As with previous top 10 lists the films listed are in no particular order, which is to say, being number one on the list is not in any way more prestigious or significant than being number 6, or 8.
1. The Big Short (2016, dir. Adam McKay; screenplay Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, inspired by and partially based on the book by Michael Lewis).
Oddball Wall Street wizz Michael Burry (Christian Bale) realises that a huge proportion of subprime home loans are clearly in the default-danger zone (this is 2007 and ’08, i.e. the run-in to the recent [global] financial crash). Burry bets against the American housing market by spending more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money on credit default swaps. His actions attract the attention of banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), hedge-fund specialist Mark Baum (Steve Carell), along with one or two other opportunists who — having crunched the numbers — recognise what’s afoot. These men make billion-dollar fortunes by taking full advantage of the impending economic collapse in America. The movie is done like a docudrama but it is much more than that would suggest (it is wonderful storytelling, the dialog in particular is sparkling; and there are excellent performances throughout). It is like a early 21st century version of a Robert Altman movie (Short Cuts, say — Short Cuts on speed with a little Angel Dust mixed in).
2. The Matrix (1999, dir. Lilly and Lana Wachlowski [as the Wachlowski Brothers]; screenplay Lilly and Lana Wachlowski [as the Wachlowski Brothers]).
A computer hacker learns about the true nature of the world we live in, and, in so doing, becomes involved with a group of underground warriors fighting against this “truth regime”, which, in fact, is a total lie, just an illusion — a fabrication, a dreamworld we all partake in, while in reality everyone is enslaved in little pods with the life force being sucked out of us (this is the Matrix). Keanu Reeves is the lead actor and he joins a rebel group that includes Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. Hugo Weaving is wonderful as the lead baddie-borg, a machine generated hologram type creature (in some ways — at least in so far as it is utterly relentless and virtually indestructible — not dissimilar to the T-1000 cyborg in Terminator 2).
3. The Big Lebowski (1998, dir(s). Joel and Ethan Coen; screenplay Joel and Ethan Coen).
Jeff Daniels plays Jeff Lebowski (aka “The Dude”), an LA waster (a dope-smoking, White Russian-drinking, bowling alley rat); he is assaulted as a result of mistaken identity — a very rich man, also called Jeffrey Lebowski, was the intended target. In the course of the assault, in addition to the physical damage done to him, the Dude suffers damage to his junky property (a soiled rug, a broken door and so forth) and so, seeking what he hopes will be a little easy money, he asks for compensation from the rich man. However, instead he ends up being roped into something else altogether. The rich man’s trophy wife has been kidnapped and Rich Man Lebowski wants Poor Man Lebowski to deliver the ransom payment demanded by the kidnappers. However, The Dude’s bowling team pals (John Goodman and Steve Buscemi) see an opportunity in all this, an opportunity that does not come along every day for men who spend the best part of their week involved in bowling alley tournaments… (What could possibly go wrong?)
4. Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino; screenplay Quentin Tarantino)
Justly celebrated for its ironic tone, witty, eclectic dialogue, fabulous violence, and non-linear storytelling, the movie is a weaving together of connected shorter one-day-in-LA stories. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson play two hitmen who work for Marsellus, a gangland boss, who seeks to fix a fight in which “Butch” (played by Bruce Willis) “goes down in the 5th”. Meanwhile, a small-time rip-and-run duo (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) decide to rob a café where, unfortunately for them, Marcellus’ hitmen go for breakfast following a really rough morning’s work.
5. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, dir. Woody Allen; screenplay Woody Allen).
An eye-specialist is having an affair with an unstable woman who — once it becomes clear that the doctor is not going to leave his wife of 25 years standing (for this deluded air hostess) — threatens to reveal their affair and so ruin the man’s happy home life confection (just as her hopes and dreams have been fucked up by this man’s selfishness). Meanwhile, Cliff Stern, a small-time documentary film-maker (and, in the sense that the relationship has lost all its fizz, unhappily married), falls in love with another woman, an associate producer who works with his super-successful brother-in-law, Lester (Alan Alda), who is a presenter of arts programmes on national network television. By way of his wife’s influence, Cliff is given a commissioned to do a biographical profile of Lester (i.e., Cliff has been thrown a scrap from the rich man’s table) and with every day’s filming and editing Cliff hates his subject more and more, a view which he thinks he shares with the intelligent and serious-minded associate producer who he is attempting to seduce (Woody Allen plays Cliff and the associate producer is played by Mia Farrow).
6. Terms of Endearment (1983, dir. James L. Brooks; screenplay by James L. Brooks, based on the novel by Larry McMurty).
Texas belle Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) is a hard-to-please mother, however, pain-in-the-ass she may be, but by no means is she always in the wrong; in particular she is correct in her negative assessment of the shallow young man her daughter (Debra Winger) decides to marry. Nevertheless, in the face of her mother’s protests, Emma, the daughter, marries Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), a junior college lecturer teaching literature and liberal arts. When, just as Aurora had predicted, the marriage produces unhappy results (mostly resulting from Flap’s cheap-ass college campus cheating with graduate students), Emma eventually leaves him, and, kids-in-tow, returns home to mother. However, at just this time, thrillingly, Aurora is becoming involved with her next door neighbour, a former astronaut (Jack Nicholson), a fabulous arrogant bastard who Aurora has always affected to despise for his arrogance and disreputable carry-on but now, surprisingly, in the twilight of her days she finds that this unlikely guy may have the key to her lock.
7. The Man who would be King (1975, dir. John Huston; screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill, based on a Rudyard Kipling story).
Two ne’er-do-well British soldiers in India (back in the heyday of the British Raj) decide to clear out of India and set up for themselves, selling their military expertise, superior western rationality, and British common sense to the tribal warlords of Kafiristan. However, it may be that what they have decided to do has more mystery and meaning than they could ever have guessed at… (excellent epic adventure yarn starring Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Christopher Plummer).
8. The Godfather parts 1 and 2 (1972 and 1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, based on the novel by Mario Puzo)
Even though they are stand-alone movies, Godfather 1 and 2 are the same story from the same book, and both are masterpieces of film-making from the same production team, so I’m going to put them together in one slot. In Godfather 1 (1972), aging crime lord Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) attempts to school his hothead son, Sonny (James Caan), in the dark arts of power management. However, following an assassination attempt on the old man (because it’s 1947, things are moving on, and Vito is still living in the wartime and prewar world) the don’s youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), joins in the family business, which, hitherto, he has rejected (going off and fighting in the U.S. armed services in World War II, for example, instead doing something in the family business, and courting and marrying a WASPy fair-haired New Englander). Because of his hot-headedness, Sonny gets himself killed, but Michael, it turns out, has the true gift for this life — as the old don has always said “Each man has but one destiny”, and this, it seems, is Michael’s. Godfather 2 (1974) then tells the story on either side of the original film (sandwiching the original), which is to say, the story leading up to the events of Godfather part 1 (which, as I’ve indicated, takes place in the late 1940s) and what happened afterwards (i.e., taking the story on into the 1950s and early 60s). The trailer below is for Godfather part 2.
9. In the Heat of the Night (1967, dir. Norman Jewison; screenplay Sterling Silliphant, based on a story by John Ball).
A top class African American detective (Sidney Poitier) from Philadelphia visiting relatives in Shitholeville, Mississippi, in a time of heightened racial tensions helps a redneck cracker cop (Rod Steiger) to investigate a murder (initially the local yokel cops finger the black guy from Philadelphia as the murderer, just because he’s a negro heading out of town, he’s wearing a good-looking suit, and he’s got more cash in his pocket than is right for a negro to be in possession of, so he must be involved in some kind of funny business, so they reason [if you could call it that]). Great [Oscar-winning] performance from Rod Steiger as the initially hostile leader of the redneck cops, who is, of course, ultimately turned away from his blinding racist heritage such that he comes to recognise a good man when he encounters one (which is a movie version of one of the hundreds of thousands of small victories of that nature which in concert make for a wave of social change, a wave that the movie seeks to both contribute to and reflect).
10. Roman Holiday (1953, dir. William Wyler; screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter, and John Dighton, based on a story by Dalton Trumbo).
I really love this movie, which is a straight forward feel-good feature (really sweet and innocent and, watching it nowadays, one cannot help but think of the circumstances of Princess Diana’s death in Paris in August 1997, comparing and contrasting the two holiday weekends, and in particular the newshounds hungry for a hot princess story and what they’re willing to do for it). Audrey Hepburn plays a princess (from some minor European royal house) in Rome for some official engagements who after some function slips away from her stuffy entourage to have a look at the city for herself for a few hours. However, she gets lost and at dawn the following morning finds herself waking up on a park bench. An American writer (Gregory Peck), who works as a stringer for a news agency, happens upon her and recognises her, despite the fact that she pretends to be someone else in a weak-sauce attempt to avoid a scandal. The hungry newshound plays along with her little make-believe and all the while he’s thrilled at having stumbled upon one of the best stories he has ever encountered (to which end, as he shows her around the city, encouraging her to do wilder and wilder things). She is having such a wonderful time, one day runs into the next, and eventually they end up having spent a whole weekend together (all perfectly innocent fare, of course). But they end up catching feelings for one another, which puts them both in an awkward situation because both are pretending to be people they are not.