Full disclosure, I flat-out stole this idea from the A.V. Club. I called upon my old pal John Iatesta to compare and discuss our lists. Enjoy.
1987: The Brave Little Toaster
1988: Rain Man
1989: Do the Right Thing
1991: Barton Fink
1992: Wayne’s World
1993: Groundhog Day
1994: Pulp Fiction
1995: Before Sunrise
1996: A Summer’s Tale
1997: Good Will Hunting
1998: The Big Lebowski
2000: In the Mood for Love
2001: Y Tu Mama También
2002: Catch Me If You Can
2003: 21 Grams
2004: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2005: The 40-Year-Old Virgin
2006: Children of Men
2007: There Will Be Blood
2008: In Bruges
2010: The Social Network
2011: The Muppets
2012: The Master
2013: Inside Llewyn Davis
2015: Ex Machina
2016: Hell or High Water
2017: Get Out
Honorable Mentions: Before Midnight (2013), Mud (2013), Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Dazed and Confused (1993), Say Anything… (1989)
1992: Wayne’s World
1993: Jurassic Park
1994: Dumb and Dumber
1997: Jackie Brown
1998: The Big Lebowski
1999: Big Daddy
2001: Training Day
2003: Old School
2005: The Weatherman
2006: Stranger than Fiction
2007: Hot Fuzz
2008: Burn After Reading
2009: Inglorious Basterds
2010: Shutter Island
2012: Django Unchained
2013: Inside Llewyn Davis
2015: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
2016: The Nice Guys
2017: John Wick 2
Honorable Mentions: Sicario (2015), No Country for Old Men (2007), Inside Man (2006), Billy Madison (1995), My Cousin Vinny (1992)
ND: I think what stands out most is the specific gaps in our resumes, mostly in the early years. So it’s easy to latch onto sentimental favorites (The Brave Little Toaster, Wayne’s World, Dogma) and “prestigious” films I haven’t seen in years and probably haven’t age well (Rain Man, Good Will Hunting). My movie-watching intake has gone up considerably as I’ve gotten older, allowing me to explore some classics well after the fact to up my credibility ever so slightly.
I’m as surprised as anyone to see the Coen Brothers as the most represented on my list with three films (as well as yours with four), edging out Richard Linklater, Alfonso Cuaron and Paul Thomas Anderson with two apiece. I routinely try to knock Coens down a peg, but when they hit, they are masters. Inside Llewyn Davis is their crowning achievement if you ask me, melding the best of their darkest and lightest, with a powerhouse performance from Oscar Isaac to boot – and the songs! I could watch that movie every day.
ND: Inside Llewyn Davis is so good that it managed to come out on top in my most contested year, 2013. Before Midnight and Mud are two of my all-time favorites. The former was easier to leave off with Before Sunrise’s inclusion – it’s my least favorite of the trilogy, but 1995 had a clearer path than 2013 or 2004 (Before Sunset). Mud’s exclusion was even more painful, leaving my list McConaughey-less
JI: I thank you for my Inside Llewyn Davis inclusion. You raved about that movie during our time at The Sports Network and it pushed me to watch it much sooner than I probably would have before. I agree with you to an extent about the Coens. I don’t think they’re overrated but when they miss its like Ryan Howard in the 2010 NLCS*, see: The Ladykillers and Hail, Caesar!.
*(Editor’s Note: I believe you mean the 2011 NLDS loss to the Cardinals, where Howard went 2-for-19 (.105) and ended the series with a blown-out Achilles tendon aka the downfall of the Philadelphia Phillies dynasty.)
ND: Our lists aren’t so different. You have even more black comedies than me, with the four Coens, a handful of Tarantino, even Casino, Adaptation, Birdman and The Nice Guys would qualify with their mix of light and dark. I think it’s important to bring levity to most dramas (though my selections of Children of Men, 21 Grams, and the works of PT Anderson run contrary), and you seem to agree. Enlighten me on your process, good man.
JI: I definitely agree with your first point in there being gaps in knowledge, but for me it’s more spotty than just one era. I found myself sometimes in the mid-2000s not having a real standout, but you aren’t wrong about some movies having very strong sentimental value. Wayne’s World still holds up though!
JI: Like you, my “good” movie intake has gone up as I’ve gotten older. I’ve developed my own taste for movies and can now afford to go see what I want. I recently saw Rain Man for the first time and while it wasn’t bad, I’d agree it doesn’t really hold up.
Brief aside, can we talk about Jim Carrey’s 1994? Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber and The Mask. Dude was an absolute fireball that year.
ND: Jim Carrey was as integral part of my childhood as well. My brother and I used to recite Dumb and Dumber dialogue on car rides to the shore (I was Harry more often than not). But 1994 was never not going to be Pulp Fiction. It’s become a cliche at this point – film people clinging to Pulp Fiction like gospel – but it’s no exaggeration so say that discovering it changed my cinema-going outlook forever.
JI: My process was to not just choose the best in terms of critical acclaim to trumpet myself up and say “look how well versed in film I am,” but to choose movies I could actually defend as being one of my favorites. I also excluded children’s or Disney movies because they lean too heavily on sentimentality and felt like they’d be a crutch. This is why a movie like Billy Madison is on my Honorable Mention list. I can recite that movie nearly line-for-line.
ND: So no to Billy Madison, but yes to Big Daddy?
JI: 1999 was just one of those years that had a bigger gap than 1995. I got halfway through Fight Club and was bored to tears, and I love Ed Norton (your long-lost brother) and Brad Pitt but I just didn’t see what everyone else does. I’ve only seen The Matrix once and same with The Insider. And probably the two biggest omissions from that year are The Sixth Sense and The Hurricane. All those factors considered, I couldn’t in good faith put a movie I’ve only seen once above one I’ve seen two dozen times. Also, I’m semi acquaintances with Peter Dante now that I’m an LA hot shot (I gagged just typing that) and his ”They’re not scrawny, they’re nice,“ line gets me every time.
Maybe the hardest part for me was not finding space for a PT Anderson movie, with There Will be Blood losing a close 2007 race to Hot Fuzz, or a true Philip Seymour Hoffman movie, (The Big Lebowski doesn’t count). He’s likely my favorite actor of all time. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad performance out of him and not being able to squeeze him in any year stings.
Only one Scorsese movie from you (Goodfellas) – probably his second best behind Raging Bull – and only two from me (Casino, Shutter Island). He’s long been considered my favorite director but most of his best came out prior to my birth. Is this a similar issue for you, or do you not hold him in such high regard?
ND: Maybe the biggest catch with this project is the year arguably plays an even bigger role than the films themselves. So yes, I would never hesitate to put Scorsese in my top 3 favorite directors of all time, but I definitely prefer his pre-Goodfellas work (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets) to his more recent films. Although The Departed gave Children of Men a run for its money in 2006, and The Wolf of Wall Street and Hugo made my top 10 lists in their respective years. I consider Casino to be B/B- material for Marty, though De Niro’s suits suit game is elite.
I’m glad you made special mention of Philip Seymour Hoffman. We’ve really bonded over our love for him and I was surprised to see him shut out of your list. He’s the primary reason why The Masteroutlasted a great 2012 field. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it gets even better as the years go on and will live on in the zeitgeist for decades. If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.
JI: Along Came Polly was a consideration for me solely for PSH as the unforgettable Sandy Lyle.
ND: Long live PSH.
I think we both did a good job managing our sentimentality. I only have a few notable asterisks. It’s been 25 years since I’ve watched The Brave Little Toaster, but all this time later, when I saw it listed among the 1987 films, I smiled. And in an otherwise terrible year for film (I know it’s beyond your jurisdiction, youngin, but take a gander), that shit mattered the most to me. I will never apologize for 2011’s The Muppets. There is preciously little in this world as important to me as the Muppets. I am forever indebted to Jason Segel for keeping their legacy alive in the spirit of Jim Henson’s vision.
Can we talk about 2005, please? The consensus best pic is Brokeback Mountain, though I’ve regretfully never seen it. We both went with curveball selections: You with The Weatherman and me with The 40-Year-Old-Virgin. It’s not my favorite Apatow production from that era (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story stand tall above the rest), but its only real competition from 2005 was from Batman Begin and (yes, really) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
JI: 2005 was really rough. I’m a big Nic Cage fan and The Weatherman was kind of my default favorite. Coming off of a John Wick 2 high, I recently watched Constantine for the first time and considered selecting it just because of recency bias and it wasn’t even very good. Batman Begins is really good but as time goes on, I feel like the Nolan Batman trilogy has become less rewatchable for some reason, and Batman is basically the only superhero movie I like. Keaton is a personal favorite for me so I can always watch his two Batman movies.
ND: I tend to agree with you about Nolan’s Batman, though I think their lack of rewatchability is in no small part due to the superhero saturation of the past decade. The tropes and cliches that are getting beat into the ground now were created in Batman Begins, so it deserves a lot of credit for that. Anyway, neither of us picked a Batman film, so back to 2005 – I remember liking The Weatherman! No one’s had a more interesting career than Nic Cage. And he’s still got the goods (see David Gordon Green’s Joe).
JI: Cage definitely can still bring it, the problem is he’s become such a joke to most people it feels like he can’t break that persona even when he does get a really good role/performance like Joe.
ND: I’m ready for a Cage Renaissance. We can call it the CageWakening. Not as catchy as the McConaissance, I admit.
JI: I’m dying for it.
JI: Along with you, I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain, nor sadly have I seen Capote – huge PSH gap for me – so I was just kind of stuck on my choice. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, while good, just drags on too long, which I guess has become a common complaint against Apatow projects.
Fun note about the Muppets, when I was a little kid my mom took me to Muppet Treasure Island and we had to leave halfway through because it scared me too much. I was probably three at the time, so I feel this shouldn’t be a ding against me here.
ND: Muppet Treasure Island is a trash movie anyway. Barely canon.
JI: What method did you use to find all the movies from each year? I went through Wikipedia Year in Film for each year and it led to some fun surprises along the way. It made me look at someone like Chris Evans and wonder where his career would be now without Captain America? I mean he had to the two Fantastic Four flops, The Perfect Score (Scar Jo and Darius Miles!) and Cellular, a movie I didn’t even know existed.
ND: Don’t forget the other Chris Evans’ classic, 2009’s Push, whose biggest claim to fame is getting Liongate to actually title a film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire to avoid confusion.
JI: I didn’t know Push existed either. Man, he better be thanking Marvel every single day.
ND: I too used good ole Wikipedia as my aid, though for my all-time favorites (Eternal Sunshine, In Bruges, Goodfellas), I plugged them in an left them there – no use looking for anyone to dethrone them. I also looked at the lists of film critics I trust to maybe jog my memory on things I might have glossed over, which was the case for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love, one of my favorite recent discoveries that just happened to be released in a very weak year. And that got me thinking of other foreign films I love that might have been omitted on Wikipedia, like Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale. I’m the first to admit that these are my token pretentious picks, but they are both lovely little talky films that find relatable drama in human emotional, which is my cinematic wheelhouse (see: Linklater).
ND: I need to hear the Paul story. A Pegg/Frost movie without Edgar Wright? I saw it and remember liking it fine but forgot all about it the minute I left the theater.
JI: Paul is a mix of a connection I have due to seeing a free early screening of it at Temple with our mutual friend Jason “Ball is Life” Quint and winning a poster at said screening and that 2011 is kind of a weak year. The year of The Artist! Also, I just really liked Paul’s cast, Frost and Pegg are always great together along with Jason Bateman and Bill Hader and it just hit a lot of the right notes for me in an exceptionally weak year for truly outstanding movies.
ND: I mean, I picked The Muppets for 2011, so I can’t knock an unconventional selection.
JI: Since its early into 2017, did you have any other real contenders for this year’s movies or was it hands down Get Out? It was a very close race for me between Get Out and John Wick 2 but ultimately went John Wick 2 because its so rewatchable. I saw it opening weekend twice, back-to-back nights. Only other movie I’ve seen from this year is Kong: Skull Island, which was good but not close to the level of those two for me.
ND: I originally wasn’t going to pick a 2017 movie for the same reason you mentioned: the sample size just isn’t big enough yet. It’s unlikely Get Out will be my favorite of the year when it’s all said and done, but it definitely stands out in a typically weak January-March. Logan got some consideration; it plays more like a western than a superhero movie, and any departure from the comic book formula is welcomed. I enjoyed Kong just fine but it’s still a ways off from “best.” I have yet to hop aboard the John Wick bandwagon. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the ride once I’m there.
You’re successive screening of John Wick 2 reminded me of a similar experience from my childhood, coincidentally with another Keanu movie. I saw a matinee of Hardball with my grandfather one Saturday afternoon, only to find out afterwards that my friends were going to see it that night. I didn’t even like it that much, but I didn’t want to be left out either. I can’t recall if I’ve ever gone for a rewatch on back-to-back nights, though the odds are strong it happened during one of my four theater viewings of the first Spider-Man. I was a strange teen.
JI: John Wick is a thrill ride you won’t want to end. My situation with that was similar to yours with Hardball. Made plans for the Saturday showing with a friend but Friday afternoon another friend texted me wanting to go so I didn’t want to flake on either and went twice. Did not regret my decision.
I got you beat! I saw the Spider-Man five times in theaters, which thinking about it now I don’t know why I saw it that many times. I also saw Men in Black II five times in theaters thanks to my dad wanting to go that many times. Two very odd movies to see that many times.
ND: Who knew we had so many uber-specific things in common. I can feel our friendship growing by the minute.
JI: As we’re winding down on our actual lists, what movies are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year? For me right now Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Last Jedi are at the top for me. Dunkirk could be interesting but its tough to get hyped over a movie with a tone like that, especially during July rather than the expected December release. The Dark Tower should be good especially with Elba and McConaughey, but I didn’t read the books so I don’t have a built in excitement for it like others likely will. A few other interesting ones should be the next Kingsman movie, I thought the first one was really fun and the new IT. I loved the TV miniseries as a kid and am interested to see how they can possibly top Tim Curry as Pennywise. And of course there’s the usual slate of sequels coming this year. Did you know that Bad Moms is not only getting a sequel but a spin-off as well with Bad Dads,both coming out in 2017?
ND: As far as blockbusters go, Guardians and The Last Jedi shouldn’t disappoint. I didn’t love Rogue One but very much enjoyed The Force Awakens, and I trust Rian Johnson even more than J.J. Abrams to carry the torch. Blade Runner 2049 looks incredible – Villeneuve can do no wrong. Dunkirk looks good, though I’ve been lukewarm on Nolan’s recent efforts. I’m tempering my expectations for The Dark Tower, considering how rocky preproduction has been. It would be a shame to waste such a great cast. Despite Bad Moms earning me some valuable points in last summer’s Fantasy Box Office League, I will not be indulging in their further money grabs.
Digging a little deeper, the trailer for Martin McDonagh’s latest, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, just dropped and looks like a blast.It’s been five years since our last McDonagh, and I’m hopeful this is more In Bruges than Seven Psychopaths (which I still liked).
ND: We’re getting another Alex Garland/Oscar Isaac collaboration in Annihilation, and if it’s anywhere near as good as Ex Machina, I’m all-in. Destin Daneil Cretton is releasing his long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s outstanding Short Term 12 with The Glass Castle, also starring Brie Larson. And don’t look now, but it looks like we’re getting a Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis reunion next Oscar season. Huzzah.
JI: Ahh yes PTA and DDL reuniting for a movie about 50’s era London fashion. I know it won’t disappoint but so oddly specific.
ND: Is there anything else we need to discuss before wrapping up? Has this inspired you to catch up on any older flicks? I’ve got Brokeback Mountain and You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan’s debut) queued up.
JI: It’s definitely made me want to go back and fill in a bunch of holes. Possibly starting with rounding out my PSH gaps with Magnolia and Capote.
One final note from me, Jackie Brown is criminally underrated and my favorite QT movie. He says anyone of this mindset doesn’t really like his movies because he didn’t write and to that I say, you don’t determine my taste, Quentin.
ND: Jackie Brown was on my 1997 shortlist for sure. Under-the-radar-great.
Thanks for indulging me, John. I’m happy to get out of my head every now and then when it comes to my writing. Things like this are a ton of fun.
JI: This was fun. Hopefully we can collaborate again for another discussion. Maybe a post summer look back at surprise hits, biggest flops and how I managed to win the box office pool two years in a row (hopefully).