1990: Home Alone (directed by Chris Columbus)
When I made this list for songs, it was tough for me to think of anything to pick from my birth year. Not so with movies: I still watch Home Alone (gleefully, I might add) every year at Christmastime, and I could probably quote a sizable portion of it to you right now, verbatim. It is, for my money, the greatest Christmas movie there is, and maybe the most rewatachable movie of all time. I'll just never get tired of watching Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern get the crap beaten out of them by an eight-year-old kid. If I had to pick an honorable mention for 1990, it would probably be Angels of Filthy Souls.
1991: Beauty & The Beast (directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise)
1992: A Few Good Men (directed by Rob Reiner)
Say what you want about Tom Cruise, but the guy was absolutely on fire in the 1990s. A Few Good Men is the first of two movies this decade (at least) that should have won him an Oscar. Most people would tell you that Cruise gets overshadowed here by Jack Nicholson and his "You can't handle the truth" speech. But Nicholson's glory moment wouldn't feel so glorious if he didn't have such a worthy sparring partner, and Cruise consistently keeps the momentum rolling with the intensity and likable spark that made him the movie star of his generation. There are also some all-time-great quotes in this movie, including "That's a relief, I was afraid we weren't going to be able to use the liar-liar-pants-on-fire defense," "Sorry, I keep forgetting: you were sick the day they taught law at law school," and "You're a lousy fucking softball player, Jack!"
1993: The Fugitive (directed by Andrew Davis)
Will there ever be another movie like The Fugitive? These days, with Hollywood dominated by sequels and superhero movies, a few different types of films have become virtual endangered species. One is the romantic comedy. Another is this type of action thriller. The most iconic scene in The Fugitive might be the big bus crash/train crash set piece, and even 25 years later, that scene still looks great and delivers true thrills. But looking back, what's truly special about this film are the story and the characters. The Fugitive has a taut script, a tantalizing mystery, and a pair of central performances that make the film's cat-and-mouse premise feel genuinely epic. These days, this kind of story would go to Netflix or AMC, leaving the silver screen for Jedi Knights and The Avengers. As much as I love a good superhero movie, I'd trade most of Marvel for an era of action films this tightly crafted and well told.
1994: Pulp Fiction (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
For a time, Pulp Fiction was my favorite movie ever. At this point, it's probably not even my favorite Tarantino movie, but it's still special for so many reasons. The deft balancing of the multiple intersecting storylines; the way Tarantino plays around with chronology; the whip-smart dialogue; the surprising depth of the characters; the surprising deaths of the characters; and the way the movie straddles this tightrope walk between trash and prestige without ever toppling over into either territory. What other filmmaker could ring so much slapstick humor from a guy getting shot in the face in the back of a car, or so much intensity from Samuel L. Jackson reciting a Bible verse? I've got the answer: no one.
1995: Toy Story (directed by John Lassetter)
Toy Story was the most important movie of the 1990s. Schindler's List was heavier and Titanic made more money, but no film altered the course of film history more than this one. It's also, in my humble opinion, the best movie of the decade, and a film so good that Pixar still hasn't topped it. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Toy Story. I watched this movie dozens and dozens of times, to the point where it's probably still the film I've seen most in my life. It was delightful back then for the revolutionary animation, the clever set pieces, and the hilarious interplay between Tim Allen and Tom Hanks. It's wonderful now as the starting point to a deeply moving film series about growing up. An all-time great.
1996: That Thing You Do! (directed by Tom Hanks)
1996 was the first real battle for me (and this is even considering the fact that The Shawshank Redemption came out in the same year as Pulp Fiction). On the one hand, you had Tom Cruise giving his second Oscar-worthy performance of the decade in Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe's dramedy about a sports agent who grows a conscience overnight. It's a fantastic film, with both riotously funny bits and tear-jerking bits (not to mention a prominent feature for a Springsteen song). But at the end of the day, how could I not go with That Thing You Do, one my favorite music films ever and a movie I've loved since I was a kid? This gem about a one-hit wonder band in the 1960s (the Oneders; get it?) is still woefully underrated and under-watched. It's a funny movie (a pivotal moment of the film features a drummer breaking his arm while trying to hop over a parking meter), but it's also a down-to-earth examination of fame, and how a lot of the bands that bloom into overnight successes are not prepared to handle the whirlwind. "That Thing You Do" the song is also a legitimate smash and easily one of the catchiest songs in the history of film or pop music. (Fun fact: the guy who wrote "That Thing You Do" was Adam Schlesinger, frontman of the band Fountains of Wayne and writer of the 2003 smash "Stacy's Mom.")
1997: Good Will Hunting (directed by Gus Van Sant)
How do you pick a favorite scene from this movie? Do you go for the part in the Harvard bar, where Matt Damon owns a guy who dropped 150 grand on a fuckin' education he coulda gotten for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library? Or the part where Robin Williams starts improvising, talking about how his wife used to fart repeatedly in the middle of the night, until the camera starts bobbing up and down because the cameraman couldn't stop laughing? Or the Pudge Fisk World Series Game 6 scene? Or Ben Affleck's "best part of my day speech"? Or the scene in the park where Robin Williams wins his Oscar in five minutes, one take, and 450 words of the most exquisitely devastating writing in the history of film? Or the "It's not your fault" scene? Or the ending, where Will has to go "see about a girl"? There's no right choice: they're all perfect.
1998: You've Got Mail
Tom Hanks is my favorite actor, and I think that's because I grew up in the 90s. No one was more on fire from about 1994 to 2003 than Tom Hanks. He's still a remarkable actor—even if the Academy has been overlooking his work since 2001—but he was at his peak right around this period. You've Got Mail is Hanks at his simplest and most enjoyable. He's not doing any serious dramatic heavy lifting, but he still makes charisma leap off the screen in every scene he's in. The rant about Starbucks remains relevant and funny 20 years later, but it's only as effective as it is because You've Got Mail captures the least guarded intimacy of a relationship: all the stupid, meaningless, innocuous junk you tell to someone who you feel completely comfortable with. It's a testament to the chemistry between Hanks and Meg Ryan that they sell these little, honest moments with as much romantic realism as their big climactic kiss.
1999: Galaxy Quest (directed by Dean Parisot)
Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver anchor this hilarious Star Trek parody, about the cast of a cult sci-fi TV program who suddenly find themselves living a real-life version of their show. But while Allen and Weaver are terrific, it's the murderer's row of character actors further down the bill that really sell the film. There's Alan Rickman, as a disgruntled actor playing a disgruntled spoof of Spock. There's Sam Rockwell, as a paranoid former extra who is pretty sure he's bound to get killed off in real life, just like his character did on the show. And there's Enrico Calantoni, as the alien commander who has modeled his ship and his entire crew off the "historical documents" of the Galaxy Quest TV show. The film handles its parody with levity and terrific comic timing, but it also does what most spoofs never achieve, becoming a terrific and thrilling piece of genre filmmaking in its own right.
2000: Almost Famous (directed by Cameron Crowe)
I've spent enough time talking to music writers and following them on social media to know that it's cliche for a music writer to say that his/her favorite film is Almost Famous. But this movie, a semi-autobiographical passion project for director/writer Cameron Crowe, captures the imaginations of music writers for a reason. We'd all love to be William Miller (Patrick Fugit), who gets to go on tour with his favorite band and lands a byline on a Rolling Stone cover story before he graduates high school. This film is a fond look back at a time when music criticism mattered, and a time when rock 'n' roll (and music in general) was something people lived and loved with passion and fire. The characters are beautifully sketched, from Kate Hudson's wise-beyond-her-years "band aid" to Billy Crudup's arrogant but soulful rock star. And then there's the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving arguably the best performance of his entire career in just a few scenes as legendary music writer Lester Bangs. There are too many unforgettable scenes to name, but it's tough not to single out the "Tiny Dancer" sing along on the bus, the plane ride to hell, or the final candid interview between William and Crudup's Russell Hammond. "What do you love about music?" William asks Russell; "To begin with, everything."
2001: The Fellowship of the Ring (directed by Peter Jackson)
In music, my big genesis moment came in 2004, with Jimmy Eat World's Futures. It was the first album that showed me how personal and emotionally significant music could be in my life. The equivalent moment in film, for me, was The Fellowship of the Ring. This movie blew the doors off my 11-year-old mind and made me fall in love with an art form that I had previously only regarded as entertainment. I saw it on Christmas Eve 2001 with my family and I still count it as the single greatest movie-going experience of my life. Fellowship swept me up into its orbit and made me laugh, cry, and sit staring open-mouthed at the screen, marveling at the technical majesty of it all. Once I finally had my hands on the DVD, I used to watch snippets of it after school on Fridays when I was home alone, just to keep myself in that world. It remains my favorite of the Lord of the Rings films, as well as my favorite book-to-film adaptation of all time. (Note: In my initial draft of this list, I had The Two Towers as my 2002 film and The Return of the King as my 2003 film. That seemed a little too boring, so I figured I'd leave The Lord of the Rings represented here, by the finest film in the trilogy. I tend to think of them more as a group than as three standalone films, anyway.)
2002: Catch Me If You Can (directed by Steven Spielberg)
I'm not sure there's a film from this century with three stronger performances at the center than Catch Me If You Can. It's my favorite Spielberg movie, my favorite DiCaprio performance, and one of the most fun versions of Hanks. And none of those people even win the movie. The gold medal has to go to Christopher Walken, who sells a character who has to exude, at different times, natural charisma, crushing failure, and deep regret. It's a dark, nuanced performance in an otherwise snappy and fun film, and it lends weight to everything else that happens onscreen. It's fun to watch DiCaprio wear different faces and outsmart law enforcement. It's fun to watch Hanks chase him, always a step or two behind. But Catch Me If You Can ultimately resonates not because of its string of cons, but because Spielberg and his cast dig deeper. Ultimately, it's a film about lost youth, good times gone, and father-son relationships. I can't believe nobody won an Oscar for this movie.
2003: School of Rock (directed by Richard Linklater)
I don't know if I loved School of Rock more because it was a clever, funny film or because it hit right as I was starting to discover the magic of rock 'n' roll myself. This movie released in the fall of 2003, right around the time that I bought my first album and started making mix CDs like it was my job. Jack Black's earnest protagonist, with his wisdom about the power and honesty of rock, became something of a spiritual guide for me in those early years, and might honestly be credited for my ongoing adoration of rock music more than 15 years later. For awhile, my biggest fantasy was that someone like Black would come hijack my class and turn us into a ripping rock band. Even now, though, with those childish thoughts removed, School of Rock is a classic. It's funny without being crude, reverential to classic rock without indulging the worst habits of the form, and boasting one of the best soundtracks that will ever exist in a film. Black has also never been better.
2004: DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber)
One of these things is not like the others. DodgeBall is immature and occasionally outright dumb, but it was also one of my favorite movie-going experiences of all time. I saw this one with my brother on some summer afternoon where we both didn't have anything to do and were looking for a way to get out of the heat. I have never laughed harder in a movie theater and probably never will. I haven't seen this movie in a long time and it probably hasn't aged as well as a lot of the other films on this list, simply because this kind of low-brow humor rarely does. But I miss summers of no responsibility and nothing but time, and thinking about this movie brings them back for me. Gary Cole and Jason Bateman steal the show, as spoofs of all the modern sports announcers who never have anything insightful to say.
2005: Elizabethtown (directed by Cameron Crowe)
A lot of people hate this film. I've seen it mentioned before as one of the worst films of all time, or playfully labeled a "fiasco" (a reference to a plot point from the story). I myself spent the better part of a decade writing it off as Crowe's worst film. But then I gave it a re-watch in 2012 and fell in love with it. There are definitely flaws: Orlando Bloom is hilariously miscast, and the first half hour feels like it was edited by someone from a different planet. But once the movie settles in, it sings. Cameron Crowe has always been a master at incorporating music into his films, and Elizabethtown is the finest example of those gifts. The story finds a young man on the verge of suicide (Bloom) traveling to his father's hometown to bury him. Along the way, he meets a free-spirited flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) and they forge a connection. The film can't decide whether it wants to be a lighthearted rom-com, a touching family drama, or a screwball comedy, so it ends up being a bit of all three. It doesn't quite pull together, but the best moments are sublime, from the all-night phone call scene where Bloom and Dunst start to fall in love to the film's climactic sequence, where Bloom takes a road trip with his father's ashes, listens to mixtapes from the girl he loves, and finally starts to heal. The latter sequence alone wins 2005 in favor of Elizabethtown, even if the movie that houses it is unquestionably (but beautifully) flawed.
2006: Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell)
I didn't have high hopes when I walked into a showing of Casino Royale on Thanksgiving 2006. I'd loved Bond as a kid, but the last few films of the Pierce Brosnan era (particularly Die Another Day, arguably the series nadir) had turned me off. I didn't even follow the casting of the new Bond, and didn't even realize that Casino Royale was out in theaters until a few days after its release. But the film won me over again, rebooting Bond with grit and emotion that hadn't been there in the Brosnan films (or any previous Bond films, for that matter). Fast-forward 12 years and three more films and Casino remains, in my mind, the best 007 adventure ever. The not-so-secret weapon is Daniel Craig, keeping the charm, ego, and recklessness that's made Bond an icon, but allowing the character to bleed and break before the audience's eyes.
2007: Once (directed by John Carney)
Most cinephiles would tell you that 2007 was the best year of cinema this century. The Oscar Best Picture battle played out between two bruising, brutal films that are widely considered to be masterpieces (No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood), and the Academy didn't even nominate treasures like Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James, or Into the Wild. But my favorite 2007 film will always be the quaint and quiet Once. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who play the film's main couple, aren't actors. They play musicians because they are musicians, and they fell in love in real life just like they fell in love onscreen. As a result, Once feels innately real—occasionally uncomfortably so. When you see Hansard belting out "Say It To Me Now" on a street corner in the first scene of the film, the emotion cuts to the core because Hansard has been that guy, playing for tips to people who didn't appreciate his stunning gifts. When the two discover their musical chemistry to "Falling Slowly," it's a moment worthy of the Oscar it won—a moment that captures what it's like to find someone else who seems to hum at the same frequency you do. And when the camera pans out the window in the last scene of the film, with Irglova's character wondering what could have been and "Falling Slowly" playing again over the final scenes, it aches both with sadness and with a flicker of hope left hanging in the air.
2008: Iron Man (directed by John Favreau)
It's easy to forget now, after 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have taught us to expect fun, competently made comic book films at least two or three times a year, but Iron Man really felt like something special when it debuted on the first weekend of May 2008. At that point, Sony had crashed both X-Men and Spider-Man into the ground with laughable trilogy-ending films; Daredevil was DOA; Hulk got hit by a gamma ray of audience distaste; Ghost Rider was a trainwreck; and the less said about Fantastic Four, the better. The only comic book franchise still worth watching on the big screen was Batman, and that was thanks mostly to director Christopher Nolan and his dark, gritty vision. But then Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. took a B-list Marvel character and turned it into a franchise flagship. Without this film (and specifically, without Downey in the lead role), the MCU never happens. Downey oozes charisma, effortless humor, and arrogant charm in one of the most fun movie star performances of the past 10 years. With Downey's considerable presence as the foundation, Favreau builds Iron Man into the rare superhero film where the action sequences are less entertaining than what happens in between them. A decade later, it's still the most unique, well-made, and human film in the Marvel universe. (Note: Just about any comic book film fan would pick The Dark Knight here, but I actually think Iron Man is the finer start-to-finish film and holds up better upon rewatches.)
2009: Inglourious Basterds (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
My favorite Tarantino film and one of my five or ten favorite films of all time, Inglourious Basterds is the perfect mix of tension, humor, horror, and audacity. Revisionist history has never been as gleefully thrilling as watching Hitler and his compatriots get burned alive in a theater by a Jewish woman. Add Brad Pitt at his hammiest, Michael Fassbender in a breakout role, and The Office's BJ Novak as a diminutive Nazi killer, and Inglourious Basterds is already a fun house full of cinematic oddities. What gives the film the push into masterpiece territory is Christoph Waltz, showing up out of nowhere (his career up to this point had been German theater and TV movies) and acting like he owns the place. He does. His Nazi captain is shrewd, clever, logical, cruel, funny, ruthless, and horrifyingly likable. For my money, it is the greatest performance that any film actor has given in my lifetime.
All those things make this film a favorite for me, but it also holds a place near and dear to my heart for when I saw it. Inglorious Basterds released on August 21, 2009, which means I caught this violent, uproariously entertaining film with all my best friends in the summertime following our high school graduation, just days before we all packed up and went off to college. For nearly three hours we laughed, gasped, and sat on the edge of our seats as Tarantino's roller coaster of a war film unfolded. It was a perfect last hurrah, and one of my favorite movie-going experiences for how it crystallized something that would never be quite the same again.
2010: The Social Network (directed by David Fincher)
The Social Network was one of those films that just felt like a classic from the first time I saw it. Never mind that David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin supposedly played it pretty fast and loose with the so-called facts. Virtually everyone depicted in this film has, in some way or another, lambasted it as fiction. That's okay, though, because The Social Network is not meant to be an exact representation of how Facebook was born. Instead, it's a film about obsession and alienation, and it's tough to think of any movie that better reflects the zeitgeist of the modern world. There are a lot of questions here: about intellectual property and creativity; about inspiration; about friendship and connection in the internet age; about isolation and loneliness; about ethics and greed; and about the implications of everything these characters create together. But it's a testament to the quality of the film that it's just as good as a piece of pure pop entertainment, thanks to the haunting score and a slew of ace performances from future A-listers like Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, and Armie Hammer. Plus, there's something thrilling about watching Justin Timberlake, a mainstream pop establishment hero, cavort around as one of the guys who broke the music industry.
2011: Crazy Stupid Love (directed by Glenn Ficarra an John Requa)
There is no movie from the 2010s that I have watched more than Crazy Stupid Love. Some romantic comedies drown in cliches. This one takes a whole bundle of them—the old guy finding his way back to romance after a divorce, the uptight beauty who finally learns to cut loose, the adolescent boy in love with a girl who much older than him—and puts them in a blender. On the surface, it's just extremely pleasant watching the movie switch back and forth between the different storylines. The scenes with Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling are an especially enjoyable treat. But it's when the movie finally weaves everything together, in one of the ultimate rom-com "twist" scenes of all time, that the fireworks really start. If you haven't seen the movie, I won't give it away. Suffice to say, though, that every time I watch this movie and get to that part, it's still just as uproariously funny as it was the first time.
2012: Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)
I was so amped for Skyfall back in the fall of 2012. Leading up to the release of this movie, I'd been working my way through the better part of the Bond series as research for a paper I was writing about James Bond. (Fun fact: that paper ended up getting published in a scholarly journal.) I was the biggest Bond fan I knew, ready to mark the 50th anniversary in style. I had to wait. My girlfriend and I lived in different towns at the time, me finishing college and her in her first job. As luck (read: my careful planning) would have it, she was coming into town the weekend Skyfall hit theaters. The catch was that she wasn't coming until late Friday night, which meant we weren't going to get to see the movie until Saturday. I still remember sitting at the bar with my buddies on Thursday night around 11 p.m., watching the TV screens on the wall loop trailers of Skyfall. Every time the words "Starts Midnight" came on the screen at the end, I felt like I was being taunted. When I finally got to see the movie, it lived up to every expectation I had. Overflowing with thrilling setpieces, featuring my favorite cinematography of any 2010s movie, and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Skyfall earned its buzz as the "Best Bond Ever," even if I still prefer Casino Royale.
2013: About Time (directed by Richard Curtis)
About Time didn't get enough attention. Pitched as a time traveling rom-com in an era where rom-coms have largely dipped in popularity, it's actually a film that uses its high concept to tell an incredibly nuanced and moving story about life, love, family, and yes, time. It's fitting that a movie titled About Time uses time so expertly. There isn't a wasted frame here, and the story never rushes or wanders into territory where it doesn't belong. Instead, director Richard Curtis manages a years-spanning love story that actually earns the passage of time. The central love story deepens subtly as the movie goes on, and the core time travel conceit ends up being less of a gimmick to hang a story on and more a way to convey striking and deeply moving revelations about the nature of life. Every part of the movie is lovely, and every actor melts so seamlessly into Curtis's screenplay that you sometimes forget you're watching a film. But the heart of the picture is the interplay between Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy, who bring to life the most deeply-felt father-son relationship I have ever seen onscreen.
2014: Kingsman: The Secret Service (directed by Matthew Vaughn)
It's hard to believe Kingsman got made in this era. Egregiously violent, politically incorrect on almost every level, and featuring a scene where Colin Firth—a Best Actor winner known for playing straight-laced British roles—murders an entire church full of bigoted maniacs (while "Freebird" blares in the background, no less), Kingsman is a legitimately insane piece of cinema. It's also maybe the most purely fun movie I've seen this decade, stacking jokes on top of stylish action sequences and stylish action sequences on top of twists. It doesn't hurt that the supporting cast is a murderer's row of top-tier British talent (Firth, Michael Caine, and Mark Strong, all superb), or that Samuel L. Jackson is having maybe more fun than he's ever had on screen in any other project. And holy hell, did I mention the "Freebird" scene? In a decade where great action films seemed fewer and further between—or at least, more franchise-driven—Kingsman was a fresh, fun reminder of a bygone era when films like this were a little less rare.
2015: The Hateful Eight (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
It took me at least a few hours to pick my jaw up off the floor after watching The Hateful Eight for the first time. Even as someone who had seen every Tarantino film more than once and who considered him a favorite director, I don't think I was prepared for just how brutal this movie would be. So much of it is vintage Tarantino, from the cast to the dialogue to the aesthetic. But it's also a wild departure from the movies that came before it—big, crowd-pleasing, "good guys win" epics like Basterds, Django Unchained, and the Kill Bill films. Tarantino described The Hateful Eight as "a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true." There aren't any heroes here. Every character is as despicable as the next. As a result, there's no triumphant conclusion, and no one even worth rooting for. You just watch as Tarantino locks these eight people in a room, mounts a blizzard outside the doors, and tosses in a barrel of guns and a poisoned pot of coffee to see what happens. The result is one of the bloodiest, most brutal, and least predictable movies I have ever seen. I still haven't gone back for a rewatch, and I almost feel like I don't need to. That first viewing was as thrilling and memorable as any movie I've ever seen.
2016: La La Land (directed by Damien Chazelle)
I don't review movies. I don't even write about film very much, in any capacity. But I felt inclined to write something about La La Land when it came out, because I can count on one hand the number of times I've been more blown away in a movie theater. Sure, the songs are great. Sure, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have the best onscreen chemistry of any duo currently working in Hollywood. Sure, the choreography is stunning. But the best thing about this movie isn't the magic and majesty of the musical theater numbers. It's the depiction of big, impossible dreams and the toll they take on the people who dare to dream them. "I think it hurts a little too much," Emma Stone's character says in one scene, wavering on the edge of giving up. It's my single favorite line reading from any actor in any film released this decade, and it's not because it's big or showy or bombastic or even what they would put in the clip montage for an Oscar nomination. It's because that line reading captures the pain of failure with such realism and exhaustion that even thinking about it puts tears in my eyes. As someone who has chased this kind of dream and lost the race, that moment means more to me than maybe anything else I've ever seen in a movie.
2017: Coco (directed by Lee Unkrich)
I like a lot of Pixar movies. Ever since Toy Story blew the doors off my five-year-old mind, Pixar has repeatedly captured my imagination and made me reconsider what a movie could be. The company's boundless creativity, paired with a talent for populist crowd-pleasing entertainment, has resulted in a seriously enviable oeuvre of films. With all that said, Coco was the first Pixar movie in a long time to whisk me fully into its world. I liked Inside Out. I liked Up. I even liked unnecessary sequels like Finding Dory (or unnecessary prequels like Monsters University). But Coco was on another level. I genuinely believe this movie to be one of the most beautiful films ever made, whether in terms of visuals or story or music or themes. The questions this film asks and the things it has to say—about life; about death; about family; about memory and legacy; about culture; about music—are deep, rich, and nuanced. Just like Toy Story, this film should have won Best Picture. Just like Toy Story, it wasn't nominated.
2018: The Hate U Give (directed by George Tillman Jr.)
I didn't expect to be walloped by The Hate U Give in the way that I was. For one thing, I already knew the story, having been introduced to the book by my YA-fiction-loving, publishing-industry-involved wife. For another thing, film adaptations of bestsellers tend to be hit or miss—hence the complete absence on this list of Harry Potter movies, or Hunger Games movies, or any number of other films based on books I love. But thanks to a perfect cast and a script that mostly gets out of the way and lets the novel do the heavy lifting, watching this movie was every bit the emotionally draining experience that reading the book was. The Hate U Give makes big, timely, important statements about race and police violence in America. But it is also a beautiful film about family and friendship and the ways those bonds are tested for some of us more than others. Much has been made about how this movie tells a ripped-from-the-headlines story, so similar to many we've read about young black men being gunned down by trigger-happy police officers with zero accountability. But what makes The Hate U Give so special is that it puts you right there in the living room or kitchen or classroom with the people forced to deal with the fallout of those tragedies. The result is searing and heartbreaking and infuriating and resilient, and worthy of so much more attention than it's gotten so far.