28 December 2009

Top 25 films of the Decade (2000-2009)

Needless to say, this was an incredibly difficult list to compile. I often only see a film once and have to thus rely on the instincts of my first impression, which often morphs over time (i.e. I have found myself gaining appreciation for a film without seeing it again, and vice versa.) Anyway, the point is that I had to trust my instincts. The criteria I used to determine the top 10 was whether it: powerfully impacted me emotionally, overwhelmed me with its mastery of form and content, or was able to have me enjoy it repeatedly. In all, this is a subjective list of favorites, movies that I love for one reason or another. I had trouble distinguishing ranking past the top 10; numbers 25-11 are listed alphabetically.

Adaptation (2002) dir. Spike Jonze
The Assassination of Jesse James... (2007) dir. Andrew Dominik
Brokeback Mountain
(2005) dir. Ang Lee
In the Mood for Love
(2000) dir. Wong Kar Wai
Inglourious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Let the Right One In (2008) dir. Tomas Alfredson
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) dir. Clint Eastwood
Napoleon Dynamite
(2004) dir. Jared Hess
The New World
(2005) dir. Terrence Malick
Rachel Getting Married (2008) dir. Jonathan Demme
Revanche (2008) dir. Gotz Spielmann
Spirited Away (2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
The Squid and the Whale (2005) dir. Noah Baumbach
Synecdoche, New York (2008) dir. Charlie Kaufman
Talk to Her (2002) dir. Pedro Almodovar

10.
Zodiac (2007) dir. David Fincher
One of the most well-made and cinematically thrilling films of the decade, absolutely. An obsessive police procedural that frustrated, frightened, and fucked with me.
9. Ratatouille/ Wall-E/ Up (2007, 2008, 2009) Pixar
Yes, I'm cheating. And it won't be the last time, so deal with it. Anyway, these Pixar films each made me feel so good that I always feel like a giddy kid upon leaving the theater. I have trouble picking a favorite (though it's probably Wall-E), so here's the last three.
8. Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (2004) dir. Michel Gondry
A great, fun film that has the perfect use of magical realism, emotion, and quirk. All of the plot twists happen at exactly the right time and are conveyed beautifully through images.

7. High Fidelity (2000) dir. Stephen Frears
My most personal pick. Perfect casting with a completely pleasurable script and subject matter. When I was in high school and saw this film I felt, "Yes! That's what I'm like! Yes, I love lists! Yes, my taste compensates for my lack of personality!" Those sentiments are still true today. "Books, records, films - these things matter. Call me shallow, but it's the fuckin' truth!"

6. Yi Yi (2000) dir. Edward Yang
A rather long Taiwanese family drama that manages to touch on all of the complications of modern family life -- hostility, love, regret -- that ultimately add up to a bittersweet experience.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) dir. Wes Anderson
This is still the definitive film of Wes Anderson's style, themes, and characters. It also created the stylistic template from which dozens of other indie films will copy. I have seen it too many times to understand why I like it so much at this point, but given some distance I think that this movie firmly establishes that Anderson is a singular cinematic talent.

4. Mulholland Drive (2001) dir. David Lynch
My memory of this film remains like that of a dream -- existing in fragments of images and attached feelings that don't make sense together. Revisiting it, I realize that it was also constructed that way. This was a game changer. It made me re-evaluate the power and function of movies.
3. Gosford Park (2001) dir. Robert Altman
A late masterpiece by one of my favorite American directors. This movie has so much going on in it in terms of characters, plots, and moods that it seems impossible that it should come out so well in the end. It's a delicious play on Agatha Christie mysteries and Renoir's Le regle du jeu. Altman reigns!

2. There Will Be Blood (2007) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
This film blew me away when I first saw it in the theater. My memory of it remains incredibly strong, and though I could name some faults in it (Paul Dano, for one), the overall force of it overrides all of that. Thank God Paul Thomas Anderson makes movies.

1. No Country for Old Men (2007) dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
A perfect movie as far as I'm concerned. I have little else to say about it. A perfect movie that I am deeply in love with.

18 December 2009

Great Western Movie Images, Pt 1

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1970)
dir. Robert Altman

15 December 2009

Quick Takes

Since my TV has been broken for the past week (repaired and returned today!) I have been making trips to the theater more often than usual. Here are some quick reactions to two 2009 Golden Globe-nominated films.

Invictus dir. Clint Eastwood
Has the visual flair and mastery of narrative expected from Eastwood, but with the inspiration dial at 11. Though it doesn't completely go Disney, it dances dangerously close at points -- especially with one terrible song choice in which the word "colorblind" is used. Strong performances from Freeman and Damon (both nominated for Globes, though Damon will probably be dropped from consideration for the Oscars), but nothing revelatory. It's a feel-good film if you let it be, especially when considering the actual Mandela and his history.

An Education dir. Lone Scherfig
A completely pleasant surprise. A very pretty and well-directed film penned by Nick Hornby. The story pulls you along in familiar narrative avenues and then makes quick detours that complicate and enliven what could otherwise be a very typical teen drama. Carey Mulligan is a great discovery, and I look forward to seeing more of her. Alfred Molina also does an exceptional job. Peter Sarasgaard is at his charming best (except when his shirt is off), along with his Wildesque dandy best friend. Also a great discovery is director Lone Scherfig, whose choices I felt were unusual and compelling, particularly in choosing not to show what would normally be climactic scenes, favoring the reactions to them instead.

12 December 2009

Ode to Written on the Wind

In continuation of my attempt to capture what I love about my favorite movies through crude poetry. Part 1 with Stagecoach is here, Part 2 with McCabe & Mrs. Miller is here.

My wishes whip against me
like the winds that used to blow
by the river and make you laugh
as they tossed my hair.

What I wouldn't give to be there
instead of here,
picking up greasy gas station boys
just to prove I can love enough,
with a bottle of stuff
from daddy's drawer.

You son of a bitch!
Can't you hear me tango
with your picture
every night in my best dress?

You stupid fool!
Can't you see the color
of my lipstick
matches the blood in my heart?

So I sit inside the window's ledge,
staring at the edge of the lawn
where you have already driven off
with someone else's daughter -

and I lie by the river
alone with my wishes
written on the wind.


10 December 2009

Me & Orson Welles (and, unfortunately, Zac Efron and everyone else)

It's been a terribly lackluster week for me movie-wise since my month-old Samsung HDTV burned some fuse after a power outage in the neighborhood. After carrying the awkward, heavy thing on the subway and into a UPS to ship back to the manufacturer for repairs, I am left with nothing to watch DVDs with (as, you see, my laptop is also broken and in need of repair). My Netflix lie on the table untouched, shedding money with every day that passes. The only option I have is to watch Instant Play films on my wife's 10-inch netbook, from which I am typing, but I haven't been that desperate (yet).

So I went to the movies, in need of some large-scale moving images and all-encompassing sound. I decided to see Richard Linklater's Me & Orson Welles, as I love Welles -- the man and the myth -- and was sure that I could soak up at least some of his spirit through Christian McKay. The movie opened with some rather nice '30s period details and a golden tint with Zac Efron in the middle of all of it, on a train and reading Shakespeare. I repressed a laugh and decided I would give Mr. Efron the full benefit of the doubt, trying my best to shed the stigma of his Disney tween associations. The scene continues as he wanders through the magic that is New York City in the '30s, taking in the awe of the bustle and skyscrapers. He sees a group of loud actors outside of the Mercury Theater and steps inside the crowd, insisting on playing a drum roll on the snare drum brought out by one of the actors. And that drum roll properly prepares the entrance for the star of the film, which is Christian McKay, donning Welles' consciously-arrogant smirk and vocal affectations.

It's McKay who carries the entire movie with charm and ability, completely nailing the Welles mannerisms -- his wit, ego, and brilliance. McKay's performance is supported by a very likable Jo Cotten (James Tupper), clownish Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill), and frustrated, gentlemanly John Houseman (Eddie Marsan). And if the film were up to these characters -- the actors and crew of Mercury Theater -- then this film would probably have had enough sparkle to make it a great film. Instead, we are forced to tolerate Zac Efron and Claire Danes as narrative centerpieces, as well as Zoe Kazan's pointless character, who lack the charm, lightness, and talent necessary to sustain McKay and the rest of the film.

Efron does his best, appearing earnest at times, even cracking his voice with adolescent nervousness, but he is so unconvincing and uninteresting that it completely fails to take off. Danes is a better actor, but she was completely miscast. It was hard to feel a thing between them at any point of the film. A lot of this has to do with the writing, which, aside from Welles' character, is contrived and lightweight (the ending should induce immense eye rolling). Even so, replacing Efron and Danes with more interesting or convincing actors (and getting rid of Zoe Kazan and that whole sub-plot altogether) could have made this a really good movie, instead of a vehicle for a really good Orson Welles imitation by McKay, which is what it is.

01 December 2009

Happy Birthday Woody

Woody Allen, b. December 1, 1935