Friday, September 09, 2011

100 Favorite Films of the Decade: 20-1

20. True Grit (2010, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)

A beautifully crafted Western; it’s an eccentric movie, but also bleak, even elegiac. I think even the critics who liked this movie dismissed it a bit as a genre exercise for the Coen Brothers, but I found it one of their most captivating films, a deliberately-paced meditation on the surprising places fortitude and even heroism can come from, rather than “just” a Western.

19. The King’s Speech (2010, directed by Tom Hooper)

What I like about this film is the way it shows sweeping events in history at a personal level rather than a grand one. At its heart, this is a film about a man who has to take up extraordinary personal responsibilities and is terrified of doing so. The film shows how through support and effort these fears and doubts can be controlled. Is it a predictable movie? Sure. But it’s also a highly enjoyable one.

18. Lost in Translation (2003, directed by Sofia Coppola)

What impresses me about this film is that Sofia Coppola, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are able to create an exploration of emotional longing without being coy or self-congratulatory. It manages to observe two people who connect through, at first, a sort of mutual alienation in a different culture in a way that’s not as entitled as it easily could have been. (As a side note, there’s never been a doubt in my mind that when Bob whispers in Charlotte’s ear at the end of the movie, they’re making plans to see each other again. Look how happy and excited they are when they walk away from each other.)

17. Black Book (2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven)

I think this is the film I was waiting to see from Paul Verhoeven for decades. He uses his go-to’s of sex and nudity and moral turpitude, but he uses them as devices for a film about the measure of humanity and the nature of heroism, telling the story of a Dutch resistance fighter (Carice Van Houten in an excellent performance) infiltrating the Nazis. Not at all cynical, which is refreshing.

16. Death Proof (2007, directed by Quentin Tarantino)

Specifically the 127-minute version, not the shorter version in Grindhouse. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but this is my list, not theirs. Death Proof is one of my few favorite horror flicks of the decade; it’s got some of the elements of a slasher film, and like a lot of the best horror flicks, it’s a bizarre sexual allegory. It also just has some of the best car chase sequences in maybe the last 25 years; where did the real, visceral car chase go? People get caught up in the dialogue, but a lot of it’s just superfluous to the plot. Indulgent? Who gives a shit? Movies are indulgent, anyway.

15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, directed by Edgar Wright)

Funny, energetic, kinetic, bizarre, and wonderful filmmaking; this film uses the language of MTV editing, 8-bit video games, and choppy martial arts flicks to tell what is a surprisingly sweet and genuine love story. I really come alive in movies like this; it’s unexpected and deceptive, the filmic equivalent of the way Billy Joel used to write upbeat pop songs about how much he hated himself. Here we have a Frank Tashlin cartoon about young romance, and I dig this like crazy.

14. Bubba Ho-tep (2002, directed by Don Coscarelli)

By all appearances, it’s a silly B-movie about a retirement home resident who may or may not be Elvis trying to kill a mummy. But there’s a fatalistic tone to this movie that, combined with Bruce Campbell’s poignant performance, raises it to something special. It’s the equivalent of a moving poem written on a crumpled napkin. It’s great pulp with a romantic tinge to it. I absolutely love this movie.

13. No Country for Old Men (2007, directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)

The Coens can make great cinema, and I think this is the best film they’ve ever made. Beautifully timed, unrelentingly suspenseful, showing life as driven by both fate and circumstance, as well as the ability to make very, very wrong choices. A masterpiece.

12. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008, directed by Peter Sollett)

This film is, in a way, my youth. This film captured for me the feeling of when Becca and I first started dating, staying out most of the night, driving all over town because being out together was our world when we were both living with our parents. A fairly simple romance plot, sure, but with great characters and a great soundtrack and a delicate spirit. There’s something in this movie that knows that love is more in what you do for someone than what you say to them. A sincerity and simplicity that too many movies don’t know how to achieve.

11. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, directed by Nick Park & Steve Box)

The Wallace & Gromit shorts are some of the most clever, most inventive, most joyous animation I’ve ever seen. That Nick Park can maintain that same joy for an extra hour is delightful. These movies aren’t really made much of, and are often taken for granted, which is a real shame, because they’re incredibly witty.

10. The Incredibles (2004, directed by Brad Bird)

Besides just being a beautifully animated homage to comic books and Bond films, it’s the humanity of the characters this film gets wonderfully right. Existential angst, impotence fears, midlife crisis, child neglect, marital dysfunction, and the cheapening of achievement are all explored here, wrapped inside the best issue of Fantastic Four that Stan and Jack never wrote.

9. Inglourious Basterds (2009, directed by Quentin Tarantino)

Tarantino’s most flat-out enjoyable film since Pulp Fiction. Part World War II action movie, part Sergio Leone revenge flick, part French character piece, Tarantino’s influences may be as obvious as ever, but it’s never boring and it’s bold as hell. I like that Tarantino makes these big movies that are really just about how much he loves movies (though it’s a real shame he can get so precious about them). It’s also funny to me how people are now talking about movies like this as though they’re supposed to be these important grand operas, when Tarantino is still dealing in pulp. Grand pulp, but pulp. But grand pulp.

8. Shaun of the Dead (2004, directed by Edgar Wright)

The great zombie movie of our time. Much more than just a loving send-up, this brilliant comedy also works as a horror film on its own, as well as a character piece about a lazy guy who just needs something like a zombie apocalypse to get him to grow up. This movie’s sense of character, it’s knowledge that it needs a story to go along with its gimmick, is what makes it one of the best movies ever made. It’s genius filmmaking, and endlessly watchable.

7. WALL-E (2008, directed by Andrew Stanton)

One of the best science fiction movies of the decade; what really hit with me was that this is one of the only movies I can remember about a bleak, apocalyptic future that is so optimistic about our ability to overcome our own self-destructive tendencies. I also like how rooted in cartoon filmmaking this movie is; the near-silent WALL-E is so appealing, so funny, he so immediately connects with your emotions. It’s a masterful achievement in animated characterization.

6. Downfall (2004, directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel)

It’s important, very important, to remember that Adolf Hitler was a human being. This film portrays him not as a cartoon monster, but as very human; a broken and pathetic human given to grandiose notions of destiny and able to play on an almost inherent xenophobia and racism in people. The man who speaks directly to the most fearful among us and gives them someone to blame is dangerous. And when he surrounds himself with like-minded people, people with gifts for strategy and propaganda, that is when he is most dangerous. This film reminds us that great evil is the doing of such men, and that Hitler did not create the Third Reich all by himself. Killing Hitler does not rid the world of such evils; they are still all around us, manifesting in others who would create such movements, waiting for someone with Hitler’s manipulative skill. Hitler is not an aberration in history; he is a cautionary tale. I find this of great importance to remember, and this film, in humanizing someone history has made a caricatured villain, helps the viewer to do so.

5. Clerks II (2006, directed by Kevin Smith)

Maybe it’s not as grand as Hitler’s downfall, but this is a personal list of favorites, and this film spoke to me as much as any here. It came at just the right point in my life, right before I graduated college, but just as, at age 30, I was marveling at how quickly life seemed to have left me behind, how all of those ambitions and plans I had came to nothing. It made me more appreciative of where I was then and am now. It’s that sudden realization that you can spend years planning for a later that never comes, either because of circumstance or a lack of motivation. This film was the cap on a decade of extended childhood, and the beginning of a more aware time in my life.

4. Spirited Away (2001, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

Miyazaki is a master at mixing his personal experiences into universal stories. A lot of this film is inspired by his environmentalism, his nostalgia for Meiji period buildings, and memories of a neighborhood bathhouse that seemed mysterious to a young Miyazaki. But there is so much here about bravery, about identity, about friendship and loyalty, in the story of a young girl trapped in a spirit world. Beautifully animated, and probably Miyazaki’s supreme achievement, which is saying a mouthful.

3. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, directed by Peter Jackson)

One epic film, split into three parts. I lean heavily towards the extended editions, myself, which do more justice to the story, giving it more room to breathe between stunning set pieces, and which especially helps The Two Towers in its narrative. This is incredible filmmaking, the high, high peak of a revival of fantasy and science fiction epics which only becomes more slick and cynical every year. This is one of the last epics that feels like it was made by human hands, even with all of the technological advances made during it. Roger Ebert once said that epics were a document of their making, showing us the work of hundreds, even thousands of people coming together to achieve a single goal. Nothing since The Lord of the Rings quite has that feel of so many coming together in service of a story.

2. Watchmen (2009, directed by Zack Snyder)

A lot of you are rolling your eyes; much like The Spirit the year before, this is another one of those comic book films I’m supposed to despise for whatever reason. But I think it’s brilliant. I never thought anyone could do justice to Alan Moore’s story, but I think this movie does, and then some. It gets the tone right and knows its medium; it’s a parody of the adolescent power trips comic books provide, as the comic was, but it’s also smart enough to parody the silly conventions of superhero action movies, like the way ordinary people turn into perfectly-chiseled, bone-breaking powerhouses simply by putting on a costume. It achieves the idea of superheroes with angst that Alan Moore explored, but also remembers that Alan Moore did more than just that. This is the superhero movie to end all superhero movies.

1. Brokeback Mountain (2005, directed by Ang Lee)

Simply put, the most beautiful and honest film I’ve ever seen about love. I’m just going to leave it there.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Great top twenty! I have seen some of these, and you are right to include them. Might not be my top list, but cool to see what you like!

Matt said...

Wow! What a wide variety of films in your Top 20.

Lost In Translation is such a smart, wistful movie and I feel Bill Murray has reprised this role in every movie since and Scarlett Johansson has struggled to reprise this with each of her subsequent roles. A perfect movie at a perfect time.

Death Proof... woo boy. Definitely Tarantino at his most self-indulgent but, that said, I've never found it to be boring so he must have done something right.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World will still be ahead of its time ten years from now. So good.

The Incredibles is the best Pixar movie. Ever. Period.

Shaun Of The Dead is my #1 movie. Genius! And it's such a compact, self-referential movie. Nothing is wasted and every piece has a purpose. Listen to Simon Pegg's interview on The Nerdist for some interesting trivia about making the movie.

Clerks II... hilarious!

Brokeback Mountain, huh? Well done. It's a beautiful film.

Roger Owen Green said...

I LOVE The Incredibles. Best Pixar film, I agree.
I found The King's Speech incredibly moving.
Spirited away is beautiful.

JA said...

I'm sitting here trying to decide what movie to watch tonight and reading through this list made me want to watch every single movie you listed as I read thru what you said about it. Loved everything you had to say and agree with you on nearly every choice. Great great work, man.

Devilham said...

Agreed, especially liked your top 5....The Watchmen was awesome (and I have always loved the comic), I thought it captured the book no giant squid, big fucking deal, it got so much right!