Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

h1

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.

Advertisements
h1

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.

h1

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

h1

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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

h1

Eagle Eye Has Tunnel Vision

January 30, 2009

EAGLE EYE (2008)
d. D.J. Caruso 

Executive Producer Steven Spielberg and director DJ Caruso muscle in on Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott territory with this techno-thriller involving a Kafka-esque persecution of Copy Cabana boy Shia LaBeouf and single-mother Michelle Monaghan as they are “activated” in scenes reminiscent of The Matrix into Jason Bourne-style American homeland security terrorists. It’s Disturbia taken out of the next door neighbor’s yard and moved to the entire country.

The conceit here that American privacy has been handed over to the government and that we are subject to the whims of technology and identity theft feeds our paranoia and distrust of power out of control that would make many conspiracy theorists and Luddites feel justified in their beliefs.

After a somewhat surprisingly slack first act where the world of hi-tech “smart” warfare is introduced and we get to know our leads, the film takes off on a thrilling cross-country chase from Chicago to our nation’s capitol where the plot threads lead our hapless protagonists to confront Aria (voiced by an uncredited Julianne Moore), a super smart self-aware computer that seems to be the love child of HAL and Mother, and the progenitor of VICKI and SkyNet, who has taken it upon herself to act in the nation’s best interests and decides to assassinate the President and others in top Cabinet positions.

Shia proves to be capable and charismatic in the lead, and Michelle is adequate and able to keep up. Less convincing is the hyperreal use of technology in this world and Aria’s reach — from remote control cranes gone amok to the ability to down power lines (though being able to listen in on a conversation by analyzing the sound waves vibrating the coffee in a mug is pretty cool). And even less convincing is how Shia and Michelle are able to survive and avoid capture.

Other name actors fill out the rest of the cast — Rosario Dawson, hot and convincing as an Air Force officer who is investigating Shia’s twin brother’s connections to Aria; Billy Bob Thornton, ornery as ever as the Fed hot on the trail of the two victims; and Michael Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense who barely registers a presence.

Overall, the action sequences are well-staged and provide a modicum of thrills, but the main conceit of omnipresent and omniscient technology collapses under its own weight as it escalates from plausible to ridiculous. If not for the presence of Shia and Michelle to ground some of the high concepts, this film would have been less watchable.

**1/2 stars.

h1

High Wire Act Highly Entertaining — Man On Wire

January 21, 2009

MAN ON WIRE (2008)
d.  James Marsh

Phillipe Petit, the charismatic subject of this documentary, recounts his wirewalking stunt and enters the history books as the only person to ever traverse a wire strung between the Twin Towers a scant several months after the building was first erected.

It is a story he tells with relish and flair, filled with dramatic beats and tense moments. Speaking of wirewalking as his art, Phillipe turns the iconic image into a metaphoric symbol of ambition and dreams realized.

His accomplices and girlfriend of the time are on hand as well to fill out the details and provide context, and it is obvious that they too are moved by Phillipe’s grand gesture.

What amazed me about this documentary, other than the behind-the-scenes account of their strategy to infiltrate the WTC, was the vintage footage of the young schemers showing us their plans (especially the scale model of the roofs of the Twin Towers).

Man On Wire is a touching and entertaining recounting of an amazing one-of-a-kind stunt and is well worth the watch.

***1/2 stars.

h1

When Bad Times Get Worse — The Strangers

January 11, 2009

THE STRANGERS (2008)
d. Bryan Bertino

A very effective thriller/horror movie in the vein of Straw Dogs about a couple terrorized by three masked individuals in an isolated summer home that starts really strong, but a number of missteps on the way and the film goes off the rails that by the conclusion I was left feeling empty and sour.

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

Read the rest of this entry ?