5. Wag the Dog (1997, Barry Levinson)
In both Robert De Niro’s and Dustin Hoffman’s cinematic history, “Wag the Dog” is the least popular. The story of a fixer hiring a Hollywood producer to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal will never get old. This beautifully acted and directed film is a truly fun ride of goofy political comedy with realistic scary depth.
The film earned two Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dustin Hoffman. “Wag the Dog” stars two of the best actors of their generations, with a smart sarcastic screenplay, a story that never gets old, all beautifully shot and realized by Barry Levinson. It’s a raw satire that delivers rare classic comedic fun with true depth.
4. Open Your Eyes (1997, Alejandro Amenábar)
Thirteen years before Christopher Nolan presented his mind-bending masterpiece “Inception,” Alejandro Amenábar presented “Open Your Eyes.” The film itself is a subtle cinematic achievement. It’s very hard to talk about the film without spoiling it; the story revolves around a handsome man who finds love in his life and is met with a terrible accident that disfigures his face. The film is complicated and layered in a beautiful and perplexing way, yet it explains itself slowly as the story goes on.
Aside from the fact that the film is beautifully written with real creativity and excellence, it also has powerful and important themes, such as the state of existentialism and mortality, the concept of love, and the question of the human soul. “Open Your Eyes” is a gripping film due to its ideas and theme; it’s stylish and smart, beautifully shot and acted, and will make you question your life. The film was an inspiration for major hits such as Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika,” and its American remake “Vanilla Sky” doesn’t live up to the original.
3. Hard Boiled (1992, John Woo)
When we think of the films that revolutionized action films, such as “Bullitt” or “Die Hard” or “Terminator,” and recently “John Wick,” we must mention John Woo, and in particular “Hard Boiled.” This film is a technical achievement in the realization of its action sequences. The 1992 Hong Kong action is written by Barry Wong and directed by John Woo. It stars the finest of Hong Kong cinema: Chow Yun-fat as Inspector “Tequila” Yuen; Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Alan, an undercover cop; and Anthony Wong as Johnny Wong, a leader of the criminal triads.
The reason this film is on this list isn’t because of the story, which sounds like a very typical story, but because the way Woo transformed this mediocre story into an intense fast-paced glowing film makes it truly special and revolutionary. It inspired so many modern action franchises such as “John Wick” and “The Matrix.” “Hard Boiled” is a father of the modern action genre – intense and stylish, elevating the genre of Hong Kong crime films, combining romantic and funny elements. It is visually and choreographically stunning, with aesthetically pleasing action sequences only John Woo can realize into the frame.
2. Eternity and a Day (1998, Theodoros Angelopoulos)
“Eternity and a Day” is one of the most poetic films ever made. Directed by the Greek master Theodoros Angelopoulos and starring the late Bruno Ganz, the film tells a dream-like story of the ill and old Alexander, who has few days left on earth when he meets an illegal immigrant from Albania, and goes through a journey throughout the Greek city and its winter to take the boy to his home.
The film is beautifully shot in the mesmerizing Greek landscape, with melancholic poetic music that melts the souls. Angelopoulos was a master at creating a completely poetic dream world set within the daily life of normal people; this film is no exception, delivering great cinematic moments (such as the bus scene) and it’s a completely different look on foreign cinema. “Eternity and a Day” is a beautifully shot film, filled with melancholy and sadness and romanticism; it explores the concept of borders and the universality of love and tenderness and with an amazing performance from Ganz.
1. Arizona Dream (1993, Emir Kusturica)
“Arizona Dream” is a perplexing and bizarre film. Directed by the master of modern surrealism Emir Kusturica, it stars Johnny Depp as Axel, a young man looking for a meaning for his life. His uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis) invites him to work with him as a car salesman, and there he meets Elaine (Faye Dunaway) and her crazy daughter Grace (Grace Stalker). From this point on, Axel starts a crazy wild relationship with Elaine despite their age difference.
The film is visually dazzling and filled with Kusturica’s funny chaotic surrealism; the whole atmosphere feels indeed like a dream set against the weary Arizona desert with wonderful performances from Dunaway as a middle-aged woman looking for love and dreams, Depp as a young man looking to make sense of his life, as well as beautiful performances from the rest of the cast. The film indirectly explores the state of youth and the constant struggle of looking for meaning; it’s a Peter Pan-ish surrealistic journey about loss, apathy, and love, with mesmerizing shots and Kusturica’s unique bizarre style.