They say movies have gotten better—that what we have now doesn’t even compare. I tend to believe the opposite is true. I treasure experiencing classic films like “Roman Holiday,” “To Catch a Theif,” and “The Wizard of Oz” over and over. There is no experience like watching “Gone With The Wind,” a movie with no CGI and few special effects, just talented actors, incredible sets, spectacular costumes and crafty cinematography. There will always be more stories to tell and surely new ways to tell them. But, does that make them inherently better? What if, in all our grandeur, we have stopped serving the story?
That’s certainly not to say we haven’t made some improvements.
When “La La Land” did not take home the coveted Best Picture statue at the 89th annual Academy Awards in a riotous mixup during the ceremony finale, we were all a little stunned, and not just because they announced the wrong winner. “La La Land” was certainly the favorite to win, and I though that surely it would sweep. The chaos got me thinking: What makes a film great?
For me, it always comes down to the story and every aspect of the film that serves the story.
Films that are monumental for the sake of being monumental do not become classics. If the story made you feel something, the film was a success, no matter how minuscule or epic. Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” was by all means monumental. We believe the dinosaurs are real because every part of the film—the script, the score, the actors, the sets—swallow you up in the story they tell. Everything that goes into a film must be measured separately. Award shows do this. But, typically the best picture winner will sweep in multiple categories because a film cannot be successful if any of its ingredients are lackluster.
It’s a rare thing for a musical to be believable because people don’t typically break into song when their happy—but they want to. That’s the point. That’s why “La La Land” was so spectacular. It struck a nerve in people, made them pine for the classic 1930s musicals that first made many love going to the movies. Not to mention, it was the only nominated film this year that didn’t make me feel like dying. But, I digress.
I think it’s ridiculous to make a list of the best movies ever made. If the most important part of a film is how it makes us feel and we all feel differently, how is it humanly possible to make that list? It’s not. Here are 17 movies that made me feel something. I hope you give them a chance to touch your heart as well.
1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Teetering just this side of bipolar mania, Scarlet O’Hara is perhaps the most interesting and complicated literary female character ever written. Vivien Leigh brought her to life in spectacular form in this eight-time Oscar winner. See the trailer.
2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Three movie quotes you’ll never forget: “Toto I don’t think that we’re in Kansas anymore;” “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” and “There’s no place like home.” See the trailer.
3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
It was in this iconic film that Marilyn Monroe first told the world, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend!” See the trailer.
4. My Fair Lady (1964)
There’s not a single number in this Audrey Hepburn musical I could not recite by heart. My 6-year-old self pranced around the house in my great grandmothers heels, hats and pearls, singing every word of the film from “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?” to “The Rain in Spain.” See the trailer.
5. The Sound of Music (1965)
What do you get when you combine Rodgers and Hammerstein, a chorus of nuns and Julie Andrews? A movie musical so iconic no one would disagree it should be put in a time capsule for the aliens to find once we’ve gone extinct thanks to overcrowding, declining resources and climate change. The underlying political nightmare unfolding at it’s core never detracted from it’s appeal, but may now serve as a reminder to a new generation. See the trailer.
6. Top Gun (1986)
Little did you know it was Tom Cruise that made the song “Danger Zone” synonymous with ridiculously sexy U.S. Navy pilots in leather jackets and aviators. See the trailer.
7. Raising Arizona (1987)
Is this Nicolas Cage’s best role? That’s very hard to say. He’s made a number of stellar films, specifically “National Treasure,” which almost made this list. But, it’s a whole host of actors who make this 80’s comedy amazing, including Holly Hunter, Frances McDormand, Randall Tex Cobb, Trey Wilson and John Goodman. I’m surprised this film is not more mainstream today. This sarcastic cult classic will have your abs cramping from laughter. Or my name ain’t Nathan Arizona. See the trailer.
8. Jurassic Park (1993)
There’s a reason “Jurassic World” pales in comparison to its three-time Oscar winning predecessor, “Jurassic Park.” It’s the same reason the “Star Wars” prequels are considered the bad children of the family. The use of animatronics and prosthetics versus CGI or motion capture technology can make or break a science fiction/fantasy film. Most always, movies that use the former feel more real to us. I wish there was a behind-the-scenes reel showing the actors on the opposite side of the camera lens when Steven Spielberg yelled action and a real-life T-Rex came running out from behind the broken electric fence. See the trailer.
9. Toy Story (1995)
Even I was surprised that my heart chose “Toy Story” above other Disney animation films such as “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty” or even “Tangled” (anyone who knows me well knows that Rapunzel is my favorite princess). While they hold a prominent place in my best-of box, I have to think editorially here. “Toy Story” was revolutionary for Pixar and for Disney. It was the first computer animated feature film and the first animated film in history to be nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award, adapted or original. My mother used to yell, “Moving buddies—if you don’t have one, get one!” anytime we were packing up to go somewhere. Disney coyly waited until the “Toy Story” generation went to college to release “Toy Story 3,” a film that made U.S. Marines cry. See the trailer.
10. Titanic (1997)
Anyone who tells you they don’t like “Titanic” is lying through their teeth. My friend Libby and I used to stay up to watch this film after her mom went to sleep because we wanted to see it in full (we weren’t allowed to watch it without an adult present to fast forward through the sex scene in the cargo hold and the “draw me like one of your French girls” moment) I realize, looking back, these scenes are laughably tame. See the trailer.
11. Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
This girlhood treasure is my absolute favorite telling of the classic fairy tale, and in true ’90s kid form, I owned it on VHS. Angelica Huston gives the most complex portrayal of a wicked stepmother anyone has ever seen and Drew Barrymore plays a surprisingly convincing Cinderella. The film is set in 16th century France, and in typical Hollywood fashion, everyone sounds British. See the trailer.
12. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Before “La La Land” there was “Moulin Rouge.” This modern musical takes its time wooing you. You’ll spend the first twenty minutes of the experience wondering why anyone in their right mind would recommend it to you, but make it through the end, and you’ll be crying into your blanket and cursing their name for the eternal heartache they have brought you. See the trailer.
13. Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
A modern story about a progressive art professor at the conservative all-girl Wellesley college in 1950, “Mona Lisa Smile” stars Julie Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin. The film beautifully tackles the complexity of modern feminism and explores what it means to be a woman, both in 1950 and today. See the trailer.
14. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
“The Devil Wears Prada” was my first introduction to the world of magazine journalism. And oddly enough, watching Andy Sachs being tortured by Miranda Priestly, portrayed famously by the one and only Meryl Streep, actually made me want to be a journalist. It wasn’t that she was tortured, it was that she overcame and succeeded in an unkind and glamorous industry designed to fail you. It was a challenge I accepted. Watch the trailer.
15. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Gore for the sake of gore just makes a horror film. “Inglorious Basterds” offers a kind of gore with purpose, and when it serves the story, it’s more engaging than gross. I had to look away more than once, but I would expect nothing less of a Quentin Tarantino film set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. See the trailer.
16. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Two years ago I met Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline, who’s department had a strong hand in making sure this film was accurate. You can see her interviewed in the film’s special features. As a Disney fan, she said, I simply had to see it. She was absolutely right. Tom Hank’s portrayal of Walt Disney is a crowning performance in a spectacular career. I can’t think of anyone more worthy of a plaque in Legends Plaza on the Walt Disney Studios lot. See the trailer.
17. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
I’m already buying my ticket to see it a second time.
Feature image by Jeremy Yap via unsplash.com