As any Letterboxd loyalist will tell you, there are few things as telling as someone’s top four films. These selections can make or break a friendship. Seriously, do you really want to get to know a person who has “The Emoji Movie” in their top four?
I will now unabashedly profess my Letterboxd top four to the world. If you find yourself in strong agreement with my selections, I congratulate you for having immaculate taste in film. And if you find yourself deeply offended, please keep any and all complaints to yourself, as I am very fragile.
1. “La La Land” — dir. Damien Chazelle
There is no film more sublime than Damien Chazelle ’07’s 2016 masterpiece “La La Land.” Beginning with one of film’s most artfully choreographed opening numbers, this movie lets viewers know that they are about to witness a pure old Hollywood spectacle. The bright costumes, sprawling Los Angeles scenery, and picturesque cinematography all make this modern love story a pleasure to watch. The iconic dancing among the stars at the Griffith Observatory will forever be one of my favorite moments in cinema, a whimsical blend of story and artistry.
As for the acting, Emma Stone is superb as Mia, a struggling actress trying to achieve her dream while pursuing a relationship with the equally ambitious Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Stone plays her role in the couple’s star-crossed tale with extremely nuanced and genuine emotions, most notably in her Oscar-securing audition scene near the film’s close. Mia and Sebastian’s longing expressions in the film’s final montage, which brutally details the joyous life the two could have led, sets this complex love story apart within an often cliché genre.
It would be remiss not to include praise for the film’s soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz ’08. Rarely do I find myself going back to listen to a movie’s score and soundtrack, but “La La Land” is the wonderful exception. Gems such as “Someone in the Crowd” and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” will assure viewers that this work is not only a cinematic achievement, but a musical one as well.
Plus, Damain Chazelle is a 2007 graduate of Harvard College. Show some school spirit and watch.
2. “Toy Story 3” — dir. John Lasseter
Although my love for this film is mainly rooted in feelings of nostalgia, that is not to say it is lacking in any aspect. Easily the most emotionally rich film in the “Toy Story” franchise, the story follows Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang as they try to grapple with Andy’s departure for college and their ensuing feelings of worthlessness. The film is Pixar’s finest tear-jerker. The final scene when Andy gives his toys away to bring happiness to another child is both soul-crushing and hopeful, a potent mix that transcends any gripes about this being just another “kids’ movie.”
Beyond its emotional heft, the animation in this film is gorgeous. One scene that stands out in particular is the introduction of Andy’s toys to Sunnyside Daycare, which is accompanied by an eye-catching, multi-color spectacle of all kinds of new toys. And the plot contains one of cinema’s most shocking twists to date. No first time viewer can claim to have predicted that Lots-o’-Huggin Bear, the jolly old leader of Sunnyside, is secretly a diabolical mastermind with no intention of letting the toys leave. It is no mistake that “Toy Story 3” is only one of three animated films to have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
3. “The Big Short” — dir. Adam McKay
Ever since seeing this movie at far too young an age, I have been infatuated with the work of Adam McKay. A brilliant satirist best known for films such as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and “Step Brothers,” McKay’s foray into the world of historical films is equal parts disturbing, informative, and funny.
With a stacked cast including Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell — who delivers his best dramatic performance ever — McKay’s film allows no room for boredom. The impeccable acting is paired with razor-sharp dialogue, surprising editing choices which intersperse various images to reinforce the film’s meaning, and memorable celebrity cameos.
“The Big Short” challenges traditional modes of storytelling and satire at every turn, making it an entirely singular experience that will leave viewers satisfied, yet unsettled. Skip McKay’s newest Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” and opt for this much more clever satire instead.
4. “The Father” — dir. Florian Zeller
Coming in at number four is the most obscure film of the bunch, Florian Zeller’s 2020 triumph “The Father,” which is based on a play of the same name. While this film seems at first glance to be nothing more than a predictable, sad tale of a man with dementia, viewers will quickly learn that this is not the case.
The film recounts the daily happenings in a London flat through the eyes of Anthony Hopkins, who plays the titular father battling memory loss. As such, it is almost impossible for viewers to discern between reality and delusion for the entirety of this tragedy, which is disguised as a sort of psychological thriller. The result is a film which leaves viewers with more questions than answers, a frustrating feeling that poignantly mimics only a fraction of the pain Hopkins’ character must be enduring. And as always, Olivia Colman is fantastic.
More than anything, this movie — particularly its concluding scene, in which Hopkins undoubtedly cements his status as the actor of a generation — will linger with viewers long after it ends. Whether or not those watching have a personal connection to someone with dementia, this film will enhance viewers’ compassion and understanding of the disease, a true testament to the power of films.
—Staff writer Brady M. Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.