30 Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Dir. Michael Moore
In the decade’s best documentary feature, Michael Moore attempts to examine the complex problems of America’s culture of violence and gun ownership, centred around the 1999 Columbine high school shootings. The causes and solutions are many and complicated, but Bowling For Columbine definitely teaches us to be wary of the media, huge corporations and Charlton Heston. Presented with a darkly comic tone throughout, the film also has moments of unbearable sadness in its description of tragic incidents. As a dramatic polemic, Bowling For Columbine is far more convincing than Moore’s follow up feature, Fahrenheit 9/11, which may have raised the profile and popularity of the documentary genre but did so by stating it’s case with amplified bias. Bowling For Columbine certainly has an agenda, but presents itself with sincerity and understanding of the broad range of issues involved.
29 The Orphanage (2007)
Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona
The opening caption ‘Guillermo Del Toro Presents’ helped to raise the profile of this excellent Spanish horror film, the enchanting style and subtle special effects as seen in Pan’s Labyrinth all present and correct here. But that’s not to take anything away from Juan Antonio Bayona, making an impressive feature-length film début. Belén Rueda gives a powerful
lead performance as the distraught mother desperately seeking her missing child, and look out for Geraldine Chaplin in a nice supporting role as a wonderfully dotty medium. With a neat twist and an atmosphere of bubbling intensity, The Orphanage is a spine-chilling ghost story in the best tradition of The Haunting and The Innocents.
28 The Squid And The Whale (2005)
Dir. Noah Baumbach
An important name in the wave of American independent cinema along with this film’s producer Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach made the most strikingly personal film to emerge from the scene with The Squid And The Whale. Baumbach drew on his own childhood experiences of his parent’s divorce to present a remarkably frank portrayal of selfishness and mixed loyalty from both the adults and the children. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are superb as the parents in crisis, but even better are Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline as the young Walt and Frank, both exceptional in presenting the raw anger and confusion resulting from a family break-up. The Squid And The Whale is a short, savage and incredibly funny depiction of domestic fallout, but also displays a convincing tone of melancholy, giving potentially unlikable characters a tender depth.
27 The Triplets Of Belleville (2003)
Dir. Sylvain Chomet
An irresistably charming slice of French whimsy, The Triplets Of Belleville has to stand as one of the singularly most bonkers pieces of animation you could hope to see. The extraordinary angular character designs of Sylvain Chomet, and the deliriously winding narrative, are a joy to behold. The plot summary points someway towards the barmy tone of the film - an elderly woman and her dog encounter an aged music hall trio whilst cycling to rescue her grandson, a Tour de France cyclist, kidnapped by the mafia for use in an unusual form of gambling. And there you have it. With very little dialogue and an emphasis on 1930′s musical pastiches and physical comedy, The Triplets Of Belleville is highly recommended to anyone with a love of ingenious animation and a fondness for the bizarre.
26 A Cock And Bull Story (2006)
Dir. Michael Winterbottom
Laurence Stern’s supposedly unfilmable novel The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy was deconstructing its own comic framework as early as 1759, being a fictional autobiography about a man’s attempts to tell his own autobiography but failing to do so, the digressions of the narrator becoming the main body of the book. Michael Winterbottom’s master stroke was to turn the novel into the story of an actor (Steve Coogan) trying to film the adaptation but failing to do so, the “making of” occupying most of the film. Therefore it’s a film-within-a-film of a novel-within-a-novel. But it goes further, with Coogan also playing ‘himself’ as an actor playing a more arrogant version of Steve Coogan, whilst also acknowledging the fact – there’s metatexuality for you! The sparring between friendly rival actors Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing Uncle Toby, is a constant joy. Like the painting disappearing within itself to the point of infinity, A Cock And Bull Story playfully uncoils all the conceits of cinematic storytelling in a totally unpretentious way, revealing one of the great unsung works of British cinema.
25 Elephant (2003)
Dir. Gus Van Sant
Another film based around the Columbine High School Massacre, Gus Van Sant observes the events leading up to a school shooting with an eerie calm detachment. Filmed from multiple perspectives, tracking backwards and forwards within a 24 hour period in the lives of twelve students, Elephant‘s superb cinematography captures the characters with a dreamlike, almost surreal, beauty. The camera steadily tracks down corridors following the characters as they glide hopelessly towards their fate, and the largely non-professional cast add a great deal of compassionate realism to the film. Van Sant’s bold approach to the controversial topic and his unique style helped the film win the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2003. The titular elephant, inspired by an Alan Clarke BBC play, refers to the ‘elephant in the room’ – that which nobody dare talk of or recognize, but is an ever-present threat. But Elephant refuses to explain or understand the horrific events, instead it simply captures the personal tragedy of it in a strangely beautiful fashion.
24 Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)
Dir. Nick Park, Steve Box
A work of indisputable genius from the good people at Aardman Animations, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit takes the same rollicking pace and stunning animated technique of the Wallace and Gromit short features, but successfully sustains the style for a whole 90 minutes. In fact, this film offers more in mood and tone from the lighting and set design than the majority of live-action films. There isn’t a moment where you don’t wonder in amazement at the extraordinary use of “claymation” – except you’ll be too caught up in the hilarious story to take it all in. Revelling in their obvious love of cinema (particularly Hammer Horror) and their tireless pursuit of the pun, directors Nick Park and Steve Box pull off the rare trick of creating a family film loved equally across the ages. Wallace and Gromit’s big screen début could not have been more perfect – now pass the crackers and Wensleydale!
23 City Of God (2003)
Dir. Fernando Mierelles, Katia Lund
Spanning fifteen years and dozens of characters, the explosive and shocking City Of God put Brazilian cinema on the international map by presenting the tumultuous life of young “hoodlums” and the growth of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro’s troubled Cidade de Deus suburb. The film’s invigorating energy and naturalistic atmosphere breathed new life into the crime genre in the same way Goodfellas had ten years earlier but, unlike Scorsese’s mobsters, City Of God presents its vast range of flawed characters with heartfelt understanding of their bleak predicament. A truly electrifying piece of cinema.
22 Spirited Away (2001)
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
This landmark anime brought the distinguished Studio Ghibli to a wide international audience, winning over many fans to their wildly imaginative films. Spirited Away follows the experiences of 10-year old girl Chihiro as she discovers an amazing alternative universe of spirits and monsters, a world which makes Alice In Wonderland look like a stroll in your local park. Absolutely teeming with weird and wonderful creations, the many narrative themes and concepts might not be fully appreciated on first viewing due to the film’s sheer spellbinding impact. But on repeated viewings, Spirited Away reveals itself as a rich coming-of-age tale, a satire on Japanese culture and society, and a deep meditation on life, death and identity. Treat yourself and take a dip into the fantastic mind of Hayao Miyazaki.
21 Adaptation (2002)
Dir. Spike Jonze
In case you thought things couldn’t get any more weirdly subversive than Being John Malkovich, director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman take deconstruction to new levels of invention with Adaptation. Kaufman presents a version of himself played by Nicolas Cage who, buoyed by the popular success of Being John Malkovich, attempts to adapt non-fiction novel The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). Living in his flat is his twin brother Donald, who also decides to take up screenwriting and scores a big success with his genre-driven spec script – the two brothers clearly representing the twin conflicting interests of the creative writer: success and integrity. Cage gives an unusually subtle performance (two in fact) but Brian Cox steals the film in a great supporting turn as tough-talking preacher of ‘story and structure’ Robert McKee, asserting “God help you if you use voice-over in your work … Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character” after a typically adroit Kaufman voice-over. Adaptation may well be the best and certainly the smartest film ever made about the gruelling pursuit of writing.