Here is a list of my top 15 films. There are many deserving films that I have forgotten to include.
A beautiful film about the wonder and joy of the movies.
The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels shines in this drama that explores the life of a family dealing with divorce and struggling to grow up. The overlap of painful and comic moments creates an emotional intensity that is hard to top.
The look, feel, and sound of Drive pull you in from the start. Ryan Gosling gives a standout performance in a role reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's nameless High Plains Drifter, this neo-noir thriller impresses me in new ways with every viewing.
Dog Day Afternoon
Al Pacino is amazing in this true life story of a bank robbery gone wrong, but it's John Cazale who steals the show for me. I love the bank job genre of movies and this is their pinnacle. As heartfelt as it is thrilling, what amazes me about Dog Day Afternoon is that the twists it takes are all elements of character development and not simple plot development.
No Country for Old Men
I'm not sure if there has ever been a better adaptation of a novel into film. The Coen Brothers create suspense through their restraint, using minimal dialogue, exposition, and music to heighten the drama.
The Dark Knight
Despite its frustrating multiple endings, this is without a doubt the best superhero film ever made. One of the most entertaining and thrilling experiences I have ever had in a movie theater.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
This is the perfect Western. Clint Eastwood is impossibly badass as he seeks vengeance for his slaughtered family while forging bonds with an unlikely group of companions.
There Will Be Blood
An absolute tour de force from Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson proves why he is the best director of his generation. There is so much to love about this film from the acting, Jonny Greenwood's score, the visuals, and its story.
Do the Right Thing
Tensions are high on the hottest day of the year as Spike Lee's most acclaimed film explores issues of race, justice, and love. Raising more questions than answers, this film succeeds on many levels.
The Big Lebowski
This hilarious and highly quotable neo-noir is the Coen Brothers at their best. Memorable characters, great acting, excellent cinematography, and a fantastic soundtrack combine to make this one of the most entertaining movies ever made.
Good Will Hunting
Who doesn't want to be Will Hunting? Always the smartest guy in the room, he finally overcomes his demons and begins to build a life for himself. This movie forced me to respect Matt Damon as an actor and Will's critique of the NSA is stunning.
The Empire Strikes Back
The best Star Wars film, Empire has it all: Great action scenes mixed with drama, occasional comedy, and more character development than any other film in the series. The dark tone and ominous ending are immensely satisfying to me.
Martin Scorcese and Robert De Niro at their finest. Seeing Taxi Driver was the first time I recognized that some films exist on a different level than others, and that there is more to movies than the action blockbusters looped endlessly on cable. Travis Bickle may be the most enigmatic and fascinating lead character to ever hit the silver screen.
Back to the Future
My favorite trilogy, what's not to love about Doc and Marty? It was hard not to list all three films here, but I'll limit myself to the original and it's near perfection. BTTF is just a purely entertaining combination of action, comedy, romance, and nostalgia.
I was around ten years old, sleeping soundly, when my father's laughter at this film kept me up while past my bedtime. We shared that same laughter the following night, and I've adored this masterpiece ever since. Gene Wilder and the rest of the cast play their parts perfectly, with Wilder and director Mel Brooks picking up an Oscar nomination for their hilarious screenplay. I could probably quote every line in the movie, and they're all great.
Some of my past favorites that deserve mentioning: The Royal Tenenbaums, In the Name of the Father, Zoolander, The Rock, Forrest Gump, and Finding Nemo.