6. The New World
“The New World” is about the founding of the Jamestown settlement, focusing primarily on the life of Pocahontas and her relationships with John Smith and John Rolfe. Directed by Terrence Malick and starring Colin Farrell and Christian Bale, the movie has a more linear direction than some of his more recent efforts.
Both actors are fine in the movie, but are completely upstaged by newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, who not only looks the actual age Pocahontas would be at that time, but also conveys the innocence a young Native American might have after seeing Europeans for the first time. In reality, though, they all take a back seat to Malick’s direction and his unique way of making movies.
Malick has always been a brilliant director, but at times, given his focus on visuals, his movies sometimes come across as lean and drawn out, which can put off the normal non-arthouse moviegoer.
Although “The New World” contains his usual focused cinematography and his unique view at looking at our world, it also contains a nice story that keeps the movie moving at a good pace. It’s a throwback movie for him that reminds you of the 1970s, when he was making movies like “Days of Heaven” and “Badlands”.
Directed by Larry Clark and starring a cast of largely unknown actors, “Bully” tells the true story of a group kids who help one of their own kill a local bully. Filmed in a documentary style, this is a dark movie that doesn’t shy away from the brutal details of the crime, nor does it sugarcoat the attitudes of kids that lack parental oversight.
This movie is not for everyone, since Clark has always been a director willing to go where others would not, but those brave enough will find a tightly-woven story about kids who do not know where the line that shouldn’t be crossed might be.
Clark has always been a controversial director who’s willing to push the limits of voyeurism in regards to what he will show when it comes teenage sexual behavior. Anyone who has seen “Kids” or the little-seen “Ken Park” will know that he crosses the line on more than one occasion.
It’s why his movies have problems getting distributors, and with the exception of “Bully”, are never shown on cable. In “Bully”, however, Clark seems less focused on the sexual behavior of teens and more on what drives them to commit murder. It’s a shame he has never made more movies that are story-driven because he seems to have a keen eye for the darker side of teenagers.
8. The Wonder Boys
“The Wonder Boys” is about a college professor and bestselling author trying who’s not only dealing with writer’s block, but also dealing with his wife leaving him, the fact that his mistress is pregnant, his publisher (who’s about to be fired) being in town and hounding him about his next book, and also trying to help a young college student get his life together.
Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, and especially Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr., put in engaging performances in what is an enjoyable and uplifting movie. All the actors seem to be having fun, and with a smart script, the movie will leave with a grin on more than one occasion.
What is nice about “The Wonder Boys” is that it’s a comedy geared toward adults and not an “R” rated movie marketed to the under-30 crowd. It deals with adult themes in a humorous and honest way without the need to go down the low road.
Too many of today’s adult comedies are simply teen comedies in disguise, with “Bad Grandpa” being an example of this. It’s really a shame that the movie didn’t do well at the box office, and it would be nice getting these actors together again in sequel and seeing where they take these characters many years down the road.
9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” stars Forest Whitaker as a mafia hitman who lives his life modeled after the samurai code. When the daughter of a mob boss witnesses one of his hits, he finds himself dispensable and the target of his bosses.
The story runs parallel to the relationships he has with a Haitian ice cream seller and a young girl who shares an interest with him in books. Bypassing the normal action-oriented direction movies, “Ghost Dog” is more character-driven and introspective than movies like this tend to be.
What keeps the movie from bogging down is Whitaker’s lead performance. A character actor who is usually relegated to supporting roles, here he takes center stage and, like he did in “The Last King of Scotland”, shows a total commitment to the character he is portraying.
He has always been an actor who has been willing to take chances with the parts he chooses and because of his commitment to the character, he elevates what could have been just another in a long list of movies about mob hit man on the run.
10. Little Children
“Little Children” tells the story of a suburban neighborhood through the eyes of several of its residents. On the outside, you see a normal upper-middle-class neighborhood of well-to-do families living their lives, but lurking underneath they are unhappy and looking for change.
Starring Kate Winslet as a unsatisfied wife who starts an affair with one of her neighbors, we are lead through the underbelly of the neighborhood as we also get to see the viewpoint of the man with whom she is having an affair, a registered sex offender just released from jail, and a retired police officer who is fixated on driving him away.
Winslet has always been an actress who’s not afraid to take chances in her choice of movie roles, and she seems to be the perfect choice to lead this movie.
As good as she is, though, it is Jackie Earle Haley who really shines through as the sex offender. No attempt was made in the script to gloss over the crimes he has committed, and in at least one scene, it is quite apparent that he is a very disturbed individual. But Haley gives a layered performance that allows sympathy for the character, while at the same time, you’re disgusted with who this individual actually is.
As good as the acting is, though, it’s really the script that shines. It is well paced, compelling, and at times emotionally heartbreaking, and it leaves the viewer with plenty to think about well after the movie is over.