The Coens had developed a pretty formidable arthouse reputation with films like Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink, but this wickedly funny dark comedy that expertly balances amused chuckles with brutal violence took them to the next level -- and won them a few Oscars, at that. Frances McDormand won a certainly well-deserved golden statue for her performance as pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson, who finds the time in-between morning sickness and frequent visits to the buffet to investigate a kidnapping that starts a series of ever-escalating murders and betrayals. Sure, Fargo did start a brief annoying fad of people talking "Minnesota nice," but the film also features a dude being stuffed into a woodchipper, so things even out.
A kick-ass television series that's still going strong, In Plain Sight stars Mary McCormack, who brings a sexy toughness (and tough sexiness) to her role as Mary Shannon, a United States Marshall assigned to making people disappear via the Federal Witness Protection Program. Mary's got a complicated personal life, a trying professional life with her partner (he wants to sleep with her) and a knack for getting into all sorts of convoluted trouble around and about Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is really good television, and McCormack keeps it all together with her steely yet vulnerable performance.
Paul Verhoeven's sardonic, unflinching view of the future is nothing short of brilliant and RoboCop is so stuffed with throwaway gags, great dialogue and robot carnage that, were we trapped on a desert island with a solar-powered DVD player and only one movie, this might just be the movie we'd pick. Peter Weller's fantastic performance as a slain Irish flatfoot resurrected as an ass-kicking cyborg is the film's centerpiece, though he gets a heavy assist from his tough-as-nails lady partner, Office Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, the meanest of the mean girls in Carrie). RoboCop has also aged remarkably well -- it might be even more impressive today than it was when it was first released in 1987. Yeah, it's been that long.
One of the better episodes of NBC's short-lived Fear Itself series, "Eater," directed by Stuart Gordon (giving the Lovecraft a rest for a change), features Elisabeth Moss as Officer Danny Bannerman, a "boot" (the cool way of referring to a newly recruited police officer). One of her first assignments involves her guarding a Cajun serial killer nicknamed "Eater" for... well, for the reasons you're probably imagining. When her fellow guards start acting strangely and then commence with dying one by one, Officer Danny finds herself up against a towering cannibal who knows a thing or two about black magic as well. Take a bite out of this intense little thriller -- as bitter as it is, it'll still go down just fine.
A sick and twisted serial killer movie released long after it was "cool" to make sick and twisted serial killer movies (the Se7en craze had definitely died down by 2002), Murder by Numbers is still good for some genuine chills, most of them coming from the murderers themselves: two brilliant and beyond psychotic high schoolers played by Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling (natch). Sandra Bullock plays the driven lady cop haunted by her past (she used to be married to a serial killer, if you can believe that) who's also sleeping with her partner (Ben Chaplin); she'll be attacked by a baboon and yelled at by her captain (a lot) before she's able to nail the two brats. The film isn't half as clever as it thinks it is, but it's still cleverer than most of its kind.