Lists: Top 10 films of the last 25 years

This is the top 10 films of the last 25 years (in my opinion).  To see the previous list, 1994-2008, scroll down to the post below this one.  To see 1983-1993 scroll down below that one.

10. In America (Jim Sheridan) 2002

In what is probably the least obvious choice for this list, director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) tells his most personal story, about a young family moving to America from Ireland. But that description just doesn't do this beautiful film justice.  In America is (usually at the same time) both heart-breaking and heart-warming, but never relies on cheap sentiment.  The actors are pitch-perfect, including one of the greatest actresses of our time, Samantha Morton (Minority Report).  Paddy Constidine (the Bourne Ultimatum), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), and the two children Emma and Sarah Bolger put in solid performances.  Keep a box of kleenex on hand, I weep like a wee child every time I see this film.

Stand Out Scene:  Johnny (Paddy Constidine) wages the rent money on a stuffed animal for his kids, in one of the most tense and moving scenes ever put to film. 

9. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone) 1984

This is for the Director's Cut, the version that had the audience at Cannes on their feet cheering, the 4 hour version.  The theatrical release was one of the worst hatchet jobs in film history, cutting the running time from 229 minutes to 139 minutes, and re-arranging the narrative, making the film a complete mess.  But the original version is a haunting, almost dream-like story about the relationship of two friends (Robert DeNiro and James Woods) and their rise and fall with in the world of crime.  Much is said about the final scenes, an ambiguous ending, that leaves key decisions up to the viewer.  This was Sergio Leone's last film, after years of beautiful, and often brutal spaghetti westerns (The Fistful of Dollars trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West are MUST SEE films).

Stand out scene:  The Ending.  Without spoiling anything, what do you think happens to James Woods character Max?  What do you make of the final scene with DeNiro in the Opium Den?

8. Short Cuts (Robert Altman) 1993

Robert Altman made films that redefined genres, The Long Goodbye to film noir, McCabe and Mrs Miller to the Western, M.A.S.H. to the war film.  These films, as well as his other greats were at heart character studies.  My favourite Altman works are the ones involving large casts playing real drawn out characters.  Nashville is probably my personal favourite, but Short Cuts comes a close second.  Based on a series of short stories by Robert Carver, Short Cuts tells the storys of a number of people in the Los Angeles area, sometimes intertwining and connecting in unexpected ways.  Sound familiar?  It's the blue print for films like Crash and Magnolia.  Unlike Crash though, this film isn't interested in telling you how to feel, you are to observe, and make your own decisions (you know, like an adult!).  

Stand out Scene:  Thats a tough one, but I'll just say I'm immediately happy when Tom Waits shows up in a movie, and his scenes with Lili Tomlin are worth the price alone.

7. This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner) 1984

This is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest movies ever made.  Also one of the first mock-umentary's and (as far as I know) the first Rock-umentary!  Remember when Rob Reiner was a director who's name you could trust?  Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, were all great films (two appearing on this list, one would make the next 50, if their was one), but now he deals with shmaltzy crap (Alex and Emma? The Bucket List?).  Christopher Guest wrote this, and would later go on to write and direct some more Mock-umetary classics, Waiting for Guffman is on this list, and with more space, I'm sure Best in Show would be there too.  If you haven't seen it, just watch it.

Stand out Scene:  Oh man, Nigel Tufnal (Guest) showing Marti DiBergi (Reiner) his guitar collection, including his amp that goes to 11, is one of the funniest scenes in film history.

6. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen) 1989

Woody Allen is, in my opinion, the greatest director still living today.   To me, even his worst films have more redeeming points than most directors best films.  Allen is also a director who is on a quest of sorts.  He's been dissecting themes of death, love, sex, Comedy and God's place in the world, his entire career.  All are on display in Crimes and Misdemeanors.  When Judah Rosenthal's (Martin Landau) mistress (Angelica Houston) blackmails him, he contemplates killing her.  Would he get away with it?  more importantly, would he be able to live with himself afterwards?  Cliff Stern (Allen) falls for Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), but will he be able to compete with the pompous Lester (Alan Alda)?  There is a cynicism that underlies this film, so don't expect the happy answers.  In a world without God, what keeps us moral?  In a scene where Ronsenthal's concience is portrayed by the priest Ben (Sam Waterson) he is asked "It's a Human life.  You don't think God sees?" his answer is "God is a luxury I can't afford".  

Stand out scene:  The final scene between Cliff and Judah seems to be what the whole film was working up to.  A long conversation about a hypothetical killing, that doesn't answer anything thing for the audience, but give you a platform to decide for yourself.  

5. Goodfellas (Martin Scorcese) 1990

The Gangster film is pretty well represented in this list.  But the two listed so far, couldn't be any different.  Where Leone takes a slow existential approach to his source material, Scorsese takes a faster more direct approach, mimicking the lifestyles portrayed.  Henry Hill's (Ray Liotta) arc of poor kid, to rising gangster to drug addict to rat and suburban boredom, is an honest portrayal of the sham that is the gangster lifestyle.  This is a brutal film that doesn't shy away from violence and, more importantly, the effects of violence.  Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, are Hill's friends and fellow "Goodfellas". This is easily Pesci's finest role, as the loose cannon Tommy DeVito.  The Soprano's is heavily influenced by this film, half the cast appears at one time or another.  

Stand out Scene:  Pesci's legendary verbal attack on Hill, concerning how he is funny.   

4. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) 1994

Pulp Fiction oozes cool.  Tarantino, more than any director, creates a world for his films.  A world where everyone has seen all the films of Lee Marvin, or the Shaw Brothers,  are familiar with Blacksplotation, and Grindhouse.  Pulp Fiction takes the influence of tough guy drama's from the 70's to create his best film to date.  Tarantino is more than just a pilferer of 70's trash, he has an exceptional understanding of how films work, a thesis could be written (and probably has) about the various techniques he employs to tell this story.  What made this film exciting at the time, was how everyone talked.  Listen to the dialog, people speak like no one you've ever heard, and at the same time (some how) it's so familiar.  

Stand out Scene:  Wow, can't pick just one.  When jules and Vincent interrogate and kill Brad for the stolen Suitcase; Harvey Keitel as the Wolf; Christopher Walken's watch speech; Sam Jackson's 'talk' with Tim Roth.... so many.

3. Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee) (1989)

It's the hottest day of summer in the Bedford Sty section of Brooklyn.  Everyone is a little on edge, and old tensions are brewing.  Do the Right thing is a masterpiece, dealing with Race relations, and a controversial release in it's time.  Some (white) reviewers expected it to cause black riots, not grasping the fact that this film is not picking favorites.  Everyone has their baggage, ideas that need to be unlearned.  Does Mookie (Spike Lee) do the right thing?  

Stand out Scene:  The montage of racial slurs is a perfect example that, in some ways, everyone is to blame.  

2. Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone) 1994

Speaking of controversial.  In 1994, Oliver Stone satirized what I think, is the best example of everything that was wrong with 80's and 90's culture and media.  Glorification of Murderers, extreme sensationalism, celebrity based on sound bites, and vapid television.  I wish I could say much has changed.  A lot of people hated this film, and I think it's partially because they took it at face value.  I don't believe that the extreme violence is as important as your reaction to it, unlike films like Hostel, you're not asked to revel in it.  

Stand out Scene: The Sitcom satire with Rodney Dangerfield.  A lot of bigotry and bad deeds are played out for comedy on Television,  the idea that an evil deed or remark can be washed away with a laugh track. (one the reasons I hated Everybody Loves Raymond)    

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) 2004

In 2004 Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman created one of the most beautiful, honest films about love ever made.  Kaufman has written some of the smartest films in recent memory (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), stories that mess with your perception of how movies are made, but also contain beautiful truths.  We've all had our hearts broken, and sometimes we only think of the bad times.  Joel (Jim Carrey) has the opportunity to erase all memory of Clementine (Kate Winslett), but during the procedure, he sub-consciously remembers the good times, and has to figure out how to keep these memories. This film is so in tune to how real relationships work.  There is a scene where the two of them are having dinner, and the passive-aggressive remarks are so real, we sometimes take our troubles out on our loved ones.  Michel Gondry has to be commended for getting the best performance out of Jim Carrey.  Carrey, has a tendency to play small variations on himself in all of his films, always mugging for the camera.  He doesn't do that here, he's a whole character.  There are a lot of fantastic visuals in this film, but they are only there to support the story.  Don't be surprised to see this as #1 on the inevitable top 10 lists for the 00's. 

Stand out scene:  Joel's reaction to Clementine when she says: "But you'll find things you don't like, and I'll get bored, cause that's what I do!"  It's so obvious, inevitable, and it's a perfect example of the illogical choices we make for love.  It's one of the most beautiful moments in film history.  


jessica said...

hmm, I don't think I've ever seen Once Upon A Time in America or Crimes And Misdemeanors ... have I?

I should hurry up and watch em.

Shawn William Clarke said...

No, I don't think you have. You may borrow them, if that is something you'd be interested in.

Lesley Denford said...

I've only seen 2 of these - Eternal Sunshine and Spinal Tap. I'm dying to see In America. Let's watch, shall we?

1minutefilmreview said...

Hi Shawn, thanks for stopping by our blog and your comment!

Samantha Morton shines in 'In America'. Great pick!

Shawn William Clarke said...

Lesley, yes, we'll watch In America, be prepared for the flood of tears... mostly by me.

Thanks for the comment 1minutefilmreview!

Shubhajit said...

Thats a nice list you have compiled. It was brave of you to pick Oliver Stone's audacious Natural Born Killers, & i'll go with your decision. Eternal Sunshine is indeed one of the most awesome movies i've ever seen. But there's one catch in your list - you haven't covered any foreign film in your list. So i guess the more appropriate title for your list should be "Top 10 American Films of the Last 25 Years".

Shawn William Clarke said...

Very true, the closest I came is an Italian film maker with Sergio Leone. It's funny I hadn't given country of Origin much consideration. Although there are a few Foreign films in the top 100, and a few Canadian ones as well.