I've wanted to write this for a while, and consider it the most personal thing I've written. My favourite films mean a lot to me, and have played a part in shaping me into the person I am today. Films don't exist independently of their audiences - your experience with a film isn't just a reflection of the film itself, but also a reflection of who you are. With that in mind, here's part of who I am.
Note - I've got over 50 films on my watch list, and I considered waiting to get through more of those before I made this post. Then I realised that the idea of "waiting until my favourite films list settles" is pretty pointless, because a favourite films list shouldn't be static. I hope that a year from now, many of the films on this list are new, and the same is true the year after that!
Blade Runner 2049
There are too many reasons why I love this film to list them all, and any one of them could be the subject of its own post. I could talk about the amazing cinematography which earned Roger Deakins his long-overdue Oscar. I could talk about how it manages to expertly capture the feel and the dreamlike pacing of the original while still having its own identity. I could talk about the themes of identity, memory, and love.
But mostly, I want to talk about why this film is particularly special to me, for much the same reason as my #2 choice. It shows us worlds whose people have lost hope in the future, and one person's journey to find hope again.This person comes to the realisation that the story isn't about them, but that they can still do their part to make sure the story continues. As someone with a vested interest in making sure humanity successfully navigates the transition to transformative AI, this all hits particularly hard.
Children of Men
Lots of sci-fi focuses on constructing elaborate futuristic worlds or scenarios, but Children of Men *feels real*. It presents a world where humanity has been infertile for 20 years, and most people have given up hope in the future. The main character's emotional detachment and cynicism weigh on you at the start of the film, and it's a cathartic joy to watch it slowly melt away.
This film also features probably the single most emotionally moving scene in any film I've ever watched (not going to describe the exact scene, but you'll know it when you see it), and probably my favourite line in any film I've ever watched.
"I was there at the end."
"...Now you're going to be there at the beginning."
Everything Everywhere All At Once
This is one of the few films that manages to make me cry. The fact that it manages to fit in such deep, well-explored themes of the overwhelmingness and existential panic of existence, regrets and missed opportunities, the pain and difficulty of connecting to the people you love - all while including some of the most absurdist comedy present in any movie ever - is just mind-blowing.
Also, fun fact which I learned - the directors of this film also made the "Harlem Shake" music video - you can see one of them in the video, humping the TV. We truly live in the weirdest branch of the multiverse.
Lost in Translation
I find it hard to communicate and connect with other people sometimes, and this film rang true to reality in a painful way.
The first third mainly involves the two leads separate from each other. Many scenes reinforce the theme of being unable to connect and communicate. From translation difficulties during a photoshoot, to emotions unable to be conveyed across phone lines, to misunderstandings over the colors of a carpet - everything works together to create a feeling of quietly numbing isolation. The film perfectly depicts how both characters feel lost and alone, even when they're surrounded by others. When I watch these parts, I feel like the characters do - outside, looking in. I feel their heartache alongside them. And when they find each other, it feels like they're the only two people in the world. This film made me fall in love with falling in love.
A lot of ink has been spilled on this film's sometimes offensive treatment of Japanese culture, and its use of Tokyo as more of a backdrop than an actual location. I think parts of this criticism are valid, and there are definitely some scenes which can't be excused, but on the whole this is a film about isolation - of being an observer, on the outside looking in. There are scenes which feel like they're paying respect to the culture in a way which runs deeper than using it as window dressing (Charlotte's wordless observation of a wedding ceremony in a Kyoto shrine is probably my favourite scene in the film.)
This film is intimate. It's special. It's a fantasy, whispered in a crowded street, swallowed up by the city.
(Also, Anna Faris is hilarious.)
I mean, what else has to be said - it's the freaking Matrix. This film is structurally perfect. It's one of the films I most enjoy rewatching. The amount of exposition and worldbuilding that it accomplishes is just amazing.Shame they never made any sequels, those might have been cool...
Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring
This series transports me back to my childhood every time I watch it. Every part of it, from the score to the special effects, is perfect.
If I could pick all three films to go on this list, I would - it's impossible to picture one without picturing the whole. But since that's kinda cheating, I've picked Fellowship as my favourite. I love the feeling of setting out on an adventure promised by this film - a promise which the rest of the series keeps.
This film is absolutely batshit crazy. I've never seen anything like it.
The setup is pretty uncomplicated - a bunch of dancers are trapped together in a building overnight, and start tripping when someone spikes their sangria. But this film absolutely refuses to play by any rules. It has a semi-improvised plot. There's a credits sequence half way through the film. The longest single shot is a 42 minute unbroken handheld tracking shot through the dark halls and hellishly-lit dancefloors. The soundtrack is diagetic, with intense techno and EDM from Daft Punk and Aphex Twin, and ratchets up in insanity as the characters descend into madness. It's immersive, in the worst possible way.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
I absolutely loved this film. Listing off all the great things about it would take longer than I have time to spare on these logs, but I'll do my best.
For starters, the color and cinematography are stunning. The phrase "every frame a painting" isn't just applicable, but also very appropriate given the film's themes and subject matter. But more than just being aesthetically nice, the shots are often deliberate in how they play with the viewer's perception. There are tracking shots where we follow a character's point of view (including my personal favourite shot of the film, which follows one of the main characters out of the doors of the house and leads us as the viewer on a chase through the woods and fields, without revealing the character's face). There are perspective shots which aren't from any character's point of view, but which make you feel like a silent observer. There are shots that play out for close to a minute until you think you understand the context of the scene, only to have the rug ripped out from under you when you're shown a different perspective.
It's honestly incredible how tightly the film manages to weave its central themes of art and perspective into every aspect of the film. Framing the film around the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is another great touch - it reinforces the ideas of perception, glances, temptation, looking, memory, rules, love and loss. The scene in which this myth is discussed ends with the line which I think encapsulates this film more than any other - "he doesn't make the lover's choice, but the poet's."
So many parts of the film feel like they're communicating with each other (even while watching a clip of the aforementioned scene, I noticed something else which foreshadows a later moment in the film). More than anything else I've seen, I expect there will be a lot more to pick up on my second watch - which I'm very much looking forward to.
Given how much I enjoy Lady Bird, I wasn't expecting this to be easily my favourite Greta Gerwig project, but here we are.
I love how the film feels like the main character: mired in nostalgia, unable to move on from the past, freewheeling chaotically between times and places, trying to find a place to fit. The editing stood out, giving it a lot more personality - I love the montage-style way we often jump between scenes, conveying a lot with just a few shots.
The film also feels so authentic and true-to-life. One of my favourite things about the performaces are the subtle expressions and emotions we see on characters' faces when they think other characters can't see them. It feels so natural, and helps construct the film's point of view - we see the world through Frances' eyes, but we also see things which she can't, and which are obvious to everyone around her except for her. We see the patterns of behaviour which she can't escape from, and is trapped by.
But ultimately, the film presents a hopeful picture of growing up and moving on with your life - showing that change doesn't always have to be a bad thing.
Aaaah this movie is so wholesome, it's like a warm blanket on a hot summer's day (and I don't even like hot weather but I still mean that as a compliment)
The way Amélie keeps trying to bring joy and color to the lives of people around her is just so uplifting. One of my favourite scenes is when she walks a blind man across the street - not seeing fit to just help him navigate, she overflows with zest and enthusiasm as she walks with him, excitedly pointing out all the features of the world around him, from the wrinkles in someone's eyes to the cheeses and hams hanging in the window of a shop. But the story isn't just about her quest to bring happiness to others, it's also about her learning to seek out happiness for herself.
For a film about people who find pleasure in all the little things, it's fitting that the film itself pays so much attention to things like sound design, set design and the color palette of rich greens and reds, and sun-bathed yellows. The world it constructs feels so tactile, like you can reach out and touch it, or breathe it in.
If I could come up with one criticism, I'd say there are a few scenes which seem a bit visually odd (e.g. some uncanny use of CGI) - rather than being an extension of the film's personality, it feels a bit unfitting, and not like something that's aged well. But this is a really minor point overall.
Some of my favourite films of all time (Blade Runner, Children of Men) are about huge miracles, bringing light back into a broken world. But this film is about all the small miracles of life, and I love it for that. I think I'll be returning to this film a lot in my life. It's a reminder that in this world, when you're looking out for people, sometimes there are also people looking out for you.