Tuesday, April 12, 2016

100 Must-See Films! -- Justice

Today's films concern moral decisions with lives in the balance, and time running out:

35. Dead Man Walking (1995, UK, USA)
Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn

"Absorbing, surprising, technically superb and worth talking about for a long time afterward," said Roger Ebert of this film that is loaded with heart-wrenching emotional tension. The delicate performances constructed by Sarandon, Penn and director Robbins (all Oscar nominated) were beautifully crafted and executed with gentle precision and genuine emotion.

The result is a heavy experience: Devastating scenes and an overriding moral dilemma which cannot be ignored or easily resolved. Sarandon won for Best Actress.

Writers: Helen Prejean (the novel), Tim Robbins
Director: Tim Robbins (Cradle Will Rock)
Budget: $11,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.6

36. Return to Paradise (1998, USA)
Vince Vaughan, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix

Time is inexorably running out for an unwitting American in a stark and brutal foreign prison while his friend attempts to navigate a horrendous moral decision. The tension grows with cruel certainty.

This film is often compared to the more-widely celebrated Midnight Express (1978) but clearly more cerebral and less visceral. Return gets my nod for this list because to me, fear is always more palpable in the dungeons of the mind than in those of stone.

Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of 4.

Writers: Pierre Jolivet (Force majeure), Oliver Schatzky (Fortune Express) 
Director: Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy)
Budget: $14,000,000
IMDB rating: 6.9

37. Philadelphia (1993, USA)
Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Charles Napier, Antonio Banderas

This very first big-budget film to tackle the AIDS crisis and to portray homosexuals sensitively and responsibly changed the trend in Hollywood, however some voices from the gay community bashed the film for its apparent fear of depicting gay affection between the characters of Hanks and Banderas. Such scenes had in fact been filmed then cut, but a bedroom scene was re-inserted for the DVD edition.

More importantly, the film effectively agitates the audience over the harrowing injustice of AIDS discrimination and may have had a significant impact on that improved landscape, now 23 years later. To boot, the film tackled the equally mindless taboo of inter-racial coupling.

The soundtrack bears mention with Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia winning Best Original Song Oscar against Neil Young’s Philadelphia; also nominated; a unique Oscar tableau as far as I know. To this day I still find both of this film’s co-themes deeply emotionally haunting whenever I hear them.

Here’s a special Oscar moment from that year:

Writer: Ron Nyswaner (The Painted Veil)
Director: Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs)
Budget: $26,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.7

38. Erin Brokovich (2000, USA)
Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Here’s another classic David and Goliath story which puts viewers on the edge of their seats, immersed in a struggle against brutal injustice; cheering with each step forward and hurting with each step back. Roberts is dynamite as the bold and gritty unlikely hero and the emotional payoff is grand. As with all films on today’s list: extra Kleenex required.

Writer: Susannah Grant (The Soloist)
Director: Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)
Budget: $52,000,000
IMDB rating: 7.3

Short List:
Reservation Road (2007, USA/Germany) Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix
Midnight Express (1978, UK/USA) Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins
The Visitor (2007, USA) Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira
The Whistleblower (2010, Canada/Germany) Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, USA) Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton
Twelve Years a Slave (2013, USA/UK) Chiwetal Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008, USA/Canada) Documentary by Kurt Kuenne


Tasha Duncan-Drake said...

Philadelphia is such a great movie. It makes me cry every single time.
Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

Unknown said...

Great list--I've seen all but one on your list so far.