Danielle Ryan's Favorite Movies Of All Time

Well hello there, /Film readers. It is I, Danielle Ryan. I've written as a freelancer for /Film for a while, but made the move to staff in the past few weeks. To introduce myself to you, the fine folks here have asked me to share my top 15 favorite movies.

Movies have helped shape and define me, so narrowing down my top 15 felt almost impossible. Movies have been my education, my companions, and my place of refuge. When nothing else in the world made sense, I always knew my favorite films could help me through. Each of the films here is a piece of me, in some way.

I made a few rules for myself when putting together this list. First, I wanted to avoid retreading old ground, so if I have previously written about a movie extensively, I nixed it. (That's why Midsommar is missing, but you can read about my love for that film here.) I also restricted myself to one film per director, mostly because it made it easier to narrow. Don't worry, there's a Star Wars and a Star Trek in my top 20, but they just didn't make this cut. I'm a little bummed there's no Scorsese or Fincher here, because I love them both, but the 15 movies here are just a tiny bit more important to me.

So here, without further ado, are 15 movies that made me the weirdo I am today.

15. The Blues Brothers

My dad helped shape a lot of my early movie tastes, and one movie we constantly watched together was The Blues Brothers. The John Landis-helmed musical comedy was based on a Saturday Night Live skit made famous by stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Aykroyd and Belushi play Elwood and "Joliet" Jake Blues, the titular Blues brothers. Jake is released from a three-year prison stint only to discover that the Catholic orphanage where he and Elwood were raised is in danger of being shut down. They decide to get their band back together for a massive charity concert to raise money for the orphanage. Along the way they share big musical numbers with such greats as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, and Chaka Khan.

I have family in and around Chicago, and watching The Blues Brothers became a familial rite of passage for all of us. The music is outstanding, the comedy is gut-busting, and my hero Carrie Fisher stars as Jake's jilted fiancée who tries to kill him after he left her at the altar. I will never forget what it felt like as an eight-year-old obsessed with Princess Leia to see her fire a rocket launcher. It was glorious.

14. Battle Royale

I spent my teens and a big chunk of my early twenties obsessed with subversive Japanese cinema. I discovered Takashi Miike's Audition when I was 14, and that was that. One of the movies I watched during that time was Battle Royale, about a government program that sends classes of middle schoolers to a remote island to fight to the death. Based on the novel of the same name by Koushun TakamiBattle Royale was a pre-Hunger Games shocker about youth rebellion, fascist governments, and incredible violence.

Battle Royale takes place in the near future, where a totalitarian government in Japan has enacted the "BR Act," which allows them to pick one junior high class per year to send to the island. Each student is outfitted with a metal collar that explodes when activated. They are told to avoid certain zones on the island that will detonate the collars, and each is given a bag with a random weapon. The weapons range in usefulness from an assault rifle to a cooking pot lid, so some kids are pretty doomed from the start. Only one survivor will be allowed off of the island, so it doesn't take long for the carnage to begin in earnest.

Japanese film icon Takeshi Kitano stars as the former homeroom teacher of the selected class, who ends up running this year's Battle Royale. The movie is thought-provoking and sometimes moving, but it's also got a wicked sense of humor. You just have to get past the buckets and buckets of blood.

13. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I know Hedwig and the Angry Inch, about a musician from East Berlin who undergoes a botched sex change, is problematic. The movie, based on the off-Broadway musical of the same name, stars writer/director John Cameron Mitchell as the titular Hedwig. There are layers and layers of discourse about transgender characters in film to be had here, but I can't deny the impact the movie had on my life.

I was a young, confused queer kid whose only understanding of breaking gender norms came from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.Hedwig's story, about feeling trapped in a body you didn't quite want, resonated deeply with me. The film's overall message, that you don't need another person to be complete, was also a huge help in surviving my teenage angst. Within the context of its time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a groundbreaking step forward. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and the soundtrack still positively slaps.

12. All Dogs Go to Heaven

While there are a handful of animated kids' flicks that hold a special place in my heart, All Dogs Go to Heaven has to be my ultimate favorite. The Don Bluth movie stars Burt Reynolds as the voice of Charlie B. Barkin, a German Shepherd that is murdered by his friend but decides to escape Heaven to finish business on Earth. It's pretty dark for a kid's flick, featuring a planned murder, kidnapping, child slavery, gambling, alcohol, and organized crime, but that's part of its charm. All Dogs Go to Heaven has some incredibly catchy tunes, and I find myself humming "Let Me Be Surprised" to myself all the time. It's one of those movies that nestled into my brain as a child and refuses to leave, but even my adult self can recognize the great voice performances and gorgeous animation. They just don't make 'em like this anymore.

11. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable

I'm a big Kill Bill fan, so when I discovered that the Female Prisoner Scorpion films served as inspiration for director Quentin Tarantino, I had to seek them out. The first one I was able to find was the third entry, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable. (The title is also sometimes translated as Female Convict Scorpion, for what it's worth.) Beast Stable continues the story of Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) after she escapes from prison and is on the run. The Female Prisoner Scorpion films are Japanese exploitation and are a take on women's prison films, so they're full of graphic content. Matsushima's story is a rape-revenge narrative at its heart, so prepare for some seriously traumatic scenes.

The Female Prisoner Scorpion movies are all pretty bleak, but Beast Stable gives Matsushima her first real friend in the form of a sex worker who takes her in. Matsushima is played to perfection by Kaji, who also sings the haunting themes for the films. She doesn't speak much, but when she does, it's worth paying attention. The cinematography and direction are out of this world. There's a lot of experimental shots with bright colors and unusual lighting that are reminiscent of both Expressionist and Giallo cinema. This is a beautiful bloody ballet of a movie that deserves a place in film history.

10. Bringing Up Baby

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant star in this Howard Hawks-helmed screwball comedy about a straight-laced paleontologist who gets mixed up with a flighty heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. Grant plays David Huxley, a paleontologist trying to secure a million dollar grant for his museum. His every attempt is foiled by Susan (Hepburn), who takes joy in seeing him get flustered. The two actors have amazing chemistry and their comedic work together is some of the best ever filmed. Susan's ability to vex David is compounded when she comes into possession of a tame pet leopard named Baby. She asks for his help in controlling the jungle cat, and serious hijinks ensue.

Bringing Up Baby moves at a breakneck pace and features a dozen tiny jokes a minute, so multiple viewings are almost a must. It's one of the most brilliantly edited and acted comedies ever made, and it's just a lot of stinking fun.

9. The Evil Dead

I've always had a soft spot for DIY-filmmakers. From Robert Rodriguez to Kevin Smith, these scrappy creatives made me feel like I could make my own movies. None had quite the impact as Sam Raimi, however, and his 1981 debut feature The Evil Dead is everything I love about truly independent filmmaking.

Bruce Campbell stars as Ash Williams, who would go on to be a chainsaw-wielding, one-liner dropping action-horror hero. Here, he's just a scared college-age kid who accidentally summons the forces of hell while on a trip with his friends in the woods. Campbell's physical comedy in Evil Dead II almost edged it out over the original, but there's something special about the homemade grunginess here. Sure, you can see the seams in the costumes, but it doesn't matter because The Evil Dead is still really freaking scary. It's played straight-faced, without any of the horror-comedy elements of later entries, and it still gives me the creeps. Hail to the king, baby.

8. The Brothers Bloom

I'll be honest — I dig everything director Rian Johnson's ever made. His 2008 dramedy caper, The Brothers Bloom, is my favorite, just barely edging out his debut feature, BrickThe Brothers Bloom is a storyteller's dream. It follows con men Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and his younger brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) as they try to pull an elaborate con on lonely heiress Penelope (Rachel Weiss). Stephen plans every caper down to the minute detail, in order to tell the best story and "give everyone what they want."

Johnson pulls back the curtain a bit on his own storytelling, explaining numerous theatrical devices as plot points. There are layers of enjoyment here. You can appreciate just how fun, sweet, and funny this movie is on a surface level, but you can also see a master storyteller reveling in the art of his craft. I love when filmmakers get meta, and Johnson is one of the greatest at doing just that. The Brothers Bloom is a story about stories, and how trying to force real life to follow tropes can lead to dire consequences.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road

What can I say about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn't already been said? George Miller's 2015 post-apocalyptic odyssey is one of the few films I will call "perfect." I love all of the Mad Max films (yes, even Tina with the big hair in Beyond Thunderdome), but Fury Road is a feat of filmmaking. Charlize Theron's character, Imperator Furiosa, is the kind of badass action heroine I longed for growing up. I mean, c'mon, this movie features man chained to a moving vehicle, playing a guitar that shoots fire. How could it not be perfect?

6. In Bruges

If there's one movie that perfectly sums up my warped, somewhat dry sense of humor, it's In Bruges. Writer/director Martin McDonagh's debut feature tells the story of two hitmen hiding out in Bruges, Belgium, after an assignment goes terribly wrong. Ray (Colin Farrell) is stricken with guilt by what happened and doesn't feel much like sight-seeing. His partner, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) tries to make the best of things by showing Ray all of the tourist destinations, to Ray's chagrin. When Ray meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy), a beautiful and bright local woman working on a movie set, he decides Bruges might not be so bad after all. At least until his furious and murderous assassin boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), gets there anyway.

In Bruges is pitch-black comedy. The protagonists certainly aren't heroes, but they're likable and relatable enough to care about. Farrell and Gleeson are both great and have a fantastic rapport, but it's Fiennes as the unhinged mob boss that steals the show. There's nothing that can make me laugh quite like In Bruges.

5. The Lighthouse

Writer-director Robert Eggers made a movie that feels like it condenses everything I learned in American Lit and Film 101 into a singular vision of madness. The Lighthouse mixes mythology with the mundane, telling the story of Prometheus through two lighthouse keepers trapped on an island together. In the script, the two men are named "Young" (Robert Pattinson) and "Old" (Willem Dafoe), in part because it is a story of changing identities. It also follows in the Promethean vein, in which the young Prometheus stole light from the elder sea god, Proteus. Similarly, Young wishes to work in the lamp of the lighthouse, but Old keeps him away from the light.

Eggers and his co-writer, his brother Max, based all of the dialogue on scores of diaries and journals of lighthouse keepers, called "wickies." There's an authenticity to the dialogue, even when they're yelling about one another's farts or cooking skills. He also shot the film on old lenses, and did all of the special visual effects in-camera. Watching The Lighthouse with the director's commentary on is this cinephile's dream.

4. Pulp Fiction

The year: 1998. A pop-culture obsessed 9-year-old parks in front of the TV to watch a special on VH1 about "the coolest movies ever made." In a segment devoted to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, she sees John Travolta and Uma Thurman doing the twist and decides that this movie is the ultimate in cool without having even seen it. That kid was me, and when I finally did get to see Pulp Fiction a few years later, my beliefs were confirmed. Here was a movie about gangsters who not only talked like gangsters, but they made jokes about '70s TV shows while doing it.

Tarantino's reference-drenched dialogue spoke to me as a fellow movie obsessive. Pulp Fiction tells three interwoven stories about gangsters in Los Angeles and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Travolta, Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and more. It's a quintessential crime movie and one of the most influential movies ever made. (Seriously, everyone and their mother tried to make their own Pulp Fiction in the '90s.) Pulp Fiction was the movie that started my interest in indie films, Tarantino, and eventually exploitation cinema, so it's an integral part of my movie-lover journey.

3. Blade Runner

Ridley Scott's 1982 film about a group of renegade androids on the run and the Blade Runner who hunts them was the movie that made me fall in love with movies. I was 12 the first time I saw it, and I remember asking my dad why there were "black bars" on the screen (for letterboxing). It felt like my first "grown-up" movie, and I immediately fell in love with its science fiction setting, beautiful cinematography, and compelling characters. I already had a serious fondness for android stories thanks to Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, so this was the logical next step.

Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as Deckard, a Blade Runner who hunts down rogue replicants (a fancy word for androids) for a living. It's only when he meets the mysterious replicant Rachel (Sean Young) that he begins to question his work. Loosely based on the Phillip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Blade Runner is a thought-provoking dive into our ideas about sentience. Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah steal every scene as two of the renegade replicants who escaped and are looking for their creator. There are multiple available cuts of Blade Runner, but I recommend anyone who hasn't seen it before start with The Director's Cut. Trust me, no one needs to hear Ford's voiceover from the theatrical version.

2. Slither

James Gunn's directorial debut, Slither, is a gross-out romantic horror-comedy about a small town in South Carolina invaded by alien slugs that turn people into zombies. Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) has had a life-long crush on schoolteacher Starla (Elizabeth Banks), but she's married to the richest guy in town, Grant Grant (Michael Rooker). Grant and Starla's marriage is on the rocks, but everything changes when Grant stumbles across an alien egg and is taken over by what's inside. His transformation is dramatic, to say the least. He starts hoarding raw meat, killing the neighbor's pets, and makes a nest in the basement. Needless to say, it does not bode well for Starla, Bill, or anyone else in town.

Slither is fantastically gross, wicked funny, and features some of my favorite actors having a ball. There's a lot of heart under all of the gags and gore, placing Slither at the penultimate point on my favorite movie list.

1. Cecil B. Demented

I love movies, so it makes sense that a movie about movies and the people who love them would be my #1. Perverse provocateur John Waters wrote and directed this ode to cinema's misfits, about an independent movie crew that become a cult. Cecil B. Demented stars Stephen Dorff as the titular Cecil, a renegade indepedent movie director who convinces his crew to kidnap movie star Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) to star in his movie. They start acting as "cinema terrorists," attacking a screening of a Patch Addams sequel, holding a Baltimore film convention party hostage, and eventually crashing the set of Forrest Gump 2. By the time their rampage is over, people are dead and families are broken, but cinematic history has been made.

Cecil B. Demented is Waters at his filthy, subversive best. Like all of his films, Cecil B. Demented loves the very people it's skewering. Waters has a clear fondness for misfits, and each of the many unusual Sprocketholes (the name Cecil gives to the crew) are depicted with love. As a teenager, I really identified with Cecil, because he spoke to my own punk, non-conformist ideals. As an adult, I realized that Waters is poking fun at himself with Cecil, and that it's possible to take movies too seriously. Cecil B. Demented is crass, funny, and sometimes sweet, but most of all, it's a perfect tribute to all of the weirdos out there who love movies more than anything.