Hiya, /Film readers, it’s ya girl, Shania.
No wait, that’s a lie, I’m actually very new here and not ya girl at all. But guess what? That’s what this article is all about! This is my first official hurrah, where I’ve been asked to introduce myself via my 15 favorite movies. Which is very exciting, if mildly distressing. In fact, I’m starting to think this is a form of hazing… but I’ve decided to just go along with it.
All sorts of trivial worries were plaguing me as I wrote this list: what if I’m forgetting a title that’s really important to me? What if my 15 favorites of all time are movies I haven’t even seen yet?
Well, I’ve ultimately determined there’s nothing I can do about those things, and that’s okay. The only thing longer than the list of movies I already love is the list of movies I’m still dying to see. So for all I know, this won’t stack up the same if I try to make it next year or even next week. But this list isn’t perfect, because it doesn’t need to be — it just needs to be me.
So for right now, here’s a list of movies I 100% stand by.
15. Catch Me If You Can
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a con artist. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank Abagnale was living my ideal life, always on the run but one step ahead of those chasing him. Steven Spielberg’s caper is so flighty and sexy, you almost forget to see how devastatingly sad it is. I watched it young enough to only focus on the fun and with each viewing, the emotional core began to pierce through. It’s a jazzy, action-packed, really funny chase movie and without realizing it, you get sucked into Frank’s childish fantasy of his life. And when it all crumbles around him, what remains is a painfully personal story about loneliness and broken homes.
I am continuously overwhelmed by how happy this movie makes me. I certainly won’t be the first to say it, but Hayao Miyazaki understands things about childhood that the rest of us can hardly form into words. His take on a Little Mermaid story captures the pure joy of seeing the world through a child’s eyes, but also the unsettling way reality can disrupt it. It might not seem like there’s room for reality in a story about a magical fish transforming into a human, but bear with me.
When I think of Ponyo, my mind always goes to its quietest moments. The kids waiting for their food to cool, bursting at the seams with impatient excitement…or the awful moment where Sosuke struggles to hold everything together. After Ponyo’s magic begins to fade, the reality of fear creeps in. He wants to believe they’ll find his mother soon, but the sharpness of the world is saying otherwise. This scene always cuts into me, but everything else about the film assures that the wound will heal.
Ponyo falls in love with the world of childhood. Even though we know that won’t last forever, she makes humanity seem so gloriously warm. Ponyo might be plenty chaotic, but it’s all the better for it.
13. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Can a movie cause claustrophobia? Because I sincerely don’t think enclosed spaces were a concern of mine until I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead crawling through that vent. 10 Cloverfield Lane could hinge on a simple mystery, but chooses to exude paranoia. Dan Trachtenberg tells a deeply character-driven story, locking three people in a bunker and constructing a mystery of the world around them. How we get from the board game montage to the last 20 minutes is a high tension blur and just thinking about it pumps me up. Whatever this movie’s on, I’d love to bottle it and gulp it down.
12. Gone Girl
Sometimes Gone Girl is a comedy I watch through in deleterious laughter; other times, I’m sobered and entranced by the drama. I can watch it awestruck for different reasons every time because David Fincher’s thriller is just that good. Its characters are at once repulsive and mesmerizing, a horrific car crash I can’t look away from. Honestly, I can’t even think too hard about this movie, because that just puts me in danger of turning it on.
11. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Consider this a stand-in for my general love of superheroes. However much love I hold for Black Panther and the Captain America trilogy, none of it compares to Miles’ leap of faith knocking the breath from my lungs. I didn’t know how much I needed Miles Morales until I saw him onscreen.
In a lot of ways, it’s inevitable: this is, after all, a story about the power of superhero narratives. It embraces everything that makes these movies thrive, but with its own stylish flair. I can spend endless paragraphs on the animation and more on the movie’s sentimental flourishes, but the only thing that matters is how excited Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse makes me. I wish all superhero movies crackled with this much electricity (oops, a pun).
10. Rosemary’s Baby
There’s a reason Rosemary’s Baby has inspired an entire generation of horror films. It pinpointed on the horrors of reality, that nagging voice in the back of your mind that speaks directly to your paranoia: it’s me against the world. Much credit goes to the Ira Levin novel the film derives its plot from, but the rest goes directly to Mia Farrow. She carries us through the world, even as it closes in on her. Rosemary’s panic becomes our own and he panic still thuds in my chest.
9. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I love a movie that can break my heart and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg does me one better, by simply ripping it out of my chest. There’s nothing I can say about this film or Jacques Demy that hasn’t already gone down in history books. It’s a painfully pragmatic tragedy about young lovers that doesn’t give us the fairy tale ending its visual vibrance promises. And all of that is wrapped up like a bow, in the form of a sung-through musical that’s melodies continue aching for decades to come.
8. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night contains so many of my favorite things: a vampire, a twisted love story, a classic coming-of-age drama, and an ominous cat. I never go too long without revisiting this film, which calls out to me so very often that part of me wants to live in the world of Bad City, terrifying and empty as it may be, simply because Ana Lily Amirpour makes it so distinctly tangible. So much is packed into this narrative, which proves how beautifully horror can nestle itself into other genres when given the space. It’s so wholly hypnotic that in a single sharp movement, a skateboarding vampire can go from making you chuckle to holding your breath. The jagged love story between Arash and the Girl haunts me. They share in their loneliness and flawed methods of coping with a world that’s continuously sucking them dry. And as they find solace in each other, we find something beautiful in them.
7. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
This movie is infuriating. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a messy, imperfect relic of its time, but so too is everyone that came to Hedwig young, and found their first taste of acceptance in her pain. The musical follows a genderqueer rock diva whose botched reassignment surgery defines her life beyond her control. Hedwig was like a queer gospel, gifted to me when I most needed the words.
Hedwig, both the character and movie, can be complex and cruel. She’s a heart-wrenching contradiction, screaming bitterly at the world around her. My heart continues to ache for her and, in a way, for myself. At its core, Hedwig is about how fraught identity is, how miserable its search can make you and how achingly incomplete you feel when the pieces just won’t fit together. This movie, its music, and even the Broadway production are imprinted on my soul. “Wicked Little Town” still rips me apart, and “Wig In A Box” has put me back together more times than I can count. I don’t deny the film’s many flaws, which continue to frustrate me to no end, but especially at my worst, I continue to cling to Hedwig.
6. The Departed
I can’t really muster any coherent explanation for my love of The Departed: once it’s onscreen, my brain tends to stop working, as I scrounge up the worst possible Boston accent I can muster to scream along to every line of dialogue.
This movie speaks to the most feral part of my brain, which honestly just wants cool shit to happen on screen. This frenetic, foul-mouthed thriller has incredible rewatch value, becoming more deliriously fun with each viewing. Maybe its most compelling element is how badly every performer wants to make this movie their own. DiCaprio and Damon are just the tip of the iceberg (ha), everyone else is going all in, regardless of how little time they get to shine. That kind of pure chaos energy just amplifies how wonderfully insane the movie already is.
5. Little Women
Sometimes movies surprise me. They drop from the sky and worm their way into my heart — and that feels great. But other times, the Little Women trailer plays in a theater and instantly beckons to me, as though tailor-made for my viewing.
Little Women feels like someone cracked open my soul to find what makes me tick, then invited Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh to wreak havoc on my emotions. And so they did. Every time I see it, Greta Gerwig‘s film deconstructs me in a new way. Radiating warmth and melancholy all at once, this film ties its threads together with intimacy and care. The love coursing through is equal parts enormous and matter of fact. Just like Laurie, we’re paralyzed by the March family and all that they become. We’re in awe of their flurry and grateful to be swept up into their lives. All that Gerwig poured into this movie is palpable and utterly overwhelming.
4. Spirited Away
Okay, so I cheated. Miyazaki makes a second appearance on my list — but if we’re being honest, there was never a reality in which his magical masterpiece didn’t steal a top spot. Chihiro’s pilgrimage may be to a land eternally beyond my reach, but her emotional journey remains intimately accessible. Spirited Away defined my childhood and somehow does even more for me now. I felt nostalgic for this movie before the world even entered my vocabulary. I’m can’t help but think that Chihiro has more life figured out than I do, but maybe if I watch this enough times, things will start making sense.
3. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins is giving me everything I want and the only reason Moonlight isn’t claiming a spot here is so I can spread the love. If Beale Street Could Talk catches you in a vice grip, plants you before its characters, and firmly forbids you to deny their humanity. Jenkins never lets you off the hook, because for all its tender warmth and romantic simplicity, Beale Street is also relentlessly confrontational. Each time the credits roll, I’m left to wonder how something so soaked in hope and love can also be shrouded in darkness.
2. When Harry Met Sally
Forget everything I said before, I don’t even need that much movie. All I want is two people oozing chemistry through clever dialogue and snapping at each other from across a table. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are endlessly charming in their classic romcom, so much that they became the blueprint for every friends-to-lovers rom-com to follow. When Harry Met Sally is so clearly the product of intimate collaboration. It’s an amalgamation of Rob Reiner, Nora Ephron, and its two leads, melding minds to create something so simply wonderful. And for all the copycats it’s spawned, this movie’s legacy holds the strongest of them all, proving that you can’t duplicate authenticity.
Scream is delightfully indulgent. Another movie packed with love, but this time for an entire genre, which it relentlessly makes fun of while wholly embracing.
Scream gave me my horror education in reverse. I watched it way too young, which might be why I still peek around corners when home alone — part of my brain still expects to find Ghostface lurking in dark corners. But even before seeing the films that invented the rules, I watched Scream twist them in every direction it pleased. For me, Scream established the formula and shattered it in the same breath.
Wes Craven toys with his audience as Ghostface does his victims, And whatever danger we sense is worth the excitement of his tension. It doesn’t matter if I can recite them from memory, I live to hear every line of dialogue in Scream and catch new details in their delivery. I could watch this movie 100 times and still be completely immersed in its craft.
And as my #1, Scream pulls everything together pretty perfectly — it’s a movie about knowing movies. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, the rules don’t matter.