5. Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones has become an interesting figure within the world of fantasy and science fiction filmmaking, having helmed a series of bold, high concept ideas to varying degrees of success. Jones would go on to direct the Hitchcockian sci-fi thriller Source Code, the big budget fantasy epic Warcraft, and the ambitious techno thriller Mute, but his best film remains his directorial debut Moon. Moon tells the story of Sam (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut who lives alone on a lunar base and begins to experience strange phenomenon.
Sam Rockwell is among the best actors of his generation, and is someone who generally takes on quirky characters or supporting roles, so it is exciting to see him land a dynamic leading role like this. Rockwell brings his signature personality and humor to the role, and he does well at handling the film’s mind blowing twists, which reveal Sam to not be quite the character he once thought himself to be. In addition to the film’s stark emotional quality, which revolves around the nature of isolation and loneliness, it is often ranked among the most scientifically accurate space movies.
4. Chasing Amy (1997)
Without a doubt, Kevin Smith is a pioneer in independent filmmaking, and while his later films would be considered more divisive and controversial, the early films within the View Askewniverse were breakthroughs in making small, dialogue driven character-based comedies. Smith’s early films are often characterized by their raunchy humor, pop culture references, and depictions of dating and relationships, and while they often draw on humorous adolescent antics, Chasing Amy is easily his most mature film to date. The film elevates Smith’s style into something even more profound that explores the different ways in which people express love.
Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career as Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who lives with his longtime best friend Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). Holden becomes infatuated with fellow artist Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), and upon discovering that she’s a lesbian, Holden must find a different way of expressing his affections. The depiction of romantic love as subjective and fluid was a breakthrough at the time, and Smith handles the discourse with a surprising degree of sensitivity.
3. Donnie Brasco (1997)
In the catalogue of great mob movies, Donnie Brasco deserves a high ranking, as it is the rare crime film where both the cops and criminals are emotionally resonant characters. Johnny Depp is often intertwined with his wackiest, most outrageous roles, but he’s rarely been better than he is here as a down to Earth, honest FBI Agent. Depp’s character Joseph Pistone goes undercover within the mafia under the alias of Donnie Brasco and becomes mentored by veteran mobster Lefty (Al Pacino), and as he spends more time undercover, Joseph’s view of both sides of the law begins to change.
It’s one of the best undercover cop movies because it takes the audience through the process of fabricating a false persona. Joseph has to make friendships with the made men in order to gain intel, but Lefty becomes someone who he actually confides in; in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film, Lefty offers Donnie to stay with him during the holidays just so he won’t be alone. The effects that the eventual sting have on their relationship is heartbreaking, and both Depp and Pacino give some of their most subtle performances ever.
2. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
A film that is emotionally impactful is often one that is surprising, and that is certainly the case with Derek Cianfrance’s crime masterpiece The Place Beyond the Pines. The film sets up the dynamic between two men who haven’t even met; Luke Glaton (Ryan Gosling) is a biking stuntman who turns to robbing banks in order to provide for his wife (Eva Mendes) and newborn son, and Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a novice cop who is caught up within a conspiracy of corruption. A chance encounter between the two ends up intertwining their families forever.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss the story without going deep into spoilers, as Cianfrance finds a delicate way of transitioning between perspectives and timelines over three distinct acts, each of which build on the themes of consequence and legacy. Each character is dynamic and multifaceted, and seeing the stories combine is emotionally impactful, as the viewer is sympathetic to both men. Ending with a well realized third act that is both formally thrilling and beautifully existential, The Place Beyond the Pines is a bold reworking of the crime epic.
1. The End of the Tour (2015)
This criminally underseen 2015 independent film is one of the all-time great films about the nature of writing, a mesmerizing look at loneliness, inspiration, and communication. Based on the true story, the film follows Rolling Stone reporter David Lispky (Jesse Eisenberg) as he profiles legendary author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal) on a book tour for his legendary novel Infinite Jest. Lipsky and Wallace journey together over the course of a quiet tour together, and while Wallace is somewhat resistant to the publicity, both men end up revealing something about themselves.
The way in which The End of the Tour depicts its characters is gradual and restrained; Wallace is guarded when he talks about his personal issues, which gradually strains on Lipsky, who seeks to understand Wallace as both a journalist and a fan of his work. Eisenberg offers an elevated take on the fast talking, nervous type of character he usually plays, and Segal gives a revelatory dramatic turn as the reclusive author; it is a shame he was snubbed of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Any film fan interested in the writing process should take the opportunity to watch this deeply moving film on Netflix.