Hey everyone, Jeremy Mathai here! By this point, you may or may not be familiar with seeing my byline at the top of /Film articles, both as an occasional contributor over the last year or so and, in recent weeks, as a staff writer. For those who have no moral objections to my strong opinions and sarcastic demeanor, I’m humbled and beyond thrilled to be here! For those who do experience a negative Pavlovian response to my very existence, well, I’m still glad to be here. We’ll get through this disappointment together, folks.
The true disappointment here is that us newcomers have been tasked with limiting our all-time favorite movies to just a paltry sum of 15. I don’t have enough of an ego (I promise!) to assume that anyone’s going to be waiting on pins and needles for my deeply personal, intensely subjective, and somewhat arbitrary list. That said, I do think that movie rankings — whether Marvel, Star Wars, or a veritable buffet of all things cinema — have a way of revealing just what makes a person tick like nothing else can. If that interests you, kindly join me on this journey into the depths of what makes me, me!
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
If movies are meant to provoke, well, only Airplane! even comes close to rivaling the sheer amount of laughs-per-minute that Monty Python and the Holy Grail provides. It’d be satisfying enough if this comedy “only” managed to be so funny on just its first few viewings. But the fact that this fever dream of a movie can make me laugh myself sick over “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who…” as much now as it did dozens and dozens of viewings ago? That’s the beauty of movies, baby.
14. Y Tu Mamá También
I’ve only had the heart to watch Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 masterpiece just once, which is why I can’t in good faith rank Y Tu Mamá También any higher. But what an unforgettable watch. The story of Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú, who pops up again further down this list!) accompanying two best friends Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) on their road trip to a Mexican beach is a visually sumptuous feast for the eyes, one far better experienced than described. Rarely has the slow, sharp ache of time been captured so effectively, with the bond between the three companions ebbing and flowing before our eyes until arriving at its bittersweet, if inevitable conclusion. None of them are the same after that journey, and neither was I.
13. The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola’s 1999 feature debut has a way of sinking beneath the surface and slowly wrapping itself around until you find yourself thinking about The Virgin Suicides weeks, months, even years later during quiet moments. The quintet of Lisbon sisters led by Kirsten Dunst are all enigmas and larger-than-life, idealistic aspirations to the hopelessly smitten boys of the neighborhood…until, for the briefest of moments, they finally become actual human beings. They’re kept at arm’s length from the boys and soon the world at large (though less so to us viewers). Somehow, this only makes their tragedies all the more poignant.
I may have a weakness for filmmaker debuts. Rian Johnson first introduced himself with this distinctive and unabashed film noir centered on high schoolers. I always point to Brick as an example of some of my favorite things filmmakers can do: committing wholeheartedly to a genre despite the silliness of a premise, making the absolute most out of a shoestring budget, and relying on sharp writing and a deep well of film history to build atop what came before while adding something new. I’d sometimes waver between this and The Brothers Bloom as my favorite Johnson movie, but I never tire of how Brick taps into something deep and true and bittersweet.
11. 12 Angry Men
I strongly feel that those who write about film should also write about filmmaking: editing, placement and movement of the camera, usage of color, blocking and staging of the actors, performance, set design etc. So here comes director Sidney Lumet to strip away the distractions and force viewers to focus on the fundamentals. Twelve disagreeable men locked in a jury room with little else to do but talk, pace, and work through their own biases and prejudices simply shouldn’t be as exhilarating as this. Thanks to a basic understanding of the power that comes from making movies, it is.
10. The Matrix
Somehow, we still take Lana and Lilly Wachowski for granted. We’re getting a Matrix 4 soon and I can’t wait to join the critical revisiting of the entire trilogy. But as underrated and necessary as the sequels are, they merely build off what the original established. It’s a perfect hero’s journey that takes a highly specific contemporary fear and turns it into fuel for a new universal myth. Superman first made audiences believe a man could fly, but The Matrix made me think he could accomplish even more.
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
Very original, I know. Some movies are just no-brainers to include in lists like this and George Miller’s frenetic action classic is one of them. Fury Road is a masterclass in editing, pacing, and cause-and-effect storytelling that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. I actually remember feeling numb to everything it threw at me during my first watch; it was a lovely day indeed when I learned the errors of my ways.
8. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
This Peter Weir historical epic is the Dad Movie of all Dad Movies, an episodic and sometimes meandering cat-and-mouse game between opposing naval commanders in the Napoleonic Wars. The action is so gritty and tactile that you can almost taste the gunpowder in the air after a volley of cannon fire. Led by Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, the characters feel just as lived-in as the ship itself. Fans have been begging for a Master and Commander sequel ever since 2003, but one gets the distinct impression that the story continues to live on regardless after the credits roll.
7. Inglourious Basterds
As far as Quentin Tarantino movies go, only Jackie Brown and maybe Once Upon A Time In Hollywood… come close to matching the sheer adoration for cinema bleeding off the screen in Inglourious Basterds. Every disparate thread comes together in one hellish movie theater to prove that (what else?) film has the power to corrupt or to save. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) gets all the attention, but Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) might be an even more terrifying villain. Through it all, Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna Dreyfus shows us exactly how to treat Nazis.
6. Pan’s Labyrinth
How many movies so keenly have one foot firmly in adulthood and the other planted in the innocence of youth? In pure Guillermo del Toro fashion, Pan’s Labyrinth is simultaneously a fairy tale and a splash of cold water in the face of childish fancies; both an escape from reality and an angry call to arms against genuine evil in this world. Nobody does fantasy like del Toro does, and not even del Toro has done better than the gut-punch of an ending here.
You may have heard that I’m a big M. Night Shyamalan fan. At his very best, the Indian-born filmmaker is equal parts sincere, empathetic, and heartfelt. That’s Signs, to me. CinemaSins logic need not apply. What Shyamalan sacrifices in plot, he more than makes up for in character and theme. We’re all lost and frightened and flawed individuals, but we’re not alone. A little bit of faith can go a long way.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
I constantly seek emotional truth and honesty in movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that put to screen as frankly and with as much nuance as Joel and Ethan Coen do in Inside Llewyn Davis. From the washed-out colors to Oscar Isaac’s performance to the largely plot-less story, I could practically live in the pervasive melancholy of this film. I’ve rarely felt more sympathy for an unlikable character as I do for Llewyn Davis, trapped in a never-ending cycle of grief.
3. It’s A Wonderful Life
I like optimistic movies too, I promise! Call this Frank Capra classic hokey or cheesy if you like, but every ounce of its wholesomeness remains well over 70 years later. I try to watch It’s A Wonderful Life at the start of every new year, in the hopes of reminding myself that few things are more important in life than the simple act of being kind to others. I love that we see James Stewart’s George Bailey at his absolute meanest and lowest, because it proves that there’s grace and forgiveness out there for us, too.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Is it possible to fall in love with a movie within its first 8 minutes? That’s exactly what happened here, as the Peter Jackson fantasy film swept me off my feet before I even knew what hit me. Later years have given me an appreciation for its greatness as a near-flawless adaptation as well, while many deep-dives into the behind-the-scenes DVD features gave me my first crash course in Film 101. No other Middle-earth entry understands the feeling of reading J.R.R. Tolkien quite like The Fellowship of the Ring. Just make sure it’s the Extended Edition.
1. Jurassic Park
I can’t even pretend to be “objective” (whatever that means) about this Steven Spielberg blockbuster. I wore out my Jurassic Park VHS copy until it was no longer watchable and a new edition always accompanied my family’s jump from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray and beyond. I was born just a few months before the film’s theatrical release, so I might as well have always been connected with it in some way. It jump-started both my childhood love for dinosaurs and movies, so I’m forever indebted to it. Oh, and on a technical level it’s quite simply one of the greatest blockbuster films ever made. What more needs to be said?
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