I don’t understand it.

I am an extrovert and love to process ideas, emotions, and experiences with people. I hold strong opinions about equality, justice, compassion, and ethics. I am willing to be in a crowd of people rallying for causes, to sign a petition, to write letters, to even blog a bit about things I believe.

But I am scared to death of stepping out on my own.

I want more than anything to be brave, to have the courage of my convictions, to not worry about what others think of me, to go boldly in the direction of my dreams and vision. I want to be an example. I want to be Me with a capital M. I want to affect change. I want to take risks and make a difference.

Instead, I worry about what others will think. I step out gingerly. I couch my comments in wiggle words. I make excuses to stay among the crowd, not stand out. I dress conservatively.

Some of my caution comes from knowing there are others who have to approve of me in order to reach my goals – including ordination. I surely don’t want to freak out the Ministerial Fellowship Committee any more than I have already freaked out the Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy (who thought I was too theatrical and garrulous). And I will always need the approval of someone who will hire me to be their minister/consultant/artist/director.

Some of my caution comes from living in a family with beloved members who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, who are older and have the power to put me on the defensive with just a look, whose questions hit like accusations.

But most of my caution comes from being a middle aged woman in America.

I’ve been called pushy, overwhelming, aggressive, too much. I’ve been told I “scare the boys in engineering.” I’ve been told to not go too far, do too much. Even in my years as an LGBT activist in the 1990s, I experienced urges for temperance and caution.

I’ve been taught to not do too much, not to color outside the lines, not to breathe into the fullness of who I am.

Who I am, of course, is a beautiful, loving, passionate, creative, compassionate, brilliant, sexy, queer, full-figured femme woman with a deep and unshakeable call to ministry. I am a powerhouse who wants more than anything to unleash my femministry on the world. I am a guide and a muse who wants more than anything to help others unleash their awesomeness on the world. I am a missional mother who wants more than anything to love the hell out of this world.

It is a fact that I am surrounded by bold, creative, beautiful, brilliant people who are much less fearful – who step out, who make waves, who are not afraid to be who they are. One of them even got honored on this impressive list of incredibly bold femmes.

Now my experience, qualities, and desires are particular to me, but the truth is, most of us are scared of something. Something holds us back from living into our fullness. Something keeps us ineffective, uncreative, and fearful. It could be money, or family, or a job, or – and this is more likely – messages from someone who told us we should scale down our dreams and desires, to be realistic, to be responsible rather than radical.

So how do we stop the cycle? How do we stop letting others’ expectations keep us from our fullness? How do we  – how do I – stop being afraid?

dragshow2014Over this past year, I’ve been observing my Year of Jubilee – it is my 50th on earth, and I have been consciously noting life lessons, the thoughts and habits I want to discard, and those I want to express. I’ve been unearthing my true self. It’s been incredible – I’ve made frequent posts on Facebook, run a Tumblr of ideas, slogans, and images that speak to my true self, and have done a fair bit of private journaling. I know that by the time I complete this year-long spiritual practice, I will be stronger, freer, more creative, bolder. I am daily rejecting messages that keep me cowed and timid.

But it’s a process.

And maybe that’s my real message today. If you’ve spent a lifetime being timid, boldness can’t necessarily come rushing in all at once.

But I am ready for more boldness. I’ve been preparing for it, and when I look back, I can see many places where I am much bolder than I have been as recently as last fall.

I am still scared. I am still hesitant. And I don’t want to be.

But step by step, I’m making progress.

And that’s something.



Below is the video and script for my thesis project, a 30-minutes chapel service called Nameless, held Monday, March 3, 2014.

Juliana Bateman– Samson’s wife (Judges 14)
Natalie Renee Perkins – Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34-40)
Ranwa Hammamy – Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10)
Ashley Birt – Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:15-26)
Jessica Christy – Job’s wife (Job 2:1-10)
Shamika Goddard – the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:3-25)
Emily Hamilton – the woman from Tekoa (2 Sam 14:1-22)
Sandra Rivera – widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16)
Lindsey Nye – guard
AJ Turner – the narrator
Zach Walter– the rhythm

longer view

As people enter, Lindsey will be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unnamed Woman.

 Zach will be lightly playing a military beat on the cajon.  



Samson told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; (Juliana perks up) now get her for me as my wife.’ But his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there not a woman among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, because she pleases me.’ His father and mother did not know that this was from the LORD; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines.

As he returned to Timnah, a young lion roared at Samson, who tore the lion apart with his bare hands. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, (Juliana perks up again, a little) and she pleased Samson. After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see that there was honey in the carcass of the lion. He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went.

His father went down to the woman, (Juliana a little less enthused) and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. Samson said to them, ‘Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. But if you cannot, you shall give the same to me.’ So they said, ‘Ask your riddle.’ He said, ‘Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.’

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, (Juliana visibly and audibly annoyed) ‘Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?’ So Samson’s wife…




  …wept before him, saying, ‘You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.’ He said to her, ‘Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?’ She wept before him every day that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her the answer. Then she explained the riddle to her people. The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,  ‘What is sweeter than honey?  What is stronger than a lion?’

And he said to them, ‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.’


Seriously?!? (stands, begins ranting)


Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and …. (Juliana confronts him) … WHAT?


“Samson’s wife” this and “Samson’s wife that.”


That’s who you are… isn’t it?


I have a name! Without me, this whole stupid vendetta against my people wouldn’t be close to fulfilled. Without me, there is no story.  Samson gets a name. Even his second wife, Delilah, gets a name. What’s MY name?

(AJ is visibly shaken with the realization, sits)


All I did was fall in love with a handsome foreigner. I didn’t know I was going to be used. I didn’t know I was going to be accused of being unfaithful and deceitful just to further some warrior’s tale. The least you could do is the courtesy of a name. What’s my name? WHAT’S MY NAME?

(whisper, in time with drum) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


I supported my husband Lot when he asked us to leave my home. Of course I turned back to look once more on Sodom, the town I loved. I sacrificed my life for my husband and daughters, whose own future was uncertain in these terrible times, whose lives I could have protected. But you only call me Lot’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


I saved a Hebrew child in an act of civil disobedience, knowing my father had ordered all the Hebrew children to be killed. I raised him like my own son, and risked further exposure when I let him go to his people to lead them out of Egypt. Without Moses, there is no Exodus. But you only call me Pharaoh’s daughter. What’s MY name

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


I lost everything too. I lost my home, my friends, my children, my livelihood too. I stood by my husband Job through all of the pain and suffering. I was angry at God too, but I also remained faithful to my husband and to my God. But you only call me Job’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


What people forget is that Saul came to me. He sought counsel, and even though I eventually recognized him, I saw how terrified he was, and I not only helped him seek wisdom from the spirit of his father, I fed him. Without me, Saul might not have become a great ruler. But you only call me the Witch of Endor. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


I stood before King David to lobby him on behalf of Joab. I alone was strong enough to stand before the king, using my wits to political advantage. And I wanted to – I wanted to ask this king why he had planned destruction of the people of God. I was a powerful political voice for my time, but you only call me the woman of Tekoa. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


I was a widow without family or means, the poorest of the poor, when Elijah arrived in my town. He demanded of me a meal, when I could not even feed myself or my young son. Yet this man was compelling, and I did feed this stranger, who went on to become a beloved prophet and miracle worker. But you only call me the widow of Zarephath. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


My father was returning, triumphant from battle. How could I know he had made a vow to God that would put my life in jeopardy? I only wanted to welcome him home, but he blamed me for bringing him low, when I was the one to be sacrificed. I lost my life because of my father, but you only call me Jephthah’s daughter. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?


(stops marching as guard) What of all the other unnamed women? The widows? The wives? The daughters? The sisters? The lovers? The sick? The faithful? The outspoken? What of their names?


  (joins whisper, which now gets LOUDER) What’s my name? What’s My Name? WHAT’S MY NAME?


Natalie moves to “her” headstone, places a rose, and sings “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. At end, Zach begins to drum a heart beat.



Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to remember these women.

These women – who walked among us.

(Juliana places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who lived and breathed, who loved and lost.

(Ashley places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who played as young girls, who learned to cook and sew, who learned to love their family and their God.

(Ranwa places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who felt and thought and sang and prayed.

(Jessica places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who made choices.

(Shamika places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who were chosen.

(Emily places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who are only known in relation to someone else.

(Sandra places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone; Lindsey sits near the tomb of the unnamed woman.)

  These women lived in a long ago time in a far away place… but they have been living in me for nearly three years. Their stories – their heartbreak, their pain, their suffering, and their joy – have filled my thoughts. I want to stand next to Lot’s wife as she makes her final goodbyes to the home she loved. I want to comfort Samson’s wife as she finds herself torn between the men of her family and the man she loves. I want to hold Jephthah’s daughter to shield her from her father’s shocking pronouncement. I want to stroke their hair and hold their hands and call them by name.

But we have lost their names, and with them the fullness of their stories.

In this holy book, this Word of God, women are largely unnamed, unnoticed, unremarkable.

But let us be clear. God didn’t do this. This is not God’s problem. We did this to each other. Over centuries and millennia, through tellings and retellings, through writing and redacting, through additions and deletions, women’s names got left on the cutting room floor.

What we are left with is a text that along with serving as inspiration, is a model of how we are to live with each other. This model, which says it’s okay not to name women, even women without whom the story wouldn’t happen. This model, which says it’s okay to withhold names as long as the woman has no family or no means of support. This model, which says it’s okay to rape and dismember, as long as the woman is a concubine. This model, which finds no reason to name daughters who don’t obey… or daughters that do. This model, which says women do not actually get counted, but simply come along, among the masses. This model, which says even powerful and influential women don’t need to be remembered by name.

You might think that God is okay with it. But God didn’t do this. We did this to each other.

And God’s not okay with it.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who gave their lives in the Triangle Shirt Factory fire, or in the name of women’s suffrage, or in one of the many devastating wars we have fought, or in back alley abortion clinics.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who cross the borderlands and give up their given names in order to escape the notice of INS officials.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who are losing their lives while protesting in the streets of Turkey and the Ukraine and Venezuela.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been sold into slavery or the sex trade.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been raped and who are shamed into hiding the truth of their trauma.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who sleep on the steps outside our buildings and whose basic needs cannot be met by a system that is increasingly ignoring them.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who serve us and care for us and protect us every day – the woman at the front desk, the housekeeper, the visiting nurse, the beat cop, the barista, the cashier, the soldier.

These women have names. They have stories. They have influence. But they too are in danger of not being remembered, of joining the unnamed in the great cloud of witnesses.

But we don’t have to keep the cycle going. The scribes and clerics gave us this sacred text, full of women placed in only one particular part of the story, known only in relation to someone else, known only for a place where they existed, known only by the terror of their texts. These scribes and clerics gave us a model we must reject. What happens when we actually speak their stories? Phyllis Tribble suggests that we must speak for these women, to “interpret against narrator, plot, other characters, and the Biblical tradition – because they have shown … neither compassion nor attention.”

Imagine if we give them our attention – how much harder it would be for us to accept some of the situations the Bible describes for us. What if we knew that Jephthah’s daughter was musical and had learned new songs to play for her father when he returned from war? What if we knew that the widow of Zarephath had been known to bake the best bread in town, back when there was plenty? What if we knew that Pharoah’s daughter found out she could not bear children of her own yet loved them desperately? If we had stories like these, suddenly, we might not accept the fate of these women – we might not accept that they weren’t that important to the stories in which they appear, and we would not accept that we should not call them by name. Just as we cannot accept the damage and disregard namelessness does to women today.

Today, let us make a change.

tomb  Dearly beloved, let us pray.

God of many names known and unknown,
hear our sorrow as we mourn these unnamed women…
in their death, we are all diminished…
their stories are alive, but all is not well.
Hold us as we take one step today to right this wrong,
to stand for these women,
to hear their stories and bear witness to their power,
to feel their presence and confess their present reality.
God, be with us in our struggle to make sure everyone is known,
to show even the long forgotten their inherent worth and dignity.
Bless us, God, with ever opening and softening hearts
as we remember the women.



We will never know the names of these unnamed women in the Bible – those are lost to history. But there are names of women who have touched our lives that should not be forgotten. They are mothers, and aunts, and cousins. They are teachers, and counselors, and neighbors. They are activists, and preachers, and thinkers. We have all been touched by the lives of incredible women, without whom our own stories would not progress. Let us celebrate and name those women – let us turn this tomb of unnamed women into a space of remembering women and their names.

Folks are invited to write these names on stickers we pass out, and place them on the tomb. Meanwhile, the beat changes from heartbeat to an Afro-Caribbean rhythm.

As people gather, Ranwa leads us in Israel Naughton’s “I Am Not Forgotten”


Kimberley offers a loving benediction.


 named with bread and roses

named - mom


brigid4There is a moment
In every undertaking
There is a moment
When everything is still… too still.
There is a moment
When nothing, nothing, NOTHING comes…
When the mind is frozen.

It is a scary moment
It is a frustrating moment
It is a moment where you doubt every part of yourself
Why can’t I do this?
What is wrong with me?
How am I supposed to write this
Sing this
Speak this
Perform this?
I have nothing interesting to say.
I have nothing new to say.
I have nothing to say.

There is a moment when all hope seems lost
And the very thing you knew about your self
That you have something to say
And a way to say it
That very thing you knew about yourself has

Writer’s block.

The mind isn’t so much a complex organ of thought and deed but rather a frozen tundra of grey matter.

But then…
There is a moment.
A spark.
And another.
And another…
…a spark ignites a flame.
There is a moment
When the frozen tundra of the mind begins to thaw…
And suddenly you are on fire.
You race for your laptop
Floor space
Sketch pad

You can’t write, draw, move, play,
sing fast enough for all the ideas coming.
There is a blessed, welcome moment
When you have been ignited
By the flame of creativity.

There is a moment
When you are stimulated
And your perspective shifts
And your mind-body-spirit explodes
And you are left standing
In the wake of what has been revealed.

There is a moment.
A very sweet moment.

Today, I read an essay by Aurelia Isabel Henry Reinhardt entitled “Worship: Its Fundamental Place in Liberal Religion.” Reinhardt explores briefly the history of worship with an eye to what we have inherited; that we have always sought public religion to unify us “in the common search for the Ultimate Good” and that we aren’t creators of something new, but simply reinterpreters of something ancient, “in the light of eternal truth and new knowledge.”

Reinhardt diagnoses some of the problems facing congregations – particularly in our denomination: that of a lack of beauty and significance. “Inquring as to the reason for monotony and threatened vacuity,” she writes, “one learns that it is the result of an effort to give a minority of the congregation due right. Criticism has eliminated the thing critized, but the creative processes have brought into being nothing to take the place of the rejected.”

Strong words – words we need to hear. I know that some congregations are doing innovative things in worship, exploring ways to get out of the “two hymns and a lecture” pattern found on many Sunday mornings. Reinhardt’s words are vital reminders of what we’re facing as we enter the next fifty years of our denomination, as we look at the shifting demographics, as we continue to wrestle with making our socially-responsible outsides look like our Sunday morning insides.

Reinhardt is on topic – and she offers a great deal of hope. She reminds us that we inherit not just the idea of worship but thousands of years of prayers, songs, stories that can be used/reimagined for today. She reminds us that “worship is one of the sources out of which new creations in the art of living arise.” She reminds us that “a service of worship is a poem written by the lover of God, a song sung by the lover of God.”

Fresh, amazing thoughts for this religion of ours in this time and place.

Of course, it was written in 1936, for the Commission on Appraisal, in a AUA report called “Unitarians Face a New Age.”


So this new age we’re facing? It isn’t that far different from the new age our forbearers 75 year ago were facing. We have fixed some things, but we still have some of the same problems, the same concerns, the same pesky foibles.

Maybe… just maybe… we can do better this time around, so that the readers of essays in 2092 don’t identify so clearly. I know this is a huge part of my call; to Aurelia, I say “thank you for your eloquence” and “amen.”

I grew up in a musical family – meaning, we loved musicals. We performed in them, we watched them, we sang them, we bought the cast albums. I grew up in the country, the youngest by 13 years, only a couple of other children living nearby, with a performer’s spirit. And… a large 6-foot by 6-foot mirror prominently displayed in the living room, next to the cabinet where the stereo lived. Many afternoons were spent in front of that mirror, acting out the musicals I played over and over. While I had intimate knowledge of musicals like My Fair Lady, Carousel, Camelot, and Hello Dolly, it was the modern rock musicals that attracted my attention. Let me correct that: it was the modern religious musicals that attracted my attention.

Simply put, I was hooked on Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

While Joseph holds a special place in my heart (both from my youth and the performance we gave at UUCSS in 2005), it is the first two that are driving this post today. It is those first two that I realize have shaped, more than anything else, my understanding of who Jesus was and is.

I don’t know if this is a fact or something I made up, but I think it may be true that no matter what we learn as adults, our initial impressions and ideas about religion are formed before puberty. We may reject those ideas, but they are our starting point. Now if that’s true – and I will make the case that at least for me, it is – then I learned about an incredible man with incredible things to say about how we live.

From Godspell, I learned parables – the sheep and the goats, the prodigal son, and the good Samaritan. I learned how he treated the least among them (the adulterous woman). The Jesus in this show is warm, funny, loving, insightful. He dislikes hypocrisy and greed. He feels deeply. He teaches with patience, humor, and honor. He remembers his people and their past – during the last supper scene, they sing Psalm 137, a lament from the days of the Babylonian exile.

From Jesus Christ Superstar, I learned about his final days – the burdens of celebrity, the difficulty in teaching and reminding his fellow Jews the lessons of the prophets (Amos, Hosea). I learned of his patience, and of the political situation he was teaching in. The Jesus is also warm, but detatches in very human, somewhat Zen ways, when he needs distance. He is forthright and stallwart in the face of those who would be his enemies, but he is not combative (the moneychangers scene excepted).

Both representations of Jesus end with the crucifixion. We hear the pain of those final moments – sung heartwrenchingly in Godspell, desperately spoken in Superstar. And this is where it ends. We are left to accept or reject the resurrection, to make up our minds whether we buy it.

As a child, despite the lessons from the Methodist Sunday school my parents sent me to to learn about religion, I did not buy the resurrection. It wasn’t part of the story I knew, but it also didn’t make sense to me. I know it didn’t make sense to my Unitarian parents.

As an adult, I spent many years not even thinking about Jesus, no less considering the resurrection or the divinity of Christ. It’s only been in the last couple that Jesus has been in my sights again – and I admit to truly struggling with what I believe, what I think is true, and how to parse my childhood understanding of Jesus with my adult spirituality. And I don’t know. Believing in the resurrection seems a long stretch, one that contradicts other things I hold to be true about Jesus, his life, his divinity. I am deeply Unitarian in that sense… so parsing an understanding of Jesus and the resurrection in that paradigm becomes a bit of a struggle. It is even more so as I am now attending a Christian seminary, where in order to understand some of the theologians we read, we must understand that they take the resurrection event as a given circumstance, not a point for debate. And so I struggle – and I just don’t know.

What I do know is that the portrayals of Jesus being pushed by some of the more conservative and fundamentalist preachers is not the Jesus I know… theirs is certainly is not the Jesus whose most important sermon was the Sermon on the Mount. The Jesus I know is the Jesus who washed John the Baptist’s feet, who hugged the leper, who spoke with the Canaanite woman, who loved and laughed and cried.

I don’t know if I’ll ever know for sure what I think. But I do know that Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice were wonderful teachers and gave me a picture of Jesus that feels true for me.


A few years ago, I began this list – and would update it every time people I know and love would say “I never saw [insert name of iconic film here].” Off I’d run to add another title to the list.

This list isn’t necessarily the BEST films ever made – rather, it’s a combination of great films, iconic films, and those which have had a significant impact on pop culture. Many of them echo (or create) modern mythologies (Star Wars), others explore human nature (Caine Mutiny), our relationship to the divine (Chariots of Fire), or historic events that shape us (The Right Stuff). And some are just iconic for their place within pop culture (Blazing Saddles). Just as we use the languages of music, literature, and art – so too does the language of film help us communicate sometimes complex ideas in ways that help others understand.

And so it is finally here: my list of 101 films I think everyone should see. It’s shockingly short, based on how many more movies are out there that are fantastic. There are some films definitely missing: several great films of the last 10 years missed the list, as their impact on pop culture is unclear (although a list in ten years should probably include Napoleon Dynamite and Inception). Gone with the Wind didn’t make the cut – as influential as it has been, I don’t wish to further the harmful racism of the film (although Carol Burnett’s parody is still one of the funniest sketches of all time.) The Wizard of Oz is another that didn’t make it – if you haven’t seen that, well, you never turned on a television. (It’s iconic, I agree – it’s just so obvious.) There aren’t as many action or horror films on here as some would like – that’s a product of my tastes. (I probably should have included Rocky and The Terminator… forgive me?) I also forgot Double Indemnity, the classic film noir to end all film noir. I didn’t include Psycho, as iconic as it is. I am also woefully lacking in films from African American and Latin@ directors (films like Do the Right Thing and Maria Full of Grace should be here) – a blindspot I’m now working to correct. But there’s only so much room. And yes, this is my way of sneaking in a few more films…because it was indeed hard to keep the list to 101.

So… have a gander. What do you agree with? What should I have cut? What did I miss? (I promise I will kick myself for the obvious omissions.)

Oh, and check out the films you haven’t seen. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Cheers, and happy watching!

  1. 12 Angry Men
    Stunning script that’s as appropriate today as it was then; great performances by all, including Henry Ford.
  2. 1776
    A beautiful musical with book and lyrics inspired by real letters/documents. Plus, Blythe Danner sings.
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    Classic in so many ways – great scifi imagery for its time, plus graceful and stunning cinematography.
  4. 84 Charing Cross Road
    A gentle, charming literary film starring Anne Bancroft as a writer and reader who develops a camaraderie with Anthony Hopkins and the London bookstore he runs.
  5. A Room with a View
    In the 80s and 90s, Merchant and Ivory made a series of simply stunning English films, many based on classic English novels. This one features a young Helena Bonham Carter, back before she became Tim Burtonized. Plus, it is sweet, graceful, and features the sweeping cinematography Merchant and Ivory were known for.
  6. Adam’s Rib
    Perhaps Hepburn and Tracy’s best, also features Judy Holiday in an award-winning role.
  7. The African Queen
    Hepburn and Bogart, giant insects, and the Nile River. What more could you want?
  8. Airplane!
    The first in a new genre of comedies – so many imitators, but nothing compares to the original. Its impact on pop culture cannot be measured.
  9. All the President’s Men
    A well-acted, quite accurate version of the book, not just a window into the Watergate scandal but also the future of investigative reporting.
  10. Almost Famous
    All around, a beautifully made film – captures the early 70s with grace. Plus, I fell in love with “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John all over again.
  11. Amadeus
    One of the best adaptations of a play I’ve seen… plus great music, plus a stunning performance by F. Murray Abraham.
  12. American Beauty
    Wow. Just…wow.  Award-winning, unique.
  13. The American President
    One of Aaron Sorkin’s best – includes perhaps the most wonderful speech on what it means to be an American.
  14. Apocalypse Now
    It’s a classic – perhaps the rawest of the Vietnam flicks. And Martin Sheen is stunning.
  15. Apollo 13
    Another slice of American history, but beautifully told and amazingly acted. And it’s got Kevin Bacon, connecting him to a whole new crowd.
  16. Barefoot in the Park
    My favorite Neil Simon play, with simply charming performances by Redford and Fonda.
  17. The Bells of St. Mary
    It’s a holiday classic – I think this is Bing Crosby’s best work.
  18. Best in Show
    All of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries are funny, but this one is his best – and it’s got dogs and Jane Lynch.
  19. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
    Russ Meyer flick – such an outrageous, kitsch piece. Not as well known, but maybe freakier than anything else he did. See it just for the WTF factor (and because Roger Ebert actually wrote it).
  20. Blazing Saddles
    Classic Mel Brooks. Again, the pop culture impact is huge.
  21. Born Yesterday
    Judy Holliday in the original version absolutely amazing, and it’s a funny film. Melanie Griffith’s remake is pale in comparison.
  22. Bullets Over Broadway
    From the Year of Chazz Palmenteri, one of Woody Allen’s best, and most cohesive films. Great performances by Dianne Wiest and John Cusack.
  23. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    This is one of those films that is referred to in so many others – plus, both Newman and Redford are gorgeous in it.
  24. Caine Mutiny
    A truly striking film about the south Pacific theater (WWII). A unique role for Bogart.
  25. Casablanca
    The iconic film of all iconic films. I almost didn’t even put this on the list, as it’s such a no-brainer. But really, you must see this.
  26. Chariots of Fire
    I saw this again recently, and it stands the test of time. Strong characters, lush cinematography, brilliant storyline.
  27. Chicago
    Forget that it’s Renee Zellweger and revel in one of the best screen adaptations of a musical in decades. Plus, Richard Gere dances!
  28. Citizen Kane
    Yes, it is THE classic film. I don’t think it’s Welles’ best, but everyone should still see it – it’s amazing.
  29. Clerks
    Kevin Smith’s first – it feels a bit stilted after watching his growth as a director, but he captured something special here, and it’s damn funny. (I do think Dogma is better, but this one has more cultural impact.)
  30. Clue
    Not an award winner, but it’s got a terrific cast, quotable lines, and well, it’s just full of win. (Tim Curry, Michael McKean, Elieen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Martin Mull, Leslie Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd – that kind of win.)
  31. The Color Purple
    Panned by many, this is nonetheless a beautiful film with an incredible performance by Whoopi Goldberg.
  32. Desk Set
    Another Hepburn and Tracy film – this one’s much more ‘romantic comedy’ than not. Features an early computer – funny stuff.
  33. Destry Rides Again
    Subsequent westerns – and Madeline Kahn’s role in Blazing Saddles – will make SO much more sense after seeing this.
  34. Doctor Zhivago
    Sweeping, romantic, epic. Watch on a blustery winter day with a warm comforter, hot chocolate, and a box of tissues.
  35. Enchanted April
    One of the loveliest films I have ever seen. Great to watch on a rainy afternoon cuddled up with a cup of tea and a cat.
  36. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
    This was my generation’s seminal teen movie – a young Sean Penn is hysterical. Sets the stage for the future of teen movies.
  37. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    Another seminal teen movie – Fast Times and Ferris Bueller framed my teen years and explain a lot about GenX.
  38. Fifth Element
    If someone can explain what it is about this movie that is so captivating, please do. All I know is that every time it’s on, I watch – and there are so many pop culture references that spring from this bizarre little futuristic action movie.
  39. Fight Club
    Another WOW. Not for the faint of heart, but stunning.
  40. The Front Page
    Fast talking, fast humor, funny as hell – Cary Grant is perfect in this.
  41. Galaxy Quest
    The perfect spoof of Star Trek, with a great cast including Tony Shaloob, Sam Rockwell, and Alan Rickman.
  42. Glory
    A beautifully-filmed slice of the American Civil War. Perhaps Broderick’s best role, plus amazing performances by Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, and Morgan Freeman.
  43. The Godfather Parts 1 and 2
    These two set the stage for all gangster films that came after. Pacino is amazing, Brando is Brando. (Don’t see Prt 3 – it sucks.) (Side note: there’s a lovely little film called The Freshman, where Brando plays a Godfather-like role. Charming, funny. Worth catching.)
  44. Gosford Park
    I think this is Robert Altman’s best film since Nashville – beautifully shot, plus an amazing cast, including Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and my man Clive Owen.
  45. Greenfingers:
    A charming Channel Four film with Mirren and Owen – often overlooked, but very well done.
  46. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
    Why look, it’s Hepburn and Tracy again – this time with Sidney Poitier, in a great piece about racial issues in the US, handled with grace and humor.
  47. Guys and Dolls
    The best musical adaptation – perhaps the best musical ever written. And oddly enough, Brando sings (and gets away with it). Sinatra is in fine voice too.
  48. Hamlet (Kenneth Brannagh’s version)
    Some says Olivier’s Hamlet is the best (none say Gibson’s is), but I think that this production is superior. (Ethan Hawke’s is good too, but not as amazing as this.)
  49. Heathers
    Some may argue that Mean Girls or Clueless is a better choice for the high school chick movie – and they’d be right. All three are brilliant; I chose Heathers because I think it’s Winona Rider’s best performance, and the revenge aspect is delightful. (Mean Girls is a Dangerous Liaisons remake, and Clueless is an Emma remake…which makes both of them pretty spectacular too. WHY do you make me choose, oh list of mine?)
  50. High Fidelity
    I generally don’t like American adaptations of British books (or worse, American remakes of British films), but this one absolutely captures the Hornby novel, Jack Black is funny as hell, and well, this is where I officially fell in love again with John Cusack (first, of course, being Say Anything, but that was more a schoolgirl crush.)
  51. Holiday Inn
    A delightful holiday romp – and where the song White Christmas originally came from. (The subsequent film White Christmas is worth seeing too.)
  52. Hunt for Red October
    From The Year of Scott Glenn, this film features great performances by Alec Baldwin, Sam O’Neill, and Sean Connery at his handsomest. Baldwin’s portrayal of Jack Ryan was Tom Clancy’s favorite, btw.
  53. Inherit the Wind
    Another amazing slice of American history – the Scopes trial (over Darwinism). The film adaptation of the play is simply amazing.
  54. It Happened One Night
    This early romantic comedy features Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It’s funny and well done.
  55. Jane Eyre
    A classic novel often gets made into multiple films, each generation casting its own perspective. For me, I’ll stick with the Orson Welles version, where I first learned just how scary Mrs. Danvers can be.
  56. Johnny Dangerously
    Great lines, references, parody of gangster films. Plus, Marilu Henner sings.
  57. L.A. Confidential
    For a modern film noir, this one hits all the right notes. Some breakthrough performances, too.
  58. Lawrence of Arabia
    This classic is best enjoyed over a long afternoon snuggled on the couch with comfort foods. It is amazing – and a great reminder of why Peter O’Toole is one of the best actors of all time.
  59. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
    The best of the Python films – remarkably honoring of Christianity and snarky about those who would corrupt Christianity’s ideas.
  60. The Lion in Winter
    It’s Hepburn and Burton. Need I say more?
  61. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
    Guy Ritchie’s film Snatch is better known (probably because of Brad Pitt), but this is his better film. Hint: watch with captions on.
  62. Looking for Richard
    Not much in the way of documentaries on this list, but this one is worth it. It’s Pacino, rehearsing for Richard III, and experiencing not just the rehearsals but the idea of Shakespeare in modern Manhattan. It’s so beautifully done – worth the watch.
  63. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    Sweep, beauty, great performances, inspiring, as faithful to the Tolkein books as film can be… and Viggo Mortensen.
  64. Man For All Seasons
    A sweeping period piece – the way they should be done.
  65. Monsters, Inc.
    This continues to be my favorite Pixar film – not just for the story line (which is sharp), but for the advances they had made in terms of texture and movement. Plus, John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buschemi.
  66. The Muppet Movie
    Brilliant music, great storyline, and it sets up the Muppet Universe. Plus, Kermit sings the iconic “Rainbow Connection.”
  67. Murder by Death
    Parody, thy name is Neil Simon. Simply hysterical. Alec Guinness was never funnier.
  68. Network
    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Fantastic Robert Altman film, great performances.
  69. O Brother, Where Art Thou
    When you are the Coen Brothers, your source material is Homer, and you feature bluegrass music, you have the ingredients for a hit. Clooney is amazing in this.
  70. The Odd Couple
    Matthau and Lemmon at their comedic best (thanks to a fabulous script by Neil Simon).
  71. Peter’s Friends
    A touching British film with some of our generation’s biggest British stars – Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Kenneth Brannagh. Plus, a remarkable take on living with AIDS, back when it was a death sentence.
  72. Philadelphia Story
    Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn sparkle in this amazing comedy.
  73. The Princess Bride
    Another great film which has had a great impact on pop culture. Infinitely quotable and as charming as it is funny.
  74. The Quiet Man
    I would argue this is John Wayne’s best film. It was my mother’s favorite, too, which means even if I didn’t like it, it would have to be on this list. (Hint: my mom had excellent taste in film.)
  75. Radio Days
    This is a quiet little Woody Allen film that few know about but many should – it features great music from World War II, plus some hysterical storylines. It is just a delight.
  76. Raiders of the Lost Ark
    I was hard pressed to choose between this and Last Crusade, but really, Raiders set the stage for this kind of adventure movie, and is probably the better of the two (despite the late River Phoenix as Young Indy and Sean Connery as his dad). Again, iconic, influential.
  77. Raising Arizona
    Perhaps Nick Cage’s best performance – but definitely an iconic film. (it’s hard to go wrong with a Coen Brothers movie – I am also a huge fan of The Big Lebowski and The Hudsucker Proxy, also worth watching.)
  78. Rear Window
    It may not be Hitchcock’s best, but it is iconic, and the concept is brilliant – everything is seen from James Stewart’s vantage point at the rear window of his apartment.
  79. Rebecca
    I know, I know, another Hitchcock film. What can I say? His work has had incredible influence on pop culture and the way we see film. But this one has an added bonus: it’s based on the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier, and begins with an iconic line: “Last night, I dreamed I was at Manderley again…”
  80. The Right Stuff
    It’s long and sometimes moves a bit slowly, but it lovingly tells the story of the dawn of the space program – plus, it is a veritable who’s who of late 20th century actors. Worth the watch.
  81. Saved
    There are many awesome things about this film – the message, the acting, the music. It continues to be one of my favorite high school films. Plus, Mary Louise Parker. (I’m a fan.)
  82. The Shawshank Redemption
    Stephen King’s short stories have made for some of the most incredible films (see: Stand By Me); this one is my favorite. Morgan Freedman and Tim Robbins are simply amazing.
  83. The Shining
    One of the most iconic moments in motion picture history: Jack Nicholson peeking his head through the broken-down door – “I’m baa-aack!” It is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen…iconic, brilliant.
  84. Singin’ in the Rain
    Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds dance and sing. And if that’s not enough, it features another of the most iconic images in all of motion picture history – Kelly with the umbrella, hanging off the lamp post, singing “Singin’ in the Rain”… a scene that doesn’t disappoint.
  85. Sleeping Beauty:
    This remains my favorite of the Disney princess movies. You can have your modern day Ariels, Belles, and Jasmines. I’ll take Aurora every day and twice on Sundays.
  86. Star Wars, Episodes 4-5-6
    Groundbreaking modern sci-fi. These movies have become our modern mythos (even if Lucas keeps tinkering with them…sigh). Affected our syntax, Yoda did.
  87. Steel Magnolias
    Enter it remembering it’s a stage play (thus some of the lines seem… fake) – but then relax into the beautifully drawn characters, brilliant performances, and pitch perfect emotional journey.
  88. The Sting
    There is nothing about this movie I don’t love – the story is amazing, the acting is terrific, the music is pitched perfectly. Plus, Redford and Newman together again.
  89. Strangers on a Train
    This Hitchcock film has had a great deal of influence on other movies – it’s a unique set up and is strikingly played out.
  90. Taxi Driver
    It’s not one of my favorites, but it is iconic in many ways – “you lookin’ at me?” A young DeNiro shows just how good an actor he is here.
  91. The Third Man
    Positively stunning work; I think it’s Welles’ best. It’s the first time musical score was a character. Ending devices are common now but groundbreaking in this film.
  92. This Is Spinal Tap
    The mockumentary that set the bar for all other mockumentaries. Great music, hysterical storyline, plus we learned that some amps DO go to 11.
  93. To Kill a Mockingbird
    A classic film version of this classic novel – definitely a film of its time, raising many questions about the different shades of racism (side note: Malcolm Gladwell wrote an amazing essay about this book for The New Yorker in 2009 – worth the read).
  94. To Sir With Love
    Sidney Poitier. (Oh, was I supposed to give more reasons? It’s well done and has some key cultural references.)
  95. Tootsie
    While it is a little dated, it has amazing performances by Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange – and is iconic.
  96. The Trouble with Harry
    The funny Hitchcock film – I love it. It was also Shirley MacLaine’s film debut.
  97. The Usual Suspects
    From the Year of Chazz Palmenteri – so many iconic moments that have permeated popular culture. Plus, it’s quite well done. I think this is one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances.
  98. West Side Story
    It’s a musical, but it’s pretty dark – remember, it’s based on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. But it is spectacular. And yes, it is iconic in pop culture.
  99. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    The Johnny Depp version may be more faithful to the book, but the Gene Wilder version has had incredible impact on pop culture.
  100. Witness for the Prosecution
    Agatha Christie. Alfred Hitchcock. Plus, this film rather sets a standard for this kind of dark courtroom drama.
  101. Young Frankenstein
    Complete classic, and a great homage to the old horror flicks. Plus, the most quotable lines in modern cinema.