Top Films of All Time

Movies rise up in all shapes and sizes and so do critics! Some peanut gallery Frankensteins agree with me and some do not, so one of the things I’ve accepted about humanity is this: we represent a wide range of tastes. Some people want to live in New Jersey. They actually want to! Other folks disdain reading. Though I can’t empathize, I can sympathize, because I don’t want to live in New Jersey and I love reading – opposite sides of these proverbial coins.

Thus I offer this list of top films with a caveat. These are the movies that speak to me, and I am only one in about seven billion. Of course, I’m right, so look on my opinions ye mighty and despair!

(I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum.)

Top Ten 

1. American Beauty

Since my mother despises this movie and it’s probably tied for number one on my list, this is another example of people’s conflicting views. And honestly, it’s hard to explain why American Beauty resonates with me. Must be something about the existential conversations within the plot – individual vs. the collective, beauty’s subjectivity, compassion and submission as deliverance, despair as destroyer – these huge topics come to life in a surprisingly quirky yet dark film.

2. Good Will Hunting

The year this debuted, 1997, Titanic won the Oscar for best picture. Such a result speaks to the power of money over soul. I like a tragedy as much as the next person (half the movies on this list serve as evidence), but the trite emotion and flimsy drama of Titanic just don’t measure up to the grit and character of Good Will Hunting. In fact, Titanic didn’t even make it onto this list, except as an overblown feature here in my commentary on Good Will Hunting. To get back on track, let me say this: this film deservedly won an Oscar for best original screenplay. If you haven’t seen it, you’re doing yourself injury. If you have viewed it and didn’t like (or love) it, you might be a cyborg.

3. The Bourne TRILOGY

Only the Matt Damon installments count. Only he can bring such depth to a kickass amnesiac. We own this package (Thank you, Eric!), and I can confidently announce these are the best action movies in history because they have both human insight and incredible energy. In our household, the first (The Bourne Identity) and third (The Bourne Ultimatum) marginally edge out the second (The Bourne Supremacy) in a head-to-head. But the whole package – well, these have legs to run and run.

4. The Departed

Another Matt Damon movie, and this time he’s paired with Leonardo DiCaprio. Finally, years after Good Will Hunting and Titanic, we get to see these competitors duke it out as double agents working for opposite sides. Enthralling storyline. Brilliant dialogue. Disturbing visuals. Amazing acting. Come on, what more do you want?

5. Star Wars Trilogy

The grainy originals, not the CG prequels with their glitzy, busy, annoying battle scenes and stilted acting. These movies helped to define my childhood. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I grew up thinking there really was a Rancor out there in the universe, but I’m sure my powers of concentration benefited from many hours of trying to levitate a rock. Return of the Jedi has always been my favorite, notwithstanding the Ewoks. My wife’s favorite is The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Love Actually

Hey, romantic comedies don’t get any better. Ensemble casts don’t either. Every time I watch it, I’m pleased, especially around Christmas. Aside from one storyline (I’ll let you be judge), I admire how the characters’ stories hit the mark. Endearing individuals weave together in heartbreaking, uplifting, and funny style, making this viewer at least, believe love actually is all around us. Of course, then we go on to the next title on the list, and all hope for a happy ending (and decent second and third acts) goes up in flames…

7. Atonement

Moviemaking doesn’t get any better than the first forty minutes. Though I shrug off the last two thirds of this movie, the first act is enough to float it up (along with the help of my wife’s high opinion) to top ten. Keira Knightly is beautiful, of course, and acts beautifully. James McAvoy shows his depth. Together they soar, but it wouldn’t work without a young Saoirse Ronan, who, in my opinion, is the linchpin of believability for this wonderfully crummy tale.

8. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

It’s a rare movie that outdoes the book. Here are three such cases. It helps that the novels were overwrought and slow-paced, these scriptwriters adept, and the direction brilliant. When someone marries quintessential fantasy storytelling to singular cinematic vision, the audience– aw, hell, the whole world is elevated. (By the way, here’s another movie in the same genre, which outdoes the book and is worth watching: The Princess Bride.)

9. 3:10 to Yuma

A Western that caught me off guard. I like it. I don’t know why. That’s a pathetic review, I know, but you’ll just have to watch the movie and tell me why you agree (or disagree, I suppose). I’ll go ahead and mention another that vied for a spot on the top ten: True Grit. These movies, both Westerns, imbue story with sympathetic leads in a setting that seems altogether foreign yet familiar to me as I live in what was once the wild frontier.

10. The Town

Conflicted loyalties, earning a comeuppance, clinging tentacles of the past, romance – this movie lays out a lot of heart for a film about bank robbers. Maybe as a New Englander, I’m keen on this one because it’s set in Boston and features a scene from Fenway Park. Maybe I just like hearing that Boston accent, and this one rides high on the back of Good Will Hunting and The Departed. Whatever the case, in it Ben Affleck showcases his directing prowess, and Jeremy Renner plays the role he was born for.

Honorable Mentions

A short-list of more favorites, though I will admit that a few are absolute and enjoyable crap:

Blood Diamond

Gone Baby Gone

Silver Linings Playbook

Crazy Stupid Love

Last of the Mohicans

Braveheart

Unforgiven

Gran Torino

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Sixth Sense

The Notebook

Dead Poets Society

The Shawshank Redemption

Pirates of the Caribbean

Avatar

Crash

17 Again

Madagascar 2

The Incredibles

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