10. The Matrix (The Wachowskis)
An intelligent and impactful work, “The Matrix” completely reinvented the ideas of both science fiction and action in the cinematic world. With visual style to burn, The Wachowskis, in only their second film as directors, created one of the most iconic works of the latter part of the Nineties.
To this day, some of the ideas, both regarding ideas and concepts, as well as the visual style, continue to influence the films that have been made over the past fifteen years. Although cheapened by two significantly lesser sequels (“The Matrix Reloaded” & “The Matrix Revolutions”), the original remains a true benchmark in science fiction cinema and cinema in general.
9. Audition (Takashi Miike)
A big hit at many film festivals across the world, this was the first real time that Western audiences discovered the work of maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike.
A workaholic that can sometimes make up to five films a year, Miike is a director that specialises in pushing his audiences and taking them somewhere they’ve never been before.
In “Audition”, a widower who works in the TV industry stages ‘auditions’ with young girls, looking for a potential future wife. In one such girl, he gets far more than he bargained for.
The genius of this film is the way that it wrong foots its audience, playing like a melodrama for about two-thirds of its running time. It then takes one almighty left turn in its climax. Put it this way. When I first saw the film at Melbourne Film Festival, when the film did its turn, people didn’t just walk out, they ran!
A wild and unique talent, Takashi Miike has, over the past two decades, been one of the directors, along with Gaspar Noe and Darren Aronofsky, that has changed the face of cinema as we know it.
“Audition” is a fantastic place to start.
8. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan)
A film that never lets its audience feel comfortable, “The Sixth Sense” is director Shyalaman’s most complete work. A young child (Haley Joel Osment) claims that he can ‘see dead people’. To tell you more would be a crime if you haven’t seen it.
A psychological horror film that never fails to involve its audience, “The Sixth Sense” was one of the best films of its type to come out in the latter part of the Nineties.
7. The Straight Story (David Lynch)
This could be director David Lynch’s most controversial film. A G-rated film with a linear narrative made for the Disney Corporation!
“The Straight Story” is a beautifully written, heartfelt road movie about an old age pensioner travelling on a ride on lawnmower across America to visit his sick and estranged brother.
Disarming in its simplicity, this is a film that truly lives up to its title. It also possesses an emotional warmth that can sometimes be missing in other films directed by David Lynch.
6. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
A highly idiosyncratic look at fame and being famous, this was one completely out of the box. Written by Charlie Kauffman and directed by former music video maker Jonze, this posited the idea that one could inhabit the mind of a famous celebrity quite literally!
Featuring a game cast including John Cusack, Catherine Keener and Mr John Malkovich himself, this was an astoundingly original and fresh cinematic experience. Ostensibly a comedy, it was one with a highly dark and serrated edge to it. A true original.
5. Fight Club (David Fincher)
We’re breaking the first two rules of ‘fight club’ here. On only his fourth film, director David Fincher created what many to this day still consider to be his masterpiece.
Based on the novel by Chuck Palhinuik, “Fight Club” is a bold, challenging work attacking the way that corporations seem hellbent on taking over the world with, at the same time, a deeply affecting look at what it means to be a man. Unique, riveting and brilliant, there truly is no other film out there that is quite like this. “Fight Club” was truly a case of everyone involved, from Fincher to his stars, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, really pushing the envelope to see how far it would go.
While something of a flop at the box office upon release, it rightly found its audience in the home market. A film impossible to ignore and a true love it or hate it experience, this is filmmaking at its ballsiest and most uncompromising.
4. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
After the excellent “Boogie Nights”, this epic three hour meditation on life and being saw director Paul Thomas Anderson truly find his voice as an artist. Set on one day in Los Angeles, “Magnolia” is a deeply felt, challenging and, at times, deeply moving look at the human condition, flaws and all.
Featuring an utterly electric cast, including Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macey, John C. Reilly and an absolutely heartbreaking performance from Melora Walters, “Magnolia” really takes the viewer out of their comfort zone and makes them think about the world around them.
Another film that can enthral cinema goers as much as it can repel others, “Magnolia” is a truly unique work.
3. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
A lacerating black comedy looking at the ‘American Dream’, namely those ideals of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’, this was British theatre director Sam Mendes’ stunning debut behind the camera. What he created in this funny and remarkable work was one of the most assured and accomplished debut films ever made.
With a brilliant script by Alan Ball and a cast to match, featuring Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning at their finest, this was very much a comment on Middle America at the turn of the century. Fifteen years later, it remains a timely and compelling work.
2. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
After a twelve year absence from the screen, master director Stanley Kubrick made “Eyes Wide Shut”, after which he subsequently passed away.
This was a bracing, unflinching look at marriage and fidelity, featuring then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Attracting controversy for its frank depiction of sex and sexuality on screen, this was no less than a challenging and unflinching work, which, over decades, we’ve come to expect from Kubrick.
A visual treat, this proved to be a fitting and uncompromising swansong from one of the all-time greats of cinema.
1. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)
Winner of the 1999 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this saw the bad boy of Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodovar, break out to a larger audience. Toning down some of the on-screen excesses that personified and, in some cases, limited his earlier work, “All About My Mother” was a deeply felt comedy-drama about love and loss.
Beautifully written, acted and directed, this really saw Almodovar mature as a filmmaker and a storyteller, while never losing his highly personal view of the world. Looking at ‘marginal’ characters such as transvestites and pregnant nuns suffering from HIV, “All About My Mother” is always a warm and deeply compelling work, looking at the role of women in the world.
This is nothing short of a masterwork from one of the brightest of cinematic talents.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.