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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.

In­cep­tion, 2010

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.

Drive, 2011

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.

Boy­hood, 2014

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.

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