Sunday, February 14, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (90-86)

90. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006)

Stranger Than Fiction tells the story of an IRS auditor who, out of the blue, begins hearing a voice narrate his life. At the advice of a psychiatrist and a literary expert, he sets out to determine if his story as narrated will be a classical tragedy or comedy - all while falling in love with the woman he is auditing. Stranger Than Fiction of the quirkier love stories of the last decade and, easily, the finest performance of Will Ferrell's career. His great eccentricities seemingly corralled by director Marc Forster, Will Ferrell gives a focused and affecting performance. He is aided by a wonderfully creative and hilarious script by Zach Helm, suitably quirky direction from Forster and wonderful supporting turns from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Gyllenhaal, in particular, has wonderful chemistry with Ferrell that makes their love story touching and believable.

89. Old School (Todd Phillips, 2003)

On the other end of the Will Ferrell spectrum is Old School, the funniest 'dumb comedy' of the decade. Old School tells the tale of a trio of middle aged men (Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson) who open a fraternity at their local university. This film served as Ferrell's mainstream breakout role as his turn as the modern day Blutarsky, Frank the Tank, made him a household name. His success was well-earned as Ferrell delivers every line with such delinquent glee that it's difficult not to grab wrapped up in his performance. Todd Phillips, who also found success this past decade with The Hangover, is a great director for this sort of material - he paces each scene in a way that keeps the humor constant but leaves enough time to appreciate each joke.

88. The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)

Deservedly, many of the accolades for The Queen have been focused on Helen Mirren's performance as Elizabeth II. She is, of course, every bit as wonderful as advertised. But I argue there are two overlooked elements of The Queen that make the film so successful. The first is the stellar screenplay by Peter Morgan (who also worked on The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and will work on the upcoming 23rd James Bond film). Morgan's words bring Elizabeth II to life in a way that is flawed, but understandably so. Temporally, the film revolves around the death of Princess Diana and Morgan captures the conflict the royal family went through in dealing with the death of someone who had become an outsider, but was so beloved by the general public. The other critical element is the supporting performance of Michael Sheen. Michael Sheen has become one of the finest actors working today giving great performances that defy genre or cast-typing, from the Underworld series to Frost/Nixon, Sheen is almost always the most compelling element of any movie he is in. The focus of The Queen is, in large part, on the relationship between Mirren's Elizabeth and Sheen's Prime Minister Tony Blair throughout the Diana saga. While wonderfully mimicking Tony Blair, Sheen manages to put his own touch on the character and is the necessary foil to make Mirren's performance so successful. The scenes between the two have a spectacularly compelling energy to them that forms the heart of the movie.

87. Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)

Zach Braff, of Scrubs fame, makes a startlingly effective directorial debut showcasing a gift for capturing a fascinating image, particularly in the use of color, and for the use of music to help the emotional weight of a scene. Braff gives a wonderful performance in the lead role as a young man confused about his purpose in life after his mother's passing. Natalie Portman is lovably quirky as the woman who helps Braff move forward and find himself. Peter Saarsgard is also strong as Braff's best friend. While the story does skew a bit into self-aggrandizing nonsense, Braff's strong sense of aesthetic and pace keep the film at a high level.

86. Miracle (Gavin O'Connor, 2004)

One of the finest 'cliche sports movies' ever made. Gavin O'Connor has a firm grasp on how to create the 'chill' moments that make these sort of movies so enjoyable. A number of scenes stand out: the team doing skating drills after a game until the lights are literally turned off on them, the coach flipping a table to motivate the team, the players bonding with a snow football game as Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech plays in the background. At the core of the movie is the superb performance by Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks, one of the finest roles of his career. Oft overlooked is the fine work by Patricia Clarkson as Brooks' wife. She provides an emotional grounding that helps layer the Brooks character and provides a wonderful partner for Russell's performance. O'Connor also manages to create a team of distinct characters, something not easily achieved with 21 characters dressed identically in most scenes. Above all else, though, O'Connor captures the spirit and feel of the United States at the start of the 1980s: O'Connor structures the film in a way that builds and showcases a genuine American need for hope and how the 1980 hockey team met that need.

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)


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