Directed by Elia Suleiman
Genre: Dark Comedy, Drama
Palestinian writer-director Elia Suleiman has rightfully been compared to Charlie Chaplin with his talent to create such brilliant deadpan black out sketches in the midst of his long slow-paced moments of expressive silence. Divine Intervention is his second feature, best described as the Dr. Strangelove of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The film offers up critiques of both Palestinian and Israeli extremism in a series of interlocking setups and clever punch lines that add up to something of a rarity. A sarcastic, very funny black comedy that is both touching and provocative. Supercharged with Arabian dance music, Natacha Atlas’s unbelievable cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put A Spell On You” is something to hear.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Gangster
To Quote J. Hoberman of the Village Voice: “David Cronenberg is the most provocative, original, and consistently excellent North American director of his generation.”
I couldn’t agree more, and Eastern Promises instantly takes its place among one of David Cronenberg’s very best films. Perhaps his most straightforward and accessible movie since The Fly, Promises is a Russian gangster movie starring Viggo Mortensen in a startling performance which demands the actor bare it all. A tough watch, and a rigid, well-crafted thriller packed with fascinating characters who guide us through a thick narrative of conspiracies and double-crosses.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
This elegant, simple, profoundly intelligent film slowly builds one great scene after another until a devastating climax. A sobering reflection on our culture’s attitude toward violence, and the ways in which it’s passed down from generation to generation. Loosely adapted from John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel of the same title, Cronenberg tackles the genre with the structure of classic Westerns complete with shootouts and showdowns, bearing resemblance to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a film which also injects violence into the life of an ordinary and peaceful man.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Crime
Kim Hye-Ja’s performance is absolutely magnificent as a woman who is forced to investigate the murder her son is wrongfully accused of committing. The second of three films to appear on this list by Korean director Joon-ho Bong, Mother is clever, tightly plotted and truly gripping from start to finish. Pushing beyond the limits of a conventional noir thriller, Bong Joon delivers a compelling mystery thriller and a dark psychological study of a mother and son relationship. They say there is no greater love than that between a mother and her child and Bong Joon takes that idea and flies with it.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Genre: Martial Arts, Crime, Thriller, Action
After a six-year hiatus, Quentin Tarantino returned to the director’s chair with Kill Bill, a fanboy fever dream that once again proved he is a visionary filmmaker. Unfolding like a novel, the film is conceived in chapters, each boasting the look and heart of a specific genre. The film features one of the best selections of tunes ever collected for a soundtrack, dialogue as sharp as the swords that cut, and some of the greatest fight sequences put to any American film by legendary choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Matrix). While Vol. 1 was rip-roaring and highly entertaining, Vol. 2 is elegant and intelligent and offered a completely different but equally dazzling array of cinematic tricks. The end result is a non-stop visual bombardment of cinematic pop artistry and breathtaking cinema that makes me remember why I love the movies.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
On Christmas Day, Morvern finds her boyfriend dead and a note on a computer telling her to be brave and to sell his novel. She does, but only after pocketing the funeral money and claiming the book’s authorship. Morvern Callar is assured and confidently-made while similar in tone and style to the films of Catherine Breillat and Claire Denis. Anchoring Morvern Callar is a breathtaking and courageous performance from Samantha Morton and Alwin Küchler’s beautiful cinematography.
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Genre: Drama, Crime, Gangster
If you want to see a gangster film that isn’t all about stylized violence, then Gomorrah is for you. A somber, slow, but well-paced study of organized crime with unflinching realism, Gomorra paints a broad picture of the powerful Camorra crime family in Italy. Director Matteo Garrone has adapted Saviano’s novel loosely for the screen, creating an episodic and overwhelming portrait of ordinary lives engulfed by violence and total corruption. Put best, Gomorra is simply the best gangster film of the past decade.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Genre: War, Drama
It takes a great film to persuade The Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts to award a filmmaker best director after his exile out of the country due to sexual assault on a minor. Yet The Pianist is not only a great film but perhaps the director’s finest achievement and his most personal work to date. The film examines a terrible time in world history with a personal eye. The Pianist is altogether heartbreaking and although it breaks no new ground, it serves as a strong reminder of one of mankind’s worst atrocities.
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama
Billy Elliot marks the directorial debut of the Royal Court Theatre artistic director Stephen Daldry, who draws out top performances from Jamie Bell, Julia Walters, and Gary Lewis in what is one of the most emotionally satisfying films on this list. Billy Elliot is complex and intelligent and poesesses a “feel-good” quality without becoming overly sentimental. Billy Elliot is loaded with so much ‘movie magic,’ that it left me with a tear in my eye.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
There is a lot to like about this film from its direction to its style to its brave performances. It never draws too much attention to itself nor is it ever too flashy. You always feel the sense of urgency and danger and Bigelow never gets boggled down with any cheap tricks, instead masterfully building up the suspense. A fascinating character study that doesn’t spend its time moralizing and isn’t weighed down with any political message. A nerve-shredding, visceral thriller that is not only the best Iraq war film but one of the best war films ever made.
Directed by Duncan Jones
Unlike the majority of Hollywood sci-fi films, Moon is about something more than explosions or endless, mind-numbing action sequences. Moon boasts a slow, deliberate pace, focusing more on character study while tackling issues of identity, individuality, isolation, abandonment, alienation and the idea that mankind will always wrestle with the very nature and value of his own existence. First-time director Duncan Jones lets the film evoke these issues without preachiness or audience spoon-feeding.