Recent Best Films

Pages related to this topic:
Recent Best Films
200+ Great Films
Narrative Structures in Films: A Mindmap
Thomas Mann on film: Text from “The Magic Mountain”
Mistakes in Film Criticism
Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama

BEST OF 2019
Finally, a return to actual adult films. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably the best film this year (10 Academy Award Nominations). Another film for mature, thinking and feeling adults (with a creative use of models and some CGI): A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (1 Nomination). And Richard Jewel (1 Nomination) is a moving story of a contemporary tragedy forged by irresponsible media and misguided officials — one of the best films of the year.

NOTE: The Irishman is not, technically something I would normally consider to be part of the general topic Films and Popular Culture, to which these pages are dedicated, because it was not released as a “Film”, i.e. a vehicle of mass entertainment in movie theaters. The theater experience is quite different from other forms of presentation, as described in the discussion of Thomas Mann’s text (link above). But it appears that The Irishman got about 26 million viewers while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood grossed about $140,000,000 and at $10 per ticket that translates to 14 million viewers. This counts as “mass” entertainment. Furthermore, The Irishman has all the other elements of popular culture including extremely well-known stars, one of the best directors of all time, and many other quality production values that resulted in 11 Nominations. (But without a best actor nomination it is hard to understand this as an overall quality index.)

Of the very popular movie theater films this year, with $858 B in box office, Avengers: End Game was the best overall, but I am not going to comment on it here.

BEST OF 2018
A good film with a great deal of CGI, but also good themes and thought: Black Panther.

BEST OF 2015-2017
Hollywood and popular culture is in a rut: recycling Marvel heroes reflects in an ever diminishing pool of stories that will be found inoffensive to mass audiences. One is hard-pressed to find recent films of significance. However, there were some films of note: Mad Max, Inside Out, The Martian, and Irrational Man and Concussion were among the best films of 2015.

An example of Hollywood’s self-absorption and indifference to actual performance art is awarding DiCaprio an Oscar for acting his role in The Revenant. In terms of acting craft, Will Smith in Concussion was far superior.

Another example: Other than trying to resurrect the artistic and intellectual achievement of Blade Runner, one wonders what is the justification for spending time and energy to produce the overwrought, lugubrious Blade Runner 2049? At two hours and forty-four minutes running time, perhaps half of that with actual dialogue, it is a small wonder that the film has not fared well at the box office. Excellent critic A. O. Scott from the New York Times says: “Daring in its own right, this broodingly sumptuous saga explores the primacy of feelings, the nature of memories and the essence of being human.” Perhaps…but one can hardly say this is the most moving or insightful treatment of such themes.

As we progress through this recent period of stagnation a significant question remains: When, if ever, will audiences tire of CGI-dependent storylines? Are we entering an age of “alternate realities only”? If so, why?

BEST OF 2014
Academy Award Nominations for Best Picture (2014) and any appropriate comments:
American Sniper (Unlikely. Not best film, but Best Actor probable.)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (No way!)
The Imitation Game (Way! See prediction about Cumberbatch below.)
Selma (Way! Hollywood’s prejudice for political causes rather than the greatness of the film may put this at the top.)
The Theory of Everything

Truth and Fact in 2014: With 50% of Best Picture Nominations as historical dramas, 2014 is the year of “true” stories brought to the screen. The notion of “true” presents a dilemma for postmodernist approaches to narrative — a problem that cannot be detailed here. Suffice it to say that anyone wishing to go to contemporary films to be educated on the “facts” of history will be disappointed and misdirected. Moreover, viewers will sometimes have to suffer through pointless and diminishing politically correct “codas” (e.g., captions and/or inappropriate music) attached to the ends of these films. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the study of popular culture, there are important films to see this year.

Most disappointing film of 2014: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. No need to see this film except to experience that audiences will pay to see something essentially empty when expectations are high and the “brand” is “good.”

Funniest 5 Minutes in 2014: First 5 minutes of Penguins of Madagascar.

American Sniper (2014). For any film “based on true events,” one needs a scorecard upon entering the theater these days. Perhaps a full vetting of all “factual” information presented in the film would do the trick. Fortunately, this film was vetted by the family. At least in terms of capturing the personality and many of the major events in the career of this soldier, principal members of the family (including the hero’s wife) have publicly stated that the film is accurate. This is reason enough to see the film. Necessary viewing for 2014.

Selma (2014). Probably the best film of 2014. While pure fiction dramatically expresses general truths about the human condition, reconstituted historical dramas express a portion of these truths as we would have liked them to be. This film is no exception to this general rule. Fortunately, these two elements of popular film (general and historical truth) meet in one of the most powerful narrative segments in any recent film: the death Jamie Lee Jackson. One scene in this segment, the meeting between King and Jamie Lee Jackson’s father at the city morgue, is among the finest moments of intimate film making in recent years. The film should be seen for this scene alone. Many other scenes in the film are much inferior, including odd and distracting camera angles. Auteurs and DP’s will study these other scenes for lessons about what not to do with a camera. Another extraordinary aspect of the film is that it demonstrates how much the borderline for inclusion of sexual truth in films has moved since the ’60s. Under no circumstances would the information about King’s extramarital encounters have been included in a film meant to honor his legacy in any film of the prior to the 1990s (Clinton changed all that). Best use of a Biblical reference in 2014: Selma jail scene, Matthew 6:25.

The Imitation Game. The smartest film of 2014. This film will get Benedict Cumberbatch an Academy Award nomination, although Alex Lawther (Young Alan Turing) may well be the best actor on the screen and does the best job since DiCaprio’s 1993 performance of portraying a young man with emotional/intellectual problems. You should know what is basically real and what is not real before going, since you can’t trust Hollywood when it releases films “based” on true events. The girlfriend is basically real and he (Turing) was really engaged to her (Joan Clarke). But leave it at that. Don’t investigate too much before going to see it, or you will spoil the story! Overall, a great lesson in utilitarianism, which the Brits also invented in addition to modern computer architecture. Best line: “You are not God, Alan. You don’t get to decide who lives and who dies.” See the film for Turing’s response.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). God, as a petulant 12-year old, meets delusional man with an attitude. It’s true that in the Old Testament Moses actually argues with God and questions His decisions, but this film takes that idea to a whole new level. Best moment: Death of Pharaoh’s son, enhanced by the sudden silence of the overbearing score. Production values: Filmed through a glass darkly, the entire film has the aura of cheap, backyard production filmed on old film stock. Optional viewing, but good for a thesis of how thought and theology are being marketed today.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014). A continuation of the best film of 2013, this film also is “one of the few films to self-consciously examine media politics and the construction of character and emotion through action” (see 2013 comments below). The film follows the book faithfully, as the plot takes a new direction in following the heroine’s moral and intellectual development. The problem now is not just to sort out emotional ties but to learn how to engage in psycho-political warfare through media. Much more subtle and deep than the other “teenage angst films of 2014” (listed below) this film addresses the real situation now faced by millennials — especially in the Arab world — who understand what love and freedom should mean, but who are unable to find any viable political routes to it. The credits are followed by a beautifully animated logo that reasserts the reality of the film’s message to totalitarian regimes.

Interstellar (2014). Possible subtitles: “Gruber goes Galactic” or “Timeless Echoes of Hume and Plato.” Hume states: “In general, it may be affirmed, that there is no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of services, or of relation to ourself” (Treatise, II, 1). In other words, various forms of self-interest motivate our actions; presuming that any abstractions such as “love of mankind” will motivate people is folly. Plato implies it is necessary for rulers to issue “noble lies” to the general public in circumstances where the truth would be too much for the public to bear. In other words, “Gruber” is a necessary political being. Interstellar deals with both of these ideas about our motives and political truths, as well with many more precise questions: (1)Are human beings multi-dimensional beings who can travel in time as well as space; (2) Are feelings of love, rather than the testimony of the senses or the machinations of reason, a signature of deep knowledge about the nature of reality? Interstellar will surely rank as the most philosophically rich film of 2014, although certainly not the best. Much of the plot and dialogue are more forced than it needs to be, so be prepared for much willing suspension of disbelief. Also be prepared for the mumbled dialogue of Matthew McConaughey, who makes the main character sound like he is only talking to himself most of the time. Great Sci-Fi, such as 2001, Blade Runner, Terminator, GATTACA, or Avatar it’s not, but still a must for 2014.

Fury (2014). A general principle of films is that those set in a “historical” context tell us more about our contemporary consciousness of social/political/moral situations than they do about the actualities of the historical setting in which the action takes place. Fury is no exception to this principle. How should we react to the open brutality of totalitarians who terrorize their own people? Best line: “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”

Teenage Angst films of 2014 These are all must-sees for those following the zeitgeist:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
The Maze Runner

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Perfect for the study of cultural themes as reflected in film. Most prominent among the themes — and most importantly in terms of a global audience that includes emerging nations where women continue to be second-class citizens — is the autonomy and life choices of women. It is not unusual to find concise arguments written into great scripts, but this film contains a particularly potent 3-phase formula for expressing a stance for contemporary women: (1) there is such a thing as overprotection of women; (2) women have their own autonomy that must be given both respect and concrete opportunities; and (3) where there is risk (even to life), women themselves should be given the choice to assess and accept that risk. Also included (as so often in recent popular films) is the theme of psychic damage done to young men by absent fathers. Still another aspect of modern life explored in this film: how lack of recognition and the alienation experienced by workers in large corporations can lead to self-destruction and violence. Best Scene/Best Acting: Aunt May (Sally Field) explains to Peter/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) why he is her son. Best twist/plot element: sorry, to reveal that would be a huge spoiler! Suffice it to say that apart from the technical/intellectual components of the script noted above, this edition of Spider-Man is thoroughly enjoyable and works on many emotional levels. Recommended.

Noah (2014). Biblical Noah meets Alternate Sci-Fi Universe meets Nietzsche. Contrary to popular belief, the Biblical story of Noah would not make a good film script. For a Hollywood-quality script, one needs a villain, a series of escalating crises, moral dilemmas, a confrontation with evil as personified in the villain, and a resolution showing the success of the hero. Noah has all of these elements, so it is a good film for study as well as for enjoyment. It fulfills the promise of radio ads promoting the film, which describe it as having taken artistic liberties with the Biblical story but in ways that are consistent with Biblical themes and values. Although some critics, and even the director of the film (Daren Aronofsky) have claimed the film identifies Noah as an environmentalist vegetarian, this is certainly not the moral focus of the film. As Plato observed, nothing prevents artistic creators from not understanding their own works at a philosophical level. We should be loath to accept the poet’s interpretation of his own work.

The story apparently does not take place on Earth, at least not at any time within the last 100 million years or so (the daytime sky and the depiction of the global landmass does not correspond to our world) and the story adds a deus ex machina device in the form of sci-fi creatures called “Watchers,” although these may be thought to correspond (very loosely!) to the “giants in the earth” referenced to in Genesis. The moral dilemma is one that Nietzsche knew well: our free will is both a blessing and a curse; it demands that we take full responsibility for our acts and ultimately accept the idea that our will can be coincident with God’s, if not in every respect, at least in the vital respects that correspond with the promise of human flourishing symbolized by the rainbow (the last image of the film). Highly recommended. A great study piece and one that represents contemporary spiritual, theological, and philosophical dilemmas quite well.

The film was banned in the many Islamic countries, ostensibly for “depicting a prophet,” but perhaps also (admittedly, just a guess here) for superimposing the story of Abraham — a vital key to Islamic theology — onto Noah.

Best lines: “A man is not ruled by the heavens but by his will. So I ask you, are you a man? Good. Then you can kill.”


God’s Not Dead (2014). For professional critics of popular culture only. Amateurs will not enjoy this film since they will see nothing but over the top preaching about the beauty of Christianity. Professionals will understand that the film is not about Christianity as much it is about freedom of choice and the fact that humans must cope with totalitarian intellectual repression, loss of love, death, and disease. The story is based on actual court cases where universities have attempted to limit the freedom of speech and association of on-campus Christian groups. If you are a university-level academician, you will have a hard time suspending your disbelief about the initial story premise: a philosophy professor makes signing a declaration that “God is dead” worth 30% of the course. Hopefully, any professor actually caught doing that would be summarily fired. Put that aside, accept the premise, and enjoy the film. The film contains three powerful, emotional subplots that some viewers will find more than make up for any weaknesses in the principal storyline. A good example of the overt politicization of film (as opposed to the more covert, as in The Hunger Games).


200+ Great Films

Pages related to this topic:
Recent Best Films
200+ Great Films
Narrative Structures in Films: A Mindmap
Thomas Mann on film: Text from “The Magic Mountain”
Mistakes in Film Criticism
Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama

This set of lists makes it pretty easy to find a good film: if it’s on one of these lists, chances are you will enjoy the film.
Please Note: Although most of these titles in the table below have been checked for availability, some may be currently out of stock or may have been withdrawn from circulation by the studio.


Movie Making/Hollywood:
Mulholland Drive    A
The Stunt Man    A
The Player     A
The French Lieutenant’s Woman   A

Melding Fact with Fiction:
A Beautiful Mind

Cartesianism, Memory, and
Alternate Realities:

Fight Club
Vanilla Sky
The Matrix

Film Noir:
Double Indemnity
Touch of Evil
Mildred Pierce
The Third Man
The Maltese Falcon

Underground Sci-Fi:
Mars Attacks
Buckaroo Banzai
Dark Star
Dark City (1998)
The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

Best Lina Wertmüller:
Seven Beauties (1976)
Swept Away (1974)

Best Woody Allen:
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Sweet and Low Down
Radio Days
Take the Money and Run
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Annie Hall
Play it Again Sam
Bullets over Broadway
Hannah and Her Sisters

Liquid Sky
Dark Star
The River’s Edge
Looking for Richard
The Rapture
Wild at Heart
Red Rock West
Night on Earth
The Emerald Forest
Baghdad Cafe

Foreign Films:
Babbette’s Feast
Pele the Conqueror
Ju Dou
Jesus of Montreal
Dersu Uzala
Il Postino
The Shop on Main Street
Wings of Desire

Lesser-Known Classics from Hollywood’s Golden Era:
The Red House
The Sea Wolf
M Street
Manhattan Tales*
Now, Voyager
The Letter
The Razor’s Edge
The Trial
Bend of the River
Cimarron (1931)

The Producers
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Gold Rush
The Philadelphia Story
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944, VHS)
The General
Silent Movie

Films and Communism:
Citizen X
One, Two, Three 
The Amazing Adventures of Mr. West
in the Land of the Bolsheviks 

Burnt By the Sun 
Stalin’s Projectionist 

* Limited Availability


1. Citizen Kane, 1941
2. Casablanca, 1942
3. The Godfather, 1972
4. Gone With the Wind, 1939
5. Lawrence of Arabia, 1962
6. The Wizard of Oz, 1939
7. The Graduate, 1967
8. On the Waterfront, 1954
9. Schindler’s List, 1993
10. Singin’ in the Rain, 1952
11. It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946
12. Sunset Boulevard, 1950
13. The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957
14. Some Like it Hot, 1959
15. Star Wars, 1977
16. All About Eve, 1950
17. The African Queen, 1951
18. Psycho, 1960
19. Chinatown, 1974
20. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975
21. The Grapes of Wrath, 1940
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968
23. The Maltese Falcon, 1941
24. Raging Bull, 1980
25. E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982
26. Dr. Strangelove, 1964
27. Bonnie and Clyde, 1967
28. Apocalypse Now, 1979
29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939
30. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948
31. Annie Hall, 1977
32. The Godfather Part II, 1974
33. High Noon, 1952
34. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
35. It Happened One Night, 1934
36. Midnight Cowboy, 1969
37. The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946
38. Double Indemnity, 1944
39. Doctor Zhivago, 1965
40. North by Northwest, 1959
41. West Side Story, 1961
42. Rear Window, 1954
43. King Kong, 1933
44. The Birth of a Nation, 1915
45. A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
46. A Clockwork Orange, 1971
47. Taxi Driver, 1976
48. Jaws, 1975
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937
50. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969
51. The Philadelphia Story, 1940
52. From Here to Eternity, 1953
53. Amadeus, 1984
54. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930
55. The Sound of Music, 1965
56. M*A*S*H, 1970
57. The Third Man, 1949
58. Fantasia, 1940
59. Rebel Without a Cause, 1955
60. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
61. Vertigo, 1958
62. Tootsie, 1982
63. Stagecoach, 1939
64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977
65. The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
66. Network, 1976
67. The Manchurian Candidate, 1962
68. An American in Paris, 1951
69. Shane, 1953
70. The French Connection, 1971
71. Forrest Gump, 1994
72. Ben-Hur, 1959
73. Wuthering Heights, 1939
74. The Gold Rush, 1925
75. Dances With Wolves, 1990
76. City Lights, 1931
77. American Graffiti, 1973
78. Rocky, 1976
79. The Deer Hunter, 1978
80. The Wild Bunch, 1969
81. Modern Times, 1936
82. Giant, 1956
83. Platoon, 1986
84. Fargo, 1996
85. Duck Soup, 1933
86. Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935
87. Frankenstein, 1931
88. Easy Rider, 1969
89. Patton, 1970
90. The Jazz Singer, 1927
91. My Fair Lady, 1964
92. A Place in the Sun, 1951
93. The Apartment, 1960
94. Goodfellas, 1990
95. Pulp Fiction, 1994
96. The Searchers, 1956
97. Bringing Up Baby, 1938
98. Unforgiven, 1992
99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967
100. Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942


Rebecca, 1940
Spartacus, 1960
Do the Right Thing, 1989
Beauty and the Beast, 1947 (French)
Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1979 (Australian)
You Can Count on Me, 2000
Burnt by the Sun, 1994 (Russian)
The Man With a Movie Camera, 1929 (Russian)
Babette’s Feast
The Seventh Seal, 1956 (Swedish)
Traffic, 2000
The Game, 1997
Fight Club, 1999
Rain, 1932
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968
Telling Lies in America, 1997
Ran, 1985 (Japanese)
Children of Paradise, 1946 (French)
Blade Runner, 1982
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962
Eyes Wide Shut, 1999
The Bicycle Thief, 1949 (Italian)
The Letter, 1940
Taxi Driver, 1976
Greed, 1924
The Seven Samurai, 1954 (Japanese)
Sunset Blvd., 1950
Groundhog Day, 1993
Crumb, 1994
Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1980 (German)
East of Eden, 1955
The Lathe of Heaven, 1980
Momento, 2000
Sleeper, 1973
“M”, 1933
Open City, 1945
Blow Up, 1960
Aguirre: The Wrath of God, 1977
The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942
Nashville, 1975
White Heat, 1949
Akira, 1988
The General, 1927
Seven Beauties
Hoop Dreams
Sullivan’s Travels, 1941
Reservoir Dogs, 1992
The Cat People, 1942
Come Back, Little Sheba
Seventh Heaven, 1927
Das Boot
Wild at Heart
Pele the Conquer, Swedish, 1987
The Return of Marin Guerre, French, 1982
Of Mice and Men
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Dirty Harry
Wise Blood
Wings of Desire
Mr. Skeffington
Black Narcissus, 1947
Pinocchio, 1940
Wings of Desire, 1987 (German)
Refifi, 1958 (French)

* ABOUT THE AFI LIST: In an amusing and light-hearted book about film ( Ten Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed…), critic Richard Roeper suggested that the AFI list has many films that simply do not belong among the “top 100.” He asks: is The Graduate really the 7th best film of all time? Although there may be no truly bad films on the AFI list, from the standpoint of movie fans looking to broaden their horizons and by mining the rich history of film, the AFI list has many flaws. First of all, since the list is just of American films, it eliminates many of the world’s great classics. Second, the whole idea of ranking films in order is dubious at best; there is a class of excellent films, but individual rankings within that class are near pointless since each film is excellent in its own way. Third, some films (such as The Graduate and The Silence of the Lambs) appear to have been included because of the momentary impact they made in popular consciousness rather than for their importance to film history or their continued relevance. To be sure, the AFI list includes great masterpieces, such as Vertigo and Citizen Kane. But it can be argued that both Hitchcock and Welles are underrepresented on the list; there are many Welles or Hitchcock films not presently on the list that would surely be better choices than The Graduate! With these thoughts in mind, I endeavored to create a somewhat whimsical list of films better than The Graduate. I tried to follow these rules: (1) the films could not already be on the AFI list (lest I merely reorder the AFI list — an even more dubious exercise than the present one!); (2) some of the same directors and genres from the AFI list had to be included; (3) foreign films should be included; and (4) from a movie fan’s point of view the list had to have an entertainment or viewability quotient similar to that of films that did make the AFI list. Viewability is always a concern. After all, from the consumer’s point of view, the ultimate question is: do I want to spend money on this? The column at the right of the table is the result of this experiment in list building. -ab