Monday, December 28, 2009

Favorite Films '00 - '09

Far from being a film expert, I am just a man with a keyboard and a keen enjoyment of films. That makes me one of thousands, but I only get to do this once every ten years, so I'm not going to stop. I first did my "Favorite Films" list in 1919 for the "United Liberation of Working Men" quarterly newsletter, published by the Greater Newark Communist Party. In my list, I picked the 1915 "The Italian" as my best of the decade, which caused quite a stir against such expected victors as "Civilization" (1916) and the Chaplin classic "The Immigrant" (1916).

When reviewing my list, keep in mind that 1) there are many movies I have not seen, 2) although these are my favorite, or most impressive, movies I have seen in the past ten years, some of these films I have not seen in years. What I would like to do over the next few months is re-watch all of these cinematic masterpieces and see if they should remain in my upper tier for the decade.

On a quick aside, 100 years ago they called their double zero decade "The Aughts." In the UK, they referred to this recently past decade as "The Noughties." Why couldn't America settle on either of those very simple, easy to use terms? No, we had to hem and haw and wax philosophical about the struggles we endured to come up with a good nickname for the decade.

I will tell you up front that you will not find "The Dark Knight" or "There Will Be Blood" on my list. There are none of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on here. Indie favorite "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and movies based on Frank Miller comics will not greet thine eyes. So, what in God's Latin name is left? Well, in alphabetical order, my "Delightful Dozen of the Decade"...

Amelie (2001) - There is a lot to be said about this quirky French comedy, but I won't be the one to say it. Just let it be known that Audrey Tautou is beautiful, the soundtrack by Yann Tiersen is one of my favorites of all time, and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes up for Alien Resurrection with one of the most delightful and unusual films of the decade.

Collateral (2004) - Tom Cruise gets more criticism than Nicolas Cage, yet Cruise has made many consistently enjoyable films (The Last Samurai, Minority Report, and Valkyrie were all easily in the top 50 of the 00s). This is at the top of the list, a dark, brooding film complimented by Jamie Foxx's gifted acting and Michael Mann's deft direction.

Everything is Illuminated (2005) - This film came out of left field for me. Knowing nothing about it, I sat down and was enthralled by the humor and captivated by the humanity. This is easily the most underrated movie of the past ten years. I love Liev Schreiber's directing in this film, and I wish he would duck behind the camera again soon.

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) - Clint Eastwood has shown himself to be the Orson Welles of the past 20 or so years by contributing his acting, directing, composing, and writing to some truly wonderful movies. War movies are as numerous as the hairs on my arm, but so rarely do we get a film from the perspective of the losing side that is respectful without being apologetic or patronizing. The film is also filmed in Japanese, so give credit to Eastwood for crafting such a fine piece of cinema outside of his native tongue. Ken Watanabe starred in a number of quality American films in the 00s, including this one, the aforementioned "The Last Samurai," and "Batman Begins."

Matador, The (2005) - This film's protagonist got a lot of comparisons to a lonely, lowly James Bond, mostly because of the actor Pierce Brosnan, but Bond was a debonair spy, and Julian Noble is an isolated assassin who comes across a tourist in a Mexican bar that he latches onto as his one and only friend. Writer/Director Richard Shepard deserved any accolades he received for giving us an action film with substance, heart and realism.

Memento (2000) - This is one of those movies that is pretty much on everyone's list. It's #27 on IMDB's top 250, and the reason is that you have a finely paced film, woven with layers to make you want to go back and watch it all over again as soon as you're finished. Although not one of Ebert's top films, I do think this quote works: "The movie doesn't supply the usual payoff of a thriller (how can it?), but it's uncanny in evoking a state of mind."

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - This may be Eastwood's greatest masterpiece, in which he directs, stars in, and even writes the soundtrack for the Best Picture winner of 2004. The film also stars Morgan Freeman, the cherished but often overlooked actor of so many stellar roles, and Hilary Swank, who has the acting chops that, let's be honest, prettier actors couldn't even come close to matching. I normally find boxing movies boring and sports movies played out, but "Million Dollar Baby" is so much more.

Mystic River (2003) - Eastwood. What can I say? I won't say anymore. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Bacon and a roster of talent orchestrate a tale of humanity's nastiest echoes (sidenote: what did I just write?). Although set in Boston, you don't drown in it like "The Departed." The movie is a mystery that not only offers a solid story, but a rich creamy filling of characters, real characters, not two dimensional stereotypes to make the plot work.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) - I may have cracked up more during "Borat," but "Shaun of the Dead" has a fun story that stands up to repeated viewings. A British import starring Simon Pegg, the movie is a send up of the proliferation of zombie movies that we have seen in recent years. It's smart, though, and embraces the genre as much as it makes fun of it.

Terminal, The (2004) - It could be argued that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have been phoning it in for a while now, but there was just something very touching about this bizarre little story about a man stranded in an airport. It was funny, endearing, and even a little bitter to balance it out. It's humor that rises up from the sadness of everyone's lives.

Thank You For Smoking (2005) - Despite the distraction of Aaron Eckhart's butt-chin, I was delighted with "Thank You For Smoking" when I first saw it. The plot and dialog could have become dizzying and nonsensical if not in the right hands, but Jason Reitman, who went on to direct mega-popular "Juno" and "Up in the Air," took a talented cast and turned out a sterling film.

Wrestler, The (2008) - Director Darren Aronofsky created a captivating look at life on the downswing, when everything isn't coming up roses. Mickey Rourke received deserved praise for an erroneously described "comeback" (he'd had big roles in "Spun," "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," and "Sin City," where he basically wore the same cowboy boots in each film), but it's hard to tell if Rourke was just playing himself. Marisa Tomei is delightful as the supporting actor.

And now for some random awards:

Best Superhero Flick - The Incredibles (2004)
Most Unfairly Maligned Flick - Hancock (2008)
Best Use of Nicolas Cage - Lord of War (2005)
Most Enjoyable Use of Special Effects - Moon (2009)
Best "Chick Flick" - Cold Mountain (2003)
Most Disturbing Animated Movie - Spirited Away (2001)
Best Movie With Too Many Endings - The Last Samurai (2003)

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