Saturday, February 13, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (95-91)

95. 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003)

21 Grams overcomes its overly convoluted structure (the film is told out of order in intersecting style - think Crash + Memento) thanks to the power of its performances. Telling the story of three lives brought together by a tragic accident. All three of the lead actors, Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, give some of the finest work of their careers. Watts, in particular, gives a fascinating and deep performance as a woman grieving for her recently lost family and struggling with the desire to succumb to her prior problems with drugs.

94. The Hurt Locker (Katheryn Bigelow, 2009)

The Hurt Locker tells the story of a squad of American soldiers in Iraq tasked with disarming bombs. Jeremy Renner gives one of the best performances of 2009 as a soldier addicted to the danger of the war. The screenplay comes from reporter Mark Boal who actually followed a crew of bomb disarming soldiers around Iraq to gain inspiration for this story. Boal's dialogue has a believable and immediate quality that always suits the moment. Aided by the great supporting turns of Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, director Katheryn Bigelow creates a believable and compelling squad of soldiers. Bigelow also wisely cast respected actors (among them Guy Pearce, Evageline Lilly, Ralph Fiennes and David Moore) in small roles throughout the movie, lending a gravity and excitement to their brief scenes. Of special note is the film's opening bomb disarming attempt - it's one of the most intense and well constructed scenes of the decade.

93. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)

At its simplest level, Y tu mamá también tells the story of two friends, one upper class and one lower-middle class, who go on a road trip with an older woman. Complimentary to their journey is the general divide in Mexican society: the scenic beaches the trio journey toward are juxtaposed with military roadblocks and dilapidated shantytowns. The film also acts as a study of friendship and sexuality. The ending is the perfect closing moment for this story. Deservedly, this role helped springboard Gael Garcia Bernal into one of the most interesting actors in Mexican cinema. This film was my own introduction to the work of Alfonso Cuaron who is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting directors today - you can expect to see his name again on this list.

92. Breach (Billy Ray, 2007)

Breach is one of only two films on Billy Ray's resume as a director (the other, Shattered Glass, was a near-miss for this list); but he is also an accomplished screenwriter, as a writer his credits include #98 on this list: State of Play. Breach, written and directed by Ray, tells the true story of a young FBI employee (Ryan Phillippe) assigned to spy on his boss (Chris Cooper) who is suspected of being a sexual deviant. Finding no evidence of such deviance, Phillippe's Eric O'Neill begins to form a respect for the regimented lifestyle of his boss. Ray subtly and effectively ratchets up the tension as O'Neill learns his real purpose is to catch his boss in an act of espionage against the United States. Special note must go to the absolutely fascinating performance of Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen. Cooper's resume is filled with stellar performances, but for my money this might just be the best: his Hanssen is a fascinating contradicted mix of fanaticism and self-interest. His performance, especially in the film's tenser moments, is a thing to behold. I'm very excited that Fox has hired Ray to write and direct the upcoming 24 film adaptation.

91. Away from Her (Sarah Polley, 2007)

Led by one of the finest performances of the decade, Away from Her is one of the most touching movies I've ever seen. Away from Her tells the story of how a married couple deals with Alzheimer's. Julie Christie gives an astoundingly touching and nuanced performance in the lead and shows the devastation of Alzheimer's in a way that never devolves into the maudlin sap a lesser director might produce. Gordon Pinsent, playing Christie's husband, also gives a wonderful performance. The director here is Sarah Polley who was just 28 years old when the movie was made. Polley seems to have a preternatural understanding of the workings of a long married couple.

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)



mike said...

A second thought on Sunshine: A simply gorgeous looking film, which benefits from a fantastic script. The only thing holding this film back a bit is a clumsy, somewhat misplaced ending.

Bernard said...

I completely agree with you about the ending - it's only thing holding Sunshine back from being MUCH higher on the list.