10. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky)
This is the first in a series of three films that chronicle the arrest, trial and conviction of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin also known as the West Memphis Three. The film covers the horrific murder of three innocent young boys and the arrest of the three young men whose apparent only crimes were listening to heavy metal music and being a little weird. Despite knowing the ending, I think this film can definitely get you mad but it can also be an eye opening look into how justice even in a First World country like the U.S.A. can be mishandled.
9. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
This is the film which made the film world stand up and pay attention to two major talents: actor Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle. This is harrowing, thrilling, wild and even darkly funny tale of a young man struggling with heroin addiction and crime amongst a group of young men in the impoverished section of England. It's filled with shocking, eye-popping visuals, a loud booming soundtrack and great performances.
8. Scream (Wes Craven)
This film not only revived a genre that was on its death bed by being both a flat-out scary film and a really funny parody, the film also made me really enjoy and appreciate horror films more. Sure, most of the films which tried the cash in on its success are poor imitations (I Know What You Did Last Summer) but the original film is still an enjoyable, scary romp.
7. The People vs. Larry Flynt (Milos Forman)
This biopic about porn publisher Larry Flynt which follows him from his humble beginnings to success to all his legal troubles. All at once it's a fascinating journey of a man which some people love and some people loathe. It's helped by great performances by Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love (though some may think by playing a drug-addicted stripper isn't much of a stretch for her, Zing.)
6. Gabbeh (Moshen Makhalbaf)
Not all Iranian films are bleak, drab and depressing which a lot of people tend to think of most films that come from that area of the Middle East. This is fascinating colorful magic realist drama about a woman who magically emerges from a rug (the "gabbeh" of the title). The film is all at once absorbing look into a culture and lifestyle seldom seen by outsiders.
5. The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner)
Arthur Miller adapted his own play and him together with director Nicholas Hytner produced a cinematic and gripping adaptation of a group of young women who incite the Salem Witch Trials which resulted in numerous executions during the 1600s. A fine ensemble of actors led by Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Joan Allen bring all the characters to life.
4. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest)
A largely improvised and totally hilarious mockumentary about an ambitious quirky stage director named Corky St. Clair who wants to stage an original musical about a small town in celebration of the anniversary of its founding. I actually never heard of this film until I picked it up and thought it looked funny and my God it was. The resulting musical has to be seen to be believed. This is a second in a series of films from writer-director Christopher Guest and his regular troop of performers but the first one he directed (the other one is This Is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner).
3. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)
A very religious woman, upon the request of her incapacitated husband, has sexual affairs with different men. It's the film which catapulted director Lars von Trier and actress Emily Watson into mainstream (well, for an artsy film) recognition. This is a film which will inspire strong feelings either way because of its themes. Problematic and disturbing though it can be, it is one of the best films about religiosity and spirituality ever made.
2. Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton)
Boy, 1996 is probably the year of a lot of new cinematic discoveries. This is also the year Billy Bob Thornton also emerged into the scene. He wrote, directed and starred in Sling Blade, a truly memorable film about a mentally handicapped man named Karl Childers who is institutionalized for killing his mother and her lover at the age of 12. He gets released as an adult and finds himself caring for a woman, her son and her abusive boyfriend. The character is all at once unique and iconic and also unforgettable.
1. Fargo (Joel Coen)
A rather predictable, cliched choice. sure but come on, it's a really great film. If you haven't seen it, it's a darkly hilarious tale of a ne'er do well car salesman (William H. Macy) who enlists the help of two crooks (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his own wife in order to extort money from his wealthy father-in-law. Suffice to say, things don't go as planned. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her performance as a perky police officer investigating the case. The film is very funny yet often shocking. It is also one of the films which made me appreciate the art of cinematography a lot more thanks to great work by Roger Deakins. It's classic Coen Brothers.
Runners-Up: Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh); Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe); Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh); Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas); The Rock (Michael Bay).