“In a Lonely Place” (1950) – My favorite noir. Deeply flawed protagonist. Watching this, I finally understood why Bogart is great — the range of sensitivity and toughness he portrays is astounding.
“Seven Samurai” (1954) – I’m fascinated by the role that warriors play within society, how they’re glorified when needed and shunned when the danger has passed. This film captures that beautifully. Also, that scene where Kikuchiyo sees himself in the orphaned bandit child is heartbreaking.
“The Innocents” (1961) – Atmospheric gothic horror tour de force. Dialog is amazing. How can something with essentially G-rated content be so scary and disturbing?
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) – Man’s uncanny ability to triumph over his environment and the wrath of god-like machines is stunningly illustrated by the simple sound of David’s breathing as he marches up to disconnect HAL.
“The Godfather” (1972) – This movie isn’t really about the awesome characters — it’s about family and life itself.
“Young Frankenstein” (1974) – Just thinking about this movie makes me laugh. Brooks’ prodigious sense of humor is only matched by the care that went into lovingly re-creating the production design from the Universal Frankenstein films it parodies.
“Phantom of the Paradise” (1974) – The first time I clearly saw the humanity within the heart of a monster portrayed. Having an A+ soundtrack helps.
“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) – The first time I stopped trusting the director to show me things my mind cound handle.
“Rollerball” (1975) – Captures the role athletes play within modern society perfectly. Also, a poetic commentary on the power the individual can wield against a group.
“All That Jazz” (1979) – The importance of the artist’s life. Also, the beauty of dance.
“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – Uses the amazing universe established in “Star Wars” (1977), adds the perfect amount of drama and exposition and somehow also develops the characters beautifully.
“The Shining” (1980) – Subtle visual cues tell a deep story about man’s inhumanity to man. Meanwhile, we heplessly witness a single family with cabin fever horrifically self-destruct when one member gives in to his weaknesses. Chilling.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) – Modernized homage to the serials of old that’s campy, yet thrilling to watch. The script is a study in perfection — every line of dialog propels the story forward.
“The Thing” (1982) – Carpenter at his bloody best. The king of “man vs. the unstoppable creature” movies. Also, the king of Lovecraftian-style horror/Sci-Fi movies.
“Manhunter” (1986) – The visual storytelling in this movie is legend (e.g., FBI profiler Will Graham gazing at his own shadow, stating “It’s just you and me now, sport.”) Wow.
“Raising Arizona” (1987) – Hilarious portrayals of dusty small-town folk elevate the story to an epic saga of a man and woman’s irrepressible desire to be a family.
“Pulp Fiction” (1994) – I still can’t believe it was written and directed by a man in his early thirties. It has innovative storytelling, unique characters and a philosophical heart… and it’s entertaining as hell. Like a couple of other movies on this list, it proved so iconic that it gave birth to its own sub-genre.
“Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) – It saddens me when critics comment that this film ends on a happy note. It doesn’t. It’s an exploration of the dark side of consumerism and the inability of even the most fortunate people to be content with the happiness they already possess.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001) – The freakish title character is subtly revealed — with the help of a stunning punk/glam soundtrack and a beautiful story of Jungian self-actualization — to be exactly like us.
“Kill Bill” (2003 – 2004) – Tarantino breaks the mold again by creating an exhilarating, technically brilliant revisionist (feminist) samurai/western interpolation that’s a catalog of his favorite movies, shots and actors, yet still manages to be miles better than any one of its thousands of parts.