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Top Films of the Decade: pt. 5 (10-1)

December 30, 2009

10. CASINO ROYALE (2006) – Reinvigorating the Bond franchise by way of Jason Bourne is possibly the smartest route the producers have taken. Bond here is all brute force, but slowly softens in the presence of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, who is sexy, smart and more than capable of handling Mr. Bond. After preventing the destruction of a new airplane, James goes ante a ante with Le Chiffre at a high-stakes poker game to prevent Le Chiffre from winning the money to fuel terrorism. From the exhilarating parkour chase at the top of the film to the fight inside a crumbling, sinking Venetian building, this film gets you jazzed that Bond is back.

9. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) – An eerie score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood permeates PT Anderson’s intense gaze into the soul of a man who consumes and is consumed by his quest for oil. Like the fossil fuel, the man, played to sheer perfection by Daniel Day Lewis, has a seething force bubbling beneath his surface, and when it explodes, nothing and no one is spared. And by the end the title’s promise is a foregone conclusion. “I. DRINK. YOUR. MILKSHAKE… I DRINK IT UP!”

8. RATATOUILLE (2007) – Whereas the previous film broods and glowers, Pixar’s film about a rat, Remy, who dreams of becoming a chef in Paris explodes with delight. Once again, Brad Bird presents his theme that daring to be extraordinary should be celebrated. Practically note perfect, this funny and moving film serves as an inspiration. Anton Ego’s reaction to tasting the dish crafted specially for his review is one of the many reasons that made this an easy choice to include in my Top 10.

7. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) – Edgar Wright’s love-letter to George Romero’s zombie films manages the nearly impossible feat of making a movie that has equal helpings of wit, savvy and gore without becoming a one-note spoof like “Scary Movie”. As the zombie-pocalypse erupts, Shaun, accompanied by his shiftless buddy Ed, attempts to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend Liz. What helps is that this relationship is the heart of the movie— the zombiegeddon is just the backdrop. Brilliant and canny, this film bears repeated screenings.

6. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) – The Coen Brothers’ finely crafted adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel explores Evil and its implacable, non-negotiable inability to reason as embodied by Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. Though his unrelenting pursuit would not be half as interesting without the characters who stand in opposition. Josh Brolin really shines as the taciturn Llewelyn, and when his immovable object meets Chigurh’s unstoppable force, the shit hits the fan. Inbetween these two polar opposites sits Tommy Lee Jones aged sheriff on the cusp of retirement who cannot fathom the level of violence and death left in Chigurh’s wake. Woody Harrelson (also providing a stand-out performance) and Kelly MacDonald round out the stellar cast.

5. OLDBOY (2003) – Like a character in a Kafka novel, Oh Dae Su, finds himself imprisoned for 15 years for what at first appears to be no reason. Upon being released, he begins his journey of revenge, leaving bodies in his wake — armed at one point only with a hammer — seeking the one person who stole his life away. To speak more of the plot would give too much away, suffice to say Park Chan Wook gives us a twisted, darkly humorous film filled with surprises and style. As mentioned previously, the hallway fight between Oh Dae Su and about 40 thugs in one long single take is breathtaking.

4. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) – After seeing this I may have foolishly declared, “There’s no need to make any more films” but I was mostly serious about that declaration. Wes Anderson, fresh off of Rushmore, gives us a fable out of time about the gifted Tenenbaum family — the kids’ brilliant promising futures and their fading glory as adults, and the negligent father (the irascible Gene Hackman) who wishes to make amends and bring the family back together before he kicks the bucket. Fresh, stylish and mannered with an intense scrutiny where production design is concerned, this film is dazzling to behold; every nook and cranny of the frame is bursting with detail. The performances are also a major part of this film’s charm — Gwyneth Paltrow particularly shines as the dour adopted Margot. Having not yet seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, this is, to me, Wes Anderson’s best film.

3. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) – Christopher Nolan revisits Gotham and creates a stunning near-perfect film that just happens to have a super-hero in it. The movie belongs mainly to Heath Ledger’s committed and stunning performance as the Joker, playing his sociopathy with nuance, wit and sharpness. Both Nolan and Ledger hold us tightly in their grip with their craft. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard also contribute to one of the most memorable and haunting scores in recent memory. “How about a magic trick? I’m going to make this pencil disappear…”

2. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) – The second pairing between enfant terrible Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman results in the perfect chemical combination. Jim Carrey wants to have the painful memories of his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) erased but once the procedure starts, discovers that some of those memories were actually quite good. What follows is a dizzying frenetic chase that explores the past, one’s memories of fleeting moments, how they inform the present and, most importantly, the question of fate: is a relationship the sum aggregate of shared moments or is it the result of cosmic fate? Gondry’s best film and Kaufman’s finest script. My favorite scene is when the beach-house of a treasured moment starts to collapse into the sand as the tide rises.

1. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2001) – Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece. This movie transcends cinema and becomes sublime. A married man, Tony Leung, lives across the hall from Maggie Cheung and in spite of their respective spouses’ infidelity, they struggle to keep from submitting to the same passion despite their growing attraction to each other. The movie is all feints and retreats as the two luminous leads get closer. Never have constricting, neck-high dresses been sexier. The ending at Angkor Wat is devastating and heartbreaking. Truly a classic beyond this decade. Flawless.

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And there you have it. My Top 50 films. If you’ve read this far, thanks for your patience and I hope you were entertained.

Here’s looking forward to a new decade of excellent films!

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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Pt. 4 (20-11)

December 29, 2009

20. ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) – David Gordon Green, before he went into teen comedies, did teen dramas and this one is note perfect. Paul Schneider, who co-wrote, stars as a dude with a womanizing reputation who returns to his hometown and falls for his best friend’s sister, played by Zooey Deschanel. How can he prove his feelings are genuine? The movie belongs to the two main actors who turn in astoundingly real, painful and genuine performances. Their actions and feelings for each other had a real effect on me. Coupled with an amazing ambient score and editing that supports the lyrical quality of the camera work and you get an amazing experience.

19. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2004) – Overlooked as a minor Coen Brothers, this film captures Clooney and Zeta-Jones at their most glamourous. A modern day screwball romance, Clooney plays Cary Grant playing a divorce lawyer bored with his success so he takes on impossible cases. Enter Zeta-Jones, the ambitious man-eater, looking for financial security. The zingers rip back and forth and the chemistry sizzles the screen. I found this more consistently funny and engaging than Burn After Reading, though that movie is quite good as well.

18. THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) – Chris McQuarrie’s debut as director shows absolute confidence and control. Phillipe (in his best role) and Del Toro kidnap a pregnant surrogate for ransom. Enter bad-ass James Caan as the bounty hunter hired to retrieve the girl. A fantastic gritty thriller studded with great set pieces. The 5 mile-per-hour car chase has to be seen to be believed. With a hilarious cameo by Sarah Silverman.

17. THE INCREDIBLES (2003) – Brad Bird’s follow up to The Iron Giant with Pixar and he knocks it out of the park and into the next time zone. A great metaphor for letting your talents shine and not being afraid to be extraordinary. Great retro designs and color schemes. The best parts include the look on Dash’s face when he realizes he can run on water, and when Bob asks his wife to stay behind and be safe and she challenges him, he admits that he isn’t strong enough. So why can’t she help? Because, he confesses, that he’s afraid he won’t be strong enough to lose her. Brilliant writing, jaw-dropping action scenes, ad astounding animation.

16. ADAPTATION (2002) – Charlie Kaufman’s script is the real star here, but the dual performance by Nic Cage more than makes up for his previous crap roles (Con Air? Gone In 60 Seconds?). Nic Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a writer tasked with adapting Susan Orleans’ The Orchid Thief. What follows is a great meta-commentary on screenwriting, truth vs. fiction and one’s ability to change. Brian Cox as Robert McKee is perfection.

15. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – The right way to do a vampire film without the cheezy teen angst. Oskar, a bullied loner, befriends the new girl next door, Eli and discovers her true nature. What follows is an innocent romance with very dark undertones. Brilliant and simple, it does more to forward the vampire mythos than dreck like Twilight or 30 Days of Night. The brilliant final scene at the pool house remains vivid in my mind mainly for what we don’t see.

14. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) – Leave it to PT Anderson to follow up his mega-epic Magnolia with this smaller, shorter more intimate romantic comedy that surprises and delights by casting Adam Sandler as the quirky, repressed plunger salesman who falls in love with Emily Watson. His man-child tantrums punctuate a number of memorable scenes, but what delights is how he grows out of his shell in pursuit of what he wants. All aided with the harmonium. It’s a symbol people!

13. MONSTERS, INC. (2001) – Pixar provides another of the decade’s best films with this touching and hilarious tale of monsters who scare kids for energy. The crisis occurs when a human child, Boo, invades the monster’s world. Best scene is when Sully thinks Boo has fallen down the garbage chute and is crushed into a tiny cube; it tugs at the heart-strings while serving up some hilarious reactions by Sully as he faints and swoons. If you’re not bawling by the end of the movie you have no heart.

12. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) – The trilogy as a whole would have been included, but for my money the first film gets it 100% right while the last two provide diminishing returns. Visually stunning and well-crafted with epic scope that establishes Middle Earth as real as the New Zealand locations it was shot in. Great ensemble cast and the perfect blend of CGI with miniatures (or “bigatures” as they call them). My favorite scene is noble Boromir’s sacrifice and redemption.

11. MEMENTO (2000) – Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough film explores memory, as well as cause and effect in this twisty thriller about a man without short-term memory who is hunting for his wife’s killer. Who does he trust — the sleazy Joey Pantoliano or the femme fatale Carrie Anne Moss? With its scenes starting from the end and unravelling backwards to the beginning, the reveal is a doozy and speaks volumes for the control and tight crafting executed by Nolan.

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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Pt. 3 (30-21)

December 28, 2009

30. 25th HOUR (2002) – Spike Lee’s opening to this film blew me away when I saw it. It sets a somber tone but Ed Norton kicks it into high gear as an unrepentant drug pusher who spends his last 24 hrs of freedom resigned to his jailtime and hanging with his best friends. The final escape envisioned by his father (Brian Cox) is one of the best rug pulling scenes alongside Brazil’s finale.

29. TALK TO HER (2002) – Perhaps the best Almodovar film that capped a great run starting with Live Flesh and All About My Mother (though he did pick up again after the misfired Bad Education with the wonderful Volver). Clearly a master of his craft at this point, he adroitly mixes the lives of a comatose female bullfighter, her boyfriend, her male nurse and the nurse’s patient. The dream sequence with the giant vagina is a particular stand out.

28. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) – Noah Baumbach returns after a long hiatus after the touching if slight Mr. Jealousy with this devastating and wry portrayal of 2 boys and how the divorce of their parents affects them. Jesse Eisenberg is a revelation and Jeff Daniels, shaggy yet cutting, pulls an amazing performance.

27. THE PRESTIGE (2006) – A mini Batman Begins reunion occurs when Chris Nolan cast Michael Caine and Christian Bale to star in this mesmerizing tale of two rival magicians (Hugh Jackman being the other) trying to outdo each other with the ultimate magic trick — teleportation. That it involves David Bowie’s Nikolai Tesla and thousands of hats is but one succulent detail of this richly layered thriller.

26. KILL BILL V1 & V2 (2003 / 2004) – QT proves that he can shoot the shit out of several action set-pieces inbetween his more trademark talky bits. Composed as a love letter of sorts to his star, Uma Thurman, the movie traces the journey of revenge of The Bride against her former employer, Bill (played with class and dignity by David Carradine) and his deadly assassins The Deadly Viper Squad. Poetic and bloody. “How do I look?” “You look ready.”

25. SERENITY (2005) – Having the unfortunate distinction of being released the same summer as Revenge of the Sith and only making $30M theatrically, guess which one ends up being the better film? Joss Whedon transports the crew of the Firefly TV show to widescreen success. Our beloved characters are put through the wringer as River Tam’s secret is made known and the Operative set to hunt them closes in. This movie introduced Chiwetel Ejiofor to me as an actor to keep my eye on. Any chance of a sequel, please?

24. SPIRITED AWAY (2001) – Miyazki’s wondrous film about a young girl who loses her parents to the ghosts and spirits who inhabit a bathhouse, and ends up trying to rescue them before losing them forever (somewhat similar to Coraline). The variety and oddity of the many ghosts on display here showcase a wonderful imagination, and the resourcefulness of the young girl as she comes of age makes for a highly entertaining and near-perfect film-going experience.

23. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001) – Absurd, ironic and straight-faced about its take on the 80s Summer Camp genre, this hilarious off-kilter comedy barely made it past its first week in theaters only to be “discovered” and rightly championed on home DVD. Any film that can have Chris Meloni talk to a can of food about dick cream deserves a place on every Top 50 Films of the Decade list. Also, best scene is the day spent in town. Rent it now!

22. DONNIE DARKO (2001) – Another overlooked instant cult classic from the same year as Wet Hot American Summer, Richard Kelley’s grim and moody view of Jake Gyllenhaal’s attempt to prevent the end of the world on Halloween, while he negotiates first love and high school, is equal parts philosophical and mystical without being too pretentious or too baffling (see Primer). Boasting a dark and mesmerizing score and 80s soundtrack, this film made Patrick Swayze cool again despite his playing a motivational speaker and possible pedophile, as well as introduced us to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Sparkle Motion.

21. STAR TREK (2009) – Boldly taking the franchise to where no other Star Trek has gone before — a character driven sci-fi actioner with crossover audience appeal. JJ Abrams’s ballsy rebooting of the Trek ‘verse uses a number of his bag of tricks (time travel, the MacGuffin) but to great effect. What follows is a thrilling tale about the nascent crew of the starship Enterprise as they come together to thwart a rogue Romulan (Eric Bana nearly unrecognizable as Nero) who plays havoc with the space-time continuum in an attempt at revenge. Zach Quinto as Spock is spot on and gets the best lines. Karl Urban as Bones is sublime. One of the few films I had the most fun watching this past decade.

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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Pt. 2 (40-31)

December 27, 2009

The next ten in the list of the films I thoroughly enjoyed this past decade.

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40. CORALINE (2008) – An intricate stop-motion animated film that is dark, sly and astounding. A modern-day Grimm fairy tale filled with eccentric characters and a plucky young heroine. Just thinking about how many puppets it took to create the jumping mice circus blows me away.

39. AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) – Christian Bale once again plays it to the hilt as the narcissistic serial killer, Patrick Bateman, whose paranoia starts to damage his mannered calm. Coming so soon after Fight Club may have diminished the film’s 3rd Act twist, but it doesn’t keep this film from having an impact. Who can forget the scene where he prepares to dismember a victim to Huey Lewis and the News, or his obsession over a rival’s business card?

38. THE WRESTLER (2008) – The most amazing special effect in this film is Mickey Rourke’s beefy body. His casting comes with an eerie resonance since it’s about a past-his-prime performer trying to stay relevant. I can overlook Rachel Evan Wood’s thankless underwritten role mainly because of his astounding and heartbreaking performance. His self-punishment is intense, visceral and compounded by his desire to relive the glory of his younger days. Devastating.

37. BRICK (2005) – Rian Johnson’s first film is dense with vernacular and mannered camera work that recalls the Coen Brothers earliest films. This is the kind of movie my film school would have frowned upon but that’s not the only reason why I hold it in such high regard. Joseph Gordon Levitt sheds his goofy tv persona to become a film actor.

36. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006) – Breathtaking single-take action sequences punctuate Alfonso Cuaron’s distopian view of the near-future where infertility has numbered the days of humanity — until Clive Owen’s character is tasked to care for the last pregnant woman. Nearly perfect until the last shot hits the nail on the head to bluntly, it’s still a thrilling film to watch.

35. MATCH POINT (2005) – Woody Allen finds a new muse (Scarlett Johanssan) and films in a different country (England) and creates a controlled, suspenseful, thriller that actually has you rooting for Jonathan Rhys-Meyers despite his infidelity and manipulative nature. It’s the least Woody Allen film that still deals with Woody Allen themes. With this one film he almost manages to make me forgive him for dreck like Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

34. SEXY BEAST (2001) – Speaking of astounding performances, I must be a sucker for ham because Ben Kingsley turns it upside down as the sociopathic gangster Don Logan. This film defies the “one more heist” gangster genre and presents a middle-aged man past his prime and willing to do what it takes to maintain his retired lifestyle.

33. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: DIRECTOR’S CUT (2005) – Ridley Scott’s misunderstood epic was neutered for its theatrical release. Thank god for DVD — many scenes fleshing out characters and a very important suplot involving Eva Green and her son are restored, explaining her diminished presence in the third act. Far more satisfying than Gladiator.

32. HEIST (2001) – No one does sleight of hand better than Mamet, and this is his most accomplished film to date. Still mannered and obsessed with creating its own vernacular, and yet it still manages to elevate the con genre. “Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it ‘Money’!”

31. IRON MAN (2008) – This was a surprise and a joy to watch. Jon Favreau takes the Batman Begins approach and gets beneath the armor to give us Tony Stark, played with utter command and dashing derring-do by Robert Downey Jr. One of the best casting choices alongside Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. And while the movie’s third act grinds down into good-guy/bad-guy rock ’em sock ’em CGI robot clash, it’s still one of the best super-hero movies ever.

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Top 50 Films of the Decade: Pt. 1 (50-41)

December 21, 2009

I will attempt to list my favorite top 50 films of the past 10 years. Be assured that this list is not an attempt at snobbery — these are my personal favorites of the films I’ve seen.

However, I have certainly skipped over many notable critically acclaimed films (I should absolutely expand my current movie-watching tastes to include more indie and international films), and if I should see something that would make me reassess this list, then so I shall.

Anyway, in the next five days I will countdown my list until I reach my numero uno on Christmas Eve. Until then, we start with the first ten — 50-41.

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50. LOST IN LA MANCHA (2002) – A documentary every filmmaker must see. Everything that can go wrong on a film set goes wrong thus lending credence to the idea that Terry Gilliam is either cursed or this is just normal for any film shoot or both.

49. BEFORE SUNSET (2004) – I was not a fan of Before Sunrise so this really floored me. Both actors are excellent and the ending reaches for the sublime.

48. GRIZZLY MAN (2005) – A heart-rending cautionary tale explored by the warmest eccentric that you’d love to have as your Uncle or be the guy to pull you out of a car wreck, Werner Herzog. The restraint and responsibility he shows to the subject is as fascinating as the subject himself.

47. THE NEW WORLD (2005) – Practically ignored both times it was released (long artsy cut and shorter artsy cut) this lyrical take on the conquest of the Americas and its natives is not short of beauty and emotion. One of Colin Farrell’s best performances (alongside In Bruges).

46. UNITED 93 (2006) – Harrowing and haunting. I only needed to see it once to know it would end up on a list like this. It’s realistic and straight-forward depiction of the events aboard this flight belies Hollywood fakery and melodrama and creates the best memorial for those that died.

45. EASTERN PROMISES (2007) – Scorcese has DiCaprio, Scott has Crowe, and Cronenberg has Mortenson. While most will cite A History of Violence on their list, I found this film to be more consistent in tone. It clearly shows a master at the peak of his craft as he continues exploring the theme of two worlds colliding. The fight scene in the Russian bath house is a stand out and ranks as one of the best fight scenes alongside the hallway fight in Oldboy.

44. RESCUE DAWN (2006) – Herzog dramatizes his previous doc Little Dieter Needs To Fly about a downed American pilot who is captured in Laos and eventually plots his escape with the aid of other POWs. The character’s optimism and daring in the face of desperate odds says much about the human will to survive, but the main selling point is the incredible cast. Christian Bale plays against type as the optimistic Dieter (a bit like Dignan from Bottle Rocket); he is joined by Steve Zahn (also playing against type) and the always fun-to-watch Jeremy Davies (playing to type, but that’s what I want).

43. GERRY (2002) – Forsaking Hollywood to reinvent himself, Gus Van Sant strips away everything — narrative, dramatic artifice — to give us two character who get lost in a desert. Never has two people wandering and mumbling to themselves been so thrilling. The best of his “Death” trilogy.

42. THE BROTHERS BLOOM (2008) – Rian Johnson’s sophomore effort dazzles with verve, style and wit. Mark Ruffalo and Adrian Brody play the title characters, both con artists out for the last big score that involves an eccentric rich woman (Rachel Weisz). The editing and visual storytelling are thrilling, reminiscent of Wes Anderson. And that is a good thing.

41. PLANET TERROR / MACHETE (2007) – Robert Rodriguez makes the zombie film John Carpenter should have made. Thrilling, self-referential and gooey, this film — and its companion trailer for Machete — pays off its set-up ten times over. It has the best third-act edit ever and the yummy Marley Shelton.

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Agree? Disagree? Let me know! I also welcome any guesses as to my Top 10.

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MP-01: Convoy

November 21, 2009

I’ve had this incredible toy from Takara since it was first released from Japan and I can say that it was worth every penny. Loaded with gimmicks, multiple points of articulation and a transformation scheme unique from its smaller scaled G1 counterpart this is a must-have for any serious collector of Transformers.

This gallery was on my Flickr page, and until I renew my Pro account, I am hosting the Convoy gallery here. Enjoy!

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G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra pt. 5 — Single-Carded (C1 W2-3, C2 W3)

August 30, 2009

More carded figures from The Rise of Cobra line of G.I. Joe toys. It’s amazing that in a 2-month period, 37 figures spread over 2 collections and 3 waves have been released. I have 34 of them and only missing Wallace “Ripcord” Weems v2 [Reactive Impact Armor], Conrad “Duke” Hauser v3 [Delta-6 Accelerator Suit] and Storm Shadow v3 [Arctic Threat]. This gallery finishes off the remainder of Collection 1 Wave 2, Collection 2 Wave 3 and introduces 4 of the 7 figures available from Collection 1 Wave 3.

Collection 1 Wave 2
• Snake Eyes v2 [Paris Pursuit]
• Storm Shadow v2 [Paris Pursuit]

Collection 1 Wave 3
• Baroness v2 [Paris Pursuit]
• Para-Viper [Cobra Paratrooper]
• Rex “The Doctor” Lewis [Chief Experimental Doctor]
• Snake Eyes v3 [Arctic Assault]

Collection 2 Wave 3
• General Clayton “Hawk” Abernathy [Attack on the G.I. Joe Pit]
• G.I. Joe Pit Commando A [Covert Military Force]
•  G.I. Joe Pit Commando B [Covert Military Force]