Wednesday, September 07, 2011

100 Favorite Films of the Decade: 60-41

60. Star Trek (2009, directed by JJ Abrams)

Basically it turned Trek into a pulp space adventure novel, but I'm okay with that. I think Trek needed a shot like this, something different, but something that, for me, brought back the sense of fear and wonder and danger that used to be inherent in the ideas of space exploration. (And even if you don't like your Trek this way, Abrams and company went to all the trouble of enclosing it in an alternate universe for you.)

59. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005, directed by Judd Apatow)

This is another one of those movies that's more emotionally genuine to me than a lot of the comedies made this decade. I like the underpinnings of it, the way it satirizes the fixation that both society and pop culture have with sex. It's at heart a very sweet movie about a genuine human being.

58. Monsoon Wedding (2001, directed by Mira Nair)

A large, busy movie about a large, busy wedding preparation. That the film manages to keep all of its characters and storylines straight for the viewer is no mean feat; imagine some of America's trendier directors trying to do the same thing. Naseeruddin Shah sits at the center of this family epic as a man attempting to put on a very expensive wedding for his daughter's arranged marriage, but the film plays as much for pathos as it does for comedy, giving us examples of various intensities of love and family secrets.

57. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, directed by Larry Charles)

Genius comedy; in playing the outsider, Sacha Baron Cohen manages to expose various levels of tolerance and selfishness across America, overtly pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior for the sake of sometimes revelatory reactions. Bruno proved that this concept was really only going to work once for Cohen, but it certainly does work the first time.

56. King Kong (2005, directed by Peter Jackson)

This remake is sort of the writ large version of King Kong; maybe a little too large and too grand, but there's still something very pulpy and stylish about it that I love. A lot of it has to do with Kong himself; the combination of Andy Serkis' performance and the amazing animation of the CGI artists. He's a genuine emotional center, grounding what could have been an epic of silliness and self-importance.

55. Halloween (2007, directed by Rob Zombie)

Another movie I'm apparently supposed to hate. And while the original version is clearly superior, I was riveted by this version. The biggest complaint I heard was that it tried to explain the motivation of Michael Myers, but I never felt it did. The scenes of therapy are there to show that there is no explanation for it; that try as pop psychology might to explain something, it just can't. An intense and visceral thriller, one of the few modern horror movies that really works for me. Shame about the awful, awful sequel...

54. American Splendor (2003, directed by Shari Springer Bergman & Robert Pulcini)

This film makes a lot of wise decisions in giving us the story of Harvey Pekar. It jumps around, much like Pekar's American Splendor comic book, but it also--like the comic--focuses on small, observational moments that define a man who was ground down by life and accepted it, celebrating small triumphs rather than lamenting what never happened. Pekar was a very inspiring writer, and this movie celebrates it without being fatuous.

53. Somewhere (2010, directed by Sofia Coppola)

As I've said before, what I find most amazing about Sofia Coppola is that she refuses to draw any conclusions for you. Here, she simply observes the life of an actor and his sometimes distant relationship with his young daughter without offering an artificial point of view or any judgments. We see a man who is hungering for an emotional connection, but who doesn't know how to make one. Loneliness even when surrounded by people. It becomes quite palpable the longer the movie goes on, giving us a picture of a superficial life that isn't really being experienced. Also, I think Elle Fanning is a very special actress. I hope she doesn't start making teen comedies...

52. The Princess and the Frog (2009, directed by Ron Clements & John Musker)

It's an unfortunate commentary on this decade's animation that The Princess and the Frog seems so fresh just for having a plot and good characterization. It's old-fashioned and charming, with nice songs and beautiful character animation (especially on the slick Doctor Facilier), and tells a story without being glib or referencing pop culture. It's just a pleasant picture, the kind which seems to no longer be in fashion.

51. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008, directed by Kurt Kuenne)

If you're looking for a documentary that will emotionally destroy you, here you go... Kurt Kuenne here documents the life and murder of his best friend in the form of a letter to the man's infant son, and then the shape of the narrative changes tragically. It's a powerful film that punched me right in the heart.

50. Sita Sings the Blues (2008, directed by Nina Paley)

It's a real shame that rights issues have kept this from gaining a wider audience, because this flick is brilliant. Paley tells the story of her relationship, and intersperses it with a tale from the Ramayana, alongside Indian shadow puppets half-remembering the tale and interludes of 1920s jazz music. It almost sounds too clever, but it all works and it's all wonderful.

49. The Wrestler (2008, directed by Darren Aronofsky)

Just the simple story of an aging, ailing wrestler trying to connect with an estranged daughter, and trying to find a place where his life makes sense. What elevates this movie is Mickey Rourke's moving performance, and the way Aronofsky approaches this film completely without gimmickry or artifice. It's just a portrait of a man with nothing who wants more, but gets in his own way.

48. The Visitor (2008, directed by Thomas McCarthy)

I admire this film's quiet humanism. What could have been a sentimental exercise in liberal heroics and American imperialism is instead a film about people who are nearly powerless to a faceless, authoritative, almost capricious policy. Richard Jenkins is excellent as a man who finds connection in a place he never sought it, and Hiam Abass is wonderful as a woman trying to free her son from the jaws of bureaucracy. This film sneaks up on you; it doesn't charge up on the political spectrum, but is soulful and resists phony uplift.

47. The Simpsons Movie (2007, directed by David Silverman)

It's just a damn funny movie. Funnier than The Simpsons has been in the last decade. It took me back to that time when I loved The Simpsons not just because it was clever, but because the characters were believable and I cared about them.

46. Pineapple Express (2008, directed by David Gordon Green)

There's just something note-perfect about this flick. It's a stoner comedy, it's an action movie, it's a crime thriller with quirky characters... it works for me on every level and sort of defies description. And, of course, like a lot of these Apatow movies, it's a buddy comedy that's more honest about its emotions. I just love it. I get caught up in it every time I see it.

45. Howl's Moving Castle (2004, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

It's amazing how well this film works when its focus is sort of all over the place. At heart, I think it's about Miyazaki's pacifism, but it's also a fascinating meditation on the nature of identity and how much it can be defined by the expectations or malice of others. It goes without saying that it's a beautifully animated film, right?

44. Love Actually (2003, directed by Richard Curtis)

A big, gooey movie about various aspects of love, perhaps over-packed but never unenjoyable. True, Richard Curtis drifts more towards the sentimental and less towards any kind of cynicism, but so what? Those aren't the stories he's interested in telling, and there are enough hard slaps of reality to go with the corn. Maybe it's not entirely sophisticated, but it's a charming, comforting film that satisfies me every time I see it.

43. Monsters, Inc. (2001, directed by Pete Docter)

Creative and energetic, genuinely heartfelt and incredibly funny. Though there are other Pixar films I like better (and which are higher up on this list), I don't think they've managed to surpass this flick just on the level of being incredibly, universally funny. And did you ever notice that Sully is basically a big Muppet? It's like a Muppet movie, right down to Frank Oz having a role.

42. How to Train Your Dragon (2010, directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois)

An adorable film, the best animated picture DreamWorks has ever made. Rather than a pop-culture heavy star turn, it's a movie about friendship and understanding, a very funny movie where the humor comes out of the characters, and features one of the best animated creations of the decade: Toothless the Dragon, recognizably catlike and very appealing.

41. Welcome to the Rileys (2010, directed by Jake Scott)

A challenging gem about what is apparently a favorite theme of mine--the need to re-connect with the outside world after too long spent inside oneself. The relationships may be unconventional, but the unspoken needs of the lead characters are genuine. Kristen Stewart is capable of so much, and her performance here is astounding; more of these, less of Twilight, please.


Matt said...

I'm a very proud fanboy/nerd but I never really got into the whole Star Trek universe. That said, Abrams' "reboot" was super-awesome and one of the most entertaining sci-fi movies I've seen in a long time.

40 Year Old Virgin is a classic around my house; my wife and I watch it whenever it's on TV (and we watch the DVD a lot, too).

American Splendor is genius. Period.

I downloaded Sita Sings The Blues a while back because the combination of mythology, jazz, and animation sounded too good to pass up. I guess I gotta get around to actually watching it.

Word is that Aronofsky originally envisioned The Wrestler and Black Swan as one movie until he realized that each story needed more time to develop fully. Interesting concept, though.

Caffeinated Joe said...

Have seen some of these. Loved Monsters Inc and Star Trek was good, in my opinion.

But Halloween? Ugh... Just ugh.

Roger Owen Green said...

I actually aw 8 of these. Princess & the Frog was so good, and was SO disappointing at the box office. The Visitor is a nice movie i would never have heard of but for the Oscar nom.

Will said...

RE: Star Trek Reboot

The cast was great, but there was too much going on and too much cheating story and plot wise.
The kid Spock stuff was great.

All in all it was a quarter of a good Trek movie but...
turning Kirk into James Dean Skywalker.
too many Star Wars "homages"
like at Ice Planet Hoth I kept expecting Old Spock to give Kirk his father's light saber.
Also anything involving destiny is fantasy.
The literal use of "The Heroes Journey" aka the hack writers friend.
Black Holes don't work that way, I felt personally insulted by that and there was a science advisor too. It's like the people involved just went "the audience doesn't care bout science, that's for fags and nerds".
Too many plot holes.Really Nero's crew was just hanging around for 20 years !?
2 words...Klingon Warbirds

SamuraiFrog said...

Yeah, it's old pulp novel stuff. I wasn't insulted by it, it just removed itself from the world of the somewhat more serious science fiction style (Trek can be science fiction at it's finest, but sometimes it can be "Spock's Brain"...). I understand every criticism of it, and it wouldn't be on my list of the best films of the decade, but it's a personal favorite for the fun of it. That's part of the reason I'm making the list this way; films I like and enjoy rather than films I'm claiming are great.

Will said...

It's just a badly written movie. Spock's brain made more sense, the movie is right up there with the Voyager episode where they turn into lizards or the TNG episode where the crew goes to the planet of the black people who've never seen a blonde before and the king falls in lust with Tasha Yar