Part of the fun of being a film fan is going back and exploring films that you would have loved had you been alive at the time of release. And with untold archives of film online and in physical media, it’s easier than ever to discover new favourites and older classics and fall in love with them many years later.
So I was born in 1997, that makes 22 films on this list, my favourite films of each year I’ve been alive. I’m sure if you’ve read even a few of my posts, you’re bound to be able to guess a few of them. But if you’re new, here are the entries and some runner-ups just for the sake of including as many films as possible!
I’ve spoken about everything after 2010 in my Best of the Decade post and I don’t really want to write loads about them again, so they’ll be more summarised than analysed.
1997: Boogie Nights dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Boogie Nights was one of the remaining Paul Thomas Anderson movies I haven’t seen when I did a deep-dive into his films sometime last year. I will be doing another one at some point for this blog, but Boogie Nights became one of my favourites instantly for the sheer brilliance of the script, filmmaking, and the performances. Telling the story of the pornography industry and how it treats people, it’s much more sophisticated than it has any right to be, detailing a social history that might seem untouchable to a lot of filmmakers. Defining work is turned in by Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, and Burt Reynolds, all of whom are excellent. The entire cast turns in great work; it’s a truly talented ensemble and I didn’t even mention Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dealing with graphic nudity, suicide, and even child pornography, Boogie Nights is as controlled as it bold thanks to Anderson’s deft touch behind the camera and on the page. Definitely can’t wait to revisit this one sometime soon and I have no doubt it’s just going to get better and better the more I continue to watch it.
Runner-up: Funny Games dir. Michael Haneke
Second Runner-up: In & Out dir. Frank Oz
1998: Mulan dir. Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Mulan is my favourite Disney movie. Excluding Pixar, because then something else coming up later probably takes the crown. But out of the classic animated Disney films, Mulan reigns supreme. I always see the debates that wonder whether Mulan is a Disney princess or not and honestly I’m fine with either answer. I usually err on the side of “no” simply because that seems to do a disservice to the complexity of the narrative. Not that being a Disney Princess isn’t complex, just that Mulan has a lot more going for it. Ming-na Wen’s iconic voice performance set the film into motion, with some fun character, classic musical numbers (I’ll Make A Man Out Of You remains iconic and completely lampshades the typical masculinity values presented in the song). Mulan is funny, clever, and remains a staple of how Disney is capable of diversity if they’re willing to extend their typical horizons just a little bit. I could probably watch Mulan every day for a whole month and not get tired of it.
Runner-up: Shakespeare in Love dir. John Madden
Second Runner-up: American History X dir. Tony Kaye
1999. Toy Story 2 dir. John Lasseter
Toy Story 2 is easily my favourite of the quartet. Don’t get me wrong, I think the first three are great and I’m infamous for not liking the fourth one, but Toy Story 2 is a collection of the best bits of them all. It has the jokes, heart, and a great storyline. Plus it introduces Jessie (my favourite character) and Bullseye, which is a total win. The infamous Sarah MacLachlan moment will forever stay etched in the hearts of so many, and has the honour of being one of the only songs to make me start crying within 20 seconds of hearing it. Whenever I watched this, basically the moment Jessie says “Because Emily was just the same” I lose my mind and descend into chaos. People might like the original and the third one better, but Toy Story 2 will always be the pinnacle of that franchise for me.
Runner-up: Election dir. Alexander Payne
Second runner-up: 10 Things I Hate About You dir. Gil Junger
2000: In The Mood for Love dir. Wong Kar-wai
Oh god this movie.
This was one of the first proper forays into the rich selection of foreign cinema available to me. Topping many decade-best lists and garnering nothing but unwavering adulation, I decided to check it out. In The Mood for Love tells a simple story in the most beautiful of ways. Wong Kar-wai has this delicate control over his movies that makes you swoon and fall in love with them instantly. His narratives may not be the most exciting, but they are tender and packed with so much heart that it’s impossible to ignore. In The Mood for Love is no exception. Having literally invented the colour red, Wong Kar-wai infuses slow tracking shots with some beautifully thematic framing to create emotion from the camerawork and the swelling score that worms its way into your brain and quite happily so. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are excellent vessels for this story and it’s one that I will continue to revisit forever.
Runner-up: Almost Famous dir. Cameron Crowe
Second runner-up: You Can Count On Me dir. Kenneth Lonergan
2001: Spirited Away dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Up until very recently, I can reveal that I had chosen Amelie for this position. Then I watched Spirited Away for the first time. Yes, you heard right. For the first time.
I was immediately transfixed by the sheer power of the world-building, which is intricate and can only reward repeat viewings with its meticulous attention to detail. With impressive animation and a story that is packed with as much heart and emotion as it is with oddities and cultural specificity, Spirited Away manages to pull off something amazing where it connects with anyone, anywhere, regardless of who they are or where they’re from. A universal story that explores the lengths you would go to save the ones you love and how a different outlook on the world might change you for the better. I don’t usually gravitate to anime films, but Spirited Away is its own beast, a deep dive into the dense splendour that animation can really bring to a story.
Runner-up: Amelie dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Second runner-up: Legally Blonde dir. Robert Luketic
2002: Punch-Drunk Love dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Our second (of three) PTA instalments in this list and a much deserved one. Punch-Drunk Love is unlike any other romance film I’ve ever seen. Its characters are idiosyncratic in a way that makes watching their romance unfold pleasing, yet difficult. You don’t know if it’s going to work, but the performances of Sandler and Watson makes you connect to them instantly, even when they’re muttering about how they want to bash each other’s brains in as a form of foreplay. Filled with PTA’s gripping directorial style and a truly impressive script, Punch-Drunk Love offers a treatise on feeling different and wondering whether you’re worthy of the love you’ve been gifted with. And note, it’s the only Adam Sandler performance I’ve ever seen that I’ve actually enjoyed. Uncut Gems fans, please look away.
Runner-up: Chicago dir. Rob Marshall
Second runner-up: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers dir. Peter Jackson
2003: Lost in Translation dir. Sofia Coppola
Lost in Translation is a unique film experience for me. It’s a slow-burning look on how we cope with loneliness when presented with something of a kindred spirit; someone in the right place at the right time who is attuned to exactly how you’re thinking and feeling. I know what it feels like to have that eureka moment with people like that, and not always in a romantic sense. But Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s performances are both staggeringly real and filled to the brim with unspent emotion, allowing their characters to really circle around each other until they finally understand themselves as well as each other. It’s beautifully crafted by Sofia Coppola and one that I find myself returning to often.
Runner-up: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King dir. Peter Jackson
Second runner-up: Thirteen dir. Catherine Hardwicke
2004: Before Sunset dir. Richard Linklater
The second and final sequel on this list, Before Sunset is arguably the most beloved instalment of Linklater’s Before trilogy, combining both the familiarity of the first with the unpredictability of its eventual successor to create a 90 minute whirlwind of romance, realism, and some of the best dialogue written for the screen. This is my personal favourite of the trilogy and the only that appears on the list. If I was alive in 1995, you best believe that Before Sunrise would be there in a heartbeat. As for 2013, we’ll get there. Anyway, Linklater’s best film. Plus Hawke and Delpy both deserved Oscar nominations for their performances.
Runner-up: Sideways dir. Alexander Payne
Second runner-up: Mean Girls dir. Mark Waters
2005: Brokeback Mountain dir. Ang Lee
I was so close to putting Crash on here. That was a joke. As if I would ever.
Brokeback Mountain is a film so good I chose to write an essay about its screenplay for my degree. Featuring an array of great performances, a heartbreaking score, and filmmaking that’s at the top of its game, there was no way I wasn’t going to love this. A love story between two attractive men that has a great thematic core, emotional storytelling, and a Michelle Williams scorned wife performance? This really is made specifically for me.
Runner-up: Caché dir. Michael Haneke
Second runner-up: Red Eye dir. Wes Craven
2006: Little Miss Sunshine dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
I honestly don’t know what I love so much about this movie. Its offbeat humour? The stellar cast giving great performances? The cathartic release of the ending sequences? Definitely all three, but something deeper draws me to this movie, and also makes me not want to watch it at the same time. Whatever my own personal feelings, Little Miss Sunshine is a terrific movie that tells a beautifully relatable story in such a heartfelt way that you really can’t help but smile and fall a little bit in love with it every time you see it. Plus Toni Collette is always a bonus.
Runner-up: Children of Men dir. Alfonso Cuáron
Second runner-up: This is England dir. Shane Meadows
2007: There Will Be Blood dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
I promise I’m done blowing smoke up PTA’s ass after this entry, but There Will Be Blood is an undeniable masterwork and my favourite PTA film. Plus it feature arguably one of the best (if not the best) screen performance of this century so far and one of the best of all time. Daniel Day-Lewis is predictably incredible here and Paul Dano comes out of absolutely nowhere and goes toe-to-toe with him and doesn’t come out looking awful. The script is flowing with richness, thematics, and a particular form of wit that is native to PTA’s best work. Too many superlatives to even go into detail about: score, cinematography, editing, direction, writing, acting, the list just goes on and never stops. Should’ve won Best Picture that year.
Runner-up: Zodiac dir. David Fincher
Second runner-up: Juno dir. Jason Reitman
2008: WALL-E dir. Andrew Stanton
I want you to do something for me. Just look at that adorable little trash-collecting robot above and tell me that you wouldn’t die for him immediately. I bet you can’t.
WALL-E manages to do the impossible. It creates a film echoing the silent film era and makes it accessible for children and general film audiences. The lack of dialogue shouldn’t really work, but it does. And it’s a beautifully animated love story about robots and the environment as we know it. Rewatches don’t hurt it at all and it’s completely timeless. By far my favourite Pixar movie and I don’t see that changing any time soon (especially with Pixar’s recent track record, but that’s for another post).
Runner-up: The Dark Knight dir. Christopher Nolan
Second runner-up: Doubt dir. John Patrick Shanley
2009: Up in the Air dir. Jason Reitman
Strangely, considering this is a film about people who lack the abilities to make lasting, meaningful connections, this is one of my comfort films. It’s nice to just travel around with Clooney and Kendrick, both giving exceptional performances, as well as the ever-formidable Vera Farmiga popping up every now and then to be coy and seductive. Reitman’s screenplay is one of my favourites, exploring the abject loneliness of a career focus through those trying to prove the protagonist wrong. It’s truly brilliant and I will continue to watch it forever.
Runner-up: An Education dir. Lone Scherfig
Second runner-up: The Hurt Locker dir. Kathryn Bigelow
2010: The Social Network dir. David Fincher
Yes of course this is on here. The film I voted at number 1 in my favourite of the decade post is of course my favourite of that given year. 2010 was a great year and there was a lot to choose from, but I don’t even think I have to say it. Absolute masterpiece.
Runner-up: Certified Copy dir. Abbas Kiarostami
Second runner-up: Black Swan dir. Darren Aronofsky
2011: The Tree of Life dir. Terrence Malick
From here on, I reckon I’ve mentioned all of these in my big decade post, but The Tree of Life is a beautiful, beautiful film in which I discover something new on every viewing. A divisive film for sure and I definitely see why, it just really hits home.
Runner-up: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo dir. David Fincher
Second runner-up: Bridesmaids dir. Paul Feig
2012: Silver Linings Playbook dir. David O. Russell
I really, really love this movie. The whole cast is terrific, the screenplay is slick, and there’s something about the end dance number that sets my entire body on fire. It’s great in such a cheesy way that I can’t help but watch over and over again.
Runner-up: The Master dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Second runner-up: Frances Ha dir. Noah Baumbach
2013: Her dir. Spike Jonze
Yeah, this is probably my new favourite movie. It’s one that I love everything about and cuts my heart open every single time. I’m always thinking about it. But I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: THE BEST SCREENPLAY EVER WRITTEN!
Runner-up: Inside Llewyn Davis dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Second runner-up: Before Midnight dir. Richard Linklater
2014: Whiplash dir. Damien Chazelle
The last ten minutes. JK Simmons. The editing. The direction. Enough said.
Runner-up: Gone Girl dir. David Fincher
Second runner-up: Captain America: The Winter Soldier dir. Joe & Anthony Russo
2015: Spotlight dir. Tom McCarthy
A perfect ensemble, a perfect screenplay, and journalism told in such a way that makes it interesting, profound, and expertly told.
Runner-up: Carol dir. Todd Haynes
Second runner-up: Brooklyn dir. John Crowley
2016: La La Land dir. Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle just knows how to make movies. Gosling and Stone are the perfect on-screen couple, and the music is everything. A very, very special movie to me and probably the one I’ll end my life having seen the most.
Runner-up: Moonlight dir. Barry Jenkins
Second runner-up: Arrival dir. Denis Villeneuve
2017: Call Me By Your Name dir. Luca Guadagnino
I swear I’ve written in depth about this movie about 4 times on this blog and I refuse to do it again, I’m running out of words for it! But yeah, a sensational movie and one that’ll be etched into my memory forever.
Runner-up: Lady Bird dir. Greta Gerwig
Second runner-up: Phantom Thread dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
2018: If Beale Street Could Talk dir. Barry Jenkins
While I still think I maintain that Roma is potentially a better film, If Beale Street Could Talk remains my favourite. Between literally crying every time the trailer came on to playing the score for this whole year-and-a-half since I heard it, the movie is something so so special and beautifully crafted. Regina King is the GOAT.
Runner-up: Roma dir. Alfonso Cuáron
Second runner-up: First Man dir. Damien Chazelle
2019: Parasite dir. Bong Joon-ho
Yeah this still absolutely bangs. It will be a contender for greatest film of all time (as is shown by it being the highest-rated feature film on Letterboxd). The entire cast is superb, the writing is awesome, the direction is some of the best ever put to screen, and the t h e m e s. I can’t say enough good things about this movie.
Runner-up: Little Women dir. Greta Gerwig
Second runner-up: Waves dir. Trey Edward Schults
Agree with any of my choices? Heavily disagree? Are you an Uncut Gems stan who wants to yell at me in the comments? Feel free!
As always, stay safe everyone!