#20. Talk to Her - (2002, dir. Pedro Almodóvar) There is something lyrical and poetic about all things Almodóvar. His films are always intriguing in topic and always bring some different elements of the human perspective to the forefront. In his amazing, sweeping film Talk to Her, he tackles interpersonal relationships through the lens of those losing a loved one to a coma. His film follows each character separately as their lives intertwine. It's a strange and romantic journey at times and sometimes it's a tad unsettling, but Almodóvar's characters are so rich and intriguing that you can't help but follow them through their troubles. It's hard to break into the feeling this film gives you through text. Life and death and the in between is a hard subject to portray, but Almodóvar has a way about making these topics beautiful to watch. Another foreign film coming up brings up these same topics, but in a totally different way. As usual, the films main characters are strong women and even though these two women fall into a coma throughout the non-linear tale, we still see how strong they truly are. Almodóvar has a way of knowing the female spirit and these characters come to life and empower.
#19. American Psycho (2000, dir. Mary Harron) Brett Easton Ellis' blood soaked murder nightmare American Psycho made an interesting transition to film. Mary Harron weaves a tale showing the excesses of 80's yuppie culture perfectly both lampooning it and satirizing it. Patrick Bateman, in easily Christian Bale's best role, is a rich snob who only dines at restaurants that demand reservations and is obsessive about his appearance hides a deep dark secret of blood lust. At first glance, this film is dark and surreal, but much like A Clockwork Orange, the film has a much more skewering and comedic tone. It's hard not to want to murder the people that Patrick murders in the film. Jared Leto's smarmy Paul Allen is a perfect target to let your aggression to the abhorrence of people in that era. Even though Bateman keeps up appearances, deep down inside he hates the world around him. It's hard to not hate the world he belongs to.
#18. Mullholland Drive (2001, dir. David Lynch) David Lynch is a very polarizing director. Different so then the hipster chic of Wes Anderson or the mad science of PT Anderson. Lynch has a fantasy world all of his own. One that is stuck somewhere between the Twilight Zone and the 50's (which is kind of redundant.) His dream to nightmare masterpiece Mullholland Drive is a film that keeps viewers guessing well into the 10th or so viewing. What was initially a TV pilot, the film is extremely ambiguous. Most interpretation shows the difference between idealistic dreamers and the world of nightmarish reality. Betty, played by Naomi Watts, takes this dueling character throughout the film into strange and different opposing situations. With it's fair share of mocking Hollywood and other comedic elements, Lynch thoroughly lambastes Hollywood's ego and political structure. It's the story of an American Dream turned nightmare and it's utterly mysterious.
#17. The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan) As far as superhero movies go, the Batman franchise went through some strange hoops to get to the postmodern and dark era that Christopher Nolan has brought the Caped Crusader to. The camp is gone for the most part here and we get nothing but a nihilistic view at authority, control and chaos theory that no other summer blockbuster could pull off. All of this wrapped into a vastly entertaining action flick. That alone deserves some credit. Luckily, not only did The Dark Knight thrill audiences and not bore the masses with its extensive philosophy, it also had one of the most riveting performances of all time. Movie villainy at it's best was depicted by Heath Ledger, bringing The Joker out of it's past campy incantations and made it a thrilling and chilling roller coaster ride. All the stuff about Ledger's passing aside, this is a performance that deserves it's own kudos beyond just being lauded for someones final screen performance. The three parts that make this film work are the tight action directing, the fantastic writing of a script filled with great political and philosophical ideas as well as great acting. I can't recall another summer movie this good.
#16. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) PTA struck black gold with There Will Be Blood, but for my dime, the anti-romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love has been his best film in the 00's. Adam Sandler rose to the challenge of playing a total loser as Barry Egan. Sandler definitely showed the possibility of doing deeper things as an actor and even if he has yet to do this again, Funny People being a failed attempt, it's a revelation to watch. The quirky anti-rom com takes it's characters to some darker places, confronting past mistakes and their own insecurities. Lena, Emily Watson's troubled love interest to Barry, bursts with life on the screen even though we barely find out anything about her. The two are perfect for each other as they both have very strange ways of expressing their feelings. Where this shines is in it's treatment of genre. Where most romantic comedies are breezy and light, PTA adds in a darker side. These characters are flawed, especially the troubled Barry. But even flawed, imperfect characters deserve their little taste of happiness and love. No matter how strange the circumstances might be.
#15. The Constant Gardener - (2005, dir. Fernando Meirelles) After the brilliant and soon to be discussed City of God, Brazillian director Fernando Meirelles brought what looked to be a typical multi-national conspiracy drama. Luckily instead of it being just that, it turned into a more socio-political tale with a very beautiful love story nestled inside the international intrigue that lay at the root of the plat. Meirelles also used the cinematography and motifs from his masterpiece and injected it into this film. Overall it's a triumphant story. When Ralph Fiennes wife, played by Rachel Weisz, is killed in Africa, he uses his political powers to try an piece together what happened. His wife is an activist and obviously as films like this goes, became the woman who knew too much. The Constant Gardener is a love story at the root of it all. Even though it's just as much about the conspiracy at hand, it's more about suffering and grieving and coping with loss. The tip off here is the tag line: "Love. At Any Cost." It may take blood, sweat and tears, but damned if the protagonist wasn't going to find closure for his loss. Excellent casting and tour de force directing bring together what seemed like a standard drama into something much more beautiful.
#14. The Pianist (2002, dir. Roman Polanski) It's a shame when someones art gets overshadowed by controversy. Roman Polanski's life was hard enough up to that point, but that didn't stop him from creating amazing films. The Pianist is no exception. As far as tales of survival go during the Holocaust go, there are probably hundreds of different tales to tell, but the story of pianist Władysław Szpilman is a harrowing journey through the loss of family, friends and neighbors and trying to survive. It must have been hard as he was saved based solely on his brilliant work as an artist. Adrien Brody, who went on to win an Oscar for his performance, bears his heart and soul into the character and takes us through the streets of a broken Warsaw. Polanski, who survived the Holocaust himself as a kid, brings to life wartime Poland. The way the city turned from a vibrant hotbed of culture to a prison is seen in a stark transition from beginning to end.
#13. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, dir. Wes Anderson) It is much debated among fans of Wes Anderson as to what are his superior films. All have touches of unique story telling and all of them are painted with the same style. Anderson has made it clear that he has a vision of the world and that vision is quirky indeed. Many people seem to have qualms with the brilliant Life Aquatic. Where they go wrong is how it's half a midlife crisis story of a washed up oceanographer played by Bill Murray, but it's also a post modern look at how film and documentary are made. Zissou is a documentarian, but even in his world are many things faked and forced for aesthetic reasons. Wes Anderson embedded a lot of this post modernism into his own style for this film. Everything from the claymation undersea creatures to the soundtrack of Bowie in psuedo-Portuguese, it's a look at artifice and reality. As usual, Wes Anderson employs a great ensemble cast with new faces and familiar ones. Not a weak link in story telling, joke building and emotion.
#12. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, dir. Andrew Dominik) As far as American Folklore goes, nothing is as famous as Jesse James. He is our nations Robin Hood. Not only was he a myth, but a reality. The film does little to glorify James except show a softer side to him. Rather than making him out to be this mythic figure, he's just an average family man with lots of problems of his own besides his run ins with the law. Robert Ford is portrayed as a young kid and a fool who is basically in love with James. Through some voice over, written in the style of the serialized storytelling books of the day, sheds a little light into the heart of James. You begin to sympathize with him and when it finally gets to the titular event, you feel bad for him and his family. The direction and cinematography are beyond stellar as well as the haunting soundtrack care of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Bradd Pitt and Casey Affleck play the titular characters and take those American anti-heroes into brooding territory. It may be a lengthy and slow paced film, but it's a beauty to watch.
#11. Rachel Getting Married (2008, dir. Jonathan Demme) It takes a lot for a film to come close to realism and even though it's just a movie and in this case an original story, when it gets this close, it feels great. Rachel Getting Married is a docu-drama of a wealthy family confronting their melancholy past through the character of Kym, a troubled youth and fresh-out-of-rehab patient. As she arrives home for her sisters wedding, she finds things are strained and relationships in different places then they used to be. The small things bring back memories and tensions mount. It's a family drama and every actor in the film portrays their role perfectly. Anne Hathaway shines as the troubled Kym, Rosemarie DeWitt is stellar as the loving but mistrusting Rachel, Bill Irwin takes on the goofy and overbearing father and Debroah Winger plays their distant mother. Tension grows and grows and comes to a climax and then we get the joy of the wedding in a long and cathartic sequence beautifully shot by Jonathan Demme. Overall the film is 100% character driven, but the acting is so superb that these characters come to life. Melancholy and sometimes darkly funny and tragic, Rachel Getting Married is a wonderful film.