14. American Beauty (1999)
Sam Mendes’ directorial debut is a killer. It’s a dark look at modern suburban life with some truly great performances and big laughs. Kevin Spacey, in his Oscar winning role, is Lester Burnham, an office worker who has a midlife crisis when he becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). The film has us rooting for him in his attempts to impress her while being completely oblivious to his wife’s affair and daughter’s relationship with his neighbor.
Watching “American Beauty”, one can easily see the film being made with the class of American cinema emerging in the late 50’s and early 60’s with it’s screwball antics and sexual perversity…though it would have been heavily censored like Stanley Kubrick’s similar outing “Lolita”. But the final act of the film revolves around some big comic misunderstandings one would get from the classic screwballs.
“American Beauty” was really the kind of film that was waiting to be made – fresh, bold and grounded in reality; the perfect blending of director, script and performance that will never come again.
15. Snatch (2000)
When Guy Ritchie exploded onto the scene in 1997 with “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”- a quirky crime comedy – he was immediately hailed as the British Tarantino for his stylistic choices and writing style. His follow up film “Snatch” provided the perfect companion piece to his debut and is arguably his “Pulp Fiction”.
There are may similarities to be found between both directors’ multi-layered second features beginning with the quirky rambling duo Turkish (Jason Statham) and his partner Tommy (Stephen Graham) going about their tricky “business” deeds, Brad Pitt’s boxer that must throw the fight but instead kills his opponent, and the valuable contents of a briefcase.
With its circular plot that’s full of surprises and ironic twists, “Snatch” sees the perfect blend of Ritchie’s unique style, clearly developed over years as a music video director. While he may not have made particularly worthy films since, “Snatch” is definitely a fun ride through the British and American crime underworld that manages to deliver some real belly laughs around stylized violence and carnage. The film is a product of a confident writer/director digging into an almost endless bag of tricks.
16. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005)
It’s not Christmas without Shane Black. And on this holy night, Harry (Robert Downey Jr.) is seen fleeing a botched burglary. He evades police by ducking into an audition…. where he wows the producers with a true and remorseful performance. Harry is then paired with private detective ‘Gay’ Perry (Val Kilmer) to offer on the job experience in preparation for his upcoming role. Soon, the two become involved in a complex murder plot.
Shane Black brings us another detective duo in the spirit of his earlier buddy cop film ‘Lethal Weapon’. Here, he takes on the hard-boiled/murder mystery and weaves an intriguing web for our oddball duo to follow. With some witty dialogue, inept detective methods and one of the funniest first person narrations, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” was a great comeback for Black.
17. Death At A Funeral (2007)
The master of the force himself, Frank Oz – that’s right, Yoda – directs this hilarious parade of family members and their oddball guests as they attend the funeral of the patriarch.
The films centers around Matthew Macfadyen’s Daniel who must deal with his dysfunctional family and colorful guests over the course of a day at the family home where he just wants to give his father a warming final send off. Right from the start, the stage is set for hilarious misunderstanding with the delivery of the wrong body to the house. What follows is one debacle after another with a guest mistakenly taking hallucinogenic and Peter Dinklage as the dwarf lover of the recently deceased who attempts to blackmail Daniel.
While Oz has made some dry attempts in the genre on previous outings like “Bowfinger”, here he finds his touch with the genre under screenwriter Neil Labute whose stage plays voiced his unique study of the human condition in darkly twisted and funny ways. The humor is simultaneously sophisticated, supremely silly and very dark with touches of farce and slapstick, and never slows down in delivering.
This is a film that has clearly been influenced by the great dark comedies before it and knows exactly what it’s doing. It is a modern black comic treasure that the Americans unfortunately got very wrong in remaking… misunderstanding the term black comedy and literally filling it with an African American cast. For pure simplicity and subtly, the original is a fine offering.
18. In Bruges (2008)
“In Bruges” is the bold and bloody feature film debut of Irishman Martin McDonagh. McDonagh already cemented himself as a staple writer and director of the genre with stage plays like “The Leutennant of Inishmore” and “The Pillowman” as well as the hilariously dark and twisted Oscar nominated short “Six Shooter”.
“In Bruges” sees McDonagh take his bloody carnage and wit to the big screen with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell playing two hit men who, after a terrible unforeseen tragedy, are forced to hideout in Bruges – it’s in Belgium. Here, they engage in witty ramblings made lyrical by their wonderful Irish tones as they wait it out to hear from the boss – a scene stealing Ralph Fiennes.
Carried by its terrific performances, McDonagh revels behind the camera at the beautiful landmarks that Bruges has to offer as he sets the seeds for the bloody violence that drips through the picture in a stark and often funny contrast. But McDonagh brings a lot more than laughs. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious and when it’s serious, it’s really powerful and often moving.
19. A Serious Man (2009)
The second Coen Brother’s film on the list is an absurd kaleidoscope trip back to the 60’s. Ripe with rich philosophy on the logical and path of life, the film follows Michael Stuhlbarg as Minnesota Jewish man Larry Gopnik, a mathematics teacher, whose life begins to unravel over multiple sudden incidents beginning with his wife leaving him. Just as things feel like that they can’t get any worse, things keep going downhill.
While many viewers may feel a little left out of many of the small and subtle plot strands that the film has to offer due to its very overtly Jewish recalling the Coen Brothers’ nostalgic Jewish upbringing, there are many joys to be had with the film.
Sure it can really speak to the Jewish man – I mean who wouldn’t rather have been stoned at their Bah Mitzvah – but it’s a universal portrait of the human condition. There are things in our control and there are things out of control. Let the film take you where it needs to take you and think later. It’s a rare film that becomes funnier with every watch.
20. Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Martin McDonough’s follow up to “In Bruges” is a convoluted tale about screenwriter Marty, played by Colin Farrell in another hilarious performance, struggling to finish his latest screenplay Seven Psychopaths. His friends portrayed by scene stealing Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken are dog kidnappers who steal the wrong guy’s dog. From there the trio must evade more McDonagh-style carnage.
The film is a fun, self-referencing thrill ride with hilarious dark overtones (often recalling films like “Scream”) which explores the artist and his inspiration as many staple genre clichés like ‘the big shootout’. With great performances, and a stellar script, Mcdonagh proves his films are definitely something to look out for.
Author Bio: Jeremy is a young student from Sydney, Australia. He studies filmmaking alongside work at his local cinema. Perfect conditions for a cinephile.