Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Nolan’

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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.