FIGHT CLUB, 1999
Big year – The Sixth Sense, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Matrix, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich – and yet this is the film we go back to, as it reminds us of adventure, fun and surprise. And because it’s Ed Norton, which in 1999 was a good thing. And because we never read the book, it meant we could namecheck Chuck Palahniuk three years after the event.
Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997
Like pulling over a blanket on a cold winter’s night after inhaling too much pizza, this mid-’90s sleeper hit is warm and filling. Even with Minnie Driver. Landing the same year as LA Confidential, Chasing Amy and Lost Highway, it sees assassin John Cusack question his murderous day job, especially on returning to small town Michigan – the titular Grosse Pointe – and his 10-year school reunion. Oh, the bloody shenanigans.
The Big Lebowski, 1998
There are only two Jeff Bridges films you need see, and this is not Crazy Heart. His portrayal of Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude, elevates this obscure stoner-meetsorganised-crime effort that, quite bizarrely, centres on a soiled rug. It’s acerbic, highly quotable and even better than the car chase in Ronin – another ’98 release.
Donnie Darko, 2001
Amélie brought the joy, Mulholland Drive a touch of mainstream regard for David Lynch and Blow, well, what was that Johnny Depp? Darko was the weird little brother to all – the one wiser than its years and whose charms are subtle. Cue Jake Gyllenhaal, a freaky rabbit mask and Gary Jules’ poignant reworking of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’.
The Pianist, 2002
Roman Polanski may have a controversial history, yet his directorial touch cannot be faulted, as seen here with a haunting film that tells the story of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and his battle to survive the Warsaw ghetto. It would have been a personal excursion for the director, himself a Holocaust survivor with yet more power coming from Adrian Brody’s Oscar-winning turn and the knowledge this story is based on real events.
Kill Bill: Volume 1, 2003
Arriving six years after Quentin Tarantino’s last film, Jackie Brown, the first instalment of the Kill Bill franchise certainly didn’t leave eager fans wanting for gore. But more than a simple bloodbath, the film received strong reviews, with Tarantino even winning feminist praise for casting Uma Thurman as a kick-arse action hero. While Tarantino had long been a favourite of movie nerds, this also proved the director’s broader appeal at the box office, pulling in more than $180m from a $30m investment.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004
Jim Carrey. Our relationship with this film should have ended there. And yet it works, thanks to the inventiveness of Frenchmaster Michel Gondry and the charms of a flame-haired Kate Winslet. A romantic tale with many slowly unfolding twists – the connection is amplified by a soundtrack featuring Beck’s stunning take on ‘Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime’.
Brokeback Mountain, 2005
Rodeo star meets ranch hand and they fall in love. It’s a traditional Hollywood premise, but because it was also the tale of two men, this film missed out on the many Oscars it deserved, losing to the glaringly obvious and clunky Crash. Seriously, this still pains us. Heath Ledger provided one of his best turns opposite good mate and on-screen love interest Jake Gyllenhaal, with the Perth boy showing the world what he could do by bringing to life a script that riffs on love and loss, pain and joy.
Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006
One of the great fantasy films, which shouldn’t come as any surprise given Guillermo del Toro ( Blade II, Hellboy and Pacific Rim) is the man pulling the strings. A violent fairy tale, it’s the story of Ofelia (hello!), a labyrinth, and works on many varied layers – arguing everything from the triviality of war to the importance of one’s soul. It’s certainly a different adventure to the year’s other standout, Little Miss Sunshine.
No Country for Old Men, 2007
Up there with the prolific Coen brothers’ best efforts, this is a faultless neo-western framed by murder and money. And then there’s Javier Bardem’s unstoppable killer-for-hire, Anton Chigurh, and whatever the fuck that thing is he uses to murder people. Chilling and so incredibly alluring – the type of film you wish to be able to watch for ‘the first time’ again and again, much like the year’s other mustsee, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
The Dark Knight, 2008
Heath Ledger as the Joker, in a nurse’s outfit, waddling towards the camera as the hospital behind him is raised to the ground. It’s a lasting image – not least because of Ledger’s ownership of this Batman outing debuted after his death. A darkly comic Christopher Nolan tale we often reheat and consume.
District 9, 2009
More than a science fiction thriller – this smarter-thanit-first-seems South African film calls out racism and xenophobia generally, and apartheid specifically. Here, the marginalised ‘people’ are aliens, known as ‘prawns’, who revolt against their physical segregation. A film that’s worth seeking out again.
Who says Hollywood’s all out of ideas? We’re not even going to try to explain Christopher Nolan’s extraordinary mind-fuck of a sci-fi epic. But there’s no doubt the film delivered on all fronts, with a killer script and brilliant performances from Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon-levitt, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy. There’s also the small detail that it made upwards
of $825m at the box office – an extraordinary amount for a non-franchise film, which cemented Nolan’s place among the 21st-century’s greatest filmmakers.
The story of a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, this is peak Ryan Gosling. Not only did he deliver a powerful, understated performance, but Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn won praise for skilfully treading the line between art and entertainment. Together with a brilliant and original soundtrack, the result is a film that builds with an intensity that makes it impossible to look away.
Killing Them Softly, 2012
At a winery wedding in the hills behind Melbourne – over mains of chicken or the fish – we engaged in a heated conversation with a TV actor about Ben Mendelsohn’s performance in this dark gangster tale. “Lazy and over the top,” he wailed. “Real”, our response. The languid Aussie is the standout performer in this wonderfully paced and absorbing piece that proved one of James Gandolfini’s last outings. Also, the last time we liked Brad Pitt on screen.
The Wolf of Wall Street, 2013
Hookers and blow, baby, hookers and blow. The Wolf of Wall Street is frivolous, hedonistic and completely unnecessary, but, incredibly, the true tale of former stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Martin Scorsese’s robbedof-an-oscar epic is about Leo as much as Margot and ‘that’ scene. And it sits next to Her and Inside Llewyn Davis as the year’s best.
There’s no doubt Nightcrawler and Whiplash were both great films, but Boyhood is undoubtedly the biggest cinematic feat of 2015. Filmed over 12 years, it follows Mason Evans Jr (Ellar Coltrane) from six to 18. Also starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette – who were on board for the full duration of filming – Boyhood won over the critics, landing six Oscar nominations and a slew of Golden Globe wins. But even if you disliked the film, there’s no denying it’s a seriously impressive piece of cinema.
Ex Machina, 2015
Without doubt 2015 was a big year for film, with Ant-man, The Big Short and, of course, Leo’s Oscar-winning turn in The Revenant. But our pick is the dark, atmospheric thriller Ex Machina. Starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, it follows a tech CEO who’s developed a humanoid robot. But it’s also about a lot more than that, as the plot expands to pose questions about the interaction between humans and machines, consciousness and even gender. It’s a complex, beautifully shot film with performances that prove there’s still plenty of depth in the Hollywood talent pool.
Nocturnal Animals, 2016
When Tom Ford first announced he was trying his hand at filmmaking, many were quick to dismiss him as a bored fashion designer with too much time on his hands. The critics aren’t saying that anymore. A Single Man, his 2009 debut starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, was fantastic but Nocturnal Animals lifts the bar even higher. Though Ford was always going to produce a beautifullooking film, it’s the cast that makes this memorable, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon delivering primal, haunting performances that stay with you long after the credits.