15 – To Kill a Mockingbird
Based on my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird captures the wonder of childhood better than any movie ever made. Set in Alabama in the 1930s, Mockingbird shows us the trial of an obviously innocent black man, accused of raping a white woman. The young children in the movie watch this public lynching with horror and confusion, unable to understand with their innocent young minds the shameful spectacle on display before them. Defending the accused is their father, Atticus Finch, played by a never better Gregory Peck. A quiet, humble man doing the right thing regardless of his reputation, Atticus was named by the AFI as the greatest hero in film history. They were never so right.
14 – The Exorcist
Rare is the horror movie that genuinely scares me. Whether itâ€™s a lingering sense of Catholic guilt or simply the brilliance of filmmaker William Friedkin, The Exorcist still scares the hell out of me. Based on the equally terrifying novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist is a landmark not only in horror cinema, but in movie history. The story of a young girl possessed by the devil and the doubt ridden priest desperate to save her, this is a film that devastated audiences upon itâ€™s release in 1973. Reports of people fainting, fleeing the theater in terror, and even attacking the screen have been well documented, and I believe every last one of them. Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, there is no denying that The Exorcist showed us the true, horrifying face of evil.
13 – Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick knew that the only way to demonstrate the absurdity of the Cold War was to make a comedy. While it may seem like a movie of itâ€™s time, Dr. Strangelove remains as important and immediate as it was in 1964. Based on the deadly serious novel Red Alert, the film shows us how easy it would be for a madman to manipulate the powerful (and blundering) leaders of the world into ending all life on earth. Peter Sellers plays three roles: A loyal British officer trying to reason with an insane American military commander, the bumbling President of the United States, and most famously the title character, a former Nazi who seems rather delighted at the horrific turn of events. Kubrick shows us the demise of our own species, and points out that if it werenâ€™t happening to us it would seem so absurd as to be funny.
12 – Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese has directed so many brilliant films, from Mean StreetsÂ all the way up to Hugo, that singling Taxi Driver out as his greatest accomplishment is the highest praise a film could receive. The story of an unstable Vietnam vet who drives the streets of New York every night, Taxi Driver is no less than a descent into Hell. Robert DeNiro gives a captivating performance in the lead, his sanity slipping away as he does all the wrong things to rise above the filth heâ€™s surrounded by. Unable to assimilate into society, DeNiro is determined to punish it, setting his sights on everything from saving a child prostitute to assassinating a presidential candidate. No movie has delved deeper into the darkest part of manâ€™s soul.
11 – The Third Man
Spoiler alert: Orson Welles is the titular third man, Harry Lime, the greatest screen villain of all time. So strong is his brief time on screen that people tend to forget how mesmerizing the rest of the film is. Set in post WWII Vienna, Carol Reedâ€™s noir masterpiece is really the story of Holly Martin, played by the underrated Joseph Cotten. Invited to Vienna by his old buddy Harry, Holly arrives only to be told that Harry has died. Convinced his friend was murdered, Holly sets out on a quest for answers heâ€™ll wish he never found. Featuring the best cinematography of any film ever made, The Third Man is filled with iconic imagery every film fan knows, even if theyâ€™ve never seen the movie. Rarely has a movie delivered such a wealth of iconography…free of income tax.