I always run into the same problem coming up with lists, especially when I have to rank them because it’s so subjective. I thought it was hard when I did my video game article… that’s why I did the top 15 games instead of 10. I just couldn’t trim it down to ten.
Little did I know that doing the same exercise for movies would be even harder. I think it’s because movies are like books in many ways. If a movie is well done it has many layers, complex character development, pacing, immersive visuals and musical scores. You become invested in the characters and in the story. Your emotions get tangled up in the simulated reality on the screen until your body reacts completely on its own when something happens in the movie.
Since there are so many different criteria with which to critique a film, I’m just going to present a casual list that I think works well. I’ll put them in order but I won’t take that too seriously either. It’ll just be for bookkeeping. Consider it a top 10 of movies I really think you should see. So without further ado, here are 10 movies you must watch!
#10 - Blade Runner
“The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy”
Blade Runner is one of the pioneering movies of the cyberpunk genre, depicting a cold, noire, dystopian future where genetically engineered beings known as “replicants” are used to accomplish what ordinary humans cannot or are unwilling to do. They lack the full repertoire of human emotions, most notably empathy but are indistinguishable from ordinary humans in every other way. They are manufactured by megacorporations for off-world applications and are illegal on Earth. When a replicant attempts to flee to Earth they are killed by special police officers, “Blade Runners” who “retire” the offending replicants. This movie revolves around a group of renegade replicants bold enough to come back to Earth, seeking a new lease on life, as their extraordinary genetic design is limited by a mere 4 year lifespan. The protagonist, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a blade runner assigned to retire them, under duress, as he is retired from the business.
Like all cyberpunk works, there are recurring motifs such as altering one’s body to be better than nature made it, different levels of reality, a corrupt and tiered society comprised of the elite and the damned, heavy reliance on technology and a miserable, depressing atmosphere. They are all used in Blade Runner to great effect and one idea which develops throughout the movie is that we are not who we think we are and calls into question our own sentience. The replicants’ obsession with and acute awareness of time also highlights the significance of mortality and the value of life, natural or synthetic, something Deckard begins to internalize more and more throughout the film. Whether being slave to design or to society, the well paced development of what it means to be human is a good reason to watch this movie.
#9 - Gattaca
“I got the better end of the deal. I only lent you my body - you lent me your dream.”
Gattaca is a movie that challenges the limits of human potential. Are we limited by our bodies or by our will and our dreams? Is fate a mere abstraction or the inevitability of our scientific prowess?
In the not-too-distant future, human pro-creation has become a controlled process rather than a natural event. Children born out of love are at the mercy of the random gene combinations of their parents, as they always have been but new mainstream biotechnology meant to customize your child has become the status quo. No longer are disease, physical or mental risk factors relevant. A human being can be created free of any defects or abnormalities, the “best” characteristics of the parents selected artificially, to give the child the best chance at life. Babies are tested at birth to measure their quality, their potential and their longevity. Companies use these specification in place of a resume to determine a candidates suitability for a job. Children born out of love, the natural way, if deemed unfit, are stuck with menial jobs and are unable to aspire to anything greater than what society has laid out for them. Gattaca focuses on 2 children, Vincent and Anton. The former, the protagonist, is a love child whereas Anton was selectively conceived in vitro, as most children are. Vincent is found to have a genetic aberration that will kill him by the age of 30. He is therefore classified as an “invalid” and deemed unfit to become an employee of Gattaca, a company involved in manned spaceflight and space exploration. Vicent is passionate however and aspires to be more than he is. His ambition and his dreams drive him to purchase the identity of a “valid” individual through black market channels, a man named Jerome, who suffered a paralyzing accident but is otherwise an outstanding physical and intellectual specimen. Using samples from Jerome’s body on an ongoing basis, Vincent is able to deceive the administration of Gattaca into believing that he is Jerome.
As indicated in the movie, society has discrimination down to a science. The new hierarchy established by unnatural selection has suppressed the competitive spirit of the human race. People are complacent in their jobs, their fates predetermined. The man of the future lacks colour and flare. The invalids are forced to accept their fates, killing any notion that they are even capable of bettering themselves so why try? The atmosphere that this movie creates is one of despondence and hopelessness. It is this tone, firmly established at the beginning of the movie, which makes the movie more poignant later on when Vincent’s struggles to fight the system put both him and Jerome at risk of losing their dream… because Jerome’s only remaining purpose is to live vicariously through Vincent. Gattaca offers the viewer an emotional journey through the life of a man aiming higher than his arms can reach.
#8 - Solaris
“We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything - - solitude, hardship, exhaustion, death. We're proud of ourselves. But when you think about it, our enthusiasm's a sham. We don't want other worlds; we want mirrors.”
George Clooney plays a rather flexible role in this movie about a research station in orbit around a stellar phenomenon called Solaris. Clooney plays a psychiatrist, Chris Kelvin, who is tormented by his wife’s suicide and, due to his pervasive depressed state, lives each and every day as if it were a burden, every ritual a blur to him. Though he lives on Earth he is asked by his good friend (a scientist studying Solaris) to go to the space station and help solve an unusual dilemma. He does not elaborate further and the company back on Earth ask Kelvin to bring the crew home because they have abandoned their work and refuse to leave. Chris agrees and boards the space station to find everyone in a “funk”, obviously disturbed by something but unable to talk about it or do anything. It seems that the stellar phenomenon is causing some very unusual activity on the station.
However this is not a movie about hostile aliens. The unusual activity is far more subtle and disturbing in a rather unique way. Solaris displays itself like a sci-fi but at its core it is more of a psychological drama. It has a tranquillizing effect on the viewer as the characters and ambiance aren’t busy. The overall tone provokes more thought and imagination. We are meant to focus more on what the movie doesn’t show us. That’s where its power lies. The lines that separate reality from fantasy begin to blur as Kelvin succumbs to the malady described by the rest of the crew. Even more disturbing is the fact that each crewmember is suffering from manifestations of their own minds.
The movie takes its time and is not for someone seeking action. It’s more cerebral and exercises your ability to rationalize the events taking place. Furthermore it uses flashbacks and dialogue between Kelvin and his wife to reassemble the tragedy that haunts Kelvin, making the viewer empathize more with them both as the movie builds. The use of gentle musical scores and silence enhance the surrealistic experience even more. I think the combination of these elements are an excellent reason to watch this movie.
#6 - The Alien Series
“My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.”
Alien is a classic. No list would be complete without it. It plays like a survival horror video game in a lot of ways because of how tension is built and the meticulous attention to details that cue the audience to build up fear in their minds at what might happen next. The environments, especially in later sequels have a truly creepy and sci-fi feel to them, as do the characters themselves, especially the scientists with their eccentric behavior and sterile, malign appearance. Even something as innocuous as the food looks like worms sometimes, so you are never really given a chance to shake this alien feeling while watching the movie. The technology, the interior of spaceships, the color scheme, the computerized voices, the music; everything feels very unaccommodating and hostile making this movie far more effective than an identically scripted copy without any development of the above. The actions sequences are riveting and give the sense that the human defenders are like rats in a maze, being exterminated one at a time, cowering in fear, scrambling in disarray.
Sigourney Weaver plays a Ripley, the main character of every Alien movie whose role varies along the timeline as she repeatedly encounters a hostile alien race under different circumstances and is forced to try to exterminate them. Her efforts are hindered in the sequels by political and scientific interest groups who have ulterior motives for the new species. Ripley herself evolves with each movie, starting out as a competent but vulnerable woman and later becoming a fearless and almost militant authority on the alien species with a more hardened and decisive personality.
One of the more subtle achievements of this series is drawing a parallel between humans and the aliens. It’s pretty obvious that there are good guys and bad guys in these movies but maybe not so clear which is a greater threat and what the viewer is actually afraid of at times. There is also the common thread of having a “synthetic” involved in almost every movie, which reminds me of Star Trek and why they had characters like Spock and Data. In the Alien movies, sometimes the synthetic was good, sometimes it was bad but always it showed signs of evolution towards a higher form of sentience by the end of each respective movie and we are left to wonder how solid the boundaries are between organic and synthetic life. Is it that final gap, yet to be bridged, which accounts for all that makes us corrupt and deceptive? Watch this movie and decide for yourself!
#7 - Forrest Gump
“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’ ”
Set aside a little extra time if you decide to watch this movie as it’s a bit on the long side. The protagonist, played by Tom Hanks, who calls himself Forrest, narrates the entire story of his life on a bench at a bus stop to complete strangers who sit next to him. Most of the movie therefore is a flashback of everything that brought Forrest to the present day.
Forrest is borderline mentally challenged and had a crooked spine as a child. Furthermore he is ridiculed by others who expect little or nothing from him. Forrest then goes on to crash through every barrier that stands before him, primarily because of his purity of heart, his determination and his naïve innocence. This is what makes the movie such a powerfully emotional one. Forrest’s accomplishments are not entirely believable or realistic but that’s not really the point. We are presented with a strong contrast between the superficialities by which society tends to measure a human being and the strength of human goodness and values. Forrest is the embodiment of what is possible when you ignore the noise around you and do good for yourself and those around you. Because of this thematic element, every secondary character Forrest meets forms a strong and meaningful relationship with him, which makes it impossible for the viewer not to look at Forrest with awe and admiration.
Although this movie is classified as a romantic drama type film, there are plenty of comedic elements that balance out the heavier scenes. Forrest stumbles through many different circumstances with little awareness of the context or the “big picture” and ends up doing some silly and embarrassing things. All the same he remains resolute and lives by the moto “stupid is as stupid does”, which holds true because even when he does something ridiculous, if you break it down you can usually find logic in his actions.
Forrest Gump received numerous accolades and is often cited as being a first rate piece of work. I definitely think you should watch this movie, if you haven’t already.
#5 - Terminator 2
“It’s in your [humanity’s] nature to destroy yourselves”
Out of all the Terminators produced so far, I enjoyed all of them… except Salvation, that was crap but what could we expect without Schwarzenegger in the picture? Actually… a lot more than what we got from that movie. In any event, Terminator 2 stood out from the rest for a few reasons. Unlike the first movie, it was able to take significant advantage of new CGI technology, which allowed for some pretty incredible special effects. More importantly, the relationship between the Terminator and John Conner was far more meaningful this time around than it had been for Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner in the first movie and that allowed for a lot of character development.
In the first movie, a terminator was sent back in time to murder Sarah Conner, mother of the human resistance leader who would fight the machines in a post-apocalyptic world. After that attempt failed, another more advanced terminator was sent back through time several years later to kill John himself while he was still a child. This time however, John’s protector was not a human but the same model of terminator who tried to kill his mother, except this one was programmed to protect John. John’s terminator, knowing that the other terminator had a greater probability of defeating him, still dedicated every ounce of his being to completing his mission and ensuring John’s survival.
We come to find out that both Sarah and John have had their fair share of problems in life ever since Sarah was told about the future and how important her son would be. Since then she has been institutionalized and John has become a rebellious and delinquent youth with no mentors or love in his life. When he is introduced to the terminator, the two quickly develop a symbiosis. John needs the terminator to survive but the terminator also depends on John in a way in order to understand the subtle nuances of human behaviour, which John is eager to teach. The relationship is certainly unusual, between a cybernetic organism and a human yet the terminator shows its own unique form of compassion and love for John without ever showing any kind of expression or emotion. By the end of the movie he finally understands why humans cry and in a poignant scene we see that John loves the terminator like the father he never had and the Terminator would do anything to protect John without ever hurting him, insulting him or failing to provide, as humans sometimes do in times of weakness. Like other films reviewed here, a novel approach uses an empty shell as a symbol to convey the most powerful of human emotions in a way that the audience can appreciate.
#4 - True Lies
“Oh yeah, she's got her head in the guy's lap all right. Yahoo.”
If you’re a guy who’s watched this movie, all I need to do is say, “Do it doucement… do it verry slowly” and you know what I’m talking about. No further review needed :)
However, for those who actually haven’t seen the movie or don’t see the appeal of Jamie Lee Curtis doing a strip tease (oops… spoiler alert!) I’ll give an alternate explanation as to why you have to watch this movie.
True Lies is an action movie through and through. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spy for the US government who, along with his team, attempts to intercept and dispel terrorist activities. He keeps his life secret from his wife and daughter and is often so dedicated to his work that it takes away from his personal life, which comes back to bite him down the road. In this movie, Schwarzenegger’s character, Harry, is trying to infiltrate a terrorist plan to transport a nuke into the US. The terrorist group is actually working with a sexy antiquates dealer, Juno Skinner, played by Tia Cararre, so they can hide the nuke in a small Persian statue. Harry and his team uncover a few leads and under an alias, he tries to learn more about their plan until his cover is blown and he ends up chasing the leader of the terrorist group in an epic scene that I won’t spoil for you. Then things get complicated as his work and family life get all tied up and cause Harry to lose focus at the worst possible time. Harry then has the huge burden on his shoulders of saving the day with huge potential risks hanging in the balance.
This movie is full of win. It’s got some incredible, well paced action sequences and superb acting by all characters, many of which have solid acting experience. It’s directed by James Cameron and as we all know, everything he touches, including his own excrement, turns to gold! It’s funny, sexy, tense and there are plenty of explosions and cliff-hanger situations to satisfy the most discriminating of viewers. Each character has a well thought out and unique personality complete with all the little quirks you’d expect a person to have. This allows the characters to play off of each other in a dynamic and natural way that doesn’t look forced or awkward. This movie is iconic of the kind you’d want to watch on a big screen TV with a surround sound system.
#3 - Shawshank Redemption
“You know the funny thing is, on the outside I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.”
You know this is one of the very few movies out there capable of bringing me to tears… along with “The Offspring” from Star Trek TNG… and “The Green Mile” but that’s not important! What’s important is that you watch this movie because it’s damn good and everyone knows it! Quite simple it’s about a man named Andy who got falsely accused of murdering his cheating wife and given life in prison at Shawshank penitentiary. The bulk of the movie revolves around Andy’s experiences in that prison, the people he meets, the conflicts he has to deal with and his long journey to freedom. However it’s much more than that.
Freedom is symbolic in this movie because even without the prison walls, Andy is suffering. The actual people in the real world he meets, his friends and his enemies are physical manifestations who represent the inner forces at work in his mind and the way he deals with real life events reflect back upon his internal struggles. We know Andy is innocent but he often alludes to his guilt as his inability to convey the emotion and love that his wife deserved. In this way he killed her emotionally and “drove her away”.
There is also a contrasting relationship between Andy’s ethical practices and his environment. Andy is an honest man, a law-abiding man but when he enters Shawshank he learns how to be dishonest and clever, performing illegal activities for the Warden in an elaborate scheme to set him and others up as scapegoats while getting out of prison scot-free. It’s one of those scenarios where the end clearly justifies the means and despite the backwards devolution from straight shooter to criminal, Andy’s redeeming qualities shine through stronger than ever and prove that he never belonged there in the first place. His presence so enriched the lives of those around him that it’s not entirely clear whether his time in jail was such a bad thing, for himself or others as he went through a life-affirming rite of passage that enriched the remainder of his life, again in contrast to so many others who did their time and were eventually released, succumbing to suicide.
#2 - Apollo 13
“I don't care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.”
Damn I love Apollo 13! It is just that good. It helps that I’m a big space nut but I think this is a movie anyone can get into. It has a lot of technical jargon, which, if you’re a sci-fi fan, will really help immerse you in the action and build tension but that’s going to happen anyway because of the effective pacing and use of ambient cues to heighten the experience.
For those of you unfamiliar with this historical event, Apollo 13 was an American moon mission that came after the first moon landing in 1969. That makes this movie a documentary but one that doesn’t feel at all tedious or belaboured by information. On Apollo 13, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert were supposed to revisit the moon but shortly after a glitched launch (from which the crew fully recovered), a totally separate spacecraft subsystem underwent catastrophic failure resulting in the rupture of an oxygen tank along with a lot of collateral damage to the rest of the spacecraft. This event left much of the spacecraft crippled and although the crew survived the event, their ship slowly began bleeding to death and they had to work with mission control back on Earth to come up with a plan that would get them home before their life support failed. This movie follows the events of the tragedy in great detail while also capturing a lot of the associated drama that ensued back on Earth, particularly with mission control and the families of the astronauts.
The POV techniques used to capture the disaster itself were flawless. You really felt as though you were flying along with the astronauts. Every shudder and bang, every disorienting lurch of the spacecraft was captured as well as a spectacular debris field that followed them all the way to the moon. The musical accompaniment was perfectly selected for every scene and added so much richness to the moment. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon deliver outstanding performances as well. This movie is a perfect example of how to make history fun. It had entertainment and replay value while maintaining factual accuracy. I practically memorized the script after watching it half a dozen times. Watch this movie and I promise you will not be disappointed.
#1 - The Abyss
“We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”
The Abyss is yet another James Cameron film that blows the competition right out of the water when it comes to underwater adventures. One thing he gets right with every one of his films is making the entire experience look as fantastic as it could possibly be and this is no exception. Everything has a cold blue-ish hue and the moans and groans of the rig only add to the isolated, detached feeling that this movie evokes. Some really good CGI is also used to good effect. Couple this with some great acoustics and first rate acting and you’ve got yourself a hit.
The Abyss is about a submersible drilling platform designed by engineer Lindsey Brigman, owned by Benthic Petroleum and operated by Virgil Brigman, played by Ed Harris. A US nuclear submarine sinks for unknown reasons in the vicinity of Virgil’s (aka “Bud”) rig and navy seals transport down with Lindsey to the rig to take over command and use the crew to investigate the sub. These unusual but necessary measures are because a storm is approaching that would delay a proper investigation and the rig is already equipped to carry it out even with the storm. Bud and his crew agree reluctantly and carry out the investigation with the seals but upon their return, the storm hits topside and damages the ship providing power to the rig causing havoc both topside and for the rig itself. In the aftermath, the rig is cut off from the surface and is haemorrhaging air. With limited internal life support and power, the crew try to survive even as strange things start to happen both inside and outside the rig.
I would classify this as a combo of sci-fi, suspence, action and drama. It really covers the full gamut of genres and does a really good job of creating meaningful connections between the viewers and the characters. You start to really care about what happens to these people and the different personalities provoke different emotions in the audience. Like many disaster type stories, some relationships deteriorate rapidly under the most extreme conditions while others become much stronger. You can definitely see changes like these take place as the crew come to realize how serious their situation actually is. The disaster is a device used to expose the true nature of human beings under duress and raises the question of who can be trusted and depended on when things are at their worst? Watch this movie and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it so much you won’t even notice the time go by!
chriscamaro (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 08, 2018:
Apologies, the list is inherently imperfect, both because I haven't seen every good movie and because my reasons for calling a movie "good" are different from the next person. I tried to pick movies that received high acclaim from a lot of people but there will always be some holes. Suffice it to say, the list above, if nothing more, is a list of movies you would probably not despise lol.
chriscamaro (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 06, 2018:
As Gavin rightly pointed out below, I missed lots of movies that other people would rightly say belonged on this list but as you pointed out, I am drawn to sci-fi movies but also to those that ponder existential questions, which may not be for everyone, but these movies tend to be very moving and insightful.
Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on April 03, 2018:
I like some of the sci-fi choices on here. You're definitely drawn to movies that question what it means to be human, and that's really one of the most interesting story themes out there.
Creeper from Aw Man on February 01, 2016:
this was a nice hub, but you missed the godfather, citezen cane ect
chriscamaro (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 21, 2013:
I know and you somehow picked the right one to comment on because I just watched it again yesterday! There are some great one-liners in that movie too lol.
dailytop10 from Davao City on January 21, 2013:
Shawshank redemption was a really great film. Thank you for sharing!