EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

The 100 Films Of The Decade: 70 – 61

70    Wonder Boys (2000)

Dir. Curtis Hanson

An unfinished novel, a murdered pet, a pregnant lover, an unstable student and a coat worn by Marilyn Monroe on her wedding day are just some of the elements that make up Curtis Hanson’s wonderful comic drama Wonder Boys. In his finest screen role, Michael Douglas plays Professor Grady Tripp, a lecturer suffering from a  seven-year bout of writer’s block as well as a failed marriage. The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Toby Maguire as the darkly enigmatic student with a fixation for Hollywood suicides. A charming, witty and engaging portrait of troubled characters all looking for resolutions to the trappings of marriage, education, emotional trauma and creative impasse.

69    Eastern Promises (2007)

Dir. David Cronenberg

A British midwife (Naomi Watts) gets mixed up with London’s Russian mafia in David Cronenberg’s riveting crime thriller. Reunited with the director after their success with A History Of Violence, Viggo Mortensen continues to show his brilliant range as Nikolai, the driver of a powerful mafia boss hiding a dangerous secret. With Cronenberg’s typical flair for startling gory violence (notably during an incredible fight sequence in a Turkish bath) and an impressive plot twist, Eastern Promises is a brilliantly constructed and electrifying slice of cinema.

68    Hunger (2008)

Dir. Steve McQueen

Making an impressively assured switch from Turner Prize-winning art to award-winning cinema, first time director Steve McQueen brings the harrowing events of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes to the screen in this frighteningly honest depiction. At the centre of Hunger is a 17-minute one-camera take (and the longest single shot in mainstream cinema) of a priest trying to convince strike leader Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) to call off the protest, giving the film a rich political discourse amidst the graphic prison sequences. This is an unflinchingly brutal drama, certainly not an easy or pleasant watch, but powerful and important filmmaking.

67    Babel (2006)

Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

The ambitious cinema of Alejandro González Iñárritu may seem to overreach itself with its grandiose themes of universal suffering, but there’s no denying the minute-by-minute dramatic punch of his films. Taking the multi-narrrative single-location style of Amores Perros and 21 Grams and transplanting it to an international stage, Babel presents four interlocking stories of personal tragedy set across Morocco, Japan, United States and Mexico. The Tower of Babel association is clear enough, since each story is built around misunderstandings caused by language barriers, particularly the moving tale of confused death-mute Japanese teenager Chieko. Babel‘s power lies in its sheer determined bravado.

66    Coraline (2009)

Dir. Henry Selick

Another stunning animated gem from stop-motion maestro Henry Selick, following The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach. Based on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy-horror novel about a girl who finds a passage to an almost identical world in a strange old house, Coraline spills over with imaginative concepts and design. Revelling in delicous dark comedy and an occasional almost-inappropriate nakedness (you’ll know the scene), the 3-D technique only added extra visual novelty to an already faultless 2-D animated fantasy.

65    The Piano Teacher (2001)

Dir. Michael Haneke

Along with Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke is perhaps the last great European aueteur of cinema, having built up an imposing body of work, often bleak and alarming but always significant. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, The Piano Teacher continues Haneke’s trend for grim visceral horror. Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory and lives with her oppressive mother (Annie Girardot), but after being seduced by one of her students she starts to unleash a dangerous and uncontrollable desire. Disturbing, demanding and overlong, but well worth the effort for those who can take it.

64    The Departed (2006)

Dir. Martin Scorsese

In his remake of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, Martin Scorsese adds an extra hour of screen time and again dissects the American gangster scene to present a typically epic portrayal of mobsters and informants in the Massachusetts State Police. Winning Best Film and Best Director Oscars may have seemed like compensatory awards for decades of Scorsese’s Academy losses, but that really belittles the achievements of this excellent crime thriller. The ridiculously starry cast includes Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Scorsese’s favourite 21st century lead, Leonardo DiCaprio. Violent epic grandeur and his best film since Goodfellas.

63    American Splendour (2003)

Dir. Shari Springer Bergman, Robert Fulcini

One of the great portraits of creative anguish, American Splendour is quite unlike any other biopic. Paul Giametti plays underground writer Harvey Pekar, who reflected the poignant monotony of his own life through the comic book series American Splendour whilst being treated for cancer. The real Harvey Pekar also appears throughout in the flesh and in animation, commentating on the film’s inaccuracies. Amusingly, Pekar’s actual appearances on the Letterman show are seamlessly spliced into the dramatic reconstructions. With its  floating jazz score, bleak humour and off-kilter structure, American Splendour is a beautifully sad jewel of a film.

62    Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Dir. Danny Boyle

The remarkable international success of Danny Boyle’s triumph-against-adveristy tale mirrors the film’s own ascending underdog status and somehow tapped into a global aspirational mood during a world financial crisis. But Slumdog Millionaire is no gentle ride and certainly not the ‘feel good movie’ labelled by advertises. In fact, it’s a tough, uncompromising film that only allows a feel good ending after subjecting the viewer to all the pain, suffering and heartache of it’s struggling protagonist. For a film with a comparatively low-budget, a bleak tone, a harsh subject matter and recurring subtitles, Slumdog Millionaire‘s international acclaim, particularly at the Oscars, only reaffirms the film’s great aptitude for dramatic storytelling.

61    Donnie Darko (2001)

Dir. Richard Kelly

Harvey on acid’ may sound like a trite IMDB review title, but it’s perhaps the best way to describe Richard Kelly’s strange soporific fantasy. Devilishly blending science-fiction mystery, college drama and dark comedy, the varied meanings and interpretations of Donnie Darko are still well up for debate, but thankfully the film is smart and witty enough to withstand repeated viewings needed whilst attempting to make sense of it all. Or maybe it’s just more fun not to make sense of things, afterall where’s the feeling of wonder in fully comprehending everything? Definitely the weirdest and coolest of the US indie new wave.

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