Four years ago one of the first posts I created for this blog site was my 50 favorite films. Admittedly, the task becomes more about the heart than it does about the brain. When I published the list I fully expected it to warp as time marched on, evolving with my taste and new-found life experiences. My reason for updating my list is arbitrary, and if anything is just a way for me to create a time stamp on my cinematic preferences. As is the case with this list, I’m not declaring these are the greatest films ever made. Rather, these are my favorite films. I’m sure we can infiltrate any internet message board to discuss the difference between “Best” and “Favorite,” but the internet has enough of these discussions already. Here are films 50-41:
When I became more aware of the power of cinema in high school, few films hypnotized me more than Amelie. Starring the effervescent Audrey Tautou, Amelie is a sweet, endearing and mystical French fairy tale with splashes of whimsy and melancholy in equal measure. It’s fallen down my list over the last four years but has left an everlasting impression on me. From its indelible score to its kinetic pacing, Amelie is an indisputable classic that’s as infectious as one of Audrey Tautou’s sheepish smiles.
49. Les Diaboliques:
Directed and co-written by Henri- Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is an acerbic, twisted French film with a stunning finale that many films years later would try to replicate. Featuring little if any jump scares, Les Diaboliques is a chilling black and white psychological thriller that’s as effective as a cold breeze on a dark, gloomy night. Shadows creep within every frame and horror lurks behind every corner, as two women attempt to hide the corpse of a rotten man. Clouzot masterfully threatens his characters and viewers with the unknown; fear is never far behind.
48. The Social Network:
Featuring a razor-sharp screenplay from Aaron Sorkin and unbelievable directorial precision from David Fincher, The Social Network is one of the best films of the last twenty years. The film isn’t a homogenized re-imagining of one of the world’s biggest creations, but is a dissection of the ego necessary to reach unimagined heights. Anchored by Jesse Eisenberg’s wired, magnetic and sad performance, The Social Network is a film that proudly incites profound disdain in its characters, begging us to view the cost of genius.
47. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)
Steven Spielberg is a director who isn’t afraid of scenes drenched in saccharine and sentimentality. These qualities have mired Spielberg’s latest output but years ago he showed new depth with Artificial Intelligence. It’s not often Spielberg can be labeled as cerebral but Artificial Intelligence, a project formerly incubating in the mind of the cold, meticulous Stanley Kubrick, is one of his finest films because it has moments of pure tragedy and heartbreak pressed against a timeless tale of the human spirit. Through flashes of horror, oppression, and loneliness Spielberg explores one boy’s need for love, as well as the necessity of struggle to define love’s virtues.
46. The Departed
I love Martin Scorsese, and even though his earlier films are more thoughtful and elegant in their execution, The Departed is a wicked crime thriller bursting with anxious fun. Based on the Chinese film (Infernal Affairs), The Departed is a cat and mouse game sprawled out over the rugged terrain of Boston, and its continuous war waging between the mob and authorities. Featuring a stellar cast deeply invested in their damaged characters and Scorsese’s fluid direction, The Departed is an anxiety inducing experience with an explosive climax that still hurts every time I see it.
45. The Bicycle Thief (Bicycle Thieves):
From a domestic perspective, World War II is romanticized to a nauseating level. Our country’s victorious effort afforded us a great deal of ignorance, while those who tasted defeat in the European Theater watched their countries erode beyond the explosions and bullets of war. Enter in Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, a masterfully simplistic day in the life tale from 1948. De Sica unflinchingly follows a father and son desperately scavenging Rome for their missing bike, a tool essential for their family’s survival in a war-torn Italy. Beautifully shot and overflowing with desperation, Bicycle Thieves is a heart wrenching film that examines the fallout of war and danger of being on the bottom of the social stratosphere.
44. Man on Wire:
Very few documentaries are as exciting and insightful as Man on Wire, the unbelievable true tale of one man’s journey to walk across a wire hanging between the Twin Towers. The man in this scenario is Philippe Petit, an eccentric Frenchman aroused by death’s various proposals. Man on Wire explores his hunger for danger and show stopping performances, as well as his indestructible determination. Featuring first-hand accounts from Petit and his troupe of accomplices, Man on Wire recreates the legendary walk with gripping scenes and charismatic storytelling. It is both dangerously entertaining and unbelievably inspiring.
Spike Jonze’s Her is a major miracle. On its face it’d be easy for almost anyone to discount it. Its premise- Man falls in love with his operating system- sounds like a half assed skit produced for the back-end of a Saturday Night Live episode but it is a phenomenal film that melts away any cynicism. Through the sincerity of Joaquin Phoenix and the transcendent voice of Scarlett Johansson, Her is an emotionally engaging romance that’s as much about losing love as it is about finding it. Wrapped in a warm, majestic score by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet, Spike Jonze’s Her is a timeless, unforgettable and intoxicating film.
42. Before Midnight:
The Before series is one of the best trilogies in cinematic history, and Before Midnight is the perfect bookend for the series. Built around organic and naturalistic conversation, Before Midnight finds the trio of Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke in rare form. The chemistry on-screen is palpable, and the writing not only deftly captures the evolving relationship between the two lovers but provides each character moments of strength and vulnerability. Being that the film is predicated on dialog, every word that spills out of our character’s mouths is insightful, endlessly entertaining, and genuine.
Pixar has rarely created a dud in its thirty year history but one of its finest achievements is the adorably sweet and whimsical Wall-E. Taking place in a dystopian future where a diminutive robot clears waste from Earth, Wall-E is an affectionate love story that’s part silent film and part social statement. The former is its most charming aspect, as love bubbles between the plucky Wall-E and the sleek new robot EVE. The relationship created between these two animated characters is as real and authentic as anything you’ll find in cinema’s rich history.