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I polled everyone I knew to find out what movies were inspirational favorites. Everyone. From Twitter to Facebook to emailing my friends, colleagues and, of course, the Matador Team. These are the ones we find educational, moving, funny or just plain wrong. These make us laugh, cry or simply have a message — deep, lighthearted, silly and confusing — that sticks with us.

They’re presented in alphabetical order, and each one was mentioned at least three times. Most titles popped up over and over as people’s e-mails and tweets rolled in.

These are our favorites.

1. Amelie

Director: Jean Pierre-Jeunet
Year: 2001
In One Sentence: One person can change your life forever.

Amelie, a naive country girl living in Monmarte, Paris decides to find justice for those around her. She reunites an old man with a childhood toy, sends a gnome on a round-the-world trip and and meets Nino Camcompoix, a boy working in a porn shop who loves finding photos left behind in photo booths. Quirky meets quirky is meant to be.

2. American Beauty

Director: Sam Mendes
Year: 1999
In A Couple Words: Look closer.

This is a film about Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis who develops a twisted attraction for his teenage daughter’s friend. Suggested by Matador editors Ian MacKenzie and Kate Sedgwick.

I know Ian mentioned this one,” wrote Kate, but I watched that movie at a time when I had just had a fight in the context of a stifling relationship. I went into the movie depressed and alone, and I came out of it with the resolve to stop wasting my life and get out of that situation. I haven’t seen it since, and I couldn’t tell you now what about it helped me to make up my mind. I just know that it helped me understand that life is too short to live on someone else’s terms. Less than a month later, I was on the highway leaving Texas alone.

American Beauty writer Alan Ball also wrote the HBO’s extremely dark Six Feet Under. The final episode presents a montage of scenes that somehow sums up the cycle of life and death and leaves you with a sense of acceptance. Yes, I know that sounds cliche and thus impossible. Trust me. Watch it. You’ll either be stupefied or in tears. Either way, you won’t stop thinking about it for a week.

3. Babette’s Feast

Year: 1987
Director: Gabriel Axel
In A Sentence: Never has watching a table of fastidious 19th century Danes eat been so beautiful and sensuous.

Babette, a French refugee appears on the doorstep of two women, sisters living in an isolated — and extremely pious — village in Denmark. They take her in as their housekeeper. Babette suddenly inherits a fortune and uses the entire sum to prepare a luxurious dinner for the townspeople, most of whom consider such extravagance a sin.

Old Martina (after hearing Babette spent all her money on the dinner): Now you’ll be poor for the rest of your life.

Babette: An artist is never poor.

4. Bad Santa

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Year: 2003
In Short: He’s a drunken, thieving mess. Just the person you want coming down your chimney and playing with your kids.

Willie has not one single redeemable characteristic. Not one. He lies, robs department stores on Christmas, takes advantage of the young and old. The only thing keeping him from doing more harm is that he’s usually passed out in a drunken slop pile. Still, his connection with a snot nosed, geeky fat kid and a woman with an odd Santa fetish proves that even the oddest of us deserve good and family togetherness.

5. Big Fish

Director:Tim Burton
Tagline: An adventure as big as life itself.

A angry son visits his father before he dies. He does so out of duty, but really can’t get passed the fact, an inveterate teller of tall tales, spent more time on the road with other people while working as a salesman than in his son’s life. The son seeks truth, but finds that truth and fiction blend. At a certain point, though, he finds it no longer matters which is which, but that you enjoyed the story.

6. Breakfast On Pluto

Year: 2005
Director: Neil Jordan
In A Question: How do you survive when you’re different?

This slightly lesser known film by the director of The Crying Game, Interview With A Vampire and Michael Collins tells the story of Patrick “Kitten” Braden. He leaves his town in Ireland to look for his mother and because his transgendered nature goes beyond the town’s understanding.

7. Chocolat

Director: Lasse Halstrom
Year: 2000
In A Sentence: Haven’t we all at some point in our lives wanted to roll around in a bed of chocolate?

Vianne, her daughter and their invisible kangaroo arrive in a small French village and shake up the rigid morality of the place. How? By opening a chocolate shop.

My good friend Andrea, who I met through Couchsurfing , describes Chocolat as a passion for discovery, knowing your home isn’t a physical place, no fear of leaving, indulging the senses, loving people while you can. and knowing that sometimes it’s time to stay in one place.

Two other wonderful films worth watching from the same director: The Cider House Rules and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Director: David Fincher
Year: 2008
In Short: Your life is defined by its opportunities even the ones you miss.

Imagine the possibilities if you had the strength of a 20 year old but the eyes of a 70 year old.
Such is the case of Benjamin Button, who is born old and ages backwards.

Benjamin Button: It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.

9. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Director: John Hughes
Year: 1986
Says it all: Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris Bueller has one last sick day to take, and yeah, he grabs that day by the balls.

Ferris: Cameron, what have you seen today?

Cameron: Nothing good.

Ferris: Nothing – wha – what do you mean nothing good? We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city! We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art! We ate pancreas!

10. 50 First Dates

Director: Peter Segal
Year: 2004
In One Sentence: Imagine having to win over the girl of your dreams, every friggin’ day!

The final scene of this film gets me every time.

11. Groundhog Day

Director: Harold Ramis
Year: 1993
In One Sentence: He’s having the worst day of his life over and over.

Phil is hateful, angry, pissy weatherman with an enormous ego, so it feels like divine retribution when he’s forced to wake up every morning on the same day in the same boring town on a very cold Groundhog’s day.

Phil: Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.

Phil: When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.

Note: For Harold Ramis fans: There’s a Ghostbuster’s III scheduled to come out in 2011.

12. The Hangover

Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2009
In A Sentence: Sometimes you have to be beaten, electrified by middle school students and marry a hooker to learn what’s really important.

A Las Vegas-set comedy centered around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him.

Alan Garner: You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when my sister brought Doug home, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack… it grew by one. So there… there were two of us in the wolf pack… I was alone first in the pack, and then Doug joined in later. And six months ago, when Doug introduced me to you guys, I thought, “Wait a second, could it be?” And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves, running around the desert together, in Las Vegas, looking for strippers and cocaine. So tonight, I make a toast!

13. Hoosiers

Director: David Anspaugh
Year: 1986
In Short: Everyone deserves a second chance to finish first. Sometimes you get it.

Coach Norman Dale, a local drunk with an ugly past, takes a small town high school basketball team to the championship game. Says my high school friend Matt of Hoosiers: This film may be less interesting if you aren’t into basketball. Or meaning. Or romance. Or the difficulties of becoming a man.

Coach Norman Dale: I would hope you would support who we are. Not, who we are not. These six individuals have made a choice to work, a choice to sacrifice, to put themselves on the line 23 nights for the next 4 months, to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.

Rudy, another based-on-a-true-story film by the same director appeared on the list almost as often as Hoosiers.

14. It’s A Wonderful Life

Director: Frank Capra
Year: 1946
A Quick Overview: An angel helps a well meaning but frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

It may be old, but this movie name still popped up more often than just about any other. A staple in American culture of learning to accept the joyful things in our lives and not allowing ourselves to be mired down in the details.

15. Koyaanisqatsi

Director: Godfrey Reggio
Year: 1982
In A Question: What will happen to human beings if we destroy all silence and nature?

Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi word for “life out of balance” is not your traditional film. It has no plot, no characters and no ending. It does, though, have a very clear message.This film sets images to the haunting music of Phillip Glass showing our disconnection with the natural world and perhaps unwise reliance on the world of technology.

16. A Lesson Before Dying

Director: Joseph Sargeant
Year: 1999
In a question: How do you act when the hope for truth and justice is gone?

In the 1940′s South, an African-American man is jailed for killing a a white store owner. Even though he’s wrongly accused, he will die. This movie shows how we must accept our roots before we can truly move forward. Based on Ernest Gaine‘s 1993 novel of the same name.

Ernest Gaines shares some reasons why he writes and how writing helps him find his center. Check out The Traveler’s Notebook for more writers on writing.

17. Life Is Beautiful

Director: Roberto Benigni
Year: 1997
In A Sentence: A man protects his child from the horrendous truth of the living in a Nazi death camp by turning it into an enormous game.

Giosué Orefice: “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.” Why do all the shops say, “No Jews Allowed”?

Guido: Oh, that. “Not Allowed” signs are the latest trend! The other day, I was in a shop with my friend the kangaroo, but their sign said, “No Kangaroos Allowed,” and I said to my friend, “Well, what can I do? They don’t allow kangaroos.”

Giosué Orefice: Why doesn’t our shop have a “Not Allowed” sign?

Guido: Well, tomorrow, we’ll put one up. We won’t let in anything we don’t like. What don’t you like?

Giosué Orefice: Spiders.

Guido: Good. I don’t like Visigoths. Tomorrow, we’ll get sign: “No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed.”

18. Midnight Cowboy

Director: John Schlesinger
Year: 1969
In Short: The most unlikely friendships can set you free.

Touted as the only X-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy shows how distrust turns to friendship and stupidity can be a virtue.

19. Midnight Express

Director: Alan Parker
Year: 1978
In One Sentence: This film is the reason we double search our bags for contraband before traveling internationally.

Based on the book of the same name written by Billy Hayes. Midnight Express details Haye’s time spent in a Turkish prison. Says Matt Scott, a Matador writer and intern: It’s not a feel good movie, but it does make you appreciate life.

Billy Hayes: What is a crime? What is punishment? It seems to vary from time to time and place to place. What’s legal today is suddenly illegal tomorrow because society says it’s so, and what’s illegal yesterday is suddenly legal because everybody’s doin’ it, and you can’t put everybody in jail. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. I’m just saying that’s the way it is.

20. Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles
Year: 2004
In Short: Change yourself before you change the world.

Traveling by motorcycle introduces Che Guevara to his life calling. We know what happens after that.

Says Matador community member and Moustache Hunt aficionado Travis Crockett: I finally finished watching “The Motocycle Diaries”, a reminder that travel can lead you to a destination that you never planned or even imagined, a life less ordinary. Not sure I would swap places with Che though.

21. Office Space

Director: Mike Judge
Year: 1999
Tagline: Because everyone wishes they had the balls to gut a fish on their desk at work.

Prophetic tale of company workers who hate their jobs and decide to rebel against their greedy boss. How many left our jobs to travel and escape the daily cubicle farm? And don’t forget Milton Waddams.

22. Once

Director: John Carney
Year: 2006
In A Question: How do you find the right person?

A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.

Says Matador Brave New Traveler editor Christine Garvin: I’m not really a favorite movies kinda person, but just re-watched this, and I was surprised how much it moved me. Even better, I was traveling the first time I saw it, and it reminded me both about what the world holds for us if we are just open to it, and the quick and powerful possibilities of love.

Girl: How come you don’t play during daytime? I see you here everyday.

Guy: During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play these song at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.

Girl: I listen.

23. Precious

Director: Lee Daniels
Year: 2009
Says it all: Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is precious.

An overweight, illiterate teen living in Harlem is pregnant with her second child
when she’s invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

A powerful movie based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Mariah Carey plays an extraordinary role as Precious’ guidance counselor.

I haven’t seen the movie but have read the book. It strikes me particularly because I taught poetry workshops to students in the same neighborhood where Precious lives. I didn’t have the same access to my students lives as Precious gives us, but if nothing else, this book and film should remind us to look beyond what you see in front of you.

24. Rushmore

Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 1998
In A Question: Has Wes Anderson ever made a bad movie?

Max Fischer, the king of Rushmore Academy, is on probation
and eventually expelled from the school he loves and hoped never to leave.

Travel bloggers Pam Mandel and Jen Laceda were the first of many to suggest Rushmore. This movie points to the importance of developing individuality, accepting who we are and learning to grow with what we are offered in life. You may not get everything you want, but that in itself is important to know.

Herman Blume: What’s the secret, Max?

Max Fischer: The secret?

Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.

Max Fischer: The secret, I don’t know… I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.

Another Wes Anderson film title I found repeatedly in my mailbox?
The Darjeeling Limited. I chose Rushmore to be in the list only because it is an earlier, and thus more easily forgotten, film.

Sex and the City

Director: Michael Patrick King
Year: 2008
In a sentence: Time is short.

Ok, no one named this movie in my polling, but it’s worth mentioning because some movies are just so awful that the teach you the importance of time. I saw it last night and actually watched all three hours. I only share this shameful waste of my time as a warning for you to turn it off. Better yet, don’t even turn it on. Instead, go take a walk, play with your kids, fly a kite. Anything. It’s as long as Ghandi but without the meaning, message or drive. It will be three hours you will never get back.

25. Up

Co-directors: Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson
Year: 2009
In short: Often adventure has nothing to do with travel at all.

When Carl Fredricksen’s wife of 70 years dies, he’s left with an empty house and a dream of traveling to South America unfulfilled. So he ties an enormous bunch of balloons to his chimney and lifts off.

Tens of people mentioned this film, from Matador Sports editor Adam Roy to Matador Goods editor Lola Akinmade and don’t know how many other friends and family members, too. Funny how many prefaced their suggestion with “Don’t think I’m silly…” or “I know it’s a kids movie, but….”


So there you have it. 25 of the top suggested movies from everyone I know professionally and personally. I know, I cheated and included many more, but it’s really impossible to choose just twenty five. I know, also, that this list isn’t comprehensive, so please leave your additions and why you love them in comments below.



About The Author

Leigh Shulman

Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red

  • Michelle

    LOVE this! I’ve had to add a few of these to my list to see, as well.

  • Alyssa

    Half of these are on my important list; the other half are on (or are NOW on) the to-do list!

    Thanks – great article!

  • Silvia

    I love this list! It’s amazing how movies can truly change your perspective on life and leave you feeling completely energized to do something when they’re done. I’ve seen many of the films on this list, but there are definitely a few I will be adding to my movie-list soon. :) Thanks!

  • Christine Garvin

    Totally forgot about Amelie! Love that movie and can definitely watch it over and over again.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Isn’t that a great feeling, too? To be reminded of a movie you hadn’t thought about in so long.

      That happened over and over as I was putting this list together. That and watching all the trailers and clips on YouTube made this article a lot of fun to write.

      And thanks for your contribution as well. I haven’t seen Once. But then after you mentioned it, and another and another, I’ve put it on my list to see.

  • Nancy Harder

    Great article and list! Your description of Sex and the City was hilarious. Going to consult this the next time I’m stuck thinking of which movie to rent.

  • Sarah

    Great list! I love that 50 First Dates & UP made it on here… And as for Sex and the City… if nothing else, maybe it can teach you that some things (like junk food and booze) have no nutritional value, but can still be a hell of a lot of fun. :)

    • Leigh Shulman

      I totally agree!

      I think that’s why I was so disappointed with SATC. I loved the series and thought it was a lot of fun. But the movie just completely missed the mark.

      I did like Jennifer Hudson, though.

  • Melanie@TravelsWithTwo

    Love this list!! I’m a huge fan of (most of) these movies…and must immediately track down “A Lesson Before Dying.”

    I’d add that “Up” teaches us that’s it’s important to cry right after we just finished crying; and “Office Space” is the ideal movie to bring both us and our parents together in unbridled, braying laughter.

    • Leigh Shulman

      My parents are very traditional and very conservative. I never even thought to watch Office Space with them. Next time I see them, though, you know what DVD I’ll be renting.

      Cry and then cry again. Yes. That pretty much describes me during Up. Gets me every time.

  • Alouise

    Great list. I’ve seen most of these movies but not all of them. I love how eclectic it is too. There’s not a lot of lists that would have The Hangover and It’s A Wonderful Life – unless it’s some general ‘films I’ve seen’ type. And I loved the write up about Sex And The City. I’d also recommend:

    - Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe’s semi autobiographical movie about being 15 and touring with a rock band writing for Rolling Stone.
    - Bend It Like Beckham. Girls parents don’t want her to play football (soccer for us North Americans). But she defies them and well it’s just a great film.
    - Dazed And Confused. Sure it’s a movie about the last day of High School School in 1976, but it always makes me feel great.
    - Ed Wood. Probably the least known Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaboration about the infamous worst director of all time. As a bonus it’s always fun to rent a real Ed Wood movie after – I recommend Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda.
    - Elf. Yes the Will Ferrel Christmas movie. Sure it’s cheesy, but sometime I wish there were more enthusiastic people like Buddy The Elf in the world. Plus after watching it you may the desire to answer the phone with a smile and a “so and so here, what’s your favourite colour?”
    - Hedwig And The Angry Inch. A glam rock opera about a transsexual punk singer trying to find herself. Fantastic story and music.
    - Millions. An uplifting story about two brothers who find a bag of money by a train track.
    - Rent. It’s a modern day retelling of La Boheme. Rent always reminds me to live life to the fullest. It’s my favourite musical ever – I recently blogged about my Rent experience There’s a movie version of the musical and a filmed live on Broadway version – both are great.

    • Leigh Shulman


      All fabulous suggestions. I love the idea of getting a real Ed Wood movie after watching JD play him.

      Another Will Farrel movie I would have loved to include is Stranger Than Fiction.

      • Alouise

        Leigh – I got the Salute To Incompetence Ed Wood dvd from Amazon. It’s got 6 of his most famous or infamous films including Plan 9. It was $7 when I bought it. I figured even if I didn’t like the movies, at least it wasn’t too much. Turns out I love the movies, they’re just fantastic.

        And Stranger Than Fiction is a great movie I completely forgot about this.

        I can’t believe you narrowed it down to 25. I probably would’ve been doing a lot of ennie meenie miny moe.

        • Leigh Shulman

          That’s exactly why I polled so many people and set that guideline of 3 mentions to be included. Otherwise, it is really impossible to choose just 25. Impossible.

          Then when i started reading about each of the movies, i realized you’d need a book or two to do this justice.

          That’s why comments are so great. Let’s anyone add a movie. Or two. Or forty.

  • Jen Laceda

    Some of the films you mentioned above I’ve heard of, but never really got around to watching them – such as, Midnight Express, Koyaanisqatsi, Midnight Cowboy…I’m glad Rushmore, Amelie, Motorcycle Diaries, and Babette’s Feast (as well as Darjeeling Limited) made it! I would add ABOUT A BOY to my list…something about the last bits of the movie that sticks – that statement about human relationships.

    Marcus (the boy): I used to think two was not enough. But now things are great; there are loads of people… I don’t know what Will was so pissed about. I don’t think couples are the future. The way I see it now, we both got back-up. It’s like that thing Jon Bon Jovi said: ‘No man is an island.’

    Will (Hugh Grant): Every man is an island. But clearly, some men are island CHAINS. Underneath, they are connected…

    • Leigh Shulman

      It’s hard to narrow it down, isn’t it?

      This could have been a list of 100, and it still woudln’t have included every great inspirational movie out there.

      Thanks for your input compiling it, too.

  • JoAnna

    I would add Garden State. Something about that movie gets me every time.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Garden State is heart wrenching.

      It was also strange (but good) to see Natalie Portman in such an understated role after seeing her in those crazy outfits and headdresses in Star Wars.

  • Candice Walsh

    Ahh crap! I’m not even a movie person but I’m compelled to watch ALL of these.

  • Leigh Shulman

    I wanted to mention a book called Movies and the Meaning of Life.

    It was suggested to me by @jnogueira.

  • Matt Scott

    I need to get to video store to watch some of these! Great list!

  • Alaina

    Cool list! I’ve seen some of them, but definitely not all of them. Koyaanisqatsi I saw about 4 years ago on accident, and have always wanted to see it again, but I always seem to forget about it…

  • AJ Silver

    Lost In Translation?

  • Jeffrey

    I have only seen 4 of these. 2 I enjoyed, 2 i disliked.
    I definitely enjoy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and really liked Amelie as well. I have also seen Big Fish which i thought was boring and 50 First Dates, sadly.

    Just watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, that fits the bill and definitely should be on the list! :)

    • Leigh Shulman

      We just got this one for Lila. Not entirely sure if it’s a kid’s movie, but now with your recommendation, I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

  • Sierra Hiker

    Great List!
    Of course I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas, it gets me everytime!
    I just finished watching and reading “Motorcycle Diaries”. The book was definitely better, being what Che actually wrote and his dawning realizations. I am fascinated by Che Guevara’s life and his commitment to what he thought was right. I may not agree with his politics, but his philosophies are amazing! He is on my “Dead People I Would Love To Talk With” list!

    I would add “Seven Pounds” to your list because it is really well done and leaves you guessing until the end. Powerful message about selfless giving. Anything with Will Smith is great!
    I would also add “Out of Africa” because everytime I watch it, I believe in true love again! Message: “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”
    The other film that always reminds me of what’s important in life is “Contact” with Jodie Foster and Matthew McCannahey (sic). It brings about spiritual questions like, “What is ‘belief’?” In the guise of a sci-fi flick this one really is worth a view!

    Thanks for your list!

    • Leigh Shulman

      Dead people I’d love to talk with! Brilliant idea for an article, too.

      I’m also a huge Will Smith Fan. Ok, maybe Bad Boys II woudln’t make my list, but just about everything else. I feel like he really hit his stride with Six Degrees of Separation. That’s when I stopped thinking of him as just a comedy actor. Guy has chops.

      As for sci-fi. Much sci-fi is silly. But the best has an overall lesson, usually ones that are able to delve most deeply into who we are because they allow us to trick us into looking at ourselves from deep space.

      I’ll have to check out Contact again. I haven’t seen it in a while and don’t remember.

  • Don

    The true story of Midnight Express is one of unexpected consequences. I met several of the prisoners mentioned in the book, but weren’t featured in the movie. The were actually treated better than the Turkish prisoners in for the same offense.

    Opium was a natural part of the Turkish culture until the US decided to force Turkey into outlawing the drug. It grows naturally and can be found everywhere in the wild. They used poppy seed oil for cooking and as a snack, and a little of it was used in their national drink Raki. At least it was until the US government (I believe it was the Kennedy administration) threatened to stop foreign aid unless they outlawed opium.

    This was great as long as only Turks were being arrested. But once the book and then the movie was released entailing the travails of the Americans in custody, it became and absolutely different matter.

    We should think of this frequently and unendingly when we seek to tell other cultures how to live their lives. The unintended consequences often come back to haunt us.

    Ironically, Turkey no longer has a death penalty, a prerequisite of joining the European Union. i wonder what would happen if they were in a position to require the same of the US.

    • Leigh Shulman

      Don, you make some fabulous points here. I didn’t really know much about the history of this film. I know it’s based on a true story, but so often “based ons” don’t really mean much.

      I’m going to have to do some research now. Thanks for that!

      As for death penalty, well, that is an entirely different discussion. One very deftly brought up by this film and one that we’d do well to discuss further.

  • Judy

    Brilliant list! Many would be on mine. A couple perhaps, not so much, but I like the points you made by including them (re: Bad Santa and Benjamin Button).

    I might suggest a few more: The Wizard of Oz, The Red Balloon, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder version). Funny they’d all be found in the children’s section. Hmm… (But…it’s so hard to boil down! There are the Hitchcocks and Howard Hawks, and John Fords and more Capras…and Coen Bros…and Truffauts…movies *sigh*)

    I’m definitely going to check out Breakfast on Pluto – I think that’s the only one I haven’t seen. Maybe I’ll rewatch Bad Santa with your comments in mind : ) Thanks for the great post!

  • Matt

    Great list! I would add the film Ikiru to this list and strongly, strongly recommend people see it. I would sum it up as: “It’s never too late to make a difference with your life.” Tells the story of an aging bureaucrat who discovers he has terminal cancer. It is only then that he realizes he has wasted his life, and never really lived. Very emotional an powerful film, done by a true master, Akira Kurosawa. I might also suggest the Kurosawa film Red Beard as an excellent film to remind yourself of what is important in life.

    • Leigh Shulman

      I need to revisit Kurosawa. He is one of those rare and really excellent film makers (much like Tarkofsky, I think) whose movies are easily overlooked because they’re not easy. At all.

      Thanks for these suggestions. My movie list of those to both see for the first time and see again is expanding exponentially.

  • Dianne Colombo

    Great selections on the list but my second favorite movie of all time (right behind Casablanca) is an Irene Dunne film called ” I Remember Mama”. It’s filmed in B/W but it is radiant with the message of family devotion, fidelity, humor, honor and the everlasting effect of love. It’s side message is about how immigrants have transformed our American society by adding the best of their homeland (in this case Sweden) to our own, and in the process make us all the better for it. Love love love this movie…if the day ever comes when i do not cry throughout watching “Mama”, then I will know I no longer have a heart.

  • Krisitn

    Awesome list! However, I think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington should be on here. It teaches a good lesson in what politicians forget when they start living a big life in the capital. Lovely film.

  • Jasmine P.

    This list was awesome to see, and it gave me a wealth of movies to see, which is a never ending list, without counting what comes out every year.

    A movie that reminds me what’s important is the silly 1986 Little Shop of Horrors. In part from how it was made, but the simple message of it being a person and not what a person has that makes other people like them. But LSoH is a movie I don’t think I could ever not like. I also in general find it entertaining.

    A more recent film that’s an interesting look at life is Greenberg. To me, it’s a movie that is about just how difficult life is.

    A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints was amazing, and one of the few times I have seriously noticed how something I’ve seen or read, having bought the book the next day, has affected my life. It made me appreciate the hell that is my past. It also helped me recognized important people in my life and little things that I may have taken for granted as being important.

  • Carlo

    Life is Beautiful. What a beautiful movie. What a list!

  • Gwen McCauley

    Thanks, Leigh. I’ve seen most of those on your list and you’ve given me ideas for a couple of others.

    If you liked Up (which is a new one for me) you might also like Danny Deckchair, a wonky little Aussie number about an unhappy man.

    I’m also a big fan of Everything is Illuminated an off-beat comedy about an American Jewish guy returning to the Ukraine to find his family’s pre-WWII story.

    And there’s a small Canadian film that I love to watch when I need a bit of a boost. It’s called Mambo Italiano. Funny, full of stereotypes and very hopeful.

    Have a wonderful Easter. Thanks for the ‘virtual’ Easter Egg.

    Gwen McCauley

    • Leigh Shulman

      Seems like you have a lot to teach me about movies, Gwen. I’ll most definitely check out the movies you suggest.

      I read Everything is Illuminated, but haven’t seen the movie. It’s silly to say, but after seeing Elijah Wood in Sin City, I find it really difficult to see him in anything else. Thanks for the reminder to revisit it.

  • Marnette Severance

    Now I have a wealth of titles for Netflix. I can’t
    wait!! Thanks for the original list & followup

  • Mandy

    I can only see one that I really missed from this list, Forrest Gump. “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”

    • Leigh Shulman

      Yes. Mandy. Another one I’d add that’s similar to Forrest Gump is Peter Sellers in Being There. Sometimes you just need to tend your garden.

  • Kristen Patel

    I agree with so many of these – especially Up.

    But in addition to Lost in Translation and Garden State (both definitely list-worthy), I would have to include:

    Crash – kind of old and slightly cliched, but there’s so much emotion that this movie is just unforgettable

    L’auberge Espagnol – it looks really cheesy, but by the end of the movie I was ready to drop out of school and fly to Barcelona for that kind of experience

    Vicky-Cristina Barcelona – besides the amazing cast, this movie not only accurately portrayed the vibes of Barcelona in the most subtle way, but also touches on the cycle of life, and that very few people ever really know what they want.

    Great list though!

  • Ted Noon

    Into The Wild
    The History Boys
    The Shawshank Redemption
    A Clockwork Orange

    All four of these should be watched.

  • ricky

    This is definitely an awesome list.

    I’d add Up in the Air. I really find this film has good message. love it when Ryan (George Clooney) speaks with his sister’s fiancee who gets cold feet. I also love another movie from Jason Reitman, Juno. Oh I just love the way Juno thinks and I wish I would have a daughter as tough and as brave as her. I guess I should name my daughter Juno, if I have a daughter someday :p and did anyone mention Little Miss Sunshine? That teaches lots of things about family and dream.

    I also recommend to watch The Visitor. It’s a movie about 2 illegal immigrants in Manhattan. And for mothers, watch Motherhood.

    But my favorite movie all the time is In Bruges. From this movie I learn something like: if you do something bad, then do something good someday :)

  • Jewels

    Great article ! Even greater website! :) Love ALL those movies…

    Another I would add that stuck through many “stuck points” is “The Office” ( Booze Cruise)

    Jim: (Distraught over the possibly of losing the love of his life, Pam) “I just dont know what to do.” I feel like my world is ending”. How do I beat this?

    Micheal: “Dont give up. Dont EVER give up. You want her.. go get her. Simple as that…”

    Classic. Powerful. Subtle.


  • Mark Dittman

    Glad to see motorcycle diaries on this list! Travel films dont come better than the Motorcycle Diaries.

  • http://matadornetwork pat morgan

    great list. i was surprised at the number of the movies i had seen. i recommend two more to add to your list. “to kill a mockingbird” is a true depiction of the not so long ago south. “the grapes of wrath” showa lifes struggle in a time when all were suffering and man”s cruelty to man.

  • Krystal

    Click could definitely be on this list..

  • amy

    I would add: Into the Wild, Garden State, All the Real Girls, and Forrest Gump!!!

  • Carolina

    Great list, thank you!
    I would add up in the air, 500 days of summer, little miss sunshine and winter passing to the list

  • crazycoach

    Just a correction on your Hoosiers description. Norman Dale is a former college coach, who after getting fired for assaulting one of his players, look for a second chance in Hickory, Indiana. He takes on Shooter McGavin, the town drunk, as an assistant coach.

    • erak

      Just a correction for your correction (full disclosure – I haven’t seen Hoosiers in a few years, but some IMDB-ing and Googling haven’t proved me wrong).

      Dennis Hopper’s character is just plain “Shooter”. He, nor his son are given last names. Shooter McGavin was the villain from Happy Gilmore!

  • Elliot mist

    How can pursuit of happiness not be on that list? Or seven pounds?

  • Austin

    I wouldve taken off a few, but definetly would appreciate either or both of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

  • Serena

    I would like to suggest Love Actually. One of my favorite movies.

  • Marc Saint-Cyr

    Very good list – and I whole-heartedly support the Wes Anderson recommendation. He really hasn’t made a bad film yet! I simply love The Darjeeling Limited – it’s a great one for travelers, obviously, but is also such an insightful and warm film – and it comes complete with a dope soundtrack, to boot!

    As a movie buff, I could go on forever coming up with films to add to this list, but I’ll limit it to one: Wings of Desire. This gorgeously crafted German film about angels and life before the fall of the Berlin Wall says so much about the importance of living life to its fullest, making the most of its small pleasures and cherishing love. By way of a simple yet powerful metaphor, it makes you think about how you are spending your life, and really inspires you to look at things with a new appreciation. I don’t say this about very many films, but this one absolutely has the power to change your life.

  • Emma

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should absolutely be added to this list!

  • Tim


  • Tim

    Midnight Express has nothing to do with this list.
    It was shot Morocco and Greeks played the turks (read more about the movie)

    Other than that, the list is ok

  • Gabriela

    Waking Life is a truly most!

    youtube link:

  • Mark Stoehr

    Local Hero

  • Aousten

    If I was you, I would add Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Stealing Beauty!
    It’s a beautiful movie that inspires you to search for love in whatever form.

  • Scott Sayre

    Pretty great list. You missed a few key films though.
    1) Babies
    2) Box of Moonlight
    3) Wings of Desire
    Add those and I’m signed up.

  • Celina Gray

    Great list! I would add- Stranger than Fiction, Color Purple, The Insider, I’ve Loved You So Long, Wit, Fargo. Fargo is perhaps a strange choice, but I love what Frances Mc Dormand says at the end when she’s driving the murder back.

    • Celina Gray

      sorry- murderer

  • ThaisChalencon

    I love movies and this list is really good. I just missed “City of Angels”. I think fits well with the theme.

  • Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

    Where’s THE GREEN MILE ? The ‘Sex and the City’ space could’ve been well utilised by mentioning ‘The Green Mile’ which is quite better than some of the movies on this list. Anyways, the list is great. Thanks for placing ‘Amelie’ at no. 1. And thanks for having ‘Chocolat’.

  • sylar

    where is 127 hours or the wizard of oz and let’s not forget the famous green mile and forrest gump why the hell is sex and the city on there it was a stupid movie from the getgo. the hangover i get because it was funny as hell but 127 hours really teaches you the importants of life james frankco gave his best performance as aron rolstein a rock climber whos arm was stuck under a rock for 127 hours. evenually cutting off his arm with a dull pocket knife. if thats dose’nt remind you of whats important in life than i don’t know what is. or the kings speech where king george collin firth has a studder and georgia rush his tutor teaches him how to properly speak . that shows me whats important in life . fighting for what you believe in and your right to live. not stupid medapusoul woman who find out that her husband is cheating . big whopp that happens every dam day in life. so take a look at the list and thing what films really let you know whats important in life.

    • davia123

      instead of being mean, why don’t you make your own list and post it! This list is one persons oppinion

  • Abi

    I’m agree with the first comment, ensted of “bad santa there are plenty of movies who talk about what life means: “GREEN MILE”, “CITY OF ANGELS”, “THE JOY LUCK CLUB” “THE MASTER AND COMANDER” AND VANITY FAIR etc. anyway verygood choice for precious.

  • Sonia

    Garden State, directed by Zach Braff (2004), should definitely be in this list!

  • Susan Hollingsworth

    This is perfect. The netflix syndrome has caused me to never actually watch movies that i really want to. I get to the screen, ready add to the Q and go completely blank. Bookmark here. Thanks.

  • Kim Love

    Also, Under the Tuscan Sun. makes me want to travel and see the appreciation in life like friends, family, beauty of nature, etc.

  • Jane

    I don’t know if anyone else was as moved as I was by Dead Poets Society. It’s my favorite movie and makes me appreciate life and love and poetry every time I watch.

  • Headhunter David

    The movie “Chocolat” was a little more involved. It was not just any chocolate she was selling. There was some mystical ingredient (I think from South America) that had quite an effect on people.

  • Reagan

    Let’s go ahead and subtract the Hangover and Koyaanisqatsi and add in The Darjeeling Limited and The Big Lebowski…they really tie the list together, man.

  • Steph

    Garden State, definitely! And I agree with Green Mile as well.

  • Mark Will

    @Abi. Nice list.

    IMHO however, instead of ‘Master & Commander ‘ I would choose another of Peter Weir’s several great films, ‘Fearless’ (1993)

    Featuring an excellent, nuanced performance by Jeff Bridges, the whole film deals w/how a man has psychologically disconnected w/his family after surviving a plane crash.

    The climax & resolution to the story is very much bound up in the theme of being reminded of what is important in life, IMHO.

  • Mark Will

    OOOPS! Pardon the error — One ‘IMHO’ is sufficient.

    I am not *that* humble… ;-D

  • antonio

    I would add to the list some of my all time favourites: Rabbit proof fence, the scarecrow, crossroads, the cider house rules, if I may. good list thou’.

  • Jonathan Gardner

    Has no one ever seen “SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION”!!! The story of a man sent to prison for life in the 1930s. WOW! I watch it every now and again just to put things into perspective. Life is short! Life is simple! Life is great!

    quote : “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies”

    heres another one:

    “I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more grey”

  • Pooky

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?? A movie about some kids ditching school? Okay, so you want to have fun, why not on the weekend. There isn’t anything “funny” in this movie at all.

    • Vballgurl1625

      Are you american?

    • davia123

      you didn’t understand the depth of this movie. It is more than ditching school. Maybe it is time you watched it again1

  • Evan M.

    I don’t typically comment on these things.  In fact, I don’t even have an account with this website.  I just wanted to say that I am happy that “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Office Space”, and “Rushmore” are all on this list because they are the three most inspiring comedies I have ever seen. They made me feel good the first time I saw them and continue to do that to this day.

    I do think that “Shawshank Redemption” deserves some recognition, as does — wait for it — “Toy Story 3″.  But I digress.

  • rahul

    UP is the good ever cartoon movie I have ever seen

  • Ryan

    Waking Life… the entire movie will make you think differently about life.

  • Photo Video Art

    Thanks for your list. Totally agree with an author. I saw most of listed and I am continuing to watch from time to time. 

  • Caleb George Morris

    Shawshank redemption.

  • aditya

    pay it foward..its one of the best

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