1. The Rock (1996)
What does the ideal Michael Bay film look like? Pretty much like this: Nicolas Cage frantically chasing green balls of face-melting poisonous gas, Sean Connery crawling through plumes of bright-orange fire, and Ed Harris channelling George C. Scott as the world’s most pissed-off general. Despite the special-effects junky reputation he has from the Transformers series, Bay’s dirty secret is that he’s a skilled director of actors, particularly giant movie stars, allowing them to push the most extreme aspects of their personas to the point of absurdity. His chaos becomes their playpen.
Of course, Bay’s best film still shares many of the flaws of his lesser works -- there’s a hairdresser character that’s nothing more than a gay stereotype, it’s way too long, and women are almost non-existent -- but the movie retains a raw, elemental power. The script, reportedly punched up by both Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino, crackles with dark humor and quotable one-liners. The set pieces elicit genuine tension. The ending speaks to Bay's favorite theme: the complexity of male friendships created during times of great violence. And, yes, stuff blows up real good. -- Dan Jackson