What are the criteria for movies that you consider your all-time favorites? Themes that continue to engage and affect you, sometimes in profoundly different ways, every time you return to them? Scenarios and jokes that still make you laugh after dozens of viewings? Über-familiarity, allowing you to vacuum your living room while a film is playing and not miss a thing because you have the dialogue committed to memory?
Like most of you, I presume, my answers would be yes, yes, and yes, though I rarely vacuum. And every five years since 2010, I've had the opportunity to sincerely consider my all-time favorite movies – or rather, my favorites of the millennium – in rankings published alongside similar (yet very different) lists composed by my former Reader boss and dear friend Jeff Ignatius. If you've been following our progress since 2010 (Jeff here, me here), or even since 2015 (Jeff here, me here), welcome back! It's Top 100 time again – which is like a traditional year-end Top 10, but 10 times more crowded!
As you'll see from Jeff's newly updated collection of 100 favorites, the guy is far more adventurous in his mentions than I am, citing TV mini-series and entire seasons – and sometimes single episodes – of broadcast, cable, and streaming television. Jeff will likely tell you that his approach is because he doesn't feel he's seen enough movies to make a comprehensive Top-100 list. Don't be fooled, though. Jeff sees a lot, but unlike some of us who get paid to do this, he only watches what he thinks will interest him. You know, like a normal person.
I, meanwhile, restricted my choices to what played on the big screen – with the added caveat, this year, of only including movies that I reviewed for the Reader, which wasn't really the hardship I expected it to be. (This is where I doff my cap to the two un-reviewed inclusions I had to drop: Keith Maitland's astonishing, mostly animated documentary Tower, about the University of Texas clock-tower shootings of 1966, and Richard Linklater's half-doc Bernie, with Jack Black as perhaps the most endearing murderer of all time.) Films are listed in order of preference, and from my viewpoint, their rankings provide a fair degree of insight into where my movie-head is, and where it was five years prior, and five years prior to that.
So, since January 1 of 2015, what's changed and what's stayed mostly the same? If you don't care and just want to get to the good stuff, go ahead and scroll past the commentary. Otherwise, here are 10 things that jumped out at me:
1) I'm in love with the Coens … and a bunch of other directors. Ah, Joel and Ethan. Still my favorites after all these years. With The Ballad of Buster Scruggs replacing O Brother, Where Art Thou? on my updated list, a half-dozen Coen-brothers titles are again represented – twice as many mentions as their nearest competitors Wes Anderson, David Fincher (who has two in the top five!), Yorgos Lanthimos, Richard Linklater, Kenneth Lonergan, and Bennett Miller (all three in the top 25!). As for directors with a pair of inclusions each, there's dual recognition for Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Feig, Spike Lee, Tom McCarthy, Christopher Nolan, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villeneuve, and Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, the latter two of whom debuted based solely out their output since 2017. Welcome aboard!
2) A few movies actually made significant gains from 2015 … . As you'll see in the Top 100, I've parenthetically included where the films found themselves numerically (if at all) in the two previous iterations of this article. And it turns out that six movies scooted up the chart quite nicely: Dogtooth (advancing 15 positions), Almost Famous (+20), Moulin Rouge! (+21), Burn After Reading (+28), Foxcatcher (+42), and The Informant! (+44). Gone Girl, meanwhile, was eligible for the list in 2015 but wasn't included, and now it's at position #40. It's a dark David Fincher, yes, but still – total vacuuming movie.
3) … but most of them didn't. Obviously, the addition of five extra years to this online experiment meant that a bunch of titles had to be dropped – a full 32 of 'em, in fact. (The steepest fall was reserved for Rango, which was at #39 in 2015 and gone completely this year. Cry not for the Oscar-winning animated lizard, though. Rango always comes back.) But more than 30 others found their rankings tumbling a little or a lot, with the most precipitous drops reserved for Capturing the Friedmans, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and A Mighty Wind (all fell 38 slots), Midnight in Paris (-40), The Lego Movie (-41), and Birdman (-43). I continue to adore them all … just maybe a tad less than I did five years ago.
4) Blockbusters still don't do much for me. In 2010, only five movies that amassed more than $200 million domestic made the list: The Dark Knight, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, The Lego Movie, and WALL•E. Remarkably, all but Finding Nemo are still accounted for, with Inside Out taking Nemo's slot and A Star Is Born upping my $200-million-plus tally to six. But it's still only six – and The Dark Knight and The Incredibles are also the only superhero movies included. Stay tuned, though. His movie isn't represented on the 100 Favorites – it isn't even on my 2019 Top 10 – and he's certainly no one's idea of a superhero, but I have a hunch that eventual repeat viewings might place Joaquin Phoenix's Joker here in 2025.
5) Speaking of genre … . Loads of dramas and thrillers and comedies made the roster, but I apparently wasn't feeling nearly as generous toward other classifications. My every-five-year inclusions of documentaries fell from 12 to six to four: Capturing the Friedmans, Grizzly Man, Room 237, and Won't You Be My Neighbor? Beyond WALL•E, the only mentions that could accurately be labeled “science fiction” are the relatively earthbound Arrival and Ex Machina. You'll find oodles of fright flicks on Jeff's list, but barring genre-questionable titles such as Mulholland Dr. (you finally made the #1 spot!), Shaun of the Dead, and Elephant, horror films are represented merely by Hereditary, Let Me in, The Witch, and the two-fer of Get Out and Us. (Thank you, Mr. Peele!) As for musicals, there's Moulin Rouge!, and the kinda-musicals A Star Is Born and A Prairie Home Companion … . And that's it. I publicly cited 2019's Elton John bio-pic Rocketman as my favorite movie musical since Moulin Rouge! back in 2001, and even it didn't crack the lineup. I'm inclined to blame this on Cats, but I don't know why.
6) I'm apparently still a xenophobe … but getting a little better! It's nothing to be proud of, but as opposed to the two inclusions of previous roundups, a full four foreign-language titles are among my 100 Favorites: Dogtooth, Roma, Parasite, and Y tu mamá también. I tried to explain my unintentional bias in the 2015 article, but am still embarrassed. Are my clearly provincial tendencies at least offset by Parasite landing in the Top 20? No? Okay then. Moving on … .
7) I apparently like it rough. More than 80 percent of my cited films are rated R, and only two PG-13 releases made it to the Top 25. (Both of them, oddly enough, written or co-written by Aaron Sorkin.) But beyond my naturally dark leanings, I think the plethora of ages-17-and-up titles is partly because nearly all genres seem to be getting progressively edgier. Did you realize that even the Mister Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? is rated PG-13? What is the world coming to?!
8) Boy, there were some bad years. When I update this chart in the year 2100, it'll be fun to see if every single year from the century has one film represented. Somehow, though, I don't see that happening. (For a lot of reasons.) Even now, several years from the past two decades are barely hanging on. Despite my Top-10 enthusiasm two years ago this month, only three titles from 2017 – Get Out, Lady Bird, and Phantom Thread (which I actually first saw in 2018) – wound up as 100 Favorites. Only two films each from 2000 (Almost Famous and You Can Count on Me) and 2006 (The Departed and A Prairie Home Companion) made the rankings. Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, meanwhile, is the lone 2012 movie accounted for … and even that one clocks in at position #59.
9) But 2013 rocked! With eight included titles ranging from Inside Llewyn Davis at #24 to Prisoners at #53 to American Hustle at the lineup's very end, 2013 was clearly an exceptional year for films, at least in my memory. How good a year was it? That was when we got Captain Phillips, Enough Said, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, and other movies I really enjoyed … all of which would have placed somewhere after the eight 2013 releases I actually listed.
10) And this year looks pretty great, too! Is it too soon to include seven 2019 movies on my 100 Favorites list, with one of them even landing in the Top 10? Maybe. Is that gonna stop me from expressing my numeric love? No way!
Enjoy the love, folks! Titles and rankings, as always, are subject to change within minutes (okay, seconds) of publication.
1) Mulholland Dr., 2001 (placement in 2010: 2; placement in 2015: 2)
2) The Social Network, 2010 (-, 3)
3) Boyhood, 2014 (-, 1)
4) Get Out, 2017
5) Zodiac, 2007 (7, 6)
6) There Will Be Blood, 2007 (1, 4)
7) Moonlight, 2016
8) Margaret, 2011 (-, 8)
9) Spotlight, 2015
10) Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, 2019
11) Moneyball, 2011 (-, 10)
12) Lady Bird, 2017
13) The Squid & the Whale, 2005 (10, 18)
14) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007 (19, 7)
15) Gosford Park, 2001 (8, 14)
16) The Departed, 2006 (11, 23)
17) Foxcatcher, 2014 (-, 59)
18) No Country for Old Men, 2007 (12, 15)
19) Manchester by the Sea, 2016
20) Parasite, 2019
21) Capote, 2005 (33, 19)
22) Before Sunset, 2004 (3, 5)
23) The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 (-, 13)
24) Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013 (-, 31)
25) Brokeback Mountain, 2005 (9, 24)
26) Blue Jasmine, 2013 (-, 12)
27) Inglourious Basterds, 2009 (22, 25)
28) True Grit, 2010 (-, 36)
29) The Big Short, 2015
30) Almost Famous, 2000 (40, 50)
31) A Serious Man, 2009 (51, 29)
32) WALL•E, 2008 (5, 9)
33) You Can Count on Me, 2000 (18, 33)
34) Moulin Rouge!, 2001 (14, 55)
35) The Irishman, 2019
36) Bridesmaids, 2011 (-, 47)
37) Shattered Glass, 2003 (36, 56)
38) The Hurt Locker, 2009 (34, 34)
39) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, 2018
40) Gone Girl, 2014 (-, -)
41) Before Midnight, 2013 (-, 11)
42) The Station Agent, 2003 (43, 37)
43) Michael Clayton, 2007 (25, 20)
44) Us, 2019
45) The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001 (6, 22)
46) Sideways, 2004 (15, 32)
47) The Dark Knight, 2008 (16, 30)
48) The Tree of Life, 2011 (-, 42)
49) The Incredibles, 2004 (13, 16)
50) Little Women, 2019
51) The Informant!, 2009 (-, 95)
52) Whiplash, 2014 (-, 49)
53) Nebraska, 2013 (-, 38)
54) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004 (4, 27)
55) A Mighty Wind, 2003 (21, 17)
56) Burn After Reading, 2008 (67, 84)
57) Prisoners, 2013 (-, 28)
58) The Lobster, 2016
59) Lincoln, 2012 (-, 46)
60) Milk, 2008 (79, 68)
61) Midnight in Paris, 2011 (-, 21)
62) Brooklyn, 2015
63) Steve Jobs, 2015
64) Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009 (32, 26)
65) Dogtooth, 2010 (-, 80)
66) Grizzly Man, 2005 (37, 43)
67) BlacKkKlansman, 2018
68) Easy A, 2010 (-, 63)
69) Adaptation, 2002 (29, 45)
70) Shaun of the Dead, 2004 (23, 44)
71) Won't You Be My Neighbor?, 2018
72) Memento, 2001 (44, 81)
73) The Favourite, 2018
74) Let Me in, 2010 (-, 41)
75) Murderball, 2005 (20, 70)
76) The Lego Movie, 2014 (-, 35)
77) Y tu mamá también, 2002 (39, 74)
78) Capturing the Friedmans, 2003 (17, 40)
79) Knives Out, 2019
80) A Star Is Born, 2018
81) Arrival, 2016
82) Inside Out, 2015
83) Room 237, 2013 (-, 60)
84) Elephant, 2003 (26, 62)
85) Juno, 2007 (52, 52)
86) Gone Baby Gone, 2007 (81, 67)
87) Marriage Story, 2019
88) 12 Years a Slave, 2013 (-, 57)
89) Hereditary, 2018
90) 25th Hour, 2002 (38, 79)
91) Roma, 2018
92) 20th Century Women, 2016
93) A Prairie Home Companion, 2006 (28, 61)
94) Carnage, 2011 (-, 65)
95) Spy, 2015
96) The Witch, 2016
97) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014 (-, 54)
98) Ex Machina, 2015
99) Phantom Thread, 2017
100) American Hustle, 2013 (-, 88)
Also visit “100 Favorite Movies, 2000-2019: Jeff Ignatius.”