Your favorite films? Some of mine

A scene from Kubrick’s film 2001; Inside the spaceship — filmed in a British studio


By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent list of the top 100 foreign language films, according to critics, reported by the BBC; I admit to only having seen nine (!) of them. I loved Children of Paradise, and hope you’ve also seen it. Another of my faves is on the list below.

My father made films for a living, mostly documentaries, and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for one; here’s his Wikipedia entry. So maybe my addiction to film comes honestly! In a typical week, I watch probably two or three films, whether a classic on TCM,  something on HBO or go to a theater to happily sit in the dark.

My tastes don’t include horror or a lot of comedies. For reasons I can’t explain, I love films about spies and spycraft.


Syriana (2005)

An amazing cast — George Clooney and Matt Damon, two favorites — and a twisted tale of government malfeasance in the MidEast. Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Filmed in Iran, Texas, Switzerland, Lebanon, Spain and D.C. (this kind of multi-national location shooting seems to be a theme of my favorites!) They used 200 locations on four continents. It also feels, right now, terribly timely in light of terrible Saudi behavior — and American complicity in it.


Michael Clayton (2007)

Clooney again! This time, corporate malfeasance. (Hmm, I see a theme.) Also in the cast is the phenomenal British actor Tom Wilkinson , playing a corporate executive whose conscience over a highly dangerous and profitable agro-chemical lands him in the wrong hands.  The fantastic British actress Tilda Swinton plays the firm’s smarmy lawyer — the final scene, shot in a midtown Manhattan hotel — is one of my favorites. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and it’s well deserved. Clooney, badly shaven and hollow-eyed, plays a “fixer”, a lawyer assigned to clean up the firm’s messy cases.  It made many critics’ list of the year’s top ten films.





Casablanca (1942)

Of course! If you’ve never seen this classic, a gorgeous black-and-white film with some of the all-time great lines — you must! Ingmar Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star; she as a European refugee fleeing war-torn Europe and he as a tough-talking American bar owner in that Moroccan city.


2001 (1968)

I must have watched this Stanley Kubrick film 20 times since I first saw it as a young girl. To my eyes, it hasn’t dated at all — even the subtlest details of what space travel might look and sound like having come to fruition now or some variation of same. The soundtrack, the special effects, the costumes and the ending which still puzzles so many. Its esthetic deeply affected many later films.


Jason Bourne

The Jason Bourne series

OK, OK. Schlocky, I know. But ohhhh, so much action and so many crazy chase and fight scenes from Berlin to Tangier to Paris and such a lonely hero, played in every version but one by Matt Damon (later Jeremy Renner.) I’ve seen every one of these so many times I know them off by heart but still enjoy them. I also love how he never does anything vaguely normal — like laundry or groceries. There are five in the series.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

If you love magazines and fashion as much as I do — let alone a film (based on a true story about being the assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour), about an ambitious New York City female journalist — this is the one for you. I know the dialogue by heart but still enjoy it: the designer clothes, her insanely demanding boss, Miranda Priestly, and a great scene with Stanley Tucci that sums up what it really takes. Made for $35 million, it’s since grossed 10 times that in revenues.

Spotlight (2015)

Another film about journalism,  this one winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Also based on a true story, this recreates the teamwork it took at the Boston Globe to expose horrific sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic church. I love Rachel McAdams, a fellow Canadian, as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer — it’s one of the few films ever made that really shows what shoe-leather reporting is: all those interviews, all that door-knocking, all those documents to read.

All The President’s Men (1976)

It’s a boys’ club at the Washington Post — but what a club! This re-creation of the reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S. President Richard Nixon, stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, a dream team in itself. This film, too, shows the persistence and guts it can take to sniff out a major story and get people to share enough to make it publishable.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Klaus Kinski as a crazed expedition leader in 16th century Peru. The final scene is extraordinary — a raft floating helplessly downriver, with Aguirre raging, the lone survivor. I love all of Werner Herzog’s films, but this one most of all and it’s considered one of both Herzog’s best films and one of the best films ever made.

The Mission (1986)

An 18th century story about a Jesuit mission deep in the Argentine jungle, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. The soundtrack is astoundingly beautiful, by the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The opening image is unforgettable — it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (and was nominated in six other categories.)

Blade Runner (1982)

Few films have had as much an impact on later work as the esthetic of this one, directed by Ridley Scott, later better known for the Alien films. Everything drips with rain, streets are crowded and gleam with neon. Harrison Ford plays the Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, whose job it is to seek out and destroy replicants, robots who appear human. The eerie soundtrack is by Vangelis, best known for his score of the film Chariots of Fire. I also love the 2017 sequel, Bladerunner 2049, again starring Harrison Ford.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Another (!) film I love starring Matt Damon, and another focused on spycraft, specifically the beginnings of the CIA. Damon stars, as does Angelina Jolie in a film focused on themes of family loyalty versus that to one’s craft. I’m also partial to this movie since a scene was filmed in the town we live in, Tarrytown, New York.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

To my mind, admittedly as someone who’s loved this one for decades, one of the most visually compelling films I’ve ever seen, directed by the late great David Lean (who also did Lawrence of Arabia.) Julie Christie is Lara, Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, set at the time of the Russian Revolution. It was filmed in Finland, Spain and Canada.


What are some of yours?



What do you love about them?

36 thoughts on “Your favorite films? Some of mine

  1. Not really sure I have favorites, even from the horror genre. However, there are a couple of films I have seen multiple times for one reason or another, and I’ve enjoyed immensely each and every time. One is Mad Max; Fury Road. One critic called that film “the most perfect film made by the hands of man,” and I can’t disagree. Every frame is amazing and I wouldn’t skip over a single frame (though there are plenty of scenes I would gladly watch two or three times in a row). I watch it at least once a year, if that says anything.
    Another, weirdly, is Titanic. I don’t know what it is about that film, but ever since I saw it a year or two ago, I absolutely love it!
    The animated two-part film The Dark Knight Returns, which shows an older Batman returning to the fight after several years hiatus, is beautifully animated and told. It’s my favorite Batman adaptation, more than the Nolan films (though I love those too).
    Perfect Blue is a great anime and psychological thriller film, delving into the schism between the image of celebrity and the person behind the celebrity. All told in one strange, disturbing film that gets better with every viewing.
    Those are my favorites I guess. The list may actually be longer, but I can’t think of anything else. I can pick favorite films from specific franchises a bit more easily, though (Fast Five from the Fast & Furious franchise and Friday the 13th: The New Blood from the Friday the 13th films).

    1. LOVED Out of Africa — I have the soundtrack on vinyl. The year it came out I had the perfect combo — plenty of OT from my job at the Globe and Mail, an inheritance and an ankle injury that made walking painful — right after I saw it I booked a trip to Kenya and Tanzania. Best trip of my life.

      Do you have other fave pilot films — like Sully?

      1. Sully is a good movie – I read the book too. It was rather amazing in that there was an attempt to “prove” that he could have landed at an airport. That was a load of hogwash, of course.
        One flying movie I really like is High Road to China with Tom Selkeck. The story itself isn’t that great but the flying sequences are. 🙂

  2. Jan Jasper

    Great list, Caitlin! I’ll add “Gone with the Wind.” What I like about it – aside from the costumes – is how it shows how different people cope, and change – or not – when their entire way of life is destroyed. Rhett and Scarlett merely become more of their unpleasant selves. Scarlett’s father, Gerald, loses his mind, though we don’t know if it’s because of the impact of the war on the South, or the death of his beloved wife, Ellen – he keeps saying, brightly, to Scarlett, “Let’s ask your mother. She’ll know what to do” – as, down the hall, his wife lies in state in her coffin, Ashley, the poet and idealist (yes, I know – a slave-holding idealist), seems a broken man. And perhaps the most inspiring is Melanie, the wimpy too-nice sister-in-law that Scarlett has no respect for. I vividly remember the scene when Scarlett and Melanie are standing terrified on the staircase, at night, when Yankee soldiers enter their house. Melanie picks up that huge rifle and, when the soldier tries to grab her, she shoots him – possibly saving all their lives, or at least saving them from rape. Wimpy, indeed! I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

    1. Thanks! My mother took me to see it when I was little as it was her favorite film, too. I haven’t seen it since but my memory of it is when Scarlett holds up a carrot (?) and says “We’ll never be hungry again”….

      1. Jan Jasper

        Yes, it was a carrot, which she had just dug out of the ground with her bare hands, and I think what she said was “If I have to lie, cheat, or steal, as God is my witness, I will never be hungry again!”

    1. Cool! Thanks for sharing. I knew there were different versions but haven’t dared sully my memories with them. I need to read the original book to see what it’s like — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which is a FAB book title.

  3. Pingback: Your favorite films? Some of mine — Broadside – PERUNDURAI PRODUCTS

  4. Margaret

    Thanks for the lists Caitlin et al.
    All of my favourites are thrillers of one kind or another (not including the horror genre). I like plots with lots of twists and turns, so my list includes films such as Presumed Innocent (Harrison Ford) and Clear and Present Danger (also Harrison Ford). I’m not actually a huge HF fan but I do love both of these films and have watched them multiple times.
    I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never seen Blade Runner so I think I should make an effort to do that one day given that it also stars HF.
    One other great film that comes to mind is The Crying Game.It’s a fantastic film and worth hunting down if you’ve never seen it.

  5. The Sound of Music, Shawshank Redemption, Brokeback Mountain, The 10 Commandments, Funny Girl, Pretty Woman, The Birdcage, Ordinary People, All The President’s Men, Airplane!

  6. Jan Jasper

    Yes, it was a carrot, which she had just dug out of the ground with her bare hands, and I think what she said was “If I have to lie, cheat, or steal, as God is my witness, I will never be hungry again!”

  7. i love the eclectic mix you offered. here are some of mine: the graduate, the english patient, antonia’s line, the nightmare before christmas, dr. zhivago, the party (w peter sellers), shine, and to kill a mockingbird. i also love spy, mystery and doc films.

  8. I watch a movie just about every day, usually before I go to sleep. It could be anything, really, but these are some of my favorites:
    Nosferatu the Vampyre, Werner Herzog, 1979. The story and visuals are very faithful to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece and Klaus Kinski set the bar for creepy vampires everywhere.
    Shenandoah, Andrew McLaglen, 1965. Jimmy Stewart is a Virginia farmer in the time of the Civil War. He wants none of it but it is thrust upon him and his family. It’s a great story with a great cast. Too much to put down here, just watch it.
    Doctor Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick, 1964. There’s a truly stellar cast in this one: George C. Scott sees the nuclear holocaust as an opportunity to meet girls and who could ever forget Slim Pickens riding the H-bomb?
    Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life, Terry Jones, 1983. I’ve seen this movie so many times I don’t even have to watch it any more but I still do. I saw an ad on television the other day for live organ transplants (No shit) and Cathy and I looked at one another and said “Can we have your liver?”
    Pink Floyd the Wall, Alan Parker, 1982. Ever since I first heard “Money” at age eleven, the music of Pink Floyd has been part of my life. Pink Floyd the Wall was the movie I had been waiting for before it even existed. OOOOOOO FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS… Let’s talk about the movie. Bob Geldof, of Boomtown Rats and Live Aid fame, Gives a brilliant performance by not stealing the show and letting the music be the star.
    The animated scenes, by Gerald Scarfe, who also did the cover art for the album, are evocative and often disturbing, especially these days.
    OK best for last: Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks, 1974. This is, hands down, the greatest moving image ever to be committed to film. I’m having a hard time getting started on this one. All right. Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor wrote this amazing screenplay with gunfights and pie fights, dastardly villains and singing dancing idiots, then they cast it to absolute perfection. If you haven’t watched this one, you owe it to yourself.
    This post is a real thinker. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks! HOW COULD I forget Monty Python????? My fave is MP and the Search for the Holy Grail…maybe esp. the killer rabbit. Glad to see a Werner Herzog film in this mix — and I might sub. in Young Frankenstein for Blazing Saddles.

      1. We have friends over for a movie night every Halloween and Young Frankenstein is always on the bill. My Monty Python pick was a toss up between Meaning of Life and Holy Grail. It’s really hard to choose. I could really string out a long list but I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight if I don’t mention the Odd Couple or It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad
        Mad World.

  9. I agree with so many of these, and there are a few that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. Like Casablanca! Blade Runner is one of my all time favorites also. I read that they saved the scene on the rooftop for the last day of shooting and Rutger Hauer asked if he could change the monologue a bit from the script. Legend is he had the crew in tears. Incredible scene.

    Blade Runner 2049 is excellent as well. Visually stunning.

    My all time favorite is The Princess Bride. I can just about recite every line, much to my family’s dismay.
    Other favorites:
    Alien and Aliens (the first 2).
    Mermaids. I normally don’t enjoy Cher but she’s great in it. And a young Wynona Rider and very young Christina Ricci, with a pumpkin on her head. Hilarious.
    Birdy. 1984 Matthew Modine completely loses touch with reality as a result of his experiences in Vietnam, and Nicholas Cage, his childhood friend and also a war veteran, tries to bring him back. Peter Gabriel’s amazing score.
    The Shawshank Redemption. So damned good.

    1. Thanks for playing! I am so mesmerized by every detail of the Blade Runner films — part of me thinks, if I ever get to Tokyo, I will feel totally at home visually because of it. BR 2049 is so different and also so compelling. I loved it.

      I hate to admit how many times I’ve seen Alien and Aliens! So well done and SO SCARY!

      Love Peter Gabriel’s music so must try to find Birdy.
      I finally saw (!) Princess Bride for the first time recently — so odd to see Robin Wright back then (have you seen [OMG!] Season 6 of House of Cards…she is so so so scary in it.

  10. I’ve seen eleven of your nine faves, if I include the 5 Jason Bourne films. My absolute favorite in your list is The Mission, and what originally drew me to it was Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe. The Mission was also my very first DVD that I ever purchased when I began my DVD collection so long ago. Got to go now, and watch The Mission again. Then follow it up with some of the others on your list. It’s going to be a busy week now. Thanks for sharing, Caitlin …

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