Star’s Picks – Top 10 Movies

Damian:  Health, Spanish… You’re taking 12th Grade Calculus?
Cady:  Yeah, I like math.
Damian:  Ew… why?
Cady:  Because it’s the same in every country.
Damian:  That’s beautiful.  This girl is deep.

At first I wasn’t sure how to start this post.  Sure, ‘Top 10’ Lists aren’t exactly rocket-science, but as I fleshed out my list (a much harder task than I had anticipated), I wanted to take the time to reflect exactly why I love movies so much.  I mean, I have numerous passions in my life—I read voraciously, but I don’t often talk about the books I’m reading unless I’m in conversation with other literary enthusiasts.  I will however talk movies until I’m blue in the face to an unsuspecting stranger, given the opportunity.  And then I realized a big part of what I love about cinema.  And like the scene above, from ‘Mean Girls’ if you’ve been living under a rock, there’s something very universal about the movie-going experience.  We’ve moved so many times in the last few years, sometimes not staying long enough to make any real connections.  But everywhere we’ve lived has had a least one major chain cinema and a charming art house/indie spot.  And even in an empty theater, you’re never really alone, what with all your friends up there on the screen.  It’s comforting.

Here, in somewhat of an order, are my Top 10 Movies.  Emphasis on the MY.  There are so many amazing films out there, and it was hard not to include titles that are incredibly important to the history of film (and aren’t necessarily enjoyable entertainment), but I tried to stick to movies I’ve actually seen and ones I’m willing to watch repeatedly.


10.  ‘A Town Called Panic’ (2009) – Or Panique au village (original title) is a Belgian film by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar.  (It was gifted to me by my wonderful editor, and without her kindness, I don’t know that I ever would’ve come across it otherwise!)  It’s in French.  So I get that this is not a film for everyone—you have to love both stop-motion animation and be into reading subtitles.  If you’re not fluent in French, this is definitely a movie one must pay attention to, so you can’t really use it as background noise.  For those who do enjoy stop-motion and foreign films, this is an absolute MUST.  It’s so bright and colorful and just a real simple delight!  If you’re a hipster on a third or fourth date, definitely put this on.  Normally I’d give you a description, but the entire plot is incredibly ridiculous.  Just trust me.  It’s really fun!


9.  ‘Tombstone’ (1993) – I like to think of this movie as the “Western For People Who Don’t Like Westerns.”  I say this because I don’t like Westerns.  They’re usually SO INCREDIBLY BORING.  Not so with ‘Tombstone.’  It’s jam-packed with action and incredible one-liners.  “I’m your Huckleberry…”  DAMN RIGHT YOU ARE, YOUNG AND SUPAH FINE VAL KILMER.  The entire cast is filled to the very gills with amazing talent:  Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, GOSH DARN CHARLTON HESTON, Thomas Haden Church, the incredible power house that is Paula Malcolmson, a baby-faced (comparatively) Michael Rooker, a chubby Billy Bob Thorton, Billy Zane sporting the most luscious curls, and so on and so forth.  I bought a lousy copy on BluRay, and it’s my favorite sick-day movie, favorite I’m-in-the-mood-for-an-old-favorite movie.  I am pretty much always down to watch it any time.


8. ‘Atomic Blonde’ (2017) – This was a real labor of love for Charlize Theron, and it shows. She spent five years developing this project!  She had EIGHT personal trainers to help her master her performance and cracked two teeth while filming!  It’s gritty and sexy without pandering to the male gaze (a huge relief).  The soundtrack is full of 80’s bangers.  The cast is really tight—jam-packed with talent:  John Goodman, James McAvoy (cheeky as ever, a true delight), Sophia Boutella (a real beauty), Bill Skarsgård (whose character I would really love to see a spinoff movie for), and the incredibly wonderful Til Schweiger (from ‘Inglourious Basterds’ fame).


7. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015) – I couldn’t put ‘Atomic Blonde’ on this list and not include ‘Fury Road.’  I don’t usually love big action films, but this movie slays.  It passes the Bechdel Test (and doesn’t force a romantic relationship between Theron and Hardy).  Over 80% of the movie was accomplished with practical effects.  It’s fast-paced, gorgeous, and incredibly exciting!  It’s another great assemblage of actors!  (I really love Abbey Lee a lot, so any chance to see her shine on screen…)  This is another go-to sick-day movie or a movie I’ll put on as background noise when we’ve got people hanging out.


6. ‘The Lion King’ (1994) – Say what you want, ‘The Lion King’ is the best Disney movie ever.  It may not be your #1 Favorite, but it IS the best.  I remember going to the theater to see it as a child, and I was BLOWN AWAY—and, you know, irrationally terrified of an impending wildebeest stampede from that day forward.  The soundtrack is absolute fire.  The animation is sublime.  Don’t @ me with your protestations.  I’m not here for it.  Long live the (Lion) King!


5. ‘Anna Karenina’ (2012) – OOOoooh Gurl!  I have watched this movie an embarrassing amount of times.  It’s a real downer, but I don’t even care.  Snowy, late 19th-century-Russia, the most opulent surroundings and costuming, devastating tragedy and forbidden passion?  I’m here for it.  But the real treat of this movie is how it’s presented:
“Inspired by Orlando Figes” 2002 production of Natasha’s Dance, Joe Wright adopted an experimental approach to convey the essence of the story.  The majority of the film was shot on a run down theater built from scratch in Shepperton.  Locations such as skating rink, train station, horse stables were dressed on top of the theater.  To create fluid linearity, doors are used to lead to Russian landscapes or some actors will walk from one set to another set under the stage.  For cutaway wide exterior shots, toy trains and doll houses were used for filming.  The only main cast member who is allowed to venture out of the theater is Domhnall Gleeson (Levin) because Wright wanted to amplify the fact that Levin is the only authentic character in the group that reflects with the real world.” – (IMDb Trivia, Anna Karenina)  Isn’t that amazing?!  This film is so theatrical, and I always feel so inspired after watching it.


4. ‘Annihilation’ (2018) – If you are a feminist and/or a sci-fi enthusiast, and you didn’t go to the theaters to see this, SHAME ON YOU.  This movie is gorgeous and terrifying and will leave you silent and contemplative when you’re finished.  The entire film centers around a female cast (there are men present, but the story doesn’t revolve around them).  It’s a serious film, but it doesn’t feel stuffy at all.  The effects are all so surreal without taking you out of the story.  The sound design is particularly stellar, a lot of unsettling noise/soundscape balanced with beautiful song choices.  I’m very happy to have this in my personal, physical collection.


3. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) – While a lot of girl children were into Disney Princesses at this time, my true nature as a CreepyKidFoLife was starting to develop and I attribute that to the release of ‘Nightmare.’  I memorized the music immediately, driving everyone in my household nuts, singing and dancing around the house when I finally received it on VHS . And then again and again, for every anniversary edition that’s been released since then.  I usually keep my viewing-enthusiasm to the months of October through December, but let’s be real:  I will watch this movie anytime.  Stop-motion-animation is such a painstaking labor of love—no one makes these kinds of movies to get rich or to make a quick movie.  It’s incredibly tedious.  Danny Elfman is in his real prime here.  Henry Selick doesn’t get enough credit (everyone thinks Burton directed this).  I love it so very much.


2. ‘A Ghost Story’ (2017) – If you’re really lucky, there will be a handful of films in your life, that will touch you so sweetly that you’ll never be the same again.  I remember the first trailers I saw for ‘A Ghost Story,’ and while I was really enthusiastic about the release, I was completely unprepared for how much I would end up loving this movie.  The infamous pie scene with Rooney Mara was so disturbing; it still feels so intimate and private that I find myself really uncomfortable if I think on it too long.  There are two really jarring moments in the later half of the film—the first caused my jaw to drop; the second made me audibly gasp.  Last summer I played the soundtrack so many times that I can hum it start to finish from memory now.  This movie is a truly visceral experience.  Don’t put it on as a casual thing.  It needs your undivided attention, but it’s so worth it.

Before we get to number 1, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut.

  • ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ (2006) – This is such a sweet film, and I think we’re on the second or third DVD copy.  I’m not a huge Will Ferrell fan, but I love him in this more serious role.
  • ‘Phantom Thread’ (2017) – If this really is DDL’s Swan Song, so be it.  It’s breathtaking.  It didn’t make the list only because I could do a whole separate post about my top DDL films.  He’s my favorite!
  • ‘Kill Bill V1 & 2′ (2003 & 2004) – Uma frickin’ SLAYS, and I really loved these films.  But as we’ve learned that QT is trash and treated Uma so badly during the filming, I felt conflicted even putting them in the ‘Honorable Mentions.’
  • ‘Magic Mike XXL’ (2015) – Yeah, you read that right.  This is the Magic Mike film that I think audiences originally wanted.  It’s way more fun.  There’s more dancing.  We don’t have to spend time on Dallas or The Kid’s storyline.  This is a guilty pleasure and a good time.  I own this shiz on BluRay.  Dead serious.
  • ‘Black Swan’ (2010) – Obviously most powerful during the first viewing, it’s not often that I’m in the mood for a rewatch of this (or any of Aronofsky really), but Natalie’s transformation on screen from meek and mild to obsessive to sex pot to unstable perfectionist AND FEATHERS GALORE?  Sign me up.
  • ‘Doubt’ (2008) – Back when we had cable, ‘Doubt’ was always on.  And I would watch it no matter where I happened to catch it—the first fifteen or the last fifteen or anything in between.  It’s a wretched story, but packed to the brim with such powerful and masterful performances.
  • ‘American Beauty’ (1999) – I used to really love this film, but Kevin Spacey is trash, and I can’t enjoy it anymore.  Hella gorgeous and amazing performances but, you know…
  • ‘Cosmopolis’ (2012) – I’m probably only one of a small handful of people who watched this film, let alone loved it.  It’s a total rush job, and unfortunately there are great nuances in DeLillo’s work that get lost in the transition from page to screen.  Because of this film, I dove head-first into the work of Don DeLillo, and I’ve read ‘Cosmopolis’ so many times that I know it by heart.  I still love the film version—Robert Pattinson is a true gem (especially in this post-Twilight-self-loathing period), and Paul Giamatti just slays.  It’s not a great film, but I love it.
  • ‘Arrival’ (2016) – I don’t own a copy of this yet, but I really should.  Once it’s no longer available on streaming, I’m definitely adding it to my collection.  I got to watch this by myself in a mostly empty theater (a favorite pastime), and it was so sweet.  I found the non-linear storytelling to be whimsical and romantic—a weird description for a science-fiction story, but true to the words nonetheless.
  • ‘American Ultra’ (2015) – People really hated this.  Called it all sorts of names.  Said, “It’s like ‘Bourne Identity’ for stoners” as if that’s a bad thing…?  It’s well-paced and funny enough; the cast has some incredibly charming relationships, and I totally enjoy the little vacation I get to take from downer-cinema when I pop this on.  I’ve watched it about 30 times, and I’ll watch it another 30 I’m sure.  And you know what?  I’d probably watch a sequel too.
  • ‘Red State’ (2011) – While ‘Red State’ is definitely in the camp of films that has a big reveal and so you never really get the same magic of your first watch, I’ve watched this film a few times, and I’m enthralled during each of viewing.  Kevin Smith is pretty hit or miss for me, but this is a hit!

And finally… the top spot goes to:


1. ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002) – I saved the top spot for my most favorite of Daniel Day Lewis’ films.  I don’t even care that this movie is long—I have an older copy on DVD, and it comes on TWO DISCS!  I still feel that almost all movies should be around the ninety minute mark, but for me, these two hours and forty-seven minutes just fly by.  DDL is so tremendous as Bill Cutting.  He’s vulgar and cruel, manipulative, xenophobic . At the same time, he’s also incredibly charismatic, and it feels like everyone around him struggles to keep that in mind while falling deeper under his spell; there’s a great moment with DiCaprio where you can see him in anguish, trying to remember that DDL’s Cutting is the enemy.  There is so much talent in this film—too much to list!  The whole thing is a monumental effort, at times just incredibly startling, a breathing, living organism.  A film with a pulse.

What films do you think should’ve made the cut?!  Is there a film you love that you think I should check out?  Tell me in the comments below!


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