Here we go; fifteen films, from last to the first:
15) Groundhog Day (1993) Ha! Didn't expect this one, right? Well, I've not seen another comedy-drama that touches me as deeply as this one, while still being both amusing and seriously funy. Plus, I'm a sucker for stories of time; time travel, eternal life, alternate dimensions, etc. The time loop story is a sub-genre that is both rare and delightful. I'm not a real Bill Murray fan (or a comedy fan in general), but this is really great.
14) ET, The Extra-Terrestrial (2982) Spielberg. What happened to that guy? His early career was so powerhouse in nature and so credible to it's core. ET is both a charming children's story and a fantastic tale of science fiction. It balances real science fiction ideas with the manic interactions of the kids, in a delicate alchemy of wonder and joy. This film would be ruined if made today, I'm certain.
13) The Fellowship of the Rings (2001) I lived to see this one! In 1998 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and the first thing that I thought of was, “what am I gonna miss when I die?”. Well, this was on that list, even though I had no idea that it was in the works. I've been waiting on it forever! I really do love this one. At that point I'd read the books pretty much every year since I was seven years old, and this was like seeing my best friends brought to life! While I was disappointed by the following two adaptations, the extended cut of this one is epic.
12) Watchmen (2009) Superhero films are an uneven thing. In my 48 years there have only been a handful that are worth mentioning, beyond the sphere of cheapo fun. Watchmen is, in my view, the best of them all. Based on the series by the comic book genius Alan Moore, it is both a superhero story and a gruesome tale of alternate reality. I enjoy it's mix of realism and comic book colour, with an almost serial killer vibe throughout. Fantastic storytelling.
11) The Bourne Identity (2002) This is one of those films that alter the fabric of it's genre by it's mere existence. Previously, the spy film, was almost universally silly, with some helmet-haired cheeseball using silly gadgets and shagging a long list of hideous harlots, with fights that consist of wide punches that never fail to miss, no matter how awkwardly performed. Bourne changed all that. Matt Damon is short and not at all goofy, with a deep intensity and clear approach. The fights are tight and realistic, and the script is believable and well written. It has had an effect on the fights of the James Bond films, even as it has made them seem even more ridiculous.
10) Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind (2004) Anyone who has loved and lost will find something here. A tale of love and memory, it speaks to the gap in one's heart after the love is gone, but the memories live on. So touching. There's a surreality here that is so well done, yet all of the basic ideas ring so very deeply true.
9) Being John Malkovich (1999) Speaking of Surreal, here's perhaps the king of all mainstream films along that line. Incredibly creative and postmodern, it involves our real world weaved into a crazed alternate universe of dark humour and surprising emotional depth. It also manages to be quite poignant, using these odd themes to say quite a bit about human nature. For a weird comedy, that's pretty good.
8) The Village (2004) I'm not generally a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's films, but this one hits many of my sweet spots. Really, it was his generally subdues style and lack of overblown political correctness that makes this works so well. It has such a great combination of horror and and an almost Puritan vibe that really appeals to me in so many different ways, and it manages to have a wonderful collection of “strong women” that are both strong and also quite inspiring, without seeming like overbearing social engineering. This is a subtle story of love and deception that has a special spot in my heart.
7) District 9 (2009) This is, without a doubt, the best science fiction film of modern times. Very, very human and soaked in realism, this amazing film, set in South Africa, has restored in me the idea that nearly perfect movies can still be made. With a wicked script and a beautifully directed vision, the mix of alien life with a (to me) little-known African setting makes this one worth watching many times over. The best bit here is that the cast is mostly unknown, in a time when everything gets an actor plugged into it from a very short and uninspiring list. The future of science fiction is not hopeless.
6) Silverado (1985) When this film came out, I thought that it might mean that westerns were on their way back. At that time, when a film was well done and became popular, a dozen were made in it's wake along the same lines. Sadly, that didn't happen here. Silverado, while not being the last good western film made, was not at the forefront of a movement...which it should have been. I'm not generally a person that enjoys post-modernism in my cowboy movies, but even with the anachronistic hats and sensitive-90's-man anima, this rises above most of the films of it's time in any genre.
5) Poltergeist (1982) An amazingly well done film, another on this list by Steven Spielberg. For a modern film, this really has the vibe of old school science fiction/horror. I recall an episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a young girl disappears into a hole between two universes, and Poltergeist has some of that energy, bonded to a chilling horror story. It shares some of the sense of wonder that I get from E.T., as well, and the chaos of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I don't know where THIS Spileberg has gone, but we really need him to return and save modern popular film.
4) Goodfellas (1990) How could it be that a 90's film comes even close to The Godfather? I don't know, but not only does Goodfellas approach that legendary classic, I believe that it equals it in every way. The mafia genre is rife with stereotypical junk, making mafiosos into goofy, non-threatening stereotypes, but this one has gone a long way toward reinvigorating their formidable image. Even (and especially) Joe Pesci is quite frightening here, and it really gives us the reason why the Mod was such a feared presence in American history.
3) Aliens (1986) I didn't like this one when it came out, to be honest, but it really has grown on me! How can one not like space marines fighting an army of aliens? While it does have a little conspicuous P.C. Vibe, the greatness and vitality of the story blow me over every time I watch it. I never thought that the original Alien film could be equaled, but it has been by this.
2) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Another Spielberg masterpiece! Being a pulp fiction fan, and fan of cliffhanger serials, and with my pith helmet in hand, I can't recommend this movie with any greater energy than I do now. So well-acted, well-written, with a fabulous cast and insanely impressive settings, Raiders of the Lost Ark (NOT Indiana Jones and...) is really a film after my own heart. The sense of adventure of the Boy's Own-type genre oozes from every reel, and it makes my hunger for many others of it's kind. I've seen it literally hundreds of times, and I'll be adding to that number quite soon, I', sure.
1) The Thing (1982) Based on the J.W. Campbell Jr.'s story, Who Goes There?, this sucker is brutal from beginning to the end. I'm a fiend for Horror Science fiction in combo, and this is the ultimate! The creatures are among the most imaginative and well-constructed of any film up to this time. Also, as we lack any credible adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic interstellar horror, this stands well to fill that gap. It gets #1 because it is the best of what it does, and it does it's thing, to me, better than any other post-79 film does theirs.
OK, I'll admit that there are quite a number of good post-79 films, in spite of my general prejudice against the sociopolitical approach of the modern era, with it's conspicuous smugness and seeming disinterest in story over politics.