35. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)
Half Nelson tells the story of an inspirational teacher in a rundown inner city Brooklyn school. He works with his students to teach them to think for themselves and to make something of their lives. He rebels against the set curriculum because he wants to engage his students in the classroom. He even coaches the girls basketball team. Only this inspirational school teacher is a little bit different than the ones you may have seen on film many times before - he also smokes crack.
The film operates so effectively because it doesn't deal in simple black and white, but rather in shades of gray. This is not the sort of movie where Gosling's character inspirationally cleans-up his act and spurs on his students to an array of college scholarships. Rather it deals with the middle ground - the good acts of a deeply flawed individual.
The film focuses on the relationship between that teacher and a student who discovers his use of drugs at the school. It gives the film an emotional center; in their own way each wants to help the other. The student wants the teacher to clean up. The teacher wants to prevent the student from falling into a life of drug dealing.
That teacher is played by Ryan Gosling. Gosling gamely takes on that difficult role in a genuine and believable way. It is one of the most remarkable performances of the decade and the deserving recipient of an Academy Award nomination. The student is played by the talented young Shareeka Epps, who inhabits her role with a maturity that belies her years. Half Nelson is an emotional film to sit through, but it's entirely worth the time you invest in it.
34. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
Rachel Getting Married brings a wedding to life in a way quite unlike most other films. Director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) makes effective use of the hand-held camera throughout the film, using it to integrate the viewer like another guest at the wedding. The film follows Kym, sister of the bride, through her wedding weekend leave from rehab. To the dismay of most of her relatives, Kym returns to her family like a tornado. She is selfish, immature and an addict - she also carries something from her past that sets her aside from her family members.
Anne Hathaway doesn't so much play Kym, as much as inhabit the character. I frankly had no idea that Hathaway was capable of such an incredible performance. She had shown hints of her talent in films like Brokeback Mountain and, to a lesser degree, The Devil Wears Prada, but here Demme has helped her tap into a wealth of talent that is astounding to watch. The entire supporting cast is strong but particular note goes to Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel the bride, and Bill Irwin, the family patriarch. Their scenes with Hathaway have an amazing sense of life and emotion.
Hathaway's work here is one of the finest and most natural performance I've ever seen.
33. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
A young couple sits in a car in a Lovers' Lane-like parking lot. The two chat awkwardly but the girl seems nervous and is reluctant to share why. A car pulls up behind the couple without headlights and pauses, ominously, before driving away. The girl refuses to answer the boy's questions about the identity of the driver of the car. Soon the car reappears and pulls behind them, the headlights illuminating the young couple. An individual approaches the vehicle with a flashlight drawn. The individual walks to the side window of the car, and shines the flashlight in the eyes of the young couple before firing an unseen handgun five times into the vehicle. The individual departs only to return a few moments later after noticing a motion in the car. He fires four more bullets, departs for his car and calls the police to announce what he has done. It is one of the most chilling murder scenes ever put to film and it kicks off one of the greatest serial killer movies ever made.
David Fincher crafts the film of an epic study - spanning nearly 30 years - of the search for the Zodiac serial killer focusing on the ordeal from two perspectives: the press and the police. For the press perspective, Fincher, in exacting details, crafts the 1960s San Francisco Chronicle offices and focuses on cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal playing the man who's book inspired the film) and criminal writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.). Fincher follows two police inspectors who become obsessed with solving the case (played by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards). The acting is exceptional across the board.
On the whole, the film is a remarkable study of the obsessive lengths necessary to pursue such a killer. Fincher situates every shot in the film with exacting precision and has an old-school style of film construction that eliminates the jump cuts and choppy editing so prevalent this past decade. The film is also incredibly rich in the details of the actual investigation, and to Fincher's credit the film succeeds despite such a broad and labyrinthine structure.
32. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
Tom Stall lives in a small Indiana town and runs a diner. He seems well liked by everyone in town, has a loving wife and a happy family. That is until one day two criminals enter his diner, threaten the patrons and attempt a robbery. Acting on something that can only be described as instinct, Tom efficiently and brutally kills both men. This brings a wealth of local media attention on Tom... and a change in his personality.
[SPOILERS from here on out] Tom, it turns out, was also known as Joey back when he lived in Philadelphia and acted as a mob enforcer. Gradually, his family man facade is pulled back as that world encroaches on his life in Indiana. A maimed mobster named Fogarty appears in town and begins pestering Tom's wife - he tells her that the man she married took his eye with barbed wire. What seemingly fascinates director David Cronenberg is the dichotomy of the two lives of Tom and Joey. Can Tom truly move beyond that past as Joey? Or is Joey a permanent part of his identity?
The key Cronenberg masterstroke here is the casting of Viggo Mortensen. He is absolutely perfect for the lead role and fascinatingly plays the conflict of his two identities. Prior to this film (and other than the Lord of the Rings movies), Mortensen was known for solid, but unremarkable, performances in a number of mostly forgettable movies (such as Crimson Tide or A Perfect Murder). It is in this film that Mortensen really takes the next step as an actor. He did great work in the Lord of the Rings movies, but the success of those films hardly rested on his work. Here he has developed the ability to balance his usual intensity with humanity. Mortensen is helped by a supporting cast - highlighted by Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt - that craft fascinating characters around Tom.
31. The Painted Veil (John Curran, 2006)
The Painted Veil tells the story of a 1920's London socialite (Naomi Watts) who marries a local doctor she barely knows (Edward Norton) in order to escape her mother's influence. The marriage is far from perfect and the socialite begins seeing another man (Liev Schreiber). The doctor learns of her infidelity and presents her with an ultimatum: accompany him to China to help treat a cholera outbreak as his faithful wife or he will file a petition for divorce citing her infidelity (which, at the time, would make her a social outcast).
The 'choice' leads Kitty Fane to follow her husband to Mei-tan-fu, a remote village in China. He works ceaselessly to stop the spread of Cholera; she begins teaching children at a nearby orphanage run by nuns. The two live in icy silence until small revelations start to crack the ice between the two.
Director John Curran and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh masterfully stage their shots to capture incredibly beautiful natural imagery. The wonder of the environs help to heighten the emotional impact of the relationship between the characters. While the film explores the Chinese communist revolution and the gradual modernization of the country, the film is, at its core, a story of the relationship between two individuals. Without effective actors, the film simply would not work... luckily, The Painted Veil has two phenomenal actors at the top of their game. Both Naomi Watts and Edward Norton give some of the best performances of their stellar careers. Both are difficult roles, but the actors excel. The Painted Veil is one of the best romance movies I've ever seen and I'd heartily recommend it to anyone.
Runner-Up: Blood Diamond (Zwick, 2006)
Runner-Up: Open Water (Kentis, 2004)
Runner-Up: Cinderella Man (Howard, 2005)
Runner-Up: Tigerland (Schumacher, 2000)
Runner-Up: Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
Runner-Up: Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood, 2006)
Runner-Up: Saw (Wan, 2004)
101: Big Fish (Burton, 2003)
100: State of Play (Macdonald, 2009)
99: Marley & Me (Frankel, 2008)
98: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher, 2008)
97: Sunshine (Boyle, 2007)
96: 8 Mile (Hanson, 2002)
95: 21 Grams (Iñárritu, 2003)
94: The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
93: Y tu mamá también (Cuaron, 2001)
92: Breach (Ray, 2007)
91: Away from Her (Polley, 2007)
90: Stranger Than Fiction (Forster, 2006)
89: Old School (Phillips, 2003)
88: The Queen (Frears, 2006)
87: Garden State (Braff, 2004)
86: Miracle (O'Connor, 2004)
85: Banlieue 13 (Morel, 2004)
84: The Fall (Singh, 2008)
83: Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2.1 (Raimi, 2002/2004)
82: The Last King of Scotland (Macdonald, 2006)
81: Pineapple Express (Green, 2008)
80: Into the Wild (Penn, 2007)
79: Juno (Reitman, 2007)
78: Cast Away (Zemeckis, 2000)
77: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007)
76: The 40 Year Old Virgin (Apatow, 2005)
75: Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007)
74: Friday Night Lights (Berg, 2004)
73: The Descent (Marshall, 2006)
72: In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009)
71: In the Shadow of the Moon (Sington, 2007)
70: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Black, 2005)
69: No Country for Old Men (Coen/Coen, 2007)
68: Superbad (Mottola, 2007)
67: Insomnia (Nolan, 2002)
66: The Road (Hillcoat, 2009)
65: Defiance (Zwick, 2008)
64: Up in the Air (Reitman, 2009)
63: Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007)
62: Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)
61: Låt den rätte komma in (Alfredson, 2008)
60: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, 2003)
59: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller, 2008)
58: Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)
57: Moon (Jones, 20009)
56: Collateral (Mann, 2004)
55: Munich (Spielberg, 2005)
54: The Visitor (McCarthy, 2008)
53: El orfanato (Bayona, 2007)
52: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (del Toro, 2008)
51: Adaptation. (Jonze, 2002)
50: Gangs of New York (Scorsese, 2002)
49: (500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009)
48: Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg, 2002)
47: 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold, 2007)
46: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron, 2004)
45: The Cove (Psihoyos, 2009)
44: Iron Man (Favreau, 2008)
43: District 9 (Blomkamp, 2009)
42: Atonement (Wright, 2007)
41: The Incredibles (Bird, 2004)
40: The Aviator (Scorsese, 2004)
39: Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005)
38: Serenity (Whedon, 2005)
37: Star Trek (Abrams, 2009)
36: Walk the Line (Mangold, 2005)
35: Half Nelson (Fleck, 2006)
34: Rachel Getting Married (Demme, 2008)
33: Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)
32: A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005)
31: The Painted Veil (Curran, 2006)