My 100 Favorite Films: 1975-Present

Part Two of A Fresh Look at My Favorite Films

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

There is not much more to be said about any Monty Python vehicle, especially Holy Grail, but I will just echo most sentiments that this film is among the funniest and most quotable of their exploits. It did take two viewings, however. Watching this a first I was lost on the humor the film conveys, but the silliness absolutely grew as it became more re-watchable. The skits and randomness of England’s most famous comedy troupe blends to perfection in this re-telling of the King Arthur legend. My favorite comedic moment?

Suspiria (1977)

Perhaps the best use of color ever? The film pops and the soundtrack by Goblin will leave you with a chill down your spine. I checked this out after hearing director John Carpenter rave about it in an interview about great horror films. Violent, mysterious and gory, Suspiria is pretty much everything one would want in a horror film. Luckily, I also had a chance to see the film in a theater with a horror-loving crowd. It was an amazing viewing experience. (Shout-out Salem, Massachusetts!).

A Special Day (1977)

I have mentioned I enjoy films that allow actors to chew it up and, you know, act. A Special Day is another great example of two great actors absolutely delivering tour-de-force performances. Set on the Adolf Hitler visits Benito Mussolini in Italy, the film follows two people — Antonietta and Gabriele — as they stay behind at an apartment complex during the dictators’ public ceremony. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play the two who stay behind, unraveling conversations about gender roles and the treatment of homosexuals under the rule of fascism. The two are jaw-dropping tremendous. Quiet, yet strong, we see the wear-and-tear living in fascist Italy has done to each — but also the importance of having an ally. The two grow an “inner resistance” to fascism, due to their conversations and better understanding of one another. A Special Day is a special film showcasing the good we can be when we empathize and try to understand one another in this world.

Halloween (1978)

Before even watching, Halloween was iconic in our household. My mom, a big fan of the holiday, went to see this as a teenager in theater. Thinking it was a film about the holiday, she was surprised — and horrified— that Halloween was a bona fide horror film. Plus, she had to babysit that night. Hearing that story as kid, I jumped at the chance to watch this for the first time.

Michael Myers watches on.

Amadeus (1984)

In the most obnoxious way possible: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Mozart conducts.

Stand and Deliver (1988)

Shout-out to all teachers! Thanks to my mom, a teacher, I watched this per her recommendation. After seeing this for the first time, I understood why she would show the film to her classes. I wonder if she still does. Starring Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Philips, Rosanna DeSoto and Andy Garcia, Stand and Deliver follows a class in East Los Angeles transform from a group of delinquents to passing the AP Calculus exam. The story is based on a true story of the life of teacher Jaime Escalante (portrayed by James Olmos).

Don’t mess with the math version of the “finger man”!

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Pedro Almodóvar’s break-out film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is stylish, colorful and insanely fun. The humor and absurdity is on full display, anchored by performances from Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano and María Barranco. Almodóvar’s tale of a woman going through personal hardships is the right amount of emotional and crazy. Mix in his uniquely surreal vision for everything and anything colorful with a smart sense of pop culture, Breakdown was such a mind-blowing experience watching for the first time. The blending of cultures comes easy with Almodóvar and shows that the world — especially in 1988 — just grows closer in each passing year.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Tons of people point to Robin Williams’ dramatic performance in Good Will Hunting as the cream of the crop of Williams’ dramatic acting. (He did win the Oscar). But, for me, Dead Poets Society is king. The film has what every teenager craves: students sticking it to authority. Dead Poets Society is beautiful, and tragic, coming of age story, where the beauty of literature, romance and everything in-between is taught by an incoming teacher played by Robin Williams. The class goes against the grain of what the school deems appropriate, and the students form a secret club to pursue their creative endeavors.

Glory (1989)

In Glory, one of the war’s greatest and saddest stories is re-told with awesome power. The story of the 54th Massachusetts (a Union army infantry regiment) is as powerful as history gets. The regiment was the first all black regiment in the United States; its most celebrated service came in the Second Battle of Fort Wagner.

Europa Europa (1990)

Agnieszka Holland’s choice of incorporating black comedy in a film about the Holocaust is bold and pays off tremendously. This is not a funny film, per se, but the moments of levity in Europa Europa gives the viewer a chance to recognize how absurd and evil the Nazis were. Following the story of Perel (played by Marco Hofschneider), we follow him surviving by any means necessary during World War II. Holland gives the viewer multiple perspectives — the Jewish, the Polish, the Soviets, the Germans — while remaining firm on the belief that the was equally absurd as it was tragic.

Candyman (1992)

Chicagoan bias here, Candyman rules and is among the best Chicago films to date. (I even enjoyed the Nia DaCosta sequel!). Directed by Bernard Rose and based on a Clive Barker story, the film follows the state of urban legends and racial divisions in a 1990s Chicago. Candyman is creepy and offers more than gore — though there is plenty of that. The film has an obvious message of bringing the conversations of race in the United States to the forefront of the societal conversation. Before you get hot-and-bothered about politics clouding your thoughts about a film, the politics are discussed in a smart and interesting way. By using folklore as the kindling to this fire, there is a common ground between backgrounds and a connection can be established.

Of Mice and Men (1992)

The 1992 version of Of Mice and Men is not as iconic as some of the previously mentioned films, but the book is one of my favorites. Directed and starring Gary Sinise and written by Horton Foote (the man behind the screenplay of To Kill A Mockingbird), the film is based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Michael Mann’s best work (take that Heat!) is one of the best North American stories. This adaption of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans is a beautiful, epic tale that represents everything great and horrific about the American experiment. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis (already off to a great start), Madeline Stowe and Wes Studi. The film blends cultures together that tell a foundational story of the United States. Hawkeye (Day-Lewis) is a white man raised by the Mohican tribe; the film interestingly comments on racial identity in colonial North America.

One of the greatest shots in film history — go ahead and @ me!

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

From the mind of Krzysztof Kieslowski, the Three Colors trilogy contain three films loosely based on the ideals of the French flag: liberty, equality and fraternity. Blue, the first of the trilogy, is my favorite.

Schindler’s List (1993)

My favorite of the cannon that comes from Steven Spielberg, I wrote about why Schlinder’s List is much more than another World War II film.

Philadelphia (1993)

Tom Hanks owned the 1990s; his run of films during the decade is among the best we have ever seen in acting history. One of his best is Philadelphia, where he plays a man fired for contracting AIDS. The film is noted for bringing homosexuality — and the horrors that is homophobia — to a mainstream audience. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the cast includes Hanks, Denzel Washington and Antonio Banderas.

The lesion scene remains a powerful moment to this day

Tombstone (1993)

Tombstone is not the greatest western, but it is my most re-watched western. The story of the Earp gang coupled with some outstanding and memorable performances propel the film into the top 20, for me. In terms of the Old West, there is no place more iconic than Tombstone, Arizona. The recklessness, yet entertaining stories to come from such a place make it a perfect spot for a film. When focused in on the Earp gang, and the filmmakers (I add the plural because of juicy behind scenes drama of who really directed this film) can bring actual history the film, the story becomes a fun blend of myth and history.

Through the Olive Trees (1994)

No one has captured the wide breadth of what filmmaking means that Abbas Kiarostami. From the experimental, avant-garde to deeply personal narrative film, with each new venture Kiarostami smashes the conventions of how we understand and watch film. Through the Olive Trees is the last of his “Koker trilogy”, and follows a film crew making a film — that features characters and plot points from the two previous films of the trilogy: Where Is the Friend’s Home? and And Life Goes On…. It is this third film that ties everything together in a naturalistic and meaningful way. Because of the complexities of the story and filmmaking techniques, it really is hard to describe the sensation of piecing together the messages Kiarostami delivers. Lessons on love, life and the incredible work goes behind creating art to portray such messages is all on display. Kiarostami’s humanistic approach to filmmaking blends what is real and what is fake, leaving the viewer agape to the story that unfolds.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I am really not breaking any new ground here including The Shawshank Redemption in this list. But, I am not here to be creative or cute; these are my hundred favorite films. I take this seriously. The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite film ever made. The film, based on a Stephen King novella, has a beautiful arching story, where the character’s actions and words have satisfying or heartbreaking consequences. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman have tremendous chemistry together and give the performances of a lifetime — especially Freeman who narrates the story. Director Frank Darabont captures the tone of each passing era with skill and creates absolutely iconic moments: the roof-top scene, Robbins’ escape, the opera scene.

Clerks (1994)

I heard recently (I have forgotten where!) that Clerks invented podcasting, which is the best way to describe Kevin Smith’s film. It is about friendships, working and shooting-the-shit with said friends and co-workers. What works about Clerks is the humor is funny and relatable. Tons of people can relate to high school or college jobs where it felt more like hanging out then actual work. The job may have been demeaning to your skillset, but the friends at work made the day go by quicker and with more enjoyment. Smith also captures how this generation thought and talked: pop-culture references galore peppered in with curse words.

The blending of friendships while working is something I truly appreciate

Before Sunrise (1995)

Sometimes when we watch movies, our minds drift and we find ourselves dreaming. Usually this happens when the movie is boring, but it is best when we find ourselves dreaming of being in the movie itself. When I watched Before Sunrise for the first time, this is exactly what happened: I wanted to be in this movie.

Apollo 13 (1995)

For awhile, Apollo 13 was my clear number one. The film was a childhood favorite, as space was a huge interest of mine. I remember watching and playing along — manning a make-believe shuttle just as Tom Hanks and his crew were manning one in the film. When Apollo 13 was over, I read about the actual missions — as well other NASA missions. It captured my imagination.

An incredible, heart-racing 7 minutes of film-making

Gattaca (1997)

My favorite author of all time is Ray Bradbury and, when I first saw Gattaca, I instantly fell in love: this is Ray Bradbury come to life. Taking place in the “not so distant future”, Gattaca is about a man who dreams of flying in space — but can not because of genetics. In this world, your death age, sickness and any other genetic information is revealed at birth. Eugenics are everything. As much as the film is about the science, Gattaca is also about beating the system and not lying low when one dreams of achieving their goals.

Smoke Signals (1998)

During my undergrad college experience, I took a course on the history of the American West. It was in that class in which I was introduced to Smoke Signals, which made the class worth taking. There should be more films like Smoke Signals. At its core, the film represents everything important about the medium: focusing and sharing different point of views and cultures. Smoke Signals is a product of an all-Native American production. Written by Sherman Alexie (based off his short story) and directed by Chris Eyre, Smoke Signals is a look inside the Native American experience as it exists in contemporary life (well, the late 90s) and how its existed throughout history.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Memorable cinematic moments pave the way for creating a classic film, and Steven Spielberg’s films usually have those iconic moments. Saving Private Ryan is no exception. The team of Spielberg and Hanks is a tandem not to be messed with, coupled with the fact this is a World War II film that was released at the height of “World War II nostalgia” — the late 1990's.

October Sky (1999)

Prodigious!

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream captures what it would be like to have a drug addiction. More often than not, the experience is a lonely, paranoid existence. A loaded cast — Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans— gives director Darren Aronofsky masterful performances. This is an unlikable world, but a powerful viewing experience. Films offer a chance for the viewer to enter worlds, and Requiem is engaging and powerful. The film exists as a surreal vision, asking the viewer to question reality vs fiction.

The Station Agent (2003)

A film about friendship and romance in a small American town — that is my kind of story! The film tells the story of Finbar (Peter Dinklage) as he seeks seclusion and inner peace at an abandoned train station in New Jersey. However, he soon befriends Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) and sees the importance of having people to care about.

Cold Mountain (2003)

A story and soundtrack that means a ton to me, Cold Mountain is an instant favorite of mine the moment the credits rolled at the end. The film checks off a lot of things that I consider for a film to be a classic: a great story and location, a great soundtrack (due in part because of the inclusion of Jack White, my favorite musician), the setting is during The Civil War (a favorite time period of mine to read about) and performances that stick with me.

Walk the Line (2005)

Of the last 20 years, Walk the Line is seemingly the go-to biopic for many. Who could blame the people that say so? The story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash comes vividly to life behind the master work of James Mangold and company. Being a huge fan of Johnny Cash helps, but Walk the Line is an amazing achievement in recent film-making.

The New World (2005)

The poetic films of Terrence Malick reaches a high point, in my opinion, with The New World. Chronicling the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent, the film depicts the lives of people many are familiar with: Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe. The film features the best of Malick’s trademark touches: letter reading, incredibly visuals and beautiful, emotional performances. Malick, who also wrote the film, is interested in the question of what is “the new world”? For the arriving Europeans, the livelihoods of the native tribes is new — as is the land. For the native population, the customs and language (and ultimately land when Pocahontas is brought to England) is equally as new. Watching these two cultures clash in a thoughtful manner brings a human perspective to a historic moment often relegated to the history books.

Director Chole Zhao talks about the influential powers of THE NEW WORLD

The Assassination of Jesse James… (2007)

Perhaps the greatest western to come out in the last 20 years is Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James (or you might know it from its full title: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). The film explores the life of famed outlaw Jesse James, while also including the story of the man who ended his life: Bob Ford. The film explores the American West and how its mythology is created and spreads.

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight was the first theater experience where I felt the “magic of the movies”. I went to the midnight showing on opening night, knowing nothing of the series or Batman. My friend simply invited me. Within the next 2.5 hours, I was transfixed with what I saw on-screen. Incredibly performances, stunning film-making and a stunning score.

About Elly (2009)

Asghar Farhadi makes incredible films. Case in point: About Elly. When a fellow classmate and friend goes missing in the Caspian Sea, a tale unravels that shines a light on the relationships this group have fostered over the years. More importantly, Farhadi comments on gender roles and humanity — especially in as it pertains to Iranian culture. Knowing too much might ruin the experience, so I am keeping this deliberately short, but About Elly is well worth your time. This film introduced me to Golshifteh Farahani, our point-of-view character, and her performance in About Elly is exceptional.

Sin Nombre (2009)

The first feature film of one of my favorite working directors is a contemporary masterpiece. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre was watched on a whim, maybe on Netflix or another streaming service. The film gripped me from shot one. Sin Nombre features the incredible story of a young woman immigrating from Honduras to the United States. Along the way, she meets challenges: gangs, distance and love. Sin Nombre is a unique take on the coming-of-age story, a story I am always interested in seeing. The performances Fukunaga gets from this unknown cast is eye-opening; the story of coming to the United States is dealt with incredible realism. There is no romanticized tale; the harsh truths of coming to the United States (the film is from 2009 and may be already dated with today’s politics) is ever clear.

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

My first Quentin Tarantino film on the big screen, Inglorious Basterds is about as fun as watching a film gets. Tarantino’s look into World War II is funny and brutally violent; the cast is tremendous; the writing is among the best I have watched; the moments are legendary. My view on Tarantino is hot and cold (Basterds and The Hateful Eight are successes while Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained were passes for me). Being my first Tarantino experience, this was my introduction into the crazy world of a Tarantino film. I loved all the musical irony, the historic dialogue and the memorable characters.

50/50 (2011)

A comedy that really should not be funny, 50/50 is a treat. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, the film chronicles a man’s downward spiral and understanding when he receives a cancer diagnosis. Through the help of his friend, strangers and therapist, the story balances positive beats with the dark world of an awful disease.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

I hated this book. Recommended to me in high school, I read it and came away bored. When the film was released, I made sure to it avoid at all costs. But, curiosity got the best of me. Thank the film gods for intervening. The coming-of-age story is done to near perfection, as it follows the lives of high school misfits coming together and learning about the importance of romance and friendship

Lincoln (2012)

A film about my favorite historical figure starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg — sign me the fuck up. The screenplay by Tony Kushner brilliantly zeroes in on Abraham Lincoln during the last days of his presidency, as he fights to pass the 13th Amendment. Day-Lewis is perfection as Lincoln and brings the 16th President to life unlike anytime before: reserved, humorous and thoughtful. Equally as great is Tommy Lee Jones as Senator Thaddeus Stevens, who gives the viewer a more brash version of the president. This film is also filled with incredible “OMG is that ____!?” moments, which makes for a fun viewing experience.

Short Term 12 (2013)

Films about relationships — whether romantic, friendly or with the people we encounter at work — can be incredibly interesting. These are feelings experienced by everyone and can connect easy with audiences. Short Term 12 tells the story of counselors and their relationship with the trouble teens they look over. But, it is also about a romantic relationship between Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr., the two leads in the film.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

A scene that will stay with me forever is a moment of the film when those enslaved stand around a make-shift cemetery and sing the spiritual Roll, Jordan, Roll. The scene is five shots and the bulk of the scene is centered around Chiwetel Ejiofor contemplating his enslavement, his family, life and death — one can not know for sure. But, the look of his face is of sorrow and pain. As those around him sing, Ejiofor looks as if he is fighting signing, as if doing so means giving up and accepting he is a slave (and not a captured free man that he knows he is). Halfway through, he accepts life in that moment and sings.

Boyhood (2014)

I am team Boyhood. Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the film is famous for being filmed during an 11 year span: from 2002 to 2013. It follows the lives of a family, centering around a boy and his experiences growing up. Boyhood stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke.

It Follows (2014)

David Robert Mitchell brought retro vibes back to a more main-stream horror film. Channeling the likes of John Carpenter, It Follows prides itself on not giving the viewer a whole lot of information, which makes the film a whole lot creepier. Set in suburbia, the film follows teens who a “followed” by an invisible entity, with no shyness of killing.

Mistress America (2015)

There is a 25 minute window in Mistress America were I laughed, cringed and was completely engrossed with what was happening on-screen. It is perhaps one of my favorite 25 minutes in any film. From the minds of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, also starring Lola Kirke, I can only refer to my long-form review of it: Mistress America is near perfect and incredibly entertaining.

Greta Gerwig’s “Why are you here?” is one of my favorite line readings

Me and Early and the Dying Girl (2015)

With lists as big as 100, themes start to form. If one would pool themes together with my film choices, one of the obvious ones would be coming-of-age films. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have seen. Based on a book (which is not very good), the film is an ode to film as much as it is a story about friends developing bonds.

Brooklyn (2015)

An effectively told coming-of-age story about a young women emigrating from Ireland to the United States in the 1950s. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn highlights the immigrant experience that often is told — white European — but peels away to an emotional level that often gets overlooked. Ronan’s character Éilis Lacey yearns for a life away from her home in Ireland, yet, once in the United States, is homesick and alone. Her emotions are quiet and reserved and the film explores her experiences in the United States with a similar reservation. The loneliness of the immigrant experience is on full display, a powerful perspective we today take for granted. Beautiful moments like when Éilis hears an Irish song is a brief moment when those homesick emotions are let out.

Spotlight (2015)

The best Boston film, maybe, ever. That is certainly worth a conversation. I love Spotlight. The story of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team as they uncover the truth behind the Catholic Church’s horrendous sexual abuse scandal. Directed by Tom McCarthy, featuring out-of-this-world performances by Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and John Slattery, Spotlight depicts the grueling job journalists have in uncovering, researching and writing a story — especially a story that will change the world they understand.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

After seeing a late night showing in theaters, I sat in my car in an empty, dark parking lot and could not believed what I had just watched. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the film stars Casey Affleck (Oscar winner for this role), Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler. The films follows Lee (Affleck) after his brother’s (Chandler) death, who leaves behind a son (Hedges).

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Hailee Steinfeld has had multiple career-defining roles. She was nominated for an Academy Award at age 14 for her role as Mattie Ross in the remake of True Grit; she has been featured in franchises such as Pitch Perfect and Transformers; she has starred and carried one of the best coming-of-age films in recent memory.

The Florida Project (2017)

Sean Baker beautifully blends professional actors (Willem Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones) with non-actors or first time actors (Brooklyn Prince and Bria Vinaite) to create a world that feels so lived-in. The story follows a mother (Vinaite) just trying to make ends meet as seen through the eyes of her daughter (Prince). Though perhaps unconventional in how this family lives, the duo immediately win you over. The performances, in the colorful Florida setting, are warm and personable (despite their language and appearance).

Dafoe gets rid of a pedophile

Lady Bird (2017)

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are perfection as a daughter and mother who do not agree on much. The struggle between Ronan wanting to be the individual and Metcalf over-protecting instincts sets up a family cold war that is far too relatable. The complexities of Lady Bird’s mother-daughter relationships are shown with brutal honesty. Writer-director Greta Gerwig excels at having constraint in her filmmaking style and letting her strength as a writer (and the strength of great performances) give the film its power.

Skate Kitchen (2018)

Another great coming-of-age told through the lens of some incredibly badass women. My post about why I love this film.

The Hate U Give (2018)

The sentence I wrote chronicling my best of the decade still holds true: “The Hate U Give is 133 minutes long, and I cried for 120 of them. I am not joking”. The best performance of 2018, and among the best of the decade, belongs to Amandla Stenberg as Starr in The Hate U Give. After the murder of her friend at the hands of a police officer, Stenberg’s character experiences an emotional and physical awakening to the world around her. She starts seeing the people in her life differently. Her growth of the character is evident, but her poise to convey such deep, dark emotions — yet somehow never really lose all her positivity — is astonishing (in the best possible way) to watch. To watch how Starr reacts and feels after witnessing one of the most horrifying events anyone could go through is eye-opening.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

The best looking film of the 2010’s. Céline Sciamma directed and Claire Mathon photographed a breath-taking work of art. There was a video series called “Every Frame a Painting” highlighting film-making — and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunning example of that title.

Midsommar (2019)

2019 — what a year.

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Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com

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Alex Bauer

Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com