James Croot's Twenty in 20

Last updated 05:00 24/05/2014
As good as it gets

ONE OF THE BEST: As Good as It Gets is as good as it gets.

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Fairfax film reviewer James Croot this month celebrates two decades of scribbling in the dark. To celebrate, he selects his favourite 20 films released since May 1994.

As Good as It Gets (1997)
There was a time when Helen Hunt was the actress du jour and Jack Nicholson could do no wrong. This unlikely rom-com represented the high-water mark of both of those phenomenons. James L Brooks' tale about a waitress, a misanthropic author and a gay artist is chock full of memorable moments, images and dialogue. Best of all, it made me ''want to be a better man''. Just shades the magnificent Jerry Maguire.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Overshadowed by There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men at the 2008 Oscars, Andrew Dominik's film is actually one of finest 21st century westerns. Brad Pitt, at his laconic and charismatic best, produced 160 minutes of his finest work, while Casey Affleck shone in the true anti-hero role. Elegantly shot and lovingly, languorously paced, the film also boasted one of the most evocative and best soundtracks of the decade by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Braveheart (1995)
Sure its grasp of history might be shaky to say the least, but Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning epic sure delivers on spectacle. He's a compelling presence, while James Horner's stirring score and those battle scenes still stick in the memory. Helping unearth talents like Brendan Gleeson and Sophie Marceau, it was the last film I saw with my late father and some of its quieter moments provided the soundtrack to my wedding.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
The film that gave the globe wuxia and wushu. Director Ang Lee had already shown his versatility with the likes of Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, but he caught the world's attention with this miraculous Mandarin marriage of how-did-they-do-that martial arts and intimate love story. Actors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat were simply superb.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Although the premise now sounds like Total Recall meets (500) Days of Summer, Michel Gondry's bizarre non-linear and fractured romance is a haunting and heartbreaking account of love gone awry. Jim Carrey has never been more restrained and yet is an engrossing presence while Kate Winslet, criminally overlooked at the Oscars in 2005, is at her charismatic best as the unforgettable, multi-coloured Clementine.

Frozen (2013)
The Lion King might edge it on Shakespearian tragedy, but for sheer animated inventiveness, thrilling adventure, tear-inducing emotion and an eclectic array of hummable toe-tapping tunes it is hard to beat Disney's 53rd animated adventure. I can only echo the words of my three-year-old boy who succinctly broadcasted his feelings about Frozen at its conclusion: "I love that movie."

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Gravity (2013)
Such a simple premise, such an effective execution. Alfonso Cuaron's two-stars-in-space (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney) dazzles with its amazing imagery (3D has never been more immersive) and ability to wring maximum emotion out of every scene as Bullock's emotionally and physically broken astronaut battles to stay alive and somehow make it back home. And Stephen Price's score is stirring and chilling in equal measure.

Grizzly Man (2005)
Well known for capturing human obsession at its most extreme in both dramas and documentaries, Werner Herzog found a perfect example in the reformed alcoholic, paranoid, child-like Timothy Treadwell. The result is 100 minutes of compelling cinema, as Grizzly Man weaves heartbreak, horror and humour, into a fascinating story of a man who seemed to act as if ''he was working with people in bear costumes, rather than wild animals".

Heavenly Creatures (1994)
His Lord of the Rings trilogy might have taken home all the box office gold and award gongs, but its his recreation of the infamous 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case which best marries his imaginative flights of fancy to something dramatically grounded. Weta's nascent effects are breathtaking, while actresses Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey displayed immense promise that they would later fulfill.

A History of Violence (2005)
Best known for visceral, extremely violent or disturbing works like The Fly and Crash, Canadian director David Cronenberg reined in his macabre inclinations to produce one of his most accessible works. His trademark visual flourishes and black humour remain - but they are here backed by a fantastic performance from Viggo Mortensen and Josh Olson's superb script, which explores the nature and genesis of violence and deftly and devastatingly displays its emotional and physical consequences.

Leon (1994)
Known as The Professional on its release here, Luc Besson's story of the strange relationship between a hitman and a traumatised but precocious tween gave the world Natalie Portman, Jean Reno and Gary Oldman (playing one of cinemas' greatest villains). Notable for its restraint as well as its boundary pushing, you'll never be able to listen to Beethoven in quite the same way after watching this.

Magnolia (1999)
The apex of the multi-narrative, ensemble movie. PT Anderson's magnum opus not only showcases such diverse talents as Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy, Jason Robards and yes, Tom Cruise, but it also delivers on searing drama. Plus it boasts a stonking soundtrack by Aimee Mann, culminating in a fourth-wall smashing, breathtaking, heartbreaking sequence set to her plaintive Wise Up.

Man on Wire (2008)
Proof of how far documentaries have come this century. James Marsh's account of Philippe Petit's audacious 1974 walk between New York's twin towers boasts more tension in it than most conventional Hollywood thrillers. It's the combination of interviews, actual footage, recreations and an evocative score that make this such a compelling and now, thanks to the events of September 11, 2001, poignant watch.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Probably the most consistent director of that decade, Clint Eastwood's finest hour of the noughties came with this Oscar-winning boxing drama. Despite being in a lead role he actually takes a back seat to the superb combination of Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank. Packing a powerful emotional punch, Million Dollar Baby also produced one of the twists of the decade which left many audience members in shock.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Having reinvented Shakespeare for the MTV generation in the 90s, Aussie director Baz Luhrmann single-handedly breathed new life into the musical genre with this eye-popping, toe-tapping spectacle. Dizzying and dazzling, Luhrmann married high-melodrama, lavish set design and costumes to fabulous renditions of 70s and 80s staples from the likes of Queen, Elton John and The Police.

The Prestige (2006)
Although overshadowed by his more celebrated projects that bookended the decade - Memento and The Dark Knight - this dark, dense and devilishly clever drama from Christopher Nolan is a reminder of the potent power of a little showmanship and superior storytelling. The superb cast includes Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie. A film that deserves and rewards close and repeat inspection.

Run Lola Run (1998)
Arguably German cinema's most commercial and finest 90 minutes. Franka Potente's flame-haired firecracker has just 20 minutes to source a large amount of cash and stop her boyfriend from robbing a supermarket. Essentially played out in real-time, it offers three different Sliding Doors-style scenarios, a pulsating soundtrack and a stunning mix of filmmaking techniques.

Rushmore (1998)
Many people will argue there are better Wes Anderson films but its the combination of Bill Murray at his most charming, the delightful discovery of Olivia Williams and Jason Schwartzman's subversive anti-hero that makes this high-school comedy shine above the rest. The many delights are in the details, from Max's many extra-curricular activities to his bravura Apocalypse Now-inspired stage show.

A Time to Kill (1996)
McConaughey, Bullock, Spacey, Jackson. All names back at the top of their game almost two decades on. A John Grisham potboiler this might have been but it was a southern fried courtroom drama par excellence. McConaughey announced his arrival as both an actor and shirtless wonder here, while it also boasted the best trailer of the past two decades.

Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Visuals have always been Terry Gilliam's strong point, but this was the film where he married it to a compelling and coherent twisty-turny time-travelling plot. Inspired by Chris Marker's seminal 1962 short La Jetee, Gilliam drew terrific performances out of an eclectic cast that included Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt and dared to deliver a sweet but downbeat ending. Without it there would have been no Looper or Donnie Darko.

- Stuff

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