Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Top 20 Dramas: Part 4, #1-5

My Top 20 Dramas (final part)

5. American Beauty (1999)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Thora Birch

American Beauty is the story of how Lester Burnham (Spacey) rebels against his boring lifestyle and acts to change it. He’s unhappy with his wife, Carolyn (Bening), while his daughter, Jane (Birch), barely acknowledges his existence. Mendes explores the difference between the image we present to other people and what actually goes on behind the scenes. There’s plenty of dark humor and this might just be Spacey’s best role. All three people make big changes and develop as characters throughout the film. It expresses feelings that a lot of people feel, but never do anything about.

My full review can be found here.

4. The Green Mile (1999)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan and David Morse

The best Stephen King adaptations are directed by Frank Darabont. The Green Mile is set in a prison in the 1930s and all of the inmates are waiting to be executed in the electric chair. It’s not a traditional prison story as all of the prisoners have their own cell and don’t come into contact with each other. The warders, led by Paul Edgcomb, have their world turned upside down when John Coffey (Duncan) arrives on the scene. Edgcomb, now an old man, narrates the story and everything we see happened when he was a young man. Coffey is a giant of a man, but is exceptionally quiet and gentle. I won’t reveal how he shakes things up because it would ruin the surprise. It’s a wonderful drama and Darabont takes his time telling the story. Don’t be put off by the 189-minute running time because you’ll probably be sorry that it’s over when it ends. It also has the best performance by a mouse in the history of motion pictures.

Click here for my full review.

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis

Reservoir Dogs was a promising debut and Pulp Fiction sees Tarantino take a step forward. His screenplay deservedly won the Oscar and it’s full of the realistic dialogue that’s found in all of his films. Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) play two killers. The most interesting thing about them is their conversations and outlook on life. Bruce Willis is also in the mix, playing a boxer who is paid to fix a fight and goes on the run after failing to keep his promise. The film is full of interesting characters. Christopher Walken appears in just one scene, but you’ll never forget it. Uma Thurman hinted at the potential she would eventually realize in the Kill Bill movies. The non-linear plot is a sequence of bizarre events rather than a coherent story, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s hard to pick a favourite Tarantino movie, but this currently has the edge.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins and Bob Gunton
Shawshank is another Stephen King story adapted by Frank Darabont and it’s also set in a prison. Andy Dufresne (Robbins) plays a man convicted of murdering his wife. Red (Freeman) befriends him and helps him adjust to prison life. The film has been criticized by some for manipulating our feelings, but don’t all movies aim do that? The pacing is slow, allowing us to feel the passage of time as Dufresne serves his long sentence. My favourite scene happens while several inmates are tarring a roof, but the film is full of memorable scenes. I doubt that Robbins or Freeman have ever delivered better performances. As with most Stephen King stories, there’s a real sense of justice by the conclusion. I’m not sure how many times I have seen Shawshank, but I know I’ll keep watching it on a regular basis.

1. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Naomi Watts. Laura Harring and Justin Theroux

David Lynch isn’t the easiest filmmaker to like. He doesn’t like explaining the meaning of anything and insists that you draw your own conclusions. Mulholland Dr. is particularly baffling on the first viewing. It’s unclear what’s happening and the whole film is turned on its head in the last 45 minutes. It makes the viewer question the validity of everything that has happened up to that point. Betty (Watts) plays a bright-eyed aspiring actress who befriends Rita (Harring); a woman suffering from amnesia following a car accident. Part of the story plays like a Nancy Drew mystery as the two try to find Rita’s true identity. In fact, the whole film is about identity. There’s an air of mystery throughout and numerous scenes filled with dark humor. It’s also actually quite frightening in places if you allow yourself to be drawn in. If it works for you, you’ll find yourself reading about the film and watching it again within a couple of days. If it fails, you’ll regret ever seeing it. I watched it two days running and have seen it many times since. This is the film that changed the way I think about cinema.

My full review can be found here.
See #16-20 on my list here.
See #11-15 on my list here.
See #6-10 on my list here.

I Hope that you enjoyed reading about my Top 20 dramas. Feel free to comment and add your own list.

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  1. Great list. I like Shawshank, but that's more like #10 for me.

  2. Thanks. Everyone's will be different of course. I'm not sure why I love Shawshank so much.