69 – A Serious Man (2009)
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
Blending dark humor with profoundly personal themes, The Coen Brothers deliver their most intimate film yet. Expanding upon some of the themes they’ve played with in the past, the film deals with everything from man’s search for meaning, the existence of God, patterns and randomness in the Universe, and the essential solitude of the human condition. Euphoric, extremely funny, deeply serious, sad, troubling, warm and thoughtful all at once. The Coens have finished the decade as America’s pre-eminent film-makers.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Genre: Thriller, Gangster, Crime, Drama
With a style that recalls recent films like The Limey and Point Blank, Sexy Beast is lushly photographed, expertly written, and a convention-defying British gangster film. A crime drama that uses the force of the characters and character development rather than cheap plot tricks, to maintain the tension and keep our interest. Look out for completely absorbing performances, particularly an electrifying one by Ben Kingsley.
67 – The Road (2009)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, The Road is an intact and haunting tale that pulls you in and sticks with you. John Hillcoat’s faithful adaptation beautifully captures McCarthy’s cryptic allegory about enduring hope through the darkest of times, and it’s an incredibly strong piece of dramatic storytelling that has Viggo Mortensen giving the performance of his career.
McCarthy`s novels are not easy to adapt and because of this they have largely been ignored for years as source material for motion pictures. The Road is among McCarthy’s most inherently non-cinematic books, so much so that some have labeled it “unadaptable.” With this consideration in mind, one has to be impressed by what Hillcoat and his screenwriter, Joe Penhall, have accomplished.
Directed by Kanji Nakajima
Genre: Art House, Sci-Fi
Clone is certainly one of the more cerebral films found on the genre festival circuit this year. Director Kanji Nakajima is Japan’s answer to Andrei Tarkovsky – the similarities between Nakajima’s piece and the Russian master’s work is uncanny, be it the extremely strong water motifs (including one scene where it rains inside a room, a la Stalker) or with the replication of a deceased relative and the confusion and inner conflict it produces in those close to the clone (think Solaris). At the same time Nakajima states that his film deals with completely different metaphysical issues that, he hopes, inspires the audience to contemplate the meaning of family, science, religion, and ethics. It’s a think piece that will raise some interesting questions about the human soul. With his first film, the young director can already be labeled a master of Japanese cinema.
65- [Rec] (2007)
A brilliant horror / thriller which may start slow but eventually speeds up to a fever pitch of complete and utter terror and hysteria. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza quickly became rising stars in the Spanish horror scene with this short, stripped-down, first-person horror picture that delivers some unforgettably effective shocks while gradually building a haunting atmosphere of ever-increasing panic and despair.
64- In Bruges (2008)
Directed by Martin McDonagh
In Bruges is directed by award winning play write Martin Mcdonagh. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as hitmen in hiding, with Ralph Fiennes as their mob boss. The brilliant acting of the three leads would be enough to make the film worthwhile but as the film reveals its surprising depths and its deep sense of irony, you realize that you’re in the presence of something great. Martin Mcdonagh is a director to look out for and the screenplay for In Bruges is one of the very best of the last decade.
63- Battle Royale (2000)
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Based on a controversial Japanese novel by Koshun Takami, this cautionary tale was nominated for seven awards at the Japanese Academy of Arts and Sciences, including Best Picture. This cult film is a fusion of The Running Man, Lord of the Flies, and The Most Dangerous Game, in which ninth grade students are sent to an island and given three days to fight to the death and reduce their number to one. Arguably one of the most extreme and controversial films on my list, its also a film that’s difficult to judge. Be it a metaphor for teen angst, a criticism of overpopulation, student delinquency, social competition, or the limits pushed by Japanese society, Battle Royale is if nothing else a heart-stopping action film. As twisted as it sounds, killing off 41 teens takes a great deal of creativity to avoid cinematic boredom but director Kinki Fukasaku succeeds in teaching us worthy lessons amidst the deliberately provocative and shocking violence.
An animated movie that’s far more human than most live-action ones. Up is challenging emotionally and narratively and shows no interest in talking down to children or their parents. Another work of art from Pixar, Up combines smart, imaginative storytelling with dazzling dreamlike visuals and the end result is an exciting, hilarious, and heartfelt adventure impeccably crafted and told with wit and depth.
61- Che: Part One & Two (2008)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Nearly 40 years after Che Guevara’s execution in Bolivia, director Steven Soderbergh retraces the life of the iconic Cuban revolutionary in this nearly perfect four-and-a-half-hour saga. An extraordinary performance from Benicio Del Toro anchors this long but gripping film.
60- Memento (2000)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
On the surface, it’s a disturbing tale of revenge by a man who’s obsessed in finding another man who raped and killed his wife. Because of his short term memory loss, he is unable to process any new information for longer than a few minutes, leaving him to conduct his investigation through a series of polaroid photos (with scribbled captions) and tattoos that cover his entire body. But like most good movies, Memento operates on several levels and doesn’t stop with a great premise. In fact, what really distinguishes this film is its brilliant, innovative structure that pushes what can be done on screen in an unusual direction. Defying linear progression, the script is structured backwards and sideways, so that Leonard’s past and future appear to be interconnected from both ends, directly affecting his present. Confused? This complex and skillfully executed narrative will keep audiences guessing but you must experience it to truly understand. Highly original and one of the most clever movies in recent years.