Ariel Fisher’s Favorite Movies of All Time
It’s strange being asked to write something about yourself where you work. I’ve been writing about and for myself for years now, but somehow doing it this publicly always feels like putting on shoes that are one size too big. Alas, I digress already.
Unfortunately, it’s a habit. I’ll try to keep it contained.
Anyway! I’m Ariel Fisher and I’ve been freelancing for /Film for a few years now. I’ve recently become the latest editorial addition to the news desk and I’m absolutely in love with the job and the team already. Part of the “initiation” process, if you can call it that, for new /Film staff members is to share your 15 favorite films.
You know, give the world a bit of a glimpse into what drives you, what compels you, where you derive your creativity, and your weirdness. All the good stuff.
So, I am here to make a solid effort at sharing some of my absolute favorite films. Some of them may make perfect sense based on what you know about me. Others may seem way out in the left-field or may surprise you. I consider this confusion my ultimate success! But in all seriousness, I love the opportunity to share a bit about what makes me tick and so much of that is because of the influence of film.
I’ve been watching movies since before I can remember to the point where I legitimately can’t remember the first movie I saw. The first one I saw in theaters I know was Home Alone. I was 2 years old and I cried every single time Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern were on screen. The only reason I know any of this is because my parents told me about it. Since then, movies have been a source of joy and catharsis over the years. They’ve offered me an escape when I needed to switch off, levity when I needed to unplug, deep and profound emotional stimulation when I was overcome, and comfort when I felt alone.
These are some of those movies. I tried to avoid ranking them because how can I? But, alas, guidelines exist to be followed (and played with)! That said, the ranking of my top 12 is relatively arbitrary, but my top 3 are in order.
15. Legend (1985)
Let’s talk about the magnificent identity crisis that was Legend! No, not the one with Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy. The one with Tom Cruise as a bit of a dweeb, Mia Sara getting in touch with her dark side, and Tim Curry as the kinkiest Darkness in history.
This may be one of the most formative films of my entire life. It spoke to a deeply buried part of myself I didn’t know existed until I was in my late 20s. A part of myself I was made to feel afraid of, ashamed of, and wrong for containing (however inadvertently).
When I finally realized I was pansexual, the reasons I loved this movie became crystal clear. And none of it had to do with Tom Cruise.
Lili (Sara) and Darkness (Curry) represented different parts of myself. Lili’s light but rambunctious side was my stifled sense of self, the restrained version of me I thought was my reality. Darkness and Dark Lili, on the other hand, were the parts of myself that I kept hidden, buried. A sense of duality, of masculine and feminine energy that stemmed from strength, anger, fearlessness, and passion. In them I saw the parts of myself I didn’t know how to access, the parts I was scared of. It served as a gateway of sorts into seeing my queerness as something to embrace rather than be afraid or ashamed of. It lead me to movies like Interview with the Vampire, Desperado, and what I like to call Bi Panic: The Movie, The Mummy (1999), films that would evoke aspects of my queerness before I ever knew what they were.
A deeply personal entry that I’ve wanted to dig into for some time. Maybe someday soon I’ll really dig into it. We are getting rid of the comments section, after all!
14. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Beeban Kidron’s campy romp took action stars and made them into drag queens (). But what was more important is none of it was done to mock the people they were emulating. On the contrary, it was executed with the utmost love, respect, and admiration.
I saw this movie for the first time when I was working as an administrative assistant in my late 20s. I hadn’t come out as pansexual yet to myself, let alone my boyfriend at the time or my family, and there was a part of me ready to explode that I couldn’t quite identify.
I’d be lying if I said To Wong Foo magically taught me what I was hiding from myself. But it did spark something remarkable. I let go of a lot of fear of myself when I watched it for the first time. On subsequent revisits (of which there have been many), it would unlock other smaller parts of myself I’d inadvertently kept shut away. In many ways, it became a gateway for me into a community I never realized I was a part of, and one that I worried I wasn’t “queer enough” to belong to.
13. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
The endlessly quotable Young Frankenstein is a mainstay for myself, my mom, and my husband. My mom and I will randomly devolve into giggle fits after quoting “Stay close to the candles…” at each other while Jon and I will frequently finish a string of questions with “Ovaltine! Perhaps?” That said, I’m obligated to put Robin Hood: Men in Tights on this list instead for very personal reasons as it connects to my anxiety disorder which started when I was in the 10th grade. It would continue, on and off, for years. Decades, now. But for whatever reason, putting on Robin Hood: Men in Tights would help me center myself.
I’d been watching the movie since I was a child and, similarly to several other titles on this list, could quote it in my sleep. I watched it a lot when I was really little and was teased relentlessly at school. I think that’s a big reason why it’s so comforting to me. It was a constant even when I was alone.
When I was in my first year of university, my anxiety disorder got worse. I started having recurring debilitating panic attacks that made it almost impossible to even sleep. One time sticks out in my mind. I was shivering uncontrollably (as a body in panic mode is wont to do), so my housemates took me up to bed and helped tuck me in. I asked them to put on my DVD of Men in Tights and they stayed with me until I fell asleep while I recited every line through chattering teeth and heaving sobs. Eventually, I calmed down enough to get some rest.
To this day, and actually within the last couple of months, if I’m having a panic attack I can’t work through on my own, I will put on Men in Tights and quote it into oblivion. For whatever reason, it helps, and I’ll never really care to find out exactly why.
12. A Serious Man (2009)
The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man was the single most Jewish movie I’d ever seen until it was joined (not dethroned) by the exceptional Shiva Baby this year. As our own, many of us at /Film are liable to include a Coen Brothers film, and this one is mine.
As Jews, we really rarely get movies that so accurately capture the experience of Jewishness outside of our oppression, the Holocaust, or Orthodoxy, and it’s seldom with any kind of catharsis. It’s downright punishing, honestly, which is oddly fitting? But mostly obnoxious and hurtful.
Then, in comes A Serious Man with its distinctly Jewish humor, heart, and neuroses along with a dash of Jewish mysticism and folklore at the beginning just to spice things up. I’ve watched this movie with non-Jews and seen their eyes glaze over. That’s ok. You don’t have to understand it all. But this movie is absolutely hilarious, brilliantly poignant, and one of the best films about Jewishness ever made.
11. The Red Violin (1998)
The little-known Canadian-Italian-American-British-Austrian co-production is a film I would (and have) called a masterpiece without hesitation. Its tagline is apt, stating “Passion Is Timeless.” This is essentially Passion Across Time: The Movie, and not in the way you might assume. At times raw and almost animalistic in its portrayal of desire and passion in its many forms, The Red Violin is a mystery told across centuries. Its impact grows with each rewatch, and its soundtrack is devastatingly beautiful. I don’t want to say much more than that. I’m not protecting you from any huge third-act twists you won’t likely guess. But the impact of this film is immense regardless, and you deserve to experience that full-tilt.
Moody, atmospheric, captivating, frightening, and heartbreaking, The Red Violin is a masterpiece.
10. Little Women (1994)
Gillian Armstrong and Robin Swicord’s remarkable adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel lives in a special little nook in my heart. Although I’m Jewish, my family has always celebrated Christmas. My dad experienced it as a kid because the neighbors thought it was more fun than Channukah (they were right). So, growing up, I got Christmas presents. Little Women on VHS is the one I remember most clearly, and I will forever associate the joy it brings with that morning.
Where previous adaptations of the material largely failed its heroines (yes, even Katherine Hepburn), Armstrong and Swicord elevated the March women to a standing Alcott would have been proud of. Its predecessors from 1918, 1933, and 1949 reduced sisters Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy and their beloved Marmee to tawdry facsimiles of their true potential. The 1994 Little Women‘s portrayal of Beth’s chronic illness reflected my own aunt’s ongoing health battles that would last 25 years until her passing 3 years ago last month. My mom and I still think of Claudia and miss her tremendously whenever we watch it, together or apart.
Jo not only made me want to be a writer but helped me see that I could and that women could. That we can defy expectations if we’re brave, and support those who can’t do so alone. I even periodically call my own mom Marmee as a sign of affection and admiration.
Greta Gerwig would further elevate the characters, especially Miss Amy. But we, and I, owe so much to this iteration.
9. Back to the Future Trilogy
Is this a bit of a cheat? Maybe. But I think rules exist to be bent sometimes for the purpose of joy — just ask of the!
This trilogy is one of the most formative in this collection. It’s one of the earliest sets of films I actively remember watching, and it’s been a constant source of comfort my entire life. The first is a classic and they still use its expertly crafted screenplay to teach screenwriting students. The second goes to darker places that force us to think about the consequences of our actions. And the third prioritizes dealing with those consequences as if they were a matter of life and death, which, in this case, they were! It’s also a really fun period piece and Christopher Lloyd finally got to have his first on-screen kiss at the tender age of 52. Sadly, I just don’t have the space to wax on too much about these movies, but I love them immensely and they make me think of home no matter what’s going on.
8. Before Sunset (2004)
The Before trilogy solidified Richard Linklater as one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. And while I truly believe that Boyhood was one of the crowning cinematic achievements of that decade, and despite my love for nearly all of his filmography, Before Sunset ranks as one of my absolute favorite films of all time and has for over a decade.
Where Before Sunrise embraced the hopeless romantic in every 20-something at the time, Sunset engaged with the pragmatism that (sometimes) comes in your 30s. It shed ambitious pretense in favor of poignance and vulnerability and wound up being the strongest film in the series. It’s absolutely magical.
7. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Is this an excuse to from a couple of years ago? Only incidentally. I adore this completely insane movie with every ounce of my being.
The follow-up to Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones’ groundbreaking reclamation of the slasher subgenre takes everything that made its predecessor exceptional and gives it a hit of acid. Where Slumber Party Massacre subverted the male gaze, gender-swapped stereotypical character traits, and demystified the killer, SPM II goes a step further and makes a film about repressed bisexuality, however incidentally. Both and Joe Bob Briggs on The Last Drive-In have more or less dubbed that analysis far-fetched, and that’s fine. I’ll never stop screaming about SPM II and everything I think it represents.
Also, that guitar.
6. Laura (1944)
Otto Preminger’s Laura wasn’t my first foray into film noir but it is the film that made me fall absolutely in love with the genre. Even when I studied film in university, noir never grabbed me. Laura changed everything and introduced me to my favorite genre outside of horror. It beautifully showcases everything that’s exceptional about film noir and how vastly varied it can be.
Part hard-boiled detective drama, part murder mystery, part romance with hints of a ghost story (ever so briefly), it’s elegant, nuanced, and impactful. The cast is extraordinary, from a young Vincent Price to Gene Tierney and the remarkable Clifton Webb, who nearly wasn’t cast due to 20th Century Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck perceiving him as presumably too effeminate at the time. It wound up solidifying Webb’s career.
5. A League of Their Own (1992)
This one’s a biggie.
I grew up watching A League of Their Own and it actually became a family favorite, well after my parents split. It still is! We all quote it endlessly (“Ooh! That wouldn’t hurt!”) both for fun and for motivation. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great” kind of became a family motto of sorts.
Every time I wanted to give up writing, whenever someone told me I couldn’t cut it or that I just wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t belong or that I only got ahead because I was a girl with a pretty face, Tom Hanks jumped into my head. Granted, it was after signing “Avoid the clap” on a kid’s baseball, but still. The man was full of sage advice. Anyway, I literally have that quote pinned to my corkboard next to my desk and am looking at it as I write this. A League of Their Own is one of the many reasons I’m here right now, and for that, I’ll always cherish it.
4. Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
One of these things is not like the other!
But Thir13en Ghosts most definitely belongs.
I told you I contained multitudes.
This movie brings me such an incredible amount of joy it’s actually kind of irrational. It’s hokey, there are some glaring plot holes that, despite my absolute love of this flick, still bug me, and some of the characters are pretty badly written. That said, it’s still a total blast. The team behind it made the genuinely brilliant decision to not only design the ghosts practically but also allow them to occupy space as solid entities rather than translucent beings. The ghost designs and ensuing practical effects are, as a result, outstanding. This movie makes me giddy and I’ll watch it forever.
3. Jaws (1975)
Jaws is one of my never-fail comfort movies, and I’ve been watching it since before I’d actually seen it.
I know how that sounds, but trust me, it makes sense.
When I was a little girl, my older brother, Derek, got to watch all the scary movies (because he was four years older than me!) while I had to be distracted by an alternating parent in the dining room. We’d do puzzles or arts and crafts or whatever, but I’d always try and sneak a peek at the TV whenever I’d hear something gruesome. I heard Quint get eaten by Bruce before I ever saw the scene. So I literally heard Jaws before I ever saw it, and it stuck with me. Eventually, I’d put it on to sfall asleep at night. From the subtle joy in lines like “A what?” and “24 hours is like three weeks!” to one of the greatest monologues in cinema history and an explosive end <insert husky meme>, it just nestled its way into my heart and never left.
2. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
I must’ve seen this movie when I was in my early teens. I remembered my mom talking about it a lot, but just thought it looked kind of weird. Then I watched it, and my obsession with Carrie Fisher (whom I almost shared a name with) and Nora Ephron was born.
This is one of those movies I’ve seen more times than I can count. I can recite entire scenes from memory, including tone and inflection, and “You’re right. You’re right! I know you’re right.” has become an indelible part of my lexicon. It’s the perfect rom-com mostly because it recognizes where its heart lives: in vulnerability and pain. It tackles some pretty dark, painful, and complicated topics and manages to do so with enough ease that the skill that went into making it (a screenplay by Ephron that she nearly gave up on and hated writing, by the way) often gets overlooked.
1. The Age of Innocence (1993)
I couldn’t tell you when I first saw this movie, but it left me breathless. I remember seeing the cover of the book on my parents’ bookshelf as a kid and wondering what it was about. Its cover was the poster for the film; Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer caught in an embrace I was far too young to contextualize or understand. I didn’t see it until I was in my early 20s (I think?). I was so captivated by its elegance, poise, and subdued ferocity that I had to read the novel.
Edith Wharton’s novel and Martin Scorsese’s adaptation became my absolute favorite book and film respectively and have yet to be dethroned. Scorsese brought Wharton’s wry satirical commentary tinged with pain to the screen in a way that can only be described as masterful. From the depiction of elaborate dinners and rituals of high society to his interpretation of Wharton’s words, The Age of Innocence is perhaps the most exceptional adaptation I’ve ever seen.
There are hundreds of different movies I’d love to include that shift in and out of these positions from time to time: Moonstruck, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Deep Blue Sea, The Devil’s Backbone, Willow, The Princess Bride, Amélie, Alien, Aliens, Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Alien 3, The Karate Kid, The Birdcage, Martyrs,… The list could potentially be infinite, and there’s no way to really account for everything.
Alas, as I said in the beginning, I digress! Thank you for coming along with me on this journey, and I hope it helps you understand a bit more about my strange little brain.
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