away we go

3. Away We Go (2009)

 
The Sam Mendes film not enough people talk about. The director has shown unhealthy or destructive marriages in his other work, but the relationship in Away We Go is refreshingly sweet. The couple, played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski, has their disagreements and problems, but they’re supportive of each other and very much in love. The 30somethings are both excited and nervous to bring a baby in the world, but they worry about whether they’re prepared to raise a kid. On their trip to find a new home, they see all kinds of parents, mostly the kind of parents they don’t want to become.

Mendes has never followed the most likable characters, but the two leads in Away We Go are absolutely charming. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida‘s script is a little too quirky at times, but it’s also an extremely funny, sweet, and honest story — reminiscent of a Hal Ashby film (The Last DetailHarold & Maude). The soundtrack, too, is enchanting, with some soothing tunes from Alex Murdoch.

skyfall

2. Skyfall (2012)

 
Any true Bond fan brushes the misfires off their shoulders, because the quality of this franchise is hardly consistent. Fans and general audiences were left disappointed by the coda to Casino RoyaleQuantum of Solace, but, for good reason, they fell back in love with Daniel Craig’s modern take on the Ian Fleming character with Skyfall. James Bond is a macho icon, but Mendes makes him a vulnerable and haunted hero in this sequel. The Bond film isn’t without a sense of humor, though, as the script, co-written by John Logan (Hugo), has a sharp wit. There isn’t much room for comedy in Quantum of Solace, but there’s plenty of it in Mendes’ picture. As seriously as the director takes the character and the personal stakes, this is still a highly entertaining movie.

Yes, Bond does hop in the shower with a former sex slave — which is easily one of the franchise’s most tone-deaf moments — and Q (Ben Whishaw) moronically connects Silva’s computer to MI6’s main network, but those baffling scenes hardly slow Skyfall down. What this Bond pic gets right it really gets right.

And who could forget that opening shot of Bond? What about that silhouetted fight sequence in Shanghai? Bond is cooler and more stylish than he’s been since Sean Connery played him, thanks to Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sicario).

road to perdition

1. Road to Perdition (2002)

 
There was zero debate in my mind about placing the gangster drama in the no. 1 spot. Road to Perdition features the anti-Tom Hanks performance. The actor is often relied on for his infectious charm, but we see little of it in this reserved, moving performance. Michael Sullivan (Hanks) knows he’s not a good man, and the fact that he sees himself in his son, Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), scares him, as he’s concerned his son will follow in his footsteps. Road to Perdition asks, “What makes a good man?” This graphic novel adaptation, scripted by David Self, lets the audience answer that question.

If you’re a sucker for father-son movies, it’s impossible for the waterworks not to flow while watching Road to Perdition. It’s a story filled with both coldness and warmth, beautifully visualized by cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. Mendes is firing on all cylinders behind the camera, and has never been more in control. The director’s shot choices, Hall’s work, and Thomas Newman‘s score sync up perfectly, especially in the rainy ambush sequence. Road to Perdition is a magnificent movie.

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