First on the list, though not in any particular order, is Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge). Although not entirely seperable from the rest of his masterpiece trilogy, and the last of the three, it does not depend on the other two for its effect, which is massive. A rather spare story of the chance meeting between a young woman with a nascent modeling career (Valentine, played by the stunning Irène Jacob) and an old and disgraced judge (played by the astounding Jean-Louis Trintignant) in Switzerland, the movie manages an epic scope, mostly by not shying away from themes (chance, and second chances) that can become cloying if treated coyly or breezily, and embracing just enough magical realism to be uplifting, even as death, tragedy, disgrace, and distrust permeate the story. They meet after Valentine has hit his dog with her car, and she finds herself drawn to him, while repulsed by the merciless sport he makes of his neighbors' lives, and his general cynicism. ("Are you a lawyer?" she asks. "Worse," he says: "A judge.")
As we slowly learn the story of his own humiliating past, and as Valentine's humiliation unfolds in the present, they develop a closeness that, it seems, would make them lovers were he not 50 years her senior. The overall effect, subtle until a crescendo ending, is a suggestion that the universe has bent around these two people to offer a mysterious sort of redemption that comes to fruition only in a moment of stark tragedy. Kieslowski pulls this off without hesitation, and without the sort of affectation that might cheapen the film with sentimentality. At the same time, he rebuffs our questions, allowing mystery to remain mystery, content not to attempt a reconciliation between the canvas of a seemingly disinterested universe and the quirks of fortune and happenstance that stipple it. The film's power resides there, in the manner of Kubrick's 2001, in its refusal to reduce the circumstances into which its characters fall to an effable scope. But whereas Kubrick wrote large, with humans venturing into the unfathomable universe, Kieslowski instead shows us how the same enigma is at work in two lives on Earth.