5. The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)
Over the last few years David O. Russell’s name has become synonymous with success as he has seen his films gain one Oscar nomination after another across various categories, such directing, screenplay, film editing and the performances of the main cast. The Fighter is one such case.
The film tells the story of Micky Ward (generally known as “Irish”), a welterweight boxer who tries to find his own way in the boxing business, having his mother as a manager and his cocaine-addicted brother, Dicky, as a trainer.
Things are not looking bright for Micky as his mother is arranging his fights according to her own financial interests, while at the same time Dicky gets into trouble because of his drug addiction and his temperamental personality. While other boxers tend to use Micky as a scapegoat, he tries to cope with his multitudinous family as well as his beloved fiancée who seems to be the only voice of reason.
The Fighter is an autobiographical sports drama that became an instant sensation thanks to the powerful performances delivered by the leading actors. Christian Bale received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on account of his tremendous acting prowess.
Emaciated once more for the needs of his role as Dicky Eklund, Christian Bale’s portrayal of a drug addicted ex-boxer who sees his life wither away because of substance abuse is one of the best parts of an exceptional movie. David O. Russell and his team have become widely known for their tight script and the well-constructed characters.
Everything in this film screams talent. Apart from Bale and his dedicated acting, Melissa Leo also received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her perfect portrayal of an ambitious but loving mother whose acts have catastrophic consequences for her two sons.
It has become a common thing for the audience to get strong, varied performances by the leading cast of a O. Russell film so that the attention is not drawn to the more technical details. However, he can also create admirable sets in which his actors deliver knockout performances, as happened in his most recent film American Hustle.
4. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
The contemporary cinematic growth of the superhero industry owes a great deal of its maturity and success to Christopher Nolan, a man with a plan who redefined the superhero film. He steered it away from its previous cartoonish form to a new era of spectacular audiovisual effects, flawed heroes and damaged patriotism.
In the corrupt city of Gotham, Batman rises once again to take apart the remaining sources of organized crime, this time with the help of Lieutenant Gordon and Harvey Dent, a young and selfless district attorney. However, they soon find themselves in the firing line of a rapidly rising mastermind named Joker – an insane, psychotic man that wants to plunge Gotham into chaos.
The Dark Knight was the role that made Christian Bale known to a wider audience, even though his presence and interpretive talent were already recognized by the film industry.
Once again, along with his brother Jonathan, Christopher Nolan was able to establish a perfectly crafted world for the hero, where heroism is used as a means to convey trust and security to the citizens of the iconic metropolis, with the Dark Knight acting as a protector who constantly remains in shadows.
The adult truth behind the ugly, smiley face of the Joker (outstandingly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger) is that under the seemingly childish caprices of a sorrowful buffoon hides a maleficent force, a terrorist fury that can devour a faltering society such as Gotham, in a matter of days.
The truly remarkable idea behind the concept of Joker in Τhe Dark Knight is precisely the fact that he wants to take advantage of Gotham’s unethical society, turning everyone against one another and watch Gotham be torn apart from the inside out by her own self-destructure, immoral citizens.
In addition to the stunning and perfectly choreographed action scenes, the awesome, energetic soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight is an exceptional superhero film that does not fail to deliver. The film presents one of the greatest villains to ever grace a big screen, contrasts the pure evil of his character with the morality of a man of strong moral fibre, creating a powerful antithesis that runs throughout the story.
3. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
Cinema is the art of illusion and Christopher Nolan knows exactly how to enchant the audience. The beautifully crafted film Τhe Prestige is a story about human obsession, the need to stand out and especially the confrontation with the ultimate adversary: oneself.
Robert Angier and Alfred Borden are friends and assistants of a well-known magician in 19th century London. Julia is Robert’s beautiful wife who is part of the team, helping with the tricks and giving the magical acts a touch of feminine charm. One tragic day Julia dies during a risky performance.
Robert blames Alfred for her death as he was responsible for a crucial step of the magic trick in which she lost her life. From then on the two men become enemies, but also renowned magicians both in pursuit of the ultimate trick. When Alfred becomes famous for his ‘Transported Man Trick’, Robert becomes obsessed with uncovering the trick behind Alfred’s impressive act and sabotaging Alfred once and for all.
The Prestige is perfect food for thought. The Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan, weave a complex, but delicate web of a story that is never what is seems – the sign of an exceptionally well-written script. Cultivating an atmosphere of suspense that reaches its peak at the end of the film when the truth is magnificently unveiled, Nolan builds a world of deception, rivalry and illusions – a battlefield between two men who have nothing left to lose other than their magical inspiration.
Assembling a talented cast consisting of Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Nolan manages to draw a parallel between the fragile human condition and a difficult and dangerous magic act: regardless of your persistence, your sacrifices and your strenuous efforts to succeed and ‘amaze the crowds’, you never know who is going to end up in the box full of water under the stage. The true value of The Prestige lies precisely there, between the search for the truth and the power to endure it.
2. American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Before Christian Bale become widely known for his role as Batman, the masked vigilante responsible for protecting Gotham city from crime, he had already given one of the most stunning performances of his career as Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, American Psycho.
During the late ‘80s, Patrick Bateman is living his own American Dream as a handsome, wealthy investment banker, pretty much doing whatever he wants. Drugs, women, sex and the cultivation of ego and social status are all items on his daily agenda, designed to maintain the façade of a man of his time.
However, Patrick is not like the others. He is not just another random guy who wants to have fun, party and live the extravagant lifestyle of the ‘80s. He is something far more cynical and dark. He is the materialistic manifestation of madness itself, a devil in disguise.
There are a lot of things that made American Psycho a cult gem and an instant classic. Firstly, it is based on the tremendously influential novel by Bret Easton Ellis which is a biting satire on the total enslavement of man by materialism: from the brand of the suit, to the well polished shoes and the silk tie, to the ‘reservation for two’ at the most hip restaurant (that is Dorsia) and the general obsession with perfection, Ellis builds a soulless world where everything revolves around money, prestige and death.
Secondly, American Psycho is directed by a woman, Mary Harron, whose adaptation of Ellis’s work is simply spectacular. Handling the story with respect and keeping the film true to the book’s social satire, she does a terrific job presenting a morally and ethically bereft world, through the distorted perspective of the main hero.
Finally, Christian Bale gives a top-notch performance as the psychotic Patrick Bateman, succeeding in creating of a misogynist monster lurking in the dark and ready to attack in order to satisfy his morbid, sexual hunger.
At a time where narcissism rules and everyone is focused solely on themselves, American Psycho works as a warning sign of what we might become if we continue to be indifferent to the world around us. We will sink into depravity and chaos and the only thing that we will care about will be to return some videotapes…
1. The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004)
Trevor Reznik is a lonely machinist who works at a factory and suffers from severe insomnia, having not been able to sleep for a year. The consequences of this are very serious. Trevor has become shockingly emaciated and when a strange co-worker named Ivan begins to ‘stalk’ him, he gradually starts to question his own sanity, and his everyday life becomes even more complicated.
Finding himself amidst laconicly written post-its that seem to appear out of thin air, an increasingly hostile professional environment and an encounter with two mysterious women, Trevor starts a slow descent into paranoia. And the only way to claim his sanity back is to walk alone through the doors of his inner Hell.
The Machinist is a dark, psychological thriller that explores the process of human transformation through the labyrinth of memory and oblivion. It sets the stage for a superb one-man show, with mythological overtones and clear reference to Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of Trevor Reznik, a modern tragic hero, who must pay the price for his past mistakes in order to achieve a personal catharsis, is considered one of the most dedicated performances in recent cinema history. His extraordinary weight loss and his complete commitment to the creators’ vision played a key role in his depiction of the character.
Reznik is a troubled soul, manifesting a psychological separation between the confused man he currently is and the man he could be, if and only if he had the strength to face the appalling truth.
Brad Anderson’s suspenseful direction perfectly complements Scott Kosar’s inspired script. The story unfolds backwards – thus reminding us of Christopher Nolan’s Memento – and progresses towards the unveiling of the reason behind the hero’s mental and physical breakdown.
Following the steps of great and atmospheric directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski, Anderson creates a nightmarish, claustrophobic setting where everyone must deal with the consequences of their actions. Only a clear conscience will set them free from their demons.
Inspired by the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, an author known for his interest in mortality and his fascination with the wrenched soul syndrome, Scott Kosar gave Trevor Reznik his own personal devil, a voice of conscience – just as in The Brothers Karamazov Ivan is visited by the devil. In The Machinist, both Ivan and the devil are present, a dual-natured creature brought to life by Christian Bale.
Author Bio: Barbara Kontoni is a huge fan of cinema, currently she is a chief editor at Reel.gr, as well as en editor at Cine.gr and she is completing her postgraduate in Communication and Mass Media. She loves everything that has to do with films and some of her favorite ones are “Citizen Cane”, “Fight Club”, “M” and “12 Angry Men”.