As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.
Honorable mentions: The Rock, Sling Blade
10 – FOXFIRE (Annette Haywood-Carter)
“Live dangerously. Walk me to class.”
A cool and thoughtful movie about the friendship that develops between a group of teenage girls, with drifter Legs (a pre-breakthrough Angelina Jolie) acting as the catalyst. Truth be told, I don’t remember much details about this film, but I do recall being quite taken by the earnest performances and the very 90s-y feel of the movie. Sadly, not many people seem to have seen this one. Do check it out if you have the chance.
9 – KINGPIN (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)
“It’s round, has three holes, and you put your fingers into it.”
I haven’t seen this one since the early 2000s, but this one got frequent play on my VCR back in the day. The humor is of the typical Farrelly brand; if that’s not your thing, this bowling comedy won’t change your mind. For those of us who like this stuff, Kingpin offers plenty of laughs. Having two great actors like Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray in the central parts certainly doesn’t hurt either, with Murray in particular stealing the show in the film’s climactic bowling game.
8 – WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (Christopher Guest)
“We consider ourselves bi-costal if you consider the Mississippi River one of the coasts.”
This was the first mockumentary Christopher Guest directed, and right from the start, he and his recurring band of collaborators (Eugene Levy, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara and more) nail the formula. Waiting for Guffman follows the inhabitants of a small town in Missouri as they attempt to put together a theater production. Teriffic improvisational humor that often drifts off into pleasantly unexpected directions.
7 – FARGO (Joel & Ethan Coen)
“What the heck do ya mean?”
A dark comedy steeped in personality. The wintry Minnesota/North Dakota setting, along with the distinct dialects, gives Fargo a unique atmosphere. Of course, that’s not all it takes to make a film great. Luckily, the Coens also tells one of their sharpest stories here about a faked kidnapping and the complications that arise from it. Also to be treasured are the unforgettable performances: Frances McDormand‘s pregnant cop, William H. Macy‘s car salesman who’s in way over his head, and two bickering small-time crooks played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare.
6 – PRIMAL FEAR (Gregory Hoblit)
“I choose to believe that not all crimes are committed by bad people. And I try to understand that some very, very good people do some very bad things.”
It’s hard to believe that Primal Fear was Edward Norton‘s first movie. His performance here as a stuttering altar boy accused of murder still ranks as one of the actor’s most powerful to this day. While Norton may be the movie’s highlight, the other aspects of it don’t trail far behind. This is a captivating courtroom drama, with plenty of neat developments that keeps things fresh in a genre where it often feels like everything has been done before. A tight story that’s wonderfully executed.
5 – BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (Ted Demme)
“You never let’em behind the curtain, Will. You never let them see the little ol’ man behind the curtain working the levers of the great and powerful Oz. They’re all sisters, Willie. They aren’t allowed back there. They mustn’t see.”
Maybe my appreciation for this film is magnified due to it being about people of the age I’m in: the upper 20s. That time when you realize that you’re not young anymore, that the years will just keep marching on, and that you might have to stop procrastinating about deciding what you want out of life. A cast full of familiar names and faces populate this movie, in which a musician (Timothy Hutton) returns to his hometown in Massachusetts to attend his high school reunion and reconnect with his old friends. Though the mood of the film is a pleasant and warm one, every character has their problems. Most of them seems to center around people of the opposite sex. Funny how that tends to be. Beautiful Girls offers both laughter and thoughtfulness, and is worth seeing for the great scenes between Hutton and a young Natalie Portman alone.
4 – BOUND (Larry & Andy Wachowski)
“Who’s the dead man? Who? Who’s dead, fuckface?”
Bound is known primarily for two things: the lesbian sex scene between lead actresses Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, and for being the directorial debut of the Wachowskis. Noteworthy aspects to be sure, but the real gem in this neo-noir is Joe Pantoliano‘s performance as mafia member Caesar. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe it, as he grows more irate, desperate and violent the more trouble he finds himself in. This is also an expertly crafted story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and where every shot helps to build the mood.
3 – TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle)
“The downside of coming off junk was I knew I would need to mix with my friends again in a state of full consciousness. It was awful. They reminded me so much of myself, I could hardly bear to look at them.”
The really cool thing about Trainspotting is how it sweeps you along in its drug-fuelled story. At the start where everything is a bliss for the addicted Scotting youngsters, Danny Boyle throws his full reprtoire of rapid cuts, stylish transitions and hyperactive editing tricks on us, the soundtrack blasts on and the humor comes quick and furious. Later on, as the viewpoint character weans himself off of drugs, the whole movie settles down; there’s less music, no rushing about, and the plot gets more serious. While most of the characters are fuck-ups and/or of questionable moral fibers. it’s still hard not to feel some degree of affection towards them. In terms of films showing the devastating and life-altering effects of narcotics, Trainspotting ranks up there with Requiem for a Dream as one of the modern must-sees.
2 – SWINGERS (Doug Liman)
“Don’t tell me we didn’t make it. We made it! We are here. And everything that has passed is prologue to this.”
Not only is Swingers a very funny movie; it also effortlessly captures the essence of hanging out with your friends. Whether you’re arguing over video games or going out drinking, this movie gets everything just right. Despite taking place half a world away and in a slightly different era, everything here is still immediately reocgnizable to me. Future Iron Man director Jon Favreau is effective in the lead as the meek aspiring comedian Mike, but it’s Vince Vaughn who steals the show in his breakout role as Mike’s confident friend Trent, never letting him forget that he is, in fact, money. So is this movie.
1 – BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier)
“I love you no matter what is in your head.”
Movies like this one are rare. I’m talking about films that walk up to you, punch you in the gut, and then when you’re doubled over gasping for air, they knee you right in the face. But in a good way. In Breaking the Waves, Lars von Trier goes to great lengths to put his leading lady Emily Watson‘s character – simple but kind-hearted church-goer Bess – through emotional torture and hardship. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and at times it almost becomes too much. Like, it’s great, but come on! Let up a bit, please! But then that last shot of the film appears, and everything just clicks into place. This is a tremendous movie, and watching it is a reminder of just how powerful film can be.