Hello Interwebs! Regular readers of my articles already know I’m a film fan. But which films do I hold above all others? Today I offer you my top 5 favourite movies and explain why they are so near to my heart. Let me get this out of the way: nostalgia plays a big part in most of these choices. But I genuinely believe they’re good films too. If you’ve never seen any of these and I happen to make them sound good, give them a shot! OK. Let’s get started now…
5. The Prestige (2006)– Directed by Christopher Nolan
As far as I can tell, The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s most underrated film. I never hear anyone talk about this one. Everybody loves Inception, or the Batman trilogy, or Memento but The Prestige is hands-down one of the best films I’ve ever seen and deserves more love!
Two magicians, once colleagues turned bitter rivals, go to progressively crazier lengths to one-up each other in the public eye (and sabotage one another). But of course magicians never reveal their secrets, so the audience spends the entire movie piecing together how the characters’ tricks are performed. The movie makes this fun, however, because the magicians are trying to discover each other’s secrets as well. We’re just along for the ride. There’s more to it but I don’t want to spoil anything.
Maybe the plot gets a little too weird for some people. I don’t know. But I think the movie makes up for that with brilliant performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson. It’s also got a fully an engaging story which will probably keep you guessing at the mysteries till the very end. Let’s just say it’s one of those films which most definitely requires a re-watch. I found the experience was far more rewarding the second time around.
I look to this movie as a fantastic example of film-making craft. Nolan spends the entire run-time using cinema techniques like a magician to place audience focus exactly where it needs to be. As a filmmaker, I long to use film language so effectively! Movies like this completely re-frame the way I think about story presentation. They make me want to step up my movie-making game.
4. Grease (1978)– Directed by Randal Kleiser
Grease is one of the most unabashedly fun movies I’ve ever watched. It’s got great humor and writing, the actors give it their all, and it often leaves me nostalgic for high school. Is it even anything like the high school I went to? In some ways yes and, in others, not so much.
Though the movie is set in the 1950s and exudes that era’s social norms, it also features aspects of the teen experience which never go out of style: falling in love for the first time, not knowing where you fit in, forging your own identity, and navigating the frequent pitfalls of peer/ social pressure.
The characters in this movie act like they’ve got their lives figured out, yet most of their decisions blow up in their faces. Sandy and Danny’s love story is messy and full of melodrama like most high school relationships; Kenickie and Rizzo are too tough for their own good; Frenchie gets carried away by her impulses, etc. What teenagers can’t to relate to any of these problems? I know I could.
I tend to associate Grease with a simpler time in my life (kind of like how Grease is set in a “simpler time” of American history). It represents those years when my biggest worries were getting people to like me and passing school; when hanging out with my friends every single day was normal; when my responsibilities in life were minimal. The movie is like taking the feeling of a specific time and packaging it into a cool couple hours of entertainment. As the song says:
“There ain’t no danger we can go too far
We start believing now that we can be who we are”
Grease is about that time where possibilities seem endless and you ought to just have fun while it lasts. Funny enough, that’s a great parallel to the real world: America in the 1950s was care-free and relatively innocent but, in the 1960s, it grew up and got serious and never looked back.
(Greased) Lightening up again now– Grease also has one of the best soundtracks ever made! My personal favourite: “Those Magic Changes” by Sha Na Na. A bit of a deep cut, I know, but it’s an awesome song.
3. Superman: The Movie (1978)– Directed by Richard Donner
Superhero movies are the most popular genre today, and they owe all their success to the template Superman laid out for them. Superman: The Movie wasn’t THE first superhero movie I ever saw, but it instilled me with a lifelong love of men in tights. Wait. That came out wrong… But some guys rock it, am I right? I’ve been a superhero fan since I was a kid and I’ve seen basically every film based on Marvel or DC characters. But this is still my favourite one. In fact– I appreciate it more in adulthood than I ever did as a child.
Maybe the plot is a little outdated by today’s standards but it’s simple, to the point, and inspiring. Unlike the majority of modern comic-book movies, there’s a mythic quality to this story which makes it feel like classic cinema while you watch it. Old Hollywood really knew how to make a movie feel epic! Superman: The Movie was lovingly made by people trying to make a great film in general– not just a great Superman film. Really, it’s less of a “superhero movie” as we know it today and more of an upbeat science fiction story about an alien who crash-lands to Earth and decides to help people.
Speaking of that title alien: Christopher Reeve as Superman is one of the best movie castings ever. Superman has been recast countless times over his 80+ years in comics, movies, TV, and animation, but Reeve remains my favourite iteration of the character. He’s simultaneously warm, kind, and charming but also a bit of a dork.
Even 40 years ago, the world was already cynical about “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” (something the film even references) but the character of Superman never waivers from these ideals. Superman’s power to inspire comes from his pure devotion to truth and justice, whether the world at large believes in them or not. I can’t speak for anyone else– but this movie makes me want to be a better person. Reeve’s Superman is a personal hero of mine and a role model which I strive to emulate every day.
FUN FACT: Kevin Feige (the guy who’s in charge of the Marvel movies) once interned under Richard Donner.
2. Star Wars (1977)– Directed by George Lucas
Hollywood basically exists in 3 eras: silent movies, talkies with color, and anything after Star Wars. OK. That’s an exaggeration… But A New Hope drastically upped the film industry’s game in a number of ways. Too many for me to get into today. People take its innovations for granted now, but the sheer originality on display is staggering: the special effects technologies, the original sound effects, the creature designs, the mythology and lore, the characters, the action, the music (oh Lord, the music!), etc. I often find it hard to believe that one movie gifted the world with so much iconography in 2 hours.
The story of Star Wars is, at its core, a formulaic hero’s journey set in space. Add in a healthy dose of Eastern influences, infused with Western narrative structures and archetypes, and George Lucas had a classic on his hands! Star Wars is like every popular story you’ve seen before, yet like nothing you’ve seen before (besides all its imitators of course).
A New Hope resonates with me perhaps more than any movie on this list. It’s not my absolute favourite but it changed my life the most. Star Wars taught little Joseph to look to the horizon and chase his ambitions, to rebel when tyrants attempt to dictate his life, and that Princesses could kick ass too (and not just exist as damsels in distress). The film’s biggest impact on me, however, is that it spurned the rest of the Star Wars franchise. And it was these movies which inspired me to become a filmmaker when I was 7 years old! Of course that childhood dream is one I’ve followed unwaiveringly to this very day.
Star Wars continues to be a major creative influence in my work. Tonnes of artists want to be edgy and say something about the world, but I just want to make some good entertainment. It’s my dream to create a story as epic in scope, as impactful on people, and as long-lasting as Star Wars. Every time I watch the original movie, I’m transported back to my childhood mindset of awe. If I could do that for anyone else someday, I’ll consider my career a success. There’s no such thing as a perfect movie, but Star Wars comes as close as it gets. Same with my favourite film of all time…
1. Back to the Future (1985)– Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Back to the Future is one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. Feel free to fight me on that. I have yet to find a single person who dislikes it. And the plot is based on such a simple concept: what would it be like if you met your parents as teenagers? Turns out the answer is: it would suck because you’d mess with the time-stream and erase yourself from existence. Whoah, that’s heavy!
Perhaps BTTF’s main draw is its accessibility. Its story is relatable (who hasn’t wondered what their parents were like when they were younger?), it’s fun to watch, and the sci-fi isn’t too intense. The rules are also simple enough to follow: don’t change the past in any meaningful way or else you’ll mess up the future. I believe there’s a little something for everyone.
For those who like great characters: Marty McFly and Doc Brown are one of the best film duos ever. A teenage slacker and a middle-aged mad scientist are an unlikely pair but their relationship never seems out of place. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd have such amazing chemistry that you accept their friendship without any explanation. Their comedy performances alone are worth seeing the film for.
A fan of humor? Unlike most comedic movies, this film’s jokes actually land. In fact, BTTF is one of the most quotable movies of all time! Yet it also has a solid plot to go along with its jokes. Even if comedy isn’t your thing, you can still appreciate the story. That’s rarer in mainstream entertainment than it should be.
There’s even a healthy dose of action sequences for the thrill-seeking crowd: car chases, fights, a shoot-out, and a race-against-the-clock finale. That last sequence in particular is a thrill-ride with massive stakes!
Back to the Future is everything I love about movies: an original adventure with great story, lovable characters, abundance of wit, action, and crazy scenarios, all pulled off with an indescribable energy/ flare.
Ultimately: every movie on this list makes the creator in me jealous. They all make artistry seem effortless, yet remain largely entertaining as well! Believe me– that’s a ridiculously hard balance to strike…
Once again, be sure to check these out if you’ve never seen them before. Hopefully I sold you on their merits. OK. Article’s over now. As a smart man once said– “Make like a tree and get outta here!”
What are your favourite films and why? Please share them in the comments. If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,