Seemingly forgotten about in the 10 years since its release, 25th Hour is not only one of the best performances of Edward Norton’s career, but one of the best films of Spike Lee’s. Norton is Monty, a former drug-dealer in New York who has one last day of freedom before he's sent to prison. The film takes in a whole range of themes, the nature of friendship, trust and mistakes, New York in the post 9/11 landscape, as well as condensing a difficult father-son relationship into what matters most, regret at missed chances, and an ultimate love for one another. It’s the pain and rage from Norton that ultimately gives way to what he loves the most, the city and those in it, which equals his freedom.
The Prestige might be Christopher Nolan’s best film. It might not be his most enjoyable, but in execution definitely his most accomplished. The flaws apparent in his post-Prestige work (woolly plotting, the visuals not quite matching the ideas) are all dealt with here. Based on Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play magicians in Victorian times whose intense rivalry destroys both their lives. The Nolan brothers made significant changes to the book, all for the better in my mind, resulting in a clever and lean piece of filmmaking with a neat trick ending. This was the film which really sold me on Jackman as a bona-fide acting talent, and the addition of Bowie as Nikola Tesla is a masterstroke.
One simply cannot think of anything wrong with David Cronenberg’s powerful and punchy adaptation of John Wagner and John Locke’s 1997 graphic novel of the same name. Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, a small town restaurant owner who becomes a local celebrity after killing two robbers who threatened the life of one of his waitresses. The way he so easily killed them attracts the attention of Ed Harris’ gangster Carl Fogarty, who alleges that Tom is really Joey Cusack, a mobster hitman.
What follows is a narrative so precise and controlled that it makes you want to stand up and applaud. Mortensen sells both his role as family man and potential violent criminal, and the film doesn’t withhold any mystery unnecessarily, revealing the truth exactly when needed to for dramatic effect. It’s a film that makes you earn its beats and payoffs, while also getting you to reflect on just how violence makes you feel â€“ both exhilarated and appalled at the same time.
Taking on the rotoscoped animation process he first used in Waking Life, Richard Linklater applied it to Philip K Dick’s most personal novel, A Scanner Darkly, and made the most faithful and arguably successful adaptation yet of one of Dick’s books. In a tale of rampant drug addiction in the future, and high-tech surveillance, the animation technique works perfectly, allowing ideas such as the scramble suit to really come to life, as well as some of its more outlandish hallucinations.
The casting is pitch perfect, and while it may be a little unfair to say Keanu Reeves is great as an undercover cop so strung out he’s lost his personality, Reeves sells the desperation and heartbreak well. Providing comedic back-up of the dark kind is Robert Downey Jr. (who probably knows a thing or two about addiction), Woody Harrelson and the brilliant Rory Cochrane.
Considered as the ultimate â€˜Dad’ film, it’s easy to forget just how masterful (excuse the pun) this film is. Not just a thrilling boy’s own adventure of chasing a French ship across the world during the Napoleonic Wars, but a brilliant character study and look into human nature and the depths of true friendship. It is this combination of the epic and the personal that makes Master & Commander a film to treasure and re-watch, rather than write off as just another empty spectacle. Russell Crowe turns in one of his great performances as Captain Aubrey, while Paul Bettany was born to play the role of Dr Maturin, the exasperated ship's doctor.
A modern-day Princess Bride, Stardust has the potential to be a fantasy classic for the ages, and to be talked about fondly by future generations of movie fans, much like the classic Rob Reiner 80s film. Like that film, Stardust was adapted from a book, in this case Neil Gaiman’s dark fairytale. Made considerably lighter, the film charts the progress of Tristan (Charlie Cox) who must cross over to the magical kingdom of Stormhold to find and bring back a fallen star in order to prove his love for the spoilt Victoria (Sienna Miller). Except it turns out that the star is an actual living being, named Yvaine and played by the incredible Claire Danes. Stardust is captivating, exciting, adventurous, funny when needed, and yes, magical. It also has Ricky Gervais getting killed, so everyone’s a winner.
Unhelpfully split up into its two separate components, Planet Terror and Death Proof, Grindhouse was shorn of much of its purpose and regarded as two misfiring and even misguided movies. However, when you actually watch it as the double-feature it was intended to be, complete with fake trailers, it’s an absolute blast, soaked with nostalgic nods to the past. While Death Proof may be a little slow, it still has some vintage Tarantino dialogue and action in it, while Planet Terror is all kinds of crazy. For those willing to make the effort and get a bunch of friends over, Grindhouse is some of best cinematic fun you can have.
A quick-fire, hilarious pulp crime film from Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang cemented his reputation as a master of dialogue, and re-established lead Robert Downey Jr as a truly formidable acting talent. Oh, and it’s easily Val Kilmer’s best ever performance too. Knowingly self-aware, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tells how Downey Jr’s Harry gets mixed up in Hollywood murders, receiving assistance from Perry van Shrike (Kilmer). An absolute blast, you cannot fail to have fun while watching the film, as the leads bounce off each other with a joyful and easy chemistry only heightened by Black's excellent scripting. Both director and lead are clearly revelling working with each other, and if this is anything to go by, Iron Man 3 should be a joy â€“ as witnessed by the Super Bowl â€˜extended look’ for the film, which had more than a touch of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang about it.
Has there ever been a more slavish attempt to perfectly recreate a work of comic book fiction? I really don’t think so, and for all its faults, Watchmen is a work of dizzying spectacle and craftsmanship, and proved that director Zack Snyder deserved his place at the top table in Hollywood. While a near note-perfect adaptation of the seminal comic, it’s notable that Watchmen falls down when it veers away from the source material â€“ the ending is muddled and nowhere near as iconic as the trans-dimensional squid, while Matthew Goode, as much as I love him, is totally off in his portrayal of Adrian Veidt. But the rest of the cast absolutely nail it (especially Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and what was once considered an unfilmable comic is now something which at times is extraordinary.
Me Without You is essentially an anti chick-flick. Telling the decades long story of the intense friendship between Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel), it’s a warts-and-all portrayal of what can happen when two people become dependent on each other to the point of unhealthiness. Not always pretty, but often painfully truthful, Me Without You is the type of film which touches a nerve and remains with you for the rest of your life. Both brilliant in their roles (Williams in particular), the film excels at not always trying to make the two leads likeable, or selling the over-arching love story as something written in the stars. Instead, like the rest of the film and its characters, it’s unvarnished, and all the better for it.
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