My All-Time Favorite Movies ( far, for now)

My All-Time Favorite Movies ( far, for now)


Posted on July 26, 2022 by Blake Leath

< updated on or around July 25, 2022 and please ignore any typos: I’m hurrying on a plane here and sometimes feel too old and too tired to care. c’est la vie, mes amis! >




I cannot answer “What are your top 10 favorite movies of all time?” because my brain doesn’t really think that way, but I am delighted to punch in below some of the more memorable movies that have stuck with me and which—when offered the chance—I would happily watch again (and again, and again, and again… and in many cases already have).

It’s really important to know that I hated The Power of the Dog and was terribly disappointed by both Drive My Car and Moonlight, so my tastes frequently run contrary to critics’ tastes, to the Academy’s, to conventional [“Tomatometer”] wisdom, and to the box office. That being the case, think of the list as nothing more than “just films good ol’ Blake likes,” ‘cause that’s all it is anyway.

I present them as they came to me most recently on March 8, 2022 and July 15, 2022, those being two of the more recent dates someone asked in a large group setting—and very earnestly so.

With only a few exceptions, ignore the numbering, which is included only so folks can refer to numbers (rather than titles), should that expedite any dialogue.  

And so, without any further adieu, here we go:

1.      La La Land (We/I pretty much ‘hated’ it the first time we saw it, but only because it had an unorthodox ending, so I gave it another shot… and wound up [I know this is crazy] seeing it 18 or 21 times in the theater… lost count… but it became for me what coffee shops are for others: a comforting place I could fall into that was destined to break my heart but in an oh-so-beautiful and uniquely told way. Yes, yes, if someone were to put a gun to my head, La La Land would be my answer to the question: “What's your favorite movie of all time?”)

2.      The Black Phone (Have seen it seven times because: It’s got a seasonal Halloween vibe long before Halloween, so what’s not to love? I enjoy flicks set in the late 70s-early 80s [when I was 7-14 years old]. I love Finney and his friends: their repartee, their collaboration, their anti-heroes-heroism. I adore Robin as played by Miguel Cazarez Mora [and the true backstory about bringing him back, as explained via hyperlinks embedded in my actual review elsewhere on this site]. And I love how, in the end, every puzzle piece slots perfectly into place within about 30 tight-freakin’-seconds. Finally, here’s what I told a friend last week who asked why I loved the flick so much: “Great ’78 ethos, plus friendship, finding one’s voice, and courage.” For those paying attention, The Black Phone is still playing in theaters as a late show, despite having streamed last week. That’s ‘staying power,’ and in part because the film is destined to be a cult-fave by anyone who already loves Stranger Things or Stand by Me.)

3.      Mad Max: Fury Road (You can find my May 13, 2015 review elsewhere on this site, but it suffices to say this film parted my hair, plus, all the food I ordered at the theater got cold because I could not stop to eat properly for two whole hours; Fury Road is a remarkable thunder-clap of a movie.)

4.      The Big Blue (OMG, I love this 1988 movie; my dad raved about it, I’ve seen it more times than I can imagine; it’s transportive, atmospheric, gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, well-written, incredibly quirky, emotional, somehow alien, and wholly unforgettable; definitely in my “top 10” of any/all time.)

5.      Usual Suspects (So dang clever, like Russian nested dolls, and Keyser Söze [the inscrutable introvert, not the machine-of-violence] is my spirit animal.)

6.      Drive (Gosling… and between the score, soundtrack, hammer, and love… it’s one of the best vibe-movies around; sorta like if Tangerine Dream’s Love on a Real Train from Risky Business became a whole movie, Drive would be that movie! It’s worth noting, right about here, I suppose, that I am strongly drawn to anti-hero introverts: Gosling in La La Land, Finney in The Black Phone, Max & Imperator Furiosa in Fury Road, Jacques Mayol in The Big Blue, Söze in Usual Suspects, and so many characters much like ‘em: Han Solo, Walter White, Tony Soprano, the Stranger Things misfits, kids from The Sandlot, Batman, Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It, and so on. If it’s a strong story that’s beautifully shot and scored and includes someone kinda on the ropes, floating on the bubble, or perhaps altogether underestimated throughout Acts I and II, then I’m here for it; that’s my jam. You’ll see that golden thread recur throughout much of this list.)

7.      The Rescue (Jimmy Chin’s 2021 documentary about the Northern Thailand cave rescue of all those soccer boys. And who saved ‘em? Those goofy, underestimated, all but written-off anti-hero Brits with the weird weekend hobby of underwater spelunking.)

8.       The Godfather (That opening hour; incredible character development, beautiful cinematography, great writing, lyrical music; it's a classic for all these reasons and more.)

9.      Pan's Labyrinth (OMG, that character! Yikes! But seriously, what a powerful, simple, tiny film that leaves a huge impression for a fairy tale.)

10.   Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978, and the golden hour! Plus, a Bear, so how can I not?)

11.   A River Runs Through It (Man, what a story.)

12.   Stand by Me (Man, what a movie! And that final scene narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. Wow, mop me up with a sponge.)

13.   The Natural (Redford at his best and in a perfect movie well-told.)

14.   The Champ (Jon Voight, Ricky Schroder, and a mighty answer to the timeless question: “How deep is your love?”)

15.   Shawshank Redemption (Duh.)

16.   Nolan's Batman trilogy (Duh.)

17.   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 and duh: It’s got two unbearable scenes, I know, but without them the essential third scene that introduces Lisbeth's unique brand of pre-meditated ferocity would be wholly impossible. Plus, all the perfect gray-blue skies I love, tremendous writing, pitch-perfect acting, and something you rarely see: an Act IV that’s nearly 30 minutes long! I would give nearly anything for Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig to return this franchise for the couple remaining installments, but in today’s world of shifting sensibilities and consumer tastes, they would prove all but unmakeable now, I suppose.)

18.   A Ghost Story (Filmed right up the road on recognizable land and what a MIGHTY, poetic reflection on the meaning[lessness] of time. A Ghost Story is a meditation, not a movie. I love David Lowery and equate him to Robert Eggers, as they both thrive in the anti-mainstream realm, that which resonates just beyond box office bucks.)

19.   Braveheart (Duh. Mel Gibson’s zenith—when he was absolute fire. That is to say before his problematic worldview and hate speech amounted to lighting himself on fire. Ignoring that, for the moment, I’m just sad that mine will be the last generation to have been genuinely moved by The Passion of the Christ, We Were Soldiers, The Patriot, The Man Without a Face, Forever Young, and even all the intervening Smokey and the Bandit-like mindless fun when Gibson had become the world’s latest incarnation of Burt Reynolds but starring in Signs, What Women Want, Payback, Ransom, Air America, Mad Max, and four Lethal Weapon flicks. Lethal Weapon 5 has been announced, but whether Gibson is able to return to Martin Riggs at all [much less in any meaningful, unclouded way beyond a goofy cameo] remains to be seen. He—like Voight, Schroder, Scott Baio, James Woods, and countless others before and since—remain persona non grata for most studios, hence the Van Damme-like straight-to-video releases for Gibson since 2002.)  

20.   The Revenant (Wow, simply incredible. Anything Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki create I’ll be sure to see.)

21.   Meet Joe Black (I know, I know: Pitt is an airhead in this one, but something about the production at large brings me back time and again. Like with Shawshank, anytime I walk through a room where Meet Joe Black is playing, I stop and settle in.)

22.   The Black Stallion (Goofy, I know, but big bear Hoyt Axton and that relationship he had with all-but-one-and-done newcomer Kelly Reno was magical, to say nothing of the horse. It’s just a beautiful movie. 1979.)

23.   Insidious (Yowza. There ain’t nothin’ like a demon on the ceilin’ to get you grabbin’ for the Bible and makin' sure you’re right with the LORD!)

24.   Manhunter (Duh. Everything is perfect in this movie, from lighting and sound to storyline and delivery. The original DVD came in this clever little manila folder and ‘case file’ on The Tooth Fairy. I love most Michael Mann films, and William Petersen’s bowed-legs and slow-brew/seething acting as retired profiler Will Graham set the stage for virtually every film—and show, like Mindhunter—to have occurred in the 26 years since. Without Manhunter, there would be no David Fincher as we know him today.)

25.   The Insider (Michael Mann… again.)

26.   Saving Private Ryan (Duh.)

27.   Forrest Gump (Duh. And so EPIC! I LOVE epic.)

28.   Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy (Duh.)

29.   The Hateful Eight (Incredible story, ceaseless tension, and writing that will never be forgotten. Plus, those costumes… and Samuel L. Jackson!)

30.   The Grand Budapest Hotel (I could eat this film. Wes Anderson makes pink meringue, Cool Whip, and cotton candy—all of which are designed to offset the wry and dry delivery of lines.)

31.   Gone Girl (So eerie, atmospheric, and looming. Plus, no lite scene occurs without a tinge of darkness, doubt, or second-guessing, so by the time Act III powers in, it’s a pitch-perfect wallop. That's pure Fincher, Fincher, Fincher.)

32.   Legend (aka “Tom Cruise in Tights!” 1986, Ridley Scott, featuring: Bryan Ferry’s Is Your Love Strong Enough theme song, Mia Sara before Ferris mania, and Tim Curry oozing evil as Darkness. It’s a classic. “I trust you, Lili” and “Love?” are lines that will live forever.)

33.   Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle’s classic was best described by one critic at the time as “a buoyant hymn to life and a movie to celebrate.” I agree, and what fun dancing at the end over the credits!)

34.   Castaway (The weight loss, the tooth with ice skate, the unbearable heartache and loss—survived by a character whose profession had been the literal measuring of time—and then Act III comes along: Desertion rather than gold at the end of one's rainbow, a lifelong love wholly lost, and standing at a literal Panhandle crossroads learning to begin again. It’s a classic for these reasons and so many more.)

35.   Joker (I would argue this film’s trailer is better than most entire films, and Joaquin’s total commitment and performance in the titular role harkens back to the very best transformations undertaken by, say, De Niro or Bale at their best.)

36.   The Prince of Tides (My wife has always hated the fact that one of my favorite films of all time revolves around adultery, as do I, but the ethos of what Pat Conroy created here is otherworldly, undeniably powerful, gorgeously and heartbreakingly captured, and the accompanying score is among my all-time faves. 31 years later, you can still find me listening to it whenever I’m writing and trying to concentrate. It’s a soaring score, no doubt, as good as classical music to my ear.)

37.   Life Is Beautiful (Such a heartbreaker. And that ending. Ugh. But to love and be loved that deeply, am I right? A pure ode to parenting.)

38.   Kramer vs. Kramer (It’s one of the oldest movies I remember clearly, and mostly because I was devastated by it.)

39.   Rocky (My parents took me to see it when I was eight years old—and I loved it. It blew me away. Unfortunately, I fainted near the end… so much blood in that boxing ring, and can still recall what the ceiling tiles looked like as my father carried me out of the theater and through the lobby to find some ice.)

40.   The Elephant Man (Incredible. Heartbreaking how cruel we can be to one another, no?)

41.   V for Vendetta (So cleverly told. Team Wachowski!)

42.   Hostiles (Pretty recent to have made my list, but it’s so basic, raw, and slowly told… that it is, somehow, almost too much to take in the first go-around. All three acts are tremendous; there are no weak spots here as far as I’m concerned.)

43.   The [first] Matrix (It’s been 23 years, and setting the Columbine tragedy aside for a moment, the film and its sleek, goth, slow-mo cleverness was pure bliss. All that followed, of course, was tragedy, sheer tragedy.)

44.   John Wick (Any and all installments! I see that Chapter 4 is coming March 24, 2023 and I can hardly wait! Horses, nunchakus, bows, and well-suited assassins bringing everything in tow; it should be another slick, dark blast.)

45.   Risky Business (Iconic lines, music, dance, plot, ending. Was just a pure joy at that age, and Cruise was a marvel to behold.)

46.   Awakenings (Beautiful and heartbreaking, but it put Oliver Sacks on my radar, and I’ve since devoured everything humanly possible that he created. In truth, though I do not agree with a couple of his most important life choices, I respected his right to make them. Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a powerful meditation on dying.)

47.   Billy Jack (“You know what I’m gonna do, just for the hell of it?” “What?” “I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna wop you on this side of your face, and you know what?” “What?” “There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.” “Really?” “Really.” WOP! Tom Laughlin, Bong Soo Han, fundamental fight choreography, and an iconic ass-whuppin’ in a tiny Arizona park square after a white flour incident. What’s not to love? It’s a classic, as is One Tin Soldier.)

48.   Enter the Dragon (Dang, if only Lee’d lived longer. 33 is way too young.)

49.   The Outlaw Josey Wales (Ha! Some things get even better with age.)

50.   Sixth Sense (Duh.)

51.   Fistful of Dollars (God bless the spaghetti westerns!)

52.   The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Yessir.)

53.   Pale Rider (“There’s nothing like a nice piece of hickory.” Amen to that.)

54.   Deliverance (Yowza, but a classic—from banjo pickin’ on the porch all the way through to the ending.)

55.   Highlander (OMG, if someone would re-make this already, s/he would be a gazillionaire. What a fun movie in desperate need of a remake! Just needs the right team assembled to pull it off properly and give it its due. Someone like Eggers, Fincher, Mann, Tarantino... not Michael Bay.)

56.   Purple Rain (Can you believe it’s already been 38 years? Sheesh. I remember floating out of the theater afterward and knowing I’d seen something remarkable. I still catch it again every three to four years and feel exactly the same way. Sure, he was tiny, twirled a lot, and confused Lisa and Wendy, but his performances on stage remain as mystifying to me now as they did then. He was an artiste, no doubt about that!)

57.   Top Gun: Maverick (It’s a pop-culture, popcorn zeitgeist—nothing political here, nothing religious, nothing complicated, no hidden agendas, and I appreciate all that. Every now and again, it’s true, we feel a need for nothing more [or less] than pure, unadulterated speed!)

58.   Logan Lucky (It's clever and winky, as if the Coen Bros lent a hand to Steven Soderbergh.)