Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to watch lots of movies considered to be among the best of all time. Now, for the first time, I’ve made my own list of favorite movies of all time. Every other Wednesday throughout 2022, I will be revealing ten movies in my list of 250 Favorite Movies of All Time.
Favorite movies are a subjective thing, and my list will take into consideration the artistry and pioneering aspects of filmmaking, but also more personal and nostalgic factors that make a movie special to me. I initially wasn’t going to make a ranked list because a) ranking is hard, and b) I hate the type of arguments that result from ranked lists where people say things like “How can you possibly think Film A is better than Film B?” But then I figured making a ranked list would be a fun challenge, and it also will make it more interesting for a series of blog posts over the course of a year.
So, keep in mind that I live each of the movies in this list in some way or another. I hope I’ll be able to explain why each movie deserves a spot on my favorites list. I’d love to hear your thoughts on movies I’ve included, positive or negative, as well as movies you love that I didn’t include. Just don’t get to tetchy about increments in the ranking of particular films.
Let’s get the film rolling with our first ten!
Title: Time After Time
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen
When did I first watch this movie?: Early 80s, on TV
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This move is a science-fiction/thriller/romantic comedy in which H.G. Wells uses his time machine to chase Jack the Ripper to San Francisco in 1979, where he also falls in love with the modern day woman Amy Robbins. I haven’t watched this movie in ages, but I’m putting it here as kind of a placeholder for the movies I watched when I was very young with my mother and sister whenever they came on TV. Other movies include Love at First Bite, Murder By Death, and the Pink Panther movies, among others. Some of these movies are problematic and some are probably just not as good as I remember them, but I give them a spot for inspiring my early love of watching movies.
Title: Late Spring
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Cast: Chishū Ryū, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura
When did I first watch this movie?: January 2021 for the Classic Movies Project II
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: I never heard of Ozu before I started focusing on Classic Movies a few years ago, but I was won over by his simple style of cutting between lots of shots where the camera rarely moves. His stories are restrained and capture deep emotions in simple gestures as seen in this heartbreaking story of father and daughter.
Title: The Gods Must Be Crazy
Director: Jamie Uys
Cast: Nǃxau ǂToma, Sandra Prinsloo, Marius Weyers, Nic de Jager, Michael Thys, Louw Verwey, Ken Gampu, Simon Sabela
When did I first watch this movie?: Around 1984, in a brand new arthouse cinema that had replaced a notorious porno theater.
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: I was 10 when I first saw this movie set primarily in Botswana. Part documentary, part political satire, and part slapstick comedy, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It stars Nǃxau ǂToma, a member of the San (Bushmen) people, who must take a cursed object to the end of the earth – the ultimate symbol of Western civilization, the Coke bottle. I have good memories of this movie although I’ve learned in more recent years that it is controversial in its portrayal of the San people and for whitewashing Apartheid, so I’ve been hesitant about rewatching it.
Title: The Godfather
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton
When did I first watch this movie?: March 2020, for my Classic Movie Project.
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This is one of those movies that I failed to watch for decades before finally getting around to it and I ended up feeling a little underwhelmed. But I cannot deny that this is a powerful and influential movie, and I find myself thinking about it a lot more than I expected.
Director: Daniel Gordon
Cast: Documentary footage and interviews
When did I first watch this movie?: July 2014, as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30: Soccer Stories series
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: I have an unhealthy fear of crowd disasters and the story of Hillsborough Stadium disaster is one reason why. This documentary breaks down the cascade of errors the lead to the deaths of 96 Liverpool F.C. supporters, the failures of the police and authorities that compounded the misery, and the decades-long search for justice.
Title: Gimme Shelter
Director: Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Cast: The Rolling Stones
When did I first watch this movie?: Watched on DVD in 2007.
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: It’s a weird coincidence to have two “crowd disaster” documentaries back-to-back on this list, but the centerpiece of this movie is the ill-fated Altamont Speedway Free Festival which became emblematic of the end of the utopian feel in 60s counterculture. Among other deaths and violence, this film captures the murder of Meredith Hunter by the Hells Angels right in front of the stage as the Rolling Stones perform. Of course, this movie wasn’t supposed to be about a murder, it was a concert film. So you get to watch a lot of excellent live performance footage of the Stones at their peak with the ominous sense of Altamont coming at the movie’s conclusion.
Title: The Flowers of St. Francis
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Brother Nazario Gerardi, Brother Severino Pisacane, Esposito Bonaventura, Aldo Fabrizi, Arabella Lemaître
When did I first watch this movie?: Circa 2005, at a Brattle Theatre retrospective on Roberto Rossellini
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Arthouse cinemas are a great place to make discoveries, and somehow I found myself in the balcony of Brattle Theatre watching this Italian neorealist film about St. Francis and the Franciscan Brothers and St. Clare. Francis may be the most fascinating of saints where the true stories are even more impressive than the myths. This movie does an excellent job at depicting a simple faith that is hard to embrace in a cynical world.
Title: The Mystery of Picasso
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Cast: Pablo Picasso
When did I first watch this movie?: May 2001 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Part of why I love this movie is that I saw it while on vacation in San Francisco with Susan at the Castro Theatre, a classic movie palace where an organist entertained us before the film rolled. The movie itself shows Picasso creating unique works of art for the movie, many of them painted on glass so that they look like they’re being painted right on to the camera lens.
Director: John Musker, Ron Clements
Cast: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale
When did I first watch this movie?: In a theater in Virginia shortly after the movie’s release in 1992
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This is one of the great films of the Disney Renaissance Era and one of the first times a celebrity voiced a character in Disney animation. That celebrity was Robin Williams whose manic performance as Genie made this movie an instant classic. Plus there’s some great music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman with Tim Rice.
Title: La Jetée
Director: Chris Marker
Cast: Hélène Châtelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux
When did I first watch this movie?: February 2021, for my Classic Movies Project II
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This is one of the strangest films on this list as it is only 28 minutes long and filmed almost entirely as a series of still shots. It’s a science fiction story set in a post-apocalyptic world with time travel and romance. And it’s totally the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, just much more economical.