Waaaay back in 2013 I did my list of favourite films. Well, I was 12 then and hadn’t seen as many films as I have now, and with my film studies course I have been checking out films I never thought I would see. My new found passion for films has opened my eyes to what truly makes a film great and why I personally love them so much. There’s some films on this new list that were there before, and some which weren’t, including number 1. I regret not being able to stick in my childhood movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, but there was just too much competition. Let’s dive right in with-
This is quite possibly the best paced film in the history of cinema. I’m not a massive horror fan, but combine the slasher genre with the sci-fi genre and you have a winning combination that appeals to me in every way. Everything about this film is masterfully done, with a slow build up that escalates into something utterly insane. The set design and production values are second to none, and this still looks amazing nearly forty years later. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I watched this, and I only saw it recently. I’m glad I did, as not only has it inspired my recent writings and ideas, but it prepared me for my current film studies unit, where Ridley Scott is one of the auteurs we are studying. He is a master of detail and visuals, and this film has some of the best production design and atmosphere I have ever seen. It’s such a stunning film on a purely visual level.
This is a rare film where everything clicks into place. The direction is outstanding, the use of silence is genius, the acting is genuine and believable (the chest-burster scene had real reactions from the cast, who did not know there would be that much blood) and the script is brilliant. On top of being a terrifying sci-fi/horror film, this film throws in social commentary through the android Ash, with the implication that the Company are willing to throw away human lives for the sake of studying the alien and that Ash is willing to do anything to achieve the Company’s goal. It’s subtle and not in your face, leaving the main story focused on the survivors battling an unknown, unstoppable force. The characters are not the most complex but they are relatable and human- Ripley is of course one of the greatest sci-fi heroes ever, female or otherwise. Every other scene tops the last one in intensity and drama and this is why I prefer Alien to basically every other horror film ever (barring John Carpenter films). Ridley Scott approaches jump scares and gore subtly and implies more than shows, barely showing the alien despite the brilliant costume. It’s directing choices like this that allow me to appreciate the film more than just a slasher/horror film, which I’m not a big fan of otherwise. In terms of atmosphere and sheer thrills, very little comes close to this film. I love Aliens (I haven’t seen the other films other than the first two, and I don’t think I’m missing much) and I love some of Ridley Scott’s other films (Blade Runner, Gladiator and The Martian come to mind) but this is his masterpiece. It’s a worthy addition to my favourite films list.
9. The World’s End
If there’s any filmmaker working today who is worthy of the title “film auteur”, it’s Edgar Wright. He is responsible for some of the best and funniest movies I have ever seen, with Baby Driver being one of my favourite films of last year. What I admire most about his films is how he makes movies that are simple and fun on a surface level, but very complex and thematic when you take a closer look at them. You can write whole essays on his films (I did) and in the conclusion to the superlative Three Cornettos Trilogy, Edgar Wright gave the world his absolute best, in my opinion. The World’s End is a perfect combination of laugh out loud comedy with very real and dramatic ideas and themes driving the narrative forward. It’s a film that stays with you long after you finish watching it and I can’t think of a more perfect end to the trilogy.
Let’s start with the ingenious premise. What if a British pub crawl by five friends became a fight for Earth? And what if the friends are too drunk to even notice until halfway through that their hometown has been taken over by robots-that-aren’t-robots/blanks/smashy smashy egg men? And what if the leader of the group is a man-child living in the past, only being able to gain fulfilment in life by completing the pub crawl he started at seventeen? Comedy gold and heavy introspection about personal fulfilment and nostalgia ensues. Everything about the script (written by Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg, who was snubbed for a Best Actor nomination that year) is top-notch. Gary King is a masterpiece of a character and commands the film from beginning to end. He is utterly reliant on nostalgia and the past, believing that the past is better than his life as an adult. In contrast to the rest of the characters, Gary hasn’t moved on, seeing The Golden Mile as the only way to progress. The alien invasion supplements this, as the aliens recreate the town’s past in their plan for domination, and it takes a character as over the top and counter-culture as Gary King to stop them. Even with all the complex themes, the movie is still hilarious and has a strong and engaging mystery plot, coupled with awesome action sequences and a sense of fun. Many fans of the other two films in the Cornetto trilogy see this film as too dark, but for me it’s the perfect way to end the most intelligent comedy series ever made. It’s about moving on from the past and forging a future in a changed world. Edgar Wright has never made a bad film (heck, he’s never even made a good one, they’ve all been amazing) and this is my favourite.
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The. Funniest. Film. Ever. I mean, there’s laugh-a-minute and then there’s Holy Grail. Every joke hits and there’s pretty much every kind of joke imaginable- visual comedy, character humour, puns, innuendo, slapstick and fourth wall breaking. Monty Python are pretty much the crown jewels of British comedy and this film is the epitome of why we Brits are the kings of comedy. Even if you’ve never seen this film, you know at least 75% of the film due to its placement in pop culture. In fact, in Britain Holy Grail is required as part of the English National Curriculum (I’m joking, but I wish it was). How many people don’t know the Black Knight scene off by heart?
The genius of this film is taking the material completely seriously and yet not at all. The problems with the majority of comedy nowadays is how they always mention how silly they are, whilst Monty Python take everything in the film as if it’s normal. The coconuts-as-horses, the Black Knight losing his limbs and the Knights who say Ni are treated perfectly normally and straight. I cannot emphasis how important it is to take comedy material seriously, especially if it’s ridiculous. It sounds weird, but it is vital for comedy to be treated seriously to work. Holy Grail is such a crazy and over the top film that is highly entertaining. It’s Flying Circus with a budget and it’s probably the second best continuation of a TV show in film, the first of which I’ll get to later. My absolute favourite set piece in the film is the utter perfection of the bridge scene, taking in every running gag of the film and it gives every character something funny to do. It’s also a great film to study if you want to know where Terry Gilliam gets his mad genius from in his other films like Brazil and Time Bandits. This isn’t a deep or complex film, it’s just an absolute blast that will never get old.
7. The Empire Strikes Back
Thirty years and seven movies on, and Star Wars still hasn’t topped one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. I have seen this film five times and every time it is a fantastic experience. Everything great about the first film is expanded upon and twisted to create both a perfect continuation and a standalone masterpiece that still holds up. Pushing aside the memes, the iconic twist and the parodies, the film stands as an examination of power, family and good vs evil. This film has been examined and analysed so much I almost feel like summarising it is pointless, but there is so much to this film that I absolutely adore. Right down from the opening Battle of Hoth to the iconic final shot, Empire Strikes Back is perfectly structured and paced. It splits the heroes up and forces all of them to confront new challenges and ideas.
Infinitely darker and introspective than the first, this sequel is all about how to deal with all-oppressive odds. Luke’s journey in this film takes him from a optimistic hero to a broken character who nonetheless breaks through his trauma to continue fighting the Empire. He meets Yoda and finds out that the Force does not define who a person is- the person defines who the person is. A little green man ends up being the driving force of the film’s themes and I cannot emphasise how profound and well written the Dagobath scenes are. The special effects and action scenes add rather than detract from the story and still look amazing, with the majority of the model work still holding up to today’s CGI. John Williams is the MVP of the film for me. How can you not hum the Asteroid theme or The Imperial March? For all the flashy effects and action, the relative lack of plot supplements the highly personal and emotional story being told. It’s about the rights and wrongs of the Force and the negatives of heroism, yet it is also optimistic in its outlook about friendship and the goodness inside everyone. The highlight of the film outside of Yoda is Darth Vader, the greatest movie villain of all time. His cool presence, commanding character and surprising depth and complexity make him a fascinating character to watch, and it’s made all the more brilliant by the still amazing twist. Everything about the movie is building up to that brilliant, genre defining moment which changes everything. Now Luke isn’t just fighting to save the galaxy, he’s fighting to save his father and bring balance to the Force. I don’t think I need to go any further, this movie is iconic and it deserves to be.
(Slight edit here: I thought I scheduled this post for the 7th of May. Turns out it was the 4th. May the Fourth Be With You.)
6. Spider-Man 2
I’ve gushed about this movie before but I think I only scratched the surface on why this movie is a masterpiece. It’s the best comic book film ever made in my opinion, and only The Dark Knight, Logan, Black Panther and Hellboy 2 come close. Sam Raimi took a beloved character and solid foundations with the first film and made a film that’s less about superheroes and more about what it means to grow up, change and be a better person, and he did it with an amazing story combined with astonishing action, humour, respect to the source material and so much more to create the perfect superhero film. Even though this film is over ten years old, I still don’t think the superhero film genre has ever come reached the perfect heights of what was achieved in this film- a perfect blend of comic book action and themes combined with the added benefits of the film medium- acting, directing, special effects, framing of shots and Danny Elfman’s amazing music which all add up for a perfect cinematic experience.
This perfect sequel takes everything about the first film and makes it even better than before. The core premise of the film, and indeed the Spider-Man mythos, is what it means to be a hero and how doing the right thing isn’t always the most desirable. In this film, Peter struggles to balance his normal life with Spider-Man and eventually gives up the latter, causing his life to improve. But the city suffers, crime goes up and Peter realises that he is bringing hope and peace to people as Spider-Man, causing him to return to superhero life. He chooses to be Spider-Man because it’s the right thing to do, even if it isn’t something he absolutely wants. This deep introspection could make for a film that forgets to be a comic book adaptation (for all its merits The Dark Knight isn’t really a comic book film in the same vein this is) but the bright colours, campy nature, moments of humour and the brilliant cheesy heart of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation makes Spider-Man 2 a comic book brought to life. Doctor Octopus could very well be my favourite comic book movie villain who is simultaneously sympathetic and delightfully evil. It’s no wonder that this movie won Best Visual Effects at the Oscars as Doc Ock’s tentacles are some of the cleverest and well thought out visual effects I have ever seen. The train scene is the best action scene I have ever seen, the script is complex and yet at the same time simple in its execution. We don’t need to be told Peter’s angst, we’re shown it through the metaphor of him losing his powers and then through the dual plots of Peter abandoning his costume whilst Harry Osborne embraces his father’s. It’s just such a well written and put together film that still holds up after all this time.
5. Jurassic Park
Nothing beats classic Steven Spielberg. Every filmmaker who seeks to make a blockbuster should watch this film to find out why this film is so beloved whilst so many imitators fall. It isn’t about effects or action, it’s focus on story, character and other themes that tie the movie together. Behind the still incredible special effects and iconic scares, Jurassic Park is a cautionary tale about science vs man and the dangers and ramifications of tampering with the natural order of the world. This makes the film so relevant now, as advances in science may make places like Jurassic Park a reality soon. But is it right? The film doesn’t take a side and doesn’t answer the question, leaving it up to the audience to think about the themes at play. It helps that the characters here are far more sympathetic than in the book, allowing their various ideologies to play off each other brilliantly.
But the themes at play are just one of the reasons I love this film. Everyone knows the story and it’s simple but brilliant. The characters are engaging and because the first half focuses on developing them, you really care for them when the dinosaurs attack. Oh, and the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are the crowning jewel of the whole film, with revolutionary effects by Stan Winston bringing them to life. It’s not just CGI, but amazing practical effects and puppets too. The film still looks amazing to this day. But good effects are nothing without a strong director, but thankfully Spielberg is the master of thrills and spectacle. He builds up the tension of the T-Rex paddock attack and the raptor attack in the third act so perfectly it’s no wonder he is so lauded as a filmmaker. I cannot state how great the structure of this film is, setting up the tone and characters excellently before forcing their personal conflicts against each other when the situation gets serious. Grant has to look after children, Hammond has to come to terms with the consequences of what he’s done and Jeff Goldblum (yes I know his character has a name but he is Jeff Goldblum) has to work with the others and set aside his personal grievances. Hammond in particular is a great character, as his actions are completely understandable. Who wouldn’t want to save species from extinction and exhibit them for the world to see? The audience know he’s wrong, but they understand. It’s subtle character work like this that make this film so much smarter than the average blockbuster. And of course, what mention of Jurassic Park can go ahead without the magnificent John Williams, delivering my personal favourite movie score. A classic theme for a classic film.
To date, this is the best animated film I have ever seen. Pixar are probably the most consistent and enjoyable movie company around and this is their magnum opus. What seems to be on the surface a kid’s film about an old man and a boy flying off to meet talking dogs and giant birds turns into something immensely mature and thought provoking. It’s about letting go of the past, learning to live life to the full and accepting loss. Not too shabby for a film that also happens to be gut bustingly funny and entertaining for people of all ages. This is such a staggering achievement for animated film that it even got nominated for Best Picture in 2009, and I have to say they made a good call nominating it. Many other Pixar films such as Inside Out, Toy Story, WALL-E and Finding Nemo are excellent, but my favourite will always be Up.
A lot of people talk about how the opening of this film is so good it overshadows the rest of the film. I agree to an extent, but the rest of the film serves as a perfect continuation and without it, the opening scene lacks the added poignancy. Charles Muntz is also criticised as being a weak villain, and while he’s not Pixar’s best one he is still an important part of the film. Carl’s whole life has led to his aim to be like Muntz, and when he finally sets off to Paradise Falls he expects the hero of his childhood to be there. By revealing that Muntz is a murderous psychopath, Carl’s whole journey and struggles become pointless. He questions what his life has led to until Ellie’s message reminds him that he’s had his journey with her and that now he must have another one- with Russel. Everything about this film is tied into this message. By becoming a father figure, Carl becomes to Russel what Muntz never was to Carl, and is also able to have the child he always wanted. Seeing the two leads go from mutual dislike to accepting each other unreservedly is one of the most satisfying character arcs in film history and it’s a joy to see. Despite this film having some incredibly mature and thought provoking themes, this is still a Pixar film, so hilarity will of course ensue. My personal favourite gag involves the lead dog having his voice box broken so he sounds high pitched, as well as the incredible sight of dogs flying mini airplanes being too funny for words. How this film can be so emotionally real and yet be so funny and over the top is beyond me, and a testament to Pete Docter’s skills as a director. I cannot fully explain why this movie is so perfect, it just is, and well worth watching again and again.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro is my favourite director, and I’m beyond happy that he won the Best Director Oscar this year for The Shape of Water. Pan’s Labyrinth however remains his absolute best film and one of the most complex, unique and imaginative films I have ever seen. There is so much packed into every frame and every detail that it’s impossible to dissect the genius at work here, but what we have is a masterpiece of film making that can be seen as a metaphor for war, a coming of age story, a dark fairy tale or all three. This is a film that makes you think long after it’s finished and I have cherished it since I first saw it. This is a dark and uncompromising film, yet it is also about hope and the power of stories and imagination. In one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen, a brilliant story of corrupted youth and the horrors of war emerges.
The backdrop of the film is Franco’s Spain, after the Civil War is over and the regime has a tight grip over the country. As the monstrous Vidal tries to continue his father’s legacy through his unborn child, Ofelia accepts her quest to ascend to the fairy kingdom. Or does she? Are her fantastical quests just an escape mechanism from the horrors of her stepfather or are they real? I think so, as I believe this is the same fairy kingdom from Hellboy 2. The brilliance of this film is subtext told through the story, as the images and story being told in the fantasy world are an eerie parallel to the world of Vidal. The Pale Man represents Ofelia’s (and del Toro’s) fear and mistrust of authority, the giant frog symbolises Franco sucking the life out of Spain and also serves as a metaphor for Ofelia’s brother killing her mother. The film is about choice and consequences, and also about the corruption of childhood through war. Twisting genre conventions, del Toro presents a fairy tale full of death and misery, and makes the true monster the ever looming shadow of Franco and Captain Vidal instead of the various fantastical creatures. Speaking of those, this movie gained a very worthy Oscar for Best Makeup, and Doug Jones owns the amazing makeup and prosthetic needed for the Pale Man and the Faun. The visuals and effects enhance the story being told, which is beautifully conveyed through the duality of the rebels and Ofelia, both desperate to live up to an ideal that may never come about. There is so much to dissect in this film and I’ve barely covered the vast number of themes and motifs throughout. Just watch it for yourself and revel in the experience.
Once upon a time an awesome show called Firefly was on TV. Then it got cancelled after 14 episodes due to low ratings. Well, maybe it got low ratings because Fox wouldn’t air the episodes on schedule, mixed up the episode order, didn’t air three episodes and showed the pilot last. Great job guys. The show’s insanely loyal and dedicated fanbase reacted with such outrage at the cancellation that in 2005, Joss Whedon managed to get a feature length film made under Universal, with the hopes that a new movie franchise would form. That didn’t happen either, but that doesn’t stop Serenity from being an amazing film that serves as a brilliant continuation of Firefly as well as being a great standalone film in its own right. I cannot think of a film that speaks to me more personally, and it serves as one of the most satisfying film experiences of all time.
Wanna know who my favourite movie character is? It’s Malcolm Reynolds, the awesome captain of Serenity. He is such a fleshed out and interesting character to see on screen. He has his own set of morals that only he truly understands, and his dedication to taking out the corrupt Alliance sees him take actions that frighten his own crew. Incidentally, if you want to know how to write for a large ensemble, watch Firefly and Serenity. It’s no wonder Joss Whedon was perfect for the Avengers as the crew of Serenity are some of the most interesting and fun gang of characters in fiction. This film takes each character and does something new and interesting with each of them, allowing the team dynamics to play out perfectly. Character development and motivations are done subtly and told visually and through the magnificent dialogue, making this a textbook example of character writing. The film picks up from where the series left off and sees the Alliance track the crew down in an attempt to recapture River Tam (sorry River Song, you’re only the second coolest River) and hide their dark secrets. Helping the Alliance is the Operative, played brilliantly by a pre-fame Chiwetel Ejiofor. One of the coolest film villains, he oozes style and his parallels with Mal are fascinating. There’s the hero who doesn’t see himself as a good guy, and a villain who knows he’s evil. The film is also about overcoming impossible odds and being true to your beliefs. Mal believes in a free world without the controlling Alliance, and he will stick to that belief until the bitter end. Throw in amazing action, dynamic direction and we have the best continuation of a TV show of all time. Watch Firefly, then watch this film. You will not be disappointed.
My favourite film of all time is admittedly a bit of a cheat, but I don’t anyone will object to my choice. Before all that though, I’ll just reveal a few of my other favourites that almost made the cut-
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
V For Vendetta
Bender’s Big Score (made for TV Futurama film, but it still counts)
And my favourite film of all time is…
- The Lord of the Rings- all of them
Told ya this was a cheat. Ever since I finished Return of the King I have considered Peter Jackson’s trilogy to be the best cinematic experience of all time. The behind the scenes of the films are amazing in their own right- Peter Jackson took an “unfilmable” trilogy of highly acclaimed literature and adapted them over three years and an unprecedented level of detail, care and craft that was the most innovative film endeavour ever and managed to transform his country into the number one filming location and proved that filmmakers don’t have to go to Hollywood to be successful. From a director of low budget New Zealand horror films to a director whose smashed the Oscars, Peter Jackson is one of the biggest inspirations to me. The fact that the films are amazing and perfect are of course essential to the reasons why I love them. These aren’t just flashy images on screen, these are epic stories of power, war, corruption, friendship and the triumph of good vs evil. I was tempted to just stick Return of the King here, but that would be a disservice to the other two. The three films are connected, and whilst they are all technically seperate, I cannot treat them individually.
The journey taken in this trilogy is absolutely wonderful. From the Shire to Mount Doom back to the Shire again, every action taken advances the characters and their journeys. My favourite characters are Sam, Gollum and Aragorn. Sam is the trilogy’s human soul, loyal to the end and never letting Frodo down even when the Ring corrupts his friend. He isn’t a fighter or a wizard, he’s just an ordinary person who risks all to save Middle-Earth. In contrast, Aragorn is a king afraid of his destiny, only to embrace it at the end and be the hero he always needed to be. Gollum is a masterpiece of character writing, and how Andy Serkis did not get nominated for Best Supporting Actor I do not know. Gollum is the series’s example of the Ring’s corruption, yet you sympathise with him as it’s clear Sauron’s influence is to blame, not Smeagol. Every character gets an arc and many are improved upon from the books. As far as I can tell, Theoden, Eowyn, Legolas and Gimli did not have much development in the books but in the films they are given satisfying arcs which add to the richness of the films. The majestic music by Howard Shore and the amazing special effects by Weta Workshop are just the icing on the cake for this cinematic masterpiece. Whilst the characters are amazing, it’s the greater themes at play that really make this trilogy stand out, such as the messages of machinery vs man, the loss of hope brought about by war and the overcoming of darkness. The ending of The Two Towers really puts the whole trilogy into perspective, summarising it as a battle of good and how it will always triumph over evil.
It’s scenes like that which made me appreciate the more human and profound approach Jackson took to the story. There is so much to analyse about these films and there’s lots out there and explains why these films succeed where no others do. There’s visual storytelling as the Ring represents a very physical and mental challenge and serves as the ultimate personification of darkness, brilliant dialogue such as Gandalf and Pippin’s conversation in Minas Tirith and everything just clicks together to create cinema gold. The directing is amazing, the cinematography is stunning and New Zealand! Just… New Zealand. Some of the best location work ever seen on film. The action sequences are spellbinding, especially the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The story is captivating and emotional, eliciting every emotion from awe to hilarity, victory to sadness and ultimately satisfaction. The films are such epics that it’s amazing that there is still time for intimacy and quiet. The trilogy is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, as it is not the kings or wizards that ultimately save the day, it’s just a couple of hobbits. It’s an inspiring message for everyone. From the opening monologue to the closing door, the Lord of the Rings is actual perfection, and my favourite film of all time.
Well, that took a while. I probably will update this again down the line but that probably won’t be for a while. For now, these ten (OK, twelve) films stand as my personal favourites and are definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.