Friday, February 26, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (50-46)

50. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002)

Gangs of New York is Martin Scorsese's moderately insane tale of New York City in the 1800s. Opening in 1846, the tale begins with a battle between a nativist gang, led by Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), and the Irish street gant, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). The initial battle is beautifully structured and is a wonderful vignette to open film. Neeson is compelling here, his character treating the preparation for battle with a near religious significance. Of course, the battle ends with Bill the Butcher killing Vallon, in view of Vallon's son.

Jump to 1863, with the threat of the Civil War draft hanging in the air, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) seeks revenge against the man who killed his father. Scorsese's vision of New York is sprawling and epic - the locations were all built from scratch to completion on Italian soundstages. The sets, and use of extras, are so effective and compelling that they very nearly become distracting.

Both lead actors are magnificent. DiCaprio, who might have had the finest decade of any actor, brings surprising intensity and weight to the role. This performance was part of DiCaprio's transition from great child actor to one of the best in the business. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the most effectively over-the-top performances of the decade. Bill the Butcher is a fascinating and menacing figure, it's impossible to turn away when he is on screen. Day-Lewis would give a markedly similar performance late in the decade in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. There the performance devolves into scenery chewing by the end - it was too much for the material - here it fits perfectly into Scorsese's vision.

49. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)

(500) Days of Summer is the truest romantic comedy on the modern male perspective on relationships and dating I've seen. It's also my favorite romantic comedy of the decade. Starring a perfectly cast tandem of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the film is a romantic comedy with a twist. The film is told out of order, bouncing around the relationship between Tom (Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Deschanel). The careful editing creates a number of great juxtapositions and, in a way, it captures how memory works. When you think back on a relationship with someone, it's never chronological - the memories come in waves, each building off the predecessor and leading to the next. (500) Days of Summer captures this wonderfully.

In another twist on genre (and gender) convention, Tom is the hopeless romantic and Summer simply doesn't believe in true love. Both actors are wonderful. Their performances are honest and genuine - it helps that the two seem to have a great natural chemistry together. The film also has two of my favorite scenes of 2009: one an unexpected, and hilarious, musical number and the other a fascinating and quite literal examination of expectations and hopes versus reality.

Director Marc Webb has a wonderful sense of creativity, style and emotion - I can only hope he brings those sensibilities to the set when he takes over the reboot of the Spider-Man series in the coming years.

48. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

In a decade so centered on looking at the dark underbelly of 50s and 60s Americana (Far From Heaven, Revolutionary Road, TV's Mad Men, among many others), one of the aughts' most likable movies embraced the myth. Filmed with a bright, cheery, almost reverent air, Catch Me If You Can tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a teenager who realizes he has a gift at lying and conning and proceeds to use his skills to finagle millions of dollars. The film is perfectly cast, starting with the stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks brings to life what should be the second banana role as the investigator after Abagnale. Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen are both memorable in smaller roles. It speaks to the quality of the casting that so many of the women cast in relatively small roles for Abagnale to pursue have gone on to great things: Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Pompeo.

In a way, this is the perfect role for Leonardo DiCaprio. As an actor, DiCaprio is blessed with a the gift of likability. He is effortlessly charming and, seemingly, has to consciously tone it down at times in his roles. Here he puts his charm to full effect. Frank Abagnale is a con man, but not the over-prepared Danny Ocean-type. He flies by the seat of his pants, often creating and selling elaborate fictions with an effortless confidence. One example: having transferred to a new high school, Abagnale walks into his classroom. Realizing the class is expecting a substitute, the charm kicks in. He walks to the board and writes his name down, then instructs the class, in no uncertain terms, exactly how his last name is to be pronounced. It's a great scene to watch - utterly amazing but completely believable.

Steven Spielberg is the master of high quality, mass appeal movies. He is the perfect director for this material and it shows, each scene is brought to life with a sense of wonder and joy. This is one of the most fun movies of the decade.

47. 3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold, 2007)

For whatever reason, the Western has never really captured my imagination. But the combination of stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and Walk the Line director James Mangold drew me to the theater regardless. And what a great experience it was. The plot is simple: gang leader Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured and Dan Evans (Bale) is part of the crew who must escort Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma and prison.

James Mangold has a gift for getting the best out of his actors (see: Walk the Line, Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted) and Yuma is no exception. When properly motivated, Russell Crowe is as fine an actor as there is today. Here he is motivated. He brings the Wade character to life in a way that is impressive and menacing, without ever resorting to histrionic scenery chewing. Perhaps more impressive is Christian Bale's work. Playing the quiet noble hero is often a thankless role, but Bale does stellar work often with just a simple facial expression. This is the Bale whose work I love, not the impostor chewing the scenery in The Dark Knight and Terminator Salvation. The movie's greatest scene occurs when Crowe and Bale are together in a hotel prior to the film's inevitable final shootout. Each plays the scene perfectly, giving it great wit and impact. If only they made more Westerns like this...

46. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004)

The Harry Potter series might be one of the most impressive accomplishments of the decade in film. Not just because the entire series is actually going to get made (this never happens, just ask the Narnia producers), but because the series has actually grown in quality since its inception. The series began with two doggedly faithful adaptations to J.K. Rowling's original work from director Christopher Columbus. Neither film is particularly compelling, but their genius is in the casting that shines through in the later films. Every single actor in the series is perfectly cast, without exception. The third film deals specifically with the escape of a deadly wizard named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). The story is far more menacing than the first two as Black represents a tangible and frightening threat to our heroes.

It isn't until this story that the core trio of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione) really get a chance to shine. Gone is the mugging for the camera seen in the first film, replaced with legitimate performances. Radcliffe in particular begins to show himself as a soulful and effective actor. Alan Rickman is incredibly amusing as the hated Professor Snape. Michael Gambon, replacing the deceased Richard Harris, manages to improve on the performance of a cinema legend. Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Jason Isaacs are also effective. David Thewlis joins the cast as a professor who had known Harry's now-deceased parents. He brings a tender nurturing quality to the role that's incredibly effective. Gary Oldman is one of the most versatile actors around and he's at his best here. There's a sense throughout the whole film that all the actors really believe in this material and embrace it.

Now what distinguishes Prisoner of Azkaban from the other Potter movies? The spectacular direction of Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron's glimpse into the world of Harry Potter is so effective because the magic takes a backseat, it becomes a natural part of the world the characters inhabit. The film is beautiful to look at, everything from the set designs to the special effects (the Dementors are a frightening visual creation) to color palette of each scene all work to enhance the mood. Cuaron, as well, captures the loneliness and longing that underlies the Potter character in a way that has eluded the other directors. There is a sadness in Harry - he grew up friendless with an aunt and uncle who never wanted him after his parents were murdered - and Cuaron embraces that aspect of the character to great effect. While the first two films, Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, are full of wonder at the world of wizards, Azkaban, to its benefit, acts as a more focused character study. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the finest fantasy films of the decade.

I should mention that the series has gone on strong since Cuaron's film. The fourth movie, Mike Newell's Goblet of Fire, is, while a step down from Cuaron's work, an improvement on the first two. For the fifth film director David Yates took over to great effect. He returned for the sixth film and is currently putting the finishing touches on the seventh and eighth films (the final book is being produced as two films). His dark and spectacularly well made take on the series in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince was a very near miss for my Top 101.

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)
60: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, 2003)
59: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller, 2008)
58: Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)
57: Moon (Jones, 20009)
56: Collateral (Mann, 2004)
55: Munich (Spielberg, 2005)
54: The Visitor (McCarthy, 2008)
53: El orfanato (Bayona, 2007)
52: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (del Toro, 2008)
51: Adaptation. (Jonze, 2002)
50: Gangs of New York (Scorsese, 2002)
49: (500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009)
48: Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg, 2002)
47: 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold, 2007)
46: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron, 2004)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76
75-71
70-66
65-61
60-56
55-51

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BAFTA Artwork

I just wanted to show these phenomenal designs by artist Tavis Caburn. Each is based on one of the BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Academy Awards) Best Picture nominees. Enjoy.

Avatar


An Education


The Hurt Locker


Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire


Up in the Air

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (55-51)

55. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

Munich is one of the most interesting projects in Steven Spielberg's varied resume. Munich tells the story of a team of Israeli assassins assigned to eliminate various individuals associated with the attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Eric Bana gives the best performance of his career as the former Mossad agent tasked with leading the team. Bana, always a soulful and contemplative actor, puts his skill set to powerful effect here. Particularly effective are Bana's handful of scenes with Mathieu Amalric (great in El scaphandre et le papillon and as the villain in Quantum of Solace), who plays the informant that helps the team acquire their targets. Daniel Craig's powerful gravitas stands out as the team's wheelman. Each assassination stands out as uniquely compelling thanks to the emphasis on both the preparation for and aftermath of the attack on each target. Spielberg's direction is, as always, a thing of beauty: particularly memorable is his staggering depictions of the actual Munich massacre.

54. The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, 2008)

Sometimes one of the best things to happen to a movie is to give a career character actor a chance to star in a role that suits his strengths. Richard Jenkins has roughly eighty credits on his resume over the past 25 years, hardly any of them in a leading roll. From junky action movies like The Core to goofy comedies like Step Brothers to more serious dramas like Snow Falling on Cedars, Jenkins often got just a scant few moments to make an impression. Thomas McCarthy made the very wise decision to give Jenkins an opportunity to lead in The Visitor. Jenkins plays a college professor, emotionally detached and disinterested since the passing of his wife. It isn't until returning to his New York City apartment and finding a couple living there that he begins to come to life. Feeling sympathy for the difficulties of the couple, illegal immigrants who had been scammed into staying at his apartment, he invites them to stay with him and gradually forms a connection with the couple based around music. Jenkins' wife had been a pianist and his new ward, Syrian immigrant Tarek, is a virtuoso on the drum. Jenkins as well forms a bond with Tarek's mother, played with great depth by Hiam Abbass. The scenes between them, each character damaged by loss in their life, have a wonderful delicacy and depth to them. Abbass gives one of the most subtly devastating performances of the decade. The film also deals effectively with issues of illegal immigration and deportation in a personal and effective manner, never falling into the preachy and didactic nonsense of films like Crash and Crossing Over. Often character actors are recognized by the viewer with a sense of deja vu ("Where do I know that guy from...?"); after seeing his performance in The Visitor I'm confident you'll know who Richard Jenkins is.

53. El orfanato (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007)

I first saw The Orphanage - as it's known in the U.S. - at one of its first screening in the United States at a midnight showing (reserved for horror movies) at the New York Film Festival. In attendance were the star, Belén Rueda, and the director, first time movie director Juan Antonio Bayona. Prior to the film's start both spoke about what drew them to the project and it was clear that each had a real passion for the movie - also clear was that Bayona was incredibly nervous to see how the movie would play for an American audience. Turns out he had absolutely nothing to worry about, The Orphanage was one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences I've ever had. The entire audience bought into the movie from the opening moments and each scare was met with shouts and nervous laughter after the fact - it's one of the most remarkable collective experience I've ever seen during a movie.

The Orphanage is about a woman who, with the help of her husband, purchases the orphanage she grew up in so that she can re-open it and help disabled children. Of course, not all is as it seems. Soon the couple's adopted son begins to tell his parents about the friend he has made: a boy named Tomás that only he can see and happens to wear a sack mask. Gradually the mystery of the home is pulled back. Belén Rueda is great in the lead role; she brings a great brooding focus to her performance. Bayona does a magnificent job playing upon the tension a good horror movie creates, delivering genuinely frightening moments and haunting imagery. The Orphanage is the best ghost story of the decade and is definitely worth watching with all the lights turned off late at night.

52. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008)

While the first Hellboy was an enjoyable genre movie, it's with the sequel that the characters and action really come to life. Perhaps it was the move to a new studio, Universal, or Guillermo del Toro's growth as a director over the course of the decade or just a better plot, but whatever the reason Hellboy II has an incredible sense of life to it. Bolstered by the radiant directorial eye of Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy II has some of the most stark and interesting images of the decade.

Hellboy II has a remarkable cast, all of whom completely embrace the eccentric nature of the material. Hellboy himself is a rather absurd hero: a giant red demon with a penchant for beer and cigars with a soft spot for cats. But, Ron Perlman brings the character to life despite acting through a heavy array of make-up and prosthetics. Doug Jones also brings life to the material as Hellboy's sidekick Abe. In his career, Jones has generally only ever played the character under the make-up - he has a remarkable way of moving that imbues his characters with an otherworldly sort of life. In fact, in the first Hellboy actor David Hyde Pierce was hired to do the voice work for Jones' physical acting. Here Guillermo del Toro allows Jones to do his own voice work to spectacular effect. Jones imbues his character with a touching charm that lets his character's love story - a secondary plot - shine through as one of the most touching romances of its year. Obviously it's absurd - a teal man-fish falling in love with a golden princess creature - but del Toro is probably the one director on Earth who can make such a plot vibrant.

Del Toro seems to have grown as a writer. Responsible for writing both Hellboy films, del Toro's words have more life and efficacy to them the second go round. The characters are funnier, more well rounded and more believable. The action is also filmed in a way that, unlike its fellow comic book movie of 2008: The Dark Knight, makes sense from an editing and spatial perspective. One of the worst trends of the past decade was the growth of choppy jump-cut editing techniques in action scenes. The idea is that very short shots strung together can make a scene appear more exciting and can provide more dynamic views of the action, but the reality is that the oft-abused technique tends to make the action incredibly difficult to follow, if not entirely nonsensical (Quantum of Solace was a notably bad offender). Very few directors - one example being Paul Greengrass in the Bourne sequels - can competently manage the technique. Del Toro is wise enough to stage his action is a manner that allows for longer shots and action scenes that have a logical flow. Further, one of del Toro's best traits as a director is his appreciation for great prosthetic and model work. Every single fantastical character in Hellboy II of roughly human proportion is made of stellar costume and make-up work, not the distracting, and often ineffectual, CGI that directors so often rely upon.

I know the concept is silly on paper, but del Toro is the master at bringing this sort of film to life. Hellboy II is one of the best comic book and one of the best fantasy movies of the decade.

NB: I strongly recommend Guillermo del Toro's stellar novel The Strain. It's something of a modern take on the vampire story with a bit of CSI thrown in and is co-written by Chuck Hogan (whose own novel, Prince of Thieves, is being adapted by director Ben Affleck for a 2010 release).

51. Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)

One of the most fascinatingly bizarre movies of the decade, Adaptation. tells the story of a man's struggle to adapt a non-fiction book about the orchid industry, but also a story about smarmy con men involved in orchid smuggling and thievery. I don't want to say much about the plot because of the film's joy is discovering all of the bizarre and unexpected twists. As an actor, Nicolas Cage is a strange enigma to me. Just this past decade, Cage was so awful and hammy in movies like Next, Windtalkers and The Wicker Man, but, at the same time, so effective in films like Matchstick Men, Lord of War and The Weather Man. Adaptation. is good Nic Cage. Here he plays the struggling writer attempting to adapt the orchid book and also his twin brother who wants to turn the book into a clichéd thriller. Without any difference in make-up or hair, Cage crafts two characters that are instantly recognizable and distinctive. Chris Cooper is great as the orchid thief at the core of the story. Director Spike Jonze, who also directed Being John Malkovich and Where the Wild Things Are, and writer Charlie Kaufman make up one of the most bizarre, creative and compelling production tandems possible in Hollywood.

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)
60: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, 2003)
59: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller, 2008)
58: Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)
57: Moon (Jones, 20009)
56: Collateral (Mann, 2004)
55: Munich (Spielberg, 2005)
54: The Visitor (McCarthy, 2008)
53: El orfanato (Bayona, 2007)
52: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (del Toro, 2008)
51: Adaptation. (Jonze, 2002)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76
75-71
70-66
65-61
60-56

Monday, February 22, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (60-56)

60. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003)

What could possibly be less appealing than a nearly two and half hour movie based on a Disney theme park ride? I can't have been the only person thinking that as I ventured to the theater back in the summer of '03 (ironically that theater was in Orlando, Florida). But then the movie starts and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow approaches Port Royal's harbor standing gloriously atop his ship's mainmast - gloriously, that is, until we realize his ship is slowly but surely sinking... And with that, one of the most enjoyable adventures of the decade is off and running. Depp's work here is incredibly unique and hilariously engaging; there has never been another character in film quite like Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush, as well, does amusing work as the sneering villain Captain Barbarossa.

While the Pirates series has two sequels (and a 3rd sequel, On Stranger Tides, coming out in 2011), none of the follow-ups (despite more great work from Depp and amusing action scenes) have the same sort of manic energy and excitement captured in the first installment.

59. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, 2008)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the best, of many, Apatow factory movies this past decade. Like most of the other Apatow movies, the film has the same successful combination of gross-out gags and romantic comedy. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the best on the strength of the actual story and the winning performances of all the actors. The story is about a guy (Jason Segal) who gets dumped by his celebrity girlfriend (Kristen Bell) and tries to get away to Hawaii to recover only to find that his girlfriend is there too...with her new rock star boyfriend (Russell Brand). I could go on and on about the great performance from Segal, the charming work of Mila Kunis (as a resort worker that takes pity on Segal's plight) or the memorable small roles peppered throughout the movie (from Paul Rudd, Bill Hader and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer among others), but instead I want to talk Aldous Snow. Russell Brand, who I gather is considered something of a degenerate in his native England, is unbelievably funny in the role - Brand steals every single scene he is in. He delivers his lines with such easy going and mellow verve that even the most absurd or degenerate statement comes off hilariously. His interactions with Jason Segal's character, in particular, are comic gold. So funny is his work, that Sarah Marshall director Nick Stoller is releasing a spin-off about his character this summer titled Get Him to the Greek.

58. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)

Hot Fuzz is the perfect loving spoof on mindless action movies. Inspired by hundreds of hours of brain dead action, director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg's script plays hilariously off of genre conventions and contrivances - without ever falling into the sort of mockery seen in the Austin Powers movies. Hot Fuzz tells the story of a highly decorated cop (Simon Pegg) that's so good at his job that he embarrasses his co-workers and is banished to a countryside town with absolutely no crime. There he gets a new partner (Nick Frost) and compelling cases such as underage drinking and recapturing a runaway swan. That is until the two cops begin to uncover the town's dark secret... Pegg and Frost are both absolutely hilarious and fit their roles magnificently. Edgar Wright has a master's touch at emphasizing the delivery of a joke and crafts some memorably funny action sequences. Hot Fuzz is perfect for fans of action movies and British-style comedy.

Fun fact: This is the second in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead is the 1st, the as-yet-unfilmed The World's End is the 3rd). The name comes from the use Cornetto brand ice cream in each movie.

57. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)

This is the first film from British director Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, and with it he roars onto the scene as a talent to watch in the next decade. Here Jones crafts (as both writer and director) the story of a lone astronaut working on a Moon mining base nearing the end of his three year employment term. Jones has a gift for structuring an image and an incredible confidence in the pace of his movie. Unlike so many neophyte directors, Jones has the intelligence to allow his film to progress organically. There are no frustrating jump cuts here, rather Jones uses longer, well-constructed shots to tell his story. Those long uninterrupted takes help further the ambiance and seclusion of the lone astronaut. Sam Rockwell, playing that astronaut, gives one of the best performances of his career and one of the best of 2009. I hesitate to say much more about the film for fear of spoiling any of its surprises, but in just one film Jones has established himself as one hell of a director. In a banner year for science fiction (2009 also saw Star Trek, District 9 and Avatar), Moon sadly fell somewhat under the radar - I can only hope that the film finds a well-deserved audience on DVD and Blu-Ray.

56. Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)

Collateral is a stellar character study of a taxi driver and the hitman who forces him to drive around Los Angeles to pursue various targets. Interestingly, director Michael Mann chooses to open the movie with a long scene between Jamie Foxx and a fare in his cab, a prosecutor played by Jada Pinkett Smith. The scene is extremely atypical for an action movie - it plays out almost like its own short film - but it does a remarkable job of introducing us to the film's main character. Foxx is stellar as that cabbie, but the most memorable performance in the film belongs to Tom Cruise. Essentially, the film is structured as a long dialogue between a contract killer and a man he holds hostage driven forward by the five targets Cruise's character is pursuing. Regardless of any nonsense unrelated to his acting, Cruise has a lot of under-appreciated talent. Here his work is intense, compelling and forceful. He crafts a killer with far more subtlety and intellect than most would bring to the role. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the film's action scenes: director Michael Mann films each scene with a speed and brutality infrequent in action movies. I still remember being startled by the stark volume of the gunshots in the film the first time I saw it, and the volume works well to punctuate the visceral impact of the film's violence.

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)
60: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, 2003)
59: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller, 2008)
58: Hot Fuzz (Wright, 2007)
57: Moon (Jones, 20009)
56: Collateral (Mann, 2004)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76
75-71
70-66
65-61

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)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76
75-71
70-66

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (70-66)

70. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005)

A small time criminal (Robert Downey, Jr.) stumbles into a movie audition after a botched robbery, ends up winning the job and is sent to Hollywood to train with a private investigator (Val Kilmer) for his role. From there, the odd pair stumbles into a conspiracy involving the murder of an heiress. A childhood friend of Downey's character (played with humor and sex appeal by Michelle Monaghan) also contacts the duo to investigate the death of her sister. Together, the three investigate the crimes. Director Shane Black, working from one hell of a witty script, does a great job lovingly playing on film noir conventions. The film's title actually arises from an old reference to James Bond movies: it's the simplest explanation for what you see in a spy movie. The film, a core part of Robert Downey's comeback from substance abuse issues, features stellar performances from all three leads.

69. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)

In a change from the brand of dark comedy they're known for, No Country for Old Men is a far more serious film from the Coen brothers. Dealing with the consequences of stumbling upon the money from a drug deal gone awry, No Country is bleak and brutal. It is gorgeously lensed by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who uses the visuals of the Mexican border to spectacular effect. While all the actors are strong here, the most enduring performance from the film is Javier Bardem's as Anton Chigurh. Chigurh is a hitman hired to recover the drug money and cuts a brutal path through the countryside with his silenced shotgun and captive bolt pistol (basically a SCUBA tank attached to an air gun that is used in the killing of cattle). His performance is also marked by a degree of icy restraint and detachment that prevent the work from ever falling into the scenery chewing or histrionic. Chigurh is, along with Heath Ledger's Joker, the most interesting villain in film of the decade.

68. Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)

Despite overflowing with dirty jokes and gross out humor, Superbad actually has a really genuine message about the importance of friendship. The core that makes the movie work is the bond between Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera), bickering, attached-at-the-hip, best friends about to head off to different colleges. Along with nerdy cohort McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the trio spend a day trying to get alcohol to impress their pretty classmates. The movie lags a bit in the middle, but, all told, it is the funniest and most enjoyable high school coming of age movie this past decade.

67. Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002)

Thinking back on Insomnia, I sometimes wonder if it is the last great performance Al Pacino will ever get in a film (for most of the rest of the decade, he only appeared in dreg like 88 Minutes, Righteous Kill and Gigli). Christopher Nolan's second movie, Insomnia is about two LA detectives (one played by Pacino) tasked with traveling to Alaska, to a town where the summer's are filled with perpetual daylight, to assist the local police (including Hilary Swank) investigate the murder of a 17 year old girl. Robin Williams plays a crime novelist suspected of being involved in the girl's death. This, along with One Hour Photo, is one of two truly unsettling performances given by Robin Williams in 2002. With his usual manic energy under lock and key, Williams is deeply unsettling, yet magnetic, in Nolan's film. Christopher Nolan has a real knack for atmosphere in his movies and Insomnia is no exception. He uses the perpetual daylight of the Alaskan fishing town of Nightmute to stellar visual and emotive effect.

66. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)

The story of The Road is very simple: a man and his son travel across a desolated wasteland trying to get to the coast. The majority of the rest of the population has devolved into cannibalism and savagery. John Hillcoat, who also directed the stellar Australian western The Proposition, nails the ambiance of Cormac McCarthy's source novel and crafts a frightening, but strangely beautiful, world. Viggo Mortensen has never been better - the man's dogged determination to defend his son is heart-wrenching. The supporting players, among them Kodi-Smit McPhee, Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall, are uniformly strong. Sadly, The Road was largely overlooked in its release this past year, but I'm confident time will be kind to the movie and its estimation will grow.

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)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76
75-71

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (75-71)

75. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)

Michael Clayton is the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy. Gilroy, who had previously written the Bourne movies, is more than up to the task of telling the story of a corporate law 'fixer' tasked with covering up what starts as the meltdown of a law firm partner but develops into a broader legal conspiracy. George Clooney does well subverting his star persona, playing a downtrodden, debt riddled and alcoholic attorney. Tilda Swinton does particularly wonderful work as a high powered, but desperate, in-house counsel for an agricultural company involved in the conspiracy mentioned earlier. Her character, the evil lawyer - often played in other movies with such overt malevolence that you half expect them to twirl their mustache after ordering an employee around - is, here, a nervous and doubting villain, seen mumbling a speech to herself repeatedly in a mirror until perfected. Her performance in particular brings credibility and weight to the entire story.

I enjoyed Gilroy's other film this decade, 2009's Duplicity, and I look forward to seeing what he constructs in the coming years.

74. Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004)

In some ways I think the growth in use of handheld 'shaky' cameras during the past decade was one of its worst innovations, but Peter Berg's Friday Night Lights is one of the handful of examples of where it really works. Berg's goal is not to tell the typical melodramatic sports story: it is to get inside the world of high school football in the South. The use of the handheld cameras helps give each scene an immediacy and presence that might be lost with more detached camera work. The movie itself is incredibly compelling (so compelling that it helped spawn a TV series that will conclude after its fifth season next year). The actors are all well cast and give believable performances. Much praise was given to Billy Bob Thornton when the film was released, but I think that praise would have been better given to the four young actors who really make the material work: Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke and Jay Hernandez. Lucas Black has a wonderful intensity as the team's quarterback. Hedlund is involved in one of the film's most powerful and affecting scenes: the night after his character had fumbled in a game, his father (a startlingly effective Tim McGraw) drunkenly tapes his son's arms to a football and taunts him while attempting to smash the ball out of his arms. The scene is chilling and all too believable. The film is particularly successful in the way it concludes, not necessarily the final 'big game' moment but in the time afterward, in the melancholy moments the players realize they must face life without high school football, without the Friday night lights.

I should also take a moment here to recognize Friday Night Lights, the TV show, as one of the best creative ventures of the decade. Despite a rocky second season (a result of studio tampering to try to up the ratings), the show has been one of the real joys on television since it began.

73. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2006)

The Descent is, without a doubt, the scariest movie of the decade. It tells the story of an all female group of spelunkers who encounter cave dwelling creatures when they decide to venture off the beaten path. The actors do good work with the material and bring a feverish and panicked energy to each scene. Director Neil Marshall does a great job with the camera to utilize the natural darkness and angles of a system of caverns to create palpable claustrophobia in the audience. He also, wisely, chose not to use any CGI and, rather, cast ballet dancers to play the film's creatures. The dancers imbue the cave dwellers with a deeply unsettling, and inhuman, way of movement that makes them all the more terrifying.

72. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

In the Loop is an acerbic British political satire about the lead up to a potential Middle Eastern war (featuring The Sopranos' James Gandolfini). Armando Iannucci, directing his first feature film, has a master's sense of rhythm and comedic timing. A skill he needs in spades because every single scene in In the Loop is overflowing with humor, from subtle references to overt profane rants. Peter Capaldi, playing the Prime Minister's communication chief, gives, perhaps, the most savagely hilarious performance of the decade. Every minute Capaldi is on screen crackles with spectacular energy and constant laughs. The film has one of the wittiest and most scathing scripts I've ever seen. More than that, it has as good a laugh-per-minute rate as any movie the last decade.

71. In the Shadow of the Moon (David Sington, 2007)

In the Shadow of the Moon is a documentary about the manned missions sent to the moon in the late 60s and early 70s. The film uses the narration of nearly all the men to ever walk on the moon along with archival footage and previously unseen material from the NASA vaults to give a fresh and compelling look at the Space Race. The astronauts give candid, emotional and, sometimes, hilarious insights into the totality of the space race and into each of their individual roles and stories. If you have even the faintest interest in the Space Race or the Cold War, you owe it to yourself to see In the Shadow of the Moon.

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)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81
80-76

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 101 Movies of the Decade (80-76)

80. Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)

Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who, after graduating college, decided to give up his material wealth and travel across the country to the Alaskan wilderness. Sean Penn's film focuses on his journey getting there and the various individuals who help shape his life along the way. The film is gorgeously lensed and helped by wonderful supporting performances along the way, including Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener and Kristin Stewart. Special notice must go to Hal Holbrook (who received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for just 7 or 8 minutes of screen time), Holbrook's ability to act with just his face is astounding - I don't think I've ever seen such sadness in a human being's face as in Holbrook's climactic scene. The film's musical score (by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam) is also one of the best of the decade.

79. Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

Despite a bit too quirky script, Juno is a showcase for one of the best ensemble performances of the decade. Juno, Jason Reitman's second feature length movie, is the humorous story of a pregnant high school girl. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are great and touching as Juno's pragmatic and loving parents. Michael Cera gives his most genuine performance as the father of Juno's child. Best of all, though, are Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner: they play a yuppie couple Juno selects to give her child to after it's born. Both inhabit their roles with such life and genuine emotion that the movie soars when they take the screen. Garner, in particular, has a moment when she first feels the unborn child kick from within Juno's stomach that is one of the most genuine moments of the decade in film.

78. Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)

Cast Away is about a man stranded on an island in the middle of an ocean after a plane crash. Tom Hanks clearly gives his all to the role, physically transforming from a slightly portly white collar worker to a trim haggard castaway. It takes a special sort of actor and performance to be the only human on screen for nearly two hours of a film's run time - Hanks' most frequent partner on screen is volleyball that washes up on the island from the crash he lovingly deems Wilson. Hanks is so effective in the role that the audience comes to value his emotional connection with a volleyball. Robert Zemeckis, directing his last live action movie before turning his attention to the soulless computer generated zombie-characters of The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol for the rest of the decade, effectively and compellingly structures Hanks' life on the island in a way that never ceases to be compelling.

77. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)

While Sweeney Todd takes a little while to pick up steam, once it does Johnny Depp carries the film on the shoulders of, arguably, his strongest career performance. Depp plays Sweeney Todd, a vengeful serial murdering barber, who disposes of the bodies by teaming up with his neighbor, a baker named Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), to sell the victims in pies. This is, of course, a musical and while Depp doesn't have the greatest singing voice ever recorded he has a startling ability to act facially while singing. Helena Bonham Carter, similarly, is far from a gorgeous singer but she too sells each song with aplomb. Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) are great in support. The mad vision of Tim Burton brings the entire experience together as one of the most curious and compelling films of the decade.

76. The 40 Year Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)

It speaks to the success in the formula of this movie that nearly every actor, then more or less unknown, has gone on to become a recognizable name. Steve Carell, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jane Lynch, Kat Dennings, Leslie Mann and Romany Malco all broke through thanks to this film. The movie is well known for its raunchy humor. But beneath all the dick jokes is an effective romantic comedy, with a pair of lead actors that are easy to care about. Steve Carell is, basically, the perfect everyman actor: he's funny, likable and clearly never takes himself too seriously. This appeal helps makes the movie click and make the audience care. Director Judd Apatow found a special mix of romance and gross out humor that makes for one of the best romantic comedies of the decade.

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)


Runners-Up
101-96
95-91
90-86
85-81