My favorite films.  

North by Northwest
In the 1959 world of this film, everything is neat, orderly, and purring smoothly, including glamorous and demure train passenger Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).  Even though this film, unlike most on this list, blatantly fails the Bechdel-Wallace test, this favorite Alfred Hitchcock film tells a suspenseful story of an advertising executive (a mature Cary Grant) enveloped in a web of mistaken identity.  1959
The Return of the Pink Panther
This airy, unsurpassed amusement remains even today the stylistic and commercial peak of the Pink Panther franchise. Unfazed by his surroundings, the intrepid and incompetent Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) earnestly bumbles his way through a series of well-choreographed disasters. He drives his car into a swimming pool (twice), has trouble with the "pheune" (phone), and then efficiently demolishes a vacuum cleaner, a steam room, and, famously, a hotel bathroom. Exuding an agreeably 1970's mix of glamour and good spirit are the lovely Lady Lytton (Catherine Schell) and the film's magnificently clichéd locations, Morocco, Nice, and Gstaad: "Today, a paradise in the Swiss Alps, tomorrow, a wasteland," as Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom, in top eye-twitching form) dourly predicts. 1975
In a film filled with symbolism and circular resonance, a young bike messenger (Frederic Andrei) worships an opera diva's music with near-sexual passion, even as he illegally records her concert. Director Jean-Jacques Beineix's consummately French use of symbols will delight any literature student: for example, the bundle of dirty money tossed disdainfully out the window lands next to a blind accordion player, whose music turns out to be what has been playing all along in the earphone of Priest, the punk assassin (Dominique Pinon). C'est bon! (This film is one of my
Paris favorites.)  1981
Evil Under the Sun
A perfect film.  Flawless ensemble work makes the most of Anthony Shaffer's light and witty screenplay. Sylvia Miles, as Myra Gardner, wearing a series of over-the-top costumes by Anthony Powell, delivers caustic one-liners, such as, "More like a sudden attack, of gold-digging," with paint-peeling acidity. Peter Ustinov's Poirot emits a veritable orchestra of tones, from piccolo, when he advises a starchy British secretary she should pronounce his name "as if about to bestow a kiss," to basso profundo: "Or, that you are lying." John Lanchbery's virtuosic Cole Porter arrangements achieve moments of unexpected glamour. Hugh Casson's effortlessly elegant title sketches, Christopher Challis's masterful cinematography (the shot of the clifftop with "no one there" pausing long enough for us to hear wind through the pines): each aspect of this production so exceeds its predecessor, the serviceable Ustinov-as-Poirot-starring "Death on the Nile," that this film seems to emanate from a golden age, inspiring legions of gay fans with its
frivolous cocktails, campy music, and Nicholas Clay's skimpy bathing suit.  1982
After Hours
With perfect camerawork, lighting, and music transforming seemingly pedestrian material—Joe Minion's
flawed screenplay about a soft-voiced male office worker (Griffin Dunne), leaving a now-museum-piece workplace of chattering typewriters and meets a beautiful woman (Rosanna Arquette) at a coffee shop—director Martin Scorsese's comedic masterwork imbues late-night mid-80's SoHo with the unmistakable tang of imminent revelation.  1985
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
As a former Chicago suburbanite, I can attest that this rite of passage, the senior-in-high-school-ditching-a-day-in-May-to-drive-to-Chicago, indeed occurred, although seldom with fake five-star restaurant reservations, phony answering machine outgoing messages ("This is the Sloane residence. There's been a.. [sob]..death in the family."), and a cross- Loop parade led by an oompah band. John Hughs's mania for perfection brings an idealized, clockwork version of mid-80's Chicago vividly to life, and Edie McClurg's stoutly inefficient secretary, Grace (at one point, she can be seen quietly sniffing white-out) provokes helpless laughter. 1986
An overweight housewife (Divine) provides exasperated guidance to a plus-sized teen (Ricki Lake) trundling her way through a series of deliberately banal doo-wop dance songs, and the mother of Ricki's teen rival wears a Marie Antoinette wig large enough to encase the actual Marie Antoinette (Debbie Harry, latter in the film) in John Water's magnum opus that reaches new heights of camp.  My favorite line is Mink Stole's: "You think you're nervous now?  Ha.  Just wait until you're on television!"  1988
Star Trek: Generations
The fulfilled promise of a shimmering nexus in which desire becomes reality, the vivid sunset and explosion of a man-made supernova, and the campiness of the Klingon sisters ("Human females are so repulsive!") make this film the strongest of the Star Trek series. Light, by turns sparkling, blue, or orange, plays a major role here. William Shatner's Captain Kirk lingers a little too long, but Stewart's Picard and Spiner's Data mesh seamlessly with Malcolm McDowell's Dr. Tolian Soran, who delivers lines like, "Without my research, the trilithium is worthless, as are your plans to reconquer the Klingon Empire," with catchy arrogance.  1994
Lie Down With Dogs
Party boys pursue happiness in mid-1990s Provincetown, when it was arguably at its gayest, in an underrated film helped by Jelly Bean Benitez's resolutely rhythmic score, a plot that includes sexually confused young men and the lubricious advances of a guest house owner, and the appearance of a battleaxe of a waitress whose only line is "Steak knife!"  Provincetown, subjected here to director Wally White's electricity, lurches to life.  Wally White was a promising and I think misunderstood director and it is sad that he is gone.  1995
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Alternating effortlessly between gray-toothed lady's man Austin Powers and neurotic Nehru-jacketed Dr. Evil, Mike Meyers sends up three decades worth of Bond movies with bits like an unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism and a father-son support group, over which Carrie Fisher, in a delightful deadpan cameo, loses control.  1997
The Truman Show
Even the sky of Seahaven (Seaside, Florida) seems amiss—it's dome-shaped, and a light labeled "Sirius - 9 Canis Major" falls onto the street below. Blinds, partially obstructing our view of the pier Truman (Jim Carey) just happens to be walking across, open with a mechanized whir. The customer at the newspaper kiosk, when spotted, furtively hurries away. Larger hints of the true nature of Truman's flawless, sunlit world follow: a child among a full bus of silent passengers whispering, "Is that…?" as Truman boards; joggers appearing out of nowhere, each incongruously wearing both a race number and a radio headset; the crowd of pedestrians each simultaneously wincing and holding their right ears when Truman's car has a radio mishap. Peter Weir, working off a deliciously paranoid script by Andrew Niccol, creates an artificial world of intricate and disturbing beauty.  1998
Dark City
Its clocks stop, its trains shudder to a halt, and its people fall asleep on their feet: this mysterious city, frozen in an anachronistic era—of automats with perfectly typed cardboard labels for its food; of steam off its streets, canals, and pools; of vertiginous billboards, seedy hotels, and closed alleyways—is patrolled by a doctor (Keifer Sutherland), Daniel Paul Schreber. A brilliant German judge of the same name went mad at the beginning of the last century, claiming his thoughts, identity, and even his apartment were being changed by alien beings. I prefer the original version to the somewhat fussed-over director's cut. 1998
Black Robe
Vast and rugged, the wilderness of Quebec's Saguenay River is the true star of this somber film, which measures out the appallingly hard journey of 17th-century Catholic missionary Father Laforgue (Lothaire Bluteau) in scenes depicting great courage amid awesome natural beauty. 1991
I have more to say about this film here.
The Straight Story
In depicting Iowa farmer Alvin Straight's odd tractor journey from Iowa to Wisconsin, director David Lynch approaches the Midwest—appropriately—like an explorer landing on the moon: he pans across the back yard of an overweight neighbor arranging her morning sunbath refreshments with an almost scientific curiosity. As we slowly meet townspeople, few who have escaped damage from life or time, the camera lingers lovingly over fields and roads to give this quiet comedy a lasting depth. 1999
I have more to say about this film here.
Remember the Titans
It is the early 1970s, and mandatory racial integration comes uneasily to this Virginia high school football program, divided into white and African-American teams. A determined coach (Denzel Washington), confronting entitled white players, school administrators, and citizens resistant to change, forges a winning football team, overturns a Jim Crow racist sports system, and provides an unforgettable lesson in the power of courage.  Heavy-handed stuff, in which lurks the unexpected: the coach's little girl (Hayden Panettiere) chews out the players for knocking over her card table, player Sunshine (Kip Pardue), an outsider from California, teases the captain by pretending to hit on him. Filmed clearly enough to be instructive, great game scenes show the trajectories of both the ball and the player's emotions, and training exercises, like the jog, jump down, push up, and jump back up drill.  2000
After a group therapy session in which black-clad people describe how they are dealing with a recent public tragedy (Steven Soderbergh completed his script just weeks after the September 11th attacks), Dr. Chris Klein (George Clooney) rides home along rapid transit of sleek near-future Chicago, in which a continuous rain falls. Agents from the now-privatized space agency ask him to go to their foundering vessel, sent to assess the economic and energy potential of Solaris, a planet that "seems to be studying us." His mission: to salvage the ship, and bring back its crew. "Is that what everybody wants?" asks Dr. Klein. In answer to his question is only the haunting music (by Cliff Martinez, who also did great work in the film "Traffic"), swelling slowly and beautifully as he completes his voyage, depicted in understated, spectacular footage, which in moments handily outdoes Stanley Kubrick's endless "2001: A Space Odyssey." The texture of what he finds—a vast ship quietly humming with pneumatic machinery, the soft presence of the beautiful Natascha McElhone, as Rhea, his late wife, and the shifting, Lava-Light surface of the planet and its glowing plasma tendrils playing beneath the drifting ship—is the stuff of masterpiece. Appreciating it may require a relaxed, meditative state of mind: New Yorker critic David Denby, having a bad day, complained of this film's "electronic music that arrives in prolonged slabs, pinning your brain to the base of your skull." 2002
Spirited Away
Hailed by as a masterpiece by Pixar's John Lasseter, this anime is about Chihiro, a petulant ten-year-old girl who moves to a new neighborhood with her family. The apparently abandoned theme park they discover opens up into a lost, beautiful place: its empty restaurants teem with food, lanterns are meticulously switched on at twilight, rain falls on the polished wood of a bridge, and a bath house, governed by the laws of a bygone age, looms out of the fog. Chichiro, unlike Disney heroines, who tend to either weep or burst into show-stopping dance numbers, evolves believably as the film presents moments of wonder—the rustling collapse of an army of origami paper birds, the doppler shift of a train bell sounding over the surreal and flooded landscape—with a poet's quiet authority. Go
here to read an interview this film's beloved and reclusive director, Hayao Miyazaki, gave to the New Yorker's Margaret Talbot, who correctly observes that "surrendering to Miyazaki's films is a distinct pleasure."  2002
The Station Agent
In this quietly excellent film directed by Thomas McCarthy (who has gone on to make one super-awesome film after another), Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), by moving away to a small, abandoned train depot he's inherited in near-rural New Jersey, seeks to escape humanity but is instead besieged by it: the troubled Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), nearly runs him over—twice—and the fast-talking but sincere Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale) sets up a canteen truck outside his front door. Subtle and clever, this film won the
BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award for 2003.  2003
Girls Will Be Girls
Three eminent drag icons play struggling Hollywood "actresses": washed-up 70's star Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick), her chronically depressed best friend Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), and the up-and-coming Varla Simmons (Jeffery Roberson) work wonderfully against each other, blooming into outrageousness under Richard Day's good direction.  With perfect timing and delivery, Evie smokes, drinks, and insults her way through the film, jealously observing the voracious Varla appear in a series of TV dinner commercials, while the much-put-upon Coco is relegated to the kitschy "Bicentennial Room," where she hits her head on a low-hanging red white and blue lamp.  If you like this film, don't miss Die, Mommie, Die! an equally delectable drag romp graced by Angela Arden (Charles Busch), who gives each line an exquisitely mellifluous reading.  2003 
Open Range
Just the best cowboy movie ever made.  2003
The Machinist
An insomniac bears an unexplained guilt, and his shrinking world is filtered through an expressionistic color palette of shadowy blue and Spanish black, muted by otherworldly theremin orchestration, and defined by the chilly, inexorable plot of writer Scott Kosar's excellent Kafkaesque screenplay. An empathy with mental and physical pain runs like an electric current throughout this film, perhaps informed by the suffering that went into making it: to play Trevor Reznik, Christian Bale starved himself, losing 62 pounds before the producers intervened, and director Brad Anderson directed much of the film while lying on a gurney with a hurt back. Shot in and around Barcelona, this film's settings seem archetypal yet slightly alien, and gentle interludes follow harsh blue-collar scenes like waves of anesthesia following an accident.  2004
The Devil Wears Prada
Watching fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) utterly dominate her couture-draped staff with glacial utterances is a guilty pleasure of this movie, as is its glamorization of the glamour industry.  A fresh-faced young graduate (beautifully played by Anne Hathaway, no relation to Shakespeare's wife) lands herself a job at Runway, a Vogue-like magazine produced in an office and a city as beautiful and artificial as a makeup case.  2006
Comedy Central's Roast of William Shatner
This gleeful profanity-saturated Comedy Central's celebrity roast is filled with humanity and joy—and cheap laughs at Shatner's expense.  Highlights include Kevin Pollak's superbly executed depiction of William Shatner's theoretical first audition to be Captain Kirk and a virtuoso tirade by Lisa Lampanelli, who deftly balances her insults with genuine kindness and love.  2006
Two sprightly Disney robots commune in a plausible future dystopian earth overrun by garbage. Like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, a marvel of computer animated workmanship and also a satisfying story. 2008
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