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Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Takeshi Kitano
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2002   Rated: Unrated
Duration: 114
Summary: Ninth grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food and various arms. They have to fight each other three days long until the last one remains and are forced to wear a special collar which will explode when they break a rule. (Summary written by Killer-40)

Director: Paul Haggis
Starring: Karina Arroyave Dato Bakhtadze Sandra Bullock Don Cheadle Art Chudabala Sean Cory Tony Danza Keith David Loretta Devine Michael Pena Matt Dillon Jennifer Esposito Ime Etuk Eddie J. Fernandez William Fichtner Howard Fong Nona Gaye Brendan Fraser Billy Gallo Ken Garito
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2005   Rated: R
Duration: 113
Summary: Movie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it's remarkable that Crash even got made; that it's a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents--black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian--is downright amazing. A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace from Miss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop--these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines. Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast--ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)--meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of multi-character mosaic is hard to pull off; Crash rivals such classics as Nashville and Short Cuts. A knockout. --Bret Fetzer

Stills from Crash (click for larger image)

Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Robin Williams Robert Sean Leonard Ethan Hawke Josh Charles Gale Hansen Dylan Kussman Allelon Ruggiero James Waterston Norman Lloyd Kurtwood Smith Carla Belver Leon Pownall George Martin (II) Joe Aufiery Matt Carey Kevin Cooney Jane Moore (II) Lara Flynn Boyle Colin Irving Alexandra Powers
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 1989   Rated: PG
Duration: 128
Summary: Robin Williams stars as an English teacher who doesn't fit into the conservative prep school where he teaches, but whose charisma and love of poetry inspires several boys to revive a secret society with a bohemian bent. The script is well meaning but a little trite, though director Peter Weir (The Truman Show) adds layers of emotional depth in scenes of conflict between the kids and adults. (A subplot involving one father's terrible pressure on his son--played by Robert Sean Leonard--to drop his interest in theater reaches heartbreaking proportions.) Williams is given plenty of latitude to work in his brand of improvisational humor, though it is all well-woven into his character's style of instruction. --Tom Keogh

Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Alex Frost Eric Deulen John Robinson (IX) Elias McConnell Jordan Taylor (II) Carrie Finklea Nicole George (II) Brittany Mountain Alicia Miles Kristen Hicks Bennie Dixon Nathan Tyson Timothy Bottoms Matt Malloy Chantelle Chriestenson Ellis Williams Kim Kenney Marci Buntrock Roman Ostrovsky Vana O'Brien
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2003   Rated: R
Duration: 80
Summary: Elephant, the elegant and unsettling movie from Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting), depicts students at a high school before and during a harrowing, Columbine-style shooting. The movie follows one young boy who takes over the wheel from his drunken dad while returning from lunch, then loops back in time and follows another student who crosses paths with the first, then loops back and follows another--all captured in long, unedited tracking shots that are serene and unhurried, even when two boys in camouflage gear, carrying heavy bags, arrive at the school and begin shooting. Elephant doesn't attempt to explain their behavior; it simply places the audience back in the brief yet interminable window of adolescence, when life is trivial and painfully important at the same time. Your reaction to Elephant will depend as much on your life experiences as anything in the movie itself. --Bret Fetzer

Director: Billy Wirth
Starring: Thomas Jefferson Byrd Brandon Quintin Adams Tami Roman Louis Freese Bad Azz Ellen Cleghorne Keno K. Deary Julie Delpy David Faustino Balthazar Getty Rachel Hunter Miguel A. Núñez Jr. Lori Petty Glenn Plummer Sydney Tamiia Poitier Alexia Robinson Sticky Fingaz William DaRuffa Kirk Taylor Carlton Wilborn
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2001   Rated: R
Duration: 88
Summary: Life in the park is daily warfare with rival gangs, police raids, the wealthy decadents who now come for drugs and the ongoing demons of addiction. This is where we meet Cody, once a dedicated family man whose addiction to crack cocaine met no criticism and was welcomed by others like him. The harder Cody tries to escape the parameters of the park, the more it seems to close in on him. Finally, Cody surrenders his pipe to reclaim a relationship with this son and a life outside MacArthur Park.

Director: Brad Anderson (II)
Starring: Christian Bale Jennifer Jason Leigh Aitana Sánchez-Gijón John Sharian Michael Ironside Larry Gilliard Jr. Reg E. Cathey Anna Massey Matthew Romero Moore Robert Long (VII) Colin Stinton Craig Stevenson Ferran Lahoz Jeremy Xidu Norman Bell Nancy Crane Richard Torrington Buffy Davis (II) Reg Wilson Ramon Camín
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2003   Rated: R
Duration: 101
Summary: As a bleak and chilling mood piece, The Machinist gets under your skin and stays there. Christian Bale threw himself into the title role with such devotion that he shed an alarming 63 pounds to play Trevor Reznik (talk about "starving artist"!), a factory worker who hasn't slept in a year. He's haunted by some mysterious occurrence that turned him into a paranoid husk, sleepwalking a fine line between harsh reality and nightmare fantasy--a state of mind that leaves him looking disturbingly gaunt and skeletal in appearance. (It's no exaggeration to say that Bale resembles a Holocaust survivor from vintage Nazi-camp liberation newsreels.) In a cinematic territory far removed from his 1998 romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland, director Brad Anderson orchestrates a grimy, nocturnal world of washed-out blues and grays, as Trevor struggles to assemble the clues of his psychological conundrum. With a friendly hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and airport waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) as his only stable links to sanity, Trevor reaches critical mass and seems ready to implode just as The Machinist reveals its secrets. For those who don't mind a trip to hell with a theremin-laced soundtrack, The Machinist seems primed for long-term status as a cult thriller on the edge. --Jeff Shannon

Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Starring: Rory Culkin Ryan Kelley Scott Mechlowicz Trevor Morgan Josh Peck Carly Schroeder Brandon Williams Michael Fisher-Welsh Raissa Fleming Kaz Garas Shelly Lipkin Heath Lourwood J.W. Crawford Ryan Peterson Hagai Shaham Melissa Brooks Laura Marie Gustafson William Mapother
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2003   Rated: R
Duration: 89
Summary: Deliverance goes to high school in this grim, stripped-down fable of a prank gone bad. Friends decide to teach a lesson to a teenage bully by inviting him on a canoeing trip where they will humiliate him once and for all. The prank turns seriously sour, and the kids must deal with the consequences. Writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes takes a somber look at these lives, although his low-key approach makes the central tragedy seem melodramatic when it happens. The film isn't quite new enough to be truly revelatory, but Estes neatly avoids a River's Edge rehash by allowing his characters more than dead-eyed anomie. The actors hit their notes with precision, especially Rory Culkin (another of the Culkin family, with Macaulay and Kieran), Ryan Kelley, and Scott Mechlowicz. This is the kind of movie that may be slightly familiar to older audiences, but could easily be a home-video cult item with younger viewers. --Robert Horton

Director: John Madden
Starring: Gwyneth Paltow Jake Gyllenhaal
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2005   Rated: PG-13
Duration: 99
Summary: Elegantly adapted from David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Proof works on so many levels that it shines like a perfected equation. Gwyneth Paltrow previously played her role onstage, and returns here as Catherine, the troubled 27-year-old daughter of Robert, a once-brilliant mathematician (Anthony Hopkins, appearing in flashbacks and imagined visions) who has recently died. What Robert has left behind is an emotionally challenging legacy of genius, mental illness, and unfinished business in the Chicago home where Catherine had cared for him during his erratic final years. Catherine fears she may have inherited her father's unstable condition, and her sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives from New York with smothering concern and a selfish but well-meaning agenda, while Robert's student and assistant Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) hopes to find lasting proof of Robert's enduring genius in the piles of notebooks he left behind. Steeped in the authentic atmosphere of advanced academia, revelations of love, fear, regret, and potential recovery unfold with such graceful complexity that Proof plays like a thriller, with all the action taking place in the admirable hearts and minds of its characters. The film also has a lot to say about the potential tragedy of assuming mental illness where none exists, while leaving just enough doubt to keep you wondering -- a tribute to the exceptional performances of a first-rate cast, and particularly to Paltrow, whose reunion with Shakespeare in Love director John Madden proves equally rewarding for entirely different reasons. --Jeff Shannon

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2000   Rated: R
Duration: 127
Summary: Director William Friedkin knows a thing or two about staging harrowing action sequences, and if you don't believe that, you've never seen The French Connection or To Live and Die in L.A. He comes through niftily in this film as well, with an opening Vietnam battle sequence that sets the stage for the rest of the story, and then with the central moment in the film: a rescue mission involving Marines extricating the American ambassador from an embassy surrounded by hostile protesters in Yemen. Unfortunately, Friedkin can't do much about the implausible plot that follows, in which the Marine commander, played by the always-terrific Samuel L. Jackson, is accused of slaughtering innocent civilians (who actually were shooting at him and his men). He must rely on an old Marine buddy--a lawyer played by Tommy Lee Jones--to get him through the jury-rigged court martial. But the central premise--that an evil presidential aide would perjure himself and destroy evidence simply to maintain good relations with U.S. allies in the Middle East, rather than defending a highly decorated Marine colonel who risked his life--is inevitably hard to swallow. And the ending is even flimsier. --Marshall Fine

Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Paul Giamatti Thomas Haden Church Virginia Madsen Sandra Oh Marylouise Burke Jessica Hecht Missy Doty M.C. Gainey Alysia Reiner Shake Tukhmanyan Shaun Duke Robert Covarrubias Patrick Gallagher Stephanie Faracy Joe Marinelli Chris Burroughs Toni Howard Rev. Fr. Khoren Babouchian Lee Brooks Peter Dennis
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2005   Rated: R
Duration: 123
Summary: With Sideways, Paul Giamatti (American Splendor, Storytelling) has become an unlikely but engaging romantic lead. Struggling novelist and wine connoisseur Miles (Giamatti) takes his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church, Wings) on a wine-tasting tour of California vineyards for a kind of extended bachelor party. Almost immediately, Jack's insatiable need to sow some wild oats before his marriage leads them into double-dates with a rambunctious wine pourer (Sandra Oh, Under the Tuscan Sun) and a recently divorced waitress (Virginia Madsen, The Hot Spot)--and Miles discovers a little hope that he hasn't let himself feel in a long time. Sideways is a modest but finely tuned film; with gentle compassion, it explores the failures, struggles, and lowered expectations of mid-life. Giamatti makes regret and self-loathing sympathetic, almost sweet. From the director of Election and About Schmidt. --Bret Fetzer

Director: David L. Cunningham
Starring: Robert Carlyle Kiefer Sutherland Ciarán McMenamin Mark Strong (II) Sakae Kimura Masayuki Yui James Cosmo John Gregg Shu Nakajima Yugo Saso Pip Torrens Adam Sinclair Winton Nicholson Greg Ellis (II) James McCarthy Brendan Cowell Tracy Anderson Duff Armour Sergio Jones Christopher Gyre
Genre: Drama
Theatrical: 2001   Rated: R
Duration: 117
Summary: A Japanese P.O.W. camp during World War II becomes the battleground for the souls as well as the lives of its Scottish and British prisoners. Based on a true story, To End All Wars centers around Ernest Gordon (Ciaran McMenamin), a young soldier who wants to teach philosophy. When Gordon recovers from seeming death by illness, the other prisoners agree to become Grodon's pupils, studying Plato, Shakespeare, and the Bible. Gordon's superior officer, Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting, The Full Monty), scoffs at the increasingly pacificist bent of Gordon's teachings. Jim Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland, 24, Freeway), a lone American running a black market, is equally skeptical. But under the relentless brutality of the camp, the only way for the soldiers to survive is to find what gives their lives meaning. The strong performances of To End All Wars makes this moral conflict as vivid as any gun battle. --Bret Fetzer