20 movies that have shaped not only my taste in film but, my life.
Just a small disclaimer before I get started: This list is subjective but, it’s also not entirely based on quality. 90% of the films on this list are what I and most would deem “legitimately good” however, there is one the is more so a guilty pleasure to most (bonus points to those who can guess) and yours truly. I also ranked this list on how I personally connect with these films which can vary for different reasons be it Nostalgia or how it’s themes impacted me in a positive manner. Also, if you’re expecting films like “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Citizen Kane”, “The Maltese Falcon”, or Paul Thomas Anderson’s entire filmography, I’m sorry but, you’re probably going to hate my guts. With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
20. Dunkirk (2017)
Kicking off my piece, is an incredibly divisive war movie. Audiences were divided over this film because of the lack of characters and frankly, I can understand why some would be turned off by that. I still manage to find a lot to enjoy about Dunkirk: it’s intense, fast-paced, and an overall entertaining spectacle. The actions filmed in a way where it’s absolutely terrifying even for a PG-13 rating, people are offed within seconds and at the most random times thus keeping the audience on their toes. The real star of the movie isn’t anyone starring in the film but, director Christopher Nolan who films Dunkirk with a high sense of urgency. My only regret about this movie is not seeing this in IMAX. Aside from the action, the cast is great (even if the characters are non-existent): Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Hell, I’d like to see Harry Styles act in more films after this.
19. The Accountant (2016)
This is definitely a very personal pack for me: I someone on the autism spectrum, I appreciate the hell out of this movie. I understand the controversy behind casting Ben Affleck as a character who is on the autism spectrum and how some might be upset about that. However, he may to do a really good job playing the role and the characters autism most displayed tastefully. Far too often I’ve seen autistic characters on screen portrayed extremely poorly: Hugh Dancy in the 2009 film, “Adam” and John Travolta in the 2019 film, “The Fanatic” come to mind. Affleck’s Christian Wolff is portrayed in a serious manner that doesn’t play up his autism to the point of parody or make him a tragic figure. It’s also nice to see someone like me properly represented in film. The rest of the cast: Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Berenthal, John Lithgow, & Jeffrey Tambor, are great in this as well. This is definitely one of my most underrated picks on here.
18. Mortal Kombat (1995)
I know that up until 2019’s “Detective Pikachu” and 2020’s “Sonic The Hadgehog” that video game movies have, well.. mostly sucked. For nearly 30 years, the best Hollywood had to offer were 2002’s “Resident Evil”, 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, and of course, Mortal Kombat. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, (who would go on to direct the aforementioned Resident Evil) Mortal Kombat was pure cinematic Velveeta. However, it’s 90’s campiness and stunt work that holds up far better than it’s insanely dated CGI are what makes this film for me. Sure, the writing isn’t great, the CGI was fairly subpar, and certain characters were miscast but, the charm in its campiness saves it for me. I cannot wait for the 2021 reboot to release.
17. The Fifth Element (1997)
Another entry in the campy department, The Fifth Element is a sci-fi classic. Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, & Gary Oldman, There are so many moments to highlight from this film: “Multipass”, Leloo’s escape, Ruby Rhod annoying both Korben Dallas and the audience, and of course, the infamous alien opera showdown. This film is fun, silly, and insanely weird. I grew up always watching this film on cable TV as a kid on TBS Superstation. To this day, I still laugh at the obnoxious and flamboyant Ruby (despite not ever seeing Chris Tucker the same ever again) and I still end up in stitches when the alien diva hits the stage while Milla kicks ass behind the scenes.
16. The Mask (1994)
Speaking of comedy, I grew up watching 3 comedy actors: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, & Jim Carrey. I loved most of Carrey’s films: Dumb & Dumber, Ace Venture, Liar Liar, Me, Myself, & Irene, Bruce Almighty, The Grinch, hell, even Fun With Dick & Jane. The Mask remains my favorite of his. While it may be nowhere near as violent as it’s source material (The Dark Horse comic is actually pretty fucked up), The Mask still manages to be a fun and side-splitting classic. The Tex Avery inspired cartoonish effects, Carrey’s manic energy, and the iconic “Cuban Pete” number still cracks me up to this day as much as it did when I was 5.
15. Scream (1996)
One of my first horror films, Scream is very much a classic. I love it’s self-awareness, it’s satirical tone, and it’s three main protagonists: Sidney, Dewey, & Gail. This will not be the last film from one of my favorite directors of all time, The late Wes Craven, to make my list. In a matter of fact, Craven is one my main inspirations for writing fiction. Scream was easily the Deadpool of horror films in the way that it made fun of horror film tropes and more specifically, slasher cliches. It’s actually pretty funny how many films still break Randy’s rules to this day. Also, the cast: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jaime Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Skeet Urlich, Drew Barrymore, & Matthew Lillard are all great. I cannot wait for the fifth film to release in 2022.
14. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
There are so many films, I could put on this list from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so, I went with one of the most recent entries, “Avengers: Endgame”. 11 years of the MCU have come to this film and for a 3 hour film that felt like 90 minutes, it did not disappoint. Themes of loss, grief, & depression run throughout a significant portion of the film before things kick in and once they do, the film does not let up. Most of why I loved endgame can point to its incredibly earned climax. I still get goosebumps when everyone shows up and prepares for the final showdown against Thanos. So many moments to choose from within that finale: Spider-Man’s Instant Kill being activated, Pepper pulling up in an iron man suit, Scarlet Witch viciously laying waste to Thanos, hell, even Captain Marvel arriving with her “can I speak to your manager?” hairdo, “Avengers: Endgame” is a perfect example of how a finale is earned and also a reason why I prefer going to see films in theaters.
13. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
While Disney has fared much better with Marvel than it has with Star Wars, Sony has been a rollercoaster when it comes to their Spider-Man films: The Sam Raimi trilogy that spanned from 2002 — 2007 was great (even if Spider-Man 3 was riddled with issues), The first Amazing Spider-Man film was good but, had an ample amount of room for improvement, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2" was downright terrible, and Venom felt like a weak version of the Leigh Whannel film, “Upgrade”. In 2018, “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” exploded onto the big screen and became, in my honest opinion, the best Spider-Man movie I have seen to date. The animation is superb, The voice cast is outstanding, & the storytelling is armed with some surprisingly emotionally effective moments. I love how well they capture various cultures in this film and also, despite me preferring alt-rock to most types of music, I dug the hell out of the soundtrack. I eagerly anticipate it’s sequel which is due to be released in October of 2022.
12. Looper (2012)
One of the two Rian Johnson films to make this list (Don’t worry, “The Last Jedi” will not appear anywhere near this list), “Looper” is a high concept Sci-Fi thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, & Emily Blunt. This has been one of my favorite films since my senior year of high school: I remember seeing this with a few of my friends around my birthday. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt are two of my favorite actors working today: they’ve consistently given great performances on screen and JGL in particular has been wisely selective in which projects he’d sign onto (Even though 2009’s “G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra” was a mistake). JGL and Bruce Willis work outstandingly together on screen in this kick-ass hybrid of “Face-Off” and “Inception”. The diner scene alone makes this film worth seeing for how well filmed and written it is. Rian Johnson writes and directs this film excellently and keeps the audience guessing frame by frame. This film was why I was initially excited for what would sadly become one of the absolute worst Star Wars films to ever see the cold light of day. Still, Looper is certainly worth a watch and showcases Rian Johnson at his arguably best behind the camera.
11. Falling Down (1993)
1993’s Falling Down is technically considered to be a dark comedy though nowadays, I’d consider this to be a documentary considering the many events that have unfolded today’s world. Something tells me that if this film were to come out today, Michael Douglas’ character would be a political extremist running rampant all over Atlanta, GA causing mayhem. Putting real world comparisons aside, Falling Down is a comical and terrifying masterpiece: The narrative is perfectly mapped out from start to finish, Michael Douglas gives a strong performance as the crazed D-Fens, Robert Duvall is also great as veteran detective Prendergast, and this (along with 1987’s The Lost Boys and 2003’s Phone Booth) remains one of the late Joel Schumacer’s best films.
10. Larry Crowne (2011)
When I first saw this film on HBO, I was in a very low point in my life: I was taking anti-depressants, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt like I was bound to live out the rest of my life in doom and misery. I watched Larry Crowne one night because I had difficulty sleeping. with all of that being said, is is safe to say that Larry Crowne’s message of starting over in life really resonated with me: Tom Hanks plays the lead who ends up jobless due to company downsizing and his lack of a college degree. Along the way he ends up finding out what he really wanted to do all along: run a restaurant. Larry Crowne is an all around wholesome and uplifting film with a really good message that doesn’t get too preachy. Also, Tom Hanks doesn’t even need to try at this point in his career to give in a good performance.
9. Knives Out (2019)
The other Rian Johnson film on my list, “Knives Out” is one of the funniest homes I’ve seen in recent memory. I enjoy a good whodunnit: but examples being 1985’s “Clue”, 2009’s “A Perfect Getaway”, and 2003’s “Identity”. What makes this film, aside from Johnson’s direction and the film’s overall campy tone, is its cast. Stand outs include Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, & Toni Colette. The entire cast achieve the near impossible: they made me enjoy watching terrible people as majority of the family in “Knives Out” are cutthroat, self absorbed, & hypocritical. The way certain twists are revealed are both funny and clever and the uses of symbolism throughout the film are very subtle and smart. I won’t spoil it so, if you haven’t seen “Knives Out” yet, please do so. Rian, I forgive you for “The Last Jedi”.
8. The Dark Knight (2008)
Another Christopher Nolan film to hit the list, “The Dark Knight” shows both DC and comic book movies in general at their arguably best. It is among the best acted and the best written of Nolan’s trilogy. The late Heath Ledger’s Joker still has yet to be bested (despite Joaquin Phoenix receiving a much deserved Oscar for 2019’s “Joker”), Aaron Eckhart is extremely overlooked as Harvey Dent, and Christian Bale shines as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The cast, cinematography, and use of practical effects are all great but, it’s the film’s main theme that makes “The Dark Knight” one of the best films of all time: questioning whether humanity is good or evil by default. It is incredibly complex and is something that still holds up in today’s world. This is a film that showcases a grim reality about people and where the hero wins at a great cost.
7. Back To The Future (1985)
One of two 80’s classics to make this list: “Back To The Future” is an uplifting, Joyful, and timeless film. There won’t be much I’ll say about this so I will keep it brief: Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd have too notch chemistry as Doc Brown and Marty McFly respectively, The score by Alan Silvestri (who would go on to compose for “The Avengers” films) is iconic, and I just love the anachronistic humor used throughout this film.. and of course the Delorian.
6. Red Eye (2005)
My second Wes Craven pick, “Red Eye” was his most underrated film. Starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, the use of tension and claustrophobia works incredibly well in this slow burn thriller. I loved how everything unravels as the film goes on: Cillian Murphy starts off as a chill and likable dude who is actually an assassin hired to kill someone who is staying at the hotel that she manages. Both characters are engaging on screen: Jackson Ripper (Murphy) plays a methodical villain to Lisa (McAdams) who is quick-witted and resourceful. This is definitely one the flew under the radar that I highly recommend watching.
5. Ghostbusters (1984)
Another 1980’s classic from childhood, “Ghostbusters”, never gets old. Just like “Back To The Future” I will be brief about this one as well: I loved the cast and enjoyed all of the classic moments ranging from “he’s got no dick” to Mr. Stay Puft. Just like with “Back To The Future”, I grew up with “Ghostbusters” as a kid: I enjoyed both films and dare I say, enjoyed the heavily maligned 2016 remake. I eagerly await the follow-up, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”, which should (hopefully) hit theaters this summer.
4. Orange County (2002)
One my more controversial and obscure picks, the 2002 teen comedy, “Orange County”, is not only the most underrated film I have ever seen but, also a film that inspired me to become a writer. Starring Colin Hanks (son of Tom), Jack Black, and Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara, “Orange County” is every bit as funny as it is heartfelt. It is a film about never forgetting where you came from and most importantly, being yourself. It’s silly, goofy, and stupid but, definitely worth a watch.
3. TIE: The Invisible Man (1933) & The Invisible Man (2020)
I had a hard time deciding which of these two versions of “The Invisible Man” I enjoyed better so I decided to go with a tie for #3. The 1993 film (while hilariously dated) showed how most people would be if they had the ability to become invisible: they would probably just mess with other people through out the day. While the nearly 90 year old movie didn’t necessarily keep me up at night, It definitely makes the use of mystery more unsettling which is something that is severely lacking in today’s horror films. As for the 2020 remake, rarely is a remake as good or even better than the original and yet, Leigh Whannel’s take on “The Invisible Man” is certainly that. Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia is a sympathetic lead who is being stalked tormented by her abusive ex-boyfriend who may or may not have committed suicide. While the themes of abuse, suicide, stalking, and gaslighting may be triggering for some, I highly recommend this version as well as the 1933 original.
2. Gravity (2013)
I am a sucker for space movies as well as a sucker for symbolism. I remember seeing “Gravity” in theaters during a time in my life when I was depressed. I also remember loving this movie more than most people did. Most audience members saw a movie about someone fighting for their life in space for 90 minutes. I saw something more: A person who is at a very low point in their life who is shoved into a corner up against the wall being forced to face all sorts of hell. Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone is an astronaut who lost everything: her daughter, her husband, and most people in her life. George Clooney is one of the few people to show kindness to her throughout the film as well as understanding. Then, all hell breaks loose and the two are forced to fight for their lives in the cold depths of space. The film is intense, thrilling, and anxiety inducing but, it also touches on themes of anxiety, depression, and suicide. The scene where Sandra Bullock is trying to communicate via the radio at a Chinese space station is truly one of the most emotionally challenging scenes to sit though given everything she’s gone through. “Gravity” is more than a film about someone fighting to survive in space, it’s about learning to appreciate your life in face of adversity.
1. The Crow (1994)
At last, my top film of all time: “The Crow”. What is there not to love about this movie? The gothic aesthetic, the superb soundtrack, the simple but effective revenge plot, or its masterful cinematography. This film has a mix of everything: action, drama, horror, and even a little bit of humor with Ernie Hudson’s Sergeant Albrecht and the little girl. While the theme of love conquering all may be cliche and overdone, I love how it’s conveyed throughout this film. This film also does justice to James O’ Barr’s graphic novel with its visual style and the humanizing of the film’s main protagonist, Eric Draven who was played excellently by the late and great Brandon Lee. Word of advice: avoid the sequels: they do not do this film or O’ Barr’s graphic novel any justice at all.