15 Films That Have Stayed With Me

There’s a fun challenge that’s been going around Facebook lately: Choose 15 films that have stayed with you throughout your life. One of the dads at school who’s become a friend of mine posed the challenge to me. Impossible, I thought at first. I write about movies for a living — how could I pick only 15? But then I picked the first 15 films that came to me. They didn’t have to be the greatest films ever, or even great, period. Just ones that mattered over the years for whatever reason.

So I wanted to share my choices with you here, as well, with a few thoughts on each. Some of them are obviously important. Others, I’ve just seen a million times. The rest fall somewhere in between. Enjoy — and I’d love to hear what you guys would pick, too.

“The Big Lebowski” (1998): Like most people, I don’t think I truly understood what Joel and Ethan Coen were getting at the first time I saw this. Now I am a part of the Cult of Lebowski.We quote this movie pretty much daily in some form. I can’t go bowling, drive past an In-n-Out Burger or hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio without thinking of it. I even went to Lebowski Fest at the Wiltern Theatre when I was pregnant with Nicolas. I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon — with nail polish.

“The Breakfast Club” (1985): Like all proud children of the ’80s, I love John Hughes movies. They are endlessly quotable. They represent our youth. But this one matters more than the others because it seemed to capture our teenage angst. And it’s such a great little time capsule of language, styles and careers.

Casablanca” (1942): My parents loved Humphrey Bogart — my dad, especially. And when I was a kid, they had this movie recorded(on Beta, no less!) so that they could enjoy it over and over. “As Time Goes By” was their song. This was an early, memorable introduction to a truly enduring, influential film.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982): Like John Hughes movies, “E.T.” is a huge part of any ’80s kid’s formative years. I had a huge crush on Henry Thomas. I bawled when I thought E.T. was dying — and I’m not ashamed to say I still get teary-eyed at the wistful farewell. The John Williams score is such a classic. I can’t wait to share this one with Nic when he’s a little older.

Grease 2″ (1982): And not “Grease,” which everyone loves, of course. This sequel was a shameless example of trying to capitalize on a phenomenon and cash in a second time. It’s terrible — clunky, awkward, unfunny, not exactly a high point in Michelle Pfeiffer’s career– and I don’t care. It was on cable TV a lot one summer and I watched it incessantly. I know every word and every song. I’ll be your girl for all seasons.

Magnolia” (1999): Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece (at that point, at least — I do love “The Master”). I’d loved “Boogie Nights,” but I was totally overwhelmed by the massive, operatic nature of this three-hour opus. The way he orchestrated the highs and lows, the histrionics and epiphanies of his massive (and massively talented) cast was just really impressive. Plus, this represented my first real blurb as a film critic — in The New York Times on Christmas Day, no less.

Nights of Cabiria” (1957): My mom was a huge influence on me and my lifelong love of movies. Federico Fellini was one of her favorite directors, and this was her favorite among all his films. I have fond memories of us turning to each other after that famous, final shot — when Giulietta Masina looks into the camera and gives us a little smile to let us know she’s going to be all right — and realizing we both had tears streaming down our faces.

No Country for Old Men (2007): The Coen brothers’ masterpiece. Gripping, darkly funny, expertly cast, beautifully shot (by the great Roger Deakins, their usual cinematographer, who will win his long overdue Oscar some day). It really gets Texas right — the terrain, the rhythms, the peculiarities. And I love the vagueness of the conclusion, which so many found so frustrating.

Pink Floyd The Wall” (1982): Another one where my mother’s influence was involved. She loved Pink Floyd (she was an exceedingly cool chick, in case you couldn’t tell) and she showed me this movie on VHS when I was in high school. Scared the shit out of me then, and it still does now. The animation is just so deeply disturbing — the walking hammers alone do it for me. Many years later, I’d have the privilege of taking part in an on-stage discussion of this movie after a screening of it in 70 mm at Ebertfest.

Rushmore” (1998): Wes Anderson’s masterpiece (although it was only his second feature), and a great example of everything he does so well within his signature style: the framing, the pacing, the obsessive eye for detail, the soundtrack. Its oddball characters and absurd situations make it funny, especially within the interplay between Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. But what struck me more was the loneliness that bound these characters, and the sense of melancholy that lingers throughout.

The Shining” (1980): Now that I’m a mother myself, I sort of question my parents’ decision to let me watch this when I was a little kid (especially given the fact that my dad looked kinda like Jack Nicholson back then). This isn’t even my favorite Stanley Kubrick film — that would probably be “2001: A Space Odyssey,” speaking of movies that people didn’t get when they first came out. But it’s still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007): Another movie that we quote endlessly around here. The Jake Kasdan-directed, Judd Apatow-produced parody of the musical biopic is just dead-on. The songs are legitimately good (and some, like “Guilty As Charged,” are even great), John C. Reilly is a scream in all his variations, and Jenna Fischer is adorable as a wholesome sex kitten.

The Wizard of Oz” (1939): It’s “The Wizard of Oz.” Next …

Xanadu” (1980): I refuse to be ashamed of my love for “Xanadu.” We had the soundtrack on vinyl AND 8-track, and we’d listen to it in the carpool on the way to school in the morning. I pretty much wanted to be Olivia Newton-John back then. She was so pretty and she had great hair and she could roller skate and sing at the same time. Decades later, I had the privilege of seeing the cheeky Broadway production of “Xanadu” with the late, great Mike Kuchwara, the AP’s veteran theater writer, who remembered that I loved the movie and arranged tickets for me when I was visiting New York. He was a mensch.

Zentropa” (1992): An early, great Lars Von Trier film. And for me, an early example of being wowed by a truly out-there foreign film once I opened myself up to the possibility of it. I recall seeing this at the Nuart in Santa Monica when I came home from college the summer before my senior year and just being blown away. The imagery — especially the use of color — was so bold, it almost frightened me. And it made me fall in love.

11 Comments on “15 Films That Have Stayed With Me

  1.  by  Scott Timmins

    Christie, loved your honesty and choices. Xanadu is a guilty pleasure for sure, and just missed mine. LOVE the soundtrack and never felt ELO ever needed to apologize for their songs! Here’s mine, though I cheated and have 20. I won’t explain my reasoning (I’m that on my FB page). Here are my 20: Animal House, Alien, Big Lebowski, Bambi, Bad News Bears (the ORIGINAL!), Close Encounters, Citizen Kane, The Dark Knight, Earthquake, Halloween, Jaws, Magnolia, No Country for Old Men, On the Waterfront, Ordinary People, Psycho, Sixteen Candles, Seven, True Romance, The Verdict

  2.  by  Christy Lemire

    Scott, we must be about the same age! Many similar reference points.

  3.  by  Garry Evens

    It’s hard to watch Giulietta Masina without falling in love with her. I guess Fellini thought the same thing. I’m putting together a similar list, and The Wall will be on it. Grease 2, however, will not.

  4.  by  Dave Anderson

    I went slightly over 15, but here they are:

    – Addams Family Values – Hugely quotable. Love the very dark, but strangely family-positive humor.

    – Animal Crackers – My favorite Marx Brothers movie.

    – Annie Hall – My favorite Woody Allen movie.

    – The Big Lebowski – Hugely quotable. A favorite movie to watch with my wife. Her favorite line: I too once dabbled in pacifism.

    – Groundhog Day – My favorite Bill Murray movie. Who isn’t a sucker for a truly earned redemption story?

    – His Girl Friday – My favorite Cary Grant movie and favorite screwball comedy.

    – It’s a Wonderful Life – My favorite Jimmy Stewart movie, my favorite Christmas movie, and I think Frank Capra’s best and most subtle message movie.

    – Matrix – My favorite science fiction as social critique movie. Would you pick the red or the blue pill?

    – The Princess Bride – Hugely quotable and I love Andre the Giant.

    – Pulp Fiction – My favorite Quentin Tarantino movie and of course hugely quotable.

    – Raiders of the Lost Ark – My favorite Steven Spielberg movie.

    – Rear Window – My favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie. A great movie to watch in the summer.

    – Singin’ in the Rain – My favorite musical. I remember first seeing with my mother as a kid.

    – The Silence of the Lambs – My favorite scary movie/thriller.

    – Spider-Man II – My favorite superhero movie.

    – Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn – My favorite pure science fiction movie.

    – When Harry Met Sally … – My favorite Bill Crystal movie, my favorite Meg Ryan movie, my favorite modern romantic comedy, and hugely quotable to boot.

    – Young Frankenstein – My favorite Mel Brooks movie, favorite Gene Wilder movie, and one of my favorite Frankenstein movies.

  5.  by  JozieLee

    Good list, Christy. Wizard of Oz. What a phenomenal film. Unforgettable. Plus I love musicals.

    Here’s my list:
    1 West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein score, Rita Moreno & George Chakiris
    2 Annie Get Your Gun. Betty Hutton. Awesome color, great songs.
    3 Unsinkable Molly Brown. The uber talented Debbie Reynolds
    4 Tammy. Debbie Reynolds again, pure and innocent.
    5 Any movie with Fred Astaire
    6 Alfie. Michael Cain, Shelley Winters. Cautionary tale.
    7 Pride and Prejudice. Kiera Knightly & that tall guy. Romance.
    8 Breakin’. Made living in a garage look plausible and cool.
    9 Splendor in the Grass. Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty. Don’t listen to your parents.
    10 Lolita. Sue Lyons, Shelley Winters. Shocking.
    11 The Quiet Man. John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara. Romantic, yet unPC
    12 Love With The Proper Stranger. Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen. “Better wed than dead.”
    13 Pinkie. Jeanne Crain. Race relations
    14 Twilight. Only the first film. Romantic fun.
    15 State Fair. Jeanne Crain. Great songs. Romance.

    •  by  Jim Andrus

      JozieLee, “Better wed than dead.” GREAT punch line! Is it yours or was it in the movie?

  6.  by  Lee

    Wow, Christy. I mean wow! There’s some bad films on this list. If you like them, that’s all that matters, but…wow.

  7.  by  Amy Gibbs

    OK, I’ll give it a shot. I feel it’s a bit retro, you can tell I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. Like you said Christy, they aren’t all the BEST movies, just the first 15 that I thought stuck with me. If I think about it too hard, I’ll start changing my list.

    1. Fargo
    2. Ghostbusters
    3. Boogie nights
    4. The Goonies
    5. Death becomes Her
    6. Space Camp
    7. The shawshank redemption
    8. Pulp fiction
    9. Aliens
    10.Back to the Future
    11. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
    12. Sunset blvd
    13. Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox Story
    14. Fight Club
    15. The Matrix


  8.  by  Scott

    That’s so cool you have Grease 2! I remember that year when it was on cable a million times. And I love Magnolia and Rushmore. My addition would be Dead Poets society. It’s probably cheesy now, but I was the right age for it at the time.

  9.  by  Thomas

    I’m glad you defend Dewey Cox. I am not much of a fan of all the mega popular Apatow related films, but I saw this in the theater and laughed my butt off. I was shocked that it has never become popular, especially with people who love music. Do most people not know about Dylan/Beatles/Brian Wilson circa Smile?

    Just watched License to Drive (1988). I think about 2/3rds come directly from J Hughes films, but the original 1/3rd is good enough that I don’t care and still enjoy it. I wondered if you have seen it.

  10.  by  Jim Andrus

    Okay, Christy, good topic to stimulate a lot of thought. As the son of a movie theater manager, I got to see a lot of films for free, so this 69-year-old soon developed a life-long love for cinema. This made it really tough to restrict my off-the-top-of-my head list to only 15 entries, and some entries may become second-guesses later, but some definitely are on my forever list. Here goes:

    1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    My favorite film of all time, so visionary, with a soundtrack which redefined my concept of music. Good 1985 sequel too.

    2. The Birds (1963)
    My favorite horror film ever, so realistic that I never slept a wink the night I saw it as an 18-year-old. What made it work so well…not one note of music.

    3. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
    One of the funniest satiric cold-war comedies of all time.

    4. Dr. No (1963)
    A great start to the enduring James Bond spy-movie franchise. Oh yeah, just saying, there was the spectacular Bond girl Ursula Andress too.

    5. Wait Until Dark (1967)
    One of the best suspense films ever made, a tour-de-force for Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin.

    6. Airplane! (1980)
    One of the funniest send-ups of all the Airport movies for all time.

    7. Cloverfield (2008?)
    A fantastic cinema-verite-style horror film.

    8. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
    A compelling tale of technology run amok. Think SkyNet Version 1.0.

    9. The Terminator (1984)
    An engrossing sci-fi time-travel action franchise with very worthy sequels, a rarity among an industry which too often runs good concepts into the ground.

    10. The Stalking Moon (1968)
    Simply put, the greatest suspense western of all time, with a superb quiet performance by Gregory Peck.

    11. Things to Come
    This 1940 classic could not quite see technology about to emerge, but it still remained a visionary look into future times.

    12. West Side Story (1962)
    One the the best musicals ever put to film, endowed with unforgettable songs in a beautiful soundtrack.

    13. The Thing (1985)
    Another compelling horror flick with great special effects. Better than the 1951 original before it and the so-so remake after it.

    14. Psycho (1960)
    What more can I say besides that title? Hitchcock at his horrific best!

    15. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
    Crime and an ill-fated romance blended seamlessly into one great film which may have aged a little when I saw it again not too long ago.

    16. Patton (1970?)
    War and a compelling military personality brought to life so well by best-actor Oscar winner George C. Scott.

    17. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
    The best Pearl Harbor war film out there, with a foreshadowing look into the Japanese side of the conflict as well.

    18. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
    A cautionary tale about who may be watching us up there with more than idle curiosity as we pursue our nuclear follies down here.

    19. War of the Worlds (1953, 2005)
    A two-way tie between worthy versions about interplanetary conflict based on the H. G. Wells classic story. The 1953 version featured one really timeless, futuristic design of alien ships while the 2005 version featured great special effects in a very intense storyline too scary for young kids.