9. Empire Of The Sun
Novelist JG Ballard wrote many surreal, provocative sci-fi novels about the bleak man-made hellscape of twentieth century life. But his best-known work is also his most conventional. Empire of the Sun is the harrowing semi-autobiographical novel that recounts his youth in Shanghai and his time in a Japanese internment camp.
Steven Spielberg filmed it in 1987, and it's a must-see. Christian Bale is electric in his debut performance as Ballard's fictional alter-ego Jamie "Jim" Graham, and the supporting cast includes John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, and, believe it or not, Ben Stiller in a serious role.
Prior to the Pearl Harbour attacks, Japanese forces move into China, gradually occupying the Shanghai International Settlement where Jamie lives. During the invasion he is separated from his parents, and he must survive on his own.
The plot is epic, the characters colourful and many. It's a panoramic, expansive vision of civilian life during a period of panic, horror, and seismic geopolitical disaster. It's also a powerful coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence.
Some critics, including Roger Ebert, felt that it was tonally jumbled, and that Spielberg couldn't decide if he was making a kids' adventure movie or a serious reflection on war.
Nuts to Ebert, though. This movie is great.