By Séamus Smyth

10. The Departed

It’s a quarter-century dream team of acting and directing composed of Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicolson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and the king of the world himself, Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet unlike the American basketball squad, this team delivered the goods. For some reason, Boston seems to be ideal place to stage a mob versus police fiasco (perhaps it’s the accent.) No matter, there isn’t a scene where superb acting is not displayed, whether it is Baldwin’s ostentatious tantrums or Damon’s somehow charming arrogance.

9. The Dark Knight

Christian Bale is predictably brilliant in the lead role as the caped crusader, but it is Heath Ledger’s career-defining performance as the manic Joker that makes this flick a classic. The Joker has for too long been defined by his clown-like demeanour, his cartoonish appearance and unrelenting sense of humour. Ledger is the one who finally revamps the role and promptly scares the shit out of kids who thought they were going to see the Jack Nicholson version. Ledger’s Joker is still hilarious, but it’s a silent snicker that is covered with one’s palms because a rush of guilt surges inside for having laughed at such sadistic remarks. Bale’s version of Batman is so powerful and domineering that it could only take a menacing nemesis at the level that Ledger creates to make Batman vs. Joker seem like a fight worth watching.

8. Blow

The tale that epitomizes the modern-day appeal of Johnny Depp is a drug-glorifying masterpiece with a soul-crunching conscience. Depp’s romance-novel flow of hair, his outrageous wardrobe and rock-star allure helps the youngsters become acutely aware of the intensity of the cocaine explosion in the 1970s. Yet what removes Blow, from the countless other films that make drug dealing seem like a playful gig with little repercussions, is how it shows the devastating effects it has on real-life central character, George Jung. Ray Liotta’s shattered heart along with Penelope Cruz playing an initially irresistible, hot tamale transformed (courtesy of the white powder) into an out-of-control, miserable witch, convert stereotypical supporting roles into heart-piercing cries of empathy.

7. The Prestige

Magic is too often defined by rabbits rising from hats and women being ostensibly sawed in half. The Prestige finally reveals the dark shadow that has always accompanied the theatrics of this enthralling act. After a standard trick goes horribly wrong, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) become consumed by their hatred of one another and stop at absolutely nothing to destroy the other. No movie of the past decade has captured such a fierce rivalry in such a remarkably diverse setting. The conclusion of this film is as jaw-dropping and unforeseen as anything a magician has ever performed.

6. Snatch

Snatch is Guy Ritchie’s English stew where he tosses in all ingredients required to make the most entertaining movie possible. Firstly, accept the urgings from one of the world’s great actors (Brad Pitt) and allow him to star in your next film. Next, recruit some of the funniest, and yes, most stereotypically British actors available for comic relief. Thirdly, insert a sense of danger and grimy circumstances, as he does with the underground boxing, the pikey trailer park and the ruthless character of Brick Top. The movie is quoted for its hilariously clever wit, yet serves as a caution for getting involved in dodgy betting; it also makes the Americans sound arrogant and the English sound fatuous. It demonstrates how nobody wins when greed is involved, except in this case, the audience.

5. Crash

I am sure the idea of tying a multitude of stories together has been attempted before, but never has it been executed with such success as Crash manages to do. It maximizes the potential of a number of average actors, Brendon Fraser, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges to name a few, and has them acting like first-class studs. It also tackles the subject of less glamourous predicaments that many find themselves in, yet often refrain from excessively discussing. Matt Dillon’s role as Officer John Ryan, a disgruntled, morally-skewed policeman is particularly revealing. He blatantly sexually harasses a suspect to the shock of his partner, yet ironically saves her life in an explosive car accident. But when he returns home from another day of soul-searching and soul-squashing, he tends to his ailing father like the guardian angel that looms deep inside of him.

4. SlumDog Millionaire

North Americans discuss, even battle against Third-world poverty, but always from a comfortable, leather seat with enough food to feed a small village. Slumdog Millionaire momentarily sticks the affluent Westerner in a garbage heap called home and illustrates the surreal circumstances that many across the pond are forced to exist in. Inserting the game show is excellent because it ensures the audience does not feel too foreign from the film’s pulse, yet it refuses to submit to any other western stipulation as it remains true to its Indian origins.

3. The Social Network

It’s a generation-defining masterpiece that zooms in on the conception of the world’s biggest meet and greet. Facebook was derived from a site called “hot or not” created by Mark Zuckerberg after a riff with his girlfriend, that allows males to judge female students strictly off their looks. Tragically yet almost predictably, this means that Facebook was formed through the illicit energy of a broken heart. “For wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them,” said Hamlet. The film isn’t just about computers and nerds, but about the endless potential of technology and the absurd monetary possibilities that now exist because of it. Trent Reznor’s signature, venomous sounds accompany Fincher’s work and help show the insidious wolf that exists behind the angelic blue and white mask of Facebook.

2. Vanilla Sky

A love story for the technologically-advanced era, Vanilla Sky fuses dream and reality into a beautiful nightmare. Vanilla Sky will make you fall madly in love with Penelope Cruz, somehow causes you to loathe Cameron Diaz and forces you to empathize with Tom Cruise in a way rarely felt. It’s a film about love, about science, about relationships, but above all, about the fleeting decisions that one makes without ever giving them a second thought. The sounds and songs of this movie juxtaposed with the authenticity of the character’s dialogue create a dichotomy of rarely seen synthesisation.

1. American History X

Tackling the murky, grey waters of racism is almost always told from the perspective of the race that has been singled out – and for good reason. The vantage point of the cultures and races that have been discriminated against demonstrates how skewed and heartless racism is. Yet, American History X ignores this template and dares to focus on how the discriminator, or the white man in this case, see the picture. Yes, the white man’s purges and exploitation of other cultures is well-documented, but what makes them still react this way in today’s day and age? Edward Norton puts on the performance of ten lifetimes as he plays a middle-class, suburban, white man whose father has been murdered in an African-American dominated neighbourhood. He becomes enraged, vengeful and exudes all the sentiments that likely lead to a racist ideology. Of course, this project concludes that it isn’t about black and white; we are in this struggle together and for every bad apple that happens to be black, there is a white one to match it.