Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Movies of the Decade

The title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. Here, I will list my Top 20 favorite films of the 2000's (my apologies to the ones that have not yet been released this year...tough break). Just some notes - the absolute worst year for movies this decade was the first one, 2000. Best film that year was Meet the Parents, but that doesn't quite make it into the Top 20. 2003 wasn't much better...can't even decide my favorite for that year (not in a good way). The two best years...2006 far and away had the strongest Top 5 films - the only year in which the Top 5 all made it into the master list, including my overall #1...and 2007, which far and away had the greatest output of above-average movies in theaters, but they were all more evenly matched with one another than those of '06. So, here's the Top 20:

20. The Class - One of two foreign films on my list. Normally, the subtitle thing annoys me, and I wouldn't consider myself the most cultured person, but this was a really compelling (and true) faux-documentary about the trials and tribulations of students at an inner-city Paris school, and one teacher's methods of dealing with them.

19. Last King of Scotland - The lowest in my Top 5 of the great year of 2006, but still shows off amazing performances by both Forest Whitaker as the ruthless dictator, Idi Amin, and James McAvoy as Amin's personal physician.

18. The Invention of Lying - The most recent movie on this list. Just saw it a couple days ago. It could have been even better and funnier than it was, but the originality of the script by Ricky Gervais still pushes this into my Top 20 of the decade. The devoutly religious among us likely will not appreciate the overtly atheistic undertones of the story, but it's satire, folks.

17. Tropic Thunder - An outrageous performance by Robert Downey, Jr., and a hilarious cameo by Tom Cruise are the highlights of this film within a film. Downey playing a white guy playing a black guy. Enough said.

16. The Dark Knight - No, I wasn't really all that blown away by Heath Ledger, and didn't buy into the hype. Plus, the ending didn't satisfy me so much. But still, the non-stop action and tight performances from Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman, made it my third favorite from last year.

14 (tie). The Sea Inside/I Am Sam - Every "best of" list worth its salt contains at least two ties. So here is the first of two on my list. These films have something in common - they were elevated by phenomenal individual acting performances. Without Javier Bardem's turn as a quadriplegic who fights for his right to die, this movie, the second foreign film on my list, may not have been all that. I Am Sam was a cheesey, and sometimes cliche-ridden film, but the out-of-this-world performance by Dakota Fanning, given she was 6 YEARS OLD when they shot this, might be the most incredible display of acting of the decade. The fact that she was not even nominated for a Golden Globe or an Oscar is unforgivable. This girl WILL win the big prize one day.

13. One-Hour Photo - Robin Williams is one of the most versatile actors of our generation. Unfortunately, he's wasted precious time on schlock like Flubber, Toys, and Patch Adams. However, it seems like at least once a decade he takes a role and nails it to the wall. Good Morning Vietnam in the 80's, Awakenings in the 90's, and his turn here as a maniacal photo lab employee is his good deed for the 00's. Maybe now that we're almost in the 10's, it won't be that much longer until he wins his next Oscar.

12. The Kingdom - A team of FBI agents travel to Saudi Arabia to avenge and solve the murder of their friend and colleague in a terrorist bombing...blah blah blah. I can't really do this one justice by describing the plot in two sentences. Amazing cast, great action, and what I always love...a movie that knows how to end appropriately. Unfortunately, the whole war in the Middle East thing hasn't had much luck at the box office, but this one is most definitely worth a rental.

11. Blood Diamond - This film has the distinction of being the only one on this list that I was never intending on seeing. Leonardo DiCaprio? An expose on the corruption surrounding the diamond trade? Wasn't really interested. A friend and I just happened to make an unplanned trip to the theater, and this just happened to be the next movie playing. Good move. A stunning and emotional script, great visual backdrop, and a gut-wrenching performance by Djimon Hounsou. Most people thought it was an upset because Alan Arkin beat out Eddie Murphy for Best Supporting Actor at the 2007 Oscars, but the real upset was Hounsou losing.

10. Deja Vu (Sorry I don't know how to make those little accent thingies) - This movie came and went, and shockingly, I had never even HEARD OF IT, much less seen it. I'm usually in the know about even the most obscure films, so when I stumbled across this gem on cable, I was surprised, quite pleasantly. Director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington have teamed up several times, but never with better results than this sci-fi/government thriller. Now things always get a little hairy when you deal with time travel, but they put a new twist on it here, and it works brilliantly. Val Kilmer hasn't exactly racked up the amazing films throughout his career, but oddly enough, this is not his last appearance on my list...

9. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang - ...that honor goes to this grossly overlooked film. Shane Black may have gotten $4 million for writing the awful Geena Davis vehicle, The Long Kiss Goodnight, but this is clearly his masterpiece. A sharp, witty script, pairing the top-notch performances of Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr., in a film that's part comedy, part crime story. Original, entertaining, and criminally under-distributed - making barely over $4 million at the box office. On principle, Shane Black should have been forced to turn over the dough he made from The Long Kiss Goodnight, just so this vastly superior film could have doubled its rake.

8. Doubt - I snuck into this one (shhhhh), so I can't say it was worth my money, but the theater did charge me full price for what should have been a matinee ticket, so we'll call it a wash. Stunningly, this film only won 1 out of 15 awards for which it was nominated amongst the Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards (Meryl Streep got the SAG for Lead Actress). This is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's strongest performances, and that is saying something, considering he may be the younger generation's DeNiro. Watching him and Streep go at it for two hours is worth the price, you know what I mean.

7. Talk to Me - If Philip Seymour Hoffman is the younger generation's DeNiro, Don Cheadle may be a very close second. If only he could score more leading roles. The first half of this film had me on the way to thinking that it might just end up in my Top 3 of the decade. Cheadle comes out with six guns blazing as the outrageous ex-con turned DJ, Petey Greene. Chiwetel Ejiofor does a great job as the straight man as well. But somewhere in the middle of the story, it morphs from a historical comedy into a sappy social commentary and a depressing look at Greene's fall from grace. The shift isn't anywhere near dramatic enough to ruin the experience, but it does prevent Talk to Me from charting higher on my list.

6. Waitress - Every good list has to feature at least one guilty pleasure, so here's mine. Felicity's Keri Russell stars as a small-town waitress stuck in an unhappy marriage and a going nowhere life, who is, naturally, dreaming of bigger things. A "chick flick" at first glance, but it's really a lot more than that. It's funny, charming, and emotionally gratifying. The standout performance here is from Jeremy Sisto (also great in the prematurely canceled 2006 TV series, Kidnapped) as the waitress' abusive husband. TV icon, Andy Griffith also adds great spirit to the ensemble. I really thought this film would ride the sympathy card to the Oscars, as Adrienne Shelley, who wrote, directed, and co-starred was senselessly murdered in her apartment before its release. I highly doubt making my list is any consolation, but I guess it's better than nothing. Just try watching this one without singing the "Gonna Bake a Pie" song repeatedly when it's over. The only bad thing about this film is, it was so good, that I was inclined to give Russell another go-round by seeing the abysmal August Rush.

5. The Wackness - Sir Ben Kingsley as a dope-smoking shrink. Sir Ben Kingsley having a love scene with Mary-Kate Olsen. Sir Ben Kingsley being nominated for a Razzie (the anti-Oscars) for Worst Supporting Actor. Sounds great so far, right? Well, the title is certainly appropriate, as the shrink forms a bizarre friendship with one of his patients (also his pot provider), and various familial dysfunctions abound. For me, as someone who graduated high school in 1992, the performance by Josh Peck as the above-mentioned dealer and soon-to-be college student, is pitch-perfect. He plays the role with equal parts awkward faux-confidence, trying to impress a girl, and true heart, just trying to find his way out of adolescence, into the real world. Not a single false note in this one.

3 (tie). Memento/The Lookout - The proverbial second tie on the list. We're getting into serious cinematic territory here. If you haven't seen these Top 4 films yet, go do it. One of the common threads between these two is, they both do that Tarantino-esque thing where the plot doesn't necessarily have a nice, neat order to it, and you don't always know what's going on. In fact, Memento was renowned for featuring a storyline that actually unfolded BACKWARDS. Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano are riveting here, while Christopher Nolan began what would be, for me, and up-and-down writing and directing career, featuring the awesome (this and The Dark Knight), good (Batman Begins), disappointing (Insomnia), and utterly unwatchable (The Prestige). Meanwhile, The Lookout features stars of 3rd Rock From the Sun, Dumb and Dumber, and Pauly Shore's Son-in-Law, plus Borat's fiancee. Recipe for an amazing film? Apparently so. 3rd Rock's Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is spot on as a young man whose life is forever altered by a devastating car accident, which leaves him unable to retain things in his memory for extended amounts of time, forcing him to get through the days with guidance from his own written instructions - yet another commonality with Memento, whose main character is afflicted with similar short-term memory loss. Gordon-Leavitt's character subsequently gets tangled up in a bank robbery plot. No synopsis could do either of these films justice though, so just take my word for it and see them. Unless you have no short-term memory...then there's kind of no point.

2. The Departed - Depending on which year my #1 film would have been eligible in if anyone had considered it for any awards, I'm inclined to say that in 2007, for one of the only times I can think of, the Oscars actually got the Best Picture winner right. Dead on. This one is a tour-de-force...mainly because every "best of" list about film is required to use that term at some point. Everyone involved nails this one to the wall...from Scorsese to Nicholson to Matt Damon to Alec Baldwin to Mark Wahlberg...hell, even Leo again. Drama, thrills, violence, comic relief, amazing script. Everything a classic movie should have is found here. My one gripe was that the last 1/4 of the film goes a little overboard on the violence, gratuitously and just plain silly at some points. However, the payoff of the very final scene pretty much renders the slight misstep forgiven.

1. Hard Candy - Regardless of whether you consider this a 2005 film, which is when it was featured at the Sundance Film Festival, or a 2006 picture, which is when it actually hit movie screens, it was the cinematic achievement of the year...and the decade. A pre-Juno Ellen Page should have won a Lead Actress Oscar, hands down. Patrick Wilson should have won for Supporting Actor. The script should have won. But, the film was largely ignored. Page's performance here as a young teen who is seduced online by a much older man, and subsequently lured to his apartment, is simply off the charts. The dialogue is biting, sarcastic, and funny, but this is no comedy. On the contrary, the drama jumps off the screen at some points, climaxing with one of the most brutally in-your-face endings I can ever remember seeing on film. It's an imperfect ending, in the sense that it doesn't tie everything up in a nice, neat bow. But it's perfectly imperfect. As a moviegoer, my absolute pet peeve is when Hollywood screenwriters don't know how to wrap up a story and end the damn film. It happens probably 80% of the time. So it's only appropriate that my #1 movie of the 2000's sticks the landing with a perfect 10. Just wow.

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