My 100 Favorite Films: 100–91
This is an ongoing piece where I rank my 100 favorite films of all time.
Welcome to the on-going countdown of my 100 favorite films! Without further ado and fanfare, let us get right to the list…
100. Il Posto (1961)
This Italian Neo-realism film tackles issues many post-college graduates experience in today’s world: finding the balance between stability and enjoying what life offers.
Il Posto, directed by Ermanno Olmi, is darkly direct and superbly satirical. When Domenico, played by Sandro Panseri, joins the Italian workforce in the earl 1960s, he is stuck with banal work but stable pay. Through the early stages of his “corporate” job, he meets Antonietta, played by Loredana Detto, and the two hit it off. Domenico sees hope through the sludge of work life. But, Antonietta stands him up during a party; the hope shatters. Domenico battles internally for a balance between self-happiness and physical happiness (aka money).
The “neo-realism” films of Italy are among my favorite type of films. They capture the essence of their time with incredible realism, something the “mumblecore” films do this for this generation. The clash of pre-World War II and post-World War II cultures provide incredible insight of a post-World War II Europe.
In Il Posto, a young Domenico tries to earn his money for his family — a facet of life stemming from a pre-World War II world. He does so in a modern, industrial city of Milan. The culture clash from a coming-of-age perspective works on many levels. The strengths of Il Posto come from starkly told messages on culture and universal theme of survival.
99. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Yes, silent films count. Carl Theodor Dreyer is a master filmmaker. Noted for silent films, his best (and my favorite) is a re-telling of Joan of Arc’s, the French heroine, trial and execution. The film seems like a chore to sit through, but the power behind its images and performances are incredible, easily uplifting this movie to its classic status.
Dreyer researched Joan of Arc for a year and a half, and the script is based actual court transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial. Along with Dreyer’s research, the director chose to shoot predominantly in close-up and without the actors wearing make-up. He wanted the actor’s expressions to tell the story. Along with Rudolph Mate’s cinematography, the result is unforgettable.
Though Dreyer is a master at work, the lasting take-away from Passion is Renee Jeanne Falconetti’s performance as Joan of Arc. Highly considered one of film’s best ever performances, Falconetti simply is Joan of Arc. Her performance is heartbreaking and simply magnificent. Rumors swirl that her performance stems from on-set cruelty by Dreyer. Nothing has even been proven; however, it is known that Falconetti and Dreyer would discuss scenes and, by the end of the film, she knew how Dreyer would like scenes shot. She knew so well, Falconetti would not even rehearse.
98. Pitch Perfect (2012)
The guilty-ess of pleasures, if you’re one to believe guilty pleasures exist.
I am a sucker for good music and hearty laughs. Pitch Perfect delivers on all accounts. The film stars a host of talent: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp — along with a host of others. It details the plight of Beca Mitchell (Kendrick) as she tries to survive freshman year of college. The story follows the similar beats of every college coming-of-age film, but Pitch Perfect excels at making the humor funny and the music melodic. (This is the film where that cup song originated!)
The biggest takeaway from Pitch Perfect is the music. I have always enjoyed a cappella tunes, and, when mixed in with knowable pop songs, the music is addicting. Kendrick and the cast round out the film with likable performances. If you enjoy the tunes, you will enjoy the film. If not, Pitch Perfect probably is not your cup of tea.
97. Unbreakable (2000)
Unbreakable is the super-hero film that is not really a super-hero film, yet is still considered a super-hero film.
The film is M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense, and, in my opinion, his best work. The film follows David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) after his near-death experience during a train accident. Through the help of an art gallery owner (Samuel L. Jackson), Dunn realizes he has superpowers. The film digs deeper with Dunn realizing and adapting to his new skill set.
Shyamalan follows a typical three-act structure one finds in many comic books — an origin story, struggles with normal evil-doers and a final battle between an “archenemy”. That structure glues the film to the world of comic books. Unbreakable is the “realistic” super-hero movie, but without the hero dressing up in something ridiculous. It is a film filled with plainness and run-of-the-mill community characters, yet possesses an air of mysticism behind that plain facade. Both leads deliver superior performances.
The film also has a badass soundtrack.
96. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
One of the first DVDs I owned, The Day After Tomorrow is my high point when it comes to disaster movies. Nothing tops it. Stacked with acting talent — Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum and Sela Ward — the film depicts the changing of weather patterns, bringing on an almost end-of-the-world scenario.
As a teenager, the film is packed with humongous what ifs: tornadoes in major cities, deathly freezing temperatures, ocean levels destroying everything in its way. What would I do? Films that present situations where answering that question makes for good conversation and become easily re-watchable. It helps that the film is stacked with characters, giving the viewer different point of views to invest in: the parents, the scientists, the students.
There is nothing better then enjoying this winter with more snow and ice to help envision the film’s horrifying developments.
95. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
With musicals, the film lives or dies by the music. In terms of plot and characters, Fiddler on the Roof is a slow-burner. It is the music, along with the memorable lead performances, that help carry the film onto this list. Based on the Broadway show, the film centers around a Jewish community in Russia, as change is in the air. The characters battle between their changing world and Russia’s growth as a world player — and what that means for the Jewish communities in Russia.
I was teetering with Fiddler because it is close to three hours. I can see myself recommending the clips of the songs on YouTube, rather than watching the film fully. But, then the songs lose their charm and context. One needs to see the film to grasp the character complexities and incredible social commentary. Topol is sensational as Reb Tevye, the film’s main character. The music is performed superbly. Plus, Fiddler on the Roof gives me one of my favorite film quotes of all time: “We’ll be neighbors”.
It is the perfect -20 degree type of movie: stay inside and watch this epic.
94. The Big Short (2014)
I still do not fully understand what goes on in The Big Short, but I know the film is entertaining as hell. I saw this film in theaters with zero expectations and left knowing this was my favorite film of the year. Directed by Adam McKay, The Big Short boasts an incredible cast (see a theme): Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, plus cameos from Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. WOW!
Basically, the film details the situations that surrounded 2007–2008 financial crisis, due, in part, because of the housing bubble. It’s a scary topic, and the film does an entertaining job trying to explain and humanize a dry subject. The performances are stand-out, especially Carrell’s and Bale’s.
McKay co-wrote the script with Charles Randolph, and the duo work in cameos and breaking of the fourth wall to connect with audiences. It’s a clever that idea that mostly worked. Sometimes the film goes too goofy, but I appreciate the effort being put into an area lots of people hardly understand. The humor is quick, witty and aids us in connecting with the host of characters that make up the film.
93. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
La La Land fans, listen up!
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy, is a musical that contains little dialogue. Every word is sung. That should not scare you away. The beautiful compositions, impeccable directing and lush locations make Cherbourg a musical worth checking out. The film played a critical role in the mind of La La Land’s director Damian Chazelle, who drew inspiration from Cherbourg for his own musical film.
The story is simple enough — a love story in France — and the music sets the right mood. It’s a quick, satisfying watch that any film fan should check out. I did go more in-depth in an earlier review.
92. Claire’s Knee (1970)
Part of the Six Moral Tales from the mind of Eric Rohmer, Claire’s Knee caught me by surprise. The story takes place in one month on a beautiful lake side property in France. Jerome (played by Jean-Claude Brialy) is on vacation and meets an old personal friend. Through the connection, Jerome meets Laura, a teenage girl (played by Beatrice Romand) who develops a crush on him. When Laura’s sister visits — Claire (played by Laurence de Monaghan) — a internal battle of desire is played out.
Claire’s Knee is philosophical. It asks the viewer questions that puzzle and fascinate. The film presents situations that shatter the comfort of the viewer, while depicting these situations with gorgeous landscapes and direction. Rohmer, whose film canon include My Night at Maud’s and The Green Ray, is a master at work. He creates a film that challenges, excites, pushes the boundaries.
91. The Lady Eve (1941)
A screwball comedy featuring two Hollywood legends? Sign me up!
The Lady Eve, written and directed by Preston Sturges, stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in a tale of love. Stanwyck and Fonda come from completely different backgrounds, yet meet on a ocean liner. Upon meeting, the two fall in love and learn to deal with the ebb and flow of being in a relationship.
The film is a pretty cut and dry screwball comedy. There’s laughs at character’s expense and schmaltzy dialogue. But the greatness comes from the chemistry between Stanwyck (my second favorite Stanwyck role) and Fonda. It’s so enjoyable to watch the back and forth dialogue between the two leads. Both know their roles and, seemingly, have fun with one another. It is absolutely crazy to think Stanwyck nor Fonda were intended originally for the roles. They complement each other so well.
I reviewed this film in greater detail.