Big Night (Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott, 1996) [Main Picture]
Well, this is really two actor/directors for the price of one, and they’ve both gone on to helm interesting individual projects, such as Blind Date (Tucci, 2007) and Off The Map (Scott, 2003). But this multi-award winning drama is really the best of their work, revolving around a small-time Italian restaurant run by brothers Secondo (Tony Shalhoub) and Primo (Tucci), following their trials and tribulations in the kitchens and in love. As well as being a warm and affecting comedy/drama, beautifully written and observed (the final scene, a static shot, is masterful), Big Night also manages to do that rarest of things – evoke the sensation of smelling and eating food onscreen. The filmmakers clearly have as much of a passion for food as they do their characters, and you’ll come out of Big Night feeling dramatically full, but longing for some pasta. Job well done then.
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, 2002)
Despite receiving all-round critical applause upon its time of release, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind didn’t click with audiences and remains terribly underrated. Yes, it bears every trademark of a first-time filmmaker, and isn’t as deep as it would like to think, but Confessions also showcases invention, wit and intelligence. Clooney confidently steps up as director, clearly drawing on Steven Soderbergh and the Coen’s as influences, both of whom he’d worked with by this time, and his keen visual sense is absorbing. Based on the memoir of the same name, Confessions follows the life story of Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell), a game show inventor and presenter who claims to have moonlighted as a CIA assassin, recruited by the shady Jim Byrd (Clooney). Part exotic spy flick (Bond is recalled), part sharp comedy and part regretful drama, this is a tonally unsettled film, but a brave one, and it rewards repeat viewings. Excellent.
Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
It may be a little too coy and kooky for some, but Garden State – Zach Braff’s quirky meet-cute dramedy – is one of my favourite films of all time. I first became aware of it by that striking trailer (subject of a previous Shortlist) scored to Frou Frou’s ‘Let Go’ (also used to close the film), which is incredibly moving and poetic. The same can be said for the film itself, which has a quiet melancholy and dry humour which perfectly complement the more oddball elements, such as a hamster funeral and… well, the character of Sam, played brilliantly by Natalie Portman. Braff may have eccentric story sensibilities but his character observations are dead-on; honest and relatable. He controls all the elements of the film (which he also wrote) with confidence and heart, and while most will give up before the end the final shot is the most rewarding of all…
The War Zone (Tim Roth, 1999)
With Made In Britain (1982) and Reservoir Dogs (1991), Tim Roth had proven himself to be a raw and dynamic character actor, capable of incredible rage and desperation; his face speaks a thousand words, and his expressive nature has confirmed him as one of the great British actors of the last thirty years. With The War Zone – adapted by Alexander Stuart from his own controversial 1989 novel – he proved that he could channel that rawness into directing, delivering one of the most harrowing family dramas of all time; astute in its anger and precise in its observation. Shawn Levy said that the film was “unforgettable in its depiction of human evil”, and that’s about as good a description as you’ll get in regards to the content of the film; it’s challenging, but important – few movies are this honest, and feel so dramatically uncompromised. Stunning work.
Interview (Steve Buscemi, 2007)
This may seem an unusual one, especially considering how respected Theo Van Gogh’s 2003 original is (and I like it myself), but Buscemi’s Interview is a bit more pointed than its Dutch equivalent, and what it lacks in depth in makes up for in drama, and the perfect casting of Sienna Miller. The film is very much about celebrity culture and the façade of outward appearance generated by the media, so a US remake actually makes natural sense, given the existence of a little place called Hollywood. Buscemi (who also stars in the film) also has a handle on the politics of his film, and manages to make the two-hander both tighter and shorter (only by six minutes, but they count). Deftly directed, Interview is a frequently interesting film, if emotionally distanced, and I find it endlessly re-watchable, flaws and all.