My Top 51 Movies of All Time
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Revisiting my Film Listography Book to start a new Daily Movies feature. The first list is “Favorite Films of All-Time”, a hard category to narrow down. I feel like this list is always growing as I see new movies, and more often than not, revisit or discover older movies. I know this list will evolve and change over time, but some of the top favorites I know will always be there, especially the Top 5.
I will be breaking up the list into ten movies at a time, starting today with the first ten movies, and ending Friday with the last ten – fifty movies all together.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Written by Charlie Kaufman, Pierre Bismuth & Michel Gondry
Directed by Michel Gondry
“I can’t see anything that I don’t like about you.” – Joel
“But you will! But you will. You know, you will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.” – Clementine
“Okay.” – Joel
[pauses] “Okay.” – Clementine.”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is my Favorite Film. It touches on something in me that is almost impossible to articulate. Its impact often feels beyond words. Since the first time I saw it, I’ve felt a deep connection/kinship with the character of Clementine (Kate Winslet). The way I relate is both in good ways and bad. Sometimes there is so much raw truth reflected at me it hurts to watch. But, I keep watching because I’ve never found a Film yet that hits me the way this one does.
Most of the time Clementine and Joel (Jim Carrey) gift a strange comfort to me. A comfort that makes me feel less alone in my own flavor of fucked up girl-ness. I get Clementine. I get Joel. I get what they have, what they lose, and what they fight so damn hard to hold on to in the end.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love story to me. The most real kind of love story. So perfect in all its glaring, messy imperfectness.
Flawed characters. Love that knows no limits. Love that persists despite seemingly impossible challenges, like erased memories. A story filled with alternate and intersecting realities. Impulsiveness, passion, confliction, loss, restlessness, joy, bliss, forgiveness, and love. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind speaks to my persistent nature, my hopelessly romantic side, and the ways I’ve been broken, and pieced back together by love, life, and self-reliance.
The Film touches on loneliness, too. Loneliness pervades every character, and at times directs their decisions.
We are shown Joel’s loneliness from the start, his grief, and his somber solitude. When he says “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” illustrates his loneliness and self-doubt. I think in many ways Joel feels invisible, and desperately wants to be seen.
Clementine runs from loneliness, trying to keep just enough steps ahead that it doesn’t touch her (even though it is what fuels her running). She changes her image, she erases Joel from her memory, she exhibits many markers of borderline personality disorder, especially in her need for attention and love, even though she shoves it away at times. Loneliness is weaved into all of Clementine.
Another thing to contemplate about Clementine. I’ve seen references to Clementine as being a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, a descriptive that has some personal pain to it for me. I know in my life I’ve tried to be that. Maybe not exactly Manic or Pixie, or a Dream Girl, but I’ve tried to be the “Cool Girl”, the kind referenced in the book “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Thing is, that kind of fake self cannot be sustained, and I think eventually the “Girl” in that facade fights it, resents it, and runs from it. I think if anything Clementine is seen as an “MPDG” by Joel, at first, and maybe for a while, but that shatters and she pushes back at it and eventually runs. I think at the end, when they are face to face in the hallway, after hearing on the tapes what became of them once, it is impossible for her to ever be anything but Clementine. I think if anything this film takes that notion of an “MPDG” and lets us see it fall apart.
What happens after the credits roll? Do Clementine and Joel survive? Do they live to repeat the same mistakes that had them trying to erase each other from their memories? What happens to Mary? Does she leave town, change her name, try to forget and move on? What about Patrick and Stan? Is Patrick running a Pyramid scheme business? Is Stan working in a Psychologists office, or in some other cutting edge, scientific field? Did Dr. Mierzwiak retire?
We can answer these questions in our imaginations? If you are like me, I root for Clementine and Joel to make it. And maybe you hope Mary finds something she doesn’t need to forget about later. I know I do.
What I know for certain is that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will always be my Favorite Movie and that each time I watch it I see and feel another something, and I start thinking again about layers of the story, and how it relates to me, to life, and to love.
2. Lost in Translation (2003)
Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.” – Charlotte
“You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bob
Does age really change how you see the world, and yourself in it? Does it get easier, as Bob suggests to Charlotte? Do we believe him, or is he trying to convince himself that life has gotten easier?
One of the things I love the most about the relationship between Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) is the way it illustrates that at any age we are all confused and still searching for ourselves, and for connections with others. That never gets easier, in my opinion, but the possibility of connecting never goes away either. The latter, it makes it all worth it, for those moments shared with another, sometimes unexpectedly.
Trying to articulate the reasons and whys of my love for this movie always trips me up and has me uncharacteristically without words. It is a feeling, the way I find myself “lost” in the movie every single time I watch, and how completely emotionally moved I feel for Charlotte and Bob. Every time I watch I feel more.
At the end of the movie, Charlotte and Bob embrace, and Bob whispers something inaudible to the “audience” to Charlotte. I’ve always wondered what was said, and through the years, and re-watches, I’ve decided on various things that he was saying. The one I tend to come back to most often is “I love you,” in some way, or another, whether it is followed by “but I can’t”, or “maybe someday”, or “let’s find each other again”, it does almost always include “I love you”.
3. Almost Famous (2000)
Written & Directed by Cameron Crowe
“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if ya never take it seriously, ya never get hurt, ya never get hurt, ya always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” – Penny Lane
I was on a late night flight from Miami when I first saw Almost Famous. It was one of those flights that are undersold, so I had three seats to myself. I lay down with half-working headphones watching the film thinking that I would drift off to sleep. The movie captured me though, and I lay there wide-eyed watching, falling hard and fast for Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). Music has always led my heart and narrated my life, so music stories are a love of mine, and without a doubt or a moment’s hesitation, this one is my favorite.
Over the years, and over many re-watches of both the released version, and the director’s cut (the latter my preference), I have found myself toggling between who I relate to more, Penny or William, and whose stories speak to me the most. William is a music lover, a writer, a weirdo and an outcast in his life. He seems so often torn between what he wants to do and what he thinks he is supposed to do, and he loves in that open heart so easily broken kind of way. He never seems to belong anywhere completely, though he has moments when where he feels like “home“, most often when he’s on the road with the band and Penny. I have felt, and still do feel, so much of those sentiments and conflicting feelings about where I belong, if I belong, and which path to travel.
Penny though, well she has that bottomless heart, that nearly unbreakable sense of hope, that love of music and the makers of music that I can’t help to relate to. There’s the pain, too. The heartbreak of trying to “project” someone else’s dreams, the ache of being someone’s temporary choice, and the pain that comes with loving an artist.
She believes in the music with all of her being, believes in the fantasy it promises, the life it seems to offer, the love, but she seems to not see the magic within herself. I want Penny to write a novel, or put a band together, take her own show on the road, and not just be someone’s band-aid to fix or facilitate them with. I know it has taken years and years for me to learn to be my own project, and even still I fall for the music and the music makers.
Though I vacillate between my big love for both William and Penny, and how they both relate to who I am, most days I’d rather not be either. But I would like to ride Doris (the tour bus) along with them both, and with Stillwater, and the other band-aid’s. I’d like to spend a month or so on the road with them, write on the bus, write stories and maybe some songs. I’d like to sing a song with Jeff (Jason Lee), and take photos with Penny, try on clothes with Saphire (Fairuza Balk) and Polexia (Anna Paquin), get ice with Russell, dance on the empty stage post-shows and just take off on a gypsy-soul musical sabbatical from my life for a little while.
When I feel this way, when I long for just that, I return to some of the songs from the soundtrack and pop in my “bootleg cut” director’s cut version of Almost Famous, and make it my escape for a few hours.
4. Reality Bites (1994)
Written by Helen Childress
Directed by Ben Stiller
“You see, Lainie, this is all we need. . .couple of smokes, a cup of coffee. . .and a little bit of conversation. You and me and five bucks.” – Troy
Reality Bites was released about twenty-four years ago. When it came out I was just twenty-five. I was in flux at the time, halfway out of a relationship and halfway in one, in that on the cusp of getting back together place that I would find myself in, over and over again, during my twenties. At twenty-five, I had a two-year-old daughter, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I wrote a lot in journals, I worked at a record store, I faltered in relationships, and I had some amazing friends.
The halfway out of a relationship boy said I reminded him of Lelaina, especially in the scene in the gas station mini-mart, when Laney and her friends dance to “My Sharona”. He told me he always felt held back and that me and my friends were so overwhelming in energy and enthusiasm, to an embarrassing degree. I suppose I should have listened, that I should have realized that this was part of what I ended up despising, how cold and collected he seemed, how much of his emotions seemed in constant lockdown. How he shared himself with other women (and men), but never me.
I fell for boys like Troy in the years that followed. In the twenty-four years since Reality Bites, I would find myself falling for the intellectual slacker, the unmotivated musician, the boys who were irresponsible, often addicted, usually jobless, and hopelessly attractive to me. They were full of passion, great in bed, and were the kind of boys that you could have all-night conversations with, night after night after night. They were not good at the real life shit though. They never had money for dinner, or for rent. They were afraid of commitment, or so into me and us so fast that they became unhealthily obsessed and jealous. Most of them were weak, not physically so, but emotionally, not one to stand by my side when things got rough or needed to be faced. Most of them turned out to be nothing but nightmares and heartache.
And yet, even knowing that now, knowing what most Troy’s are like from first hand, and heart, experience, I still watch and know I would still fall for Troy, that I would still choose Troy, that he is still my god-damn ideal.
When I watch Lelaina now, I still relate so much. Under skin that has lines now, and hair that greys quickly, I don’t feel all that grown-up, no, so much of me still feels like that 25-year-old who was confused all the time, who didn’t know what she wanted to be, or who she wanted to be with (though I’m lucky to finally know who I want to be with, and finally be really in love). I look in the mirror half expecting to see a younger me, the me that still sneaks into so much of my writing, but instead I see this older woman who resembles her Mother, and her Grandmother.
I’m not afraid of ageing, I’m not afraid of age, but I don’t feel much like this reflection that seems to be me. I think I thought I’d really be somebody by the age of 48, and 36, and 25, and maybe even 23. Do we ever arrive at that “somebody” we think we’ll be?
“I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.” – Lelania
Twenty-four years is a long time, and not so long, as well. I still feel like Lelaina, but I also feel like I’m Laney with some years behind her. I’m still a mess, but I know myself more. I still have vulnerability and tenacity, I still want to create something and be something more than my “job”, and I still am full of flaws, but maybe those flaws are part of what makes me creative and make me me.
And sometimes I just really want to dance around to My Sharona.
5. A Place In the Sun (1951)
Story by Theodore Dreiser and Patrick Kearney
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown
Directed by George Stevens
“Every time you leave me for a minute,
it’s like goodbye.
I like to believe it means you can’t live without me.” – Angela
Growing up, I inherited a love of film and music, and nearly unshakable insomnia, from my Mother. I would find myself tossing and turning throughout the night, and I would lean my head towards the door, straining to hear whatever film my Mother was watching in the wee hours between late at night and early morning, out in our living room. Quite often it was a classic film, black and white flicker on a screen with some of the classic Hollywood actors keeping her company in her own sleepless hours. Sometimes I would creep out into the hallways, each step I’d take care as our hardwood floors were prone to creak, and I would try to remain unnoticed, craning my neck just so, in order to catch glimpses of whatever film was playing.
Often she pretended to not notice me there, though I know now she was never fooled. And, after a while, she would shake her had at me and say, “just come in and join me.”
Elizabeth Taylor was one of my early favorites. Her stunning looks and demeanor took my breath away. All dark hair and pale skin, and sparkling eyes that I would later learn were an unusual shade of violet. She had this air of melancholy about her, and a strange mixture of innocence and worldliness that seemed to emanate from every pore. I was fascinated by the roles she played, and by the way she carried herself in all of the varying characters, I found myself devouring in those long, still hours of no longer night and not yet morning.
During my adolescence, when a theatre teacher told me that I reminded her of a young Elizabeth Taylor, I was dumbfounded, and nearly burst into tears right there in front of her. I never saw myself as anything like her, nor would I again, but for that split-second, I felt as if her mystique has slipped momentarily underneath my skin, and shone out of me, as those old films had glowed out of our rabbit-eared second-hand television.
A Place in the Sun is about impossible love, bad timing, deception and loss. It is based on the novel, An American Tragedy, so I suppose there is no mistaken this for a Hollywood ending “they lived happily ever after” kind of number. This film definitely doesn’t end happily, though I suppose there are moments “in the sun“, and those stolen confessions in the moonlight when two people end up in each other’s arms, whether it should have ever happened, or come to be, at all.
Love ending at the electric chair, well, I suppose that it does deserve the title of tragedy, doesn’t it?
6. Chasing Amy (1997)
Written & Directed by Kevin Smith
“Even if we never talk again after tonight, please know that I am forever changed because of who you are, and what you’ve meant to me. Which, while I do appreciate it, i’d never need a picture of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.” – Holden
I’ve always loved Alyssa (the film’s “Amy”), her spirit, her fluidity, her sense of self, her persona, her humor, and her heart. When I saw Chasing Amy in the 90’s I remember wishing I could be like her, seeing her as brave and bold in ways, and about things, that I was shy and insecure about. I feel closer to her now, and was once in a relationship much like the one she is in with Holden, and have had to defend my past before, too – I think she’s such an important female character (is she the first bisexual female film character?) – cheers to Kevin Smith for writing her, and for Joey Lauren Adams portrayal of her.
Alyssa is on my list of fictional characters I relate to the most. Not that I share all her experiences (some, but not all), but her way of living and loving, her take on things, and her reactions, I feel completely. This is, and always will be, my favorite Kevin Smith film, one that makes me laugh, cry and feel (a lot).
There is something about this scene, the vulnerability in it, and that moment where you know that what is being opened up will change everything. It could have been terribly cheesy, but it is not, not even at all. To me it is believable, relatable, and painful in that way that when I first saw it I watched it through my fingers, with my hands covering my eyes, dreading what the outcome would be.
I think there is this universal feeling to it. That feeling of falling into an impossible situation, and having it burn you so deeply that you feel there is no way you can keep your feelings inside any longer, and that risk, that utter and complete risk, of telling someone you are in love with them in the face of rejection.
Beyond this scene, there are so many other things I love about Chasing Amy. Alyssa is one of those characters that I relate to on an under the skin level, one of a few that I feel in a visceral way. I love how complex they wrote her friendship with Holden, and her own self-actualized journey, and reality. I love the friendship between Holden and Banky, as well, and the wit and pop culture peppered into a very real love story.
7. Before Sunrise (1995)
Written by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan
Directed by Richard Linklater
“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine
My most memorable of memories, the kind that sticks deep inside like soul-taffy, are of moments of connection with people that include music, passion and conversation. I am a word addict, just as I am a music junkie, and a damn hopeless romantic, so the three blended up, shaken and stirred up together is just sheer bliss to me. I have had those moments with people, wrapped up in talks that last for hours and hours, carrying one day into the next, the kind that has you never wanting to stop, never wanting to hang up the phone, or say “we better call it a night.” Time means nothing, anything past the two connecting mean nothing and all there is to matter is the space between the words, the pauses to breathe, the burning glances and the exchanged thoughts.
Celine and Jesse, in Before Sunrise, have that, and then some. They have a stolen night that turns into a beyond words memory filled with words and passion, music and poetry, sex and love and the stuff of what one hopes can last forever. I have had a few of these moments, a few memories like this, and even the ones that never did last, well, I would not trade them for anything. Celine and Jesse were a promise to me, a hope of sorts, and a cinematic portrayal of a love I have always wanted, though perhaps never quite found, or held on to, until NOW.
8. Garden State (2004)
Written & Directed by Zach Braff
“Fuck, this hurts so much.” – Andrew
“I know it hurts. That’s life. If nothing else, It’s life. It’s real, and sometimes it fuckin’ hurts, but it’s sort of all we have.” – Sam
The very first time I watched Garden State my overwhelming thought was “where has this movie been all my life?”. Everything about it, the pain of living, the feelings that go on when you are grieving and starting over and waking up, the relationship between Andrew and Sam, the connecting force of music, the neverending search for meaning, the complicated dynamics of family and home, mental and emotional issues, and love. This is an amazing movie, layered with so much of everything, with some brilliant performances.
I love the relationship between Sam and Andrew, how much they grow and change, teach each other, and heal each other, in such a short span of time. I love how real their love feels, flawed and raw and wonderful. This movie gives me hope and that kind of comfort that none of us is alone in this world.
There are moments within the movie that bring me to a mess of ugly tears, the kind that is hard to breathe through, and leave me sobbing. There are also moments that make me laugh loudly and fill me with joy. These are two flawed people who have been struggling with different emotional and mental issues that have kept them from certain things in life, love being one of them. Watching these two people find each other, open each other up, and fall in love is so meaningful to me.
What makes us different, our unique moments (like Sam’s above) are what help us get through the hardest days in life. The scene above always reminds me to be fiercely myself and to find things to laugh about every day.
The ending kills me. It rips me apart and leaves me in a state of messy tears like I mentioned before. It hits on airport goodbyes I’ve dealt with in my life, and times spent wishing someone would come to stop me at the airport, tell me they love me, that they want to try to make it all work. The scene also makes my heart soar and makes me believe in love like that – like Sam and Andrew’s, and like the love I have in my life right now.
9. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Written and Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
“That rug really tied the room together.” – The Dude
Stories in Los Angeles, unexpected character connections, and the wit and dark comedy of the Coen Brothers are some of the elements of this film that I love. There is something more, too – maybe it is the actors (so many in this that I love), the music connections (see if you can spot Aimee Mann and Flea), the friendships, or maybe it is the “follow your bliss” simplicity of “The Dude” himself. At first blush, his slacker nature seems rooted in laziness, but I think under the surface there is more to it – a simplicity that he fights for, and is often unable to sustain, that draws me in.
The music in the film is brilliant, and the visuals – especially in the dream sequences – are breathtaking. Though it is The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Donnie (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (John Goodman) who are the stars of the film (deservedly so), some of the supporting cast are just fantastic – especially Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore.
This is a movie that never fails to make me laugh. My favorite, funniest moments? There’s two that stick out most – the whole “tied the room together” (re the rug) or the Dude’s distaste of The Eagles.
10. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Directed by Wes Anderson
“I think we’re just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Richie.” – Margot
A family full of misfits, outcasts, and broken souls. Wes Anderson has a style that is immediately recognizable, and a knack for creating characters that are not just unique and unusual, but completely unforgettable. There is something iconic in the characters and the story in this film, something that transcends the movie itself, imprinting differently than cinema usually does, connecting almost the way that music does.
I love the juxtaposition of mood and feeling, to color hues and music and visuals. At times everything is falling apart while the music and colors may suggest otherwise, yet together it all works to deliver both hope and hopelessness, love and loss, heartbreak and happiness. The Royal Tenenbaum’s is my choice for best Wes Anderson, though I love all of his films – this one though, I think it will always be my number one.
The music is magic. But, then again, that can be said about all Wes Anderson movies. I’ve heard that he picks the music first, and then builds the scenes around them. I love thinking about that process – I hope it’s true.
Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Etheline (Anjelica Huston) and Royal (Gene Hackman) are my favorite characters, though all of them have their moments. At the end of the film, I always find myself wanting more of the family’s story. To see what happens to them next.
11. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Story by Truman Capote
Screenplay by George Axelrod
Directed by Blake Edwards
“I’m like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.” – Holly Golightly
My feelings have changed, or perhaps more my perspective, about Holly and the entire story of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, since I first saw it as a preteen girl. Back then I saw Holly as a hero, someone to idolize and to hope I could grow up and be just like when I embarked on adulthood and living on my own. Although I do wish I’d struck out more independently when I originally left home (don’t move out with a boyfriend/girlfriend first thing, boys and girls. No, really), I see a lot more clearly the sadness in Holly, the loneliness, and more than that, the self-destructive behaviors. It’s clearer to see as an adult, especially as an adult who has been sad, lonely and who has indulged in self-destructive behaviors. off-and-on, in her life.
All that said, I still love Holly, and the movie (albeit, I could do without the miscast of Mickey Rooney as her Asian neighbor – that just makes me shudder.) I do wonder how the movie would play out if it had been made now. Would Paul have been gay, as he is in the novella? Would they have gone off together as friends? Would it be the same without that iconic kiss in the rain?
I can’t imagine a different version. I cannot imagine Holly not being played by Audrey Hepburn either, or Paul being anyone but George Peppard. So, for me, it will always be this version that I love.
One thought on “Top 51 Favorite Movies – 1-11 – Film Listography”
I have that exact image from eternal sunshine tattooed on my arm