14. Mystic River (2003)
Clint Eastwood’s cinematic manifestation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, “Mystic River”, is a troubling portrait of the resonating effects of child abuse.
The film commences under a cloud of sorrow, after we realize that David (Tim Robbins) was molested as a child. This is obviously intensified once Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, and Jimmy (Sean Penn) angrily and relentlessly searches for answers. His anger becomes blinding, in so far that he believes that David was responsible for his daughter’s death.
The film ends on a more depressing note than on which it began, conveying the way in which these tainted friendships further collapse after tragedy.
13. Ida (2013)
Filmed in morbid black and white, “Ida” is a film about the limitations religious observance places on its subjects. Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is apparently reduced to a shell of a person because of her association with the church. The rest of the film, punctuated by slow and examining camera movement, follows Ida as she looks to her family’s past, as well as her own future.
The way in which Ida is visually presented is paramount in creating a sad, pensive atmosphere. Trzebuchowska’s expert acting, namely her innocent but worried looks, helps to reinforce the overarching tone of the film. Moreover, the film makes intelligent allusions to the horror and anguish that has undoubtedly been felt in modern Poland.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
On the surface, and in consideration of the Coen brothers’ other films, “Inside Llewyn Davis” seems to be a comedy. It places the titular character, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), in a number of strange and awkward situations that elicit equally bizarre responses from him. The comedy, though, acts to cut through to and highlight the real core of the film: that despite Llewyn’s obvious talent, he is ultimately a failure.
The Coen brothers smartly bleach the film of its color, opting to present us with a weathered, anaemic picture of ‘60s New York. Even though Llewyn is presented as hubristic and unlikeable, as exemplified in his exchanges with ex-girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan), we still see him as a sympathetic, pitiful figure. Therein lies the tragedy of a talented man consigning himself to a world of artistic invisibility.
11. Melancholia (2011)
Lars von Trier’s film is a profound cerebral and visual piece on the dangerous depths of psychological withdrawal and depression. The large-scale, meticulous imagery von Trier employs gives us a sense of Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) internal affairs, while also conveying to us that human existence is brief and insignificant, but nonetheless fraught.
The first act of the film is defined by Justine’s impending marriage. Despite the glamour that surrounds her, her withdrawal from the event is palpable. This is facilitated by von Trier’s invasive but grandiose use of mise-en-scene and the camera.
The second act, reaching beyond Justine’s personal problems, confronts the existential crisis of a another planet hurling itself towards Earth. This is presented as all-encompassing and a moment of undefined despair for Justine and also her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg). In particular, von Trier employs grand, overwhelming imagery of Earth’s impending doom to remind us of human finitude and helplessness in such a moment of environmental catastrophe.
10. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
The second appearance of the Coen brothers on this list, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is perhaps the best piece of neo-noir filmmaking of the 21st century.
It feels strange to us that the Coen brothers were the auteurs that created this film, by virtue of their almost strict adherence to making quirky, idiosyncratic films. Nonetheless, it is clear that “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is a kind of homage to the greatness of the noir period in the ‘40s.
Owing to the genre in which this film undoubtedly fits, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is steeped in a lonesome sensibility. It speaks heavily to the problems surreptitiously embedded in the ideal of the “American Dream.” In demystifying, and to some extent, debunking the idealism of America, the film takes on a much darker and disheartening tone.
Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) attempts to expand his barber business through questionable means: blackmail. Nonetheless, his plan fails, and he is falsely accused of murder. His unjust end shows a different, more harsh nature of reality; namely that the world is not black and white.
9. 25th Hour (2002)
Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” is a powerful meditation on the inevitability of loss. On the face of it, the film follows Monty (Edward Norton) as he tries to make the most of his last days of freedom. The state has discovered that he is a drug dealer.
The film also plays against the background of 9/11. This was done quite expertly by Lee, to weigh down the film in the reality of most New York citizens after that tragic day. This choice helps to establish the film’s tone as dispiriting, as Monty’s imminent imprisonment is an obvious source of sadness for him and his own friends.
As Lee presents Monty as a normal, relatable figure, we as an audience also feel a degree of sadness for his future. Consequently, what transpires in the film, particularly near the end wherein Monty breaks down in front of his friends, is embellished with tangible internal agony.
However, a sense of regeneration emerges late in the film, both in the respect of New York after 9/11, and also in Monty eventually regaining his freedom and making the most of his existence.
8. Winter Sleep (2013)
This Turkish film runs for more than three hours, but can nonetheless be described as a taut examination of a man, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a former actor who runs a hotel in a secluded part in Turkey. The film utilizes the landscape presented in a way that evokes the quelled spirit of a man who is a shadow of a more vital version of himself.
The film mainly runs through piles upon piles of dialogue, and to an unwitting viewer, this amount of dialogue seems boring and unnecessary. However, it communicates something essential about “Winter Sleep”: that Aydin’s psychological and situational position has led him to an untenably disconcerting air of egotism and male loneliness.
Thus, the unremitting dialogue shows how Aydin is so concerned with his own views and opinions and on imposing them on his sister and much younger wife.
The film does not let us take an easy way out in confronting the flawed humanity of Aydin, as the camera often focuses on him for long periods of time. We are therefore forced to see this man in the habitat and psychological state that has facilitated his current dispositions.
The film is a prevailing exploration of male dislocation and the problems that arise from attempting to construct an identity into which oneself does not fit.