1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Artistically and thematically brilliant, Nolan’s final Batman film is a triumph of superhero storytelling: ambitious, thought-provoking, emotional, and redemptive. A spectacular achievement on every level. When I say the trilogy couldn’t have ended any better, I mean the trilogy could not have ended any better. I could go on and on about how amazing it all is, but ultimately, my verdict can be summed up as follows: not only is this the biggest, boldest, and best Batman movie of them all, it’s the most magnificent superhero film I have ever seen. Simple as that.
2. LOOPER (2012)
A carefully constructed sci-fi action-puzzler that runs as smoothly as clockwork. Thrilling? Yes. Action-packed? Yes. But look beneath the guns and gadgets and you’ll see something even better: a thinking brain and a beating heart. Bravo, director Johnson. Bravo. You’ve given us a sci-fi film for the ages.
3. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
It’s good to be back in Middle Earth again. There are a few minor technical missteps – and some (understandable) liberties are taken with the original material – but the overall result is so sumptuous, so exciting, and so impressive that any flaws are easily forgiven or forgotten. This is epic fantasy filmmaking at its very, very finest. Jackson has laid a terrific foundation for the rest of the trilogy, and I’m looking forward to Part II.
4. THE AVENGERS (2012)
The finest film Marvel has yet produced. Flawless casting, spectacular set pieces, thrilling action, clever writing, and an enthralling story – all revolving around superheroes that are truly super. Forget big, dumb fun. This is big, smart fun. Big, smart, explosive fun.
5. THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (2010)
Not for the weak of heart (or stomach), but a powerful film nonetheless. The story itself isn’t new or incredibly original, but it gains a lot of emotional heft from the bond between the two lead characters: a thing of beauty amidst so much ugliness. The performances of Bon Win and Sae-Ron Kim are understated yet wonderful, and the action is brilliantly done, making most Hollywood stunts look silly by comparison.
6. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)
They say Unforgiven is Eastwood’s best western, but for my money, this one is. Eastwood proves himself more than adept at working both sides of the camera, and skillfully develops the “Man With No Name” persona established in his earlier work. The supporting cast is top notch, the action is tenacious, and script is ridiculously quotable.
7. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1984)
I can’t believe I waited so long to see this. Was I ailing in the brain? Did I really think it was possible to go through life as a cinephile without watching Back to the Future? Thankfully, I have good friends who knew what I was missing: they sat me down, popped the movie in, and voila! it turned out to be one of the funniest, most ludicrously entertaining things I had ever seen.
8. WARRIOR (2011)
This isn’t just another dime-a-dozen fight movie: it’s a profound and fiercely moving story about forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. The action is gripping, the performances are stunning, and the emotional payoff is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s the best film of it’s kind since Cinderella Man (2005).
9. RANGO (2011)
A modern animated classic. For starters, it looks amazing. Like, amazing amazing. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t seen it, but Rango has a visual flair all its own. Complimenting the eye-candy are a talented array of voice-actors (Depp shines in the titular role), bizarre and unforgettable characters, deliciously clever writing from John Logan, and a story that gives more than one tip of the stetson to spaghetti westerns of yore.
10. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Are fairy tales nonsense? Should they be read only by the very young? Or can grown-ups learn from them, too? For Guillermo de Toro, the answers are clearly No, No, and Yes, respectively – else he would not have crafted an R-rated film full of fauns, faeries, and other fantastical creatures. It’s a bloody tale, and a grim one (don’t even think about watching it with the kids) but it’s a tale worth telling; and those who brave its dark waters will find beauty on the other side. Movies like this remind us of the truth of Chesterton’s words: “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
11. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (2008)
I’m giving you seven reasons to watch this film: [1.] The title. [2.] The action (it would make John Woo swoon). [3.] The insanely cool soundtrack. [4.] The action (it would make John Woo swoon). [5.] The sly nods to Sergio Leone. [6.] The action (it would make John Woo swoon). [7.] The totally awesome characters. [8.] Did I mention the action? It would make John Woo swoon.
12. THE HURT LOCKER (2009)
Critics have hailed this movie as “an adrenaline-soaked tour de force” – and now that I’ve finally seen it, I can appreciate why. Superbly acted, directed, and shot, The Hurt Locker is an exceptional moviemaking achievement, and takes its place as the hardest-hitting war film to come out of Hollywood in a long time.
13. THE GODFATHER (1972)
In terms of sheer artistic excellence, few films can match Francis Cord Coppola’s masterpiece. It’s brilliantly acted, wonderfully atmospheric, remarkably well-written, and – well, you get the idea. From the first scene to the end credits, the story is equal parts fascinating and unsettling; a provocative picture of greed, vengeance, and moral relativism.
14. CORIOLANUS (2011)
Shakespeare intended his plays to be watched and enjoyed, and with that in mind, Coriolanus can be summed up in two words: bloody brilliant. Fiennes’ directorial debut successfully re-imagines one of The Bard’s lesser known works in a 21st century setting, and all without dumbing it down. The filmmaking is visceral, smart, and ambitious, bolstered by splendid acting and direction; and the grand Olde English dialogue – delivered with electrifying charisma by pros like Fiennes, Cox, and Redgrave – is magnificent enough to revel in.
15. THE INSIDER (1999)
Based on a true story (and bolstered by the incredible performances of Crowe and Pacino), The Insider is yet another exceptional crime thriller from director Michael Mann. It’s a tense and moving story about two men who dared to buck the system – men of integrity and moral courage who took a stand for the truth, even when it seemed they were fighting a losing battle. Because as Shakespeare once observed, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”