Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (65-61)

65. Defiance (Edward Zwick, 2008)

Defiance is the beautifully constructed true story of the Bielski brothers who, in escaping the Holocaust, ended up forming a small society in the Belarussian forests. Director Ed Zwick, a master of constructing beautiful imagery to surround his stories, crafts compelling tension by structuring the film around the competing ideologies of two of the Bielski brothers, Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Tuvia (Daniel Craig). Zus believes the brothers should take the fight to the Germans which contrasts with Tuvia's faith that establishing society and protecting as many as possible is the proper plan. Schreiber is quite good here, but special notice must go to Craig. [SPOILER] In one moment early in the film, Craig finds the home of the men responsible for the betrayal death of his father. Craig kills each of them, but leaves behind a woman. She begs for death so that she may be with her family - and Craig refuses with just a look. It is a cold and brutal moment, but incredibly effective. [END SPOILER] Jamie Bell, playing another Bielski brother, is also effective. This is one of the most compelling Holocaust stories I've ever seen and I strongly recommend it.

64. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)

Up in the Air is about a termination facilitator, that is someone brought in by corporations to fire employees so the corporation doesn't have to, who is faced with two major changes to his life. That facilitator, played with great success by George Clooney, is faced with the evolution of his job and with the chance to make a human connection. The facilitator is very good at his job and derives a satisfaction from providing a necessary service - only the company he works for is planning to integrate technology and begin firing people via webcast instead of in person. The facilitator is tasked with taking hotshot innovator, the wonderfully neurotic Anna Kendrick, on the road with him to show her how the actual firings work. The interactions between the two are memorable and poignant. The facilitator also prides himself on a lack of personal connections but finds a kindred spirit on the road, played by Vera Farmiga. Farmiga, from the nearly melodic way she moves to her compelling facial acting, is wonderfully seductive in the role. The termination facilitator's ordeal is an interesting structure to examine both the human need for connection and the ordeals of making a major transition in life. Jason Reitman has become one of the most interesting voices in Hollywood at only 32 and I look forward to his work in the future.

63. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

Eastern Promises paints a fascinating picture of the Russian mob in London. The viewer is drawn into this world through the eyes of a midwife (played by the always great Naomi Watts) attempting to find the family of a child who was left behind after the mother died in childbirth. And what a fascinating world director David Cronenberg creates. Principally we meet three core characters from the underworld of London: Semyon, the Russian godfather played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, Kiril, his unctuous son played by Vincent Cassel, and Nikolai, Semyon's bodyguard played by Viggo Mortensen. This role is very much against type for Mortensen, but he nails it with a fearless performance. The film, much like the world its set in, has a streak of brutality to it. The film has also become known for one enduring scene: a brutal and realistic fight in a bathhouse. Most fight scenes in movies, even if they're very gory, have a certain sense of restraint to them - not here. In this particular fight, Mortensen fends off multiple assailants while in the nude. The camera never turns away from the action to preserve Mortensen's modesty nor to prevent the viewer from seeing the brutal conclusion - all of this makes it one of the most harrowing and honest fights ever put to film.

62. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)

For my money, Pixar is the finest studio working today. There is a consistent quality in everything they produce that is completely unmatched elsewhere. Even their weakest work, Cars, would be a headline accomplishment for every other animation studio. Pixar movies have a tradition of telling a story that, on the face, is a simple kid's movie, but deep down has humor and emotional depth that make the films effective for all audiences. Finding Nemo is no exception: it is filled with memorable and appealing characters that occupy a fascinatingly well realized undersea world. All the voice actors are perfectly cast, perhaps none more so than Ellen DeGeneres who is lovably neurotic as Dory. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

61. Låt den rätte komma in (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Known as Let the Right One In stateside, the film is a Swedish take on the vampire story. The film deals specifically with a 12 year old boy who befriends a 12 year old girl and that girl happens to be a vampire. Both are lonely and desperate for companionship and connection. While the main characters are children (great performances from both), the film is quite dark and contemplative. Tomas Alfredson has a wonderful eye for capturing stark imagery and that skill is put to wonderful use here. I'm loathe to say much about the plot of the movie, but this, not Twilight, is what a vampire story is meant to be.

NB: If you try to rent or buy the movie, check the back of the box and look at the subtitle section. There are two versions: one will say English and the other will say English (Theatrical). Trust me when I tell you that you want to find the theatrical version. In the initial home release, the non-theatrical version, a different translation was used for the subtitles and it loses all the subtlety and nuance of the film's complex dialogue.

Runner-Up: Blood Diamond (Zwick, 2006)
Runner-Up: Open Water (Kentis, 2004)
Runner-Up: Cinderella Man (Howard, 2005)
Runner-Up: Tigerland (Schumacher, 2000)
Runner-Up: Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
Runner-Up: Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood, 2006)
Runner-Up: Saw (Wan, 2004)
101: Big Fish (Burton, 2003)
100: State of Play (Macdonald, 2009)
99: Marley & Me (Frankel, 2008)
98: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher, 2008)
97: Sunshine (Boyle, 2007)
96: 8 Mile (Hanson, 2002)
95: 21 Grams (Iñárritu, 2003)
94: The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
93: Y tu mamá también (Cuaron, 2001)
92: Breach (Ray, 2007)
91: Away from Her (Polley, 2007)
90: Stranger Than Fiction (Forster, 2006)
89: Old School (Phillips, 2003)
88: The Queen (Frears, 2006)
87: Garden State (Braff, 2004)
86: Miracle (O'Connor, 2004)
85: Banlieue 13 (Morel, 2004)
84: The Fall (Singh, 2008)
83: Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2.1 (Raimi, 2002/2004)
82: The Last King of Scotland (Macdonald, 2006)
81: Pineapple Express (Green, 2008)
80: Into the Wild (Penn, 2007)
79: Juno (Reitman, 2007)
78: Cast Away (Zemeckis, 2000)
77: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007)
76: The 40 Year Old Virgin (Apatow, 2005)
75: Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007)
74: Friday Night Lights (Berg, 2004)
73: The Descent (Marshall, 2006)
72: In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009)
71: In the Shadow of the Moon (Sington, 2007)
70: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Black, 2005)
69: No Country for Old Men (Coen/Coen, 2007)
68: Superbad (Mottola, 2007)
67: Insomnia (Nolan, 2002)
66: The Road (Hillcoat, 2009)
65: Defiance (Zwick, 2008)
64: Up in the Air (Reitman, 2009)
63: Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007)
62: Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)
61: Låt den rätte komma in (Alfredson, 2008)


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