You might notice as I go farther along this list there will be more and more animated movies. I tend to enjoy animation more than live-action. I think it’s the artist in me.
Whatever the case, I hope you possibly find something new to watch and explore!
30. Only Yesterday (1991)
Isao Takahata is not my favorite Japanese director. His films normally don’t fall in line with my personal tastes for various reasons, so I didn’t think I’d like this movie. But a friend of mine recommended it to me and I gave it a try.
I’m so glad I decided to watch this film. I recently published an article about how much I miss living in/near a forest. I need a deep connection with nature and have always tried to find unique ways of connecting to the earth.
I loved how this movie pointed out how we can reflect on ourselves and the changes needed in our lives. When I reviewed this movie several years ago, I reflected,
I think Only Yesterday has more clarity for adults because it addresses issues adults understand. We’ve grown up physically and are just realizing what it means to blossom in other aspects of ourselves. We are always growing into ourselves, and with each stage of life, this growth becomes all the more complex and beautiful.– おもひでぽろぽろ(Omoide Poro Poro), Only Yesterday: Review and Self Reflection
I appreciate this film and often go back to it when I feel stuck in different aspects of my life like work, social interactions, romance, etc.
29. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The more I watch this musical the more convinced I am it is altogether charming. MGM didn’t mean for this film to become so popular. In fact, it was supposed to meet the studio’s quota for yearly movie musicals. But, over time, it became more than just another musical from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
I think its themes of friendship, courage, and home are intergenerational. As I’ve taught film history this year, I’ve marveled at how well certain movies have aged compared to others. When I asked a group of students when they thought this film came out, they told me the 1980s or 1990s.
I love watching this film on stormy days when the weather wants me to be grumpy, but I stubbornly wish to be happy. I sing the songs all the time and still show this movie to students every once in a while, so they can feel more cultured.
28. ANYTHING BUSTER KEATON (1910s-1920s)
This is the only “film” on the list that is a director’s collection. When I sat down with myself to make this list, I kept thinking, “I love Buster Keaton, but I don’t have a favorite film of his.” I tried, but couldn’t decide. So, I decided just to say all of them.
If there was a Buster Keaton fan club, I would totally join. I’ve studied his stunts, directing style, and personal life to death and I am not ashamed. There is a raw emotionality and creative fire to his films, whether they be full-length, or short.
This last month I tried my best to convert my students to his films, but I don’t know if I was successful. Which is a shame! His movies, gags, and stories are timeless. I WILL NEVER grow tired of watching them and introducing them to students.
Fun side note, my eight-year-old nephew LOVES Buster Keaton. I showed him Keaton’s stunts, and now every time I see him he insists on watching his movies. I’d say that is an accomplishment.
27. Singing in the Rain (1952)
What joy and rapture this film embodies! I used to borrow old movies from someone in my church. He recommended this film to me almost immediately and was surprised I’d never watched it in choir or band. I gave it a shot and Presto! I fell in love.
This movie includes so many of my loves: dancing, classic 20s and 30s music, references to silent movies, tasteful humor, and a sweet love story. It’s a thrilling ride from the vaudeville homage, Lina’s ridiculous accent, and the hilarious first sound film they released to the public.
I enjoy showing this movie to students because they, to this day, still laugh at its jokes, and marvel at the iconic dancing. (Like me!)
26. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This might be the oddest choice for this list. When I tell people I love this film, they usually scrunch their eyebrows for two reasons. 1. They’ve never seen/heard of it. 2. They think it’s boring.
Granted, I don’t think this is a very engaging film compared to others like Peter Pan (1953) or Sleeping Beauty (1959). Some could argue not much happens. But I love going back to it because it’s calming. I don’t like to be drawn into loud, action-packed worlds all the time.
This movie is simple, and beautiful in so many ways. I love the song Belle Note and Lady’s relationships with the other dogs. I also find Darling and Jim Dear’s interactions with Lady endearing.
All in all, I go to this movie if I want to settle into a safe place.
25. The Incredibles (2004)
Behold one of three Pixar movies on this list! I still remember how excited I was to see this movie when I was thirteen. Its commercial in Finding Nemo (2003) looked SOOOO interesting. I believe I was in a superhero phase because I like watching shows like Teen Titans (2003-2006), Batman: The Animated Series (1992), and Gargoyles (1994-1997).
No matter how many times I watch this movie I laugh hysterically and marvel at its intricate storytelling. It explores familial bonds, what it means to have a purpose, trudging through a miserable job, and how we view heroes in general.
How many animated films openly show the ups and downs between a husband and wife without being overly toxic or negative? This movie is almost as quotable as The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) for me and so fascinating to study in film!
24. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Behold! My iconic childhood film! I watched some pretty silly movies in my childhood. Some, like The Princess and the Goblin (1991), are funny because the pacing and characterization are all over the place. Others, like Thumbelina (1994) are hilarious for all the wrong reasons. (Get on the bird and fly home Thumbelina!)
Totoro was so charming to me as a child. I really connected to the girls and their father living in a forest and wished I could someday meet a Totoro. Alas, I lived in St. Johns, AZ which was a windy, desert city with no forest.
As an adult, I still love going back to this movie and reliving its subtle, beautiful magic. Luckily, Disney helped translate this into English so the Fox version from the 90s fell into obscurity. (The 90s version had a lot of screaming.)
23. The Secret of Kells (2009)
Ethereal. That was my first experience with this movie. I’d never explored Irish tales before, despite my deep Irish heritage, and didn’t have access to very many foreign animated films in college. But I found this movie by some miracle for cheap at a store and took it home to watch!
Wow. Just, wow. The art style, the fantastic storytelling, and the engaging characters are only a few reasons to watch this movie. It tackles hard subjects like the Vikings terrorizing Irish cities, and embodies important parts of Irish culture and history.
One of the things I love to do is show this movie to younger children. Last year, I showed it to some middle schoolers and they were almost angry it was over so fast.
I usually watch this film around St. Patrick’s Day or during the Spring. Now all I need to do is somehow find the Artbook for the film so I can study it.
22. Coco (2017)
I’ve talked about this film multiple times over the last few years. I saw it in theaters right after seeing my Grandma Engler, who was so similar to Miguel’s Grandma Coco that it brought me to tears.
I feel like every time I see this movie I think of a different family member who has passed on. Sometimes it’s my Grandma Engler, or my Great-Grandpa Moore, or even my Aunt Charlene who died of stomach cancer.
When Miguel sings Remember Me to his Grandma Coco at the end of the movie I cry. It’s such a beautiful and touching moment. I actually have this listed in My favorite Animated Scenes list.
Beyond this, I love the music for this “non-musical” Pixar film, the animation, how well it portrays Mexican culture, and the overall message of family and remembering our ancestors.
21. Spirited Away (2001)
I know Hayao Miyazaki made this movie for little girls around eleven to thirteen years old. I’ll be honest, I thought this movie was bizarre when it first came out. I saw it for the first time on Cartoon Network and wondered where on earth it came from.
Eventually, I went on a Hayao Miyazaki film binge and begrudgingly rewatched it, despite my lukewarm opinion of it from my youth. I’m so glad I could come to appreciate this movie as an adult. It’s mind-bogglingly well done. Whenever I look through old animated films or see new upcoming ones and don’t know how good it is, I usually compare them to this one.
The. Animation. Is. Absolutely. Astounding. This is one of the few films that does NOT have unnecessary or bizarre background animation. Miyazaki built such a beautiful atmosphere in this movie. I love looking through various examples of background art from the movie. I could hang any of them on my wall no problem.
This is also one of the movies that got me interested in Japanese folklore and environmental issues.
Thank you for reading! See you for the next list.