Gosford Park [2001]

Gosford Park finds director Robert Altman in sumptuously fine form indeed. From the opening shots, as the camera peers through the trees at an opulent English country estate, Altman exploits the 1930s period setting and whodunit formula of the film expertly. Aristocrats gather together for a weekend shooting party with their dutiful servants in tow, and the upstairs/downstairs division of the classes is perfectly tailored to Altman's method (as employed in Nashville and Short Cuts) of overlapping bits of dialogue and numerous subplots in order to betray underlying motives and the sins that propel them. Greed, vengeance, snobbery, and lust stir comic unrest as the near dizzying effect of brisk script turns is allayed by perhaps Altman's strongest ensemble to date. First and foremost, Maggie Smith is marvelous as Constance, a dependent countess with a quip for every occasion; Michael Gambon, as the ill-fated host, Sir William McCordle, is one of the most palpably salacious characters ever on screen; Kristin Scott Thomas is perfectly cold yet sexy as Lady Sylvia, Sir William's wife; and Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and Clive Owen are equally memorable as key characters from the bustling servants' quarters below. Gosford Park manages to be fabulously entertaining while exposing human shortcomings, compromises, and our endless need for confession. --Fionn Meade

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