The 25 Best Movies of 1998

Movies Lists 1998
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The 25 Best Movies of 1998

It’s been 20 years since the Farrelly brothers mythologized Cameron Diaz’s ubiquitous, extra-special something-ness, and 20 years since Terry Gilliam refuted the same. Twenty years since Adam Sandler proved that he could be a low-key lovable weirdo rather than a consummately high-key annoying one; 20 years since the beginnings of the Dude (Jeff Bridges), since the re-beginnings of Terrence Malick, since the inauguration of Wes Anderson’s crowning as the heir to a hipster, fetishized niche of cinematic aesthetic of which he’s still proving, this year, to have underestimated the influence. Twenty years of the indelible movie images of Philip Seymour Hoffman furiously masturbating onto a wall, of Ron Perlman as a gentle giant, of a man drilling into his own skull. Twenty years is a long period of time, and 1998 was an odd year for film, both iconic and kinda bad, a year of starts (of both Darren Aronofsky’s and Christopher Nolan’s debuts) and a year of slow stops, of master directors entering their twilight periods (John Frankenheimer and Theo Angelopoulos making one of their best films, reflecting on a long legacy they’ll soon leave behind). Twenty years later, let’s look back at this curious 12 months in world cinema, feeling older and wiser and probably mostly the same.

Here are the 25 best movies of 1998.

25. Waking Ned Devine
Director: Kirk Jones

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Waking Ned Devine may be the most feel-good heist flick ever made. An old-timer in a small village, Ned (Jimmy Keogh), wins the lottery then immediately dies of shock. Two of his also-old-timer buddies, Jackie (Ian Bannen) and Michael (Fawlty Towers’ David Kelly), decide to scam the big-city lotto agent into thinking that one of them is Ned, alive and well. What ensues is not so much a con-artist caper but more a celebration of all that is Irish: community, camaraderie and the spirit of human generosity. Other Irish themes championed: whiskey, lush landscapes, poetry, naked geriatric men riding motorcycles, whiskey and the fiddle. —Ryan Carey


24. A Simple Plan
Director:   Sam Raimi  

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For his second go at mainstream recognition after the mixed reception of The Quick and the Dead, Sam Raimi stepped back into the stark clarity of his pulpier early days to tell a straightforward fable about Bad Things happening to Good People. His unaffected touch is there in its first frame: a pitch-black raven cawing against a bleached-white background. Raimi wastes no ground in subtlety, shaking up his black-and-white palette with ominous reds, repeatedly allowing his characters to desperately claim that the snow, in all of its snowy whiteness, will cover up past wrongdoing and let the Good People—if they’re sorry enough—start anew. In that sense, A Simple Plan is as traditional a morality play as a thriller can get, but Raimi has never been a director unwilling to splash about in the shallows; instead, the inevitability of the plot is his point—even the simplest of decisions carry whole worlds of consequence—and Raimi injects each emotional beat with unspeakable tragedy. Carried by Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, one of boundless sympathy at a time when the actor seemed capable of anything, A Simple Plan serves as something of a companion piece to Fargo, another expertly crafted thriller from the ‘90s. It treats its wintry landscape similarly: not as a metaphorical whiting out of sins, but as a tabula rasa upon which human nature—in big bright colors—will eventually paint its own selfish doom. —Dom Sinacola


23. Following
Director:   Christopher Nolan  

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Before Memento, before Inception, Christopher Nolan made his feature-length debut with this tight little mindscrew. An aspiring young novelist shadows and studies strangers, rather innocently, for inspiration until he gets sucked in by a charismatic man in a suit who turns out to be a petty thief. Wise to his being followed, the burglar takes his would-be stalker along his crime route, until bad things—and a hot blonde—happen. Nolan, who also penned the screenplay, shows his knack for non-linear narratives early on; he establishes the key players before doubling back through the story. The constraints of a no-budget production—the film was made for just six thousand bucks and shot in black and white on 16mm—work in its favor. Nolan’s first neo-noir is voyeuristic, suspenseful and, at a shade over an hour long, efficient as hell. Like its subjects, Following gets in and out before anyone knows quite what hit them. —Amanda Schurr


22. The Idiots
Director:   Lars von Trier  

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Lars von Trier, the great and terrible Dane, has a bizarre sense of humor. He once made an office comedy called The Boss of It All; his horrible lead Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) in Dogville is the butt of many of von Trier’s sardonic jokes; a talking fox bellowing “Chaos reigns!” plays like a supernatural prank; he dedicates an entire section of Nymphomaniac to talking about the Fibonacci Sequence; his TV show The Kingdom was heavily informed by the morbid and absurd humor of Twin Peaks; and he once wrote an episode of the dark comedy Klown which involved pantslessness. He’s a manic depressive jester, a provocative bipolar clown.

Which is never more evident, or as emotionally striking, than in The Idiots, von Trier’s only film to be made according to the Dogme 95 edict—calling for, broadly, a back to basics, anti-bourgeois aesthetic—he devised with fellow director Tomas Vinterberg. In the film, in an attempt to challenge a society and system that has devalued intellect in favor of bourgeois elitism, a group of Danish adults decides to release their so-called “inner idiot” out into the world, pretending to be developmentally disabled. In a knowing and cuttingly ironic manner, von Trier indicts the existence of his own Dogme 95 movement (using “simplicity” to reveal artifice and performance, that only bourgeois people could afford to do such an experiment), the existence of the film at all and the ableism of its conceit. Von Trier doesn’t exactly indulge his idea, rather, he uses the characters’ ableism to reveal the emptiness of their lives and the fraudulence of their supposed political/social praxis. Film critic Mark Kermode was ejected from the theater for shouting that the film was shit when it premiered at Cannes, but maybe we, inhaling an endless prestige buffet of disability porn movies, are just as full of it. —Kyle Turner


21. There’s Something About Mary
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

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...and it’s not just hair gel. Cameron Diaz’s titular character is the object of affection for a wide range of guys, not all of whom are NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Not without reason: She combines a certain Audrey Hepburn winsomeness with a certain Ava Gardner crassness, plus a sensibility that is as ’90 as anything this side of Jennifer Aniston’s haircut in Friends Season 1. Throw in a splash of Ben Stiller cringe-theater, Chris Elliott creepypants-comedy and cameos by both Jonathan Richman and a certain football star, and you have a Farrelly Brothers classic—raunchy, ridiculous, and somehow guffaw-inducing even when you know better. It’s sort of like if Otto Preminger’s masterpiece Laura were set in 1990s Florida and made into a comedy by drunk frat boys. What’s not to love? —Amy Glynn


20. The City of Lost Children
Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro

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Ron Perlman plays the reluctant hero as a circus strongman named One looking for his adopted little brother Denree (Joseph Lucien), as Marc Caro (Delicatessen) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, also Delicatessen) team up to create a wildly imaginative dystopian universe. Krank (Daniel Emilfort), the evil creation of a mad scientist, is harvesting children’s dreams in order to keep himself young, so One must enlist the help of an orphaned street thief (Judith Vittet) to retrieve the kidnapped Denree. Populated with clones, Siamese twins, trained circus fleas and a Cyborg cult called the Cyclops, this steampunk fever dream has plenty for fans of Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry. —Josh Jackson


19. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Director: Karan Johar

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One of the most popular Bollywood films of all time, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) tells the classic tale of falling in love with your best friend and finding yourself in a love triangle. Anjali (Kajol) and Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) are inseparable at college until Rahul falls for Tina (Rani Mukherjee), driving Anjali’s true feelings to the surface. Over the course of the three-hour runtime, KKHH builds multiple romances, dives into an extended flashback and is basically a commercial for those popular colorful GAP sweatshirts from the ’90s. As far as Bollywood primers go, this one is a must. —Radhika Menon


18. Dark City
Director: Alex Proyas

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Alex Proyas’s magnum opus serves up a cerebral sci-fi extravaganza as filtered through the visual tropes of film noir and German Expressionism. A staggering achievement in imagination, Dark City, like its closest predecessor Blade Runner, flopped at the box office only to be revived later as a beloved cult classic. The film casts Rufus Sewell as an amnesiac who wakes up one night to discover that his city is (quite literally) under the manipulation of a band of mysteriously pale men in jet-black trench coats and fedoras. Along for the ride is Kiefer Sutherland as a crazed scientist and Jennifer Connelly as our femme fatale, our hero’s estranged wife. —Mark Rozeman


17. American History X
Director: Tony Kaye

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Who would have thought that a cautionary tale—with a dash of hope for humanity—about the dangers of Neo-Nazi ideology festering within American society would become even more relevant 20 years later? One can easily imagine the virulently violent Venice Beach skinhead Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton in the best performance of his career) marching with fellow racist dirtbags in Charlottesville. After American History X’s tragic ending, we don’t know if Derek will again succumb to hate—which screenwriter David McKenna’s touching, in-your-face treatise pinpoints as the source of the problem—or if he will continue on the path of inclusion and peace. At its core, this is a Shakespearean tragedy about a promising young man devoured by the menacing forces within him, eventually seeking inner peace and redemption, yet struggling to rehabilitate his equally promising younger brother (Edward Furlong) before it’s too late. Director Tony Kaye matches theatrical intensity with a hyper-grainy style, alternating muted colors and stark black-and-white photography, finding in an operatic approach (sometimes literally) oodles of slow-motion melodrama. In Charlottesville, would Derek have been one of the torchbearers, or one of the counter-protestors? The possibility of the pendulum swinging either way speaks to the film’s power even today. —Oktay Ege Kozak


16. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Director:   Terry Gilliam  

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Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was harshly criticized upon its release: It was dubbed too incoherent, without enough character development, too indulgent in its sickening display of excess—though critics had to concede that it was surprisingly faithful adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name. So for those fans of Thompson’s writing, Fear and Loathing feels right—how else to capture the hallucinatory nightmare of the original work? Gilliam and his collaborators create a staggeringly baroque vision of Las Vegas able to easily induce in any viewer the feeling that he or she has been huffing some of the same detrimental vapors inhaled onscreen. Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro are appropriately unhinged as Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, respectively, and other recognizable faces (Cameron Diaz, Flea, Gary Busey) flit in and out of the film as if in a dream. It may be an incoherent mess, but it’s a one-of-a-kind mess, capturing the seductive incoherency at the heart of its source material. —Maura McAndrew


15. He Got Game
Director:   Spike Lee  

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Lee has a unique ability to take different plotlines with different themes and tones and somehow insert them into the same movie, where they miraculously not only gel, but end up accentuating one another. When doing a period piece for BlacKkKlansman, he puts a mirror up to our current race relations. 25th Hour, about a drug dealer’s last day of freedom before he goes to jail, becomes a post-9/11 contemplation on unity against evil. He Got Game is essentially a satire of the way black athletes are exploited in college basketball, but it hides a powerful drama about a family torn apart through tragedy, and how compassion and forgiveness can come from even the most painful places. Denzel Washington is aces as always in the role of a once-abusive, alcoholic father seeking forgiveness from his basketball prodigy son (Ray Allen) for a horrific sin he committed. Yet that doesn’t diminish then-NBA-star Allen’s natural charisma in his first foray into acting. (And, as with many of Lee’s ’90s efforts, He Got Game is about 20 minutes too long.) —Oktay Ege Kozak


14. Happiness
Director: Todd Solondz

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Taste is subjective, as is evaluating movies, and few movies are as subjective to taste as those of Todd Solondz, a guy who specializes in stories that, at best, qualify as “uncomfortably sad” and, at worst, as Happiness. “Worst,” too, is a subjective measure; this is an engrossing piece of work, emphasis on the “gross,” and whether you end up liking it or being repulsed by it, you’ll probably admire it for its casual depiction of Very Problematic Things™. You certainly won’t ever forget it. If the child rape, threatened rape, suicide, relationship entanglements and overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction don’t get you—the film is basically Hannah and Her Sisters, but infinitely pricklier and nauseating—then the final line, that affirmation of the adolescent male orgasm, certainly will. Icky as Happiness may be, its pervasive anxiety puts it over the top. Without it, it’d merely be dark, edgy comedy. With it, it’s something far more corrosive to the soul. —Andy Crump


13. The Truman Show
Director: Peter Weir

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Peter Weir’s delightful, hilarious The Truman Show wouldn’t get made anymore. It’s a star-studded event film centered around a simple and dystopian premise: Jim Carrey’s eponymous character has unwittingly been raised from birth as a reality TV star and only now has begun to suspect that everybody in his life is a hired actor. Carrey’s clear-eyed acting is worlds away from the zany roles that catapulted him to fame a few short years prior, though, as was typically the case with Carrey roles in the ’90s, copious amounts of special effects work go toward creating a believable simulated reality for Carrey’s endearing everyman to be trapped within. The heartfelt monologues and devastating revelations as he fights to escape his gilded cage shine all the brighter for it. The fight to break away from control, from a sanitized and curated existence dictated by a literal white father figure in the sky, rings alarmingly two decades years later, when social media has made performative brand managers of us all. Truman is an unlikely and often hapless hero in his own story, but his eventual hijacking of his own narrative—and his final defiance of his literal and figurative creator figure—form one of the most heroic cinematic arcs of the last 20 years. —Kenneth Lowe


12. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Director:   Werner Herzog  

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The story of former fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, told in his own words, is one that, while pretty unbelievable, best illustrates the mastery manipulation of the man helping tell it. Werner Herzog makes no apologies for the way he so often bends truth to more snugly serve the grandeur he finds in the subjects he chooses for his documentaries—but he’s never been interested in unadulterated truth anyway. Instead, he’s in the documentary game for the exultation of truth, conveying it in such a way as to focus on the overpowering emotions at its core. And so, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog takes Dengler back to Southeast Asia, where, in the early days of the Vietnam War, he was shot down and captured, tortured and starved—but then, somewhere within him, found the will to escape. Dengler leads us step by step through this harrowing experience, accompanied by locals who Herzog hired to help Dengler “reenact” the events, and in a sense help him remember. That Herzog later went on to make a narrative feature based on Dengler’s story isn’t at all surprising—Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale in the lead role, walks a fine line between harsh reality and patriotic melodrama—because, as Herzog told Paste more than eight years ago: “Rescue Dawn is not a war movie. It’s a film about the test and trial of men … And survival.” It doesn’t necessarily matter how Dengler escaped; it matters that he was able to at all. Whatever you want to call it, it was that titular “need” that propelled him onward—and that’s the truth Herzog wants to discover. —Dom Sinacola


11. Babe: Pig in the City
DIrector: George Miller

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Three franchises mostly define George Miller’s almost five-decade career: Mad Max, Happy Feet and Babe—the latter comprised by the two films Miller wrote about the talking pig who thinks he’s a sheepdog. Miller has kept such a distinct visual language throughout these 50- some years, we can draw a direct aesthetic line between Fury Road’s lavish colors depicting the grotesque beauty of a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and Babe: Pig in the City’s old-school fairy-tale world, equally wondrous and deadly. Pig in the City is a textbook example of solid sequel-making: Instead of blindly recreating the charming family drama of Babe, following the titular pig hell-bent on defying his social place in his world, Miller dials the story’s fantasy to 11 to take us to an awe-inspiring metropolitan city that’s a hodgepodge of the most beautiful and recognizable urban spots in the world. Pushing human characters even more to the background, Miller’s film tells of Babe’s latest exploit leading a group of plucky and downtrodden animals in their quests for freedom and dignity. Like so many classic children’s entertainments, in Pig in the City, horrors lurk around every corner but the possibilities of life’s wonders similarly shine. —Oktay Ege Kozak


10. Ronin
Director: John Frankenheimer

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A bone-dry spy thriller with a loudly beating heart of melodrama—more Hitchcock than Melville, both directors to whom this movie’s deeply indebted—Ronin wraps a marginal plot around endless espionage-etched intrigue between cold-as-ice, badass sociopaths, inhuman car chases and labyrinthine shoot-outs serving as intimacy amongst thieves. Director John Frankenheimer is breathlessly economical, except for when he isn’t: We gather whatever we need to of mercenaries Sam (Robert DeNiro) and Vincent (Jean Reno), two members of a team (counting in their numbers Stellan Skarsgård and Sean Bean) hired by IRA project manager Dierdra (Natascha McElhone) to retrieve a MacGuffin from a heavily armed convoy protecting a bald man—we also make a too-long sojourn to the manse of mysterious rich model-builder (Michael Lonsdale), who puts way too fine a point on the whole “ronin” metaphor. Whatever Frankenheimer has to say about the lengths to which someone will go for “loyalty” and “honor”—whatever those words mean in the face of love or life in the late ’90s—pales compared to the kinetic language he wields with an Audi on the streets of Nice. —Dom Sinacola


9. Pi
Director:   Darren Aronofsky  

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Pi feels like an 85-minute migraine. That’s a good thing.

Darren Aronofsky, American master of the cinematic freakout, fittingly got his start with a film that brings us into the head of a man on the verge of a mental breakdown. For this guy, a math whiz named Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) who got his PhD at 20 and spends his days crunching numbers in a dingy New York apartment, the world is one big equation to be solved. Applying a mind quick enough to multiply 322 by 491 in a fraction of a second, Max intends on unlocking the patterns of the universe—the symmetries, recursions and ratios that will enable him to, among other things, predict the trajectory of the stock market, which he sees as an organism abiding by natural laws. For him, this quest is intellectual and, possibly, hubristic in nature, but other parties intend to exploit his brain for different reasons. A posse of Wall Street big shots want to buy his stock market data to turn a profit, while a group of Hasidic Jews seek his help in deciphering the Torah, which they believe involves decoding the numerical basis of the Hebrew language. As outside interference and, above all, internal drive push Max to and beyond the brink of collapse, Pi seems on the verge of disintegrating with him, so closely does it hew to the man’s subjective experience. To do this, the film shows us the things that a mentally-spent Max hallucinates: a singing subway passenger, a man with a bloodied hand and, most strikingly, a disembodied brain that literalizes the film’s own status as an externalization of its protagonist’s mind. These oneiric visions imbue the movie with a nightmarish aura evoking the surrealism of David Lynch. Appropriately, Pi’s most obvious Lynchian forebear is Eraserhead, given the Aronofsky film’s black-and-white aesthetic, slimy imagery, character of the alluring woman-next-door and grating soundtrack courtesy of Clint Mansell, whose hellish soundscape brilliantly evokes how tinnitus might sound if cranked to 11.

Three times throughout the film, Max recounts a childhood incident where his mom told him not to stare into the sun. He did anyway and impaired his vision as a result. The most obvious point of reference here is the myth of Icarus, the classic admonishment against unchecked ambition explicitly referenced elsewhere in the film, but also evoked is Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” which tells of an underground prisoner who, raised to believe that projected shadows on a wall were the original Things themselves, is freed from ignorance and allowed to step above ground into the light. In that story, the liberated man is blinded by sunlight after having spent his life in the dark, but with Max, what’s unclear is whether the sun is a transcendent truth or the fires of his own obsession obstruct the clarity that he’s been trying so hard to grasp. —Jonah Jeng


8. Flowers of Shanghai
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

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Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films offer up only the barest knowledge needed to discern the intricacies and hidden realities of their gorgeously mannered frames, but so often, intricacies and realities matter little when the empirical beauty—the melancholy and majesty—of what the director’s getting at translates with such weight. Flowers of Shanghai, Hou’s 14th film, never leaves the confines of a series of brothels in late 19th century Shanghai, concerned almost totally with the economic machinations courtesans and their callers participate in to vye for power and favor within a social system built to loop in on itself. But the director never interferes with the drama either, preferring to witness every interaction—lit elegantly, solely by gaslight—with a slowly roving camera, the film’s main emotional cue a somber string ditty by Yoshihiro Hanno, as repetitive as the scenes it scores.

Hou deprives his film not simply of the sex that supposedly underlies the business he details, but of any sense of passion or love that might otherwise accompany such acts. Instead, men—predominantly Master Wang (Tony Leung), a young professional “calling” on more than one prostitute, who depend on him as their sole source of income—wield power through how many prostitutes they support, expected to eventually marry their favorite, the lives of these women an afterthought to the enterprise of ownership and patriarchy that, in Hou’s circular rhythm and cyclical storytelling, are inevitably lost to the revolutions of time. As deeply moving as it is demanding, Flowers of Shanghai ends where it begins, in the silence of a long, unanswered cry for help. —Dom Sinacola


7. After Life
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

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If your experience with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work is limited to his recent (and excellent) output, from The Third Murder to After the Storm and Our Little Sister (or, if you were lucky enough to catch it at Cannes or TIFF, Shoplifters), it’s not likely you know of the director as one behind surreal arthouse movies focused heavily on breaking down the human experience through supernatural lenses. Not that his recent movies don’t have their own dreamlike elements, of course, but compared to his second narrative feature, After Life, none of them feel quite like the product of the same filmmaker. Imagine you’re dead, waiting for your soul to undergo evaluation before being shipped off to the next life. Now imagine that the stewards of this limbo require you to pick a single memory, a happy one, then recreate that memory in movie form and usher you onto your own personal eternity, spent reliving that memory ’til the end of time. Such is the metaphysical stuff from which After Life is made. As is always the case with the director, the movie is paced deliberately, moving at a meditative gait to better emphasize Kore-eda’s compassionate tendencies. It’s a film of humanity in transition. Spiritual concerns aside, maybe it’s not that far off from the movies he makes today, but either way it’s the kind of picture that lingers in the heart forever after watching it. —Andy Crump


6. Eternity and a Day
Director: Theo Angelopoulos

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Theo Angelopoulos’s last film—a Palm d’Or winner—before he began his trilogy on modern Greece, never to be finished upon his sudden 2012 death, Eternity and a Day treats memory as magical tableau and time as moving target upon the seemingly last day on earth of famous hirsute writer and inveterate loner Alexandre (Bruno Ganz). Tasked with getting his affairs in order and finding someone to take care of his dog, avoiding his great disappointment as a career author by avoiding all questions about whether or not he ever completed a 19th century Greek poet’s incomplete opus, Alexandre painfully hobbles around the dreary piers of Thessalonica, immobilized by regret. That is, until he meets a small boy (Achileas Skevis), an Albanian refugee and stereotypical street urchin, who rekindles whatever passion he has left by simply awaking him from his self-absorbed stupor to the pain and joy of the ever-shifting world around him. In turn, Angelopoulos never differentiates between the surreal and the real, following our protagonist through landscapes of terror and grief and celebration that acknowledge him briefly before continuing—a mist-leaden border gate into Albania seems strewn with bodies clamly observing Alexandre’s moral dilemma; a Greek wedding procession halts to allow Alexandre to talk to his former caretaker, then resumes as if the man was nothing but a ghost—pushing him further and further into the eternity awaiting him, and us, at the end of Angelopoulos’s moving meditation. Perhaps the director knew he’d soon be confronting the same. —Dom Sinacola


5. Saving Private Ryan
Director:   Steven Spielberg  

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Despite its overwhelming scale, the economy of Saving Private Ryan’s storytelling is an astounding accomplishment on its own. Barely a year into founding Dreamworks—the studio he built with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, essentially allowing him free rein over his creative output—and cuffed by the relative disappointment of Amistad, Steven Spielberg created a nearly three-hour imagistic portrait of Europe in the waning weeks of World War II, all without once allowing the nightmarish breadth of the conflict to overtake the characters at its heart. Twenty years later, and the film’s opening 30-minute salvo, detailing in documentary-like grit the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, still stands as iconic war filmmaking, unflinching but so pristinely focused on the sheer glut of lives lost that it’s a stymying watch even if you know exactly what you’re getting into—even if you’ve seen it before. Within that initial stretch, brutal and breathless, we learn all we’ll ever need to know about the people who inhabit this foreign landscape, each character (played by such folks as Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper and Giovanni Ribisi) presented with the precision of a master who’s discovered how best to balance all that historic weight. For us Millennials who first began to understand the extent of what our grandparents endured as we came of age (as we became the age our grandfather was when he left for war), Saving Private Ryan was an earth-shaking film from a director who’d already reared us on big, blown-out entertainment. For us and anyone else, the film is a heart-wrenching feat that must have been given, as was the film’s titular mission to Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), to Spielberg by fate itself. —Dom Sinacola


4. Out of Sight
Director:   Steven Soderbergh  

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Detroit via Steven Soderbergh is a metropolis equal parts romance and history, both a place where people can escape their typical lives for a time and a place that people want to escape to leave behind the suffocating weight of centuries of human industry. Though he photographs the city in the cobalt blues of cold temperatures and the biting grays of colorless winter, Soderbergh seems to revel in the weird sprawl of Metro Detroit, fascinated by how the violence of boxing matches at the State Theater can so quickly—as if it were only a matter of changing a green screen—lapse into the wealthy compounds of Bloomfield Hills or the crystalline hotel rooms of the Renaissance Center, where you can eat a $25 burger listening to gun shots in the street below. Out of Sight is by far the best Elmore Leonard adaptation, the only one to truly embrace Leonard’s hometown as a place far more magical—far more dangerous and upsetting and beautiful and enchanting—than any director has ever admitted before. The rollicking yarn about a bank robber and consummate prisoner Jack Foley (George Clooney) who meets U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) mid-prison-break and then entertains dreams of going clean to weirdly woo her, the film’s dedicated to its Michigan metropolis because no other locale has similarly, best and marvelously charmed its way to the bottom. —Dom Sinacola


3. The Thin Red Line
Director:   Terrence Malick  

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It seems unbelievable now that even an auteur as legendary as Terrence Malick actually secured financing to make poetry on the scale of The Thin Red Line. Pitched up on lush location in Australia and armed with a cast bursting with talent, Malick returned from moviemaking hibernation in 1998 with author James Jones’ story of a company of GIs battling Japanese forces in the paradise of Guadalcanal, all refracted through his own glorious lens. The result was an abstract and relentlessly contemplative epic, awash with gorgeous cutaways to jungle and beast, and—atypically for a filmmaker whose main fixation has always been the environment his characters reside in—chock-full of great acting. (The performances are faultless to a man, but a terrifically zen Jim Caviezel and a perpetually enraged Nick Nolte take the prize.) Hardly ever can a film sustain that aching feeling of raw emotion across its entire running time; this almost three-hour masterpiece does. —Brogan Morris


2. The Big Lebowski
Director: Joel Coen

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Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski has plenty of time on his hands—enough to while away the days chasing down a stolen rug, at least—but he can hardly get himself dressed in the morning, chugs White Russians like it’s his job (incidentally, he doesn’t have a real one) and hangs around with a bunch of emotionally unstable bowling enthusiasts. Any mission you set him off on seems bound to fail. And yet that’s the great joy, and the great triumph, of the Coen BrothersThe Big Lebowski and its consummate slacker-hero. The Dude is a knight in rumpled PJ pants, a bathrobe his chainmail, a Ford Torino his white horse. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs, he takes life in ambling, unshaven stride—and more than dashing good looks and unparalleled strengths, isn’t that something we should all aspire to? —Josh Jackson


1. Rushmore
Director:   Wes Anderson  

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Rushmore introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman and helped pivot Bill Murray’s career from broad comic to art-house juggernaut. In it, an unlikely inter-generational love triangle leads to one of the most entertaining feuds in filmdom. Schwartzman’s Max Fischer, an ambitious yet academically underachieving student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy in Houston, meets Bill Murray as wealthy industrialist Herman Blume, the two striking up an unexpected and unconventional friendship, before both falling for Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), a teacher at Rushmore. When Max goes too far in trying to prove himself to Ms. Cross by breaking ground on a new building without the school’s permission, he’s finally expelled and ends up in a soul-crushing public school. To make matters worse, he finds out that Herman has begun dating the object of his desire. As with Bottle Rocket, Rushmore was co-written by Owen Wilson who, like Max, was expelled from a prep school. He and Anderson began work on the script long before Bottle Rocket was filmed, and Rushmore contains even more of the DNA found in the rest of Anderson’s catalog. Perhaps still Anderson’s best, this one just keeps getting funnier two decades later. —Josh Jackson

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