At last, the very best film of the last ten years:

Year: 2003
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Tony Kushner (from his play)
Cast: Justin Kirk, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson

Why it’s the best: I have loved few films the way I love Angels in America, the third HBO film on my list, and the second by Mike Nichols. Aired in two parts in December of 2003, it is a faithful, 6-hour adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by Tony Kushner, who also wrote the screenplay. To discuss its accomplishment I hardly know where to begin. With its acting? It boasts as fine a cast as I’ve seen in a film, some in multiple roles and all immersing themselves marvelously in Kusner’s elegant dialogue, in particular Justin Kirk in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter, bringing equal parts humor, pathos, and anger to his character’s magical-realist visions from heaven.

Or how about the writing? Kushner’s script is wise but never ponderous, showing not only a community newly ravaged by disease but a world profoundly alienated from God, expressing our mortal and existential crises with peerless wit, compassion, and insight. Consider the scene where a dying Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) asks Belize (Jeffrey Wright) to describe the afterlife (“And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers …”), or the scene where Louis (Ben Shenkman) holds his lover Joe (Patrick Wilson) accountable for hypocrisy (“You really don’t know who said ‘Have you no decency?’ Okay, second question: Have you no decency?”), or the scene where Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) describes the souls of the dead healing the world (“Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead …”), or … I could fill a dozen reviews just with quotes.

All the while, Nichols, whom it might be easy to overlook amidst the achievements in writing and performance, makes those voluminous words cinematic, never stagy, like it was always meant for the screen. His work is visually evocative, detailed, whimsical, alive, and he conducts his actors like an orchestra. The director, now 78, was made famous by his decades of work on the big screen. In the new millennium, he migrated to TV and showed them all how it’s done.

The complete list:

1. Angels in America (Mike Nichols, 2003)
2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
3. Wit (Mike Nichols, 2001)
4. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
5. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
6. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
7. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee, 2006)
8. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
10. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)

The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
The Fall (Tarsem, 2008)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004)
The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)

Advertisements