1. Boyhood (Linklater, 2014)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
3. Before Sunset (Linklater, 2004)
4. In Bruges (McDonagh, 2008)
5. Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)
6. There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson, 2007)
7. Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2013)
8. Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013)
9. The Master (P.T. Anderson, 2012)
10. The Social Network (Fincher, 2010)
11. In the Mood for Love (Kar-wai, 2000)
12. Nightcrawler (Gilroy, 2014)
13. Ex Machina (Garland, 2015)
14. Hell or High Water (Mackenzie, 2016)
15. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
16. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Zeitlin, 2012)
17. Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg, 2002)
18. The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
19. The Departed (Scorses, 2006)
20. Short Term 12 (Cretton, 2013)
21. The Prestige (Nolan, 2006)
22. Mud (Nichols, 2013)
23. Y Tu Mama También (Cuaron, 2001)
24. Creed (Coogler, 2015)
25. Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012)
1. Gladiator (Scott, 2000)
2. Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)
3. Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2013)
4. Anchorman (McKay, 2004)
5. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2007)
6. Training Day (Fuqua, 2001)
7. Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012)
8. There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson, 2007)
9. John Wick 2 (Stahelski, 2017)
10. Inside man (Lee, 2006)
11. Burn After Reading (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2008)
12. American Psycho (Harron, 2000)
13. Gone Girl (Fincher, 2014)
14. Zoolander (Stiller, 2001)
15. Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
16. Nice Guys (Black, 2016)
17. Adaptation (Jonze, 2002)
18. Birdman (Inarritu, 2014)
19. Bernie (Linklater, 2011)
20. Sicario (Villeneuve, 2015)
21. The Master (P.T. Anderson, 2012)
22. The LEGO Movie (Lord and Miller, 2014)
23. Doubt (Shanley, 2008)
24. The Savages (Tamara Jenkins, 2008)
25. Silence (Scorsese, 2016)
ND: We’ve had this discussion a few times before: is there a difference between “best” and “favorite?” My initial reaction is no. We like what we like, for whatever reason you come to or criteria you choose, that’s the grading scale, pure and simple.
The one glaring instance where the “best” and “favorite” line begins to blur is with the work of Richard Linklater, whose films are so emotionally vulnerable that they have effectively changed the way I see the world. In another filmmaker’s hands, Boyhood would have been a showy gimmick, but Linklater understood what this project needed to be before shooting the first scene, allowing the deeply human nature of the film to unfold beautifully and organically. It deserves a spot on this list for innovation alone. Explain yourself, John!
JI: With a fear of being blocked from continuing this project, I must admit, I haven’t seen Boyhood yet. That’s is the plain and simple reason why it is not included on my list. Wish I had some lame, pretentious reason for its exclusion.
ND: I am happy to see you’ve somewhat made up for this oversight with the selection of other outstanding Linklater film, Bernie. It’s a rare feat to so perfectly utilize two very specific actors (Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey).
Walk me through your process a bit before we get into detail.
JI: My process was pretty simple and I think you outlined it pretty well, I picked what I like. I could tell you why I picked each and every one of these movies individually but on the whole, you have to go with your gut and pick the movies you feel are the best to you. Also, as we have discussed previously, going into being best is staying power. There are a few movies I’ve only seen maybe once or twice but I still think of them to this day. Movies like Doubt and Silence are like that for me. I feel if a movie has that kind of power it is impossible to not include it on a “best” list.
Please feel free to eviscerate me for not seeing Boyhood, I deserve it.
ND: You have shamed me, son. Boyhood is on Netflix so you’re running out of excuses. Though I am not without sin, having not seen Doubt.
JI: Huge misstep on my part, for many reasons but especially since I really enjoy Ethan Hawke.
ND: My girlfriend will be relieved to know I am not the only one.
Anyway, film-going experiences that resonate with me long after I leave the theater always score the highest on my lists, as the director’s ability to utilize all aspects of the medium plays a huge part in landing an emotional impact or gathering more information upon repeat viewings. So it’s no surprise the Coen Bros., Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cauron, and David Fincher are prominently featured throughout our lists as masters of blending the cerebral with a cinematic spectacle.
I should address the lack of comedies on my list (though In Bruges, Eternal Sunshine, Llewyn Davis, and Frances Ha are all loosely comedic). Don’t get me wrong, there are few things better than laughing your ass off in a theater, but when applying the “re-watch” test to some of my all-time favorite comedies (Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 21 Jump Street), the jokes, once tread, aren’t good enough to lift the film to the highest class, considering the low bar for cinematography, acting and, most importantly, narrative. I may be in the minority here, but these movies are largely fleeting experiences as I grow older.
What are your insights into your comedic selections? I wouldn’t classify Hot Fuzz as a strict comedy considering the high-wire act Edgar Wright always pulls off, nor Best in Show, a borderline Shakespearean experience with levels of complexity to the jokes. Anchorman is clearly a classic, and you obviously believe it has aged well. Zoolander, though, I’ll need some convincing.
JI: I think I largely agree with your take on comedies in regards to putting them on a best list but in terms of rewatchability I’m not sure I agree as much. Of course there are comedies that don’t stand the test of time, Borat chief among them, but for the most part I feel great comedies stay funny no matter how many times you’ve heard the jokes. Addressing your second point about the two straight up comedies, Anchorman and Zoolander, there is a level of comfort and familiarity with those two. I’m not confident they actually do still hold up but since I saw them at the time I did I think they still hold that spot for me, if that makes any sense. A perfect example of being weary of their relevance now is the fact I haven’t and never plan on seeing either sequel. On Zoolander specifically, I saw it in theaters and hated it but every subsequent viewing I’ve enjoyed it more and more and no matter how many times I’ve seen it there are still lines that crack me up. Not sure if that does anything to convince you but it just strikes a cord for me and I can’t really explain it but seeing it when it came out in 2001 rather than today is a big part of that.
About the other two, I just think they’re great movies that happen to be really funny. Hot Fuzz is the perfect send up of the types of movies Nick Frost’s character loves. The performances are great, I particularly love Timothy Dalton’s character, there are impressive action sequences and I really relish all the cameos in the beginning between Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Cate Blanchett. Not sure if this is a hot take, but it is the best movie from the Frost, Pegg, Wright trio. Best in Show gives such a realistic feeling to such absurd characters in an equally absurd premise. It is funny throughout without seeming cartoonish despite the cartoonish nature of the characters, like Eugene Levy’s character and his two left feet.
I haven’t seen all of your films but one that I’m curious about and especially its place on the list is The Social Network. I liked it but my thoughts don’t really seem to align with many people’s on the quality of the movie. What standout so much for you with that movie that it is in your top 10?
ND: The Social Network opens with one of the most captivating scenes in recent memory. There’s nothing to it – two college kids are in a bar chatting across from one another, and eventually the girl breaks up with the guy. It’s been done a thousand times before, but the way it’s staged and written and performed is nothing short of memorizing. In five minutes of shot/reserve-shot dialogue we learn everything we need to know about Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg – how he’s wired and what his motivations are. The scene is jammed with more character development that most movies can manage in their entire run-times, and when the fervently escalating discussion culminates in Rooney Mara’s Becca telling Mark, “you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd, and I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole,” it hits you like a freight train.
That scene sets the stage for the whole movie, a rudimentary premise turned thrilling through the artful design of David Fincher. There’s a perfect cross-section of seedy Ivy League ritual and lure, the dangerous hubris of a brilliant, spiteful teenager, and the lustful excitement of an unknown frontier. Fincher made a movie about Facebook – FACEBOOK! – a pulse-pounding high-wire act, which is miraculous.
I’d like to hear more about your no. 1 selection, Gladiator. It’s unlike any other movie on your list, both in terms of genre and style. What about it has made such a lasting impression?
JI: Gladiator is definitely one that even I didn’t expect to be number one when I started out doing this. The first thing that made such an impression is that my dad took my to see it in the theater, I was about two months away from turning eight, so seeing such a violent movie in the theater was a big deal. (Questionable parenting? The world may never know). Beyond that though it is insanely re-watchable for me. I watched it twice over memorial day weekend! In terms of the movie itself, the action scenes are incredible, the performances from Crowe and Phoenix are really solid. Crowe is a little one-note throughout but I think he fluctuates that one note just enough to create a sympathetic hero and somewhat rounded character and Phoenix is always great as the weirdo bad guy. Has he ever not been really good in anything? There are definitely flaws with the movie, so it isn’t number one because it is a flawless piece of art, but I find it to be highly entertaining (yes, I was entertained Maximus) and something you can always watch. I feel like this hasn’t be a very articulate breakdown as to why, but it is just kind of a gut call.
ND: Shame on you for spoiling my “Are you not entertained?” joke.
JI: Not including the comedies, is this the pick you have the biggest issue (if that’s even the right word) with? Also, were there any movies for you that surprised you where you ended up slotting them, similar to my experience here with Gladiator?
ND: I don’t want to be misunderstood. I don’t have a problem with any of your picks; art is a very personal thing and who am I to judge how you or anyone else creates a criteria for greatness? I’m just trying to pick your brain a little bit. I will admit to having never seen Training Day. And I thought No Country for Old Men was underwhelming – though I know I am in the vast minority and it might have been a case of the film being so hyped that I was predisposed to be disappointed.
JI: I wasn’t trying to imply that you had a problem with any pick, that’s why I hedged and said I don’t think issue was the right word to use. No Country’s ending falls a little flat but up until that point I find Javier Bardem too magnetic to be disappointed on the whole.
ND: In regards to the ordering, there were no surprises in the top 10. I’m sure on a different day Eternal Sunshine or Before Sunset or even In Bruges could have been no. 1, but I didn’t overthink it with Boyhood (watched it again this weekend) and it’s not worth splitting hairs over my best of the best.
I guess the biggest surprise is In the Mood for Love at no. 11, as I hadn’t seen it until about a year ago. It’s right up my ally in terms of a deeply melancholy romance story, chock full of utter beauty and heartbreak weaved together so seamlessly. It’s a quiet film that speaks volumes in its slow, calculated moments. Recalling my The Social Network, Boyhood, et al picks, I am always impressed when filmmakers take a simple premise and do something inventive with it, and Wong Kar-wai brutally precise decisions are marvelous.
Quick side bar: I learned about In the Mood for Love on CineFix, a YouTube channel that creates incredibly detailed and researched lists. It’s a must-subscribe for any film buff.
The next biggest surprise is Catch Me If You Can. It’s decidedly unlike all my other selections, and very Spielbergian (not always a good thing), but god damn, that movie is just so much fun. It’s a perfect caper, plain and simple.
JI: I was curious about your inclusion of Catch Me if You Can, because as you said it is so unlike any other movie on your list. Spielberg has been a little hit or miss since the turn of the century, good thing he’s producing Gremlins 3.
ND: I didn’t want us to devote any space for honorable mention selections in order to make the 25 mean something, but I’m changing my tune a little bit. Give me ONE movie that hurt the most to leave off. I really wanted to find a spot for Wall-E. That movie blows my mind.
JI: My original number 25 was going to be the documentary Let the Fire Burn. Probably a way out there choice considering the rest of my list. It is about MOVE in Philadelphia and what ultimately transpired when Mayor Goode effectively bombed the house that MOVE was in. Not sure if you’ve seen it but I loved how they used all archival footage to tell the story. There is no narration and from I remember very little on-screen text. The documentary plays out telling the cohesive story of MOVE and then the aftermath and fallout following all the destruction. It also features councilman Ed Rendell, which might be a nice easter egg for some. It also does a great job of bringing to light a story that even in Philadelphia isn’t really talked about or told anymore and gives full context to both the MOVE members and the city.
ND: I actually just watched Let the Fire Burn not too long ago. I took a deep dive into the MOVE bombing earlier this year, absorbing as much about it as I could, because you’re right, it goes largely un-talked about considering what a bonkers story it was (though just this week the city commemorated the event and the lives lost with a monument). And I definitely appreciate a documentary that is driven by facts and not an agenda.
I’m surprised to see we only have three overlapping selections – The Master, Inside Llewyn Davis, and There Will Be Blood. The former two we talked about in depth during our last collaboration, but let’s discuss TWBB for a second, especially now that Daniel Day-Lewis is “retired.” Even for a career as illustrious as DDL’s, his turn as Daniel Plainview by far his crowning achievement, and I’d put it toe-to-toe with any performance ever put on screen. He carries every frame with such menace, vigor, and even surprising vulnerability that makes the viewer sympathize with a terrible man. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
JI: I haven’t watched it all the way through in a while but I find myself often YouTubing scenes just to inject more DDL straight into my veins. The only other character that has been so outright horrible, vindictive while retaining vulnerability and a likability to me was Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. However, that is comparing apples and oranges, with an 86 episode series compared to a single feature.
Back to DDL in TWBB. His Plainview is such a transformation that anytime I see the movie or see clips my brain doesn’t even compute that DDL is Plainview. He truly takes on his characters and becomes them and it is incredible in the way he has been able to transform himself through his various roles. I can see why the say it takes him about three or so years to mentally prepare for a role. It is hard to imagine anyone ever topping his absolute mastery of the art.
Two questions about DDL I’d like to pose for you. 1) Do you think the retirement will stick? He has done this before where he took time off to be a cobble. Now he is supposedly retiring to become a dressmaker. I think he’ll eventually make his way back to the screen. 2) This is more of a thought exercise than a black or white question but should we be grateful for the few performances he did produce and how outstanding those are or should we be disappointed we only got so little of him during his career? It is a little disappointing to me but the other side of the argument is that maybe his performances would have suffered if he took on more projects and didn’t throw himself in fully as he did.
ND: The answer to your first question is simple: no. Maybe at this very moment, DDL thinks that he’s done all there is to do on screen, and considering he already-selective process, I bet this sabbatical lasts less than 7-8 years. But he will come back. DDL knows he’s the best, and he will get that itch again once he reaches senior citizenry. And he’s spent his entire adult life getting lost in other people that I’m not even sure he knows how to be himself. The more interesting question would be: what do you want his big comeback role to be? This is a hard question that I wasn’t exactly prepared for, but we are so used to seeing him in these larger-than-life roles that I wouldn’t his coming back in a simple, humanistic family drama. Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) has the goods to write him a juicy role, but even more perfect would be Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea). Holy shit, I want to see nothing more now.
The second question is a bit more complex, because it was undoubtedly frustrating for DDL to take his good old time selecting only to leave us with Nine or The Ballad of Jake and Rose, but even in subpar movies (I didn’t enjoy Lincoln, either), DDL always makes it worth watching, so his batting average, so to speak, is still remarkably high. If he were to have taken more roles along the way, could he have given us a few more classics? Probably, but more likely is he would have given us more disappointments. Look at De Niro and Pacino. The two have combined for dozens of duds in the past 20 years to only a handful of good roles. If the alternative to DDL’s selectivity is Dirty Grandpa, Stand Up Guys, The Intern, Jack and Jill, etc., I’ll take the former every time.
JI: I think I’d like to see him comeback and do something totally unexpected. How fun would it be if he was in a comedy or a Tarantino movie? I’d love to see what he could do in something that is so very much outside his realm, without stepping into Jack and Jill territory like you mentioned previously.
This is slightly (very) off topic, but since you mention De Niro and Pacino, you think they can turn their cold streaks around with Marty in The Irishman?
ND: I mean, if anyone’s going to bring those two back from the dead, it’s Scorsese. He has more than earned our trust at this point. I’d be lying if if wasn’t a tiny bit worried about Marty going back to the gangster well – and god forbid he ever cast a woman or a PoC – but if it ain’t broke, I guess.
Let’s leave it here since we’ve covered a lot. Though if you want to return with a deep dive on the John Wick 2 > John Wick decision, I’ll be here waiting.