With 2019 winding down, it’s time for my fourth annual list of the ten best films (at least ten years old) that I watched this past year. As I’ve said before, these lists are always kind of random and arbitrary, based on the movies I happen to choose to watch (or re-watch) that year. I tend to prefer watching something I’ve never seen before over re-watching, though as you’ll see, there were a couple of those this year.
1. Alien (1979)
This was a re-watch of one of my all-time favorite movies. Alien combines horror with science fiction, a la H.P. Lovecraft. When the monster in a horror story is scientifically possible, rather than supernatural, it makes the fear more palpable because such a scenario might actually happen in real life. Xenomorph-like aliens could exist somewhere in our galaxy… Many people prefer the sequel (Aliens), but for me, the first is the best film in the franchise. Prometheus was divisive but I loved it and think it’s second-best. I liked how they went deeper into the mythology, making it even more Lovecraftian.
2. Birth (2004)
This is a captivating mystery about a young boy who claims to be the reincarnation of a woman’s dead husband. I won’t say any more than that to avoid spoilers, but it is excellent.
3. After Hours (1985)
I’m a fan of Martin Scorsese but had never seen this less-heralded film of his. In my opinion it should be more heralded. It’s quite different from his more popular crime films, resembling a sort of Kafkaesque dark comedy, about a young man who has the unluckiest night of his life in New York City.
4. Waiting For Guffman (1996)
A hilarious mockumentary about a small town in Missouri putting on a play for their sesquicentennial celebration.
5. The Box (2009)
I remember being excited to see this movie when it first came out, as both a fan of the Twilight Zone (this is based on a short story by Richard Matheson which was also adapted into an episode of the Twilight Zone) and Richard Kelly (writer/director of Donnie Darko). However, I was a bit disappointed and left confused by the movie. Upon rewatching this past year, I realize it was underrated. The Box is not perfect and still has flaws, but I like that it is challenging and doesn’t explain everything, leaving the audience to put the pieces together and figure out what’s going on. I wasn’t able to put it all together years ago, but I think I understand it all now. Richard Kelly’s first film Donnie Darko was a cult classic, but his follow-up films, including this one, were flops (commercially speaking), so Hollywood has been hesitant to finance him again. He is definitely an original filmmaker, which Hollywood needs more of, so I would like to see someone give him the chance to make more films.
6. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)
A mashup of two of my favorite things: film noir and the Lovecraft mythos. The movie is set in a fantastical version of 1940s Los Angeles where magic is real. There are lots of Lovecraft references, though the tone is more comedic than an actual Lovecraft story.
7. Old Joy (2006)
There’s not much of a plot in this indie drama—just two old friends go hiking and camping to a hot spring in Oregon—but it’s an interesting character study with some great dialogue and acting. They feel like real people.
8. Demolition Man (1993)
I had this on my to-watch list for a while, as I try to see every science fiction movie, but I kept delaying. I had low expectations because (billed as Wesley Snipes vs. Sylvester Stallone) it seemed like it would be more of a dumb action film than a smart science fiction film. I was pleasantly surprised by the futuristic world-building and satirical social commentary.
9. Dances With Wolves (1990)
I’m a big fan of Westerns but had never seen this former Oscar-winner, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, which some consider to be the best in the genre. It wouldn’t crack my top ten Westerns. (Unforgiven from 2017’s list is much better, as are all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and Quentin Tarantino’s.) Dances With Wolves was good but not great, and certainly not deserving of “Best Picture” over Goodfellas.
10. The Rules of Attraction (2002)
This is an adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel, set in college. I can’t say it any better than Roger Ebert did in his review: “The Rules of Attraction is a skillfully made movie about reprehensible people.”
- Alien Autopsy (2006) — A mockumentary that would have made for a better actual documentary.
- The Corridor (2010) — The Big Chill meets The Thing.
- From Beyond (1986) — Mediocre adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story.
- The Interview (1998)
- In the Mouth of Madness (1994) — Supposedly inspired by Lovecraft but felt more like Stephen King.
- Leviathan (1989) — Like Alien but set in the deep sea.
- The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- New York Stories (1989) — The Scorsese film in this anthology is the only one worth seeing. Francis Ford Coppola’s felt more like a student film (or family home video).
- Pieces of April (2003) — I sought this film out after seeing director Peter Hedges recent film Ben is Back. Like that, it’s a dark yet uplifting family drama.
- Shadows and Fog (1991)
- The Square (2008) — A twisted neo-noir set in Australia.