This used to be a list.  But the comments below convinced me to alter its shape, and as I’ve tried to restructure, I see surprising trends taking place:  clearly, I have a special love for the coming-of-age tale and for the brilliantly absurd.  I’m starting to think that not only are these lists still in progress, but I may need many more.

The Bildungsroman/coming-of-age tale:

  • Alexandra
  • Amarcord
  • The Deer Hunter
  • The 400 Blows
  • Fresh
  • In a Better World
  • The Oak (Balanta)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Wild Strawberries

The Brilliantly Absurd:

  • The Big Lebowski
  • Galaxy Quest
  • His Girl Friday
  • The More the Merrier
  • Ninotchka
  • Safety Last and Speedy (Harold Lloyd)
  • Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton)
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Wing Chun

Down the Rabbit Hole:

  • Brazil
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Repo Man
  • Sunset Boulevard

How I Lost My Innocence:

Just a Great Tale:

  • Chinatown
  • Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
  • Laura
  • The Usual Suspects
  • The Wire (HBO series)

Madness and Civilization:

The Makeover Movie:

The Undefinable:

Great Thrillers & Noir I’ve Seen Recently (what can I say? I was obsessed):

  • Bob le Flambeur
  • Brick
  • Caché
  • Frozen River
  • In Bruges
  • Let the Right One In
  • Night and the City
  • Quai des Orfèvres
  • Rififi
  • Le Samouraï
  • State of Play (BBC series)
  • Tell No One
  • Touchez-pas au Grisbi

26 Responses to “Best films ever: Lists in progress”

  1. rjp Says:

    What about “His Girl Friday,” “Trouble in Paradise,” “Top Hat,” and “All about Eve”?
    Do they make they cut? And then there’s “Junebug.” I’m lobbying for all of the above.

  2. didion Says:

    I was just looking at my crazy list and thinking how subjective these things are. To wit: The magnificent David Thomson attests that Angie Dickinson is his favorite actress, and Stanley Fish lists his ten favorite movies here:
    (Really, Stanley? “Meet Me In St. Louis”?)
    But you’re right, RJP: I’ve left some crucial things off and am going to make some new additions — just not exactly all the ones you’ve suggested.

    • rjp Says:

      I remember reading Fish’s list and having the same reaction…. I found the majority of his picks mystifying.

      Glad to see that two of my suggestions made the cut. What about “You Can Count on Me” and “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?” (Really now, I found the latter much more ingenious than “The Big Lebowski.”)

      And there should really be a special section for favorite foreign films that bid goodbye: “Farewell, my Concubine” and “Au Revoir, Les Enfants.”

      Love the list!

      • didion Says:

        I wonder if I should give up on the “best ever” kind of list and go for thematic groupings instead? Love the idea of a list of “farewell” films.

        Am going to mull over this…

  3. Bill Abbott Says:

    Hi didion,
    I had 23 or maybe 33 titles in my top 15 list… I think subdivisions (yes to “farewell” films!) are good, otherwise you end up with nonsense comparisons – “His Girl Friday” vs “Endless Summer”? That’s just crazy talk.
    I like your list, some of the titles are news to me, and I wholeheartedly agree with others. I really ought to see “Brazil” I guess!

  4. didion Says:

    Bill, I agree. I have a whole idea for a post on “loss of innocence” films, but first I’ve got to see “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” again. Am hard at work.

  5. didion Says:

    Just found a list of the critic David Thomson’s favorite films, as of 2002. I’m starting to see how fascinating these lists can be in revealing a person’s character:
    -Blue Velvet (1986)
    -Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
    -Citizen Kane (1941)
    -The Conformist (1970)
    -His Girl Friday (1940)
    -A Man Escaped (1956)
    -Pierrot Le Fou (1965)
    -The Rules of the Game (1939)
    -That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
    -Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)

  6. Mr. P Says:

    I’ll have to watch some of the above… I’ve seen only four (To Kill A Mockingbird, Galaxy Quest, Laura, and In Bruges), and they are about the most mismatched quartet of films I could imagine. I think the last is my favorite. If these are your favorites, I’m interested to hear your take on more recent/mainstream movies.

    • didion Says:

      Yes, I’ve come to realize that we all have highly eccentric lists of favorite movies, including the lowbrow (Galaxy Quest) with the ultra-highbrow, like something by Fassbinder. Yet I find myself fascinated by best-films lists nevertheless, maybe because they’re so often a place for me to find new titles to add to my must-see list.

      The best new thing I’ve seen is “Winter’s Bone,” and before that it was probably “How to Train Your Dragon.” (Speaking of eccentric tastes.) And I’m looking forward to seeing “The Kids are All Right” as well as “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” perhaps once I survive this final day of World Cup viewing!

  7. Ethan Says:

    I have to say, my favorite movies of all time are the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Not for a nerdy reason (though I loved the books), but because I appreciate more than anything a well-made movie. I love District 9, all Ridley Scott movies and the “Firefly” TV show for the same reason. When every single prop is made by hand, from scratch, with period-accurate techniques, it adds something indescribable to a movie which might have been just average.

  8. tamcho Says:

    Here’s my non-exhaustive list, given memory lapses etc:

    Bagdad Cafe (by Percy Adlon)
    I’ve Loved You So Long (recent French movie)
    Blue (also French)
    Kings Road (recent Icelandic indie movie)
    Laurel Canyon (Lisa Cholodenko)
    White Palace
    (more soon….)

    • didion Says:

      Clearly I’ve got some movie watching to do. And I must propose that we now be best friends. “Bagdad Cafe” was one of the first indie movies I ever saw and I was hooked. How is it possible I’ve never seen “Laurel Canyon”? Thank you so much for this list!

      • tamcho Says:

        Ahh….Bagdad Cafe: such a generous, warm hearted and quirky story. We need more of these kinds of narratives in the world.

        Frances McDormand was a total riot in Laural Canyon…uber hot too!

        Glad to be of service 🙂

  9. tamcho Says:

    a few more…

    My Life Without Me – directed by Isabel Coixet, starring Sarah Polley

    Away from Her – directed by Sarah Polley, starring Julie Christie

    Chaos and Desire – French Canadian movie ( I would describe it as a Tibetan Buddhist take on the mysteries of the cosmos)

    ps. did u get round to seeing any of my list? would love to hear your thoughts.

    • tam Says:

      A few more, since a friend had recently asked for movies to cry to….

      Truly, Madly, Deeply.
      Although this is likely saying the obvious. And the introduction by the director, the sadly late Anthony Minghella in the dvd, perhaps 10 years after it first came out , is such a inspiring take on an artist’s perspective on creativity, it was a sublime bonus.

      Departures (Japan, 2008)
      Achingly moving.

      Secrets and Lies (UK, Mike Leigh, 1996)
      Here’s a compelling scene, filmed in one long take:

      The Winter Guest (UK, Alan Rickman, 1997)
      Exquisitely filmed in the depth of winter in Scotland. Emma Thompson plays a recently widowed photographer with a teenage son, grappling with grief and the unwelcome arrival of her mother back into her life.

      The utterly bleak and frozen landscape plays a contrasting character to the human drama that unfolds. Beautiful portrait of a mother-daughter relationship (played by real life mother and daughter ).


      • Didion Says:

        What a great idea for a blog post! And although I haven’t seen The Winter Guest, I completely agree with you about crying to Truly Madly Deeply and Departures. I’ve seen the former many times and the latter only recently, at some point this winter.

        I may steal your idea and create a post on this soon, as soon as I’ve had the chance to think about other titles.

      • tam Says:

        “I may steal your idea and create a post on this soon, as soon as I’ve had the chance to think about other titles.”

        Steal away…I’ll be curious to see what you come up with.

  10. didion Says:

    !! I just LOVED Away From Her. And I don’t know the other two you mention, but they’re going on my Netflix queue right now. Of your previous movies I finally saw I’ve Loved You So Long and Kings Road…fantastic. Keep sending them — you’ve got the most amazing taste AND a knowledge of movies far beyond the multiplex that you clearly need to be my best friend.

  11. Frank Davis Says:

    My Favorite 102 Movies (1967 – Present)

    NOTE: We only share a few favorites, but I hope your list will expand after watching/rewatching some of the films I’ve recommended.

    The Usual Suspects (Crime)
    Insomnia (Mystery)
    Dances with Wolves (Western)
    Philadelphia (Courtroom Drama)
    Saving Private Ryan (War)
    Gone with the Wind (Drama)
    Contact (Science Fiction)
    Women in Love (Drama)
    Best in Show (Comedy)
    Annie Hall (Comedy)
    Manhattan (Comedy)
    King Kong (Thriller)
    Million Dollar Baby (Drama)
    The Sting (Drama)
    The Hustler (Drama)
    Erin Brokovich (Drama)
    Sophie’s Choice (Drama)
    The Bridges of Madison County (Drama)
    When Harry Met Sally (Comedy)
    Sleepless in Seattle (Drama)
    Titanic (Love Story)
    Ordinary People (Drama)
    Good Will Hunting (Drama)
    Witness (Drama)
    Tin Cup (Drama)
    All the Presiden’t Men (Drama)
    Midnight Cowboy (Drama)
    Inception (Drama)
    Doctor Zhivago (Love Story)
    Black Swan (Thriller)
    Murder on the Orient Express (Mystery)
    Blood Simple (Thriller)
    The Birds (Thriller)
    Nashville (Drama)
    MASH (Comedy)
    To Kill a Mockingbird (Drama)
    Moby Dick (Adventure)
    The Old Man & the Sea (Drama)
    Chinatown (Mystery)
    The Shawshank Redemption (Drama)
    The Wizard of Oz (Fantasy)
    The Manchurian Candidate Original Version (Thriller)
    Witness (Thriller)
    Bonnie & Clyde (Crime)
    The Caine Mutiny (Courtroom Drama)
    Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Western)
    Casablanca (Love Story)
    Lonesome Dove (Western)
    Ten Little Indians (Mystery)
    Patton (War)
    Star Wars (Fantasy)
    Rocky (Drama)
    Blade Runner (Science Fiction)
    ET (Fantasy)
    Psycho (Thriller)
    Charade (Drama)
    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Western)
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Drama)
    2001 A Space Oddysey (Science Fiction)
    Avatar (Fantasy)
    Jaws (Drama)
    The Graduate (Drama)
    Mystic River (Drama)
    The Big Sleep (Mystery)
    Schindler’s List (Drama)
    Vertigo (Thriller)
    The Maltese Falcon (Mystery)
    Fanny and Alexander (Drama)
    Lawrence of Arabia (Drama)
    Barry Lyndon (Drama)
    Don’t Look Now (Thriller)
    Serpico (Drama)
    High Noon (Western)
    Shane (Western)
    Unforgiven (Western)
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Science Fiction)
    Raiders of the Lost Ark (Adventure)
    Blow Up (Mystery)
    Klute (Mystery)
    Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Mystery)
    The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (Mystery)
    Rear Window (Mystery)
    The Godfather (Crime)
    Miller’s Crossing (Crime)
    LA Confidential (Crime)
    The Bridge Over the River Kwai (War)
    Das Boot (War)
    Two for the Road (Love Story)
    Toute une Vie – And Now My Love (Love Story)
    The Road Home (Love Story)
    Far from the Mading Crowd (Drama)
    On Golden Pond (Drama)
    Amadeus (Drama)
    Gladiator (Drama)
    Cool Hand Luke (Drama)
    The Red Violin (Drama)
    The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner (Drama)
    A Few Good Men (Courtroom Drama)
    The Verdict (Courtroom Drama)
    12 Angry Men (Courtroom Drama)
    Judgement at Nuremburg (Courtroom Drama)
    Away from Her (Drama)

    • Didion Says:

      Oooh! I don’t know several of these, like The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and Toute une vie — and one of my favorite things about people sharing these lists is that they help me bulk up my Netflix queue and shape my own ideas about favorite films. (For example, for me it’s ixnay on the Itanic-tay.)

  12. […] ever again). The tears they provoke seem to spring from something honest and human. Inspired by a comment from Tam (and borrowing shamelessly from the list she offered) this is a preliminary attempt to think about […]

  13. tam Says:

    OK, its been a year since I last recommended a film for this list; here’s another indie gem: Poetry – written and directed by Lee Chang-dong (Korean). The central character is a 60 year old woman.

    To quote Andrew O’Hehir from Salon:
    “…beautiful and moving, a quietly haunting meditation on death and life….a memorable central performance and prodigious emotional depth.”

    …especially emotional depth, and so subtle. It gently sneaks up and blows you away.

    • Didion Says:

      Tam, for once I’m ahead of you: I think Poetry might be my ab-fab favorite film of last year. And that lead actress! You know, there were a lot of films about existence last year (some audacious and grand), but that one — in which responsibility is such a major theme — is amazing. And maybe it says a lot about me that I think what we all need is to be reminded of our responsibility.

  14. neil Says:

    Great, great lists! “Great Tales” particularly warms the cockles of my heart with some love for a lesser known Errol Morris piece.

    Plus, you put Red Riding on a list with The Last Picture Show, The Sweet Hereafter, The Tree of Life.

    Fab. Just plain fab.

  15. Katarina Says:

    Being both a feminist and film buff I was happy to find this blog! A link is going on my blog 🙂

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