7. Into the Wild
Another passion project written and directed by a powerhouse actor whose personal life was quickly unraveling, Into the Wild told the real-life story of Christopher McCandless’ journey into the unexplored parts of the United States in the earliest years of his 20s. Telling a tale of ever-increasing isolation through a lens clearly inspired by and in admiration of its subject, Sean Penn’s take on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name offered some beautiful and epic photography as accompaniment for a true story that simply needed to be told.
Star Emile Hirsch, as supported by a host of well respected character actors including Hal Holbrook – who was nominated for his performance in this film at the 2008 Oscars – provided a career defining portrayal that elevated his status ten-fold while still in the infancy of his professional life.
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At the height of public discussion surrounding the US’s healthcare system, controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore – Bowling for Columbine (2002); Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) – produced and starred in healthcare eye-opener Sicko, a documentary that worked to inform international audiences of the differences between their healthcare and that of the people in the United States, and ultimately turned heads and changed opinion on the subject in the country itself.
Sicko was as typically shocking as any Michael Moore film, but was also as excellently constructed, earning itself an Oscar nomination despite Moore controversially being booed from the stage in the aftermath of his 2003 Oscar winning speech in which he openly opposed the war in Iraq. It’s not often we look back upon a year’s worth of film and remember its documentaries, but Sicko is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, which is just one of the reasons it sits in our number 6 spot.
If ever there was competition to name a movie that would best represent cinema in the first decade of the 2000s, then Juno would certainly be one of the top contenders. Witty without being a straight comedy, dark without being saddening, colourful yet ordinary, ordinary yet moving, Juno was an iconic addition to the landscape of film in 2007.
Owing much of its success to the abundantly original and heartfelt screenplay of its debut screenwriter Diablo Cody (who won an Oscar for her work on writing this film), Juno was received fantastically well for such an unusual film that sought to explore a collection of often unpopular subjects and themes headlined by unwanted pregnancy, abortion and adoption.
David Fincher’s bold telling of the real-life and yet-to-be caught Zodiac Killer was every bit as much of a masterpiece as the director has ever put his name to. It featured everything we’ve come to know as Fincherisms, from the ways in which he so eloquently presented dialogue and the enlightenment of his characters through information, to the ways he pushed us out of the movie’s reality and back into our own before dragging us back into his playground all over again.
Much like Zodiac’s competition on this list, the movie is headlined by a duo of performances that are nothing short of spectacular. Jake Gyllenhaal is the focus of the ensemble, which includes the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Bryan Cox and John Carroll Lynch, and it’s Gyllenhaal’s character that holds the biggest of the movie’s limited emotional journeys, with pre-Iron-Man Robert Downey, Jr. stealing in to make this film his own, at least from an actor’s perspective.
Downey was troubled, obsessive and still somehow likable, and though his performance was never going to be so great that he could overcome Fincher in terms of importance to the movie – as Fincher is a filmmaker who very much makes director’s films, rather than actor’s pieces – his performance has only become more interesting since his growth as a celebrity in the years since this film was released, with his presentation of Paul Avery being one of his final performances of his surefire character actor days.
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