Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten (erm...Fifteen) Films of the Decade

This is where things will start getting heated. Many of my readers are very opinionated and plugged in to the world of film, and have incredibly different views than I do. Well, that's what this is for...discussion. As I said in my book list, I had trouble narrowing this down to ten so I expanded it by five. Let me know what you think.

15. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I know what everyone is thinking: Really, Elliot? Really? That was one of the worst films I've seen in the last ten years. In fact, that was one of the worst films I've seen, ever. It's only good in comparison to Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But here's the thing; if George Lucas had made the first two in the new trilogy with as much story and energy as he put into the third one, we would hate the new trilogy a lot less. The dialog was terrible, yes. The acting wooden, yes. The...wait. Maybe I did hate this film. But for all of the anticipation I had for this movie, I'm tricking myself into it being a better film than it actually was.

14. Little Miss Sunshine
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Not just because the soundtrack is DeVotchka and Sufjan Stevens heavy (though that helped), this film was an achievement for cast and director alike. While everyone turns out incredible performances, Steve Carrell and Paul Dano provide amazing turns as (respectively) Frank Ginsberg, a suicidal gay professor and Dwayne, the quintessential dark teenage boy. And even though Dano doesn't speak for the better part of the film, when he finally speaks he has some of the best lines of the film. Some I have spoken to despise the climactic scene, decrying what Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) does at the pageant as disgusting. If this was you, then you totally missed the point. I'd suggest rewatching just the pageant scene.

13. Ratatouille
Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar has yet to disappoint, which is a dangerous position to hold in an industry as unforgiving as the film industry. Everyone knows that when giants fall, they fall much harder than anyone else. So what is Pixar's secret? Well, it's revealed in the very opening sequence of this film, as the camera (even though it's animated, it feels like it was shot) zooms in on an old-fashioned television. The high pitched ringing you hear isn't a problem with your ears or with your home theater system or anything like that; it's Pixar throwing in a realistic element most filmmakers would manipulate to remove. It's that old fashioned television ringing in your ears. It's the cracked linoleum in the same place every time. It's the uneven lines in the grout of the linoleum (it is much easier to animate a straight line but they don't like easy). It's the realistic whiskers on the rat. It's the way the neon lights flicker on atop the restaurant. It's the way you can almost smell the food. It's the way you want to eat the food when you leave the show. That's what it is. This is a prime example of Pixar's awesomeness.

12. Everything is Illuminated
Warner Independent Pictures

Liev Schreiber and Everything is Illuminated author Jonathan Safran Foer have much in common. Both are up and coming in their field, and represent the newer generation of Jewish artists. This film, based on Foer's debut novel, is Schreiber's directorial debut (and the only director credit he has to this point). Everything is Illuminated is a beautiful and faithful adaptation of about two thirds of the book or so. Moments range from the humorous to the heart wrenching. Eugene Hutz turns in a great performance as Alex, the Ukrainian translator for Jonathan (Elijah Woods). Alex has a loose grasp on the English language and American Culture, causing him to hire a street band (Hutz's real life band Gogol Bordello) to play the Star Spangled Banner upon Jonathan's arrival. Wood himself avoids sentimentalism as Jonathan Safran Foer, a fictional version of the book's author. Jonathan collects mementos of his trip in a black fanny pack. It takes guts to wear one of those after 1992. And despite the fanny pack, this film is beautiful.

11. There Will Be Blood
Ghoulardi Film Company

I'm a fan of character-driven narratives, and There Will Be Blood delivers exactly that. I could give you the basic plot in probably a few sentences, but the plot is not what's important. What's important is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his character arc. He begins as a mineral prospector and ends as a rich oil man, and on the way you see what he is willing to do to get what he wants. Paul Dano (again he crops up in my list...I think I kinda like this guy) shines as Eli Sunday, a preacher intent on reaping the benefit of the oil for his church (Dano also plays Paul Sunday, Eli's twin brother). While this film can be, at times, heavy handed, Daniel Day-Lewis' performance stands out as the best of the decade.

10. The Incredibles
Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

Reason number two Pixar makes great films: Story. From concept to execution, this film has it done right. Sure, we've seen this idea about Super Heroes and their identity crises. Since Superman met Clark Kent this has been going on. The idea of the general public turning against the heroes, forcing them into obscurity? Also not new. But the way it is done works very well. For instance, when Mr. Incredible returns home from a night of vigilante heroism and is confronted by his wife, the moment feels real. It's almost as if she caught him returning from a late night tryst. The film is also funny when it needs to be but dark, like all good super hero fare. The only bad moment comes when Violet tells her brother "Their lives could be in danger, or worse; their marriage!" But, I guess that's a teenager for you...

9. High Fidelity
Dogstar Films

I'm a sucker for a film about a music snob. It's like looking into a moving, celluloid mirror. Throw in some stuck up beer snobbery and references to Italian bicycles and German cars, and Rob Gordon (John Cusack) could very easily be an alternate reality version of this blog's author. But relatability isn't the only reason this film lands in my top ten. It's also the structure; the in-moment narration, the breaking of the fourth wall, it all works so well. Rob invites us into his world and shows us more than he intends to. We know he's an idiot, but he remains more or less clueless throughout. Jack Black also shines as Barry, a brash music snob who works at the record shop Rob owns. I am happy to say that I am not Rob Gordon, but if I squint hard enough I can see that parallel universe. The book would have made it onto my last top ten list, but alas! it was published in 1996. I highly recommend adding this to your list. Caveat; there are those who do not like John Cusack films because they seem to always include Joan. She's in this one, but it's my favorite role I've seen her in so you should totally give her a chance.

8. Star Trek
Paramount Pictures

Let me give you the standard rundown I always give regarding Star Trek films: watch the even-numbered ones and you will only be slightly disappointed when you get to Nemesis, the last Trek film released (which was basically The Wrath of Kahn but with the Next Generation cast). Generally skip the odd numbered ones (although The Voyage Home will make no sense without The Search for Spock) because the original is pretty but boring, the third one feels a bit forced, the fifth one is flat out terrible, Generations is pretty meh, and Insurrection isn't even good enough to be a bad science fiction film. But then director J.J. Abrams took the helm and made number eleven and it kicks ass. Like The Wrath of Kahn, this is a great science fiction film apart from being a Star Trek film. It would have been very easy to do this wrong (look at The Phantom Menace) but Abrams avoided the fanboys' cries of "You're messing with canon!" by flat out rewriting it. Watch. This. Film.

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Anonymous Content

Jim Carrey can be a good actor. He has shown this before, in The Truman Show, in The Man on the Moon and in Liar Liar (underrated). But this is also the man who gave us Ace Ventura, The Cable Guy and Me, Myself & Irene. In Eternal Sunshine, Carrey proves again that he is a capable actor. Maybe he just enjoys acting in terrible roles. Maybe he likes the idea of jumping on a motorcycle in a hospital gown and letting the audience get a look at his crack (Yes Man, I'm looking in your direction with partially closed eyes), I guess. Please, please do more films like this one, Jim Carrey. Joel Barish (Carrey's character) is one of the most sardonic protagonists to grace the silver screen. Not to mention the beautiful script. Kate Winslet shows her range, too, playing the Bohemian Clementine. Elijah Wood (looks like I like him, too) does a good job, too, as Patrick, a man who uses what he gleans about Clementine from Joel to pursue a relationship with her. Part Drop Dead Fred, part Being John Malkovich, this movie will make you think about the good and the bad parts of relationships, asking us to consider how we could walk away from the good when all we can see is the bad.

6. Lord of the Rings: The Complete Trilogy
New Line Cinema

Clearly, I do like Elijah Wood. Except that, well, it's not that I don't like him, I just happen to like some of the films he's been in. It's not always because of him. In fact, I'd say that though he is the main character of at least the first of these three films, (Viggo Mortensen taking over in the second), it was not his performance that landed these films the collective six spot on my list. No, I will give the credit to director Peter Jackson, for his vision and attention to detail and balls of steel. It's one thing to tamper with a beloved world that's been around for thirty years (like Star Wars) or forty years (like Star Trek), but author J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth has existed since 1937. Its history is rich and detailed and has an established mythology (read The Silmarillion; it is basically Middle Earth's bible) and people know the history. So to tackle a project like this, just...wow. It's sweeping and epic but it never feels like it's straining to cover its bases. Originally, Jackson broke the three novels into two scripts, believing it would make the project marketable. At the time, Miramax held the film rights and asked Jackson if he thought he could change his plans from two films to one. That would have been straining. When New Line Cinema picked up the option, they called Jackson for a meeting to discuss the "two-film" approach, which they felt was wrong. Ready to defend against a single film, Jackson was delighted to find New Line's quibble wasn't that two films was too much, they were concerned that two films would not be enough. These three films go together on the list as an achievement of modern film-making and of script adaptation; the performances of the actors carried this up to the number six spot.

5. Snatch
Columbia Pictures Corporation/SKA Films

Nobody thought director Guy Ritchie could outdo Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at all. When I first saw the trailer for Snatch, I was worried. It looked like Ritchie had just remade Lock Stock with a bigger budget and some bigger names (Benicio Del Toro as Frankie Four Fingers, Brad Pitt as Mickey). I'll admit, I did not see this one in theaters. In fact, I waited two years before I finally rented it, waiting for it to come off the new release wall at Blockbuster (wow, remember when we used to rent our movies at Blockbuster?) before shelling out money to see it. What a mistake that was. This movie doesn't rehash Ritchie's previous offering, it obliterates it. It's multifaceted, multi-layered and hilarious. Ritchie proved again that he is a master of the complicated screenplay. Jason Statham gives us his best role to date as Turkish, the film's main character and narrator. A friend once explained Snatch like this; "If you've seen Crash, you know how all the characters affect all the others, even though they may not actually meet? It's like that, only, you know, hilarious." Unfortunately for Ritchie, his follow-ups have been let downs (though I have not yet seen RocknRolla or Sherlock Holmes) with duds like Swept Away and Revolver. Oh, Guy Ritchie; if only Madonna would have helped your career.

4. Finding Nemo
Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar again, and this time they gain a spot because of the emotion they can bring. If we were really going for one-time emotional punch, I would have included Up! on the list merely for the first twelve minutes (I ball my eyes out every damn time). But Nemo gives us a shock followed by a slow release of emotion. Clownfish get eaten by barracudas. It happens. We shouldn't care, it's part of nature. But we do care. And then we fall for Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) because he finds the one remaining egg and gives it the name his wife wanted. It's a great story about a single parent raising a small child in the dangerous, every day world. Except their fish. But Pixar makes us care about the fish. They pay close attention to the movement of the water, the movement of the fish, to make everything as real as possible. Obviously, a talking fish is not real. The emotion is. The emotion is very, very real.

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Touchstone Pictures

Dear Critics, you're all idiots. What was it about this film that you didn't like? Seriously? You all loved the music and hated the film when it was released, but now it's cropping up on your best-of-the-decade lists. Was it that even though it was based on Homer's Odyssey, it was too loose for you? Come on! The film itself was a great story, hilariously told and rich with what could, I guess, be called 1930's pop culture references. The music helped everything in this film (without the music, the film would be on my top ten, but not in the top three). You're all morons, all of you, and I question every review you all write from here on out in perpetuity.

2. Wall-E
Pixar Animation Studios

This is, in my opinion, Pixar's masterpiece. This will be the Pixar film (and computer-animated film) against which I judge all of Pixar's future films (or other computer-animated films). While other animation studios are concerned with the cleanliness of the world they animate (and dirtiness in the script...Shrek I'm looking in your direction this time), Pixar is more concerned with a beautiful script, a beautiful story, and a beautiful rendering of an imperfect world. Like the uneven grout in the linoleum in Ratatouille, like the dirty floor in Monster's, Inc and like the garbage-encrusted Earth in Wall-E, Pixar knows how to do it. Many filmmakers try to avoid accidental soft-focus and lens flares. Pixar works hard to get them in. Bottom line; many films shot with cameras look like they were rendered on a computer but Pixar makes their computer rendered films look like they were shot with cameras. And aside from that, Wall-E gets the top of the Pixar heap because it is beautiful to look at, has a great message and carries a great warning. The ultimate irony, though, is that Disney financed and distributed this film about the Earth being corrupted and destroyed by a giant corporation bent on selling the world a bunch of crap that ends up in landfills.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums
American Empirical Pictures

Wes Anderson showed he was a genius with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Then he released The Royal Tenenbaums and cemented his status. I can't say anything about this movie, though, because once I start, I don't stop. If you haven't seen it, well...get on it. Hilarious cross-reference: Best TV Show star Jason Bateman once described Arrested Development as "Royal Tenenbaums shot like Cops." Now stop reading and update your Netflix queue.


Bridget said...

I don't get out much...I've only seen 2 of these!

Abalama said...

Ok, amazing list - you have a few of mine on here, but I totally disagree with your top three . . . more on that later :)

Molly said...

Jeez, B, what rock do you live under? (although I've only seen 7 of them) I think it takes guts to lay a top 10 list out there. Well written, my boy. I think it's funny, though, that you include all those "kid" flicks (Pixar). Just funny. Don't analyze it. And never grow up (all the way, anyway).