5. Jarhead (2005)

The war Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) experiences isn’t the same as WWII or Vietnam. The soldier leaves his home and his girlfriend, and for what? To watch a videotape of another soldier’s wife cheating on him, or to not take a single shot in combat? These soldiers protect oil, take part in meaningless arguments, and, as Swofford points out, masturbate a lot. Jarhead is a different kind of war movie. The characters experience more conflict at home in the end than they do on the battlefield.

The rifle remains a part of Swofford, despite the fact he never gets to use it in combat. The characters only sees glimpses of war, but it still changes some of these men, especially Alan Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). Sarsgaard, in particular, is fantastic. The film builds towards that character’s emotional breakdown, and it’s a powerful scene. Sarsgaard doesn’t hold back, bawling and screaming, as the character doesn’t get his one chance to do what he’s been dreaming about for his whole life.

american beauty

4. American Beauty (1999)

This drama has faced its share of blacklash and criticism since winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Is it deserved? Not really, even though not all of American Beauty holds up. Alan Ball (True Blood) hasn’t always been the subtlest writer. The arty kid who sees beauty in bags floating around is a tad laughable, but that also sounds like something an awkward, pretentious teenager would actually think. As broad as American Beauty can be, Mendes and the cast humanize potential caricatures.

The real heart and soul of American Beauty is Kevin Spacey, in a role originally offered to Tom Hanks. Walter (Spacey) faces a midlife crisis, surrounded by “stuff” and a family he can’t relate to. He decides to start not giving a shit, acting on his most childish impulses. When he sees the true beauty of his life at the end, it’s a touching, if obvious, realization. Spacey is both funny and sad as Walter, and he’s surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.

Did American Beauty deserve to win Best Picture in 1999? Probably not, but who cares? The great movies of 1999 have stood the test of time without an Oscar. American Beauty, flaws and all, is still a very, very good movie.

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