It feels like it’s been too long, but really, it’s only been two years since my last 50 Favorite Films. This is my biennial tradition that, honestly, I’ve been doing offline for about 30 years, but now is available for online navel gazing. You can check out the 2012, 2014, and 2016 editions should you care to. For those who are interesting in how I sort films based on criteria of quality, watchability, and personal resonance, I have a post about that too.
This year I went through over 570 films in the sort, though importantly, I did not bother to do a detailed sort of all of the films, just what turned out to be about the top 100 or so. That saved tremendous time.
Boy howdy was there a sea change in the ranking versus 2016. No less than 19 films in the Favorite 50 were not in the 2016 edition. Pretty much all of the “new” arrivals have been in the sort before and many have been in the top 50 before… and then there was the shakeup to the top 10 itself.
Hush! I don’t want any spoilers. I do, however, have some ground rules:
- These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
- Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
- TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
- TV mini-series are not included.
- Regular TV series are right out.
- These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
- There is no rule # 7.
Not stated in the ground rules is the obvious note that this list, like all subjective lists, is incredibly well-reasoned. So, without further ado, counting down from 50:
50) Die Hard
49) A Few Good Men
48) The Namesake
45) Breaker Morant
44) The Godfather, Part II
43) The Bridge on the River Kwai
41) The Incredibles
40) Big Fish
39) The Court Jester
38) Midnight Run
37) Never Cry Wolf
36) Galaxy Quest
35) The Count of Monte Cristo
34) Minority Report
33) Star Wars
31) The Princess Bride
30) Citizen Kane
29) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
28) The Lives of Others
27) Sullivan’s Travels
25) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
24) To Kill a Mockingbird
23) Cinema Paradiso
22) Sense and Sensibility
21) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
20) Saving Private Ryan
19) North by Northwest
18) Rob Roy
16) Children of Men
15) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
14) Das Boot
13) The Shawshank Redemption
12) Field of Dreams
11) Once Upon a Time in the West
9) The Empire Strikes Back
8) Singin’ in the Rain
7) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
6) Black Hawk Down
5) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
4) Schindler’s List
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark
And, as before, here are some…
Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)
- Total Comedies: 7
- Total Dramas: 23
- Total Action-Adventure Films: 23
- Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 18
- Total Westerns: 2
- Total War Movies: 17
- Total Musicals: 2
- Total Animated Films: 1
- Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
- Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1986
- Decade with the most favorites: 1980s (15 films), followed closely by the 2000s (13 films)
- The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Edge of Tomorrow
Viscerally, it feels like a huge shake-up — and seeing it laid out makes me realize a few things…
It’s an altogether grimmer list
There are less comedies, less animated films, and less musicals. Yes, those last two categories aren’t always lighter fare, but the musicals and animated films that left the list definitely were. There’s more war films on the list — I even have two military courtroom dramas for crying out loud! (That’s A Few Good Men & Breaker Morant, for those keeping score at home.) Just about every film in the top 10 either has war either overtly throughout or peeking obtrusively around the corner. Well, except for…
Singin’ in the Rain
My #1 film since at least 2008. It had a good run. Maybe it’ll return, but when we got to that part of the sort, I just knew it wasn’t going to claim the top spot this year. Instead, that distinction went to a film that hasn’t claimed that spot since it was first in theaters in 1981.
An Adventure for the Ages
I mean, Raiders has been a favorite since ’81 (along with many other great films from the year. Seriously, check out some of the top-grossing ones that were in theaters in 1981). It was a good year. It could be that I’m busy writing adventure stories myself and it could be it scratches that itch many of us are feeling of late to see Nazis punched, but regardless, it’s a rattlin’ good yarn.
I noted a few other trends or tendencies. While the top 50 remained at the average year of 1986, the top 100 averages to 1989. I’m pretty sure my favorites are getting newer overall.
I’m thinking that many a film is played out for me. This isn’t unprecedented as I noticed that with music ages ago. Some films may still be just as objectively good, but I’m not getting as much as I once did on repeated viewings. It’s also the best reason I have for Rogue One thundering in ahead of the original Star Wars. (The next highest film new to the sort was Spotlight, which came in at #55). Franchise films also did not fare as dismally as they did in 2016, though I noted the Marvel films did not do well (Guardians of the Galaxy did the best at #61).
So, there it is. A fun list… that hopefully has a couple titles you’ll want to watch or re-watch. For 2020, I’m probably going to see which of IMDb’s “top 250” I haven’t seen or haven’t rewatched in a while as well as whatever else filmmaker friends recommend. Happy Boxing Day! Hope you’re spending some of the next week in a cinema watching a damn fine film or two.