10. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
The first Peter Jackson directed “Lord of the Rings” movie was a lightning-in-a-bottle success. For decades, J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic literary series was thought to be unfilmable. However, because of Jackson’s passion, a perfect cast and groundbreaking visual effects, the classic fantasy story was put to screen. All of Tolkien’s great writing and world building is on display along with the visual spectacle only Hollywood could provide. On top of that, the film is just incredibly well-paced and easy to watch, despite the enormous length. “Fellowship of the Ring” is simply the pinnacle of what big budget action movies are capable of.
9. “Hoop Dreams” (1994)
This documentary shows the life of two Black teens, Gates and Agee, as they are recruited by a prestigious high school for their basketball skills. It shows the racial and economic struggles that the teens must face as they join a predominately white school in the hopes of making better lives for themselves. “Hoop Dreams” was significant for showing such a candid picture of an aspect of American life that barely received any attention at the time. On top of the subject matter being important, the documentary is incredibly well put together, with tight editing that manages to convey a story with drama and tension. It’s all the more impressive considering it was a low budget documentary.
8. “La La Land” (2016)
Oftentimes, the most disappointing thing about movie musicals is that they don’t take advantage of the medium of film. If you look at most Broadway adaptations, the singing and dancing will be not as impressive compared to their stage counterparts. Fortunately, “La La Land” utilizes the language of cinema to give an experience unlike any other musical. To say the song numbers are impressive is an understatement. The stunning sound and visuals are also coupled with an emotional love story about two fully developed characters.
7. “The Lighthouse” (2019)
As modern horror movies go, “The Lighthouse” sits above all others. The film has expert pacing, phenomenal performances and gorgeous cinematography. There is a slow creeping escalation of horror as the tension between the characters increases. What makes this movie particularly unique is its sense of humor. Willem Dafoe’s character is simultaneously a threatening antagonist and ridiculous sea captain. The mixing of horror and comedy not only makes the movie exceptionally fun to watch, but also creates a uniquely frightening experience. When the viewer is unsure if the next scene will only culminate in a hilarious moment or terrifying reveal, it amplifies the tension.
6. “Stalker” (1979)
Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s final and perhaps most famous movie “Stalker” is a surreal and powerful experience. In the world of the film, there is an area called “The Zone” in which there is a seemingly otherworldly presence. Inside “The Zone” there is “The Room” which supposedly grants the wishes of whoever walks inside it. A man called the “stalker” leads a writer and professor through “The Zone” to find “The Room.” Along the way the three have deep philosophical conversations about the nature of faith and desire. Every frame of the movie is slow and methodical as it mesmerizes the viewer. The film is simultaneously ugly and beautiful, utilizing shots of chemical waste and abandoned nuclear power plants to full effect.
5. “Her” (2013)
“Her” delivers a beautiful and heart-breaking romantic science-fiction story. Theodore is a depressed and introverted man traumatized by his recent divorce. After purchasing an Artificial Intelligence operating system named Samantha, Theodore bonds and falls in love with her. The film touches on themes of life, loneliness and technology. Joaquin Phoenix gives a career-best performance as Theodore, managing to sell the character’s social awkwardness without making him creepy or unlikable.
4. “The Graduate” (1967)
This classic dark comedy/drama is relevant to anyone in college and on the cusp of fully entering the adult world. The film follows Benjamin after he completed his Bachelor’s degree yet finds himself still unsure of where he wants to go in life. After spending his developing years doing everything that was expected of him, he never figured out what he actually wants. Feeling lost, Benjamin finds himself in an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner. Graduating college and entering the real world where one is responsible for their own lives can be very intimidating. On top of being extremely relatable, “The Graduate” also has one of the best movie soundtracks of all time performed by the legendary Simon and Garfunkel.
3. “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)
This critically acclaimed anime film is culturally significant for portraying the human cost of World War II. The film follows two Japanese siblings after their house is firebombed and their mother is killed. They both must struggle to survive on their own in a country at war. The relationship between the two siblings is tragic and beautiful. The film is all the more powerful knowing that it was adapted from an-autobiographical short story of the same name. Very few movies about war really show what it is like to be a normal person living through it. The story effectively makes the viewer invested in the siblings’ survival as they face one hardship after another.
2. “The Godfather” (1972)
When it comes to classic cinema, there are almost no movies as acclaimed as “The Godfather.” After knowing the trouble Francis Ford Coppola went through to make this movie, it’s a miracle that this movie turned out to be so groundbreaking. The film centers around Michael Corleone, as he’s slowly drawn into his family’s life of crime. The cast features a collection of all-time cinematic greats with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. The film is an exploration of family above anything else; it analyzes what family means to the main character and how far he is willing to go for his family.
1. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece represents the pinnacle of science fiction. It was the first movie to truly show space in a believable way. Both the stunning beauty and the horrific unknown of the cosmos are on full display. The film is centered around these mysterious black monoliths of unknown alien origin. These monoliths seemingly show up at moments of human evolutionary change. It is truly an epic story taking mankind from the primitive ape ancestors to colonizers of space to something beyond that. It represents everything that makes movies great with iconic moments, masterful directing, a phenomenal soundtrack and rich themes and ideas.