Note: I mostly track my movie-watching on Letterboxd these days. For up-to-date listings, look there. This is a snapshot of my favorites as of mid-2022. My criteria were: movies released more than a year ago that I've given 4.5 or 5 stars and have watched at least twice.
1987 | Director: James Cameron | Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn
I find this to be the most fully-realized of James Cameron's action movies, more professional than The Terminator (which I also really like), but not overblown like The Abyss. Sigourney Weaver is great in the role of Ripley and the film's vision of the future is low-key, but convincing. Here's an in-depth fan page.
The Big Sick
2017 | Director: Michael Showalter | Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
This movie does many things, and makes them all look easy. It's a depiction of cultural mixing and the complexities of holding on to one's heritage while adapting to new circumstances. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the world of stand-up comedy. It's a nuanced portrayal of the stress and weirdness that go along with health emergencies, hospitals, and a parade of doctors and nurses who all seem to have only part of the picture. And it's a romantic comedy about two smart, funny people who seem like they'd be a delight to know in real life.
2010 | Director: Taika Waititi | Stars: James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi
A funny and stealthily heartbreaking film about growing up poor and indigenous in small-town New Zealand and coming to realize that the missing dad you thought was awesome isn't really.
1993 | Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski | Stars: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent
Music and grief.
1987 | Director: James L. Brooks | Stars: Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt
A magnificent three-hander that plays the main characters off against one another in fascinating ways while also depicting a major turning point in the evolution of TV journalism.
Cabin in the Woods
2011 | Director: Drew Goddard | Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford
Horror movie metafiction in which ritual sacrifice is a reality television opiate for angry gods, who would otherwise turn the world upside-down -- literally. Is the happiness of the many worth the hideous deaths of the few? The film seems to agree with Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” that the answer is no. However, the characters cannot walk away without repercussions – opting out means apocalypse. That doesn’t stop them, and the climax of the film is a glorious explosion of carnival violence and blood-soaked anti-authoritarianism. Also, it’s very funny.
Call Me By Your Name
2017 | Director: Luca Guadagnino | Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
A heady combo of things - coming of age story, gay romance, multi-cultural mix, early '80s period piece - that comes together in an amazing way. Lyrically filmed, but with an immediacy and uncertainty that are masterfully conveyed. An incredible standout performance from Chalamet as well.
1941 | Director: Orson Welles | Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane
I won't bore anyone with talk of this film's "classic" status. I just like it. The cinematography is great, the story and themes are interesting... and I find that I identify with Jedediah Leland in more than name. One of my favorite scenes is the performance of Kane's opera as Leland slowly shreds the program to keep himself amused. For more information about the movie, visit this IMDB page.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
1964 | Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
One of the most savage and insightful satires of all time. "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
Faces Places (Visages, villages)
2017 | Directors: Agnès Varda, JR | Stars: Agnès Varda, JR
A road trip movie that's also an exploration of the artistic process and a touching depiction of the growing friendship between Agnès Varda and her young collaborator JR. It's heartwarming, but also faces the prospect of death and the reality of disappointment without flinching. A remarkable film.
2001 | Director: Robert Altman | Stars: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas and many other luminaries
Robert Altman does a murder mystery and it's as witty and dark as you might imagine.
1992 | Director: James Ivory | Stars: Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West
Takes on issues of class and psychology in an insightful and entertaining story of two sisters in turn-of-the-century England.
The Hurt Locker
2008 | Director: Kathryn Bigelow | Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
This film's focus is very particular: three men doing the dangerous work of disarming bombs in a chaotic, poorly-understood setting and reacting very differently to the stress. It’s a truly great achievement on many levels. The camera work is kinetic and gripping. The pacing is unpredictable and gives a strong impression of war zone confusion, fear and intensity interspersed with periods of boredom and rough-housing. The performances of the three leads are complementary in a thematic sense, but never showy or obvious. Jeremy Renner's portrait of bomb disposal genius James stands out -- he's a complex, occasionally heroic, but not particularly likeable or functional human being. You get some hints at what has brought him to this place, but the film wisely holds back from trying to fully explain him.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
2005 | Director: Shane Black | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
An entertaining noirish plot, hilarious dialogue, and great chemistry between the leads. This is Robert Downey Jr's most funny and appealing role. He really gets to do what he does best.
1997 | Director: Curtis Hanson | Stars: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Danny DeVito
1950s Los Angeles. Three police officers with contrasting personalities investigate a mystery involving city officials, organized crime and the police department itself.
Lawrence of Arabia
1962 | Director: David Lean | Stars: Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness
Some of the most beautiful cinematography ever shot combines with a thrilling (then sobering) treatment of historical events and an iconic performance by Peter O'Toole. Movie magic.
The Life of Brian
1979 | Director: Terry Jones | Stars: Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Sue Jones-Davies
The most biting of Monty Python's comedies, and a delight to blasphemers everywhere. For movie info, check out this Internet Movie Database page.
1999 | Directors: Andy & Larry Wachowski | Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburn, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Stunning visuals, tremendous style the revitalization of the science fiction action film.
2016 | Director: Barry Jenkins | Stars: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, André Holland
Poetic, beautifully acted and shot, and deeply sympathetic to the human condition while also being about specific people in a specific place and time, this film speaks volumes about how identity is both inborn and constantly learned and performed in a hard world where the expectations are full of contradictions and pain for almost everyone, but especially for those who are marked as “different” from a young age — like Chiron, the poor, gay, black male at the center of the story.
My Neighbor Totoro
1988 | Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Animated
This film builds to a height of emotion in such an understated, charming way that it always takes me by surprise. And the animation is so beautiful and imaginative. Truly a masterpiece.
Only Lovers Left Alive
2013 | Director: Jim Jarmusch | Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston
The high concept: Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as centuries-old vampire lovers. Stylish and fun in a way that is surprising for a story filmed entirely at night and focusing on ennui and world-weariness. Ultimately, its absurdist humor and love of literature and music add up to something quite lovely and life-affirming.
1997 | Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Animated
Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece takes place in a mythical ancient Japan in which the spirits of nature face off against human industrialization. The resulting conflict benefits no one and marks the end of an age.
Film Page at Nausicaa.net | My Movie Page
1991 | Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse | Stars: Hugo Weaving, Geneviève Picot, Russell Crowe
A distrustful blind man, his manipulative housekeeper and a well-meaning dishwasher at a local restaurant are caught in a love triangle that tests them all. Crowe provides gravity in a generally sympathetic role while the dysfunctional relationship of Hugo Weaving and Genevieve Picot throws off considerable sparks. Cleverly structured, brilliantly written, funny and poignant, this movie is a true original.
1987 | Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen | Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Randall "Tex" Cobb
Some people find this film too unsympathetic in its treatment of characters, but I continue to find its gratuitous weirdness a riot. For a review, visit this Internet Movie Database page.
1984 | Director: Alex Cox | Stars: Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Olivia Barash
Another screwball comedy that's just chock-full of hilarious lines. Emilio Estevez's career only went downhill from here. For movie info (including some quotes), visit this Internet Movie Database page.
A Room with a View
1985 | Director: James Ivory | Stars: Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Rupert Graves, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands
Man climbs a tree on an Italian hillside and begins shouting, "Beauty! Joy!" His father explains to a bystander, "He's saying his creed." Just one of many great moments in this film about finding self knowledge and passion in a world that often lacks both.
1954 | Director: Akira Kurosawa | Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and a large ensemble cast
One of the best "get the gang together" films ever, it takes you on a long and entertaining journey as the samurai of the title are recruited and then defend a small town from bandits. A classic with many imitators.
1950 | Director: Billy Wilder | Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olson
A black comedy that begins with the narrator floating dead in a swimming pool and then explains how he ended up there. A twisted and highly entertaining tale.
1984 | Director: James Cameron | Stars: Arnold Schwartzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
"Come with me if you want to live!" Dystopian, darkly funny, relentless in its pace, and surprisingly romantic, this was Cameron's first true classic and despite some special effects that have not aged well, it's still awesome. Also, it has pretty much the only filmic depiction of time travel that makes any logical sense.
2017 | Director: Taika Waititi | Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum
My favorite MCU movie to date, and I've watched a boatload of 'em. It overflows with enthusiasm and goofiness and has some sneaky anarchic themes hiding out underneath. Just thinking about the opening scene — in which Thor good-naturedly explains to a nearby skeleton how he ended up sharing a hanging prison cage with it – makes me start chuckling, and there are many other moments that do the same. Infinitely rewatchable.
What We Do in the Shadows
2014 | Directors: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement | Stars: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Jackie van Beek
A mockumentary about some vampires sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. Ridiculous? Absolutely! And that's great! There are lots of laughs packed in to even small lines of dialogue, and an all-in enthusiasm that makes the dodgy special effects part of the charm instead of a detriment.
Whisper of the Heart
1995 | Director: Yoshifumi Kondō | Animated
A quietly imaginative exploration of what it's like to be young and artistic and not sure how to harness your gifts yet -- and how forging a connection with a kindred spirit can help you develop. A truly lovely film.