Coming up with a Top 5 for drama films is difficult as all films, by their very nature are dramatic. So, to successfully complete this category, I discounted all films that could be slotted into a genre, as in gangster, sports, etc...
So here, in chronological order, are the Critical Mass Top 5 Drama Films
1. On The Waterfront (1954) - Elia Kazan.
Terry Malloy, an ex boxer turned longshoreman is unwittingly involved in the murder of his childhood friend, orchestrated by his boss, Johnny Friendly. Malloy meets the dead man's sister, who, along with a local priest convince Malloy to testify against Johnny Friendly and the mob.
Based on a series of articles in the New York Sun called 'Crime on the Waterfront,' many of the characters in the film are based on real life people. In fact, the film is somewhat auto-biographical for director, Elia Kazan. Kazan testified as a 'friendly' witness during the House Un-American Activities Commission where he named many of his contemporaries as Communist sympathisers. The film is a justification of 'squealing' to expose corruption and elicits sympathy for the sqealer.
The film earned 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Eva Marie Saint and Best Actor for Marlon Brando, who's performance as Terry Malloy is one of the greatest performances by a film actor.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) - James Foley.
Depicting two days in the lives of four desperate real estate agents, Glengarry Glen Ross depicts the lengths these desperate men will go to close a sale. Blake, sent to the real estate offices by Mitch And Murray, tells the salesmen in no uncertain terms that they close or they lose their jobs. And to the closers go the Glengarry leads, gold dust to the desperate men. But when the leads go missing, everyone is under suspicion and tensions come to boiling point.
David Mamet adapted his play for the screen and director James Foley gathered what can be considered as the greatest cast in cinema history. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce are all on top form as men under incredible pressure. Alec Baldwin appears for only seven minutes in a role written specifically for him, but this cameo is unforgettable. With a script that is profane, dramatic and often quite humorous, Glengarry Glen Ross is a modern masterpiece.
3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Frank Darabont.
A young, successful lawyer, Andy Dufresne, is tried and convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Sent to Shawshank prison, Andy is initially rejected by his fellow prisoners who think he's the kind of prisoner who wont survivor the unforgiving environment. But Andy never lets go of hope. His defiance against overwhelming oppression endears Andy to his fellow prisoners, and he strikes up friendship with Red, the most pragmatic prisoner in Shawshank.
Adapted from Stephen King's short story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film was a slow burner, virtually unnoticed at the cinema. A life-affirming, inspirational piece of classic cinema made in modern day, the two central performances from Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman as Red and the study of their friendship are the key to the film. The direction by Frank Darabont, cinematography by Roger Deakins, music by Thomas Newman, coupled with the fantastic cast make The Shawshank Redemption one of those rare films that are hard to find a flaw with. Despite the poor run at the box office, word of mouth helped the film do very well on video, earning it status amongst the great films of cinema history.
4. Magnolia (1999) - Paul Thomas Anderson.
Set in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Magnolia tells a number of different stories that are interconnected by coincidence. Two dying men try to reach out to their estranged children. One, a television producer dying of lung cancer who's nurse contacts his estranged motivational speaker son. The other is the host of a game show who's daughter is battling psychological issues and a cocaine addiction. Meanwhile, two whiz kids deal with issues of their own. One is a former whiz kid who's life has gone downhill since he found fame, and the other is a child under enormous pressure from a father who cares more about wealth and fame than the well being of his son.
Summing up Magnoila is an extremely difficult thing to do. The film has no one plot line, and is instead a multi-layered series of plot lines that slowly intertwine and build to a brilliant and quite strange conclusion. Dealing with a number of themes, the one theme that dominates is what it means to be a man. The ensemble cast which includes William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and a career-best Tom Cruise all put in brilliant and devastating performances. While some have accused the film of being quite pretentious, the fact of the matter is Magnolia is one of the finest films of the end of the twentieth century, and presented Paul Thomas Anderson as the heir to Robert Altman's throne as king of the ensemble film.
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mama Too) (2001) - Alfonso Cuaron.
Two teenagers, Julio and Tenoch are abandoned by their girlfriends, who leave Mexico to travel Europe for the summer. At a wedding, the two boys meet Luisa, the wife of one of Tenoch's cousins. The boys tell Luisa that they're heading off on a road trip to a secret beach (which they've made) on the Mexican coast and invite her along. At first, she politely refuses. But after a drunken confession of infidelity from her husband, Luisa rings the boys and tells them she'll come along. And so the three head aimlessly out of Mexico City for the fictional beach. Luisa wants some excitement to her life, the boys both want to bed Luisa. But the trip presents the boys with revelations about their friendship and experiences they may not be ready to deal with.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is a drama that can be seen as the anti-American Pie type of movie. Both a road-trip movie and a coming of age movie, the film is extremely honest in the exploration of the boys' relationship with each other and Luisa. The teenagers are young and inexperienced, and eager to a fault to impress Luisa. On the other hand, Luisa who is bright and confident on the surface, hides a sadness and loneliness underneath. Alfonso Cuaron emerges as one of the great directors of the 21st Century and one of the big three (along with Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu) leading the recent Mexican invasion in the film industry. He handles the subject matter quite brilliantly in a film that both celebrates youth and mourns the loss of innocence that comes with age.