As the world finds itself in lockdown, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the list of my favourite movies and see if anything has changed in the last year or so. The short answer: yes.
To reiterate, in order for a film to be considered for this list, I must have watched it at least three times. I feel that distinction tends to separate the films you like from the films you love. That being said, I’ve somehow managed to watch Mamma Mia on no less than four occasions, so maybe it means less than I’m giving it credit for.
At any rate, here’s the revised list of my favourite movies…
10. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Ranking in first edition: No. 6
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz
The Cabin in the Woods is a smart and witty homage to horror’s most iconic creations, while also being a riotously entertaining addition to the genre in its own right. The basic premise of five teenagers alone in the woods deliberately evokes the likes of Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, only to flip viewer expectations on their head in the most spectacular way.
9. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writer: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
While putting together last year’s list, I consciously decided not to include a single Star Wars movie. The franchise was a big part of my childhood, but its new place in the Disney machine had severely depleted much of my enthusiasm for it.
That certainly hasn’t changed following the release of The Rise of Skywalker, but upon revisiting Empire Strikes Back a few months ago, I was reminded of how incredibly well made it is; a true masterclass in blockbuster cinema that transcends the many sins this franchise has committed since.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a bittersweet sensation when I watch it today, knowing that Disney would not only pass up the opportunity to reunite these characters, but also fumble their continued adventures so dramatically. At least we have the memories.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Ranking in first edition: No. 7
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson
Inspired by the political thrillers of the eighties, The Winter Soldier tells a gripping story of espionage and betrayal that provides genuine surprises in spite of its position in the Marvel machine. After two serviceable appearances (and one enjoyable cameo), Chris Evans gives his first truly exceptional turn as Captain America in this feature, surrounded by a dreamy supporting cast that includes Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and the impeccable Robert Redford.
7. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
It’s rare that something so intensely anticipated actually lives up to expectations, but Avengers: Endgame unquestionably did just that. Every time I revisit this film, I’m astonished by just how incredibly well executed it is on every conceivable level.
It’s an unabashed celebration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that revels in exploring its remote corners and larger than life personalities. It’s the culmination of ten years of storytelling that satisfyingly brings several long-running character arcs to a close. Most of all, it’s a thoroughly entertaining film from start to finish with a sharp script, strong performances and some of the most ambitious action sequences in blockbuster history.
Franchise filmmaking has a bad reputation and there’s a good reason for that. It has produced a countless number of lazy, soulless and utterly bland movies, but Avengers: Endgame doesn’t deserve to be tarred with that brush. It’s a genuine cinematic achievement that was robbed of a Best Picture nomination.
6. Kick-Ass (2010)
Ranking in first edition: No. 5
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Nicolas Cage
At the age of only twelve, Chloe Grace-Moretz delivered a performance that hits hard both literally and figuratively. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage channels the unhinged lunatic that only he can play, but prevents his character from becoming a joke by shifting gears for one particularly heartbreaking scene. Vaughn and Goldman balance their script expertly, crafting a story that feels like a perfect hybrid of unflinching grit and comic book surrealism.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Ranking in first edition: No. 3
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is Edgar Wright at his energetic best, overflowing with creative direction from the seamless scene transitions to the wacky action sequences. The finished product is a joyous amalgamation of cinema, comic books and videogames, blending the most iconic elements of the three to superb effect.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Writers: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
Prior to its release, this film was not even remotely on my radar, so nobody was more surprised than me when it crept into my heart and set up camp.
Needless to say, Into The Spider-Verse is a visual triumph. It pioneers a new form of animation that lends itself wonderfully to a comic book adaptation, staying true to the medium while putting a refreshing and completely original stamp on it. But what keeps me coming back to this movie is its heartfelt story, that sees Miles Morales slowly evolve into the hero that his world so desperately needs.
Also: Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir.
3. The Shape of Water (2018)
Ranking in first edition: No. 4
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Writers: Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones
The Shape of Water is quite possibly Guillermo Del Toro’s best film to date, which is no small statement given the fantastic body of work he’s responsible for. While it’s easy to mock the high-concept premise of a woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, those who go in with an open mind will find a beautiful story that questions what it really means to be human.
2. The Truman Show (1998)
Ranking in first edition: No. 2
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich
Jim Carrey gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this film, making his 1999 snub all the more painful. His portrayal of Truman Burbank is genuinely tragic; a man who has been deprived the basic right of a normal human life and who feels a profound but unspecified emptiness as a result. His evolution over the course of this film is thrilling to watch, incorporating Carrey’s natural comic ability but also allowing him to excel in more dramatic scenes.
1. Aliens (1986)
Ranking in first edition: No. 1
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen
James Cameron’s epic sequel meaningfully builds on the ideas presented in Ridley Scott’s shocking first outing, taking this franchise to heights it has never again been able to reach. Far from being a brainless romp, Cameron’s script goes a full hour before indulging in its first action sequence, taking the time to introduce a fascinating cast of characters led by Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.