1. Waltz with Bashir
Director: Ari Folman
Starring: Ari Folman, Miki Leon, Ori Sivan
This gorgeous animated documentary follows director Ari Folman as he charts his, and his friends, past in the Israeli army during the first Lebanon war. Mixing real accounts with dreams and memory, Folman tackles the horrible reality of being on the winning side. With the use of animation, the director’s portrayal of dreams, and memory make for a startling viewing experience.
2. Django Unchained
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
With the release of his eighth film, western The Hateful Eight, there is no better time to revisit Quentin Tarantino’s first foray into the western genre with Django Unchained. Jamie Fox is the titular Django, a freed slave, who with the help of a trigger happy German dentist/bounty hunter (an Oscar winning Chrisoph Waltz), is on a mission to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from plantation owner Calvin J. Candie. Django Unchained has everything you can expect from a Tarantino western: dialogue that’s nearly combustible, slick gun battles, and excellent performances from its main cast, especially Leonardo DiCaprio as Candie, a volatile mad man that the usual leading man plays with relish.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Amanda Burton
Before director Nicolas Winding Refn thrilled us and frustrated us with Drive and Only God Forgives, and before Tom Hardy was starring, in what seemed like, fifteen high profile films a year, there was Bronson. Hardy plays the title role: a seemingly normal middle-class man who became one of the most notorious criminals in English history. This, however, isn’t your standard gritty drama, Refn and Hardy turn the whole concept on its head present Bronson presenting his own life, or arguably presenting his reputation, in a fever of violence and vaudeville.
4. The Road
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron
How do you follow up the beautiful brutality of the Outback western hybrid The Proposition. Well, if you’re John Hillcoat, you go bleaker. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by modern day Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, The Road follows a man and a boy’s survival in a post-apocalyptic landscape. You never find out how the world since Hillcoat is more interested in the world after. Bathed in grey ash, the director charts the course of his unfortunate characters through the living, breathing, purgatory of America. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth your time.
5. True Grit
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon
The Coen Brothers have played with genres throughout their entire career, most notably making a Raymond Chandler homage starring cinema’s greatest slacker, so it’s refreshing that True Grit is their purest genre film with a deep love of the western genre. More a remake of the novel than the original John Wayne film, True Grit see’s precocious teen Mattie Ross (the superb Hailee Steinfeld in her first role) enlist the services of Rooster Cogburn to track down the man who killed her father. The Coen’s Wild West is brought vividly to life by these excellent performances, and cinematographer Roger Deakins who brings an autumnal beauty to the frontier.
6. No Country for Old Men
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
Another Coen Brother’s masterpiece: 2007 Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men. Based on Cormac MaCarthy’s most straight forward novel, the film follows Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who comes across the aftermath of a gang deal gone wrong where he steals a suitcase full of money and is pursed by one of cinema’s greatest villains Anton Chigurh (an Oscar winning Javier Bardem). A taut, tense, chase movie in which the Coen’s bring the brutality of the Old West into modern day.
7. Saving Private Ryan
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Jeremy Davis
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Saving Private Ryan is on this list because of the first 20 minutes, but that’s not the only reason. Steven Spielberg’s tale of a group of soldiers, led by Tom Hanks in a career best performance, who are tasked with tracking down the only surviving member of the Ryan brothers (Matt Damon), is breath-taking for so many reasons. The design of war-torn France brings to mind a rubble disease that’s infecting the country, and of course the beach landing is a brutally realistic look at the reality of combat.
8. Requiem for a Dream
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly
Darren Aronofsky’s sophomore film Requiem for a Dream is beautiful in the way that something so startlingly ugly that it becomes beautiful. Based on cult author Hubert Selby Jr’s visceral novel, the film follows the story of four people and their different relationships with addiction in New York. Ellen Burstyn is the standout as Sara Goldfarb, a role that bagged her an Oscar nomination, a women who becomes obsessed with losing weight before she appears on her favourite TV gameshow, and having to deal with her son Harry (Jared Leto), and his own heroin addiction. This is not a film to be entertained by, this is a film to experience.
9. Natural Born Killers
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr
Oliver Stone’s blood soaked, serial killer satire, is a visual feast that might give you indigestion. Using different shots, angles, filters, and even animation, Stone throws us in the deep end of a serial killer couple, played with gusto by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, and invites us to hold on for dear life. Plus Robert Downey Jr’s Australian accent is hilarious.
10. La Haine
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui
Filmed in stylish black and white La Haine is an uncompromising look at different cultures attitudes, and criminal behaviour in a Paris housing project. Starring Vincent Cassel in his breakthrough performance, La Haine is a violent tale of friendship, hatred and anarchy.