Movie Maniac

‘Empire’ to ‘Arizona’: My favorite movies of all time (so far)

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gets Jedi training from Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.”
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gets Jedi training from Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.

The other day someone asked me what my 10 favorite movies are, and — specifically — what’s my most favorite movie?

Well, since I’ve probably seen more movies than I’ve eaten meals in my life, that’s a hard decision. But of course, we all have favorites that we go back to — comfort movies, if you will.

I haven’t officially thought about this in quite a while, so it was fun to revisit. Keeping in mind that these are not necessarily what I think are the best movies (that’s a completely different list), here are my top 10 favorite movies of all time (so far):

1. “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) — The original “Star Wars” (now known as “Episode IV: A New Hope”) was monumental and changed my life with its sense of adventure and journey to a galaxy that did indeed seem far, far away. But “Empire” took me even further. I loved its mystical tone, it’s mythology, the way “The Force” lived and breathed and united all things. And having Darth Vader reveal that he is Luke’s father is unrivaled cinematic gold.

2. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) — It was a treat to see this on the big screen at the Orpheum recently. It’s about people who form a psychic connection with alien beings trying to contact Earth. Seeing it as a young kid opened my eyes to how big the universe really is. And the scene when Richard Dreyfuss has his first encounter at the railroad crossing is genius — and so is that mashed-potato sculpture.

3. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-03) — See a sci-fi pattern forming here? Peter Jackson’s sprawling epic based on the book was an amazing technical feat, yet he still managed to have tender, emotional moments amid the grand spectacle.

4. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) — This British import completely, ingeniously and hilariously rewrote the zombie movie rule book, and was a monumental inspiration for writing and directing my own Native-themed zombie film. Simon Pegg’s crackling screenplay was matched with director Edgar Wright’s style (those long takes when Shaun walks to the shop and back are outstanding). They both obviously love movies, and “Shaun” showed that through and through.

5. “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) — This is the movie equivalent of a happiness pill, so inspirational, so earnestly moving without being manipulative, about the lives of various men living out sentences in Shawshank State Prison during the late ’40s and late ’60s. It set the precedent that Morgan Freeman would now narrate everything.

6. “The Birds” (1963) — Alfred Hitchcock’s classic about birds taking over a small town is frightening, mainly because he doesn’t show you everything and lets your mind fill in the gaps. Another huge inspiration for my own filmmaking.

7. “Gravity” (2013) — Alfonso Cuaron’s tale of a medical officer trapped in space was an awe-inducing technical marvel, but it was Sandra Bullock’s exhaustive performance (she was on screen the entire time) that was most impressive. She made us feel her pain, her grief, every exasperated moment. And as she fought to survive, she seemed to come alive a little bit more. She may have been enveloped in nothingness, but she refused to succumb to it.

8. “WALL-E” (2008) — This tale of two robots that fall in love in space left me breathless. How they could have so much character development and vibrant personalities was miraculous — all done without words. It was magical.

9. “Raising Arizona” (1987) — This has got to be one of the most quotable movies of all time, about an ex-con and ex-cop who marry and then steal a baby when they can’t have their own. It’s brought to life by Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter’s colorful performances and Joel and Ethan Coen’s lightning-fast script and spot-on cartoon-like direction. While the comedy is most memorable, the film also managed to say bigger-picture things about love and just what it means to be a family.

10. “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962) — I have a confession: I didn’t see this movie until the past five years or so — and I whole-heartedly bawled my eyes out. That’s mostly because of Gregory Peck’s unforgettably noble, Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South who defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. His Finch made me want to change the world.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at Follow him on Twitter: @rawd.