The Class of 2016: My Favorite Movies of All Time

My growing pains as a learning cinephile continue. In some ways, this past year has been a very helpful experience. I continue to plug away at the gaps in my film knowledge, watching new-to-me movies at a pace of more than twenty per month. Falling in love with a movie for the first time continues to be as blissful as it gets. Maintaining that excitement with old favorites is another matter. My monthly write-ups for the films in my top 100 have gotten a little shaky in their quality and the passion behind them. When revisiting some of the films in question, a feeling of anhedonia started creeping in. It’s a frustrating middle ground between embrace and rejection. I began to wonder if these feelings were a reflection on the movies themselves or just a sign that I need to extend the distance between viewings. In the end, I discovered it was mostly the former, because some movies were immune — including a film that has now reached the top of the list for the first time, unseating The Tree of Life after a three-year reign. (Feel free to check out the “My Favorite Movies” tab at the top of the page if you want to see what it is and just get this over with. For the rest of you, I will drag this out as long as possible.)

Portrait of Jennie

Portrait of Jennie

First, in keeping with the titles of these year-in-review posts, I’ll discuss the forty-four movies that I’ve added to the list since last June (making a new total of 597 — yeesh). The big project was Contemporary World Cinema, although I also dipped into the halcyon 60s and 70s a little bit. In all, I added over a hundred foreign-language movies to my total. That number doesn’t quite match the total number of foreign-language movies I watched in my entire life up to June 2015, but it comes close enough. Non-English films still make up barely more than a tenth of all the movies I’ve seen. This puts me in a familiar no-man’s-land. I’ve seen more Thai movies than any normal person without any Asian heritage, but for a true cinephile I’m way behind on Romanian films. Onward and upward! My globetrotting was wide but not especially deep, with the exception of last fall’s Studio Ghibli retrospective, the first of two I’ve pulled off in the span of a year (the second, of course, being Batman and Superman movies, but I’d seen most of those before).

Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali

The films that ended up at the top of the heap are, as usual, pretty varied. There are a few straightforward action and suspense pictures to balance out my predilection for dark, weird, boundary-pushing movies. Generally speaking, I gravitated toward movies that presented extremities of behavior. One film would feature Isabelle Adjani shrieking and convulsing for an entire scene. Another would have Chen Shiang-chyi staring at a wall, completely motionless, for an entire scene. These are equally magnetic pieces of cinema, and I adore them. Mad Max: Fury Road was great too, though. Sure, it’s a very idiosyncratic blockbuster for the Age of Superheroes, but I’m glad to see I can still enjoy a ripping good yarn as much as anything else. One blind spot I still seem to have is comedy. With the exceptions of Pixar and Elaine May, there aren’t many laughs to be had in the movies I’m adding to my list. Maybe comedies would be a good thing to focus on for the next year. Then again, I have catching up to do with documentaries as well. And melodramas. And those Romanian films.

The Host

The Host

As always, slotting these movies into my big list exposed my natural conservatism. Even with some adjustments over the last week, every new movie save one ended up in the back half of the list. (Jeanne Dielman, the clear winner, ended up being every bit as awesome as I’d hoped it would be.) I think it’s an okay system, forcing movies to prove themselves on second or third viewings before admitting them to the upper reaches. With this update, the top 100 sees four movies getting replaced (Chicago, Ocean’s ElevenSuperman II and Sunset Boulevard make way for The Texas Chain Saw MassacreThe Big SleepCity Lights and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). That’s uncommonly dramatic, for me.

Anyway, back to the big story. As we’ve done basically every year for as long as I can remember, my mother and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life before Christmas. This film has been near the top of my list from the very beginning, but I don’t think I ever seriously considered giving it the top slot. It seemed like too much of a beloved classic; it wouldn’t be a personal, unique choice. I guess I’ve gotten to the point where that doesn’t matter so much. (Plus, it’s not like the other movies I’ve named number one weren’t widely celebrated and iconic.) At any rate, I’m as familiar with It’s a Wonderful Life as with any film I’ve ever seen, but I had a revelatory experience this time around. On a pure filmmaking level, the movie’s greatness leapt out at me, almost like never before. I saw The Tree of Life again in January, just to be sure. That experience wasn’t disappointing, but it revealed some things about that movie’s influence over my own personal relationships for the past five years. It hit some sore spots. Now, I fully expect to have a cathartic experience with The Tree of Life at some point, but for now I’m content to take a small step back from it (it’s only my second favorite movie of all time, for the moment). Meanwhile, Pulp Fiction drops to number three, which is probably as high as it will ever rank again. But it’s all good.

Stray Dogs

Stray Dogs

That’s all the movie-watching news for this year. Here is the Class of 2016 (graduates on the left, dropouts on the right). One final note: Batman Forever leaving the list entirely is kind of a big deal for me. I loved this movie to death as a kid — or, more accurately, I loved the idea of this movie. I didn’t actually get to see it very much. When I finally got a copy of my own, which was about the same time I started reading about movies and learned about its reputation, my love began to fade. I wasn’t expecting the death blow to fall on this latest viewing, but there it is. I don’t have much fun with Batman Forever anymore. Luckily, Batman Returns still rules.

Entries Exits
593. Parade (1974) 555. An Affair to Remember (1957)
588. A New Leaf (1971) 378. Blue Valentine (2010)
582. The Gleaners and I (2000) 353. Batman Forever (1995)
579. About Elly (2009)
577. The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
569. Dogville (2003)
563. Pygmalion (1938)
562. The Nightmare (2015)
559. Bad Education (2004)
551. Goodbye CP (1972)
540. Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
539. Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
531. Tangerine (2015)
529. Only Yesterday (1991)
528. Port of Shadows (1938)
524. The Forbidden Room (2015)
522. Hail Mary (1985)
520. Mother (2009)
518. The Thing from Another World (1951)
508. Blissfully Yours (2002)
504. Europa (1991)
503. Bridge of Spies (2015)
499. When Marnie Was There (2014)
492. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)
491. The Host (2006)
490. Museum Hours (2012)
486. The Mark of Zorro (1940)
482. Carol (2015)
479. My Winnipeg (2007)
477. All About My Mother (1999)
472. Experimenter (2015)
469. Point Break (1991)
461. The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
449. The Crying Game (1992)
448. Pather Panchali (1955)
441. Breaking the Waves (1996)
432. Portrait of Jennie (1948)
425. Stray Dogs (2013)
415. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
386. Possession (1981)
383. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
375. Inside Out (2015)
372. The Skin I Live In (2011)
237. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

2 responses to “The Class of 2016: My Favorite Movies of All Time

  1. Pingback: My Favorite Movies: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly | Infinite Crescendo·

  2. Pingback: The Class of 2017: My Favorite Movies of All Time | Geppetto's Clocks·

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