Monday, March 8, 2010

The top 100 - part 2

Honestly, Ross. I delay a few days...

[Part 1 is here. A month on and Imaginarium, A Single Man, and Fish Tank would all bump things on this list. I cannot stop thinking about Fish Tank. I need to go see Andrea Arnold's first film, Red Road, which coincidentally is one of my favorite movie posters. I think I can also definitively say that Red Riding 1974 and 1980 will both make next decade's list.]

Fifth Tier – the Runner-Ups
A Mighty Heart (2007) The true story of Marianne Pearl and the kidnap and murder of Daniel Pearl. Angelina Jolie gives a tour-de-force, devastating performance as the center of the swirling manhunt for her husband. The film paints (what feels like) an authentic portrait of Karachi as a city and the difficulties of finding one person within it.

Catch Me if You Can (2002)
A charming, breezy cat and mouse flick (think of it as the other side of the coin to The Departed). All the more incredible for being based on a true story, it tells the tale of Frank Abagnale Jr., who worked as a conman and forger, and the FBI agent who makes it his mission to bring him in.

Cloverfield (2008)
Honestly, this movie had the potential to go horribly, horribly wrong, and yet it ended up a clever, scary and thought-provoking flick. Basically a Godzilla film told from a first person POV via shaky cam, the movie has several very scary scenes, an unrelenting tension, and enough stylistic flourishes to stay with you.

Fountain (2006)
Unlike The Fall, the story of this film doesn't quite live up to its astounding visuals, but it's interesting nonetheless. A tale of undying love over 1,000 years, encompassing a 16th century queen and a conquistador searching for the fountain of youth, a modern day couple consisting of a doctor and his terminally ill wife, and a 25th century space man dreaming of a woman. Of particular interest to those who enjoy debating metaphysics, or the philosophies behind the Matrix films.

House of Flying Daggers (2004)
the epitome of Eastern action films. Visually, it revels in the scenery and production design, the action choreography and the athleticism of the actors. Frequently compared to opera, in which the story (in this case, a hunt for government rebels leading to true love) serves mostly to advance from one visual masterpiece to the next.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)
Nearly as good as Princess Mononoke, this is another triumph from Studio Ghibli. They continue their tradition of gorgeous 2-D animation, this time adapting a story by Dianna Wynn Jones about a girl transformed into an old woman by a spell, a sorcerer, and his castle which frequently rambles from place to place. Set against an epic backdrop of political machinations and magic, Howl's Moving Castle is imaginative and beautiful.

I'm Not There (2007)
Redefining what a biopic is, six actors take on varying aspects of Bob Dylan's personality. Some hew close to history (Cate Blanchett, getting to do the most accurate impression), others are merely impressionistic, like a young Southern boy who hops train cars and plays the blues. The sum total gives you an idea of what and who Bob Dylan is.

Inside Man (2006)
Spike Lee's slick, fun heist flick. It's got a fantastic cast and a great twist that holds up on repeat viewings. Not much more to say, but it's easily one of the most enjoyable films of the last 10 years.

Japanese Story (2003)
An Australian geologist is forced to guide a young Japanese business man out into the Outback. What starts off as a simple story of strange bedfellows slowly falling for one another eventually becomes an emotional and finely-tuned character study. Toni Collette's best work yet.

Kingdom of Heaven (2006) I think this one was sadly overlooked. Where movie goers were expecting something along the lines of a Troy or 300, they instead got a nuanced, historical portrait of factions in Jerusalem. It features a hero who cares about preserving harmony between religious and ethnic factions, rather than winning a war. Far too intelligent for a tentpole picture.

[See also the beginning of King Arthur (much more summer blockbuster and not as good), as told by Cleolinda in Movies in 15 Minutes;
"LANCELOT: So, back in the day there were these Sarmatians, and they got their asses kicked but the Romans respected the fact that they were tough bastards, so they let them live, only they had to be knights, and their sons, and their sons, and they all got their asses kicked and reincarnated into warrior horses and shit, and so on and so forth until I say, yea verily, better had those men died than have their descendants end up in this movie. And then it got to be my turn, and it was much of the suck.
AUDIENCE: "Sarmatia"?"]

Kinsey (2004) A great biopic about Alfred Kinsey and his revolutionary and controversial research on sexual behaviors. Fantastic performances by Liam Neeson and Laura Linney as a developing couple, as well as Peter Sarsgaard as Kinsey's assistant and occasional partner. The characters come off as fascinating, struggling, real people, rather than being idealized as some biopics are wont to do.

Marie Antoinette (2006) Kirsten Dunst shows that her precocious talent in Interview with a Vampire hasn't wholly disappeared in Sofia Coppola's dreamy, lavish take on the doomed queen. The film empathizes with the youth and naivete of its protagonist and gorgeously and hauntingly displays the insular French court system.

Monster (2003) A stunning performance by Charlize Theron. It's a love story between misfits and the story of a woman abused to the psychological point of no return. Theron burrows so deep into Aileen Wuornos' psyche that it's impossible not to sympathize with her, despite the atrocities she commits.

Mulholland Drive (2001) No, I don't understand it. But I still like it. Quintessentially Lynchian, the film features great performances during an extended musing/dream/fantasy/who-knows-what meditation on Hollywood. While I don't always understand what certain scenes had to do with the plot, per se, I certainly remember them vividly a decade later.

Perfume: the story of a murderer (2006) This film was never going to have an easy time of it, being primarily about a sense that can only be described in voice-over, coming from a beloved and best-selling book, and featuring an unlikeable and nearly silent mass murderer at its core. But what the film lacks in scent, it more than makes up for in lush visuals to set the scene. And as the murderer with the best sense of smell, Ben Whishaw is riveting. It is both an ode to sensation and a fairy-tale about obsession.

The Queen (2006) Yes, Helen Mirren is brilliant. But for one minute, please recognize Michael Sheen's criminally overlooked performance as Tony Blair whom she plays off against. His portrayal was every bit as spot-on and just as engrossing and I still can't believe he wasn't up for an Oscar. Do you see what you did, Academy? You made him turn to Twilight. I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY. Right - anyways, the film examines the British monarchy today through the lens of the few days following Lady Diana's death.

Stardust (2007) Awwww. I love this film. It's a snarky take on the fantasy genre. It has witches, swordfights, cross-dressing pirates, fallen stars, and unicorns. It funny, engaging, and really sweet without ever becoming cloying. A good choice for anyone who likes Labyrinth or Princess Bride.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001) A parody about summer camp, set in the early 1980s and featuring many members of the comedy troupe The State. I think this movie is hilarious. I will never, ever get over Chris Meloni in this. Yes, it's a bit hit or miss, but the highs are so transcendentally absurd that I still laugh at them years later.

X2 (2003) The absolute best of the superhero movies that have dominated the decade (yes, I'm aware Batman Begins is in another bracket. So sue me). It manages to blend fantastic action sequences (the attack on the white house is still incredible), allegory (Ice man coming out to his parents works so much better than Rogue's shoehorned abortion parallel in the third), drama and plot (Stryker makes a worthy and believable opponent), and deftly handles the introduction of new characters, such as Nightcrawler, which other genre films have had trouble with.

Young Adam (2003) A murder mystery set against the bleak backdrop of barges traversing the Scottish canals, it's an atmospheric look at moral aimlessness. Tilda Swinton, Ewan McGregor, Emily Mortimer, and Peter Mullan are all fantastic.

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