Hey, y’all! You may already be familiar with my work floating around /Film for the past couple of years covering festivals and Alamo Rolling Roadshow events. Well, I’m back in a new role as an evening news writer and get to share a little bit about myself beyond the fact that I’m a Texan who enjoys sipping whiskey.
As a Libra, I have been tasked with the mildly stressful assignment to pick my 15 favorite movies of all time. This is pretty daunting because I love a lot of movies. In order to narrow it down, I chose films I can watch multiple times over, would always suggest to others, and those that introduced various aspects of film that really trained my eye to appreciate the more technical and thematic side of filmmaking.
I have a penchant for practical effects, stuntwork, film scores, production design, aberrant love stories, and taboo subject matter. After reading my favorites (in no particular order), maybe you can see why.
15. The Virgin Suicides (1993)
Sofia Coppola’s depiction of beauty in the banal struck a deep chord with me as a teenager. This was also the first film that made me swoon over cinematography. Edward Lachmnan’s hazy use of light to capture the aching parts of adolescence is simultaneously haunting and hopeful. The way this film is shot is equally as poetic and hypnotic as the Lisbon girls themselves. Its dreamy, disillusioned, and daring plot is also softened with a haunting soundtrack from Air. It’s a score that I used to paint to all the time in high school. Beauty and pain permeate throughout, and Coppola yields a relatable glimpse into feelings almost every teenage girl experiences.
14. Beetlejuice (1988)
Tim Burton’s horror-comedy gave me my first outlook on death. I specifically remember realizing that death does not necessarily have to be finite. Also, Bo Welch‘s production design was extremely captivating to me as a little kid, as was the work of set decorator Catherine Mann. I loved the juxtaposition of the dead living amongst the living and felt comfort in that notion.
Danny Elfman’s score is one of the first film scores that I related to because I realized that even though something is scary, it can still be fun and exciting. As I watched it more and more growing up, there was something validating about being an outsider or “strange and unusual,” which I really needed to remember at a time when I was not into a lot of things my fellow female classmates and friends were into.
13. The One I Love (2014)
Writer Justin Lader explores regret and troubled relationships with a sci-fi component that plays on our intrinsic desires of wanting a perfectly compatible partner. In an attempt to save their marriage, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) retreat to a vacation home to reconnect, at the suggestion of their therapist. Here, they literally meet the better and more desirable versions of themselves. It’s a story about consequences, choices, and what you’re willing to settle for in a partner.
Duplass and Moss also showcase their talent by playing doppelgangers. The way that they can subtly switch emotion on a dime and manipulate the camera is truly impressive and thematically represents the two-sided nature of toxic relationships. I love my romance stories accompanied by dark comedy and complex characters, so this one hits all the marks.
12. Annihilation (2018)
Alex Garland‘s sci-fi film is a prime example of a successful film adaptation that deviates from its source material. I wasn’t in love with Jeff VanderMeer‘s book of the same name, but I do love what Garland took from the pages and developed on-screen. Aside from its stunning visuals, I respect the film’s take on grief and self-destruction. The concept of destruction in order to create anew always resonated with me, and I think Garland captured that really well. The scientific elements are also beautifully intertwined with the emotional turmoil faced by each female character. Also, that screaming bear skeleton is one of my favorite creatures on screen!
11. Poltergeist (1982)
The special effects on Poltergeist still hold up pretty damn well. I remember being terrified of the scene where one of the characters rips his face off in front of the mirror. Industrial Light and Magic’s use of practical effects in this film is what comes to mind when I hear the phrase “movie magic.” Hell, the scene with the toys floating around in Carol Anne’s bedroom took nine months alone for the optical department to perfect. Everything from the ethereal ghosts to the terrifying clown is executed so well, especially for the times.
I also love the Freeling family itself. Diane is excited and conducting experiments to test the limits of what exactly is occurring in their home. Her husband Steve never gaslights her or calls her crazy, and he is actually the one to be terrified of the situation, while Diane keeps it together. Their relationship is really sweet to me, and I love the scene of them smoking a joint and being silly with one another. In a way, they’re couple goals.
10. Nightcrawler (2014)
Dan Gilroy‘s neo-noir psychological thriller is one of my favorite crime stories with one of the best villains, in my opinion. Jake Gyllenhaal‘s depiction of Louis Bloom is a disturbing portrait of the quintessential employee and what hard work and dedication can amount to in a truly delusional way. Bloom’s character is terrifying because aspects of his two-faced personality actually do persist in the workforce.
Nightcrawler also has fantastic commentary on media practices and consumer culture. “If it bleeds, it leads” sets a precedent of what Lou needs to do in order to make it to the top. There are also a lot of great camera shots in this film whether that be during car chase scenes or capturing the aftermath of a gruesome crime. Ultimately, the film is a dark reflection of our society’s obsession with crime and success.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
I don’t know about you, but I definitely wish that Lacuna’s services were real. Writer Charlie Kaufman’s depiction of Joel and Clementine’s love story is an experimental glimpse at heartbreak. Director Michel Gondry’s use of forced perspective, unsynchronized sound, and split focus all provide a unique way to show the couple’s crumbling relationship and Joel’s attempt to erase Clementine from his memory. It’s one of those films that reminds you that no matter how painful a breakup is, there are some parts of a person you once truly loved that you may still want to remember and might be worth fighting for in the end. In a way, this film sort of speaks to the idea that we can learn from our pain.
8. Goodfellas (1990)
Even though I’m not big on mob films, Goodfellas is one that I can watch multiple times over. It’s stacked with electric performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco. There’s comedy, crime, suspense, drama, and romance all wrapped into its 146-minute runtime and never has a dull moment. Martin Scorsese‘s long tracking shot through the Copacabana Club is one of my favorite continuous shots to date. The Crystals’ song “And Then He Kissed Me” playing over the scene makes it even better. Honestly, I swoon every time I watch it.
Speaking of the soundtrack, there are several notable artists on there that really capture the lavish yet detrimental lifestyle of a wiseguy. Songs from Muddy Waters, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, and The Shangri-Las bring a whole new dynamic to the story. I’m also a sucker for Oldies and grew up on doo-wop, so I can’t help but feel nostalgic when I watch Goodfellas.
7. Persona (1966)
Ingmar Bergman‘s psychological horror film is one that I can return to several times and feel something new with each viewing. The film’s exploration of identity, duality, and self-exploration is conveyed in a multi-dimensional manner with its two main characters. Bergman once said that he “hoped the film would be felt rather than understood.” For me, that’s exactly what it did, and I appreciate that this is one film that can be opened to so many interpretations from its viewers.
6. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)
I have never related to a character more than Ruth (played by Melanie Lynsky) in I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. Every time I walk out of my place (and even on the internet), I wonder how people can be so cruel, lazy, and selfish. As Ruth says, “the way people treat each other–they’re disgusting.” Whether it’s stealing, spoiling a book for someone, or just a complete lack of empathy, I feel Ruth’s frustration throughout this film as she searches for the person who robbed her home. However, writer/director Mason Blair’s indie also gives me a small glimmer of hope thanks to Elijah Wood’s character who is by Ruth’s side (armed with ninja stars and firecrackers) to help her. Their friendship and hinted romance is the sweetest part of this stressful story that reflects how human decency is often overlooked.
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
T2 is probably my favorite action film ever. Edward Furlong was also my first celebrity crush thanks to this movie. The pyrotechnic work is top-notch and the T-1000 is still one of my favorite villains. As a kid, it was refreshing to watch a movie where the antagonist didn’t scare me. Instead, I found him equally as fascinating as Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Model 101 Terminator in terms of power.
This is another pivotal film that made me fall in love with special effects. Most of the main Terminator effects were provided by Industrial Light & Magic for computer graphics, Stan Winston for the practical effects, and Pacific Data Images for optical effects. Miniatures were also used for the nuclear blast scene along with an array of puppetry, animatronics, and prosthetics.
From start to finish, I love this film so much. Everything from the one-liners, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) being a total badass, all of the groundbreaking effects, and Brad Fiedel’s score make the film timeless for me.
4. Halloween (1978)
I didn’t fully understand how effective a low-budget film could be until I saw John Carpenter’s Halloween. His use of the camera in the opening scene is so commanding, placing the audience in the killer’s point of view in a way I had not really seen before. His score is also one of my favorites and elevates the horror of the film tremendously. I still regularly spin it on vinyl along with a lot of other Carpenter scores like They Live and The Fog.
In general, I love how simplistic this film is in a lot of ways. The cast and crew wore multiple hats during production and relied on lighting, shadow work, and blocking to evoke fear and suspense. It’s hard to make a guy standing still in broad daylight seem scary, especially for decades on end, but Carpenter and Debra Hill literally killed it.
3. Paper Moon (1973)
Director Peter Bogdanovich‘s film is one of my favorite con-artist movies ever made. Tatum O’Neal‘s performance as a spunky and demanding orphan named Addie is a perfect counterpart to the skilled conman named Moses (played by Ryan O’Neal). The sense of poverty and desperation is complimented with a dark comedy that strangely works really well for the time period. The fact that Ryan O’Neal is actually Tatum’s father in real life makes the film that much better. Their chemistry is palpable and I love how Tatum brings a hard edge to the character of Addie. She is a tomboy, assertive, and cutthroat which is a big deviation from what audiences would see from other young actors her age at the time.
2. Harold and Maude (1971)
I like to say that I am 70% Harold and 30% Maude. Hal Ashby’s dark comedy is one of my favorite love stories. I adore how polar opposite Harold and Maude are from each other and yet they bring out the best in one another thanks to their open-mindedness and thrill for life, even if it happens to be accompanied by an obsession for death. There is also something radical about falling in love with someone for who they really are despite age and societal standards of beauty.
1. Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
I was blown away by the martial arts in Kill Bill. Zoë Bell and Satya Bellord are phenomenal as the stunt doubles for Uma Thurman, and stunt coordinator Keith Adams successfully brought classic fighting styles to a modern-day revenge film. The artistic vision, in general, is a hodgepodge of homages to classics with the genres of spaghetti westerns, grindhouse films, and samurai films.
I also love all of the complex female characters in Kill Bill. Their strength and ruthlessness are on full display instead of being overly sexualized and exploited. None of them are one-dimensional and each utilizes their pain to propel them forward. As Beatrix Kiddo says, “it’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality.” That sentence alone speaks volumes to how women are typically treated and judged. So to hear that kind of f**k you attitude come from female assassins who were also mothers and businesswomen was invigorating, especially in a year when films like Charlie’s Angels and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days were playing in theaters.
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