5. Side Effects
I really wish there were more movie like Side Effects being made. It's not that Side Effects is some revolutionary or revelatory film, but it's the type of strong, solid effort (that doesn't have explosions going off every other minute or isn't infatuated with its own petiteness) that simply doesn't exist on the spectrum of cinema these days. Supposedly Steven Soderbergh's final foray into feature films (unless you live outside the United States, where his HBO Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is getting a theatrical release), Side Effects is an old-fashioned thriller set in the modern day and dealing with unquestionably contemporary issues. With an almost Hitchcockian flavor, the film's ingeniously crafted plot centers around a depressed young woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who begins acting a bit erratically after being prescribed a psychotropic drug by her psychiatrist (Jude Law). Eventually, the drug's side effects lead Emily towards criminally tragic events that become a national news story and puts her unwitting psychiatrist into a load of hot water. The film, written by common Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns, is a bit of a brain-twister. Side Effects takes you one way, then sharply turns in a totally unexpected direction. What I love about the movie though, and what makes it stand above a lot of other "mind-bending" films of the genre, is the film is not about, or in love with, its own zig-zagging. While many films of its ilk are self-satisfied with their contortions and arriving at the inevitable "A-ha" moment, Side Effects has an interesting subtext to it. The ubiquitous use and prescribing of psychotropic drugs in 21st Century America, the extent to which we are still "ourselves" under the influences of these drugs, and the unhealthily cozy relationship between Big Drug and Wall Street are all tangentially touched on throughout the movie, not to the point where it distracts from the plot at hand, but just enough to give caper a certain gravitas that would make it yet another piece of disposable entertainment otherwise. Needless to say then, I definitely think the Academy should give the film's script consideration in the Best Original Screenplay category, but beyond this, I believe the Academy's Actors Branch should give the film's excellent performances some thought as well. The commonly under-appreciated Jude Law gives a terrific performance as a psychiatrist way in over his head who is forced to turn into a relentless sleuth, along the lines of a Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. It's unlikely the performance has a snowball's chance in hell of getting nominated in the always crowded Best Actor race, but it's one that deserves consideration nonetheless.
Perhaps the best part of the film though is the performance by Rooney Mara. Ms. Mara has proven to be quite the talent in her young career thus far, earning an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo, and in Side Effects she is given the task of playing a character with a very difficult arc. In fact, the whole crux of the movie relies heavily on her performance, and she supports the film effortlessly. Again, I'm not expecting to Mara to receive a nomination for this performance, but I hope her name at least enters the conversation.