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We’re counting down to the Oscars by introducing you to some of the best and sometimes overlooked performances of this year’s Oscar contenders. Today’s episode: Dirty High Dangerous Grifters.

Stephen Frears ain’t exactly what you’d call a household name around these parts. And with his nomination for Best Director coming from a highbrow film about the queen of England, some might think he’s another one of those inaccessible art film directors who only Academy members watch. On the contrary, while his last few (and powerful) films haven’t exactly set these shores ablaze, he has a long resume of great and memorable films that you’ve either seen or need to see.

Essential Filmography:

Dangerous Liaisons. Not just another in a long line of adaptations of the French Novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, this is far and away considered the definitive version (despite the fact that people keep trying to remake it). Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves team up to tackle 17th-century debauchery and the tale of a wager between bored aristocrats. If you haven’t seen this, perhaps you’ve seen the deliciously raunchy, modern teen version, Cruel Intentions. Same story – but Dangerous Liaisons is better.

The Grifters. If you compiled a list of the very best con-man movies ever, this one would be on it. And up there near the top. Mean-spirited and slick as all hell for its time, this one earned Frears his first and only other Oscar nod and took John Cusack from teen comedies and showed the world what kind of potential he had. Frears and Cusack would work together 10 years later on …

High Fidelity. My absolute favorite and the most easily rewatchable of Frears’ work. High Fidelity merged Frears’ love of adapting novels about everyday life, Cusack’s knack for romantic comedies, and a really great book to form one of the most realistic, down-to-earth romantic comedies ever made. Never before have I seen a film so eloquently explain the beautiful simplicity of the rigors of relationships like this one does. And it does it while giving us some of the very best Jack Black comedy ever put to screen. Above all else, this is the film that shows that Frears knows how to find just the right person for just the right role and just let them shine.

Dirty Pretty Things. Icky, grody, dirty and downright wrong, this cool little film gave us the lovely Audrey Tautou speaking English and the first film that made folks sit up and notice the brilliance of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, Children of Men). Focused upon the abrasive lives of illegal immigrants in London, this movie is a powerhouse little film you will not soon forget.

Why he probably shouldn’t get the gold: While he hasn’t quite made any stunningly terrible films, he sure has his share of mediocre to lackluster ones on his resume. Hero and The Hi-Lo Country were both sorely lacking, but Mary Reilly stands as the one Julia Roberts film my mother has asked me NOT to get her for Christmas. During a period of time when several of the other Best Director nominees were making epic classics, he thought it would be a good idea to tell Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the point of view of the maid. It did, however, earn Frears a nomination. A Razzie.

C. Robert Cargill – – – Email Me
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Austin-based Cargill, who not only loves but owns The Cutting Edge, writes on movies and DVD two times a week.

This is part of Film.com’s coverage of the 2007 Academy Awards. For more Oscars articles, analysis, news, and red carpet photo galleries, visit our Oscars page

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