Top 20 film list – more definitiver than ever

When I thought about updating my top ten film list to lazily reuse and repackage previously published material to reflect recent developments, I realized that this would leave me with an odd number of 11. As that could not stand, the only recourse I had was to increase the list by nine.

Roughly the same rules apply. 20 thru 6 are more or less arbitrary. The top five less so.

My tastes remain rather conventional, so there will likely be few surprises.

20. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

I’d argue that this perfects the kind of sci-fi monster horror which Alien inaugurated a few years prior.

19. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

How many other Hollywood flicks end with God smiting the Nazi’s for sacrilege?

18. Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)

The ultimate hang-out movie. Both in terms of being an excellent western to watch while hanging out with friends, and also in terms of being an excellent movie that is largely about people hanging out.

17. The Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

Say you wanted to film Offenbach’s Hoffmann opera. Say you wanted to make it as surreal, whimsical and brightly coloured as anything out of The Wizard of Oz. It would look something like this.

16. Fantasia (1940, Disney)

File under, “whoa, they actually did that?” In the good sense.

15. Aliens (1986, James Cameron)

There’s no way around it: you either prefer the deliberately paced horror of Ridley Scott’s original, or the more explodey space marine action of Cameron’s sequel. I guess it’s clear where I stand.

14. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986, Hayao Miyazaki)

Miyazaki at his most romantic. Robots with lasers are always a plus.

13. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

Laid the groundwork for my interest in science fiction and classical music, and was also the first film where I tried to pay attention to how it was composed and how the narrative worked. I will brook no criticism of the last 20 minutes.

12. Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi)

The real successor to the original Looney Tunes shorts.

11. Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)

This was my first monster movie. Perhaps it is not the work of art that, say, the original Gojira is, but, well, nostalgia is a helluva drug. For what it’s worth, it gave us the Goldblum laugh.

10. Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)

Look, I’m as tired of hearing about BOOMSTICK as you are, but this is still a timeless classic on par with Citezen Kane. Additionally, priests who are tempted to ad lib parts of the Mass after ordination may find the movie’s discussion about the proper use of words helpful.

9. Paprika (2006, Satoshi Kon)

The whole, “let’s develop technology that will enable us to enter into peoples’ dreams no one will ever misuse this,” angle could have led to a movie that was little more than a string of trippy sequences with little substance, but the late, lamented Satoshi Kon knows how to write a thriller. He’s also more of a film buff than an otaku, and his love for cinema is pretty infectious.

8. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

One of the weirdest, most sui generis horror/thrillers ever.

7. Andrei Rublev (1966, Andrei Tarkovsky)

This is a 3.5 hour foreign movie centered around a Russian Orthodox iconographer. If that description doesn’t scare you, then you should watch this movie.

6. Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

I really like this movie because it takes an idea I’m not too crazy about (talking animal character who doesn’t fit in needs to find his place in life), and turns it into a statement about what it means to be an artist, not surrendering to mediocrity – art as a vocation, in short. It’s also the prettiest computer animated film made yet, and features a nice villainous turn by Peter O’Toole to boot.

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer)

If you pay attention during the scene where Khan is introduced, you can see books like the Bible, Paradise Lost, and King Lear sitting on Khan’s shelf. This movie really, really wants to be epic Shakespearean tragedy. It wants to transform William Shatner and Riccardo Montalban into Wagnerian opera divas. It is willing to invoke Amazing Grace and be totally serious. Somehow it accomplishes all that, because it believes in itself or something. Cumberbatch shmumberbatch.

4. Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

I find Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey to be eminently rewatchable. The rest of Kubrick’s oeuvre…much less so. Still, even if he only made this one movie, he’d be high up in my books. This is the best comedy ever. The dialogue is golden; it contains, like six great performances more funnier than Seinfeld (three of which are played by one actor). It would take us until Neon Genesis Evangelion to get an apocalypse as neurotic and weird as this one.

3. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

My assumption is that, if you read this blog, you probably already have a good idea of why this would be on the list.

2. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

“A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never!”

This film is magic. It is like bathing in the dream-sequence of an aesthete, or drinking amarone and smoking a good cigar. Perhaps I oversell it; perhaps the subject matter is not to your taste – a story about a fictional ballet company somewhat inspired by Sergei Diaghliev’s Ballets Russes. Or, more particularly, about a ballerina and composer who are on the rise, and an almost Nietzschean impressario who is ruthless in his attempts to cultivate beautiful things. Perhaps you find the Technicolor a little too Technicolor. Perhaps you think the surrealistic ballet dance that goes on for nearly 20 minutes a bit too artsy or something. Perhaps you think that Moira Shearer shouldn’t have gotten involved in film. Perhaps you don’t like dancing.

Well then this clearly is not the movie for you.

1. Pinocchio (Disney, 1940)

I’ve likely run out of superlatives for Disney’s sophomore feature by this point. So at the risk of getting a bit corny, I’ll just say that if there’s any proof of that thing called, “movie magic,” this is it. It’s simply the best, so just shut your face and watch it.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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6 Responses to Top 20 film list – more definitiver than ever

  1. T Martin says:

    19. I wouldn’t put it on my top ten, but it’s still one of the definitive popcorn movies.
    17. Haven’t seen it, but I’m now interested.
    15. I’m not a fan of gory violence, so I’ve been apprehensive about both this and its predecessor.
    14. I recently saw this for the first time and really enjoyed it.
    13. You certainly regard it much, much, much higher than I do.
    11. Same as Raiders.
    8. Sounds like another must-see for film aficionados that I still have yet to see.
    6. Not my favorite Pixar movie, but I wouldn’t argue.
    5. In my own top ten.
    4. While I wasn’t impressed with 2001’s storytelling, I still want to see this.
    3. What I saw of it weirded the heck out of me.
    2. I’d be willing to give it a shot.
    1. Haven’t seen it since childhood.

    My own top four is even more conventional than yours (because I honestly struggle with what to put at #5):

    4. It’s a Wonderful Life
    3. Original Star Wars Trilogy
    2. Lord of the Rings
    1. The Wizard of Oz

    • Josh W says:

      Oz is a fine choice for #1.

      I have mixed feelings about the Jackson LOTR films, but not for the most reputable reasons; they’re decent in their own right, but my Tolkien fanboyism increasingly gets in the way of enjoying them for what they are.

      Star Wars is agreeable. Still haven’t seen any Frank Capra.

  2. aubreym3 says:

    You have a very intriguing taste in movies. I did not even know someone else besides me knew of the film “Night of the Hunter”. It is rare to see someone with a large variety of tastes.

  3. Gaheret says:

    Andrei Rublev and Russian medieval icons… Sounds interesting. That may be my door to Tarkovsky. Thanks!

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