Best Movies Ever… For Me… Roger Ebert Reactions Included

This list is a few years old, and many of these films have already been referenced here, but I’ve had requests to put up lots of lists.  Who am I to argue?  It should be noted, that this list would be a bit different if I were attempting something similar today… but not much.  The frequently mentioned list of 200 will be put up some time in the nearish future.  I’m not really updating this much, so many time references are out of date. The star ratings, however, are ratings I am putting on the films right now, for whatever that’s worth.

I’m prefacing this list to take the opportunity to tell you an anecdote and a joke. (By the way, this whole thing is quite long.) It will make sense in the end. You see, there are a million kinds of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ we use to size people up. I don’t purport to be telling anyone anything they don’t already know, but just play along. There are things we say, questions we ask, and a wide variety of actions we take in an effort to try and figure out just where another person stands. A person has to ‘rate’ to us, to some degree, or else we let them drift back into the sea of humanity… and sometimes we lock our door. Of course, some of the things we use are merely to figure things out, and they aren’t exactly automatic ‘ins’ or ‘outs’, they are just ways of finding common ground. Whatever. Movies can obviously come into play. But, I gress.

The anecdote goes like this…

I won’t tell you the precursors to this story, but a few months ago I was talking to someone when they suddenly blurted out, “This reminds me of Mardi Gras.” Now, this is the sort of statement that one might normally let pass without comment. Two things made this simple enough sentence curious to me. First, I live in Bangor, Maine. Second, I was on a college campus, and the person was 18. I lifted my eyebrow. Unable to resist, I asked, “Have you been to Mardi Gras?” I probably won’t be able to surprise you by telling you that the response was, “No.” See, that’s an ‘out’. Call me a snob if you will, but look, I’ve got other people to ignore today.
The joke goes like this…

Q: What’s a goy?

A: It’s something that’s a girl up until time t, and a boy after time t. 

If you laugh at that joke… you are alone in the universe. But, if you get that joke, I know a lot about you. It’s not quite an ‘in’, but I know a lot about you.

The reason for this preface is that you are perhaps slightly better prepared for this list. And two of you read a joke you get.

A little over a year ago, I put together a list of the 200 best movies ever. There were some odd rules to the list, and this left out a lot of things people would expect to see. The rules also got some things on the list which I might easily scoff at right along with other people under different circumstances. Baby Boom, for example, has virtually no artistic merit and a script that is, more or less, fairly silly. It got on the list because I was hoping to make something well-rounded, with something to speak for a wide variety of genres and ‘movie moods’. It also managed to get on the list because I’ll be damned if I couldn’t watch it every few months without complaint.

At any rate, there was hardly a person who read the list without raising their eyebrows. Well, it’s an odd list, even if I do stick by it. Something happened recently to make me think up another list. Through the countless vehicles by which such things come to me, I’ve been bombarded of late by lists that might fall under some new category like “Get to Know Me!” Each of these is its own distinct creature with its own particulars, but the general idea goes something like

– These might not be great movies (or they might), they might not be movies that anyone else likes, and I might even deny it later, but these movies are ME! Basically, the movies that, whether brilliant or trash, make us wonder if there isn’t a certain group out there attempting to make movies specifically for us. One person referred to such movies as “test movies”, the movies that clue you in, turn you off, establish long-term friendship, or at least ‘do something’ when you learn if someone else likes them (or hates them). Another remarked of such lists that if your “test list” is very close to some list of “real” best movies ever list, then you suck and are boring. It turns out that I suck and am boring. Ah well…

In the end, this list became my own version of this idea. That version is the one that says I basically get a bit of leeway for my choices (I might not even give them five stars) because I can always fall back on this ‘get to know me’ nonsense, but otherwise, these are just movies I love and could watch over and over. I’m not a big ‘watch over and over’ kind of guy really, so if there is something I can watch again it’s worth mentioning. Mainly, my version of this list is the version in which I do think the films are really great… I like great films… there, you got to know me.

Also, this one goes to 15. Hey, that’s not too bad, the last one went to 200. I do have a lot of runner-up films, and some of those really are a bit goofy. Just for reference, not all of these films are on my list of 200, but bloody close.

Finally, through the course of creating this list, it eventually came about that I included Roger Ebert’s rating and/or some notes about his thoughts on these films. I’m not at all sure how or why this happened, but there it is. His rating system is out of four possible stars, just so no one gets confused.

I’m just going to run through the list of runner-up titles, because I don’t want this to go on forever. I love these movies, and for the most part could watch them a lot, but they didn’t quite make the top 15 for whatever reason. Possibly because they aren’t ME enough. Who knows.

I’m also leaving off things like Stripes, Caddyshack, Meatballs, This is Spinal Tap, Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail and many others, because though I have seen them about fifty times (and have seen Tap in concert), there is still some sense in which I don’t LOVE them. They are rather ME though.

Here goes.



– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars.


Brotherhood of the Wolf  

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


A Christmas Story

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars and a wonderful revisit in 2000



– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


My Dinner with Andre

– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 4 stars and revisit in 1999


Finding Neverland  

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


The Lord of the Rings (the whole trilogy)

– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars for the first two, 3 ½ for the finale


The Crow

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


From Hell

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


The Jack Bull

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert has not reviewed


Waking the Dead

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 2 ½ stars



– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 4 stars


The Princess Bride  

– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


Cool Hand Luke

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 4 stars


Blow Dry

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert has not reviewed


Waiting for Guffman

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


Empire Records

– 3.5/5 stars

– Ebert 1 ½ stars



– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


Return to Me

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars



– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


Rare Birds

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars


Gosford Park  

– 5/5 stars

– Ebert 4 stars


The Iron Giant

– 4.5/5 stars

– Ebert 3 ½ stars


The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill….

– 4/5 stars

– Ebert 3 stars




O.K. Now, the official official list.

15. Brazil

– 5/5 stars

(1985 – Director – Terry Gilliam – Starring – Jonathan Pryce, Robert DeNiro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent)

Screenplay by Gilliam and Tom Stoppard. Directed by Gilliam. That’s almost all you need to know really. It’s a social commentary. It’s a visual orgy. It’s often hilarious. It most importantly has Gilliam and Stoppard written all over it. In my list of 200 I said that I think there is a certain sense in which if you haven’t seen this movie, you haven’t seen any movies at all. It’s a sense in which I might say the same thing about Rear Window, which I don’t even love actually. Love it or not, there is much to be learned about what movies are, what they do, and how they do it. The same is true here only, I think, more, better, and more finely tuned (and also more broadly slapped around).

Roger Ebert thought this was pretty stupid, and gave it two stars.



14. Equilibrium

– 5/5 stars


(2002 – Director – Kurt Wimmer – Starring – Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson)

Here is an action/sci-fi feast with quite a bit to say, and an understated way of saying it. It’s an amalgam of such things as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and a host of others, but let’s face it… those movies are boring. It also has a sort of grand arc sub-text that works pretty well. Christian Bale is at the top of his game here… which is pretty darn good.

Roger Ebert gave this 3 out of 4 stars and a pretty decent write-up.


13. Groundhog Day 

– 5/5 stars

(1993 – Director – Harold Ramis – Starring – Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliot)

Groundhog Day is a movie so ME it’s almost a joke. It’s main attraction, apart from the fact that I find it hilarious, is the fact that it is so brilliantly crafted. That may sound strange, I suppose. We aren’t exactly talking Shakespeare here… or insert your own cliche. Still… it is… err, brilliantly crafted. It moves along perfectly. It builds. It flows. It espouses philosophy… sort of. Bill Murray is perfect, and the part was obviously made for him. The real absolute draw, for me, which gives it that brilliant crafting, is the fact that it could have been garbage in about fifty different ways (not least because Chris Elliot is in it), but it isn’t. I have a soft spot in my heart for films like that. In fact, I generally even like the ones that go wrong, because at least they took a shot.

In late January of this year Roger Ebert revisited this film. His initial review stuck this film in about the ‘middle-of-the-road’ category, but he was more or less positive. His revisit begins with this –

Groundhog Day is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.” 


12. Waking Ned Devine 

– 4.5/5 stars

(1998 – Director – Kirk Jones – Starring – Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flannagan, Susan Lynch, James Nesbitt)

I don’t know what to say about this movie, except that I love it. In some ways I’m very old. In some ways old people are very young. The quirkiness gets to me. I have a fondness for whatever genre is made up of such things as: The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Lucky Break, The Englishman Who Went…, etc. The British… err… U.K.ish small-town ensemble play. Canadian versions include Rare Birds (though it isn’t exactly an ensemble), and Men with Brooms. American versions include… (insert cricket noises)

It’s a loopy sort of charming, and it has a guy named Pig Finn. It also has a great soundtrack. It’s a little bit Father Ted, and a little bit The Vicar of Dibley, only without so many crosses… or jokes.
It also has James Nesbitt, as the aforementioned Pig Finn, who I’ve come to love. Kirk Jones manages a brilliant chemistry, and a flow that almost rivals Groundhog Day. The progression is brilliant, precise, and perfectly logical. He’s also one of those rare directors who doesn’t just throw a bunch of movies everywhere. He started out making commercials, and apparently gained famed with his Absolut Vodka ads. Don’t ask me.

Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars.


11. Donnie Darko

– 5/5 stars

(2001 – Director Richard Kelly – Starring – Jake Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze)

For me, Donnie Darko is just great fun. It’s a special kind of great fun. The great fun of a director who rejects the cash cow formulas with his first effort, and makes the movie he wants to make. He certainly knows a lot about making movies, as clearly witnessed by his ability to create tone and drive the movie without it ever stumbling over itself, but he missed the classes about surefire ways to make millions.

Roger Ebert originally gave this 2 ½ stars. He admired the tone, Kelly’s deft hand, and Gyllenhaal’s performance, but didn’t like the fact that… well, that it’s awfully hard to know what’s going on. He (curious considering my comment on 1900) specifically mentions that he doesn’t demand answers, but rather wants a bit of closure. He revisited this movie a year ago when the Director’s cut DVD came out. He raised his score to 3 out of 4 stars, and had a much more positive outlook. As he says himself, that is perhaps because he knew he wasn’t going to know what was going on. This time around he mentions that maybe he is happier the movie doesn’t have closure. After all, what could that be?
As Ebert will tell you, a nice grab of the film (despite his desire for closure) is the fact that everyone gets to have their own theory, and a wide array of them are plausible. I have my own which you can read about in my review. Keep this in mind though, though Kelly liked my review, he said he never really thought of it in that way. As Ebert would say… so it goes.


10. Best in Show 

– 5/5 stars

(2000 – Director – Christopher Guest – Starring – Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean)

For my money, this is the best of the three of… whatever we might call these. A Mighty Wind didn’t quite live up to the other two, which still makes it better than most things. Waiting for Guffman was excellent (it’s listed in the runner-ups), but it doesn’t have nearly as much rewatch value for me. There’s just something about nutty dog owners that cracks me up. Almost like a condensation of all the ways people are stupid into one grand event (and group). Best in Show takes this ball and runs with it to glorious effect. It’s a perfect situation for these semi-improvisational mockumentaries, and this one really lets some of the actors go. Parker Posey is particularly hilarious here. As if to prove the point of the movie, the story goes that the owner of the original poodle pulled her dog from the movie mid-production when she learned that it wasn’t going to be the winner. Hi… I love dogs.

Roger Ebert gave this 3 ½ stars out of 4, and I liked him for it.


9. The Last Days of Disco

– 5/5 stars

(1998 – Director – Whit Stilman – Starring – Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Mackenzi Astin, Robert Sean Leonard) 

There is some chance that this entry should really be Metropolitan, but I haven’t seen that one in a while, and the fact that I haven’t made sure to see it creates problems. I love that film as well, and when I next see it I may change the list, but for now things must stay the way they are.

I have a particular love for a well-parsed sentence. Whit Stilman can therefore hardly go wrong with me. He is a master of revealing real characters with slight plays of dialogue, and he films conversation better than almost anyone. That’s a good thing considering his films hardly have plots at all. They are merely strings of conversations with certain events which are excuses for them. Here, Stilman gives us a gloriously real glimpse into the lives of some twenty-somethings who aren’t quite sure where they’re supposed to be. They’re smart, went to good schools, and their lives seem to be… well, wherever. There was High School and College, and it was all very clear what they were supposed to do. Now there are jobs and that ‘life’ thing they were supposed to be getting ready for, but… now what? Well, there’s going to clubs, because that’s what everyone else does, and what everyone who doesn’t wants to do. Besides, going to clubs used to be great. It must have been Disco.

Roger Ebert gave this 3 ½ out of 4 stars. How about… Get To Know Roger Ebert?


8. Croupier

– 4.5/5 stars

(1998 – Director – Mike Hodges – Starring – Clive Owen, Gina McKee, Nick Reding, Alex Kingston)

It’s just a great script. It has a wonderfully gritty feel to it, but one that melds perfectly with the distorted abyss of its main character. A man who could hardly manage to utter his motto, “Hang on tightly. Let go lightly,” more frequently, but does not remotely live by it. This is itself part of the force of the plot. The lies we tell ourselves. Often, the lies we don’t realize we are telling ourselves.

As a bit of trivia, this was disqualified from the Academy Awards because it was shown on Dutch television.

Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars.


7. Before Sunrise

– 5/5 stars

(1995 – Director – Richard Linklater – Starring – Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) 

Similar to my love of Stilman and Altman, Linklater is a director who knows how to work a conversation. Much like a Stilman film, here is a movie where nothing happens apart from people talking to each other. Also like Lost in Translation, it is a film where we see little beyond two people existing at each other for a while, and the effects of same. There are plenty of movies about love and/or falling in love and/or getting to know someone, but few are the movies (or even stories) about what it really means to take a piece of a person with you when you go.

Roger Ebert gave this 3 out of 4 stars.


6. The Legend of 1900 

– 5/5 stars

(1998 – Director – Giuseppe Tornatore – Starring – Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince)

A beautiful fable about a man who spends his entire life on a ship. Like most fables, it is an exploration of what it means to be human by looking at an extraordinary representative. There is more life in the man known as 1900 than there is in perhaps everyone else put together. Tornatore creates a stylish world in keeping with his other efforts, and Tim Roth is the best he’ll ever be (and miles better than most any other actor could even hope to be).

Roger Ebert questions this film, and rates it around the middle of the road, largely because it doesn’t exactly answer some of the questions it, in a sense, proposes. After all the film we’ve sat through, we are left with as much wonder about who 1900 is as we started with (well… as we middled with really), and Ebert wants to know what kind of guy he is… and why. Here is a prime example of the way Ebert and I often conflict. In the first place, I feel like I know who 1900 is pretty darn well, though maybe it isn’t absolutely because the movie told me. But second, and far more importantly, to demand answers at all costs is folly. This film is an exploration, and its main job is to search and ask. Demanding answers about 1900 is like downgrading Socrates because all he ever did was annoy people and ask questions. Then again, I guess that is why he was sentenced to death.


5. McCabe & Mrs. Miller 

– 5/5 stars

(1971 – Director – Robert Altman – Starring – Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, Shelly Duvall, Keith Carradine)

I’ll revisit this one a bit myself. It’s absolutely brilliant, but in my initial review I didn’t find it perfect. I wonder about that now. I still find it slightly less than perfect despite many perfect scenes . It seems to me that the pace is compromised occasionally, but now I wonder about my own feelings. I keep watching this movie, and keep loving it. Perhaps like Ebert’s reaction to Donnie Darko, I enjoy what seemed flaws at first. I still think there are areas where the pace stumbles, but I think I like the movie more because of the fact. It’s the sort of film which works well with a few moments that throw you off.

Ebert revisited this film in 1999 calling it perfect.


4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

– 5/5 stars

(1990 – Director – Tom Stoppard – Starring – Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Richard Dreyfus)

It’s Tom Stoppard at (almost) his best. Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are excellent. This is good, since they must drive the whole thing. It just works for me, as does most everything related in any way to Stoppard. There are worthy criticisms of this movie, but for reasons which are probably unexplainable I’m able to just let the whole thing wash over me. The story of Hamlet as viewed by two inconsequential characters, or something, the whole thing is a grand joke, and figuring out the butt of the joke is all part of the game.

Ebert gives this film no stars. None. Though he praised the play as genius.


3. Dark City 

– 5/5 stars

(1998 – Director – Alex Proyas – Starring – Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly)

There are many aspects of Dark City which don’t quite measure up. Luckily, they aren’t very important aspects. Something of a film noir on acid (oh, okay… and in color), Dark City is the story of a man who wakes up one morning… err night… to find himself in a very bad situation. His efforts to extricate himself, or at least bravely run away, lead him to realize he’s in a worse situation than he thought. He eventually discovers that he’s a rat in a maze. Figuring out what’s going on does not particularly calm him.

The real beauty of the film is the beauty of the film. A veritable primer on creating mood, and executing perfect layering of style over style over style, Dark City is one of the most brilliantly constructed movies ever. Proyas manipulates your senses and experience using every trick in the film-making book. What you see is put together wonderfully, but how you see it is precisely calculated as well. As only one example, the film has one of the shortest average shot lengths in history… 1.8 seconds.

Ebert not only gave this his highest rating, he also provides commentary on the DVD.


2. Lost in Translation 

– 5/5 stars

(2003 – Director – Sofia Coppola – Starring – Bill Murray, Scarlet Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi)

First, let me tell you… Every time someone says they don’t like this movie, a fairy somewhere falls down dead.

This one actually gets around the rules of this list to some degree. I’ll certainly watch it several times throughout the years, but this is not the same thing as actually professing its rewatchability. It’s not exactly the sort of movie that is any kind of great time to watch again and again. Frankly, I’m not sure how often I want this movie to happen at me, and I’d surely need to be in the proper mood.

Still, there is hardly a movie in existence that seems more (hopefully in some non-arrogant sense) like it might have been written and directed by ME. This is, to me, the entire movie version of that moment in a conversation when you suddenly blurt out, “Bah… that’s what I was going to say.”

There are books you can read that will give you a similar experience to watching this film. Theoretically, anyway. There are, however, no other films.

There are moments in life when you can see the point of Idealists. That is, those who do not believe the physical world exists. There are experiences, events, even relationships, at the end of which it seems that everything around you dissolves away into the nothingness it so obviously always was in any case. There are times in your life, and they are unfortunately and unforgivably rare, when you smile with only half your mouth and your eyes light up slightly as if you finally got the joke. If you’re really lucky, about five times in your life you will do something which can legitimately be called ‘meeting another person’. When and if you do… absolutely nothing else in the world will be worth a damn.

Roger Ebert gave this 4 out of 4 stars.


1. Jesus of Montreal

– 5/5 stars
(1989 – Director – Denys Arcand – Starring – Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening, Yves Jacques, Remy Girard, Johanne-Marie Tremblay)

To tell you the truth, I’m a bit spent. I love this movie because it’s simply a brilliantly worked concept. It delivers what it intends, but never pushes things too much. That’s more impressive because this is the sort of concept where pushing just a little too much is almost unavoidable. A group of people put on a play about the life of Jesus, and the ensemble eventually become the people they are playing… mostly Jesus of course. That’s obviously the sort of thing that will become heavy-handed merely as a matter of course. This is akin to a theory that we might run over a dog, and manage to make it only slightly sad. You could make it very sad. You could play around until it wasn’t sad at all. You could even manage it such that no one cared in the slightest. But, work it so that it is only slightly sad? Good luck.

It’s also utterly real. These people might act like this. Moreover, it makes a mockery of organized religion (though, of course, one in particular). Basically, the idea is that a group of people try to show other people what Jesus might actually have acted like. The church decides that obviously they must stoned.

Lothaire Bluteau is amazing. He wanders around this film as only a person who is becoming Christ can, and his range is beyond compare.

This was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but this was the year of Cinema Paradiso, and that wasn’t going to be beaten. That is a great film as well, and I’m not going to say one should have won over the other, but CP doesn’t particularly speak to me in anything like the same way. It also doesn’t, in my opinion, have the same sort of permanent brilliance that renders it able to be watched over and over.

Arcand’s recent The Barbarian Invasions did pick up the prize.

Roger Ebert gave this 3 ½ out of 4 stars.


In the end, including Ebert’s thoughts started to make sense to me. While putting this together I read a lot of reviews of these movies… just for laughs. It caught my attention that Ebert agreed with me so frequently. You see, I had always held it my mind that we disagreed most of the time. I’m not sure how it happened, but my impression was that most of his reviews were more like R&G are Dead (complete opposite of mine). However that came about, the result was that I would only read about one out of every ten reviews he wrote, if that many. How could I have been so wrong? I have no idea. So, in the spirit of ‘Getting to Know ME’, I have to ask myself what I now know about Mr. Ebert. The test movie theory seems a little off to me. A single movie is a difficult thing to make judgments by. (Except for Lost in Translation. If you don’t like that movie… and are over… let’s say 21… I’m just bored with you already.)

But, maybe an entire test list works to a certain degree. Ebert doesn’t like a few of these, and had the audacity to give R&G ZERO stars, but overall there is a pretty good meshing of ideas. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how happy I am about that. The point is, if you love one movie that someone else does, it probably doesn’t mean all that much. If you love all the movies on this list, I think I know something about you. If you hate all these movies, I think I know something about you as well. More importantly, if you at least like most of these movies… well, I don’t know what, but we’ll probably get along just fine. If you don’t even like a majority of these movies… well, I’m sure you’re nice enough and all, but you scare me a little.


Are You Screening?

Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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