My Top 10 Movies. I did it. It’s been done.

Whenever I mindlessly waste my time filling out internet surveys or stumble my way through an awkward conversation desperate for conversation topics, I always come up against that hardest of questions: “So, what’s your favorite movie?”

For me, as for many, this question sends off all sorts of red lights as the little tiny people running my brain frantically scramble down the “Movies She’s Seen” aisle, dusting off everything memorable to look for the golden, a-typical, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that movie for a response. Sometimes, when I should be doing something productive (like … now), my brain people and I daydream about strategic approaches to answering this question for future preparation.

See, the real problem I often run into is that making such a list is that it doesn’t actually teach me or anyone else much about me. As a child raised on the classics in the 90’s among a cinema-loving family, my preferences rarely mirror my generation’s. And if any of you know me, or if any of you have asked me this question, you’ll recall me just spouting out something I probably knew you’d align with, agree with, and then forget about. Well, this time – I’m determined to sit down and duke it out with the dusty brain files and figure out an approximation of where my true loyalties lie. …Lay? …Lie? … Are.

I followed a friend’s method, and tried approaching this a practical way. I simply listed the movies that I never don’t want to watch (the movies that at any time of day and any time of year I would drop what I’m doing to watch, and not only not regret it, but also not grow any more weary of the movie. You know what I’m talking about. We all have those movies). I came up with 3 easily, then 5, then 10. As I made my list, a few more criteria became necessary. First, I realized that there are some movies that I’m always up for watching, but don’t actually consider good movies (Case in point: Waiting For Guffman. For some reason, I’m always up for that quotable mess of a musical movie).  Second, there are a host of movies, mostly holiday themed, that only work at certain times of year (sadly, While You Were Sleeping counts as a Christmas movie in my book, so no, it won’t be on my list, even though I LOVE it, and no, it is NOT as creepy as the title would have you believe). Third, and I didn’t expect this, I kept wanting to put TV episodes on my list (What’s better, Return of the Jedi, or the last episode of Battlestar season 3? The multiple timeline episode of Community or Stepbrothers? Zoolander or Arrested Development season 2?) I came to the realization that I may very well like TV more than film, which is a weird realization. So I (begrudgingly) banned TV from the list as well.

Here, then, are my ten favorite films:

10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I decided to love Hitchhiker’s before I ever watched it. In high school, my newly introduced to Douglas Adams self got wind of a movie that sounded like heaven-on-screen due to two all important words: Don’t. Panic. I longed to see it in the theatre, but couldn’t drive to get myself to the theater. I didn’t know any other females who ever knew what sci-fi novels were, so I waited until I could see it with my dad and brother on vacation. I was drooling by the end of the intro song (So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish!). I’ve seen this movie dozens of times, and probably will watch it dozens more times with my kids. It is a far cry from the genius of the books and nowhere near as glorious, but… towels! TOWELS!! Also, the portrayal of Marvin by Alan Rickman taught me a valuable lesson in the power of vocal inflection. And go watch that last scene with everyone magically being lifted up into the sky, everything all tied up happily in a bow. When you know what happens in the book, none of this makes sense. It doesn’t matter. I was eating it all up right out of that god-awful director’s hand.

9. The Producers

Before you roll your eyes and completely judge me by my #9 and #10 choices of films, try to remember back to your college days with me: you’re a freshman, in a new place, charting unfamiliar territory into the world of the great unknown (aka “Adulthood”). One of the few people you know on campus happens to be someone you met in little league Sereno Soccer when you were 5, and grew up rebelling against rules and plaid skirted uniforms in high school together. Better still, she lives on the floor right above you, and happens to share a deep fondness for funfetti icing a la carte. The icing on the cake (pun completely intended) is that the two of you have been quoting FerrisBueller for years, making her privy to your secret crush on all things Matthew Broderick. Before you know it, you’re on the top bunk, double-fisting spoonfuls of icing into your singing mouths together in a state of sugary-high friendship bliss. I count this as one of my fondest college memories. Watching Producers became a monthly ritual, and only until recently when I watched it with my boyfriend did I accept watching it without my buddy (or icing). The movie is fun, the songs are catchy, and Matthew is just so gosh darn cute – but this movie never would have made the top 10 cut without the memories (and calories) attached to it.

8. The Princess Bride

Duh. Westley was every intelligent girl’s Prince Charming, Vizzini was everyone’s favorite non-intelligent bad guy, and Peter Faulk was everyone’s grandpa they fondly wished they had. Heck, I even liked the rodents of unusual size – and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve quoted this movie, I could buy each and every one of you a DVD of it to own yourself. Action, banter, love, suspense, humor, and great/terrible acting? I’m so in. And I mean it! (… anybody want a peanut?)

7. The Truman Show

I THOUGHT OF THIS MOVIE WHEN I WAS IN SECOND GRADE. I have proof. Look it up in my diary. Even to this day I have moments where I feel like I’m actually on The Truman Show, which probably explains a lot of the weird quirks about me (like how I used to monologue about my inner thoughts out loud so “they” would know what I was really thinking and therefore be more interested. Or when I’d hide my diaries underneath my pillow when I wrote at night so “they” couldn’t see my secret thoughts. Or I was just a paranoid child destined to grow up loving all things Kafka, Ayn Rand, the thought police, and Farenheit 9/11). Regardless, when I saw this movie, I wish someone would have videotaped my face, because I probably looked like my brain was exploding. It was the weirdest moment of my teenage years, realizing that “maybe this is all true … maybe at the end of this movie, my own world will be revealed…!!!!!!!!!!”. Unfortunately, the only thing that was to later be revealed was my paranoid tendencies, OCD, and social anxieties; perhaps I should have been more concerned than fascinated by this movie but it remains an all-time favorite.

6. Minority Report

Yeah, okay, it has Tom Cruise in it. But in this case, that makes it awesome. He pulls off a complex character in a fantastically written plot with superb effects and high-tension moments that have me on the edge of my seat each time I watch it. I love/am terrified by futuristic movies that are plausible enough to happen someday, and while The Dark Knight Rises scared me so much I had trouble leaving the theater to go back into NYC (again, anxiety issues here), Report found the perfect amount of watchable to rewatchable to rewatchable. Plus Spielberg and Colin Ferrell? And can we just talk about the pre-cog sit-up-in-the-water-while-I-jump-out-of-my-chair scene too?! Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

5. Serenity

I watched Serenity before I’d ever heard of Firefly, or of that Joss Whedon guy. I found it to be an enthralling, serious, inspiring, funny, thoughtful and well shot film (Mal’s backlit “I aim to misbehave” speech convinced me of the well-shot part). Then I watched all of Whedon’s other stuff, and realized I shouldn’t have been surprised. But now when I return to Serenity, it hasn’t lost any of its excellence; it’s still Joss’s best film, way better than Avengers (which I liked a lot). On my last watch, I noticed the stirring score for the first time. How had I missed it? One early review of Serenity had it right: Watching Serenity on the big screen is the closest kids these days will get to the experience of seeing Star Wars for the first time back in ’77. ‘Nuff said.

4. The Incredibles

There’s Beauty and the BeastLion King, and Pixar’s Toy StoryRatatouille and Wall-E, but The Incredibles is the best American animated film ever made (notice I said American. If I had better taste, Miyazaki would dominate this list. Come to think of it, why is Spirited Away not on here?). What could I possibly say about Incredibles that can’t be said by just watching the flick yourself? I have most of it memorized and I still can’t get enough of it. I knew it would be a favorite right from the get-go when they brilliantly started off with the “old school” mock-documentary interviews. And that score! THAT SCORE! It’s even my current ringtone, and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it (if you call me and I don’t pick up for a few rings, it’s because I’m rocking out to Micheal Giacchino’s stellar tunes). I get the chills when I watch this movie. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it reminds me how much I love being alive, finding I can change, and, even, learning I was wrong.

3. The Philadelphia Story

I had to slip Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant onto this list somehow, and what better movie than the one with all three of them at their prime in such glory? It’s hard to praise Philadelphia without just gushing about it’s beautiful film noir, but I think this film as a film is just really well put together. Katherine is playful and arresting, Jimmy and Cary are good as ever, and the delicacy of editing and pastoral patience and attentiveness of the cinematography and clever banter is unparalleled in my mind. Also, I feel like it’s a black and white film that will keep modern audiences (that pay attention) interested, which says something.

2. Edward Scissorhands

From time to time this has actually been called the greatest film ever made, so I’m proud to say I love it (as opposed to Citizen CaneLate Spring, and Army of Shadows, three “great films” I’d love to love, but, in fact, only very highly respect).  The bizarre surrealism of the suburbia rules and regulations hits home a bit, not to mention Johnny Depp’s incredibly captivating performance. I continue to be moved by even the slightest of his movements, marking him as one of those Daniel Day Lewis-type actors who can slip into a role and become an unrecognizable force to be reckoned with. This movie inspires me, plain and simple. It feels like a cousin of Wes Anderson’s films (which, I realize, are not on here. They deserve a list of their own, and I love each one of them dearly. Even that 13 minute short where Natalie Portman is suddenly naked). The off-center whimsy of this movie hits home as Tim Burton’s best work, in my opinion.

1 1/2. West Side Story

I’m totally cheating here, but I couldn’t decide where this movie belonged on the list and couldn’t bring myself to take any of the others off either. This movie introduced me to my favorite composer of all time, Leonard Bernstein. That alone is life-changing and worthy to be placed on any list involving my life. The music is superb, unique, cultural, and rides that fine line between musical theater and classical right into my heart. The dancing is ridiculously vivid and exhilarating, and Natalie Wood is innocent and charming and forever the dearest ingenue to me in theater. I know that’s a big statement, but I think it’s highly influence by my love for NYC which started at a young age. WSS only played into the wonderful fantasy of moving there one day. In high school, I was even in the show (I even got to ‘feel pretty’). Little did I know I’d even live on the Upper West Side too! This musical is moving and magical, and even if you hate Broadway – watch this, just once. Allow yourself to be moved.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

I was tempted to put something ironic at the top of this list, and even for a moment considered a blanket “everyone Hitchcock movie ever” statement. But it has to be Empire. Not A New Hope, which gets by more on youthful enthusiasm than quality, and not Return of the Jedi, which is just a little decadent compared to the first two films. I accept the first three episodes, but they aren’t even on my top 50. Or 100. Don’t even go there. No, my favorite film, and the most beloved sci-fi film (if not the best) of all time, is Empire. Go watch it again. Listen to the dialogue spark and snap. Revel in the elaborate sets. Remember that you’re not supposed to know who Vader is yet, and forget you’ve seen Yoda wield a lightsaber in Clones and SithEmpire is a quintessential adventure, despite its being the middle of a trilogy, despite the fact that its director, Irving Kishner, didn’t go on to do much else. He didn’t need to do much else. He made The Empire Strikes Back. My favorite movie. And if you’re as cool as me, it’ll be on your top list as well.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ben Hur
  • Forrest Gump
  • North By Northwest
  • Girl, Interrupted
  • Charade
  • Ed Wood
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • Pretty Much Anything Bill Murray is in
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