38. "Taken" (2008)- As a guy who is extremely protective of the women I love, this film was like a fulfilling 3-course steak dinner. Liam Neeson plays a retired CIA agent who travels across Europe to rescue his teenage daughter who has been kidnapped by traffickers. The body count Neeson leaves behind is somewhere in the 30s +. It's a fantastic action/thriller written by French filmmaker Luc Besson. It also has a very rewarding ending that makes the entire ride well worth it.
20. "Jurassic Park" (1993)- You can probably start counting how many Spielberg films end up on this list now. I almost didn't get a chance to see this film when it came out in theaters because of my age. It's adapted from the Michael Crichton novel of the same name about an island where dinosaurs have been brought back into existence using fossilized DNA and the chaos that ensues as a result of "playing God". The film is an exciting and sometimes intense action/adventure featuring some of the first hyper-realistic CG animation ever done in cinema, blended seamlessly with animatronics from effects master Stan Winston. The dinosaurs are both terrifyingly believable and awesome. Suspense, cutting-edge special effects, and shock and awe all accompanied by a memorable score from John Williams. This film is definitely a classic adventure movie. It's also the first time I ever saw Samuel L. Jackson. "Hold on to yer butts!"
19. "Collateral" (2004)- It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise is excellent in his portrayal of a psychopath. This film takes place over the course of one night during which hitman Vincent (Cruise) holds reluctant L.A. cab driver Max (Jaime Foxx) hostage, forcing Max to drive to various "hits" before Max finally reaches a breaking point. It's a dark and gritty action/thriller from director Michael Mann. One of the first major motion pictures to be shot in HD video, adding to the overall visceral and atmospheric feel of the film. Foxx delivers a fantastic and believable performance, making it easy to empathize and cheer for his character. Cruise is a stone-cold killer. One of the most genuinely exciting and suspenseful films I've seen. You don't fall asleep during a film like this.
18. "Aladdin" (1992)- Another Disney masterpiece released during the animation renaissance. My sister and I liked this film so much, we dragged our poor dad to the theater a total of 6-times to see it. It's the classic Arabian tale of a peasant who finds a lamp and is granted three wishes from a genie during which he finds romance with a princess and has to battle an evil sorcerer. Like "The Little Mermaid", the animation is stunning. One cannot forget the brilliant voice performance of Robin Williams as the Genie and of course the wonderfully catchy musical numbers by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. It's just a great well-rounded animated film. My dad was relieved when the film finally exited theaters. His relief, however, was short-lived once my sis and I obtained a bootleg VHS copy of the film.
17. "Happy Gilmore" (1996)- This film is one of my favorite comedies of all time. The film follows rejected hockey player with an ironic name Happy (Adam Sandler) as he enters a golf tournament to save his beloved grandmother from eviction. The film has all of the elements I look for in a comedy. A relatively grounded story, goofiness that isn't too over-the-top, colorful characters that aren't overkill, and dozens of hilarious and quotable lines. Yes, it does tend to walk the line of ridiculous, but it doesn't quite reach that point, keeping it somewhat grounded in reality. There's nothing I hate more than unbelievably ludicrous comedy and characters that are complete overkill (ie. most Will Ferrell "comedies"). "Happy Gilmore" is balanced and that's why most people don't just like it, they LOVE it.
16. "The Secret of NIMH" (1982)- A somewhat overlooked masterpiece by renowned American animator Don Bluth. This film was Bluth's first outing as an independent filmmaker after quitting his work at Disney in the 70s. Based on the Robert C. O'Brien novel "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH", the film follows a widowed mouse who seeks the help of genetically engineered rats to help her relocate her family before it is destroyed by humans. "NIMH" can definitely be cited as the start of Bluth's wobbly walk between the kid-friendly and the darker more adult-themed (something he has continued to do throughout his career). When I saw this film as a child I was shocked to see blood and violence. These mice bleed, get stabbed, killed, etc... It shocks you as a viewer, yet has a sense of allure and intrigue behind it that stands out amongst even the most polished Disney fare. This isn't Saturday morning fluff and there are no musical numbers. It's dark and the peril is real. The characters just look cute.
15. "Aliens" (1986)- This is a relatively new film for me. "New you say?" Yes. The first time I saw this film was in 2009. I wasn't allowed anywhere near the "Alien" franchise growing up, and it's a good thing I wasn't considering the effect "RoboCop" had on me... So 23-years after the film's release I found myself blown away. James Cameron adds a louder, flashier, and more violent chapter to the "Alien" saga kicked-off by Ridley Scott in 1979. A group of future marines with Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in-tow answer a distress call on a distant human colony only to be viciously attacked by the frightening alien creatures from the first film. It's a great sci-fi survival film with one of the most legendary ass-kicking female characters in cinema. "Aliens" also has a fantastic "you think it's over, but it's not over" ending climax. It rocks all around. It's disappointing that the "Alien" franchise has never been able to top or even match this film's greatness in the years that have followed.
14. "The Land Before Time" (1988)- Yes, this is the first film that came out long before the 200,000 straight-to-video sequels. In my mind, it's the only one that really exists. The film was produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and was directed by Don Bluth following his success with "An American Tail". "The Land Before Time" is simply put, animation art. It is comprised of layer upon layer of detail and depth as well as some of the most organic and warm hand-drawn animation I have seen. In the film, a group of young dinosaurs band together to find their family after being displaced by a devastating earthquake. Like most of Bluth's work, the film is colorful and kid-friendly with dark and very adult elements at its core. Some elements were so dark, Spielberg requested that an entire sequence be cut from the final version of the film, much to Bluth's disdain. No musical numbers here. Just a wonderful score by James Horner. Because of its box office success, the "suits" in Hollywood found it necessary to create hundreds of brainless, heartless, sing-a-long sequels that aren't worth the cheap white DVD cases they're packaged in. Of course this film will always stand out as a beautiful example of the finest in American traditional animation.
13. "Gladiator" (2000)- Ridley Scott's epic sword and sandal masterpiece. The story of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a respected general for the Roman Empire who is cast out and who's family is murdered under the orders of the psychopathic Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Maximus fights as a gladiator in order to work his way back into Rome and exact his revenge. If the opening battle between the Romans and the tribes of Germania doesn't get you into this film, I really don't know what will. Historical action and excitement combined with breathtaking set pieces and a punishing score by Hans Zimmer make this film seriously epic. You genuinely want to hate Phoenix's Commodus and hope he gets a good death, not only for Crowe's Maximus, but for you as an audience member. It's all very exciting!
12. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)- Another historical epic, this time from Steven Spielberg. A company of American soldiers led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) trek across war torn Europe to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the last surviving of his brothers, and bring him home. The film opens with one of the most visceral and heart-stopping "war is hell" sequences I've ever seen. The shaky and bleached-out cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, combined with an overload of sound effects gives you a seriously raw feeling of what it would've been like as a soldier during World War II. The entire film is engaging and leaves you with an appreciation for what those who served during WWII had gone through.
11. "Mission: Impossible" (1996)- Tom Cruise again?! What can I say, he's been in some good movies. This film is Brian De Palma's Hollywood adaptation of the popular 1960s spy series of the same name. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is falsely accused of disloyalty and must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization. Unlike the sequels, "Mission: Impossible" is a smart and entertaining spy film. One of the best in its genre in my opinion. It's not an effects extravaganza with off-the-wall action from beginning to end. While it is secret agent fantasy, it's grounded enough in reality to be believable, even if it has one of the greatest ending action sequences ever involving a helicopter, some rope, and a bullet train. "Red light! Green light!"
9. "GoldenEye" (1995)- Years before the groundbreaking Nintendo 64 game, there was the film from which it was based. This film was Pierce Brosnan's first outing as James Bond, as well as the first Bond movie I ever saw. In it, Bond has to stop an old colleague (Sean Bean) from using an electromagnetic satellite as a weapon against Western civilization. "GoldenEye" was my first taste of not only 007, but the spy/action genre in-general. I was immediately enamored by the action/adventure, romance, exotic locations, and secret agent swagger of the film. It's definitely one of the more satisfying and complete Bond movie experiences, despite the slightly disconcerting musical score from Eric Serra. It was the first Bond film directed by Martin Campbell, who would go on to direct the aforementioned "Casino Royale". Campbell has proven that he definitely knows how to handle a Bond movie.
8. "The Dark Knight" (2008)- A newer film in my top 10?! Yes, I know. It's worthy though. Assuming the upcoming "Dark Knight Rises" is as amazing as its two predecessors, I will probably group Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy together as one. Batman has been my favorite comic book character ever since I was a child, so naturally I would have high expectations for any media connected to him. I hadn't been as excited about a film coming out since... "Star Trek: First Contact". And like "First Contact" I was not disappointed. The story, the technical craftsmanship, the performances... While certainly no film is perfect, this one is as close as it gets. It's Batman (Christian Bale) facing off against his arch-nemesis the Joker (Heath Ledger) as the Joker throws Gotham City into anarchy and chaos. I was absolutely mesmerized by Ledger's performance as an inconsistent nihilistic madman. Watching the film was like being on a ride. I was never certain what was going to happen next to the point where I began to get nervous while watching. It's the kind of film that made me want to be a better filmmaker and performer. Aside from Bale's overblown guttural Batman voice, "The Dark Knight" is an example of what great modern cinema should be.
5. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)- With "Edward Scissorhands" I mentioned that I am a fan of Tim Burton as an artist more so than as a filmmaker. This film is the artistic vision of Burton come to life. Although Henry Selick was the director, the entire film was visually conceptualized by Burton as well as its story elements while Burton was working for Disney in the early 80s. Selick was essentially taking what was inside of Burton's head and putting it on-screen. Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon/Danny Elfman), the king of Halloweentown, decides to put his own twist on Christmas which has nightmarish consequences. For someone who very much enjoys the atmosphere and the imagery of Halloween, this film is the holy grail. From Danny Elfman's eccentric music to the groundbreaking stop-motion animation, the film stands alone as a wonderful piece of entertaining visual art. And while it only had modest box office returns, it's influence and cult status have subsequently entered the public consciousness at-large. It isn't easy to bring your inner-most artistic visions to life. Selick/Burton have done this and I strive to do the same in my own work.
4. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988)- Director Robert Zemeckis was still on a roll following "Back to the Future" with this film. Produced by Steven Spielberg (no way!), this film is a loose adaptation of the Gary K. Wolf novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?". The film is about Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer), a cartoon star in 1940s Hollywood that is framed for murder and must rely on alcoholic detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to unravel a conspiracy and clear his name. I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a creative film in the theaters when I was five. It was the first time a feature-length film had been created that almost seamlessly blended live-action with traditional cel animation, years before computer assistance was possible. In the world of this film, cartoon characters are real and live side-by-side with humans. It's the only time in cinema history that you will see Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny alongside one another, not to mention a piano duel between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck. All of these goofy and colorful elements are combined with the class and style of a film noir from Hollywood's Golden Age. As a child, I enjoyed how colorful and imaginative the film is. As an adult, I came to understand that the film is peppered with clever sexual innuendo and other adult humor. This goes to show that it can be enjoyed by both children and adults, allowing it to withstand the test of time. A true classic!
3. "An American Tail" (1986)- To me, this is the greatest animated film ever made. Don Bluth was asked by Steven Spielberg (again!) to helm this film after Spielberg had seen his work with animated mice in "The Secret of NIMH". It's the story of Russian-born mouse Fievel Mousekewitz (voiced by Phillip Glasser) who is separated from his family as they immigrate to America to escape cats at the end of the 19th century. Fievel must journey the dangerous streets of New York in the hopes of being reunited with his family. I had seen this film in the theater when I was four. After seeing it, I became obsessed with it and tried very hard to draw Fievel and all of the characters from the film on my own using only a crayon and some notebook paper. Because of that, I credit this film with heavily influencing my current drawing style. The animation is top-notch and filled with beautifully painted backgrounds of Victorian-era New York accompanied by a great score from James Horner. As is a signature in Bluth's work, "An American Tail" is a family film with dark undercurrents. The cats in-particular are depicted in a manner that could potentially scar small children for life. I have a very deep love for this film and will still watch it today with as much enthusiasm as I did when I was kid. In 2011, I purchased an original animation cel of Fievel that was used in the film and now hangs framed in my office.
1. "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)- And we have finally arrived! Steven Spielberg has made a number of iconic films in his career, but "E.T." will always stand out as the film that defined him as a director and catapulted him into being a household name. The script was a first draft written by Melissa Mathison, after having story discussions with Spielberg. It's the story of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a lonely boy who befriends an alien that has been stranded on Earth. When I was growing up, my family had a VHS copy of the film that me and my sister would watch repeatedly and get lost in all of its magic and wonder. It is one of the few films that I get goosebumps from just speaking about. "E.T." is an amazing and imaginative film that even after watching it hundreds of times, will still grab your heart in a merciless grip. It's the kind of film that makes you honestly wonder whether or not its detractors actually have souls. Ordinary characters placed in extraordinary circumstances is a theme that has pervaded most of the films in my top 10, this one more so than others. As a child, I wanted to believe that I could befriend life from another planet and experience the same adventure as Elliott did. I will always watch "E.T." with a profound fondness and childlike excitement the likes of which I don't fully understand. It reminds me of my childhood and that movies have the power to literally reach into our spirits and touch us with a tremendous and lasting effect. Just listening to the iconic score from John Williams is enough to transport me into the world of this film. It has been my goal with anything that I create, whether it be film or otherwise, to reach the viewer on a deep and very personal level and leave them with an impression they will take with them forever, much like this film has done for me. For me, "E.T." will always be one of the greatest films ever made.