10. Working Girl
Mike Nichols’ corner office fairy tale, starring Melanie Griffith as an ambitious secretary who usurps her backstabbing boss (Sigourney Weaver) when the latter is injured in a skiing accident, exemplifies the filmmaker’s sublime sense of poetic realism. From its soaring first frames of the Statue of Liberty, set to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” the film is a rags-to-riches parable worthy of Preston Sturges, including a charming Harrison Ford as Griffiths’ love interest and a dolled-up Joan Cusack as the comic relief.
9. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown put Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar on the international map. Part melodrama, part dark-yet-screwball comedy, the film tells the story of Pepa (Carmen Maura), whose suicide attempt is interrupted, with bizarre and hilarious consequences, Almodóvar mounting an investigation of the human, and particularly female, psyche. A rivetingly directed ensemble cast (including Antonio Banderas) and lush visual style make this film every bit as compelling as it was in 1988.
The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and a cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Taking place 31 years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval.
7. Dead Ringers
In Dead Ringers David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruely toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic.
6. Grave of the Fireflies
Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies is the harrowing story of two children whose lives are left devastated by the 1945 firebombing of Kobe. Adapted from the autobiographical story of Akiyuki Nosaka, the film follows Seita, a young Japanese boy forced to care for his younger sister Setsuko in the wake of a devastating Allied attack that leaves his hometown in ruins.
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Robert Zemeckis sparked a massive animation revival with this part-animated, part-live-action meta-noir, the first such hybrid to win multiple Oscars since 1964’s Mary Poppins.
4. The Vanishing
Ostensibly, The Vanishing is paint-by-numbers: Wife (Johanna ter Steege) disappears into thin air while on vacation; husband (Gene Boervets) obsesses for years afterward, his desperation written across tabloid headlines; kidnapper, Raymond Lamorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), eventually confronts the husband after seeing him on TV to give him one more chance to find out what happened to his wife; and then that ending happens, leaving a deep, unfillable hole in our stomachs.
3. Die Hard
Die Hard may be the “stickiest” film of its decade—how many best-laid plans have been derailed by running across John McTiernan’s masterful actioner on cable? As Officer John McClane and Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, respectively, steal the show in career-defining roles, but even Henchman #10 (Asian man who eats candy bar, or Uli, to his friends) comes across more realized than most lead roles in today’s run-of-the-mill action flicks. Tightly plotted with cleverness to spare, Die Hard welcomes the scrutiny of multiple viewings without losing its humor or heart. Yippie ki-yay, indeed.
2. The Last Temptation of Christ
Three quarters of the way into The Last Temptation of Christ, for three and a half minutes—transformed into an eternity by the incessant scream-whinnying of a horse off-screen—David Bowie plays Pontius Pilate as a tired bureaucrat mildly amused by Jesus (Willem Dafoe) until the maybe-Messiah’s message of love becomes an irritating waste of time.
1. The Thin Blue Line
A little after midnight on November 28, 1976, Dallas police officers Robert Wood and Teresa Turko made a routine traffic stop for a car driving without headlights. When Wood approached the vehicle, the driver pulled a handgun and shot him five times.