10. Hana-Bi (Takeshi Kitano)
This film is also known as Fireworks. It's about a violent and unpredictable police detective who was forced to retire because of a work-related incident and to take care of his dying wife. It's dark, violent yet also manages to be tender and poetic. This is my initial introduction to the films of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.
9. Face/Off (John Woo)
John Woo has been making waves in Hong Kong for years before Hollywood came a-calling and he started to make movies Stateside. Although his Hollywood films were overall not as great as his Hong Kong works like The Killer and Hard-Boiled, Face/Off is the outstanding exception. This is thrilling, over-the-top violent action thriller about a cop (John Travolta) who takes on the face of a sadistic criminal who's supposedly comatose (Nicolas Cage) but things don't go quite as planned when the criminal wakes up. It's got everything that made John Woo's Hong Kong work so great: Engaging characters, over-the-top, balletic gunplay and visceral thrills.
8. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith)
A comic book writer falls in love with a lesbian. This is writer-director Kevin Smith's second film after Clerks (a film I consider somewhat overrated) and this is his best work. It's funny, heartfelt, sweet and features great performances by Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck. I
7. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee)
Ang Lee continues to his streak of really good films with this intriguing adaptation of Rick Moody's novel about two dysfunctional suburban families during the '70s as they explore the world of sex, drugs and other stuff. An extremely well-acted family drama that helped Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood transition into adult actors and features great performances by Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver as well.
6. Funny Games (Michael Haneke)
When I finished watching this film, I actually hated it. I found myself disgusted and disturbed. But after thinking and reflecting about it for a while, I realized it's actually a pretty brilliant film. It's a horror-thriller about two young sociopaths who take a middle-class family hostage in their vacation and proceeds to play "funny games" with them and torture them both physically and mentally. Despite the fact that there's very little actual on-screen violence, the film is very hard to watch as it mocks and deconstructs and subverts the trappings of the genre in very perverse ways. You'll likely not ever want to watch it again but it's a film you won't soon forget.
5. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
This is Atom Egoyan's beautiful and haunting adaptation of Russell Banks' novel about the aftermath of a bus crash which killed a group of school children. This film features top-notch performances from Ian Holm and Sarah Polley.
4. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
After finding finding his wife in bed with another man, Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho, giving a magnificent performance) calmly turns himself in to the police and serves his time in prison. After his release, he tries to rebuild his life for the better and even meets a girl but seems to reciprocate his feels towards his pet eel. Shohei Imamura's film despite all its weirdness is still an enchanting, moving piece of cinema.
3. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
I love classic film noirs. This 1997 adaptation of James Ellroy novel set in 1950's Hollywood harkens back to that time in this tale of corrupt cops and a prostitution ring. Kim Basinger won an Oscar but I think it's because she's the only major female character and the rest of the cast and the film itself is so good, that it made her look fantastic as a classic old-fashioned Hollywood femme fatale. I was rooting for Titanic back then but now, I've come to realize, this is the film that should have won.
2. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
When this film was first released, there were some people who expressed disappointment that it wasn't Pulp Fiction, that it didn't top Pulp Fiction, etc. It has since grown in reputation since then with many critics and cinephiles declaring it to be writer-director Quentin Tarantino's best work. Personally, I say not quite but it's VERY close. This movie is such a joy to watch, a caper crime film with sprinkled with Tarantino's cool style that completely and utterly works.
1. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
A man drives around the Iranian countryside trying to find someone to bury him after he commits suicide. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is probably one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. He makes what's essentially the cinematic equivalent of poetry. This film is an excellent example of it. For a film that's all about a man wanting to kill himself, it is strangely and beautifully life-affirming.
Runners-Up: Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld); Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson); Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell); Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen); Wag the Dog (Barry Levinson)