Closer to the top…
25) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, dir. P.T. Anderson)
Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Mortimer, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
In my book, P.T. Anderson is the second coming of Stanley Kubrick. He handles the camera just as confidentially and prefers storytelling via the image, over dialogue. I enjoyed Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, and found Magnolia to be one of the best American films ever made so I was elated when this project was released. Punch-Drunk Love is unlike any other Adam Sandler film you will see and the actor delivers such an unusual performance. Barry Egan (Sandler) is the owner of a novelty manufacturer (their current product are glass handled toilet plungers) who comes into work one morning and mysteriously finds a punch-tacky piano abandoned on the side of the street. He becomes obsessed with it, bringing it into his office and becoming increasingly distracted by the instrument. At the same time he blackmailed by a phone sex operator while courting the shy Lena (Watson). All these myriad and strange plot converge in a dark romantic comedy that is painted in shades of old Hollywood musicals. One of the most strange and unique pictures of the decade.
24) Dancer in the Dark (2000, dir. Lars von Trier)
Starring Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare
Danish director Lars von Trier won critical acclaim with his take on the musical genre film. What is most surprising about this picture is how good Bjork is. Most audiences would probably roll their eyes at singers crossing over into film (see Spears in Crossroads, every Madonna film), but Bjork actually shows a deep range and proves herself a competent actor. But, as is the case with most von Trier films, the star is his wide array of film making techniques. Shot on digital video, von Trier films “real life” sequences in a hand held documentary fashion, while the fantasy musical numbers are tightly story boarded. The story is a heartbreaking one, following factory worker Selma (Bjork) who is slowly going blind while worried about her son who is showing signs of the same condition. Selma becomes involved in a murder and subsequent trial and must make a sacrifice that is bound to leave viewers emotionally destroyed.
23) Kill Bill Vol.1 & 2 (2003, 2004, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Sonny Chiba
You either love him or hate him. Tarantino is one of the most ebullient, frenetic personalities in film today. He’s student of film at a level that would boggle most people’s minds and its that aspect that makes him such a competent craftsman. His magnum opus Kill Bill is a tribute to all the genres that are near and dear to his heart. The Crazy 88 sequence references classic Japanese samurai cinema, the Southwest showdown is his take on the spaghetti Westerns of the 1970s, and he even throws in some anime. Kill Bill is a sensory overload that begins at a breakneck pace and then slows down to an almost ponderous speed for the second half. Thurman stars as The Bride, a woman shot at the altar by Bill, a jealous former lover whom help train her to be a killing machine. Years later, The Bride emerges from her coma and realizes the child in her womb at the time died as a result of Bill’s actions. Her mission in life now is to take down Bill and his entire gang of assassins in a brutally bloody fashion. Tarantino proved once again with this film why is a director whose work should be on every film fan’s must-see list.
22) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, dir. Michel Gondry)
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, David Cross, Jane Addams
Director Michael Gondry first came to my attention with the 2002 flick, Human Nature and it was his strange aesthetic of intentional artificiality and camera trickery that captivated me. This break-up story tells the tale of Joel (Carrey) whose ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Winslet) has visited Lacuna Inc. to have all her memories of him erased. In an act of feeling rejected, Joel has the same operation scheduled. During the night two technicians (Wood and Ruffalo) come to his home and begin the procedure. The rest of the film is made up mostly of a travel through Joel’s subconscious mind in a non-linear path as his memories of Clementine are dissolved. The film is full of rich neosurrealist imagery due most in part to Gondry’s strength as a cinematographer. Computer effects are not employed in this film, a fact that is some times hard to believe based on the incredible images we are presented with.
21) The Fall (2006, dir. Tarsem Singh)
Starring Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru
I was very underwhelmed by Tarsem’s 1999 debut, The Cell. Looking back, I see the script was not his and I have to believe that must be a major reason why it left such a terrible taste in my mouth. The Fall was a film written and directed by the Indian auteur that made a decent splash on the film festival circuit, and would have been all but forgotten, if not for Spike Jonze and David Fincher, who paid to give the film wider distribution. The story concerns Alexandria (Untaru), a child of Eastern European immigrants who has injured herself in the orange orchards of California and is laid up in a mission hospital. There she meets movie stuntman Roy Walker (Pace) who has suffered a possible career ending back injury. To entertain Alexandria, Roy begins to tell an elaborate story about the fictional Masked Bandit and his gang’s battle against the evil Governor Odious. Roy’s motives for telling such a story and gaining Alexandria’s trust are revealed to be much darker as things progress. Tarsem can create impossible looking images and, like Gondry, employs no CG. In actuality, he has a keen eye for shooting locations, architecture, and knows how to use a camera. Deserving of the title “a visual feast”.