There is an allure to “Top 10” lists. The prospect of making a “Top 10” list of anything is daunting, but the attraction entices us to rank items in this way, definitively marking the “best” of any given list. But, of course, “Top 10” lists really serve to spark debate: certainly something was left off or a reader might re-rank your own list. In the end, opinions fall short, and the truth about film is that each film must be considered as it stands on its own two feet: one cannot adequately compare “The Godfather” and “The Dark Knight”, as it were.
So we will resist the temptation to provide any definitive ranking of any film. Instead, we will provide you with two separate “Top 5” lists. The films appearing on these lists are not the “Best 5” movies of all time — or even great movies in some cases. Instead, these are just Movies You Gotta See.
5 Movies Brent Thinks You Gotta See
5. Jackie Brown (1997)
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard
Synopsis: A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life.
Why you gotta see it: Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to “Pulp Fiction” lacks the pizzazz of its predecessor, but it’s cool in its own funky way. The climax features one of the most dazzling suspense sequences in his entire filmography and the star-studded cast features Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, and Michael Keaton — all outshined by Pam Grier.
4. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Written by Frank Pierson
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Synopsis: A man robs a bank to pay for his lover’s operation; it turns into a hostage situation and a media circus.
Why you gotta see it: Al Pacino turns in one of his most chameleon-like performances, exuding energy with every scene and in every line. At a time of great social unrest, Pacino’s screaming “Attica! Attica!” at a riot squad is one of the most underrated moments in film history. And the kicker is the phone call scene between Pacino and his lover — entirely improvised by the two actors.
3. The Truman Show
Written by Andrew Niccol
Directed by Peter Weir
Synopsis: An insurance salesman/adjuster discovers his entire life is actually a television show.
Why you gotta see it: Ed Harris’ brilliant turn as show-runner and visionary “Christof” is outshined at every turn by Jim Carrey’s dazzling “Truman Burbank.” Carrey’s first foray into a dramatic role is right in his wheelhouse: it’s energetic without being slapstick, and within that more subdued posture he finds genuine moments of emotional resonance.
Written by Robert Towne
Directed by Roman Polanski
Synopsis: A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder.
Why you gotta see it: I’m not winning awards for originality with this pick, but “Chinatown” is cinematic perfection. Towne’s script is often used in writing classes in film school as an example of how to write a mystery, Polanski’s direction is impeccable, and the cast — especially Nicholson, Dunaway, and Huston — never miss a beat. The film works as a noir, but then it throws in a whopper of a twist. It’s hard to forget about “Chinatown.”
1. Baby Driver
Written and directed by Edgar Wright
Synopsis: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Why you gotta see it: “Baby Driver” is a genre mash-up of action, comedy, and heist thriller shot in the form of a music video. The cast is stellar, top-to-bottom, and I’m recommending this movie now because it deserves to be seen in theaters, which you can do for the next couple of weeks.
5 Movies Leah Thinks You Gotta See
5. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Directed by Mark Romanek
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel) & Alex Garland (screenplay)
Synopsis: The lives of three friends, from their early school days into young adulthood, when the reality of the world they live in comes knocking.
Why you gotta see it: “Never Let Me Go” is a film I would add to the you-also-need-to-read-the-book list (Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel by the same name is masterfully written). It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking dystopian future story which features some amazing performances from then-newcomers Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield and it’s also just a very beautiful movie to watch. This is not a lighthearted film but its extremely intriguing concept challenges its audience to consider what it means to be human.
4. Rear Window (1954)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Michael Hayes (screenplay) & Cornell Woolrich (short story)
Synopsis: A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.
Why you gotta see it: I have not yet watched every one of Alfred Hitchcock’s film- but this one is definitely my personal favorite (and probably his best after Psycho). Possibly one of the slowest tension-building story-lines of Hitchcock’s, making the payoff all the more rewarding. It continues to keep you guessing right until the very end and the climax is heart-stopping (I’ve seen it multiple times and last few scenes still gives me chills). Jimmy Stewart is flawless, as always, and Grace Kelly’s performance complements his perfectly.
3. That Thing You Do! (1996)
Directed and written by Tom Hanks
Synopsis: A Pennsylvania band scores a hit in 1964 and rides the star-making machinery as long as it can, with lots of help from its manager.
Why you gotta see it: This underrated and overlooked film was directed, produced, and features the acting talents of the one and only Tom Hanks. It’s not an Oscar-worthy movie by any means, but it’s a light, fun, and enjoyable watch that provides more than its fair share of laughs and will leave you in a good mood (and a catchy pop song in your head for the rest of the day).
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Jesse Andrews (screenplay and novel)
Synopisis: High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Why you gotta see it: In a world where our current teen-culture is obsessed with movies/books featuring love stories where one of the characters has cancer (or some life-threatening disease) comes a film that is actually authentic and tasteful. This extremely underrated movie stars three essentially unknown actors who give spectacular, funny, and heartfelt performances. Movie-nerds will appreciate it for its references and it will have your sides splitting for most of its duration. I’m also a fan of this one because it was based and filmed in Pittsburgh and, as a former Western-PA native, I love all things related to the ‘burgh.
But be warned. The ending will make you ugly-cry. Hard.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry
Synopsis: When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.
Why you gotta see it: This offbeat romantic dramedy is perhaps one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, and brilliant romance films I’ve ever seen. Jim Carrey shines in a role very different than the quirky comedic ones you might be used to seeing him in and Kate Winslet gives a delightful performance of the least graceful/dignified character she’s probably ever played. This is definitely a movie you need to watch a couple of times to fully appreciate (the story is told non-linearly and can be a bit trippy your first time through), but it is a moving and authentic portrayal of the complexities of relationships, the importance of memories, and how both define us.
What movies do you think we gotta see? Leave comments below! We need ideas for next year, after all!