With my last post, I revealed my MCU opinions (if you missed that, you can read that here), so I wanted to take a more personal approach with this one and as the title suggests, reveal my Top 10 favourite films of all time. Of course, they’re subject to change at any points, but this is them for now.
Someone’s favourite media of any kind, whether it be film, TV shows, music, theatre or whatever, says a lot about them and who they are. Whenever I meet someone, I always want to talk about it, particularly movies. (If anybody wants it, I can write a companion post about my favourite TV series…I might do that at some point)
Movies can transport you to a time you never experienced, educate you on something you never thought about, or give you a once in a lifetime vicarious experience in two hours that manages to stay with you forever. These 10 movies do one or more of these and I’m so thankful for the filmmakers and everyone involved in the making of them. They’ve taught me a lot, been there for me when I’m sad, and just generally entertained on many occasions. Many, many occasions. I’ve probably seen each of these films around 10 times, some more some less. But each of them has had a profound impact on my life.
So there’s a rough order here, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to list them alphabetically.
(Warning, these could get long and rambling…just go with it)
(Another warning, there MIGHT be spoilers, so read with caution!)
Arrival (2016) dir. Denis Villeneuve
Oh yay, I’m starting with the film that’s perhaps the hardest to write about. Wonderful.
I remember the first time I even heard about this movie. It was still titled Story of Your Life and all that I knew about it was that Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner were set to star. Being an Amy Adams stan for life, I immediately put it on my watchlist and went back to my daily life, waiting for it to be released. I’d all but forgotten about it until the trailer released, with its new title and something that I knew I was going to love.
The short story by Ted Chiang, going by the movie’s old title ‘Story of Your Life’ is gorgeously written, though the adaptation takes a different approach. I think a film like this was made to be visual and use filmic language. And that in itself is part of what made the Arrival experience so important to me.
The experience itself was memorable. I was one of the first films I saw with my friends at university, and I still remember how blown away by it I was. And (no spoilers here) but when the punch came in the third act, my breath was taken and I knew that Denis Villeneuve had crafted a masterpiece.
Arrival is a movie about communication, how we engage with others perhaps when we can’t use language which is, as written in a book by Dr. Louise Banks, “the first weapon drawn in a conflict”. As a writer, language is important to me. It’s fascinating and the way Arrival explores its importance is beautiful. When a linguist is called to interact with those who don’t inherently understand the English language, it creates an interesting dynamic of how she’s going to succeed at her mission of finding out what these other beings want. As they unlock more of the Heptapod’s language and start to decipher these symbols, we start to realise that language barriers can be overcome if we put the effort in, humans are capable of so much.
The cinematography and visual style of this film is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, the production design is brilliantly crafted, and Denis Villeneuve’s love and care for this film, bolstered by a mind-blowing lead performance by Amy Adams (Academy, don’t think I forgot that y’all snubbed her, I’m still mad) is what makes it, in my opinion, a complete and utter masterpiece. Seek it out if you haven’t already and prepare to be dazzled.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) dir. Luca Guadagnino
This is my favourite.
I know I wanted to forgo the ranking system for a reason, but I needed to say it. This film is my favourite of all time. Perhaps because I relate to a lot of its elements personally, but maybe because it’s a spellbindingly made film about the complexities of first love with great performances, a one-in-a-million soundtrack, and a final 10 minutes that will go down in cinema history as one of its best.
As with Arrival, I remember my cinema experience all too well. My usual ODEON weren’t showing it (still haven’t forgiven them) so I travelled with a few friends to a theatre (like an actual play/musical theatre) to see it after a uni lecture. As Armie Hammer’s Oliver echoes in one of the film’s final scenes, “I remember everything.” This is true for my experience, I remember every single second of this movie the first time around and I have never been so deeply affected by something before. I wasn’t uncontrollably sobbing the first time, but I was dumbstruck that I was emulating Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out. You know the face:
It was a moment in my life that I know will stick with me. I knew what I saw had changed me and even though I was excited about the movie for months before that, I had no idea what was about to happen.
It’s a transcendental moment in your life when you see a movie that feels like it was made for you, to give you an experience you feel you missed out on, or tell a story you lived in such a visceral, authentic way that it’s a little hard to watch at times. And watching Timothée Chalamet confront his feelings in Northern Italy was one of those moments. Figuring out your feelings can be confusing and Chalamet’s groundbreaking performance highlights every single sticky moment of that journey to yourself.
So I’ve watched Call Me By Your Name around 15 times now and every single time I’m reduced to tears by the sheer authenticity of Michael Stuhlbarg’s now-famous monologue near the end. There’s a really great video from Script To Screen on YouTube that compares the written format (penned beautifully by James Ivory) and the performed that I’ll link here.
I’ve read the book (most of it was devoured on a 16 hour coach journey) and I can say that it’s probably the most appropriately adapted movie I’ve ever seen. Guadagnino doesn’t shy away from the messy moments (if you know, you know) and considering a lot of the book is written as introspection, gorgeously so by Andre Aciman, it’s a tough task to convert inner thoughts to the visual medium and the team-up of James Ivory’s writing, Luca Guadagnino’s genius vision, and Timothée Chalamet’s mesmerising evocation is utter perfection at making the Italian summer breeze wash through the audience.
I won’t say too much more about this movie because I could go on forever, but I will say that I’m cautiously optimistic about the sequel. I want more content obviously, I want to live in that world forever, but sequels are tricky, especially when the original movies are so beloved by a lot of people. Which this one is. Intensely so.
If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t even look at me. I’m joking, I think, but I absolutely recommend you see it as soon as you can. Drop whatever you’re doing and watch—actually no, finish this post first and then watch it.
Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes
Carol is probably the film I’ve seen the least on my list, but that’s not because it’s at the bottom. Quite the opposite, it’s because it’s so hard for me to watch. The same authenticity that is present in Call Me By Your Name rears its beautiful head here, this time with two women who feel destined to have come together in the whirlwind way they did. It’s not clichéd though, their romance is tough, their connection true and tender.
Played perfectly by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, Carol tells the story of Therese Belivet who becomes entranced by an older woman she helps out at her department store job. The two pursue their feelings for each other in circumstances when it wasn’t so accepted to do so. Obstacles are everywhere for these two, but they never lose their deep feelings for each other.
Todd Haynes does a fantastic job with this movie. Some have described this movie as cold but every time I see a longing stare across a street or a gorgeous piece of dialogue, my heart feels warm and I believe in love again.
That might be a bit dramatic, but the sentiment is true. Haynes uses Edward Lachmann’s stunningly composed shots to set the mood and, with Carter Burwell’s should-have-won-the-Oscar score swelling in the background, you’re in a daze, it’s raining and you’re staring out of a car window thinking about the person you love. Or watching Rooney Mara do it, and boy does she do it well.
Carol is on my mind a lot, some of the dialogue sticks around in my head when I’m in a still moment. A part of the score (particularly the track “Opening”) plays as an ostinato in my head and I’ll think about Carol and Therese and their love for each other. Carol taught me a lot about fighting for what I want in life, and why standing up for what you believe in is always the right thing.
And I love Rooney Mara with all of my heart.
Ex-Machina (2015) dir. Alex Garland
Boy was this movie right up my alley.
Another lauded entry from 2015, Ex-Machina tells the story of Caleb, a young computer programmer who receives an opportunity to participate in a project with a mysterious tech genius, Nathan. The project, you ask? Participating in a Turing test with Nathan’s artificial intelligence design. Simple enough premise, yet Garland’s script takes the film in fascinating directions with lots to say about the state of control.
I love films about artificial intelligence, so much that I wrote one (Alex Garland I am not). I love when a screenplay takes what’s right in front of you and makes you think, makes you question, makes you look at the world around you and reflect. Ex-Machina stunned me in a lot of different ways. First of all, it properly introduced me to the wonders of Alicia Vikander. And the sooner we start realising that she actually won her Academy Award for this movie, the better.
Second of all, it changed the way that I think about screenwriting. Reading the script is something spectacular, the way Garland describes, the way he moves through the narrative really is inspiring.
It also gave me more Oscar Isaac content. The more of that, the better as far as I’m concerned, thank you.
Ex-Machina’s science isn’t exactly straightforward, its philosophical conversations deep and profound, but it manages to provide information as well as an entertaining story. Of course, many movies do that, but there’s something about the way the third act unravels which leaves me breathless, wanting more yet perfectly satisfied with the way it’s going to end. Because as good as Garland’s direction is, his writing is the real strength of this movie. This script taught me about the way we look at the world, how we do judge by appearance and unfortunately so. Nathan’s whole test was about seeing if Ava could pass for human despite her robotic appearance. Ava dresses up in clothes and wigs several times throughout the movie, all so she can feel like a person, not like an invention or a pet.
It’s intelligent, thought-provoking in a manner that is perfect for me and my taste. As much as I like heartbreaking romances, give me a good sci-fi thriller and I’ll be hooked for just as long. Give me long back-and-forth conversations about the nature of humanity (I’m looking at you honourable mention Before Sunrise) and I’m all in. One of the best films of 2015, Ex-Machina gave me something to think about for years and every rewatch is still just as thrilling as that first time.
Oh and Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow deserve endless praise for their score, which continues to be massively overlooked.
Oh look, I wrote too much!
Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
I could genuinely write pages and pages of endless praise about what makes Gone Girl so so brilliant. I can feel my fingers screaming at me just thinking about how much I would write about the performances, screenplay, direction, cinematography, score, and all that other good stuff that’s present in this movie. Fincher is one of my favourite directors for a reason, his precision, his control over a film is what makes him such a genius at what he does. His adaptations are quite remarkable, the way he can make something feel so distinctly cinematic, the way he can manipulate the elements of a film that we can recognise and use them to tell a story in a way we’re never quite expecting.
Gone Girl is a mystery, but I always feel like that’s not Fincher’s primary concern. He stages and structures the mystery elements beautifully, but he’s always more interested in the characters and how they’re dealing with the plot, rather than how the plot moves due to the character’s action.
That’s not to say that Gone Girl isn’t character driven. It absolutely is, but it’s more character study than anything else. Fincher’s casting is mostly impeccable with Affleck and Pike excelling in the lead roles. Rosamund Pike gives one of my favourite on-screen performances ever as Amy Dunne. She’s electrifying, terrifying, always changing, always rolling with the plot developments. Pike poured her heart and soul into this once in a lifetime part, and she kills it. He also plucked Carrie Coon out of relative anonymity and showcased her incredible talent level, which gives Fincher MAJOR brownie points for life. I may infamously have a slight gripe with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris, but that’s a relative nitpick in a masterwork from a director who I had previously considered as never making a film better than the one he made before this, which may or may not be on this list…
The first time I saw this movie, I was breathless at how good it was. Not just at the famous second act twist, but at how it was set up, how it wasn’t really the focus of the film, but what happened around it. I can’t get too much into that without entering spoiler territory, but trust me if you haven’t seen it. It’s pretty damn good. Now I don’t really have an emotional connection to this movie like I do with some of the movies on this list, but this is more of an objective connection. I think this movie is extremely close to perfect and that makes it endlessly rewatchable, picking up new little details every time I do. I have an intense admiration for Fincher for creating an adaptation that’s so complex, and Gillian Flynn’s writing is a constant inspiration to me in my own work. It’s a chilling, twisted, psychological thriller, but it’s also a film about a marriage. The combination of those themes works perfectly. Flynn and Fincher are a dream duo and I’ll never in my life forget the moment I witnessed one of the best monologues in movie history.
If you know what I’m talking about, then you know how good it is. If not, GO AND WATCH GONE GIRL!
Her (2013) dir. Spike Jonze
Moving right along from objective perfection, now we get right back to more emotionally destructive cinema. I have a LOT of love for this movie, the way it portrays loneliness and the feeling of being in love and how it’s not always good and not always bad. There are rough times, great times, and by the end you’re completely drained and you feel like you want a hole to swallow you up so you don’t have to deal with the emotions you just witnessed and-
Her is a brilliantly original sci-fi romance set in the near future, starring Joaquin Phoenix (in a SHOULD HAVE BEEN OSCAR NOMINATED PERFORMANCE) as Theodore, a man struggling with the impending nature of his divorce, who finds companionship with his OS, Samantha (voiced expertly by Scarlett Johansson, I also would have given her an Oscar nomination). There are so many layers and levels to this movie that Spike Jonze HAS to be hailed as a complete and utter visionary.
In what is probably my favourite screenplay ever written, Her traverses the nature of humanity and how we communicate our emotions, something which we all struggle with at times. It’s so tenderly, cleverly written to evoke (not manipulate) the deepest emotions. Samantha has a monologue at the end of the movie which destroys me every single time I watch it. It’s not just the script that shines, though. The cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams (of course), and a scene-stealing turn from Rooney Mara which amazes me every time I see it.
The production design is completely on point, immersing you in a world which is believable yet slightly jarring which works perfectly for the concept. You want to imagine this world, where technology rules lives even more so. Everyone is disconnected, so the characters finding love with their OS devices isn’t strange and you start to believe it after a while. As long as these characters find solace, you’re happy. Because Jonze tells the story in such a beautiful way that you’re just along for the ride. Whether you can relate to it or not, you see something of yourself in these characters, in these situations. Because everybody deals with emotions, with loneliness, with that feeling that you’re never going to be happy.
But while Her concludes with a bittersweet coda, and a pool of your own tears starts to fill up the room, Jonze leaves the movie on a hopeful note – that love never has to be romantic, that platonic love is valid too, but the important thing is that we connect with people, that we find meaning in our relationship rather than our possessions. It’s just really brilliant thematic work. And I devour every second of this movie and love it more every time I see it.
La La Land (2016) dir. Damien Chazelle
La La Land is a movie that I can see three times in one day and not regret my action. Seriously, two of my friends and I booked three tickets (Odeon Limitless, I owe you my life) for the release day and saw it three times. I ended up seeing it ten times in the cinema. Non, je regrette rien! In total, since the DVD release + Netflix, I’ve probably seen this 17 times or so. Each time I get something new from it, I notice a new detail and I’m left awestruck by the sublime talent of Damien Chazelle.
La La Land is an aching, swirling, masterwork that only gets better upon rewatch. Chazelle fills every frame with a maelstrom of beautiful colours (which all have meaning by the way), interesting angles, and cinematography that not only looks gorgeous (thank you for my life, Linus Sandgren) but also exposits about story and character. Emma Stone and Gosling are picture perfect here, showing their unstoppable chemistry really does improve every single movie. Not that anything needed improving. Justin Hurwitz’s work on both the soundtrack AND the score is impeccable, with “Audition” being one of my favourite and the best scenes of the decade. The technical crew are all on another level with this one: Mary Zophres’ illustrious costumes, Tom Cross’ exquisitely dexterous editing, Dave Wasco’s gloriously appropriate production design, just to name a few. Each tell their own micro-narratives within the bigger story.
We usually get the narratives about the only thing more powerful than dreams is love, but Chazelle flips that on its head and creates what is probably the most gob-smackingly brilliant ending to a movie I’ve seen, perhaps ever. There is so much passion that fills this movie, and Chazelle’s love for cinema shines through.
This is my pick-me-up movie, I can watch it any time of day, any day of the year and instantly feel invigorated to chase love, to chase my dreams, Chazelle manages to uplift and inspire all while creating a world filled with beautiful imagery, amazing, toe-tapping songs. Plus the opening scene? Masterpiece. The ending scene? Masterpiece? Everything in the middle? Masterpiece.
This might be the most ‘perfect’ movie to me on this list, there isn’t anything I don’t love about this movie. I held it as my favourite until Call Me By Your Name came along and stole my heart. But I guess you could say this film was my first love. Maybe the first film that I saw in the cinema that I truly marvelled at, that I felt like was made for me, to tell me something and to make me feel alive. That might sound dramatic, but if I hear ‘Someone in the Crowd’ ANYWHERE, I will get up and dance.
This is the film that had me awake at 3AM learning the steps to the tap number on the hill in ‘A Lovely Night’, that had me listening to the score while I walked, wrote, slept, I was completely obsessed with this movie upon release and 2 years later, it still holds an absolutely important place in my heart.
Lady Bird (2017) dir. Greta Gerwig
I could honestly just post the script here and be done with it. That’s reason enough for this to be in my Top 10.
But everything about this movie just WORKS.
First of all, BIG mention to Greta Gerwig who aside from being one of the best humans alive, writes and directs the hell out of it this movie. With a movie like this, the direction isn’t as showy, but the direction of the actors and the structure is so so impressive. The editing is emotional, scenes are linked by feeling and tone rather than just story structure, which is inventive as hell and deserves more recognition.
The cast is perfect, too. Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, the list goes on. They’re all meticulous cast and they all play to their strengths in the movie. Ronan and Metcalf in particular deserve as much credit as they can possibly be given. Their screen chemistry is insanely special, their scenes together being frequently heartwarming but always relatable.
Like a lot of the films on this list, you can find something about yourself in any of these characters, in any of the relationships depicted so beautifully on screen. Gerwig handles it all expertly. And this was her solo directorial debut feature!! That’s talent right there! I continue to stan forever.
The thing about this movie is that it’s absolutely hilarious. Sure, it’s a coming of age movie, but it’s funnier than the majority of those in the same genre. Every actor handles their line delivery so well that lines that aren’t particularly comedic in the script become funny moments. It’s flippant yet serious and handles those tonal shifts better than most movies have done.
Pro tip: Watch this with either your mother or your best friend(s). It’s a very different experience.
The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher
At the very heart of this movie is the partnership between David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, coincidentally both my favourite director and my favourite screenwriter. So them teaming up to make this movie was an absolute stroke of genius and a personal fanboy moment.
Firstly, Sorkin’s script is the closest you can get to a perfect script. As always with him, the dialogue is always so pointed and, even when things seem like they’re getting tangential, he always has a point to things. There’s always a hidden message or moral to the heaps of dialogue he presents on screen. He does it this way because he’s a master of cinematic dialogue and knows exactly what will work on the screen and what won’t. His work here is no different. Although real-life figures his character nuances are genius and his dialogue is personal and diverse through each different character and in such a technically precise script, that was hard to do. Some people complain about his movies only being dialogue-based, but here it works, in part due to the hand of the director, Mr. David Fincher.
Fincher has long since established himself as a genius film director, but The Social Network is his masterpiece. Let’s be real, without a Sorkin script or Fincher’s precise, innovative direction and team, this movie would have been boring. Timelines going back and forth from depositions to coding sessions and business talk? Not everyone’s personal taste. I personally would watch any amount of movies on subjects like that. But Fincher directs in such a creative, fast-paced way that it never lets up. The characters are fully realised and directed in such a way that makes you both hate them and empathise with them at the same time, perhaps with the exception of the central character.
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is depicted here as a bit of an asshole, as described by Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in just the first scene of the movie. It created a career peak for Jesse Eisenberg, as his performance here is exactly what it needed to be. His rambling, sneering, complacent persona perfectly echoes the character presented on screen and it just really works.
The supporting cast are all at the top of their games here. The likes of Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake all giving wonderful performances that would stand out on their own if their fellow cast members weren’t as equally brilliant.
With a movie like this, a dramatic biopic of a controversial-at-times figure, technical categories rarely come into play as factors. But here, Reznor and Ross’ electrifying score elevates several scenes, particularly the track ‘In Motion’ which is a sensational piece of music even on its own. Aside from this, the cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth is also carefully measured and remains visually interesting, rather than just simple two-shots and wides. The editing by Wall and Baxter would have no doubt been endlessly complicated to figure out, what with the multiple timelines and perpetual state of the dialogue. But they did a supremely good job and every single person involved in the production values ameliorates the effect of the movie.
There’s not a lot I can say about the movie that hasn’t already been said. Beside a combination of my favourite director, writer and some of my favourite actors (Garfield and Mara), this movie is a landmark piece of filmmaking. Oscars controversy aside (yeah fuck you, The King’s Speech) The Social Network remains one of the greatest biopics, no, one of the greatest MOVIES ever made for a lot of very deserving reasons and I could not recommend it more highly.
This movie also gave me a Brenda Song appearance, which provided me with a non-ironic motivation to rewatch Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior which is ALWAYS a bonus.
Whiplash (2014) dir. Damien Chazelle
Of course this was going to be on here.
I wrote my dissertation about this movie, and I’m absolutely obsessed with it.
See, I always go back and forth with the two Chazelle movies on this list (love you First Man, but you don’t quite make it) and I don’t know which one is my favourite. Maybe it depends on how I’m feeling. Maybe if I’m feeling a touch more cynical, Whiplash will win out.
Because Whiplash isn’t half as inspiring as La La Land, it’s brutal and psychological and messy, but explores the same themes in a much different way.
Rather than a romance, the core relationships here is a student/mentor one and it’s incredibly well done. Miles Teller and JK Simmons act the hell out of it, particularly Simmons who created a legendary performance and rightly won 9000000 awards for it.
Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a budding young jazz drummer who wants to be the BEST. Not just great, but the best. Simmons is Terence Fletcher, his eventual mentor and his biggest antagonist. Fletcher plays by rules that include fear tactics and negative reinforcement. He’ll abuse Andrew, physically and mentally, because it might just inspire him to be the best. Because the best wouldn’t quit after some knock-backs. Andrew goes with it at first, wanting to do anything to succeed. But as Fletcher pushes him to several of his limits, Andrew has to decide whether it’s worth it.
Whiplash is a truly excellent piece of filmmaking. Chazelle wrote and directed a music thriller? How many of those can you say exist? Grand Piano, I hear someone say? Oh, Damien Chazelle wrote that too. Next. He mined world class performances from his actors, and his understanding of the camera and its placements/movements is exceptional for someone so young and relatively inexperienced. Whiplash is technically his first feature, his first being his thesis film so does it count? When you say “Whiplash is a debut feature” it sounds fake. Like nobody could make a first movie that good!
I could ramble on about this movie until I ran out of words, but the art speaks for itself. WHIPLASH is a frightening presentation on the dangers of obsession and how far you have to go to be the best.
And that ending. Absolute perfection.
So there we go! My ten favourite films and some little reasons why. It’s always hard to choose though. So here and five honourable mentions:
–Before Sunset (2004) dir. Richard Linklater
–Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky
–Easy A (2010) dir. Will Gluck
–The Shape of Water (2017) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
–The Way Way Back (2013) dir. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
I’d love to hear any thoughts on these movies or your own favourite movie choices!! Comment down below or come talk to me on Twitter @Jamie_Carrick_ – movie discussions are the best kind of discussions!
P.S. Rooney Mara is in three of these movies, and that’s no coincidence she’s a legend.