7. Drive (2011)
Here is a brilliant example of a simple concept executed with blazing style and daring originality that elevates it to a refreshing level rarely seen by the likes of Hollywood. Ryan Gosling reinvents himself onscreen by going from “that dude from the Notebook” to playing one of the first tried and true cinematic badasses of the twenty-first century.
With a soundtrack that illuminates the neon city lights seen through the character Gosling portrays with daring bravery, prepare to witness a visual transformation that makes him the leading man he is today. The character known only as The Driver, is a Hollywood stuntman for hire by day and a getaway driver for bank robbers, diamond thieves and anyone else looking for the ultimate wheelman by night.
The Driver doesn’t say much and doesn’t have to by truly embodying the concept that “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words”. When the Driver gets involved with an aging gangster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) through his shady manager Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the Driver gets his hands on a big score with the East Coast mob on his tail.
Get ready for a scorching crime caper that marries sound and motion beautifully with actions sequences that’ll spike your veins with pure adrenaline. Here is a movie that builds to one of the great emotional and visual crescendos Hollywood has delivered in ages.
6. Prisoners (2013)
This film tells the tale of an average Dad that goes to extraordinary lengths after he loses his mid after his daughter and her friend disappear while playing in front of his house on Thanksgiving.
Hugh Jackman delivers the performance fans have been dying to see as one man with nothing to lose after his daughter is gone and is out for blood until he gets her back. Although the plotline might sound thin on paper, the rotating cast of multidimensional characters involved in this atmospheric thriller flesh out the story in unpredictable ways that keep this from being an ordinary film.
The supporting cast includes Paul Dano as a mysterious loner with a history of child abuse and Jake Gyllenhaal portraying Detective Loki, the restless cop with a chip on both shoulders on the hunt for a torturous psychopath. Prisoners ultimately succeeds by taking a basic concept and unraveling it in surprising directions while developing multiple characters and a daring plotline simultaneously which keeps it unpredictable and has an ending that will leave viewers speechless.
5. City of God (2002)
This mesmerizing journey through the world of ex-child soldiers turned cocaine dealers looking to rise through the ranks of their own criminal empire is enough to shock anyone. Not only is the film based on a true story, and it is truly hypnotic in the way the story is told because the performances are so natural from a cast of children.
One of the other intriguing factors about this film is that it is shot so much like a documentary you almost forget you are watching film instead of real life unfold before your eyes. Not only are these children in the midst of their own savage fight for survival, but it’s that not only are they robbed of their childhood in doing so by becoming a product of their harsh environment.
When these kids should be learning to read, playing soccer or getting grounded by their parents, they’re running wild with black market machine guns while they’re wired on enough cocaine to put Scarface to shame.
The story is told with relentlessly gripping realism through the eyes of a boy nicknamed Rocket as he photographs a gang war during the rise of an older boy named Lil Z through the cocaine game. As Rocket watches his friends succumb to gang life, gun fire, drug addiction or the soul-crushing depression of all three, it’s almost impossible not to sympathize with how these are everyday occurrences in their third world lives.
4. Nightcrawler (2014)
This movie descends into the depraved mind of the petty thief Louis Bloom that thrives on his own self-imposed isolation as he looks for a legitimate job that will bend to his own grey morality. When Louis encounters a car crash while driving home one night he sees a renegade camera crew begin filming the raw human carnage for television news.
When Louis discovers the people filming these accidents and other crimes in progress are freelancers that barter with news stations for the best deal in town and turn out a profit, he becomes hooked within seconds. Louis begins to live vicariously through his camera filming the aftermath of gangland shootings, devastating fires and home invasions; he not only begins to make a living off of it but begins to live for the thrill of the chase.
Once Louis becomes addicted to the rush of watching stories unfold in front of him and becomes a full-blown thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie, he gets too close to a drug related homicide and is now a part of the story itself. Essentially the film is a character study of a man that experiences reality vicariously through his news coverage and is infinitely more fascinated with the dark side of human nature than human beings themselves. Think Taxi Driver with a video camera in the twenty-first century.
3. The Raid (2011)
Easily one of the most unforgettable action films of all time, not just the last fifteen years. The Raid combines mind-blowing martial arts with enough gunfire to make the Rambo series look like a Disney movie and even leave John Woo fans singing its praises.
The story centers around a SWAT team trapped inside a the headquarters of a hit squad of wanted criminals that aren’t afraid to kill cops in a race to see who’s the last man standing. As both sides fight their way to survival floor by floor, there are enough eye-popping action sequences to make you forget about who will win or lose, but who will SURVIVE.
The film isn’t strictly a visual feast, it is definitely a familiar concept told in an original way with enough compelling characters to fuel the highly anticipated sequel well worth watching. This film serves as dynamite reminder that no one does action movies like the bad boys of the Hong Kong cinema scene that only pack a punch but will keep your mind ticking like a time bomb until the explosive climax.
2. The Departed (2006)
Although it is a remake of Infernal Affairs, no one can quite make a gritty film with the daring realism when it comes to violence, greed and human behaviour like the legendary Martin Scorsese. Scorsese isn’t a newcomer to this type of material after setting the bar with monumental crime masterpieces like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Casino, but he reinvigorated the current chapter of his modern catalogue with this cinematic cornerstone.
Not only does Leo finally shed his onscreen pretty boy persona by playing the gritty Billy Costigan that’ll spit bullets at anyone who looks at him the wrong way, the rest of the cast is firing on all cylinders.
Jack Nicholson plays the fire-breathing Irish Don Frank Costello that’s based on real-life gangster turned informant James “Whitey” Bulger, who is getting the Hollywood treatment in the upcoming film “Black Mass” with Johnny Depp playing Bulger. Nicholson takes on the role of a lifetime as a criminal that’s equally crystallized by his womanizing charisma and his furious temper fuelled by cocaine and deceit.
On top of that Matt Damon plays the ultimate snake charmer lying his way out of hot water at every turn while Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg are always one step behind him.
This film has a script that ticks like a Swiss watch thanks to William Monahan by the way he masterfully adapted all three installments of Infernal Affairs into one script that makes two and a half hours fly by like a bullet out of a gun. When it comes to American crime films, here’s another modern classic from the one and only Martin Scorsese with his signature flare.
1. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher delivers the mystery of a lifetime about the legendary Zodiac killer that was on the loose for decades in San Francisco who taunted the media, puzzled police and got away with it all. Not only is the film delivered in refined form through its elaborate cinematography and eerie soundtrack, but it also has an unnerving atmosphere throughout the story because it’s shockingly true to life.
The film revolves around the dramatic trio of underdogs whose lives unravel trying to crack the cipher behind a true mad man that shrouds himself in secrecy but hides right out in public as he murders his victims with pure pleasure. Mark Ruffalo gives the performance of his career as Inspector David Toschi, who despite his brilliance as a cop to adapt to the criminal mind, he can’t quite wrap his head around the thoughts of this particular sadistic genius.
Next up there’s Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the newspaper the Zodiac killer sends puzzles to as he develops the disturbing theory that terrifies everyone because it might be true. Robert Downey Jr. began the comeback of his career with Zodiac as crime reporter Paul Avery that develops the story of the Zodiac Killer so far he descends into alcoholic madness while he loses his mind.
This is one film that is terrifying in its truth, astonishing in its visual depth and breathtaking in its atmosphere.
Author Bio: Alex Young writes journalism, web content and sold his first film script in 2012 to A Better Tomorrow Productions entitled “Bloody Knuckles”. He is a senior contributor to Lithium Magazine and has interviewed artists including Carlos Santana along with members of the Foo Fighters, Judas Priest and Motörhead. He’s a new contributor to Taste of Cinema and is currently finishing his first feature length screenplay.