30. Cool Hand Luke 1967
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy
Synopsis: A free spirited man is sent to prison and attempts to escape.
Review: The primary reason to see this movie is to watch Paul Newman star in his most iconic role. He's absolutely astounding (and ridiculously sexy, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation) as the one man who refuses to play by the rules and attempts to beat the system. It's left to the viewer to decide who wins, but no matter how many times he's beat down, one way or another he always manages to get back up again. The indomitable will of Luke, combined with Newman's natural charm makes for a hero for the ages. There's also many wonderful supporting performances, most notably from George Kennedy as Luke's best friend in prison, Dragline. It's fun to watch with many memorable lines and scenes (my favourite being the carwash), and who can forget that smile.
29. Donnie Darko 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Synopsis: A strange young man begins to have weird visions involving a giant bunny named Frank who tells him to do things.
Review: When watching this movie, you'll probably notice that it's tripping balls, which for some people can be a major barrier, but I don't see it being about metaphysics so much as it is about morality. Donnie's (Gyllenhaal) worldview may be twisted and skewed, but when compared to some of the town's more vocal moral watchdogs, he seems relatively level-headed. And the ultimate decision that the entire movie revolves around is one of life and death that makes Donnie into something of a quiet hero. Whether you "get" this film or not, it's still a chilling tale, with a dark and brooding atmosphere, a solid soundtrack, creepy visuals, and great dialogue. I believe that this film demands mulitple viewings to fully appreciate, but that does nothing to diminish it's quality.
28. Memento 2000
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Synopsis: A man with no short term memory attempts to find his wife's killer.
Review: I don't know what I like better about this movie: the story itself, or the way it's told. Some people may think that telling the story backwards is a mere gimmick, but I believe that the structure serves the purpose of both the story and the main character quite well. It really gets you into Lenny's (Pearce) world and helps you to understand him. We start off sympathizing with him and his quest of what seems to be a simple case of vengeance, but as the film progresses he becomes more morally ambiguous, and also willfully stupid. Without giving too much away, I will say that if the story were laid out in the conventional fashion it just wouldn't have the same impact. It's a unique accomplishment and it tells a wicked cool story to boot. Definitely worth multiple viewings.
27. Pulp Fiction 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman
Synopsis: Two mob hitmen go about their day.
Review: It's the movie that introduced most of the world to Quentin Tarantino and what some critics consider to be the defining film of the 90's. Though I would not be so bold to make such a claim, I will say that it is awesome as hell. It has all the elements needed to make a cool movie: over-the-top violence, ultra-slick dialogue, original story structure, and characters who, as one critic put it, "the depths of their shallowness is profound." Every actor plays their part to a tee, and even players with minor roles, such as Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel turn in memorable performances. It's a great and influential film that has a spawned a slew of imitators and sparked plenty of critical debate, and I don't think it's going to lose any of it's veneer any time soon.
26. Star Wars 1977 (and Empire Strikes Back/A New Hope)
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hammil, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Synopsis: A small group of rebels must stand up to an evil empire and Darth Vader.
Review: I pretty much grew up on these movies, and despite certain elements which I do not care for (I'll give you a hint: they're two feet tall, ugly as sin, and bring down the Empire using sticks and stones), the original trilogy remains as some of my favourite films. The basic plot may not be anything too special, but the universe is incredibly imaginative and easy to get immersed in. It's filled with crazy aliens, cool characters, epic space dogfights, awesome costumes and settings, a memorable musical score, and of course, lightsabers. On top of all this, the sound and special affects are amazing and I believe that they still hold up today. I may have lost some respect for Lucas in recent years, but what he did back in 1977 laid the groundwork not only for a pop culture staple, but also for the way people think about movies today.
25. Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford
Synopsis: An acrhaeologist tries to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do.
Review: No film series captures the spirit of adventure quite like Indiana Jones, and of all the movies made thus far, Raiders remains my personal favourite (though Last Crusade comes in a close second) where we meet one of cinema's most recognizable heroes for the first time who comes with his own instantly recognizable theme song. It's a lot of fun to watch him work his way through traps, puzzles, snakes, and Nazis. So just what makes Indiana Jones so cool? I think it's his ability to think on his feet, relying on his wits and strength (and his whip) to see him through any obstacle, and still have a witty one liner at the end of it all. Of course the most important part is his hat.
24. North by Northwest 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Cary Grant
Synopsis: A man is mistaken for a spy and chased across the country.
Review: Of all the stories out there revolving around a case of mistaken identity, this one is probably my favourite. It's funny, action-packed, and has a twisting story that most Hitchcock films share. It also features Cary Grant's most memorable role as advertising executive, Roger Thornhill who relies on his wits, his feet, and his smooth-talking to survive and figure out just what the hell is going on. I also like the spy thriller aspect of the film and I think that this can be counted as one of the inspirations for the James Bond franchise. It's easy to see how Grant could have been 007. There are plenty of timeless scenes and set pieces (the crop duster scene springs to mind), and it cannot be stressed enough how awesome Cary Grant is which makes this my favourite Hitchcock film.
23. It's a Wonderful Life 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: James Stewart
Synopsis: A despairing business man finds a new lease on life.
Review: For many, this film is ubiquitous viewing around this time of the year, but I don't really see this as being a "Christmas movie" as it doesn't really have all that much to do with the holiday other than that part of it takes place in December. As the title suggests, it's really just about life and the effect that each and every person has on the world, no matter how unnoticeable of insignificant it may seem. Much of this movie is actually pretty depressing seeing as how it's about a man on the verge of suicide who got a big kick in the pants from life. Of course the ending reaffirms the belief that life is worth living, but Capra manages to do it in an uplifting rather than a sappy manner (Ok, so maybe the "Everytime a bell rings..." line is pushing it). In any case, Jimmy Stewart does a terrific job, the film itself is iconic and continuously referenced to even today, and it's a powerful and moving piece on the human condition.
22. Gone With the Wind 1939
Director: Victor Flemming
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable
Synopsis: A Southern belle and a rogue carry on a love affair during around the Civil War.
Review: Epic is the word I'd use to describe this movie. It's like four hours long, has large and detailed sets, and everything about the film is on a grand scale. Of course none of this would matter if it wasn't for Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as Scarlett O'Hara and Rhet Butler respectively. They form the emotional core of the film, and are the greatest romantic leads in Hollywood history. On top of this, O'Hara and Butler are great characters who aren't wholly good or bad, or completely sympathetic either which make them all that more compelling to watch. It was ridiculously popular upon release, and remains popular today, and it will probably stay that way for some time and for good reason. It's simply phenomenal.
21. Amadeus 1984
Director: Milos Forman
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tommy Hulce
Synopsis: Salieri has a rivalry with, and attempts to sabotage the career of Mozart.
Review: For me, this movie is a feast for the eyes and ears. The scored is fantastic (it's hard to wrong with Mozart) and the costumes, sets, and scenery are absolutely gorgeous. The story itself is a compelling, if not entirely historically accurate, look at one of the great musical geniuses while also providing a chilling perspective on envy. Hulce gives a hysterical performance as the famous musician, but the show goes to Abraham as Mozart's rival, Salieri. He is a terrific actor and its too bad he never did much work on the silver screen. In any case, you should all watch this movie.