Our Favorites: Top 10 Movies


We are all a little stir crazy with COVID-19.  Below is our top 10 list of movies.  You can see how divergent our tastes run in marriage.  This has become a must-see list for our kids.  We encourage you to check them out.


-John Hugh

My top 10 list are my favorites.  These films mean the most to me.  They speak to who I am and want to be, challenging me to adventure.  They are also very entertaining, and I love to be entertained.  Yet all have deeper meanings than pure escapism.  They have been formative in stirring me to larger vision for life itself.

#1 The Sound of Music

It has not always had first place.  I have always loved it:  alpine scenery, World War II history, music, and Salzburg.  Yet a few years back, it catapulted to first place.  This is because our family all came to love this movie, particularly our middle son on the autism spectrum.  We sang, and still sing, every song.  I relate to the characters, the love story, and the challenge of putting something behind to move on to greater heights and experiences.  Each scene, each song holds a special place for me.  Yes, all the songs.

#2 Raiders of the Lost Ark

I have always loved Indy.  My Dad took me to see Temple of Doom at the old Cine in New Albany.  The line stretched past the bank where he works up up to the Methodist Church down the street.  I’ll never forget that image.  To me, this is the classic tale of adventure and daring.  How is it deeper?  It is in many ways:  giving your life to adventure, history, and truth; opening up a world, physically and intellectually, of curiosity, romance, and innovation.

 I love when Indy says,  “I don’t know, I’m making it up as I go along.”  So true for many of us.  What he doesn’t make up is the willingness to go and do whatever it takes for the goal.  The film plays into something always beyond, the grandeur and vastness of God Himself.  This is always a goal worth seeking.

#3 Casablanca

This film was, out of all I have listed, the one that was most definitive and inspirational for my young life.  It simply opened up a new world for me, one I knew I had to get to.  I rented the VHS as a 9th grader.  I couldn’t drive yet, loved movies, and made a goal to watch every Best Picture winner that I could while at home on weekends.

Casablanca was transportive and transformative for me, even as the 1943 Best Picture winner.  Like many, I soon fell in love with Ingrid Bergman.  Her Ilsa is radiant.  But it wasn’t just her looks; it was her personality and performance.  Then there was Rick, the forerunner to Indiana Jones and Han Solo.  The guy who would do the right thing, yet never want anyone to know it.  There was the setting Casablanca in World War II (again!), the plight of refugees, the sacrifices for love in war, and “we’ll always have Paris.”  We always will, wherever we are.

#4 The Godfather

In most best lists, Godfather or Citizen Kane gets #1.  In terms of the best film of all time, I’d easily put it at the top.  For me personally, it fall down a few slots.  Yet not by much.  When I first saw it, I was captivated.  It is visually stunning, of New York and Sicily in the postwar era.  It soaks with intrigue.  It is the American story.  Its first line is:  “I believe in America.”  It was made to be a parable of the American dream gone wrong. It was criticized for glorifying the mob, which is valid.  There is the family patriarch, who did what he did so his sons could be “Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone.”  We see the unwise son, the failed son, and the smart son, who was an American hero, only to traverse down a dark path, and thought he did so for the right reasons, for his family.  Where it takes him, and us, keeps one enthralled and glued to the narrative.

#5 (tie) It’s a Wonderful Life

Rounding out my first five is a tie.  A slight edge is given to George Bailey and Christmas.  This has been a family movie for me since growing up, yet it’s about much more than family or Christmas.  It transcends both.  It’s about being where you are, doing all you can for a community, and that no one is a failure who has friends.  Like many, I relate to George Bailey.  The young adventurous spirit who wants to see the world and finds himself residing in Bedford Falls.  When our sights are always outward, we miss out on the gifts of our present home.  I feel like I grew up in Bedford Falls.  I know many George Baileys.  I’m so grateful to having experienced both.  Seeing and sharing this film helps me realize it.

#5 (tie) The Empire Strikes Back

Everybody has their favorite Star Wars film.  This is not only mine, I’d argue it’s head and shoulders above all the rest, even the original.  There is no “original three.”  There’s Empire, and then the rest.  It alone catapulted the entire series.  Again, the visuals were stunning:  Hoth, Dagobah, the Asteroids, Cloud City.  Han and Leia converge with “I love you,” and “I know.”  And the stunner of all stunners (hope you’ve seen it!):  “Luke, I am your father.”  What just happened?  I had to wait 3 years to find out.  The inner depth and outer scope of this movie is unparalleled.  It is the star that all Star Wars, and even science fiction movies, aim for.  It has yet to be eclipsed.

#6 The Shawshank Redemption

I believe this is the greatest Christian movie of all time.  Yes, I said that.  The Shawshank Redemption has the strongest depiction of a biblical worldview, at least for me, I have seen.  You have a narrative of:  creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  I’ve written doctoral papers on this film.  There is a Christ figure.  There is a character representing humanity.  There is a descent.  There is, as the title states, redemption.  There is restoration.  There is an image of heaven.  It’s so good and so true.  I show my high school class of Biblical Worldview students this film every year.  They love it.  It’s all about hope.  I paraphrase Morgan Freeman’s words near the end:  “Get busy living, or get busy dying…I feel the freedom only a free man can feel at the start of a long journey….I hope I get to see my friend…I hope.”  Shawshank points us to hope, the real engine of living.

#7 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

This is a James Bond movie.  It is one few people know and fewer people count as the best.  I am in the latter group.  The Bond movies have a top tier and this one takes the first prize (the others in that tier are Casino Royale, From Russian With Love, SkyFall, and The Spy Who Loved Me – two with Craig, one with Connery, and one with Moore).  I put it on this list, however, not because I think it’s the best Bond, but I have my reasons for ranking it so high amongst Bond movies.  I could write more of this film than any other on the list.  Again, spectacular vistas being filmed in the Swiss Alps and the Portuguese coast.  The story is captivating and relevant – biological warfare to create a global pandemic.  The villain is stellar – Telly Savalas as Blofield.  The ski scenes are the best of any Bond film.  And the female lead is the best of them all – Diana Rigg as Tracy.

Okay, so, what makes this one different?  Bond undergoes a metamorphosis, from over-confident assassin to vulnerable man.  He actually falls in love.  There is more emotional depth, character chemistry, and personal trajectory here than in all the rest.  In fact, to get the character of Bond, you have to watch this movie.  It defines everything else.  Casino Royale was not a remake of this film, yet it attempted to harness its spirit.  It came close.  Last, I love how Tracy goes from a wounded, vulnerable woman to confident and assured whereas James Bond himself moves in the opposite direction.  They meet in the middle.  It is, above all the hair raising adventure and suspense, a love story.  And I love this film.

#8 Saving Private Ryan

This is movie I don’t find myself watching regularly, or even desire to do so.  The reason is it simply takes me to a place I don’t want to go.  Yet we all need to be there at times.  I’ve never served in the military, one of my only regrets.  I do love history and, as you may have guessed, World War II is where I often land.  I believe in the idea of the Greatest Generation.  This is the Greatest Generation’s movie, along with Band of Brothers mini-series.  The footage of the D-Day landings garners few words.  The closing battle sequence is extremely unsettling in its intimate depictions, all the way down to hand to hand combat of Americans and Germans.  There are characters I care for deeply here, and they quickly die.  Above all, this movie displays the great sacrifice of our veterans, and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  It puts much in perspective.

#9 Love Actually

This is my controversial choice outside of the Bond movie.  Yet I love this movie for so many reasons. It is a Christmas movie, and yet it isn’t, as Christmas is only sets the scene.  The primary reason I love it is because it gives diverse depictions of love between human beings.  There is the love of a sister and brother who has special needs.  There is the grief of one who lost his spouse and finds love in his stepson.  There is unrequited love.  There is new love, from a Prime Minister to one spurned.  There is falling in love with someone of a different culture and language.  There is the love of two friends.  I find it very funny.  I love the music.  I love London and the British.  I don’t recommend it to everyone.  But it is on my list.

#10 (tie) Inception

I close with another tie.  I cannot list only one of these because I enjoy each immensely, and they both come from my favorite director, Christopher Nolan.  For me, the way he sculpt and shapes films are not simply impactful or transportive, they are mind-blowing.  I give Inception a brief edge.  I love Inception for many reason: settings of Paris and the mountains.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of Nolan’s favorite films and he modeled the mountain scenes after it.  I love how Inception is about team dynamics, the father-son relationships, the love stories within it – for spouse and children.

Yet a deeper meaning is found in the title.  The plot circles literally around how to get someone to buy into your own idea.  I’ve found this true in many instances.  If someone thinks an idea is not their own, their own pride may make them not adopt it.  Yet if they believe the idea is theirs, they embrace it.  This is a consequence of our sin and lack of humility, but I find it relevant.  You may have a good idea, yet the only way it becomes reality is if someone else thinks it’s their idea.  So how do you get them to see it?  How can you put it in someone else’s mind?  Amid stunning visuals and action, this is the core tenet of the film (no pun intended, yet rumor is Tenet is the sequel of Inception).

#10 (tie) The Dark Knight

Batman has always been my favorite superhero.  I was raised with Adam West and Burt Ward.  My Dad built a pole we could slide down from on our treehouse.  I have always loved the Michael Keaton & Jack Nicholson Batman.  This film took the legend to another level.  Of course, there is Heath Ledger’s Joker.  And Christian Bale is tremendous.  But this film is all about its title – The Dark Knight.  It is dark.  The darkness of sin, people who just want to watch the world burn, and the darkness people themselves can go to stop evil.  In fact, it’s not only dark, it’s grey.  Black and white, good and evil is upended to a world of where they intermingle.  It does not all end well.  Yet there is a hero.  There are great sacrifices.  It is superb entertainment.



My top 10 list is not an all time favorites list.  Nor are these films all critically acclaimed.  I am not the cinephile that John Hugh is, as you can see by the emotion and excitement he catalogs his top 10 favorites.   John Hugh would say he has graciously expanded my horizons and taste in movies.

Instead, I have listed the top 10 movies that made an outsized impact on me from a young child up to 18 years old.  All of them are “old” movies – that’s what happens when your teenager gives you that blank look when you name a movie.  Some are controversial, but I cannot deny the impact!  My top 10 are listed in no particular order, unlike my husband’s.

#1   Out of Africa

Aren’t some of your favorite movies the ones your parents’ introduced you to?  My father introduced me to this sweeping story of love and colonialism.  Perhaps he identified with Denys played by Robert Redford.  My father quit his job in his mid-20s to backpack around the world, starting in Australia.  He met my mom along the way in Vietnam and got a gig with an oil company to start a family.  My father’s love of adventure, desire to understand other cultures, and his natural curiosity deeply impacted me, along with this movie.

#2   The Original Star Wars Trilogy (Episode IV – VI)

When you grow up without a TV until the age of 10, you watch the same movies over and over again.  This was one of the few movies we had access to on the island of Kalimantan, as my father’s company was drilling offshore in Indonesia.  Thankfully, they were worth every second of the 100 times over, literally, that I watched them before the age of 10.

#3  West Side Story (1961)

Another favorite of my father’s that along with my choral teacher, Gary Cramer, at the American School of the Hague, opened my world to the magic of theater, music, and dance – all together.  This modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet first clued me into a world of classical opera, literature, and plays that were worth investigating beyond the realm of cinema.

#4   Karate Kid

I can’t help, but think this timeless classic was meant for the generations after seeing my oldest whip off his shirt and tie a bandana around his forehead the first time he watched it.  For me, I got a taste of American high school culture that I was aware of, but not part of living abroad.   Little did I know the story of the underdog is emblematic of Americana.  I did see an Asian character, Mr. Miyagi, that made sense to me.  My own mother was more Vietnamese than American and spoke in cryptic language that even I had to struggle to understand.   I saw a little of my private world being projected on screen.

#5  Pretty in Pink

For a young girl, idealistic romance can be an intoxicating drug.  Growing up, I loved this coming of age predictable mix of a rich kid, dorky friend, and intelligent girl trying to figure out who they are.  The movie dives into the central dilemma of adolescence, that one’s dreams are so much larger than one’s confidence.    So true for me as a teenager, and true today for my current teenage boy.

#6  Hannah and Her Sisters

This movie made me want to live in New York City.  I fell in love with every backdrop of Manhattan presented in the film, so sure I would one day end up at NYU or living in New York on my own.  More importantly, this movie made me feel relieved that sister relationships can be complicated.

#7  The Godfather

This would be my first move into real cinema according to my husband.   Coming from an Italian American family on my dad’s side, I loved seeing an entirely closed world, with little segments imitated in my own family.  Loyalty to family provides a rich backdrop for every kind of conflict and sin.  Unearthing the complex motives of heroes keeps me coming back regularly to this movie and the whole trilogy.

#8  Philadelphia

For many a controversial pick, but this movie matches twin passions of mine:  seeing people for who they really are & seeking mercy for the vulnerable.  Now as a conservative Christian, my passions haven’t really changed, and often it makes comfortable Christian uncomfortable to be around me. 

 #9  Braveheart

I am squeezing in these last two movies as they were released after my 18th birthday.  Mel Gibson always provides a visceral movie, and I surprise myself ranking this movie so high with battle scenes that are frequent, bloody, and violent.  It is the trauma story of loss (loss of a father, brother, and wife) that births the ferocious heart of William Wallace.  When I first watched the movie, I instinctively knew our wounds are what convicts us to give our lives and our passions to a cause or a belief or a person.

#10  Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I have watched this movie endless times. Although I love the story of Pride and Prejudice more, the wit of this screenplay won me over.   Another sister movie (I am one of three sisters), I loved the mix of social satire and family drama.  The comedy of manners and restrictions of social class fascinate me.  Those who feel the need to enforce social order by repression or conniving are great studies of our capacity to sin while looking refined.  I went on to memorize Shakespeare Sonnett 116 for myself, a great reminder we can store great literature and great movies in our hearts.


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