I waste so much of my precious time on this Earth watching movies. Here are my 100 favorites that I strongly recommend you see and own and watch many more times. Also, these are my favorite movies and not what I’m saying are the objectively best movies ever made. But, feel free to give me shit about it in the comment section.
100. Die Hard (1988/dir. John McTiernan/USA)
The perfect action movie.
99. Bad Education (2004/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)
Pedro Almodovar is one of the only filmmakers able to walk the thin line between realism and soap, and Bad Education, while one of his most disturbing efforts, is no different. It’s a harrowing drama wrapped in a murder mystery about two sexual abuse victims trying to make a movie based on their experience.
98. Se7en (1995/dir. David Fincher/USA)
Speaking of disturbing efforts, David Fincher’s breakthrough film about the week-long hunt for a sadistically pious serial killer is one of the darkest movies you’ll ever see. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt provide solid performances, but the MVP is Kevin Spacey.
97.Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father (2008/dir. Kurt Kuenne/USA)
From a technical perspective, Dear Zachary is not a great documentary. However, the story at the heart of Dear Zachary is so heart-wrenching and unbelievable it makes for essential viewing. Given that it’s made by the subject’s childhood friend adds to its intimacy. This is one you’ll never forget. It’s impossible not be deeply affected by this film. Available to Stream on Netflix.
96. The Wizard of Oz (1939/dir. Victor Miller/USA)
I watched The Wizard of Oz so many times as a child I wore out the VHS copy and my mom had to buy another one. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s actually really fucking twisted now that I think about it. There’s something perverse and odd going on under the surface of this movie, and I’m not exactly sure what it is. The Cowardly Lion will forever remain one of my favorite movie characters.
95. Inglourious Basterds (2009/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA/Germany)
After being slightly disappointed with the Kill Bill movies, my mind was completely blown my sophomore year of college when I went with some comedy buddies to see Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The best of Tarantino’s revisionist history epics, Basterds features one of the best written villains of all time, Colonel Hans Landa flawlessly embodied by the great Christoph Waltz. It also features a bar scene that is as good as an episode of Cheers.
94. The Piano (1993/dir. Jane Campion/New Zealand/Australia/France)
Jane Campion’s gorgeous period piece The Piano had the misfortune of being released the same year as Schindler’s List, so it was almost forgotten. It features Holly Hunter’s finest performance, Harvey Keitel’s penis and Anna Paquin in a role that won her an Oscar at the age of twelve. Available to Stream on Amazon Prime.
93. Requiem for a Dream (2000/dir. Darren Aronofsky/USA)
The scariest and saddest movie ever made about drug abuse and how it destroys human beings. Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto and most surprisingly Marlon Wayans impress with stunning work, but the real show-stopper is Ellen Burstyn. This is the film that established Darren Aronofsky as a major American filmmakers.
92. Boyz N the Hood (1991/dir. John Singleton/USA)
“Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” One of the many pearls of wisdom spoken by Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), the tough-as-nails patriarch in John Singleton’s cautionary tale of life in the ghetto, Boyz n the Hood. One of the biggest criticisms I consistently hear of the film is that the characters all act as mouthpieces for the film’s message, and while I usually don’t like that lack of subtlety, it works in the context of this movie. Boyz n the Hood is like a ghetto opera, overly dramatic, a little surreal but extremely powerful. Increase the peace.
91. The Celebration (1998/dir. Thomas Vinterberg/Denmark/Sweden)
Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration is a Danish film I first saw in my independent film class in college. It’s a simple and intimate domestic drama about a family’s darkest secrets being exposed during a reunion. It’s a Dogme film, meaning it was filmed all on a hand held camera with only natural lighting and no audio added in post production. A bunch of filmmakers got together at Cannes one year (Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and a couple of others) and were upset that film was becoming too artificial or something, so they drafted this manifesto on what film should be. Sounds really pretentious and up it’s own ass, and it probably is, but The Celebration followed these rules and turned out incredible. Vinterberg would later go on to make The Hunt with Mads Mikkelsen, another incredible, but simple film.
90. Magnolia (1999/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)
Powerful but bizarre series of interconnecting stories set in the San Fernando Valley. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson patterned much of Magnolia off of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. Featuring one of the most impressive and effective ensemble casts ever assembled for a movie and one of the best opening sequences of all time. Tom Cruise got an Oscar nomination for his solid performance, but truth be told, he was one of the weaker parts of the cast.
89. Zero Dark Thirty (2012/dir. Kathryn Bigelow/USA)
Kathryn Bigelow won her Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but Zero Dark Thirty, released three years later, was hands down the better film. Featuring fantastic performances from Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler and the late great James Gandolfini, this docudrama chronicles the hunt and eventual capture of Osama Bin Laden. The film was plagued with controversy claiming it celebrated and/or condoned torture, but I found the film to be pretty indifferent from a political standpoint. It seems far more interested in the psyche of the highly-stressed characters rather than making any kind of statement.
88. Sexy Beast (2000/dir. Jonathon Glazer/UK/Spain)
Everyone says Ben Kinglsey gave his best performance as Gandhi, but I call bullshit. His best performance was as the emotionally unstable vicious mad dog Don Logan in Jonathon Glazer’s surreal crime drama Sexy Beast. Ray Winstone is almost as good as a retired bank robber being stalked by Logan, as is Deadwood’s Ian McShane as a manipulative crime lord who loves orgies.
87. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007/dir. Cristian Mungiu/Romania/Belgium)
Far and away, one of the most unsettling and hard to watch films on this list, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days chronicles the awful experience of a college student trying to get an illegal abortion in 1980s communist Romania. Over the course of 113 minutes, our pregnant protagonist is poked, prodded, harassed, abused and traumatized over something that should be every woman’s right. It’s a nauseating experience as a viewer since filmmaker Cristian Mungiu refuses to sugar coat anything.
86. Punch-Drunk Love (2002/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)
When I first saw this movie in sixth grade I did not care for it. I found it to be long, boring and not quite as entertaining as Sandler’s other movies where he does stuff with poop. However, repeat viewing as an adult have made me realize what a unique and heartbreaking character study this is. Adam Sandler gives us his very best performance here, before he was sponsored by Bud Light. Available to Stream on Amazon Prime.
85. Anomalisa (2015/dir. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman/USA)
Last year’s R-rated Oscar-nominated stop-motion animated feature from Charlie Kaufman was a bit of a bait and switch. The trailers led audience members to believe it was an optimistic and whimsical life-affirming journey of a marionette, but the film ended up really being about how unchecked narcissism can drive a person to levels of loneliness bordering on psychosis. David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Tom Noonan as every other character, deliver phenomenal voice-work, but the real magic comes from Kaufman’s cynical and frightfully accurate worldview.
84. The Empire Strikes Back (1980 / dir. Irvin Kershner / USA)
Why didn’t I rank the most popular movie ever made higher? As much as I appreciate/love the Star Wars trilogy it never really played a huge role in my childhood. I feel 99.9% of people who are obsessed with Star Wars started at a single digit age. My VHS collection was a lot more fucked than Han and Lea’s sexual tension though, with Tarantino, Scorsese, Craven, and Kevin Smith playing a large role. The Empire Strikes Back is the finest installment and the snow battle, Boba Fett and that ending are definitely epic.
83. Drive (2011/dir. Nicolas Winding Refn/USA)
Usually I see a movie on my birthday weekend and usually I end up being disappointed. I remember on September 18, 2011 I saw Drive with my roommate and best friend and was absolutely blown away. Drive is a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end with rich, empathetic characters and brilliant film editing. Refn went on to direct two extremely disappointing films after Drive, the gorgeous but completely hollow The Neon Demon and the completely cold and detached Only God Forgives.
82. Zodiac (2007/dir. David Fincher/USA)
Many people credit The Social Network as Fincher’s masterpiece, but I whole heartedly believe it is Zodiac. This cold and meticulously made crime drama tracks the long and arduous investigation of the Zodiac killer. Fincher perfectly captures the late 60s/early 70s and coaxes brilliantly understated performances out of his large ensemble cast. The music supervision is on-point featuring Donovan, Three Dog Night and Steely Dan.
81. House (1977/dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi/Japan)
House is the most bat shit crazy movie I’ve ever seen. Is it even a movie? It’s like a music video dropped acid with a children’s book. Whatever it is, there is nothing like it. It will have you screaming BANANAS BANANAS BANANAS BANANAS all night long. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus
80. Toy Story (1995/dir. John Lasseter/USA)
My vote for the greatest animated feature ever made. Toy Story is the remarkably original and emotionally resonant story about growing up, seen through a collection of forgotten toys. Also, Tim Allen is in it.
79. The Departed (2006/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)
Relentlessly entertaining and unpredictable, Martin Scorsese’s return to form The Departed, already felt like a classic the year it was released. Featuring very well drawn characters brought to life by excellent performances including a terrifying Jack Nicholson and a never better Leonardo DiCaprio.
78. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013/dir. Abdellatif Kechiche/France/Belgium/Spain)
An incredibly tense and incredibly frank French drama chronicling a decade long relationship between an artist in her twenties and a high school aged girl. Over the course of three hours, I became so emotionally invested in the characters I felt like I knew them my entire life. Blue is the Warmest Color marked the first and only time a filmmaker and his two leading actresses were awarded the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
77. Alien (1979/dir. Ridley Scott/UK/USA)
Most people credit Blade Runner as Ridley Scott’s best film, but I honestly find it to be pretty overrated. For me, Scott’s masterpiece is the simple and terrifying Alien. Expertly paced and better acted than any genre film has the right to be, Alien introduced us to one of the scariest monsters in movie history, the xenomorph.
76. The Pianist (2002/dir. Roman Polanski/France/Poland/Germany/UK)
Most every non-fiction Holocaust film seems to just exist in the shadow of Schindler’s List, but Roman Polanski’s chilling survival story of a Polish pianist is one of the rare exceptions. Featuring a riveting Oscar-winning performance from Adrien Brody that should have sky rocketed his career. Instead, he did a couple of Diet Coke commercials.
75. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993/dir. Chris Columbus/USA)
I guess I’m supposed to like Tootsie more, but I don’t. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant in it, but Mrs. Doubtfire makes me happier. Robin Williams plays such an incredibly likeable character you’re able to feel everything he feels as a viewer. And that scene where him, Harvey Fierstein and Aunt Jack are figuring out Mrs. Doubtfire’s look is a montage for the ages.
74. L.A. Confidential (1997/dir. Curtis Hanson/USA)
Beautifully written and powerfully acted 1950s detective story that was unfortunately overshadowed by James Cameron’s visually impressive but intellectually hollow love story Titanic. Kevin Spacey does some of his best screen work here.
73. Whiplash (2014/dir. Damien Chazelle/USA)
There is never a dull or unneeded moment in Damien Chazelle’s explosively thrilling tortured artist film. J.K. Simmons rightfully won an Oscar for portraying the music teacher from hell and Miles Teller holds his own as an ambitious young drummer. The ending is a work of genius. Pure fucking genius.
72. About Schmidt (2002/dir. Alexander Payne/USA)
Speaking of endings, the ending of About Schmidt always gets me. An against type Jack Nicholson plays Warren R. Schmidt, a retiree who takes a cross country road trip in his RV in a desperate attempt to find himself before his daughter gets married.
71. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992/dir. James Foley/USA)
A phenomenal play, but an even better film in my opinion. David Mamet wisely adds an outside force played by Alec Baldwin to taunt and fuck with the six desperate real estate men. Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon deliver two of the best performances of their career, while Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and a very young Kevin Spacey add solid support. Always Be Closing, Coffee is for Closers, and a bunch of other quotable lines.
70. The War Zone (1999/dir. Tim Roth/UK)
Incest is a tricky subject to base a film around, but real life survivor Tim Roth has crafted a truly harrowing but remarkable motion picture that perfectly captures the emotional destruction it does to a family. Set in a Shining-esque isolated setting (the father’s job is to be the caretaker of an old castle in Ireland), The War Zone inflicts pain upon characters with nowhere to flee for help.
69. Mystic River (2003/dir. Clint Eastwood/USA)
Many people will tell you Clint Eastwood’s best movie is Unforgiven or that pile of horsedicks Million Dollar Baby, but for my money it’s Mystic River. While not as graphic in it’s depiction of sexual abuse as The War Zone, it’s accurate in its depiction of how those wounds never really heal. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast including Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River is able to hit notes so subtle you’ll never guess The Empty Chair Guru thunk it up.
68. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999/dir. Errol Morris/UK/USA)
Errol Morris might be the best documentarian working today and the peculiar Mr. Death is one of his best works in a sea of exceptional work. A bizarre story of a chain-smoking coffee-inhaling man who dedicated his life to modifying execution equiptment and later went on to become the “scientific” voice of Holocaust deniers.
67. The Conversation (1974/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)
The same year The Godfather Part II won Coppola Best Picture at the Oscars, The Conversation won him the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Feautring Gene Hackman’s finest performance as a surveillance man who becomes slowly obsessed with his subject, the great John Cazale (RIP) and a very young Harrison Ford.
66. Annie Hall (1977/dir. Woody Allen/USA)
Widely regarded as Allen’s best film and one of the best romantic comedies ever written. While I think it’s only his second best film, I think it’s his funniest and most charming effort. Christopher Walken is in this.
65. In the Bedroom (2001/dir. Todd Field/USA)
If you want to see some of the best acting ever committed to screen, watch Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek duke it out over the grief of their dead son in one hit wonder Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. It’s a slow burn, but it builds to a devastating final shot. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
64. Barton Fink (1991/dir. Joel & Ethan Coen/USA)
The Coen Brothers have always done their own thing, and Barton Fink might be the best example of how different they are from other filmmakers. An eccentric hybrid of comedy and drama, Barton Fink follows a squirrely writer (a never better John Turturro) and his bumpy journey through the Hollywood film industry. A highlight is John Goodman firing a shotgun and screaming down a hallway engulfed in flames.
63. Gates of Heaven (1978/dir. Errol Morris/USA)
The documentary that Roger Ebert calls one of the top ten films ever made, Gates of Heaven was Errol Morris’ breakthrough hit that set the tone for his exceptional body of work. This portrait of very unusual and desperate pet owners is unexpectedly touching and poignant.
62. The Long Goodbye (1973/dir. Robert Altman/USA)
Initially trashed upon its release, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is one of the best goddamn detective movies ever made. Elliot Gould is magnetic as the infamous Philip Marlowe, and the hilarious opening sequence involving him buying cat food is one of the best stretches of film I’ve ever seen.
61. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986/dir. Woody Allen/USA)
I haven’t seen every Woody Allen movie but out of the ones I’ve seen, Hannah and Her Sisters is the best. An ensemble piece about relationships, marriage and adultery featuring a half dozen incredibly well developed and realistic characters brought to life by magnificent performances. Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine are clearly the stand-outs and won Oscars for their work.
60. Animal Kingdom (2010/dir. David Michod/Australia)
A Greek tragedy disguised as an Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom is a powerful and disturbing examination of a criminal family falling apart. Most crime dramas use shocking and graphic violence to jolt viewers, but Animal Kingdom simply uses dialogue and tense confrontations between its characters. Jacki Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the deceptively sweet matriarch, but the real scene-stealer is Ben Mendolsohn as the sociopathic eldest son.
59. The Deer Hunter (1978/dir. Michael Cimino/UK/USA)
Before Michael Cimino murdered United Artists with Heaven’s Gate, he directed one of the best war movies of all time. The Deer Hunter centers around small town Joes forever changed by the horrors of Vietnam. Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken deliver devastating performances especially in the almost unbearable Russian Roulette sequence.
58. Mean Streets (1973/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)
While not his first film, Mean Streets was the movie that established Martin Scorsese as one of the best working American filmmakers. Centering around Scorsese’s two favorite subjects – street crime and Catholic guilt – Mean Streets follows Charlie (Harvey Keital) and his struggle to keep his best friend Johnny Boy (an unhinged Robert DeNiro) alive and out of trouble.
57. The Usual Suspects (1995/dir. Bryan Singer/USA/Germany)
While it has what is possibly the best twist ending in the history of cinema, it seems unfair to only remember Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects just for that. It’s a tightly paced and surprisingly funny crime thriller with fascinating characters including a sly but unintelligible criminal played hilariously by Benicio Del Toro. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
56. Apocalypse Now (1979/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)
“My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane.” – Francis Ford Coppola. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime for both “Redux” and “Theatrical” versions. I prefer the Redux version.
55. Talk to Her (2002/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)
Very few filmmakers understand the human condition as well as Almodovar, and while Talk to Her is certainly one of his most surreal and bizarre motion pictures, it features some of his most painfully realistic and relatable characters. The whole cast is excellent but the stand-out is far and away Javier Camara.
54. The Silence of the Lambs (1991/dir. Jonathon Demme/USA)
The best acting you’ll ever find in a horror movie and possibly the greatest characters are in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. One is a brilliant and ambitious FBI trainee trying to move past her white trash past, and one is a brilliant and manipulative former psychiatrist holding the key to solving a series of murders. And so a great cat and mouse game is built around an already stellar mystery thriller. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus.
53. The Shining (1980/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA/UK)
The Shining isn’t Stanley Kubrick’s best film, but it’s the best horror movie ever made. This isn’t because of the characters, the actors or the story. This is because of the atmosphere. Kubrick creates a terrifying atmosphere that automatically fills you with dread. Every time you ride down that hallway with Danny, your heart sinks.
52. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996/dir. Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky/USA)
Documentaries don’t get more disturbing and near impossible to watch than Paradise Lost. From the graphic images of ritualistically murdered children to the fact it’s about three teenagers being sentenced to life (and in one case death) merely for listening to Metallica. It’s an important watch though, because it perfectly illustrates how ludicrous our justice system is and how an ignorant small town mentality can condemn innocent people. If you were a fan of Netflix’s Making a Murderer, be sure to check this one out. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
51. No Country For Old Men (2007/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)
Far and away, the Coen’s darkest film and probably the most non-Oscar-y Oscar winner of all time. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel almost word for word, No Country For Old Men is an extremely cynical view of the world seen through the eyes of the epitome of everything good and just (Tommy Lee Jones’s Sheriff Bell), the epitome of everything evil and unjust (Javier Bardem’s Anton Chirguh) and the epitome of human stupidity (Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss). Available for Streaming on Netflix.
50. Short Cuts (1993/dir. Robert Altman/USA)
Robert Altman’s entire career seemed to be building towards Short Cuts, an incredibly compelling and fascinating ensemble drama about twenty-something troubled lives caged inside Los Angeles. Featuring one of the greatest casts ever assembled: Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Matthew Modine, Bruce Davison, Andie McDowell, Robert Downey, Jr., Lily Taylor, Chris Penn, Frances McDormand, Madeline Stowe, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Lyle Lovett and a heartbreaking Jack Lemmon.
49. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003/dir. Peter Jackson/New Zealand/USA)
While I agree that Return of the King had seventeen too many endings, it doesn’t change that fact that Peter Jackson has crafted one of the finest and most visually impressive film trilogies of all time with J.R.R. Tolkein’s source material. Singling out the installments and ranking all three seems pointless since they are just separate parts of one gigantic story. I also wanted two extra spaces on my list.
48. Happiness (1998/dir. Todd Solondz/USA)
Any film that almost succeeds in making you feel sympathy for a pedophile is incredibly well written. Todd Solondz’s ironically titled Happiness is an ensemble-driven epic about the crippling power of loneliness. Seen through the eyes of a narcissistic New Jersey family and the losers and monsters they encounter every day, the film strikes a brilliant balance between dark humor and devastating drama. It’s mean-spirited but incredibly honest, and features perfect performances from it’s cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz and especially, Dylan Baker. It’s hilarious.
47. Being John Malkovich (1999/dir. Spike Jonze/USA)
Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s feature film debut, Being John Malkovich, is fucking ridiculous. A failed puppeteer (John Cusack), his animal-obsessed wife (Cameron Diaz) and a horribly manipulative asshole (Catherine Keener) find a portal into John Malkovich’s head behind an old filing cabinet. Extremely whimsical but very sad at its core, Being John Malkovich ends up being less about John Malkovich and more about how desperate desire can make human beings.
46. Trainspotting (1996/dir. Danny Boyle/UK)
I was in third grade when my best friend at the time gave me a run down of the plot for Trainspotting. He explained to me it’s about these heroin addicts stuck on an island (Scotland) who hallucinate and steal shit and there’s this super graphic sex scene with this totally hot chick. This enthusiastic rundown didn’t even begin to prepare me for the unhinged visceral assault that is Trainspotting, a volatile ADHD-addled thrill-ride that grabs you by the throat for 90 minutes and doesn’t let you go. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
45. This Is Spinal Tap (1984/dir. Rob Reiner/USA)
I think the mockumentary was more or less invented with 1984’s comedy classic. This Is Spinal Tap, a spot-on parody of 80s rock bands involving foil-wrapped cucumbers, birthing pods that don’t want to open and a beautiful love ballad titled “Lick my Love Pump.” One of the funniest movies ever made and completely timeless.
44. The Seven Samurai (1954/dir. Akira Kurosawa/Japan)
Akira Kurosawa’s 3 hour –plus epic about a group of samurai who take the law into their own hands was re-made several times but never improved upon. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen four Kurosawa films (Rashomon, Dreams, Throne of Blood and this) or else more would most likely be on the list. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus.
43. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975/dir. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones/UK)
Although I think Monty Python’s absolutely best work was their sketch show Flying Circus, they made three near-perfect films. The first was The Holy Grail, a parody of the classic King Arthur story, featuring homicidal rabbits on crack and plenty of flesh wounds.
42. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979/dir. Terry Jones/UK)
Monty Python’s second feature film was far and away their most controversial, parodying the Christ story. It pissed a lot of people off but it demonstrated Monty Python’s willingness to go anywhere.
41. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983/dir. Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam/UK)
Although it’s an unpopular opinion, I think Monty Python’s best film was their third and final feature, The Meaning of Life. A series of alarmingly clever and hilarious vignettes that attempt and fail to explain the meaning of life. SPOILER ALERT – There is no meaning, we die, the end.
40. The Lives of Others (2006/dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck/Germany)
The late Ulrich Muhle gives such an incredibly nuanced and touching performance in The Lives of Others that it’s an absolutely travesty he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Muhle plays a STASI agent tasked with running surveillance on a “suspicious” couple in 1984 East Berlin. Slowly but surely he gets to know the couple and empathizes with them. The film, which won the Oscar in 2006 for Foreign Language Film, matches the brilliance of his performance in every way.
39. Blazing Saddles (1974/dir. Mel Brooks/USA)
It goes without saying that Mel Brooks is one of the greatest comedic minds of all time, and at least for me, Blazing Saddles is far and away his greatest achievement. A comedic western and an interesting commentary on race relations, the movie doesn’t pull any of it’s punches and features hilarious performances from the entire cast, especially Madeline Kahn.
38. Wet Hot American Summer (2001/dir. David Wain/USA)
Every time I watch David Wain’s 1980s summer camp epic, it makes me laugh so hard I physically hurt myself. All of Wain, Showalter and Black’s films are fantastic, but this one clearly soars ahead of the pack. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast including David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and the criminally underrated Christopher Meloni as a disturbed camp chef plagued with thoughts of fondling sweaters and rubbing mud on his ass. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
37. Boogie Nights (1997/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)
That opening shot. That beautiful two-minute, single take going into Luis Guzman’s club established filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson as one of the best working American filmmakers. He’s the heir to Kubrick’s genius as far as I’m concerned. His second feature, an epic ensemble piece about the porn industry of the 1970s seen through the eyes of a fresh-faced horse-dicked young man (Mark Wahlberg), is one of the most energetic and compelling period pieces ever made.
36. Do the Right Thing (1989/dir. Spike Lee/USA)
In my mind, the most poignant film ever made about race relations, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is about a mixed race neighborhood at each other’s throats during the hottest day in Brooklyn. I’m generally not a fan of Lee’s work, but Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece of American cinema.
35. 12 Years a Slave (2013/dir. Steve McQueen/USA/UK)
There hasn’t been many movies made about slavery, and the ones that were made prior to 12 Years a Slave always seemed to have a sappy and cheesy emotional slant. 12 Years a Slave succeeds because filmmaker Steve McQueen is as unsentimental as they come and is unwilling to sugarcoat anything. While the film does a vivid and horrifying job painting the physical tortures of slavery, it also, and I’d argue even more frighteningly so, portrays the blind acceptance of an institution that degraded an entire race of people.
34. City of God (2003/dir. Fernando Meirelles/Brazil)
City of God succeeds in being both horrific and entertaining, sometimes at the same time. Perhaps Brazil’s best known contribution to celluloid, it chronicles the real life story of crime lords residing over Rio de Janiero from the late 60s to the mid 70s. Featuring a fascinatingly unconventional story structure that filters incredibly complex characters through shocking and at times, bizarre, situations. It also has some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen set to an amazing soundtrack featuring James Brown and Tower of Power.
33. Schindler’s List (1993/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA)
Schindler’s List is commonly regarded as “the” movie about the holocaust and for good reason. It’s a relentlessly compelling three hours that manages to be both horrifying and emotionally rewarding. It manages to have optimistic and warm moments (though not many) without ever being ham-fisted or cheesy. Liam Neeson creates one of the most empathetic movie characters of all time with Oskar Schindler and Ralph Fiennes creates one of the most terrifying, ruthless and ultimately sad film villains of all time. Available for Streaming on HULU Plus.
32. Chinatown (1974/dir. Roman Polanski/USA)
Painfully cynical yet beautifully crafted film noir set in the 1930s about a sleazy private investigator (Jack Nicholson) stumbling upon a gigantic conspiracy about LA’s water. The recent drought in California makes Chinatown particularly relevant today and for the most part Polanski’s quick pacing and storytelling is more similar to today’s cinema than it is with cinema of the early 1970s. Jack Nicholson delivers his finest film performance of all time and Faye Dunaway and the great John Huston provide outstanding supporting work.
31. Blue Velvet (1986/dir. David Lynch/USA)
On the surface, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a kidnapping thriller. Below the surface, beneath the dirt and ravenous beetles, it’s a commentary on artificiality of the American Dream. Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, creating perhaps the most frightening movie villain of all time, deliver career -best performances.
30. The Act of Killing (2013/dir. Joshua Oppenheimer/UK/Denmark/Norway)
The most unique documentary I’ve ever seen, and certainly one of the most affecting. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer gives Indonesian death squad leaders the chance to re-enact their murders with a low budget action film. This forces them to come to terms with the atrocities they committed and meditate on the thin line between murder and patriotism. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
29. The Killing (1956/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA)
Stanley Kubrick apparently invented the tracking shot during the apartment scene in this perfect thriller. It’s a heist film with interesting, jaded characters and a plot that keeps you guessing all the way until the beautifully ironic ending. The fact a film like this was made in 1956 is a minor miracle.
28. The Godfather Part II (1974/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)
While I strongly believe the first Godfather is far and away a better film than the more critically acclaimed Part II, I still believe Part II is a masterpiece in it’s own right. The juxtaposition of Michael Corleone’s life with his father’s life at his age (played by a rarely better Robert DeNiro) is brilliant, and the ending sequence is one of the most quietly tragic stretches of film I’ve ever seen.
27.Full Metal Jacket (1987/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)
When people think of the definitive Vietnam movie, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Oliver Stone’s annoyingly overrated Platoon usually come to mind. For me, the definitive Vietnam war movie is Stanley Kubrick’s aggressively angry dark comedy, Full Metal Jacket. It’s comprised of two equally impressive halves, one focusing on Private Joker being broken at boot camp and the other focusing on the psychological effects of Private Joker’s boot camp experience. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
26. The Thin Blue Line (1988/dir. Errol Morris/USA)
Watching The Thin Blue Line again recently after four or five years, really cemented it for me as the best documentary ever made. Unfolding like a thriller, The Thin Blue Line explores a terrible miscarriage of justice through startling interviews heightened with one of the most effective music scores I’ve ever heard in a film. Filmmaker Errol Morris creates such an incredible sense of unease throughout you might be able to classify it as a horror movie. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
25. Saving Private Ryan (1998/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA)
The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan has been written and talked about to enormous lengths, but I’ll talk about it anyway. It’s one of the most harrowing and impressive opening sequences ever committed to film, and the movie that follows it doesn’t let that stellar opening down. Tom Hanks’ line about how every man he kills he feels farther away from home still hits me hard to this day. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
24. Best in Show (2000/dir. Christopher Guest/USA)
Laugh for laugh, Best in Show might be the funniest movie ever made. It’s certainly one of the most consistently funny movies ever made with multiple laughs per minute. Christopher Guest’s overwhelmingly talented improvisational ensemble from This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman returns to lampoon super intense dog owners. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
23. Paths of Glory (1957/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA)
Stanley Kubrick is most often described as a filmmaker ahead of his time, so a WWI film made in 1957 that manages to bear a strong anti-war statement fits in perfectly with his oeuvre. Meticulously filmed in gorgeous black and white, Kubrick’s second of three war films is possibly his most underrated work.
22. All About My Mother (1999/dir. Pedro Almodovar/Spain)
Your mileage may vary, but for me, Pedro Almodovar’s magnum opus is 1999’s All About My Mother. It’s a beautiful portrait of femininity seen through the eyes of different mothers, daughters, sisters, actresses and men who are transitioning into women. It’s a powerful, realistic and unpredictable ensemble piece with an early performance from Penelope Cruz as a nun dying of AIDS.
21. Rashomon (1950/dir. Akira Kurosawa/Japan)
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon invented a sub-genre for thrillers where a crime occurs and the audience sees the incident from several different character perspectives. The genius of Rashomon is that the truth is never revealed. The film was released in Japan in 1950 and was light years ahead of American movies. I haven’t seen every Kurosawa film but this is my hands down favorite. Available for Streaming for HULU Plus.
20. Oldboy (2003/dir. Chan-wook Park/South Korea)
One of the most strikingly original and entertaining films ever made is Chan Wook Park’s Oldboy. An intense character study wrapped inside of a thriller wrapped inside of a mystery seasoned with notes of bizarre humor. It’s the only movie I ever re-watched immediately after the first time I watched it. Available for Streaming for Netflix.
19. The Big Lebowski (1998/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)
I’ll admit that the first time I saw The Big Lebowski I didn’t think it was all that great. I’ll even admit that the second time I saw it I didn’t think it was much better. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth time you watch it, you realize it’s one of the most ingenious comedies ever filmed. Oddly structured, it unfolds in very surprising ways but never comes across as pretentious or tedious. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman deliver some of their finest work and John Turturro’s Jesus is a minor miracle.
18. Raging Bull (1980/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)
Known for having the best film editing ever (thanks Thelma Schoonmaker), Raging Bull is one of the few modern movies filmed in black and white that completely justifies being filmed in black and white. It’s beautiful and pristine, the most gorgeous movie Scorsese has ever shot. DeNiro gives one of the all time best screen performances as Jake LaMotta, a deeply flawed human being with whom it’s incredibly difficult to empathize. It is almost unreal that Ordinary People beat this out for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
17. The Master (2012/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)
I strongly believe that Paul Thomas Anderson is the most interesting and gifted filmmaker working in American movies today. The Master is his incredibly meticulous and unsettling post WWII drama about desperate men who need something, anything, to believe in. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give career best performances (and that is definitely saying something) as master and sensei, perfectly playing off each other with opposite approaches. Phoenix is a very extroverted and loud character while Hoffman is more introverted and subtle, quietly holding the power in the relationship. The first “processing” scene they share together might be my favorite two-person scene of all time.
16. The Godfather (1972/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)
There aren’t many three-hour movies that earn their runtime, but The Godfather manages to justify it with one of the tightest and most intense three-hour stretches ever recorded to film. The performances from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Richard Castellano are amazing but the real standout is an understated Robert Duvall as Tom Hayden, the outsider.
15. Memento (2000/ dir. Christopher Nolan / USA)
Christopher Nolan will never top Memento, which is interesting, seeing as though he had much less of a budget as he does now with blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Interstellar. Memento is one of the most unique and interesting films ever made, told in reverse about a man suffering short-term memory loss trying to solve the murder of his wife. The film’s ending is a startling revelation that sent chills down my spine.
14. Taxi Driver (1976/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)
Travis Bickle could have easily been an over-the-top character, but Robert DeNiro wisely positions the character’s psychosis internally. It’s his very best performance and proves DeNiro can convey more menace with a simple shift of his eyes than most actors can convey with their entire bodies. One of Scorsese’s only slow burns, Taxi Driver is an incredibly disturbing experience that seeps into your skin.
13. Sideways (2004/dir. Alexander Payne/USA)
I was recently asked what my favorite feel-good movie was and I responded with ‘Sideways’. It was met with a lot of controversy, but I stand by my decision. Alexander Payne’s masterpiece is about depression and failure, but it celebrates the humanity that lives in both of those things. It’s about deeply flawed human beings, Miles (a never better Paul Giamatti) in particular, getting a shot at redemption. It also has one of the best screenplays ever written.
12. There Will Be Blood (2007/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)
A landmark in American cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis gives the most powerful screen performance I’ve ever seen in my life as an insatiable oilman who is more or less the personification of capitalism. In his quest for capital, he has a run in with a manipulative local preacher who is basically the personification of organized religion. When they clash there is a lot of blood, and capitalism reigns victorious. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)
Stanley Kubrick’s visual orgasm/overwhelming mind-fuck is the greatest science-fiction film ever made. When you’re nine years old and see if for the first time it’s boring as shit, but as you grow older it slowly becomes one of the best films ever made. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
10. Waiting For Guffman (1996/dir. Christopher Guest/USA)
Hands down, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Having done community theatre for pretty much my entire life, all the little nuances and subtleties of this Christopher Guest outing really hit home hard for me. Every time you watch this movie, you find something new to laugh at.
9. A Clockwork Orange (1971/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)
A Clockwork Orange has this amazing way of presenting the most horrifically violent and disturbing images as pure beauty. If there was ever a film that needed to be described as grotesque, this is it. Kubrick’s two hour-plus journey through the mind of a sociopath is a fun, energetic, yet painful ride that’s similar to chugging a two-liter bottle of soda in under a minute. Available for Streaming on Amazon Prime.
8. Mulholland Drive (2001/dir. David Lynch/France/USA)
The biggest cinematic mind-fuck of all time is David Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive. One of the only films to actually get better with every viewing, I’ve seen it about eight times now. Naomi Watts delivers her best work as a struggling actress who fantasizes about a better life.
7. Fargo (1996/dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen/USA)
There might not be a filmmaker out there better at seamlessly blending comedic and dramatic elements in movies than the Coen Brothers. Their formula is perfected in 1996’s thrilling, funny, sad, frightening and completely genuine Fargo about a small but ugly crime wave washing over a small town.
6. Pulp Fiction (1994/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA)
Quentin Tarantino was my favorite filmmaker growing up because he was so fucking loud. He was making movies in a way that nobody every really did before him, but he was doing it in such an extravagant and borderline-obnoxious way that even a nine-year-old Michael Margetis could pick up on all the “subtleties” of his style. Pulp Fiction and most all of Tarantino’s movies work based on the strength of his characters that are given so much detail as a viewer you feel like you personally know them. Available for Streaming on Netflix.
5. Network (1976/dir. Sidney Lumet/USA)
Network was viewed as a piece of satire when it was released because the revolting nature of reality television hadn’t played out exactly like the film predicted yet. Featuring six of the best film performances of all time (Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall and a menacing Ned Beatty) and in my personal opinion the number one greatest screenplay ever written, Network stands the test of time perhaps as more of a drama than initially intended.
4. GoodFellas (1990/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)
Martin Scorsese’s best film is also his most entertaining film. GoodFellas is relentlessly entertaining, a flawlessly edited adrenaline-fueled ride through the rise and fall of a mob associate that never once stops for air. Joe Pesci more ore less created the violently insane and unpredictable sociopath template that’s seen in most gangster movies today.
3. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
(1963/dir. Stanley Kubrick/UK/USA)
Not the funniest comedy ever made, but without a question the best. Stanley Kubrick’s crowning achievement is a brilliant satire on the cold war made during the height of the cold war. With five amazing comedic performances, three from Peter Sellers and one each from the uncharacteristically hilarious George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, a brilliantly sharp screenplay and possibly the most meticulous production design I’ve ever seen.
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA)
I was nine years old the first time I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. I was hanging out in a hotel room in Amsterdam while my parents were at a dental convention. I realize it’s not objectively the best movie ever made (it’s still excellent though) but it’s the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker or at least involved in films. I still think its simplicity and incredibly well rounded characters make it Tarantino’s best work. Available for Streaming on Netflix
1. Amadeus (1984/dir. Milos Forman/USA/France)
I’m an actor and every actor is insecure in one way or another. Having seen Milos Forman’s Amadeus at a young age it really stuck with me because on the outside it’s a biopic about Mozart, but on the inside it’s this painful character study of a brilliant musician who puts in so much work but is unfortunately upstaged by a once-in-a-century kind of talent that never had to work hard a day in his life. It’s a film about blood, sweat, tears and time artists pour into their craft and how sometimes tireless work and an abundance of talent just isn’t enough to cut the mustard. Available for Streaming on Netflix.