Edgar's Top Twenty-five(ish) Movies
These are some of my all time Faves! It was hard narrowing it down to these titles and I admit there are movies out there that are "better" in terms of quality, story, or character. That being said, these were chosen because I simply enjoy watching them the most. From emotional reactions to awe-inspiring action sequences, these are the movies I find myself watching most frequently! If you have an opinion on these, feel free to add it! I love talking about these films and I'd love to hear about your faves as well.
Dramedy / Adventure:
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
This is the first movie my wife and I saw together, so I’ve decided to make it the movie I’ll use to kick off this list. We met May 13th, 2017 after talking on Tan Tan (China’s version of Tinder) for a while. We wanted something chill because we’d really enjoyed talking to each other, so for our first date, we ended up just watching this movie and ordering take out. It was amazing. She’d never seen it and, like I had three years prior, fell in love instantly. Everyone who enjoys movies knows that Wes Anderson is the master of all things “aesthetic”. The proprietor of pleasant, the virtuoso of visuals, the sovereign suzerain of seductive set structure. But in this movie he outdid himself. It’s beautiful from the first shot to the last and this only serves to amplify the emotional ride the viewer takes. I could write pages on the characters alone. From the love-able Zero and his fierce loyalty for those he loves to the over-the-top hotel concierge, Gustave, this fascinating story is full of laughs, tears, and all the vast emotional arrays between.
Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings (2001,2002, 2003)
Okay, so it may be considered cheating but I’m using the entire trilogy instead of just picking one. They tell one continuous story, though, so I feel like I can get away with it. These movies came out each Christmas during my freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school. From my first time to watch “The Fellowship of the Ring” I instantly fell in love. For me, there’s never been a more immersive experience in movie form than these three. From the wide range of characters (Where my Samwise fans at?) to the stunning action scenes to the understated-yet-powerful love story between Aragorn and Arwen these movies are complete. The perfect amount of attention is paid to each plot point and, in my opinion, the pacing couldn’t be better. This is the masterpiece of all trilogies.
Suspense: Gone Girl (2014)
(Get ready for a lot of 2014)
This movie kept me on the edge of my seat. From trying to find out who killed Amy to the realization that no one had, I was constantly guessing and second guessing where the story would go next. Not only did David Fincher nail the structure and pace (he always does, right?) but the casting was phenomenal. Rosamund Pike was impeccable and whatever emotion she wanted to project always captivated me. Ben Affleck straddled the line of innocent-yet-guilty in such a way that I was constantly shifting from disliking him to feeling sorry for him. Missi Pyle (one of the great underrated actresses of our time) brings her usual scene-stealing presence and, to top it all off, Neil Patrick Harris. I’ve never disliked anything of his (Dr. Horrible, anyone?). Seriously, he could be cast as little orphan Annie and I’d approve of the casting choice. “Gone Girl” is an instant classic and came out in a true golden year for cinema.
Sci-Fi: Arrival (2016)
This was my favorite movie of 2016. I’m usually drawn to character over story, but this plot was so compelling I had to force myself to blink. I didn’t want to miss a second of this story and, as it unfolded, I only became more engaged. So frequently movies start with an incredible hook only to leave the viewer with questions and disappointment. This was not one of those movies. It has one of the most satisfying endings to me. It doesn’t try to go beyond its own scope, nor does it sacrifice logic for grandeur. Instead, it ends naturally and in a way that makes subsequent views a deeper experience for the audience.
Christmas: A Christmas Story (1983)
I don’t really like most holiday-themed movies (except Halloween-themed), but this one is special. Ralphie is a young boy that wants a Red Ryder BB gun. That’s all. This movie (and its cult following) are evidence that not every story needs some outlandish desire line. Instead, sometimes the biggest emotional arc the viewer can ride is the thought that a little boy doesn’t get the gift he so desperately wants for Christmas… only to join his elation as its discovered he does, in fact, get that gift. This movie places such a value on family while never succumbing to the pitfall of making them perfect (except for maybe the mother, who is possibly the most fun-to-watch mother character from any movie of all time). The father is quick to anger—which is a trope—but he never directs that anger at his family. The younger brother is annoying, but he’s also the one who runs home to get their mother when Ralphie gets in a fight. And the mother… she is intelligent, kind, and gives me the strongest mixture of second-hand embarrassment and hilarity as she uses her hair to hide her face while her husband and their neighbors stand outside gawking at the leg lamp. It’s a beautiful story and I grew up watching it every year and I now watch it every year with Pengyun. Also, extra fun fact: my own mother won a replica of the leg lamp in a raffle while working with my hometown’s community playhouse production of “A Christmas Story” and one day… it’ll be mine. And I’ll display it prominently. And maybe, just maybe, Pengyun will use her hair to hide her face from me and our gawking neighbors. One can only dream.
The Watchmen (2009)
Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)
I’m cheating again, I know. I chose two for the same category, but I was just unable to narrow it down further. “The Watchmen” was such a fantastic film. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it but, after reading the graphic novel of the same name (thanks for letting me borrow it, John Raymond!) and rewatching it, I truly fell in love. The characters, the conflicting views, the juxtaposition of power and fear and money and morality. It’s perfect. Also, special shoutout to the casting. Every actor in that movie embodied their character in a powerful way.
What is there to say about “The Dark Knight” that hasn’t already been said a million times, though? It’s a structural masterpiece (As Nolan’s movies all are). It has one of the greatest villains of all time and Ledger’s chemistry with Bale is so transcendent that I feel like the two often attacked and saved cities together in their down time. It’s wonderful and if you’re ever bored, youtube some videos on it. I especially recommend one by “Just Write” on “Batman Begins”. If you’re an aspiring writer and haven’t read John Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story”, I encourage you to check it out. “Just Write” has an incredible video on Truby’s four corner opposition and how it’s played out in “Batman Begins”.
Tarantino: Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Quentin Tarantino has such a style to his films that they’ve become a genre in their own right. How often have you been asked, “What’s your favorite Tarantino movie?” If you’re like me, you’ve been asked enough times to have an answer at the ready. For me, it’s hands-down “Inglorious Basterds”. From the opening scene (in my opinion, one of the greatest in the history of cinema) the viewer is introduced the antagonist. I would be hard pressed to find an antagonist from any movie, show, or book that is more sinister, more capable, more charismatic than Hans Landa. Everything about him exudes confidence and power. From his mannerisms, to his control of language (and control of so many of them), to his wild outbreaks of laughter (when learning how Bridget von Hammersmark injured her leg and his subsequent strangling of her, Hans Landa is actually terrifying. He alone makes this a great film, but when Christoph Waltz’s talents are added to those of Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruh, Diane Kruger, and Eli Roth you get an unforgettable movie.
Horror: Oculus (2013)
Mike Flanagan is THE name in horror. My favorite horror anything (regardless of movie, show, or book) is his Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House”. But as this is limited to film, I couldn’t write about that one (though I will in my top TV shows list). This movie has what I think most horror movies lack: characters that are likeable, relatable, and understandable. I found myself rooting for them in this story instead of just waiting for them to either defeat the antagonist or die. Karen Gillan is perfect in the role of the older sister who correctly believes a mirror was responsible for killing their parents. Also, her fearlessness was a breath of fresh air. Instead of spending the movie trying to get away from the monster, she’s spent her entire life trying to get revenge on it. That’s badass and I hope more horror writers out there take notice.
Non-musical Music Drama: Whiplash (2014)
Yet another 2014 film, this movie demonstrates how powerful it can be for an antagonist and a protagonist to have the same goal while also keeping them constantly at each others’ throats. J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher, the perfectionist conductor of the studio band at Shaffer Conservatory, is relentless is his approach to music. Over the course of the movie his methods are condemned but also shown to be effective—with the right student. At its core it’s a story of obsession. Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller—which would’ve also been an amazing name for a musician, by the way) sacrifices everything to become a great drummer. From relationships with family to losing his girlfriend, to ending the movie with no friends in sight, he accomplishes his goal of breaking through that artistic wall. The line of madness is crossed with nothing by painful loss, but Andrew’s smile at the end lets the viewer know he believes it was worth it.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I put three here because musicals vary widely in nature. The first one, “The Greatest Showman” honestly doesn’t have a very compelling story but man… it launches banger after banger at the viewer. I absolutely love this score and sing along every time I watch it (unless I’m watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it before). The second one, “Sweeny Todd”, is an odd comfort movie for me. I have no idea why, but I just relax while watching it. It’s such a heart breaking story with incredibly moving music and it’s among my most-watched musicals. The third, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is one of my most recent adds to this list (major thanks to my friend Valon Mustafa, also known as the Titanian Albanian—he isn’t really called that). Valon chose this for a movie one night and I was floored. I found myself hoping for a Broadway adaptation and if the day ever comes I get one… he and I are flying to New York for the premier. Seriously, if you’ve never seen this movie, check it out.
Documentary: American Movie (1999)
Another friend recommendation, this one comes from Emberley Neidhardt and, honestly, I could do an entire list of my favorite movies that she’s exposed me to. Also, she and I could put our heads together for the ultimate Nicholas Cage marathon. She’s a master at pacing movies and always has the right order for a viewing party. But on the topic of “American Movie”, we both love it so much that it’s our Thanksgiving/Christmas movie that we watch together every year.
For those who don’t know, “American Movie” follows Mark Borchardt as he struggles to put together a short film entitled, “Coven” (which shouldn’t rhyme with oven) in order to finance a much larger movie called, “Northwestern”. Together, he and his wildly talented best friend, Mike Schank, make one of the best onscreen duos in film. If you watch this based on my recommendation, you have to do what Emberley and I do. Anytime Mike comes on screen you have to yell his name, “Mike Schank!” and take a drink. Seriously, he’s that awesome.
Dark Dramedy: American Beauty (1999)
Another title from the year 1999 and with the word “American” in it. This film is damn near perfect. The pacing, the style, the weird-but-real dialogue. It’s phenomenal and I only now realize I haven’t seen it in years. I’ll have to rewatch it again soon. Lester’s revelation about the beauty of life is one of the most well-delivered themes in modern cinema.
Pineapple Express (2008)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
What a year for comedies! These two classics are fantastic, in my opinion. Endlessly quotable and excellent back-pocket recommendations on a night with friends and nothing to do. Both take simple, real-life premises and then transform them into larger-than-life plots. The latter of these two also has the most hilarious and confusion-sparking openers in the history of comedy. “Tropic Thunder” begins with an absolutely brilliant idea for introducing these four actors that serve as tongue-in-cheek Hollywood tropes. Also, "Tropic Thunder" has the funniest Chinese bit I've ever seen. Robert Downey's "Mandarin improvisation" has me and Pengyun in stitches every time and we often use his version of Chinese around the house.
Foreign: The Secret in their Eyes (2009) [Argentina]
I saw this movie in Bogota, Colombia. I took a semester off my master’s degree and decided to backpack through a few countries in South America and I met a man that worked at one of the hostels. He taught me how to salsa dance and introduced me to this movie. His name is Fredy and if you’re going through Colombia, let me know. I can get you in touch with him. He is an absolute legend and gave me tons of advice on places to go while in Bogota. It was because of him that I extended my stay in that city by like ten days. He was the man.
“The Secret in their Eyes” was remade but I never saw the American remake. To me, it was a perfect movie. I didn’t need a remake and if anyone reading this hasn’t seen the original, or hasn’t seen either, do yourself a favor and check out the Argentinian one. You won’t be disappointed.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Much like Tarantino is to writer/directors, “Star Wars” is to franchises. There is something so special about that opening blast of John William’s iconic theme that accompanies the equally iconic slow crawl of written exposition. As such, I felt it fitting to comment on my favorite of all the movies. Perhaps an unpopular opinion to go against “The Empire Strikes Back”, but for me, I’ll always love “A New Hope” more. It’s nostalgic for me. Growing up over a decade after the movie’s release I was still able to get caught up in the magic of the force. Its blending of science fiction and fantasy makes this franchise something special and I’ll always treasure these movies.
Special Mention: Willow (1988)
Speaking of movies from my childhood, when I was a little boy I got terrible, terrible ear aches. My mom gave me medicine for them but I would still cry and scream. The only remedy that could take my mind off of my own discomfort was watching this movie. To this day it’s my favorite Warwick Davis film (though I love him in everything else, and it makes me infinitely happy that he is always involved with Star Wars) as well as my favorite Val Kilmer film. I hear it’s being remade into a series and Mr. Davis will be involved. If so, I’ll be ready for each episode every week with popcorn in hand.
War: We Were Soldiers (2002)
One thing most modern war movies can capture is the pure chaos of battle. But “We Were Soldiers” captures something else. Aside from “Band of Brothers” I’ve never encountered a war story where I felt like I really knew the characters, but in this film I really cared about who they were as people. There’s something special about that.
Satire: Starship Troopers (1997)
A war movie of sorts, “Starship Troopers” shows the ridiculousness of war as well as the dangers of fascism and militarism. Such a fun cast of lovable characters that I couldn’t help but root for the whole way through. Also, Neil Patrick Harris. Enough said. Be careful, however, of the novel it’s based on. The story is similar but the tone and theme are radically different.
Classic: Casablanca (1942)
What a way to end a list, huh? I suppose if I didn’t end on this one, it’d have to be on “Citizen Kane”. Too bad I’ve never seen it.
Anyway, I watched this movie with my grandmother four times when she lived with my family and I. I’ll never forget it. We ordered pizza every time. Domino’s. I got a large pepperoni with black olives, she got a medium supreme, and we split bread sticks. During the first watch she commented about how beautiful Ingrid Bergman was and how smooth Sam the piano player was. When the scene ended she said, “oh, I just love that scene”. And so that became our tradition. The following three times we watched that movie, we would say it together. “Man, that’s such a great scene,” I’d say, to which she’d replied, “ohhh I know it. I was just about to say that.” My grandmother was a complicated woman… but there was a beautiful simplicity to her love for that movie.
I may expand this list one day. If I do, these are some of the movies I’d be likely to add (though it should be noted… I like a crazy amount of movies):
Children of Men (2006)
Jurassic Park (1993)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Princess Bride (1987—it came out the same year I did!)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)