Gosford Park

Vintage wine doesn't get older, just better: ditto for Robert Altman with his sublime period portrait, Gosford Park. An Agatha Christie style 'upstairs-downstairs' murder mystery that also serves as a biting social commentary of pre-war British 'toffee-noses.' Over the course of a weekend shooting party at a country estate, we are treated to an assortment of invited guests (and their servants), each carrying their own hidden agenda to the lavish dinner parties and outings. Altman gently seduces us into the nuanced relationships between the gentry upstairs and their servants below, who must both contend with the humiliations of the established pecking order. Like a well-penned mystery novel the requisite characters are in place: the acerbic-tongued fretting dowager, the philandering husbands, the suspicious, sneering valet, as well as the Sherlock Holmes-style detective. The cast is an outstanding list of British thespian aristocracy itself: Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, and Alan Bates, among others. Altman orchestrates all these elements with the ease of a well-versed master conductor, and we are all the better for this cinematic enjoyment.