12. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)
Unique in style, tone and storytelling, this film is about the importance of family and the marks that they leave with you for the rest of your life. Physically you may distance yourself but emotionally they stick with you; they latch onto us. This film follows Dito, played superbly by both versions of the characters, Shia LeBeouf and Robert Downey Jr. respectively. He’s a young man trying to be everything his friends and father wish him to be. He begins to pull away as the pressure becomes too much and ultimately flees from the violence and expectations that surround his neighborhood. Channing Tatutm turns in his best performance and Chazz Palminteri as Dito’s father Monty delivers a heartbreaking performance as a middle aged, heading into elderly man who’s lonely and is past his prime living vicariously through his son trying to fill a void. Watch this film even if it’s for one scene in particular where each character stares stony faced into the camera, breaking the fourth wall and tells the audience what will become of them. It’s a sobering moment that sets the tone for the entire film. I’m not doing the film justice, just watch it.
11. Senna (2012)
Ayrton Senna was a masterful Brazilian Formula One race car driver. He succeeded in winning the F1 world championship three times before his untimely death at the age of 34. The documentary trails his inspiring rise to national hero and what led to his demise. It’s a heartfelt film that utilizes old footage of Senna with voiceovers of those who knew him. Touching and filled with hope, the most crushing part of this documentary is that you forget that this man is destined to die too young, despite the fact that we’re told of that fact at the very start. Director Asif Kapadia is rendered almost useless and the piece is mainly stringing old videos together. However, he manages to get us to forget; swept up under Senna’s charm.
10. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Out of all of the animated films that have stood the test of time and remain cherished favorites even as children grow into adults, why is it that this particular one has barely loomed in audience’s memories? Two brothers, one of royal blood the other of a secret descent, grow up together with a strong kinship and bond but are put at odds when one brother Ramses is placed into the position of ruler of the world while the other, Moses, is chose by the people to lead them. It’s powerful, poignant, and dark; so dark that I’m surprised more people don’t remember the film for the plague scenes alone. Beautifully scripted and animated, this film has unfairly gone mostly forgotten. It’s worth a rewatch and more attention. I can guarantee that if you watch this as an adult audience there will be multiple images that sit in your mind for a time after the ending. It’s a perfect example of how when done right, animation is one of the more moving genres in the cinematic field.
9. Paprika (2006)
The animation is stellar, pushing limits of how much story an animated film can tell. American studios such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks tend to stray the safe line of storytelling, with much of the visionary concepts popping up overseas such as director Satoshi Kon that are furthering the medium. He is a genius director with a great eye for what can upset and what breaks the rules of reality. He’s inspired American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky to use his work in his own films. With Paprika he’s created an entirely unique universe with diverse characters with plenty of depth. It’s a beautiful film if not entirely accessible.
8. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
It’s strange. It’s bleak and seems to be shot in a continuous hazy filter. Yet, despite the macabre plot synopsis focused on a society of individuals who have committed suicide and all end up in a world that’s a little worse, this little film is one of the most oddly triumphant and hopeful that I’ve seen to date. There are great performances by Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon and Shea Whigham, and a bizarre turn by Tom Waits. It’s a little story that holds so much gravity and depth. At the heart of the film is a tale of redemption, love and finding the beauty that the world contains despite it often times feeling as if all has been sucked away. It’s the beauty and the sincerity in a touch, a friendship that means driving for hours on end in a cramped car; it’s the beauty in the simplicity of a smile, an expression that it so rewarding and simultaneously heartbreaking when you realize what it could be like do never do it again.
7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
I challenge you to find another film as inventive as this one (barring Richard Linklater’s other film Waking Life). It focuses on an undercover cop who ends up entangled in a new, highly dangerous drug and ends up having to fight the addiction as well as fight for control over his own identity. Using a form of animation called rotoscoping adds to the drug fueled world the characters live in where paranoia controls their every move and the government plays a large role in who they will become. It’s eerie and unsettling and based off of Phillip K. Dick’s novel, it poses the question of how much control you have over your decisions and your fate. Director Richard Linklater successfully conveys the hysteria that takes over your mind when an addiction weasels its way in and manages to keep the ultimate twist out of audiences’ arms reach. The ending is in rare form, leaving viewers to decide if it’s hopeful or not.
6. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield all in the same film, playing the parts of naïve, damaged souls living in a world that dictates them to donate organs to save other humans. They’re born in order to perform roles that they had no say in and they must accept the fact of their reality. How didn’t people instantly flock to this film? There is no cut and dry happy ending in this film, unless you make one and audiences know that as the film begins with Tommy laying on an operating table looking impossibly feeble. It’s about the human existence, the roles one must play in a society and the question if love can really save a life. The performances by the stellar cast are top notch. Andrew Garfield’s Tommy is an exposed nerve, raw and breakable. He portrays quiet, childlike naivety and rage so loud and forceful you’d think him many years older with many other grievances. Keira Knightley as Ruth is bitter and angry and gives one of her better performances while Mulligan is very much the watcher of the film, the one who simple accepts as her friend and lover search for answers and a way out of duty. The soundtrack by Rachel Portman is one of the most hauntingly beautiful that I’ve ever heard and engulfs the viewers in such moments as Tommy screaming in pent up fear and anguish, and of the three running along the pier in momentary bliss. See this film, bring a tissue box if need be, and settle in for a journey of a film.
5. The Science of Sleep (2006)
You may know Michel Gondry from a film indie darling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; you may recognize versatile Gael Garcia Bernal from his breakthrough performance in Y tu Mama También. You should know them from this film, this wacky, touching and fascinating movie. A man after the death of his father moves to Paris and while there falls for his French neighbor. Enchanted by his own dreams where is exudes confidence and speaks freely rather than being crippled by shyness in the real world he attempts to show her this world. This film is part drama, part romance and part fantasy. It’s wonderfully constructed and the usage of stop motion and puppetry is both innovative and allows the films appearance to resemble no other. It’s fittingly dreamlike and is shot with a man behind the camera who is finds beauty in simplicity, in quiet moments and the mundane. Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg share a childlike innocence and curiosity in their touching and brief romance. I will very likely never come across a film similar to this again.
4. Weekend (2011)
Tom Cullen and Chris New play Russell and Glen respectively. Russell is quieter, more hesitant, and is a contemplative individual. Glen is more outgoing and rash; the extrovert to Russell’s introvert yet fears commitment more. Both are out to their friends. Both were roaming a local bar in search of someone for the night. However instead of stumbling across some random hook up, they got a connection instead. The movie documents their brief, yet undoubtedly heartfelt relationship. There is never a label to define them but they’re something; something strong and sincere and doused with emotion. There are segments in the film that simply document their conversation and the dialogue is not convoluted, forced nor reeking of faked pretension. Instead it showcases the true thoughts and tribulations that must float throughout their minds. What do they want and how do they fight for it in a world that is trying to force them into a labeled box?
3. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Three magazine journalists travel to a coastal town in order to investigate a man who believes he has built a time machine and is searching for a companion to make the trip with him. While the investigation persist the line of reality and fiction blur as protagonist Darius grown connected to the strange man and begins to question if he’s telling the truth or has simply gone insane. This first film outing by screenwriter Derek Connolly succeeds in being of the strangest and most original screenplay that we’ll likely see this year. Yes, I am fully aware it only came out a matter of months ago but it deserves an audience larger than independent film lovers. It’s one of the best love stories I’ve seen in recent years and is currently in my top five films of the year. There are great performances delivered by Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson and Mark Duplass as their characters struggle with the implications of intimacy, growing up, and experiencing the adventures of life when given the chance. Maybe he can time travel, maybe he can’t, but isn’t it worth a try?
2. Bright Star (2009)
It’s a film about John Keats last years as a struggling, downcast poet, and his virtuous love affair with Franny, a girl who becomes his muse. It features captivating performances by Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw. How did this film not break out of film festival stardom? This film is poetic, stringing together moments that breathe life. Bright Star deserved a gorgeous score and Mark Bradshaw delivered, masterfully. The sweeping and dipping violin plays as a main backdrop as the two leads whisper poetic lines of forbidden love. The melancholic notes take the audience away on a ride of devotion that connects with the soul. The film is shot fancifully, shots of nature’s grand beauty a delicate setting to such porcelain, whimsical characters, in particular Whishaw who almost disappears into the back drop with a muted voice, him silently conveying the sensitivities of Keats. The love story is tentative and sweet and every aspect of the film is top notch and lasting. No one should miss such a heartbreaking gem. It’s without a doubt one of the most gorgeously shot films that I’ve ever seen.
Managing to mix genres and themes like no film I’ve seen, this film is the perfect blend of humor, action, mystery and romance. It’s what films should aspire to me in terms of ambition. Director Shane Black went into the process with a vision and executed with fantastic precision and excitement. This movie felt like it was made by a director who loves movies and wanted to tell a story that was separate and isolated in its own right but all threw some call backs to other noteworthy films in cinemas history. This ultimately should have been Robert Downey Jr.’s come back role, as much as I love Iron Man. He was fun to watch playing a not so heroic guy. The interesting part of Harry is that he isn’t an entirely bright guy, nor is he particularly courageous. He whines a lot, lies, and is somewhat entitled. But Downey infuses enough charm that while Harry isn’t the brave action hero, he’s still entirely likable. However, it’s Val Kilmer as Perry that truly steals the show. He’s funny and quick, and makes a surprising action star.
This film is a gem of a watch. It calls back to the film noir era where the majority of shots were at night, the lead was a pessimistic, disillusioned individual, and the femme fatale is the one that lures him into one misadventure after the next. (Michelle Monaghan even holds and uncanny likeness to Lauren Bacall, a film noir veteran.) Immediately after watching this film I wanted to see it again. So I did. And after that I showed a friend, and then another. I want people to understand the joy of this film. It’s a film that calls upon the classics yet is so distinctly modern. It’s fresh, it’s romantic, it’s heartbreaking at moments, and it’s hilarious in a non-slapstick style. It’s so, so worth your time.