The final fifty. Let the revolution begin.
50. A Fond Kiss (2004) — Ken Loach
Props to a white British man for depicting realistically the horror of your Pakistani family finding out you’re dating a white girl and making it hilarious.
49. The Kids Are Alright (2010) — Lisa Cholodenko
It’s the parents who are screwed up. Manages to delve into usual soapy territory (adultery, bullying, college admissions, lesbians watching man-on-man porn) while keeping its characters down-to-earth.
48. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) — Quentin Tarantino
A superior sequel. A little less gratuitous slaughter, a little more soliloquies about Superman and four year olds learning about death.
47. Goodbye, Lenin (2003) — Wolfgang Becker
Just because East Germany suddenly had Coca-Cola, didn’t mean they didn’t have Ostalgie. A wonky satire of Berlin life after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demands of the West that didn’t suit the needs of the ones who grew up in the East.
46. Snowpiercer (2013) — Bong Joon-ho
Chris Evans in the best role of his life versus Tilda Swinton in the most hilarious role of her life. A great marriage of classist critique and badass action scenes.
45. Great Directors (2012) — Angela Ismailos
A kind of narrow view of contemporary filmmaking (only European and American directors are featured here), the documentary still provides a compelling look inside the mind of some of the best directors out there.
44. Metropolitan (1990) — Whit Stillman
Once you go rich and white, you’re stuck for life. What The Catcher in the Rye if Holden was a little bit more charming and dashed out socialist theories left and right.
43. The Virgin Suicides (1999) — Sofia Coppola
The trickling in of the environmental degradation (gas mask parties) and the cruelty of high school kids point why the virgins did it, but like the boys trying to understand the girls’ motivation themselves, I can only guess the answer. Runs almost completely on a mood of distant awe.
42. Donnie Darko (2002) — Richard Kelly
If you’re going to make a metaphor for schizophrenia, a teenager being tormented by his diabolical rabbit BBF is the way to go. Both beautifully lush and disturbing. One of the best affluenza movies out there.
41. Tokyo Story (1953) — Yasujiro Ozu
The Japanese Fargo. The subtlest passive aggression between parent and child keeps them alienated from each other, leading them to live with the disappointment they have of each other in separation. The feel-good film of 1953.
40. Monsieur Verdoux (1947) — Charles Chaplin
Chaplin’s bumpy transition to sound is evident here, but seeing Charlie Chaplin being his crazy physical self and deliver some sassy capitalist critique on the stand? What could a movie ever need more than that?
39. The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963) — Eric Rohmer
The spiritual predecessor to Submarine. It captures the ennui of wanting to date the girl you saw on the street and stuffing yourself with cookies when you can’t find her. The defining conflict of our times.
38. The Lego Movie (2014) — Chris Miller and Phil Lord
Able to resonate a complicated theme about “work and play” to kids by using the word “awesome” about a hundred times. Glad this was more than a corporation cash-grab (though President Lego is certainly rolling in it right now).
37. Obvious Child (2014) — Gillian Robespierre
What would it be like for an immature person who gets a surprise pregnancy? It would be horrible and also really funny. Hope the abortion rom-com is here to stay.
36. Amarcord (1973) — Federico Fellini
A year in the life of the shenanigans of a Fascist Italian town. Very funny and also very soulful. I wonder if the Fascist backdrop represents the search these characters have in their rush to grow up.
35. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) — Nicholas Ray
A great movie about life and death and alcoholism and dating. The film is pretty corny, but just self-aware enough to catch itself. Why do we have to play driving to the edge of the cliff chicken? Because we got to. A tragedy that the stars of this movie had to go so young, because all of them are fantastic here.
34. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012) — Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek
The coolest and funnest way to analyze systems of societal control. By filing through our media output, Zizek finds succinct instances of a film advertising or resisting the societal ideology at the time and delivers a Marxist-Freudian-Nietzchean explanation for what it might mean. Not for the die-hard Titanic fans out there.
33. 12 Years a Slave (2013) — Steve McQueen and John Ridley
The kind of movie that makes you mad that human beings could be capable of perpetuating such racist inequality, and uses every beloved white guy actor out there to do it. This movie doesn’t close with plantation owners getting what’s coming to them, but it does give you a picture of how broken socioeconomic systems can be, and the impact that they have on the people they break.
32. Hiroshima mon amour (1959) — Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras
It’s first a documentary about Hiroshima, then the morning after a one night stand, then a flashback to Occupied France and then an intense psychodrama – all wrapped up in the pain of losing what you love and being humiliated for loving that person in the first place. It’d be a lot more depressing, if it wasn’t so sexy.
31. Birdman (2014) — Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu
It’s no Best Picture of the Year, but it’s definitely a hilarious, whirling melodrama of egos too large for this world that utilizes riveting visual techniques to get inside these characters’ heads. And man, do those drums get stuck in your head.
30. Your Sister’s Sister (2012) — Lynn Shelton
Blew me away with how much a story and character can develop in one setting. Funny and well-acted, watching this movie gave me the realization that one really doesn’t need a large budget to make an entertaining film.
29. Jackie Brown (1997) – Quentin Tarantino
Could see why people say this is Tarantino’s best. It doesn’t have too much cinematic flair but the characters really ooze out of the screen. They dance around murder, crime and love and the chase Ordell gives Jackie and the rest of the characters is just engrossing to watch.
28. Citizenfour (2014) — Laura Poitras
A gripping thriller that looks at what the definition of privacy and surveillance are in the wake of the extent NSA’s access to our information. A must-see for any organizer for a discussion about how much careful planning goes into blowing the whistle at a distance from the hand of the law.
27. If… (1968) — Lindsay Anderson
The movie that fueled the fire of revolution in Europe by shooting a priest in it. It’s a weird, twisted movie that openly defies everything about the boarding school system and has no problem breaking the rules into a million pieces. Can’t believe they were able to get away with that ending.
26. Breathless (1959) — Jean-Luc Godard
This movie feels a bit like a call to arms for unconventional filmmaking – its jagged camera and brutal protagonist are heavily unsentimental, but the dialogue between Michel and Patricia manages to worm its way into my heart anyway. The style sprints to the finish line and challenges you to catch up.
25. Gone Girl (2014) — David Fincher
A fantastic blend of satire, melodrama and mystery. This movie understandably has its share of detractors as Amy’s brand of feminism is rather skewed, but the movie reacts to each outlandish twist with a dose of reality that brings each larger-than-life character down to their human levels. As Nick says, “Just because I [did the bad thing that I won’t spoil], doesn’t mean I’m a good person.”
24. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — Wes Anderson
Not his best in my book, but pretty darn close. Ralph Fiennes continues to
arouse me impress me, the Candyland version of East Europe in the 1930s looks great, and the father-son dynamic between Gustave and Zero is in my opinion, the most fun of Anderson’s yet.
23. Double Indemnity (1944) — Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler
“I couldn’t hear my footsteps. They were the sound of a dead man walking.” You can’t beat that writing. Despite being about covering up a murder, it has that feeling, as most Billy Wilder movies do, of being a perfect choice for a rainy day.
22. Boyz in the Hood (1991) — John Singleton
This, to me, is the most compelling way to approach systemic inequality in film. Dig in deep into the personal lives of the characters living with in the inequality and bookend the film with the ones responsible for perpetuating it. One of the last lines: “It’s like they want us to kill each other.” The first shot: Reagan and Bush’s ’84 election poster.
21. Ali: Angst Essen Seele Auf (1974) — Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Can’t be much wrong with a German move about a brown man named Salem living in Berlin who has love problems and can’t speak gut Deutsch. That aside, the way this film goes into the impotence one feels from constantly being judged is sehr fantastic.
20. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) — Wes Anderson
The best Anderson film I’ve seen. What starts off as a quirky family drama goes into a raw depiction of loneliness with a refreshing ending that brings all the quirkiness back and then some.
19. Lola (1981) — Rainer Werner Fassbinder
This film has a dynamic cinematic quality to it that’s not as nuanced as most of Fassbinder’s other work, but is entertaining all the same. The repartee of neofacism against socialism, Schukert’s gleeful acceptance of his corrupt plutocrat status, von Bohm’s look on his face when he sees Lola in the strip club – this movie’s as fun of a mirror to post-war Germany as it is grim.
18. The Apartment (1960) — Billy Wilder
A surprisingly light-hearted for a film with a suicide subplot. Loved the performances and the staging here though – Jack Lemmon’s airy goodness works as a hilarious and heartwarming contrast to the droll of the insurance offices and the callous affairs of his higher-ups. If only Roger Sterling was a little more CC Baxter and a little less Jeff Sheldrake, he and Joan could have lived happily ever after.
17. The Trip (2010) — Michael Winterbottom
Come come, Mister Bond. You know you love this movie just as much as I do. Guts-busting funny, the kind that cleanses your soul after a particularly bad week at the job you never want to go to again. The mid-life crisis theme is pretty compelling too, but I’ll always remember this movie for telling me to go to bed. For we ride at 10! Ish! After the continental breakfast.
16. Poison (1991) — Todd Haynes
“Just as the outside world shut me out, I too shut out the world.” For a movie filled with abusive spitting, this is a really beautiful film. The links between the parallel storylines, the anxieties of being a gay man in the late eighties, are as chilling as they are evocative, going to show you that a film doesn’t make to make rational sense to make sense.
15. The 400 Blows (1959) — Francois Truffaut
Beautiful score, beautiful cinematography, beautiful everything. Truffaut steers a ship into Antoine’s life and the audience is just passing by, seeing his life slowly deteriorate until he’s alone in his demise at the end. Despite his bleak outlook, Antoine remains upbeat and opportunistic, which makes this sometimes harrowing film delightful to watch.
14. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) — Agnes Varda
Loved how the film uses real-time to show the effect waiting for the test results has on Cléo’s own view of her mortality. It might mean a serious illness, but she has no way of knowing until seven o’clock, so what does she do until then? Sing pop songs, watch movies, meet with friends – all the things about her youth she might be saying goodbye to.
13. I Am Not a Hipster (2012) — Destin Daniel Cretton
Saves itself from its title (which isn’t even mentioned in the film – could have used a title change). Starts off kind of funny but depressing, and then focuses on the Japanese tsunami long enough to make you catatonically upset, and then brings in the main characters’ sisters and friends and becomes whimsical and fun. I love the question it presents about art – in the ubiquity of personal projects in the digital age, what is art and what is “fluffy shit”?
12. Scenes From a Marriage (1973) — Ingmar Bergman
The slow degradation of a marriage charted over the course of years. Small arguments or unfulfilled promises slowly drift husband and wife away, but no matter how far away they’re taken from each other, they never quite lose the other. A must-see for anyone who’s currently in long-term relationship with another person.
11. Bridesmaids (2011) — Paul Feig, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig
This is what a movie’s supposed to be. Fun and real. Really fun. I saw it on an airplane and nearly broke my throat trying to suppress my laughter. Would do it again in a heartbeart.
10. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) — Jim Jarmusch
The hippest movie of the year. Vampires on the brink of their peaceful existence due to dwindling resources as metaphor for humanity’s impending doom. No matter how many vintage guitars they own, their literal fatigue with humanity has worn them down, keeping them further away from what it’s like to be alive. Good thing they’re not living in the zombie capital of the world.
9. Slacker (1991) — Richard Linklater
A movie that grows on me every time I watch it. The premise of revolving characters takes a while to wrap one’s head around, but in using an ensemble from a variety of different classes, Linklater shows Austin in all its strange alternative costumes. Whether someone’s getting a cup of coffee, or stealing a television, or heading to the party, they’ve got plenty to say about the world – usually more than the character they’re talking to wants to hear, but it’s plenty for us.
8. My Dinner with Andre (1981) — Louis Malle, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory
Takes a while to get going, but once Wallace and André butt heads about the state of Western civilization, it’s on! For anyone who likes the talking kinds of film, this is a staple.
7. Short-Term 12 (2013) — Destin Daniel Cretton
Bolstered by great naturalistic performances and by the hauntingly beautiful projects the teenagers in the psych ward create. That a film this bleak made me smile more times than I can remember made watching this the happiest marriage between viewer and film I’ve had in a while.
6. One Wonderful Sunday (1947) — Akira Kurosawa
An optimist’s The Bicycle Thief. Over the course of a Sunday in which a couple can’t afford to spend more than 25 yen, they are constantly confronted by the disparate state their lives and country have been left in after the war and grapple with the possibility that this new Japan might not be for them. Knew I loved this movie when Yuzo goes to an opera house and is given a hot meal for the first time that day, but he realizes it’s because he’s mistaken for a yakuza, he rejects it.
5. A Coffee in Berlin (2012) — Jan Ole Gester
I’m biased because this film is largely set in the same neighborhood where I went to school in Berlin, but watching this gave me the most excitement at the theater this year. A context of Berlin’s frank and aggressively forward culture helps to fully appreciate the humor, but watching Niko fumble through a day in Berlin sober amongst a cast of characters is hilarious no matter what language you speak.
4. Boyhood (2014) — Richard Linklater
Linklater takes the theme of time passing, which he’s been tackling from some angle since his first, and stretches it as far as it can go. Some might say too far (it is a little long), but as each moment passes in the film, I found myself wishing the moments in Mason’s childhood would last longer in the way I often wish my childhood did. Even the white savior bit doesn’t mar this from being the best movie of the year for me.
3. Jules and Jim (1962) — Francois Truffaut
Truffaut has that ability to make tragic stories really fun to watch. Catherine is a bit crazy, but she’s a dynamic personality who’s only allowed by society the ability to define her life within the contexts of her relationships. Watching her choose between Jules and Jim (who are probably the most polite to each other people have ever behaved in a long triangle), is kind of sad, kind of funny and incredibly entertaining.
2. Paths of Glory (1957) — Stanley Kubrick
A general prosecutes the survivors of his suicide mission to save face. A gripping tale about how egos can cost the lives of others, even when Kirk Douglas comes up with solid evidence to defend their case. A primary influence on The Wire and countless other stories about challenging institutions. The ending makes one of the most surprising turns I’ve seen at a denouement, and the result broke my heart and rejuvenated my soul.
1. Imitation of Life (1959) — Douglas Sirk, Eleanore Griffin, Allan Scott
The combination of racial, class and gender conflicts in this lush and powerful drama creates a story that is at one time a depiction of stereotype and another a brutal subversion of that stereotype. The kind of movie where you watch characters who feel real grappling with the unfortunate implications of their relationships, and hope that if they can work through them, then maybe humanity can work through them.
That’s all! Hope you’ve got some suggestions for your to-watch list!