Dave Jasmon | Films

halfnelson You've seen the film before: A white teacher in the inner city sets out to prove that he can break down racial barriers and change the lives of a few dozen teenagers. However, you've never seen it like this.



Borat wows 'em at the rodeo

1. Half Nelson (ThinkFilm, R)

You've seen the film before: A white teacher in the inner city sets out to prove that he can break down racial barriers and change the lives of a few dozen teenagers. However, you've never seen it like this. Ryan Gosling (of Are You Afraid of the Dark fame, "The Tale of Station 109.1") puts in a spellbinding performance as the drug-addict teacher. Only this time, the teacher has actual depth, flaws, and heart-wrenching conflicts to overcome. Shareeka Epps is wonderful as Gosling's favorite student, and writer/director Ryan Fleck turns any misconceptions about the film's premise on their heads. A truly fearless film with existential undertones, racial tensions, and one of the most likeable, yet loathsome characters you will ever encounter.

2. The Queen (Miramax Films, PG-13)

Helen Mirren delivers a potential Oscar-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II in this subtle, sympathetic portrayal of the monarchy. Sharp in its comedic devices, a meager plot is made up for (and then some) by mesmerizing insights into a world of majesty and manners. And you thought queens were frumpy and boring.

3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (20th Century Fox, R)

Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh reporter turns a mirror on America, pushes buttons, and keeps you laughing even when the little angel on your shoulder is telling you you shouldn't be laughing. No approach is too taboo for Cohen's jokes, and many fools are left in the path of his wit, but all is done for the sake of one of the funniest movies in recent memory. Bonus points for a fight scene that had me laughing in a very painful way, and crying like my bear got eaten.

4. Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

Touching, smart, well cast, and breezy, this is a film whose critical acclaim is well deserved. Steve Carell plays subdued, but loses nothing in the way of hilarity (It's gotta be the beard). Abigail Breslin is the anti-Dakota Fanning, and we're all the better for it. (Some kids is creepy. Remember that Welch's grape juice girl? Zoinks!) Probably the best road trip movie since Road Trip, only replace Breckin Meyer and that Stifler guy with Alan Arkin and Toni Collette, and add a touch of melancholy. Seriously, though, great dysfunctional family stuff.

5. The Departed (Warner Bros., R)

Scorsese's latest work is one of his finest. Jack Nicholson is perfect, and Leonardo DiCaprio puts in his best performance in years as an intensely troubled undercover agent. You'll be so caught up in the depth and mastery of plot that the impact of the ending will linger well after its arrival. Watch for Scorsese's cameo in a hilarious bathroom scene, a la Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber. (*May not be in all versions)

6. An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Vantage, PG)

Regardless of your political tendencies, feelings about Al Gore (aka the arch-nemesis of Manbearpig), or distrust of the presentation of global warming in the popular media, this is an important film to see. Gore's narration is inspired, and the thoroughness of his research is undeniable. You owe it to yourself to see this film before Alaska becomes the new Texas (mark my words).

7. Stranger Than Fiction (Sony Pictures, PG-13)

Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson impress in this lively dramedy that is determined to prove that Hollywood still has a few original ideas (a few) left. Intelligent, reflective, and irresistibly charming, Fiction delves into dichotomies of both the literary and banal sort, emerging as both sweet and original in its resolve.

8. United 93 (Universal Pictures, R)

A straightforward, apolitical presentation of the events that occurred involving United Flight 93, the fourth plane from the September 11 attacks which, unlike the others, did not reach its target. Utterly intense at times (with good cause, some scenes can be difficult to watch), but ultimately tasteful in its portrayal of several acts of heroism, United 93 is free of propaganda, and I believe, could prove quite cathartic for many a viewer.

9. Babel (Paramount Vantage, R)

Plots and worlds collide through a mixture of language, culture, and circumstance. A dense, layered film requiring multiple viewings, but well worth the effort. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett headline a strong cast whose performances are overwhelmed by the complex skewering and obscuring of race relations. (Like Crash, but with 100% less Matt Dillon!)

10. Inside Man (Universal Pictures, R)

Full-on entertainment from start to finish. Spike Lee brings sharpness and cogency to the bank-heist genre, taking full advantage of the prowess of Clive Owen and Denzel Washington. I challenge you to not have fun watching this movie (winners receive a stomach raspberry from Spike Lee-or so I hear). | Dave Jasmon

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