26. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director: Michel Gondry
"Is there any chance of brain damage?"
"Well, technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage."
Another of writer Charlie Kaufman's crazy ideas (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation being his most famous other ones) Eternal Sunshine is a movie I wish I'd have seen on the big screen. One of the most visually masterful films ever made, but also one of the most emotionally affecting for me. This movie deals with almost every human emotion, and our relationship to them. There's such a beautiful ache as the movie goes along. The fresher, more negative memories in Joel's mind give way to the good ones he's suppressed a little about Clementine. We tend to remember the bad more easily than the good, and it's only during the erasing that Joel really appreciates what Clem meant to him. This is the journey through the mind and emotions and memories that many other movies have tried to be, but can't really touch. Charlie Kaufman's work has always had dazzling ideas, but none have ever had the heart that this movie has. Of course, on top of all that it also contains a wonderful score by Jon Brion, the best work of Jim Carrey's career and a performance from Kate Winslet I just recently listed as the 9th best performance from an actress ever.
27. Upstream Color
Director: Shane Carruth
The newest movie on the list is also, maybe, the most complex and mesmerizing. By far the lowest budgeted movie on the list, reportedly only around $50,000, it's told in an almost abstract manner that somehow still plays like a narratively driven movie. Upstream Color is one that I could see being much higher on this list if I do it again in a few years. I've seen it 3 times now, and each time has revealed a more satisfying and emotional viewing. Writer/director/leading man Shane Carruth (who is also credited as producer, editor, director of photography, sound designer, and music composer) gives a terrific performance as the confused Jeff, but the star is Amy Seimetz as Kris. Seimetz (who soon has herself has some Carruth-ian credits as writer/director/executive producer/co-star of Starz's series The Girlfriend Experience) is the one that carries our emotional investment in the movie and her work was on the shortlist for my recent all-time top ten actress performances. If you haven't seen it yet, when you do (and you should), don't try to figure out what's going on. Let the movie play on you like music, you don't have to figure out every plot detail the first time around. Just let it play. It's a gorgeously made, thematically deep, emotionally rewarding movie that will only disappoint if you can't see the forest for the trees.
28. Cloud Atlas
Director: Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
I only said Upstream Color was "maybe, the most complex" because Cloud Atlas is a stunningly complex and deep movie as well. It has multiple stories told over hundreds of years across the world that link together in unexpected ways. It has actors recurring in different roles throughout those stories across ages, races, and even genders. The cast is amazing, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, and the one that was my favorite, Korean actress Doona Bae. It's thrilling, tragic, funny, ridiculous, amazing, and nearly any other descriptive you can think of. This is probably the most ambitious movie ever made, adapted from the "unfilmable" best-selling novel by David Mitchell. It has maybe the most impressive use of budget I've seen (it's listed at $100 million, raised independently, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was $400 million the movie looks so good). I haven't always been a fan of the Wachowski's, in fact the only movie of theirs that I even liked was their pre-The Matrix thriller Bound, which I only thought was good. But this, this is something entirely different. This is one of the great movies ever made.
Viewing note though, I would recommend watching it with subtitles on, as the dialog often has a certain slang to it that could be confusing if you're not able to see the words.
29. Miracle on 34th Street
Director: George Seaton
My favorite holiday movie, but it wouldn't be on this list, much less this high, if I didn't think it was a great movie, period. It has everything you could want in a movie, a great script, characters, terrific actors like Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara, beautiful cinematography, and all that. It's a big classic studio movie, and one that I find myself affected by more and more as the years go by. A look at the struggle between logic and faith, between hope and reality, between optimism and pessimism, between believing in magic or not. One could easily see it as a retelling of the story of Jesus, with believers and non-believers, persecution, a trial, and all that. I don't see it that way, I see it as a simple tale, told simply and wonderfully. I have even always loved that the story comes about because everyone is acting in their own selfish interests. From the judge holding off on making a ruling so as to not anger potential voters to the post office workers sending the Santy Claus letters to the courthouse just so they'll stop taking up so much space in their building. It's a funny twist for a Christmas movie, one that I love. And Edmund Gwenn will always be Santa Claus to me.
30. Night of the Hunter
Director: Charles Laughton
A frightening nightmare of a movie, Night of the Hunter gave Robert Mitchum his greatest role and he stepped up with the performance of his career. Legendary actor Charles Laughton's only trip behind the camera also gives us some indelible imagery and one of the great movies ever made. It's really not surprising that the movie was a big flop on its original release. Despite its (likely mandated thanks to the times) happy ending, it's still a disquieting, weird, expressionistic, poetic movie that isn't tied down exclusively to reality, looking to evoke fear and unease rather than thrills and violence, and few of those adjectives spell box office gold. But Night of the Hunter was even dismissed by critics at the time, only to find its revival slowly over the years. In 2008, the magazine Cahiers du Cinema (the famous launching ground of the French New Wave of the 50's and 60's) put Night of the Hunter only behind Citizen Kane on their all-time movies list. Obviously I wouldn't go quite to that length of praise, but it's not too far down the list (and way higher than Kane, which won't be showing up on these lists, even though it is great). It's fascinated me since I first saw it as a teenager, and after writing all that it's making me want to watch it again!