Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Top 100 - part 5

(Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4)

Second Tier – the “Oh my god that was good” group

Atonement (2007) What starts out as a beautiful period romance - and, really, that would have been enough to get it on this list; it's incredibly fabulous just as a period romance - becomes a meditation on narrative, jealousy and, obviously, atonement. And yes, the camera work in the scene at Dunkirk is some of the best that has ever been done.

Chicago (2002) If you can ignore Renee Zellwegger's collar bones, everything else about this musical is sheer perfection. It's jazzy and glossy and infectious, and the splits to the musical numbers are ingenious.

The Constant Gardener (2005) A political and ideological thriller, which sets a British government worker on the path to understand his wife’s murder at any cost.

The Departed (2006) Scorsese takes the undercover cop thriller to epic, Shakespearean levels. Packed with brilliant performances.

Escapist (2008) It has never been released in the U.S. [Ed: now on region 1 DVD], but it is hands down my favorite film I’ve seen this year. It’s a prison break film, shot in Kilmainham gaol in Dublin. It stars Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, and Damian Lewis. Can we pause for a moment and appreciate that cast? It’s wildly original and Brian Cox gives an astounding career-high performance.

Frost/Nixon (2008) Chronicling a pivotal moment in American politics, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen deliver powerhouse performances as the titular figures. Backed up by a fantastic supporting cast, the film becomes a fantastic mental thriller, despite already knowing the outcome.

Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
The complement to Frost/Nixon for crusading journalists taking on politicians. Good Night and Good Luck has a jazzier, more retro feel and an equally strong cast. The cool vibe manages to soften the civics lesson and the realization of the harsh disconnect between journalism then and news today.

Hard Candy (2006)What starts out as a middle-aged man picking up a teen at a coffee shop quickly becomes something else entirely. A twisty and provocative thriller that could easily have turned into pulpy exploitation were it not for the fantastic turns by Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson, who anchor the film with their struggle.

The Hours (2002) My go-to example of when the movie is better than the book, and the book won the Pulitzer. Where Mrs. Dalloway chronicles it’s heroine’s life through the course of one day, the Hours examines three. Powerhouse acting all around, topped by Nicole Kidman who deservedly won the Oscar – her scenes with Stephen Dillane, who plays Leonard Woolfe are riveting.

In Bruges (2008) My favorite playwright’s first film. Martin McDonough writes pitch-black humor, and In Bruges is no exception. And in between the whip-smart dialogue and madcap shoot-outs are some fantastic character portraits.

Inglourious Basterds (2009) Each of the chapters could be an award-winning short film. So many films today take quick edits to the extreme of also having quick scenes. While Tarantino doesn’t employ particularly long takes, he does allow long scenes to play out, slowly building the tension of each interrogation. Yes, it is also a satisfying revenge fantasy and an ode to the power of cinema, but it is the drama of these small contests of will that remain freshest months later.

Last King of
Scotland (2006) Forrest Whitaker gives one of the best performances of the decade as the charismatic, brutal dictator Idi Amin. James McAvoy is fantastic, too, as a young Scottish doctor who is at first charmed by Amin before recognizing what is going on around him.

Memento (2001) Ingeniously plays with narrative structure, and still manages to be an engrossing mystery.

Milk (2008) I could not believe that Sean Penn pulled this off. Mr. Dour morphs completely into the sunny, outgoing personality of Harvey Milk. Great supporting work as well. A stirring overview of the gay rights struggle.

Moon (2009) I love, love, love this film. It’s best to go into this film knowing little of the plot. Basically, it concerns astronaut Sam Bell, who has 2 weeks to go on his 3-year solitary mining shift on the moon. It has the year’s most incredible performance by Sam Rockwell, who is pretty much the only one on screen (Kevin Spacey voices the computer on the moon station).
No Country for Old Men (2007) A tale of fate in west Texas. Nihilistic, dark, and violent, but also stunning.

Painted Veil (2006) A desperately unhappy couple undertake a suicidal trip to the middle of a cholera epidemic in a remote region of China and, in doing so, discover reasons to live. It sounds cliché, but Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are mesmerizing and perform their character arcs with nary a false note.

Persepolis (2007) Marjane Satrapi animates her autobiographical graphic novel. Tells both the story of the Iranian revolution and the coming–of-age of its heroine.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Yes, audiences swelled to this feel-good story of underdog triumph in part because it was released during a depression. But it is still a fantastic love story, a wonderful portrait of India, and sometimes one does actually want a happy ending. With a bollywood dance.

Triplets Belleville (2003) Such an odd little film. Almost a throwback to the days of Silly Symphonies and Betty Boop, it's a near silent romp through eccentric French oddballs and the Tour de France.

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