It was my brother’s 25th birthday last month and that got me thinking about the past quarter-century of moviemaking. When thinking about this list, I was surprised by an apparent lack of surefire classics comparative to other decades which may speak to Hollywood playing it far too safe recently, but I still had to make several painful cuts (sorry “Shawshank” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”). And there are still some very, very good movies here. So without further ado, here are my top 25 films of the past 25 years (1992-2017).
25. Under the Skin (2014)
A haunting look into the human experience, “Under the Skin” burrows into your psyche, making you wonder about the nature of existence. Jonathan Glazer’s film takes you into the mind of an alien (Scarlett Johansson) with no concept of human interaction and makes you experience life as if you were witnessing it for the first time, something not easy to do. It is truly surreal, beautiful and grotesque all at the same time.
24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Any number of Charlie Kauffman’s scripted-films could be on this list (“Adaptation”, “Being John Malkovich”), but I’ve decided to go with the film that most remember him for. Focusing on a guy (Jim Carrey) and a girl (Kate Winslet) after a rough breakup, they each undergo an experimental procedure to remove their memories of each other, but each memory needs to be individually extracted, and we watch their history in reverse order, seeing their evolution. A deeper project that explores the nature of love and memory and all the pain and joy that it brings, “Eternal Sunshine” perfectly balances the weird, the sweet and the comical into one film.
23. Fight Club (1999)
“Fight Club” may be the signature anarchist film. Infused with creativity, the film, even twenty years after its release, is still a jaw-dropping experience of sheer ingenuity. It tells the story of the Narrator (Edward Norton) who meets a strange man selling soap named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Stuck at a dead-end job and working for corporate America, the Narrator needs to break out and with Tyler, they create Fight Club, a group that revels in simply beating each other night after night. But the club grows and grows, becoming something else entirely and something very wrong begins to affect the Narrator. Creating an avalanche of pop culture references and helping give rise to 1990s counterculture, the film is glossy and fun with an edge that burns in just the right way.
22. Three Colors Trilogy (1993-94)
Perhaps the most “classical” of any of the films on this list, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three films (Blue, White and Red) illuminate the different themes of French nationalism: liberty, equality and fraternity. Whether it is the story of a wife who must come to grips with the death of her husband and daughter in a car accident, a man who is divorced because he can not consummate his marriage or the relationship between two people who have nothing in common, the threads of connection between all three stories elevates them to a richer meaner. They are a moving canvass of life.
21. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Despite being nearly non-stop action, “Mad Max: Fury Road” manages to imbue themes of environmentalism, loyalty, purpose and feminism into its narrative. With the world having fallen apart, Max (Tom Hardy) is alone, but finds himself abducted by a clan of biker gang thugs who take him a sprawling community dependent on a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Joe’s concubines are abducted by one of his subordinates, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Max finds himself entangled in a predicament that appeals to his sense of honor. “Fury Road” is one of the greatest action movies ever made, a sprawling, thrilling chase through hell and perhaps a telling cautionary tale of our future.
20. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
A harrowing story of dedication, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” tells the story of two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu), in Romania who arrange to have an illegal abortion. Directed by Cristian Mungiu, the film is told in near real-time and in gripping detail. It is a treasure of suspense brimming with real-world issues.
19. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
The foremost signature event of the 21st century are the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not far behind that is the death of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Told in gripping detail through the eyes of fictional CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain) and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is a timecapsule of the post-9/11 mentality and all the history involved with that period. The range and scope of the film is breathtaking and the conclusion told in real-time brings the history straight to us.
18. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The last film of the great Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” is an eerie look into raw sexuality and the bonds of marriage. Even so-so Kubrick towers above the work of many other filmmakers, and the director’s swan song film is still a treasure that leaves open so many interpretations. Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) are sexually enticed by different people at a party in New York City. The episode leads to an admission by Alice that women are not as faithful to men as Bill would believe and the situation escalates as Bill is drawn into a world of sexual conquest, uninhibited desires and danger. It finds a way to dig under your skin in a way that is so purely Kubrick.