Monday, September 21, 2009

A Decade in Review: The Best Films #40 - #31

#40. Persepolis (2007 dir. Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud) The second of two animated films to appear on this list, Persepolis is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name written by Marjane Satrapi. It's an incredibly moving and timely story. A young girls grows up during the Islamic takeover in Iran and as things go from a more westernized Islamic state to the polar opposite, her life changes for the worse. Her family, who is apposed to the new government, is under constant stress as they must hide from authorities trying to eradicate any dissent. All these events are based on Satrapi's real life experience. The animation exaggerates a lot of the visuals from a child and young adults perspective. Situations are intensified, growing up and going through physical changes are exaggerated and all in all we get a heartfelt and comical adventure through one of the harshest civil wars of our modern era. Much like Sin City, the inclusion of the original writer gives this an authenticity that other adaptations lack. Satrapi's end result is almost an upgrade from her print version.

#39. The Departed (2006, dir. Martin Scorcese) Marty returned to the crime saga after a few years of venturing into other directions. The Departed is a fantastic return to form. A crime saga that weaves through deception and double agents. One of the best casts around with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson in the lead roles, makes for an excellent experience. All the usual Marty authorship are here from Stones tracks to his usual epic storytelling. A tale of an undercover cop and a rat in the police force in hot pursuit to unravel each others game is riveting. Damon and Dicaprio don't see each other till the very end in one of the most climactic scenes in cinema history. The film keeps you guessing to the very end. It's filled with suspense and thrills and is one of the finest police dramas of the decade.

#38. Inglourious Basterds (2009 dir. Quentin Tarantino) The only entry for 2009 comes in Tarantino's biggest diversion in his career. Inglourious Basterds is a revisionist history of World War II and it's easily the most enjoyable war film I've seen in a long while. The movie is kind of frantic in a way. Each scene links together somehow but there are often times holes. This to me was easy to overlook as the characters were all intriguing, the situations that were arising were all bold and extremely suspenseful and the action was just enough to make it interesting. The titular group of American and German Jews hunting down Nazi's isn't even half of the film. In fact, the Basterds have less screen time then the two of the most intriguing characters Tarantino has. Christoph Waltz is riveting as the "Jew Hunter" who is jovial and loves his job. You are never sure if he hates Jews or he's just that good at his job. Melanie Laurent plays Shosanna Dreyfus who wants revenge for the loss of her family at the hands of the Nazi's. The cat and mouse game that ensues is excellent. If anything, Inglourious Basterds is a fun ride at the cinema.

#37. The Wrestler (2008 dir. Darren Aranofsky) Moving away from the heady and uber visual mind game of The Fountain and into a more character driven work, Darren Aranofsky hit a jackpot with the film The Wrestler. A simple story of a fallen and dilapidated pro wrestler and his struggle to keep any semblance of a real life after his career is basically wrecked by health problems and a battered body is heartbreaking and beautiful. Mickey Rourke finally shows his stuff again after years of falling from grace and brings one of the best performances of the past ten years. Rourke makes his giant of a man a lovable but epically flawed character. He's charismatic in and out of the ring, but his love life and his family life are in complete shambles. It's an anti-sports film in a way as it's not about the underdog rising from the ashes to reclaim glory as much as a washed up player trying to find meaning in his life and finding nothing outside the ring worth a damn. It's devastating and amazing.

#36. Hot Fuzz (2007, dir. Edgar Wright) The second in the "Blood and Ice Cream" Trilogy, Hot Fuzz is a perfect parody a bit better than it's predecessor Shaun of the Dead. It's a home run of a comedy lampooning the police procedural action movies on one hand and becoming a police action procedural at the same time. It's a beautiful realization every once in a while when you realize "hey, I'm watching a parody and not an actual buddy cop film!" that you see the genius that the crew of Pegg, Frost and Wright have created. The movie is frantic, has tons of suspicious characters, is edited so heavily to show how ridiculous movies like Bad Boys II and Point Break are, but then they fall into the conventions of those movies they are poking fun of to the point of idolatry. It's glorious. Unlike most parody films of today (ie. every shitty Wayans Brother's production to come out of the processing plant) Hot Fuzz is actually funny and smartly played. Parody film hasn't been this good since the heyday of Mel Brooks in the late 60's and early 70's.

#35. JCVD - (2008, dir. Mabrouk El Mechri) The same year as Aranofsky's The Wrestler, we received a similar story of a battered and bruised man just trying to make his way. Legal battles with his wife, financial ruin and nothing much to look forward in his career. But where the entertainment and originality factor go sky high is in the meta movie JCVD. The film is centered around the titular Jean Claude Van Damme in a too close to the truth tale about his fizzling career as an action star. As he goes home to his native Brussels to see his family and forget about his troubles, he gets caught up in a heist of a post office/bank and becomes one of the hostages or as reporters and those outside think he is to blame. The rest is a lampooning of other films that he's been in and as well as a post modern look at fame and stardom. It all comes down to a heartbreaking yet completely tongue in cheek soliloquy. We see JCVD wear his heart on his sleeve but only to be slapped in the face with the fact that it's all artifice. A genius film indeed.

#34. Freddy Got Fingered (2001, dir. Tom Green) - Sometimes a film gets the wrong impression when it's viewed. And sometimes the critics are absolutely right that something is total and utter garbage. When Tom Green somehow got a movie deal with 20th Century Fox, no one knew what to expect. What we got was a surrealist poem of a film. Not really much more than just the brain droppings of a man child, but it's almost a post modern view at the American Dream. Green plays Gordy, an illustrator trying to make it big. When the world slaps him in the face with the reality that dreams are harder to make reality than we think in American culture, he trudges back home to a loving, Leave It To Beaver kind of mother and a horrible father who only cares if he's employed. Rip Torn goes to Oscar worthy levels of physical comedy and the rest is just strange. The plot is close to non-existant and the gags are all at once disgusting to watch, but all too ridiculous not to watch.

#33. Sexy Beast (2000, dir. Jonathan Glazer) - What's stellar about Sexy Beast, which could have been a usual ex-con being persuaded back into the game procedural, is it's bending of the genre to be about masculinity and about not being able to run from your dark past. This comedy takes many dark turns from here to there and has it's fair share of blood. When a giant boulder nearly destroys Ray Winstone in the beginning of this film, we know that his journey to stay alive isn't going to end here. When Don Logan, played with intense comedy brilliance and viscious villany by Ben Kingsley, comes strolling back into his life with plans to bring him in for a big heist, things take a negative turn as Winstone's character is set in his life in Spain. As usual in these films, he does in fact head back into the fold, but with intentions other than being a full time criminal. The rest is an intriguing look into the male gangster persona. Ray Winstone proves that he would be one of the best actors to follow in this new decade as this is his second film on the list and he has another to come.

#32. Team America: World Police (2004, dir. Trey Parker) - Just three short years after 9/11, Trey Parker of South Park fame gave us one of the best satires of all time. Team America: World Police may have it's fair share of gross out moments (ie. a puppet sex scene with golden showers) but it also shows just how ridiculous American culture has gotten. It's less about how ludicrous the war on terror is and more a lampooning of Hollywood. The puppets taking place of actors is step one in this process. But having them do ridiculous things like accidentally blow up half of Paris or have a league of actors known simply as F.A.G. help Kim Jong Il take over the world is nothing short of brilliant. It comes off as low-brow humor, but deep inside it, there is brilliant satire on a Dr. Strangelove level. It may be mroe silly than the former, but only because who can take marionette puppets seriously? The viewer will as you will find out that halfway through the movie you've been watching puppets and realize just how ridiculous it is yet still be captivated. That takes skills.

#31. No Country For Old Men (2007, dir. Joel & Ethan Coen) - The Coen Brothers returned to form here with this nihilistic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men. Three different characters who never meet face to face on screen throughout the bulk of the movie are on each others trail from start to finish. Each character is a brilliant look into the world of the greedy and naive (Josh Brolin,) the pure unadulturated evil (Javier Bardem) and the complacent and fearful (Tommy Lee Jones.) It's a terribely bleak tail hitting home the "money is the root of all evil" that dates way back to The Canterbury Tales. Shot beautifully and realistically, the Coen Brothers find nothing but darkness in their source material. Whether it be the brutally realistic violence to the stark and silent backdrop of a soundtrackless void. What the Coen Bros. have always been excellent at is capturing the American spirit whether it's nasty side or it's comedic side. No Country is a perfect tale for them to tell.

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