Today will be my final of these regarding movies, as I’ve reached the present. I may possibly do one more combining the lot to an ultra-awesome-badass list of the best of the best, but that will be after I tackle some of the more difficult topics, such as TV & Video Games.
Basically, the list will go from 2000 to 2016. This is mainly because there are not enough movies to make up a list from 2010-2016, as I have not been as prolific a filmgoer in these years. Surprisingly, though, since 2000, there have been a high number of original movies. It’s surprising, considering the amount of remakes and book adaptations, that have come out over the past 16 years. But when I made up my list and got started narrowing down my top picks, I was astounded at the sheer greatness of these films.
Sadly, one movie that has only recently come out could not make the list, as I have been unable to go and see it. I have a feeling that it will take out my 10th spot movie, and I’m okay with that. Spotlight is receiving a lot of buzz, and from what I have seen of trailers and reviews, it could easily make this list. But we’ll see later on down the track. For now, I have to precursor this list with a couple of statements. First of all, I have not seen every movie in every year, so there may be movies missing. Secondly, these are for original screenplays, not adaptations, so you will not see Winter’s Bone, Argo, or The Imitation Game on this list, despite their amazing-ness. Thirdly, the list is made up mostly of movies that have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay during these years. Sometimes I remember one that was not among the nominated, as evidenced from the addition of Say Anything to my Classic Edition. (Although, I realised a little late that I missed Dark City in my 90s list. 😦 )
I had to come with a friend all the way into Dallas, from Paris TX to see this movie at the theater. I remember it being a big deal that they had spent so much time working on the website for it, and I even remember the website name, because it was memento spelled backwards.
The movie works backwards, and despite one fairly significant flaw in the story, this story device works well for the viewer. The main character suffers from short term memory loss. He cannot make new memories, and so he spends a fair chunk of his time reminding people who know him that he can’t remember them and why. The last thing he remembers is his wife being killed, and he’s been trying to catch her killer with this debilitating condition.
Leonard has tattoos on his body to remind him of the clues he has found thus far. Seeing it from backwards means we’re in just as much of a time distortion as Leonard, as well. By the end of the movie, when the final scene unfolds, you’re left with a sense of surprise, but you’re also not surprised by it. There’s a sense of character that you get a feel for whilst the movie unfolds, and your worst fears are often realised. That’s what makes this movie some brilliant writing.
American Hustle is another kind of film that has a dark nature to it. Instead of writing predictable, inspiring characters like many heist movies do, American Hustle looks at the despicable nature of man, and colours it with a hard-bristle brush. It’s not often that you watch a movie filled with detestable people, and you find you cannot take your eyes off the screen. The trainwreck of the life of the main characters is aired out in the open for all to see, and every part of it is incredible.
The movie unfolds with an unapologetic eye on is cast of characters. It doesn’t make fun of any of them, because it doesn’t have to. They do that on their own. Each character is fleshed out well. They include a neurotic housewife, her husband – a conman with a terrible hairpiece and his girlfriend, another con artist who speaks with a terrible British accent, an FBI agent that perms his own hair, and the mafia. It’s a comedy, and never hides from this fact.
The movie is a hustle / con / heist movie. Half the fun of it is in trying to figure out who is scamming whom, and by the end, the only person you really want to see succeed is the one that is the most straight-edged. But even then, you’re reminded that he is doing something illegal too, even if it is in the name of something greater than him.
The movie is a riot, though, but it shines because it understands handles its characters so well. And the acting performances are just icing on the cake. (Amy Adams is superb, btw. So is Jennifer Lawrence, but that usually goes without saying.)
Django is another Quentin Tarantino modern classic. He’s known for his amazing ability to get the most out of his actors, his desire to epitomise the exploitation movies of the 80s, and his clever writing. This movie just solidifies this.
Again, we have colourful and interesting characters that have been written in scene-chewing goodness. Sure, the performances are some of the best you’ll seen in a comedy western. Waltz and diCaprio are at their absolute best. But the way their scenes have been written helps to solidify this. We meet Waltz in the darkness of night in his dentist cart, acting as a kind of deus ex machina in the broader story of the main character, Django. Both banter in intelligent conversation before agreeing to partner to find Django’s wife in exchange to two men’s whereabouts.
The movie is as exploitative as any of Tarantino’s, and this is what makes the movie so much fun. The best example of this is the role of the Butler played by Samuel L Jackson. He acts as a kind of Uncle Tom in the home of his slaveowner, he is as close to a white man as a black man can come, and it is he that is the most detestable of the characters in the movie, because he sees nothing wrong in sending his kin to death. I reckon Tarantino will write many more amazing movies to come, and I relish in the knowledge of that.
Pan’s Labyrinth reminds me of the fairy tales of old twisted and dark. Like Cinderella’s stepmother cutting off the heels and toes of her stepsisters so they can get into the slipper, or how the wolf really did eat the grandmother and little girl whole. These tales were not meant for children, and Pan is not either.
It is set in a very real and historical part of history within 1944 Spain. Ofelia and her pregnant mother have moved into the home of the general, Ofelia’s soon-to-be evil stepfather. Within the walls of the house, we are treated with all the real perils of the history unfolding around them. But just outside it, there is a stone labyrinth that when first encountered breeds both fear and curiosity.
During the first night there, Ofelia tells a story to her still growing sibling that takes us along a bridge between the fantasy and reality of this world. It’s learned that Pan, the faun of the labyrinth, believes Ofelia to be the princess reborn, so he sets her tasks to prove her royalty. These aren’t just any series of tasks, though, and rather than cut and edit to show snippets, they are molded into the story and make the reality and fantasy of it combine into one. It’s Guillermo del Toro’s best work to date, but I hope some time soon he’ll exceed even this. Still, he’s a brilliant filmmaker. Without a doubt.
It’s a well known fact that this movie was actually the tatter remains of a cancelled TV series, and because of this, the story is moderately more disjointed than any other David Lynch project. That’s not to say it isn’t brilliant, though. I struggle still to interpret the movie, and I believe Roger Ebert even said that we may never understand it to completion. I think that’s something done deliberately by Lynch, but he will probably never say.
The movie has two halves. The first half is what is mostly called the dream half. It paints a picture of a beautiful girl falling for beautiful woman, and the budding of a great career. There are parts that make no sense at all during these dream scenes, and the main idea is that it is a dream of Betty (Naomi Watts). Then from halfway through, it shifts to reality. We see the darker and more sinister half of Hollywood and our main character.
Now, the dialogue in parts of the movie are quite juvenile, especially in the dream half, and my honest belief is that was deliberate. Betty is trying to rationalise a lot in her mind, but mostly her failed career. I think what makes this terrific writing is the simple fact that 15 years later, I am still thinking about the movie and exploring in my mind the subtle and twisted clues to its plot. It’s not a fun ride, but it reminds me why Lynch is the king of outlandish subject matter.
The infamous final scenes of this movie is one of the main reasons this has made it is so high on my list. Oftentimes, as writers, we suggest that the reason our characters went a path they did was because they told us that’s what they would do. That’s exactly what Tarantino did when he let them act out their plan. If the real heroes of the story had been there when the Nazis were there, I imagine it would have gone down just that way. As before, with Django, Tarantino has a fantastic character piece. Each of the main characters have been fleshed out and have a strong personality of their own. I also honestly believe that as Tarantino ages, his movies just keep getting better and better.
Who can forget the dream within a dream within a dream? Sure, it’s been made fun of plenty, but what Nolan may have failed slightly on in Memento, he more than made up for in Inception, a movie that apparently took him 10 years to write. I can understand how, too. The story twists and turns in all the right places, and despite its confusing plot, you still somehow manage to keep up.
It’s your general heist movie with a twist. The plan is to implant an idea into the mind of someone else. The only problem is that the human mind is aware when foreign concepts are brought into it, so the cast of characters have to delve so deep into his mind that he is unaware that it is not his own thought.
Every one of the cast plays an important part, and each character is handled with care. We are introduced into this world through Ariadne (Ellen Page), and she acts as our bridge to what is real and what isn’t. She’s a strong character, with a certain level of vulnerability that makes her our sympathetic eye through it all. It’s a great weaving plot that makes you want to watch it over and again to understand all of the nuances you may have missed in your first few viewings. Truly… a great film.
In my classics edition, I wrote about a movie called Network, that looked at the news of the time and made a statement about it. It was a satire, and it was beautifully written and acted. Nightcawler is a movie that takes some of those themes and looks at them with even a more realistic and gritty light. Lou is just your average go-getter, except he’s a sociopath. He looks normal enough, and at times, he’s even likeable. He starts the movie being a thief that explain that he believes he has to work hard to get his slice of the American Dream. In today’s world, his ideas are considered outdated, but he proves it.
When he meets Bill Paxton on the road with a camera and a couple of men taking video of a crash, he enquires about what station they work for. When he discovers that they sell the footage to the highest bidder. So Lou buys himself a camera and goes for the exact same thing. When he tries to sell the footage, he learns and adapts to the demands of the producers. In some cases, his shots get actively in the way of the emergency staff. In other instances, he drags bodies so he can get a perfect panoramic shot of L.A in the background. All his hard work pays off, and he gets that American Dream e was after.
The movie is great because it neither condones nor actively gives light to what Lou is doing. In fact, it shows the most disgusting parts of his character. It has created a character that I have a feeling time will never fade, and confirms that sociopaths live in plain view. It also looks at the media and confirms what we know. That many care more about ratings than right & wrong.
Birdman was nothing like I expected when I sat down to watch it. I tried to keep away from all of the hope as much as I could, and what I got was a surprisingly incredible film with as many themes as it had characters. A lot of people reviewed on the fact that it was told in as close to one take as possible. Granted, this is incredible in and of itself. But the story is what did it for me. The music was second, and the performances third.
There are rather inspired performances all around from Keaton, Norton and Stone. Keaton and Norton both manage to play variations of their own careers, but what gives it the believable feel is how each of them were written. Keaton plays an actor whose career peaked 20 years ago after a series of superhero movies. While Keaton has continued to act, his character seems to have been aimlessly trying to break away from the easy mainstream roles, but no one has given him that opportunity. So as a last ditch effort, he has written, directed, and is starring in a Broadway play that will be released in three days.
What unfolds is a character piece that has strong themes on identity, celebrity, criticism, social media culture, and sanity. It displays this in a deliberate over-the-top style, with the music acting as a character between the scenes to prove the bold nature of the film.
Honourable Mentions: The amazing Tim Blake Nelson wrote a great movie, Leaves of Grass, that is incredibly unappreciated! It only just missed out, mostly because it meanders from time to time, but it has perhaps the best description of our relationship with a higher power than any movie I’ve seen. And Inside Out had to be one of the most original children’s movies I’ve seen since Toy Story. Truly amazing. Both deserve a spot on the list.
It’s been nearly twelve years since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out, and to this day, it still affects me greatly. Much like my number 10 pick, this movie uses time differently to tell the story. This plot device is important to how it is viewed, because it’s very much a character-driven piece. this has been a theme among many of my top ten this year, and that’s because, in writing screenplays, it is the characters that are the most important to the driving success to the story.
This is perhaps the most original movie of the list, as well, because never before this movie was there a concept that worked so well regarding memory and the intentional loss of it. The movie has a strong emotional centre that drives the main themes during its 100hr+ run.
The burning question it asks is regarding how memory works. At the start of the film, we meet Joel and Clementine. They’re on a train together, and there is this immediate connection. Little do they realise that they have been lovers for 2 years prior to this. When their 2 year affair ends, Clementine decides that she must erase all memory of Joel, because the heartache she feels needs to go. Once Joel realises this, he, too, undergoes the same procedure.
The film works well with Joel as the lead for this process. You watch as the memories are taken from him one after another. And just as memory for us all can be rose-coloured, he starts to remember and try to squirrel away all of the best memories of their life together. These are the strongest scenes of the movie, and your heart breaks with him.
Charlie Kaufman has another movie on my lists, on the 90s edition, with Being John Malkovich. He seems to have a strong understanding of self and psychology. In that movie it was about puppetry in celebrity. In this movie, it is about love and heart and feelings. Joel and Clementine both tell each other at the end of their treatment to come to Montauk, where their best memory was. For whatever reason, they both head there without understanding why. Their meeting on the train and that instant attraction shows that you really can’t erase someone completely. Losing those memories means you lose a part of yourself. And most of all, you cannot erase feelings.
This is shown in more ways than just the one. Lacuna, Inc, the company that completes the procedure, has an employee, Patrick, that tries to use the good memories Joel has with Clementine and once she has completed the process, he tries to use them on her to make her fall for him. But even in this, she can sense there is something wrong. Those feelings she had for Joel were not there for Patrick, and she doesn’t fall for it.
It’s obvious, even during some of their fights, that Joel and Clementine truly do love each other, but there’s something there that keeps them from being happy together during this part of their lives. They wish they could have a do-over, and in a way, they get what they want. But it comes at a price.
It’s truly a remarkable experience, and it leaves you thinking about the implications of its events on your own life.