The Best Movies of All Time… In My Humble Opinion
by Jason Koenigsberg People have been asking me for the long time, “What is your favorite movie?” As any movie buff can tell you that is a loaded question and […]
by Jason Koenigsberg People have been asking me for the long time, “What is your favorite movie?” As any movie buff can tell you that is a loaded question and […]
People have been asking me for the long time, “What is your favorite movie?” As any movie buff can tell you that is a loaded question and there is no real easy answer. One day it may be a certain film and another day it could be something completely different. It also depends who you are talking to. I will answer that question very differently depending on the age of the person who asks me, and also my relationship with them. I do not want someone to judge me based on my answer and automatically label me as a certain type of person when my taste in cinema is extremely wide and diverse. This situation has happened before and it is a lousy feeling that says more about the narrow mindedness of the person asking the question than it does the person who gives their honest answer.
So in order to satisfy those that want to know what my favorite movies are, since it is a question I get asked a lot, and those that want to know if their taste in film is remotely similar to mine with the movies they truly love. Below are 20 films that I unabashedly adore and consider not only masterpieces of cinema but also works of art that speak to me and I could watch over and over and over again. These are the movies I would take with me in a time machine or space shuttle into another part of the universe. The movies I would wish for if I ever find myself stranded on a desert island. They are not necessarily the greatest and most influential works of cinema, although some of these you could easily make the case for. These are not guilty pleasures, these are the films that transcend the medium in my opinion.
One last thing… this was very difficult to come up with a list of my 20 favorite movies. I had to be very disciplined and not make this a list comprised of only movies directed by Spielberg, Kubrick and Scorsese. In fact, I was so well disciplined that I left off so many films that I love from my favorite filmmakers. Sadly there are no Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, Lucas, or Kurosawa films on the list. Nor are there any movies from Woody Allen, Spike Lee, or Quentin Tarantino, some of my all time favorite directors. So this list should be taken with a grain of salt. How could I possibly have one of their films on here and leave off another two or three that I hold in as high regard. It was so hard to pick just 20 films and I refused to cop out and have a proverbial tie of two or more films ranked at the same number just because they are the favorite films of mine from a particular director. Whew, if you have read this far you can tell that I put a lot of time and effort and pressure on myself into making this list. So, without any further ado. Here are the 20 Best Movies Ever Made… In my Humble Opinion:
I have praised this movie twice before in my tribute to Alan Rickman and I also called Die Hard the Best Christmas Movie of all time. This movie changed action cinema for the next decade. What Halloween did in 1978 redefining the slasher genre for horror movies throughout the 1980’s, Die Hard did the same for all 90’s action movies until 1999 when The Matrix was released. Every action movie was pitched as Die Hard on a bus (Speed in 1994), Die Hard on a plane (Executive Decision in 1996), Die Hard on the President’s plane (Air Force One in 1997). Die Hard also reinvented the action hero and the evil mastermind villain. Before Bruce Willis played John McClane all action heroes were larger than life characters, almost mythical figures going back to the Western icons of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, that genre was the precursor to action movies. The action heroes of the 70’s and 80’s fit the same persona being played by actors like Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris. Then all of a sudden Bruce Willis’ fish out of water NYC cop is stuck in LA fighting terrorists and he does not look like those super macho figures, he does not even have shoes. Nor does he act like them, he talks too much. Now the door was open for anybody to be an action star. Plus Alan Rickman’s sophisticated portrayal of the antagonist Hans Gruber, led to him being typecast as a villain as well as practically every 90’s villain in an action movie doing their best impersonation of Alan Rickman in Die Hard. This movie is also brilliantly shot with ingenious use of framing, symmetrical shapes and some absolutely fantastic stunts and action sequences, along with terrific performances and a subplot about a marriage on the rocks. Die Hard is a perfect action movie.
Mel Brooks has made some of the funniest movies of all time. I mentioned three of them in my Gene Wilder tribute. For what it is worth, my favorite Mel Brooks film is Blazing Saddles. I laugh more times during this movie than almost anything else. It’s brilliant commentary on race relations is as poignant now as it was back in 1974. The performances are some of the best in any comedic film. Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn, all deserved Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Only Madeline Kahn received a nomination. Brooks also released Young Frankenstein that same year, another comedic masterpiece. Talk about a good year for a director. As much as I love that film and the original Producers (1967) is hilarious, I think Blazing Saddles tickles my funny bone more than those. If I were making a list of my favorite comedies they would all be in the top ten. I also am particularly fond of this movie for the fact that it could never be made today. Mel Brooks even stated that. In our overly PC world no major studio would green light it for its controversial dialogue and racial issues. No producers or big name actors would want to associate with a script like this. It is the cinematic equivalent of All in the Family. Blazing Saddles contains too many moments to mention this would turn into a list too long for anyone to read. Just see it if you have not, it is the best spoof movie of all time.
From a movie that lampoon’s the best westerns of all time, to the best western of all time. Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is a masterpiece. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has gone on the record stating that this is “the best directed movie ever made”. I will not go that far, but I will partially agree with him and say that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly contains the best music score and use of original music in any movie. It is the masterwork of its Italian director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone. John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Jerry Goldsmith all might have better bodies of work than Mr. Morricone, but they never matched a movie with music as expertly as he does here. This is the best film of Clint Eastwood’s westerns and the best of the early part of his career. I came very close to placing his revisionist western and 1992’s Best Picture winner Unforgiven on this list, but I felt if it was not for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly then he would have never made Unforgiven. This is an epic of the finest caliber. A cinematic classic in every way possible and contains career best performances from Lee Van Cleef as the”Bad” Angel Eyes, and Eli Wallach, a Brooklyn Jew, playing Tuco, a Mexican bounty hunter. Glorious cinematography complimented by an epic score and rousing action. This is the quintessential western post John Ford and pre-action movies. Check out the scene below to see a glimpse of the brilliance of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in one of my personal favorite moments from any movie.
The best movie about making movies. Despite the fact that Edward D. Wood Jr. might have been the worst director of all time, Tim Burton’s cinematic love letter to him shows that he might have also been the most passionate. It contains career best performances from Johnny Depp, Martin Landau in his Academy Award winning role as Bela Lugosi, and George “The Animal” Steele who proved that nobody else on Earth could have played Tor Johnson. Ed Wood is a film about a misfit with adoration for cinema in every frame. It is funny, heartfelt and if Tim Burton directed every movie as lovingly as Ed Wood, we would have lot more great works of his to celebrate and a lot less Alice in Wonderland (2010) cash grabs. I can watch this movie any day with its stellar performances, unique romantic relationships and gorgeous black and white cinematography that makes it feel like an actual Ed Wood movie. Dreams are worth fighting for, and this movie proves it, even though some of those dreams might require cardboard headstones that pop back up after they are knocked over.
The best movie of the 1960’s is The Graduate. A film that captured the counterculture movement better than any other film. Only Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde comes close to being a work of art with the same level importance for its time. Shockingly both of those films were released the same year along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and Cool Hand Luke. The change in cinema may have been most notable in 1967, yet The Graduate is the film that has remained the most topical fifty years later. It was Dustin Hoffman’s first film and he never gave a better performance. Mike Nichols’ second feature as a director and he would never surpass the brilliance he showed here. Both Hoffman and Nichols would go on to have outstanding careers however none touched the hearts of America, or at least my heart as much as The Graduate and what it had to say about our country during a very turbulent time. The ending sums it up perfectly. All coming of age movies answer to The Graduate. That alone should be enough for explaining why this movie is so powerful. It is also one of the funniest movies ever made and is brilliantly shot by a director who got his training directing stage plays. The Graduate feels like a movie directed by a cinema snob not someone with a theater background. The way the camera moves and focuses, it never feels like a play because it is very visually stimulating. Mike Nichols crafted some of the most memorable and iconic framing in cinema history. The unforgettable shot of Hoffman through the leg with the stocking on, the diver suit isolated under water, Mrs. Robinson soaking wet and alone against the giant white wall, and of course the disruption of the wedding and the end on the bus. It’s soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel is as influential as the movie itself with so many iconic songs. The Graduate is the rare film that is as entertaining as it is important.
The films above may be vital to our culture and cinematic history, but Ghostbusters is the funniest movie of my childhood. I grew up watching so many funny movies that I still admire and laugh at today, but Ghostbusters seems to be the one that gets to me the most. I already named it The Best New York City movie of all time. No disrespect to the talented people behind the 2016 remake, but the original is a lightning in a bottle type of movie magic that only happens once or twice a decade. I do not think anyone involved realized they were making a modern classic. It has aged better than most comedies from its era and captured New York City better than any movie ever made. I can list all the moments and I know there are more important films, but sometimes movies just need to provide an escape and Ghostbusters is the best at doing that. I came very close to putting Back to the Future (1985) in this spot since it is just as much fun escapism and much more inventive, but I went with my heart and not with my brain and since this is a list of favorites not necessarily important and influential works. Ghostbusters is and has always been one of my absolute favorite movies. Check out the classic music video below featuring one of the catchiest theme songs ever made for a motion picture.
I know I said this is not a list of the most important and influential films of all time, but without the Marx Bros. there would be no Ghostbusters. There also probably would not be Mel Brooks or Woody Allen. In fact, without the Marx Bros. comedy as we know it might be completely different. So I am putting my favorite Marx Bros. movie one spot ahead of Ghostbusters. Duck Soup is a hilarious and timeless comedy classic. As funny today as it was in 1933. Hard to believe this movie flopped upon its initial release and was despised so much at first that Zeppo Marx quit acting. Almost a century later, Duck Soup is often regarded as the best Marx Bros. movie and with good reason. It has so many uproarious moments in its short run time, most famous is probably Groucho in the mirror. It works as a political farce and as an outlandish silly comedy. It is the last time all four Marx Brothers starred in a movie together and it is one of the best satires ever made.
I realized a lot of the films on this list involve heavy emphasis on male characters and male bonding. Fargo is the first movie I have with a female lead character. But not just any female, the toughest, funniest and most human characters in any motion picture. Frances McDormand won a well deserved Best Actress Oscar for Fargo, and the writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen won Best Original Screenplay, which they absolutely deserved… Darn tootin’. As much as I love many of their other films and consistently watch The Big Lebowksi (1998) more than almost any other film, Fargo is the one that left an impact on me the most. It’s strong sense of morality is never patronizing. Its characters are hilarious and feel real, never phony. Roger Deakins’ cinematography in the snow is the most beautiful of its kind. Carter Burwell’s score eerily accentuating the images on screen. William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare have never been better. At the time I saw it I never knew they could make comedies like this, and honestly, there has never been a comedy quite like Fargo before or since. The FX series comes close to capturing the magic the Coen Bros. created on film, but all of their other films are varying degrees of more serious like No Country For Old Men (2007) or more farcical like The Big Lebowski. With Fargo it is only a comedy if you find it funny, otherwise it is a mystery/crime thriller with a pregnant sheriff trying to track down kidnappers. There have been many imitators of Fargo and some come close to achieving the tone of this film, but accept no substitutes. Fargo was the last truly great film of the 20th century.
A German film from 1931 about a child killer prowling the streets and it actually makes you feel sorry for the murderer, M is one of the greatest moral quandaries ever put on celluloid. A sympathetic examination of a disturbed serial killer and the effects his actions have on a population. It was way ahead of its time and all courtroom dramas or any form of entertainment that deals with the moral implications of justice owe a huge debt to Fritz Lang’s M. This is the reason I do not have a Kurosawa movie on my list. I came very close to putting Rashomon (1950) on here but went with my heart and realized that M moved me more. They are both masterworks that laid the blueprints for psychological thrillers and courtroom dramas. Both have a simple premise, but M with its haunting use of sound (or lack thereof) and visuals, harrowing black and white cinematography with use of shadows on dark streets merged social commentary, a morality play, and thrilling suspense into a phenomenal and unforgettable film. Peter Lorre is remarkable as the suspected child killer that is labeled with the letter ‘M’, so much so that it is impossible to imagine this film working with another actor in that role. Rarely has a movie caught personal mental illness and public hysteria so well. M is a masterpiece that I can watch over and over again.
Picking just one Paul Verhoeven movie as my favorite was close to impossible. I went with the one that impacted me the most as well as impacted the science-fiction/action genres. Robocop was Verhoeven’s second English language film, but his first that truly announced his arrival in Hollywood. This is one of the best science fiction films of all time and a subtle Christ allegory as the mechanized cop is reborn when he takes his mask off and even walks on water. It is also a brilliant social commentary and its view of the instant news and corruption in politics, police and their merger with big corporations was prophetic. Robocop is also one of the darkly funniest action films ever made and is quite possibly the best use of vivid, graphic violence in a major studio production. The squib work alone is a work of art to behold. Peter Weller may give the most underrated performance from any action film with barely any screen time before he is covered by make up and the clunky mask and cyborg costume. Plus Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox and the late great Miguel Ferrer are all outstanding. Check out this awesome tribute to Paul Verhoeven below. “I’d buy that for a dollar!”
The first legitimate masterpiece and box office phenom of the 21st century was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The unparalleled sequel to Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), an exceptional reboot of the Caped Crusader itself, but he really took Batman, and comic book movies to bold new places with the sequel. Establishing an era in cinema that still has not come to an end, but has yet to top the impression that The Dark Knight left on pop culture. The Dark Knight showed that a film based on a comic book, could be every bit as powerful as an Oscar winning epic. The fact this movie did not earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture still conjures up feelings of outrage and injustice. So much so that the following year, the Academy changed their rules from the usual 5 Best Picture nominees to 10 for the first time in six decades.
A sequel to one of the best films of all time that won the Academy Award for Best Picture sounds like a recipe for failure, but The Godfather Part II ended up being every bit as much of a classic as the original and became the first sequel to win The Best Picture Oscar, as well as giving Coppola his well earned Best Director statue that he did not get for the first film. Some even go so far as to say The Godfather Part II eclipses the fist film. I will not go that far, but I will say that it is at the very least as great as the 1972 original and it is the best sequel of all time. The definitive film to capture New York City’s Ellis Island experience. Many immigrants have stated the scene of young Vito Corleone arriving and seeing the Statue of Liberty as an image from their own memory bank. Featuring outstanding performances across the board led by Al Pacino in one of his best roles and especially Robert De Niro who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The glorious music, the epic feel, Gordon Willis’ dark cinematography, this is the best sequel ever made and easily ranks high among the original as one of the very best movies of all time.
I know this is breaking my rule of only having one film per director. It was so hard for me not to have Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979), possibly the greatest war movie of all time. But seriously, how can I have Part II without the first one. For that matter, how can I have one without mentioning the second. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are both cinematic masterpieces. They are unquestionably two of the best films ever made. So many amazing moments to cherish and admire. The Godfather is immensely entertaining and features Marlon Brando’s best performance, along with star making performances from Al Pacino, James Can, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Diane Keaton. Some of the best low key lighting ever put on film thanks to cinematographer Gordon “The Prince of Darkness” Willis. A great script, a haunting score from Nino Rota, this is a perfect movie.
Not a factual movie, but realistic with how it depicts the way most Americans feel about the Kennedy assassination and the politicians who run our government. We feel that they do not tell us everything, that they keep information from us, and do not tell us the truth, or at least not the entire truth. Oliver Stone has made so many great films it was hard to select just one, yet JFK is the film of his that affected me the most. Never before has three and a half hours moved so briskly and kept me on the edge of my seat. Part courtroom drama, part mystery, part history lesson, JFK emerges as an all powerful and always provocative masterpiece in controversial storytelling. Oliver Stone seamlessly blends real footage with scenes that he shot exclusively for the film, blurs the line between fact and fiction, reality and art. We are through the looking glass people and Robert Richardson’s Oscar winning cinematography is the key to JFK‘s hypnotic spell. John Williams also delivers one of his very best scores with heavy emphasis on snare drums and trumpets. Kevin Costner delivers a Jimmy Stewart-esque performance during the prime of his career and the all star ensemble cast that supports him including Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy and Michael Rooker just to name a few are all outstanding. For what it’s worth, Donald Sutherland as Mr. ‘X’ has the best scene. A long and revealing conversation between him and Costner’s Jim Garrison in Washington DC, right on the steps of power where our government is making deals that serve their own self interest and keeping the American public from knowing the truth. “Back and to the left.”
I know it is such a cliche for a film buff to place Citizen Kane at or near the top of any Best of list, well Citizen Kane deserves it. Orson Welles changed cinema as much as he defined it by showing what a director does and how a filmmaker can use the entire screen to tell a story with images as much as with words. Hard to believe he wrote, directed, and acted in it all at the age of 25. The best debut film from any director Citizen Kane contains countless classic moments and remains a timeless masterwork. It is more than just a groundbreaking film, it is entertainment on the grandest scale. The first movie to show the importance of direction, editing and cinematography. As much fun as it is intelligent. Plus, it is every bit as relevant if not more when you realize the similarities between Charles Foster Kane and our current President Donald Trump, although I still think Kane is the better candidate. I can go on and on, just watch it for yourself, or watch it again and enjoy the singular event that changed motion pictures to being the art form of the 20th century.
One of the very few classic films more fun for me than Citizen Kane is Sidney Lumet’s debut feature film 12 Angry Men. Kane may be a more important film, but 12 Angry Men I can watch even more. I realize that Orson Welles debut film is superior in many ways, other than the fact that I think I learned even more about directing and acting from 12 Angry Men. The way each vote call is shot differently, the subtly of the performances, the camera angles as they get closer to reaching a verdict. Sidney Lumet would go on to make better films such as Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976), but this is the one I keep coming back to the most. This is the one I learned the most from about filmmaking and about the fragility and flaws of our justice system since it relies so heavily on human nature.
Humphrey Bogart defined male acting in the 1940’s and John Huston directed so many classic films from the 20th century. My favorite work for both of them without a doubt is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. All films about greed and deception and how a little bit of money or even the promise of money can make people do terrible and uncharacteristic acts of evil stem from this picture. Without this movie there would be no Fargo, or A Simple Plan (1998), or basically any heist movie or film based on how greed can change normal, decent people into completely unrecognizable and unsavory monsters. This may be one of the most imitated movies ever made because its themes are as universal and unchanging as ever. It is also Bogart’s best performance in my humble opinion and the finest film ever directed by the legendary John Huston. This changed cinema and my thoughts on what a classic movie should be. As many films probably owe a huge debt of gratitude to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as much as they do Citizen Kane and The Godfather. Go and have a “look see” or watch it again to discover The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for yourself.
One of the most influential science fiction films ever made. Creating the cyber punk subgenre and taking Neo noir to a new level. With heavy influence from classic film noir, most significantly The Third Man (1949), Blade Runner is a slow burn mystery and cynical look at humanity and our future. The ending and the films penultimate scene are indelible moments forever embedded in my brain with Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain” speech and of course the final moment which can only be fully appreciated in either the 1992 Directors Cut or the 2007 Final Cut. Other than Ridley Scott’s other masterpiece Alien (1979) and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) no film has done more for my imagination and left me with as many questions as well as answers. A surreal masterpiece with stunning visuals and arguably the best use of lighting in any movie, including The Godfather and Citizen Kane. “It’s too bad she won’t live… but then again who does?”
I already wrote about this when I called it the best film of David Lynch’s career. This is the film where David Lynch really flexed his filmmaking muscles and developed his style was in Blue Velvet. Arguably the best movie to come from the 1980’s and it is still the best movie of Lynch’s career. His first official exploration of small town America and dissection of American values would become synonymous with all the stereotypes and cliches of a David Lynch film. But it is also his most beautifully eloquent and deeply personal film about the dark side of the American dream and the violence and darkness that we are all a part of as human beings. His protagonists played by Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern as naive young lovers trying to solve a crime that involves a gorgeous and mysterious nightclub singer played by Isabella Rossellini and puts those three characters through hell, only to come out at the end with a message that even though our world has many dark corners and is filled with sick people and violence, it is still a beautiful place and one worth fighting and living for. So many iconic images from Blue Velvet they could be freeze framed and hung on a museum wall. The blue sky and white picket fences with red roses, the bugs crawling underneath the beautiful bed of green grass, the conversation in front of the Church’s stain glass window. And how did I make it this far without mentioning Dennis Hopper in the best role of his career as Frank Booth. On one hand Hopper plays Frank Booth as absolute evil and the most vulgar and sadistic human being we have ever seen, but on the other hand, he is simply a sad man in love and does not know how to express or control his love so it is released in anger and fits of violent rage. Ultimately, that is what Blue Velvet is, an unconventional love story. A romance between characters that are discovering themselves and coming of age on their journey as they try to help the police solve a mystery, and a love story between a sad and confused man who has all the wrong ideas about how to express his feelings to the woman he loves. Blue Velvet is as beautiful and awe-inspiring as it is shocking and years from now will continue to be celebrated and admired as great films from Hitchcock, Kubrick and Scorsese. Film is art and Lynch’s Blue Velvet will go down in history with some of the finest works of Picasso, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. “You stay alive baby. Do it for Van Gogh”. Below you will find a clip of Siskel and Ebert debating Blue Velvet in one of their most famous on air arguments. One of them loved it, one of them hated it, but that is the nature of the film and what makes David Lynch the artist he is. The comparison to Psycho (1960) is dead on.
The one that started it all for me. My love and borderline obsession with cinema began here, where I was 13 years old and saw Goodfellas one day on HBO. My personal favorite movie of all time, one of the best movies ever made and certainly the best movie of the 1990’s, Goodfellas is a masterpiece. Featuring some of the best acting, camera work, and pacing of any motion picture. When I immediately saw it I was shocked. This was the movie for me where I learned what a director does and how they tell a story, this is where I was first exposed to the language of cinema. Previously mentioned in my Top 25 Movies of the past 25 Years in honor of the 25th anniversary of imdb, I never knew that movies like this existed. Prior to being opened up to the world of Goodfellas, I had only really seen kids movies and action pictures. I think my favorite movie at the time was probably Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). I was now on a mission to see as many movies with everyone involved in Goodfellas as I could. I went to the local video store and rented anything I could find with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro (luckily a lot of those titles overlapped), Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, and Lorraine Bracco. In the span of a few months I had seen Casino (1995), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), My Cousin Vinny (1992), Unlawful Entry (1992), Cape Fear (1991), The King of Comedy (1983), Awakenings (1990), and many others. I was hooked. I then started to branch out and discover other movies from other great directors and my passion for movies has continued to this day. It features outstanding performances from everyone involved, especially Joe Pesci in his Oscar winning role, and the soundtrack featuring classic rock, R&B, and oldies and the way it was used perfectly with the images on screen opened up my taste in music as much as it did for film. To this day Goodfellas is the best movie I have ever seen, and the best movie ever made… in my opinion.
I really like what you said about The Graduate and Blue Velvet. The Graduate never gets old, the music remains awesome and so
Much has derived from it. And I never not laugh during the scene where they flee the wedding. Well said!