At the home stretch:

Year: 2001
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Mike Nichols, Emma Thompson (from the play by Margaret Edson)
Cast: Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Christopher Lloyd, Jonathan M. Woodward

Why it’s one of the best: Quite possibly the best film I’ve seen on the subject of death and dying, Wit, an HBO film by big-screen vet Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), dwarfs almost everything that competed for Oscars that year (see below). And yet it is also small, intimate, focused, spending much of its running time on the face of Emma Thompson in an astonishing performance as Vivian Bearing, a college English professor who finds that poems about death are no match for the real thing. In its extraordinary use of language as well as silence, in its observation of the dehumanizing nature of research medicine, and in its depiction of the clash between emotions and intellect, it’s a perfect film. There’s a scene where Vivian’s mentor (played by Eileen Atkins) reads to her from a children’s book; if it doesn’t rip your heart out, you don’t have one.

Year: 2001
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux

Why it’s one of the best: When I first saw Mulholland Drive I didn’t know what to make of it, but I knew it was a great film. It had an effect on me like nothing I had seen before or have seen since, and every subsequent viewing is like seeing it for the first time; it holds the same undiminished terror, the same hypnotic thrall, the same dreamlike captivation. There are new discoveries in every frame of its story of the fractured identities of two Los Angeles women (Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring) searching for answers. The film’s turning point, and also its crescendo, is a late-night visit to a club called Silencio, where emotions are felt and discoveries are made as a woman sings with disembodied voice about lost love. “There is no band, yet we hear a band,” says the mysterious master of ceremonies — and like the Watts character we can’t stop shaking in our seats.

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