A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis at the New York Times recently made a list of The Best 25 Films of the 21st Century It’s a list that’s eclectic, a little pretentious, heavy on obscure Japanese cinema, and “horseshit,” according to a family friend who watches movies and writes about them for a living. I largely agree. Million Dollar Baby?! Inside Llewyn Davis?! Really?!
It inspired me to make my own list of favorite movies instead of best movies. Favorites consider how I appreciated the movie the first time I saw it – and how that appreciation has grown or evolved or wavered over time. Favorites consider context: where I watched the movie, with whom, when, and the significance of all that. Favorites consider re-watchability and the Desert Island Test, If you could only bring three or four movies to a desert island where you’ll be for the rest of your life, what movies would you bring? I think a lot about that question. Probably too much.
It pained me not to include my two favorite movies of all-time, Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Good Will Hunting (1997) , as well as a few others that’d be in and around my top 10: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rain Man (1988), The Graduate (1967), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Toy Story (1995), The Sandlot (1993), Rear Window (1954), and All The President’s Men (1976). Sadly, all are from before 2000.
Anyway, here’s my list:
25. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) Sentimentally, I love this because my little sister was Abigail Breslin at that age: fearless, other-regarding, emcee of all family gatherings. But it’s also just a beautiful family dramedy about
tragic normal things.
24. HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) Grandpa Gibbons is originally from the same flat Texas that Jeff Bridges patrols in this movie — so it felt poetic that I watched this with him a few months ago. Watching James F. Gibbons watch (and cackle during) this scene was worth the price of admission (plane ticket to San Fran).
23. MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012) My relationship with Wes Anderson has become increasingly enigmatic: I’m more impressed—by his sense of detail, color, and theater— than I am a real fan. Still, though, I couldn’t not include some Wes Anderson here.
22. BOYHOOD (2014) Originally, I had this way higher. It’s a delightful movie with delightful acting and has Richard Linklater’s delightful, honest, simple touch. But I was romanticizing, I think, how much I liked the actual movie when I mostly just really, really liked the concept and execution of it.
21. FROST/NIXON (2008) Imagine if this happened today. It’d be like if Graham Norton ditched the boozy, late-night British talk show, came stateside to interview The Donald about Russia/Comey/etc as the biggest TV event of the decade – and interviewed The Groper In Chief for an hour! Each week! For a month! Graham Norton!
20. SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003) When I saw this with my mom in 2003 (fairly late on a school night for a 12-year-old), I was essentially the same age as the kids in Mr. ShneebLAY’s class. It felt like I was right there with them in the band. It still does—emotionally, developmentally. Stick it to the man. (Linklater’s second movie on here. What a dude.)
19. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001) Definition of a cult classic.
18. THE BIG SHORT (2015) It’s easy to say bad things about Wall Street for causing the housing market collapse, but it’s hard to say anything bad about the movie. There’s Barefoot, Socially-Inept Savant Christian Bale. There’s Flustered Steve Carell. There’s the incredibly well-adapted script from Michael Lewis’ book with cutaways that break the fourth wall and explain Econ 101 to simpletons like me. There’s my future wife, Selena Gomez.
17. LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (2003) I’m not a fan of fantasy, violence, or even action, so this is a testament to how epic this movie is.
16. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) See #17 (re: violence)
15. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) See #16. Peak P.T. Anderson directing Peak Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t unlike Greg Popovich coaching Larry Bird in his prime. (I’ve polled three of the biggest movie buffs I know: one said this is his favorite movie of the 2000s; two said it was the best. So there you go.).
14. WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) A sweet rom-com disguised as a raunchy LOL fest.
13. WALL-E (2008) I like a few other Pixar movies more (keep reading), but the first half of WALL-E just kills me – the silence, the loneliness, the vastness, the quiet beauty in all the loud decay, the role of memory and our need to store sensorial and emotional memory as artifact. Leave it to Pixar to have a little, dweeby robot remind us what it means to be human.
12. BRIDESMAIDS (2011) My mom saw this in theaters with my two sisters and my now brother-in-law. She was laughing so loudly that Nick, apparently, slouched low enough in his seat that no one would see that he was with this crazy lady. I saw the movie later and had a similar reaction – as my mom.
11. THE HANGOVER (2009) I saw The Hangover three times in theatres in June 2009 alone and bought a poster for my dorm room that fall as a college freshman. I quickly learned that 92% of all freshmen dudes also did this. But I kept the poster on my wall because it’s The Hangover, damnit.
10. NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE (2004) This was the first movie I can remember that truly compelled me to be weird/myself. That’s gotta count for something. And I find it funnier now than I did in middle school when it came out.
9. IN BRUGES (2008) Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody, and Colin Farrell in the darkest of dark comedies? Sign me up.
8. MOONLIGHT (2016) My dental hygienist recently asked me for movie recommendations—while her hands were in my mouth. I spat out some gunk and said Moonlight. She said she’d seen it. Thought it “wasn’t very interesting.” That was the end of the conversation.
7. THE DEPARTED (2006) There are lots of bad Boston movies. This isn’t one of ‘em. It has one of the best casts of the century (name a better 1-2 punch than Jack-Leo), the best Boston accent by someone not from Boston (Leo), and the worst Boston accent by someone not from Boston (Vera Fermiga).
6. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012) Who’s choppin’ onions in here?
5. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) The feature-length movie equivalent of my average dream: wandering restlessly in a foreign place, meeting randos, and talking to creative heroes.
4. HOT ROD (2007) Hot Rod is objectively a very average and dumb movie (40% on Rotten Tomatoes; although, Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars!). But it’s mostly a spiritual beacon for weirdos and goofballs, pranksters and dweeby outcasts, Jackass-imitators and 20something shenanigangsters still living at home. It’s about suburbia and the mundane and our inner Evil Knievel that’s ready to bust out. I have it on my computer and watch a couple scenes of it every few weeks.
3. INSIDE OUT (2015) The last three times I’ve cried watching a TV show or movie: Inside Out in theaters, June 2015, and the two times in the last month I’ve re-watched Michael Scott’s last day at Dunder Mifflin . My current Pixar Rankings: 1A. Toy Story 1B. Inside Out 3. The first half of Wall-E 4. The first and third acts of Up 5. Toy Story 3
2. OCEAN’S 11 (Or its original title, Brad Pitt Eats Snacks To Cool Elevator Music For Two Hours) (2001) The perfect ensemble. It’s listed as a crime film/thriller, but it’s too light and weird to be a pure thriller and too goofy to be a pure crime film. It’s timeless and defies genre. Clooney and his 10 pals are just the coolest—even the ones who aren’t cool.
1. MONEYBALL (2011) Moneyball was my Harry Potter. It felt sacrilegious at the time to turn my favorite book into a movie. I refused to see it theaters. Eventually, I sat down in my room with a stiff drink and begrudgingly pressed play. I didn’t want to like it. And somehow, it was and is all I really want in a movie: a docu-drama with a big heart and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. It’s not a sports movie as much as it’s a movie about nonconformity, conviction, and finding diamonds in the rough.
Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective. —Mary Oliver