-- William H. Macy
It launched an entire genre. I can't stress that enough. One that is still going strong today (tough to argue with World War Z grossing over $540 million despite some pretty tepid reviews and negative buzz before the premiere) and one of which I am an enduring fan (I watched "The Walking Dead" far longer than I should have just hoping it would eventually live up to its promise). Night of the Living Dead was shot for $114,000 and made $42 million in 1968 (just short of $300 million adjusted for inflation). Somewhat ironically given the genre it launched, the script never features the word "zombie" referring to the titular Living Dead as "ghouls". Featuring a black man as the hero, a controversial move in 1968, marks a progressive attitude worthy of applause regardless of how corny the "radioactive contamination" raison d'être for the zombies may seem.
I listed it on the Survey asking which was Vince Vaughn's best movie for good reason. Though the movie centers around Jon Favreau's character (remember when both those guys were thin?), Vaughn showed how much he could shine as a supporting actor (a role he would perfect in Wedding Crashers). At times a commentary on Hollywood and at times a reflection on relationships and the difficulties of the dating scene, Swingers is a supremely confident movie and doesn't shrink from juggling so many different themes. "You're so f****n' money and you don't even know it!"
I hate to sound like a broken record since I espouse the virtues of Derek Cianfrance's masterpiece every chance I get, but I tried really hard to find enough great independent movies to knock it off this list and couldn't. It's that good. Though it's slightly topped in the "gut punch" category by an entry a little later on the list, it's still not for anyone who isn't willing to shed a few tears at an ending. The fact that it doesn't need the hackneyed death of a character to elicit them is the sort of thing that should make Nicholas Sparks realize just how talentless he really is.
Anyone who tells you they completely understand Donnie Darko is either lying or mistaken. The sort of movie that perfectly straddles the line between intentionally obscure and obnoxiously so, you can watch it 10 times and take away 10 different interpretations. For the way it could have gone wrong, you need look no further than Darko director Richard Kelly's own Southland Tales (though that movie is greatly underrated, especially Justin Timberlake who shined in his small role and seemed destined for greater things). That Darko avoids any missteps is all the more impressive in comparison.
If you need an explanation, you haven't seen it.
Though it doesn't use its non-linear narrative as effectively as a higher entry on the list, 21 Grams' brilliance comes from how masterfully all its different pieces fit together. With intertwining stories, fantastic performances, and even a slight twist at the end, it is the sort of movie that could've ended multiple different ways with each of them being powerful. These are all deeply flawed characters that feel more real than most of the ones in cinema and we're invested in them from the start.
Any discussion of twist endings begins and ends with Usual Suspects. Director Brian Singer sold each of his actors on the idea that they were in fact, Keyser Söze, which actually led to an angry Gabriel Byrne pulling Brian Singer out of the premiere to berate him for the lie. Verbal straightening out his gait would rank on any honest Top Ten list for greatest "Oh @&$%!" moments in movies. Sure, the entire reason for the movie falls apart upon closer inspection, but who cares? When you pull off your main conceit so masterfully, the audience will sweep a lot else under the rug for you.
Another movie I've mentioned multiple times, I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that it is a completely unique movie shot for $500,000.
The pinnacle of the non-linear narrative, it's hard to imagine a movie using that conceit more effectively than Memento's use of it to portray anterograde amnesia. By arranging the movie's scenes in reverse chronological order, the film captures what it's like for Guy Pearce's main character. The fact that it's still a compelling movie when the scenes are reversed to play chronologically (a special feature available on certain DVD releases) speaks to how powerful of a script it had.
Hands down, the most emotionally effecting film I've ever seen. It leaves you with such a feeling of hopelessness, that I was halfway through the credits before I had the motivation to move from my seat. Capturing the downward spiral of 4 very different characters with addictions to different substances, if you've ever known someone with a problem with addiction, RfaD will resonate on a level much deeper than almost movie can achieve.