the patterns of the rest of the series on their heads.
Holiday Inn (1942) – Every major holiday in one movie, accompanied by a song for each one! Now, yes, Fred Astaire kind of plays a villain in this one, but if I can get over it so can you. I think it juuust has the edge over White Christmas.
To Be or Not to Be (1942) – This film is at once hilarious, sweet and deadly serious in different parts. Inglorious Basterds can take a flying leap. If you watch one movie about Jews kicking Nazi butts this is the one.
Sons of the Pioneers (1942) – Roy Rogers plays a chemist-cowboy who beats cattle rustlers with science! Also, Gabby Hayes and Pat Brady in the same film as dual sidekicks. Who could ask for more!?!
Stormy Weather (1943) – A great showcase of blues music with some fine acting.
Laura (1944) – This is THE Noir movie, period.
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) – The cutest and silliest of the Thin Man series.
State Fair (1945) – At first I liked this movie because it’s fun and has good music, but in later years (being someone who grew up going to the county fair every year and competing in the contests) I also grew to like it for sentimental reasons. There’s another version of this movie that stinks. Avoid it and watch this one.
Welcome Stranger (1947) – Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald starred in a series of films together, most famously in Going My Way, but this is the best one. They have great onscreen chemistry and comedic timing.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – This is the only good version of the film, mostly because of the great casting. I do have qualms about Santa knocking the bad guy with his cane, but other than that this movie is perfect.
Treasure Island (1950) – If I ever try to write an anti-hero character, Silver will be my model for comparison. He’s not quite a villain, and definitely not a hero. He’s a truly multi-faceted character in a way that doesn’t exist in today’s media. Also, this is just a great adventure story.
Harvey (1950) – Jimmy Stewart at his best, playing a dreamy-eyed yet down to earth man who carries a strange kind of wisdom and inner peace through life in this classic comedy.
Scrooge (1951) – There are a few key story beats in the book that are missing, but overall this is the most faithful and most heartfelt version of the story ever produced on film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – The quintessential science fiction movie, mostly for the atmosphere and general feeling of the movie. It has aliens, a little kid sidekick, social commentary, and nobody acting unduly stupid.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – It’s the best (and kind of the most accurate) film about the entertainment industry I know, and it’s good enough to re-watch again and again. Not to shabby for a film that was only made to sell a list of songs.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) – A great parody of almost everything in 1950s pop culture.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) – The best super-cheesy sci-fi monster movie.
Auntie Mame (1958) – I think I like this film because it embraces the eccentric without being insulting, and because Russel delivers a great performance as usual – unlike the other version of the film (blech!).
St. Louis Blues (1958) – An amazing story, told in an effective way and with surprisingly excellent acting.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – Good music, silly story, entertaining mockumentary antics.
The Endless Summer (1966) – Even if you don’t like or care about surfing, you’ll love this film. It’s just good storytelling, silly comedy, and some gorgeous places.
How to Steal a Million (1966) – Cutest and most romantic heist movie ever.
Wait Until Dark (1967) – Not your average Hepburn film. This is one of the most tense, almost scary at times, thrillers of the era with one of the most evil villains around.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) – I STILL watch this every Christmas. There have been other attempts at a Santa Claus origin story, but this one is leaps and bounds above the rest. Also, pretty amazing stop-motion for a TV movie.
Star Wars original trilogy, un-messed-with versions (1977-1983) – I’m not sure I can faithfully tell you why I like these films. I’ve been watching them since I was an infant and they’re part of my psyche.
The Muppet Movie (1979) – One of the few great road movies, with one of the best songs ever written. And, I mean come on, muppets!
Superman (1978) – There is but one true Superman. The ending is stupid, but the rest is so good I don’t care.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – The only movie to ever make me jump in my seat. Also, it’s just got a lot of corny goodness. That wandering in the alien zombies scene, perfect!
The Blues Brothers (1980) – The last great musical. Seriously, there just weren’t any after that.
Chariots of Fire (1981) – Really strong writing and really crafted filmmaking.
Strange Brew (1983) – Too funny not to completely love.
Trading Places (1983) – Great comedians doing elaborate social commentary.
2010 (1984) – Even better than the previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Back to the Future (1985) – Really the whole trilogy, since it’s one continuous story. There’s everything good and nothing bad about these movies.
Fletch (1985) – The Fletch films were the last great reporter solving a mystery movies.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) – A very funny movie, and also kind of a feminist film.
Roxanne (1987) – An excellent modernization of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Back to the Beach (1987) – The last, and best, sequel of the 1960s beach movies with Frankie and Annette.
Spaceballs (1987) – You wouldn’t think a parody of Star Wars would be such a great movie in its own right, but here it is.
Big (1988) – Hanks at his silliest and cutest.
Willow (1988) – Soooo much better than LOTR. Yeah, I said it and it’s true.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Unique and strange, but good.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – A far-reaching adventure story with one of the better female protagonists in film (the little girl).
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988) – This film is about every independent filmmaker ever, including now. It somehow inspired me to make films even though it also showed me just how they’d never get seen.
Young Einstein (1988) – Just an incredible piece of comedy historical parody filmmaking.
Life Without Zoe – sub-movie in New York Stories (1989) – Kind of an aspirational fairytale for modern-day little girls who dream of traveling the world.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – My favorite of the series, mostly because of the interplay between him and his father. One of the great action-comedies.
Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Again, the best of the series. Most amazing character arcs, and one of the best female protagonists in film as Doc’s lady love.
Ghost (1990) – I mostly like this film because Whoopie is hilarious and the sound design is incredible.
Home Alone (1990) – I rewatched this as an adult, and it’s actually much more than a comedy. It’s really quite an interesting film despite the central logic errors.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – A great adventure film with funny cartoon mice.
Hook (1991) – Some great character study work here, and an impressive example of a subpar script being turned into a great movie by all the best people in Hollywood getting involved.
The Rocketeer (1991) – A great throwback to 1940s adventure serials, and some great moments of American patriotism against them filthy Nazis.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Actually a great piece of sci-fi in addition to being a very explody action movie. Also one of the few movies where I can’t decide between the theatrical release and the director’s cut because they’re both good for different reasons.
A League of Their Own (1992) – One of the few great feminist films.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – One of the few great action-comedies with a female lead.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) – Some mind-blowingly great singing here. The writing’s not bad either for the most part.
Groundhog Day (1993) – So funny! That’s all.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) – Some of the best comedy ever put on film, and not a bad adaptation of the Robin Hod story either.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – This is one of those few almost perfect movies. Just need to edit out 2 short scenes. Other than that, this movie is truly incredible.
I.Q. (1994) – A cute romantic comedy about geniuses in love.
Wallace & Gromit in A Close Shave (1995) – Probably the most cohesive story in the series. They’re all good though.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – Best Dracula movie ever, tied for first place with Robin Hood as the best Mel Brooks movie. Why couldn’t he have kept making films!?! Why!?!
Rumble in the Bronx (1995) – Some of Chan’s most creative fight scenes, and the first film of his I ever saw.
Babe (1995) – This movie should be really stupid, but it’s actually thoughtful and crafted and really sweet.
Canadian Bacon (1995) – One of the best, if not the best, political comedies ever made. And by Michael Moore yet. Not just a documentarian, clearly.
Independence Day (1996) – All around a pretty great action movie. The 2 main characters are the most fun to watch. Definitely Goldblum and Smith at their best. Just ignore the depressingly awful sequel.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – My favorite Bond girl ever (the smart, capable one; not the idiot who dies).
Monsters, Inc. (2001) – Just a cute film with a fun premise. Also the only Pixar movie that isn’t bizarre or unnecessarily sad.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – The best one in the series. Extends the philosophical argument from Star Wars about the dark side and includes some great character study with relevant political commentary. I just wish the good Dumbledore could have been in it instead of Gambon – who was muuuuch better as Maigret.
Hot Fuzz (2007) – This is such a strange and bizarre, yet innovative comedy I can’t help but like it. Just a slight edge over Shaun of the Dead – because it’s more original.