Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Decade in Review: The Best Films #50 - 41

#50. Sin City (2005, dir. Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez) - What Sin City did was open the gateways for darker, deeper and pulpy comic book movies to get made. It also led to many a rip-off in it's style of shooting a film with lots of green screen and cool coloring effects (ie. 300, The Spirit), but Sin City was the first one and the one to do it the best. Not only was it a pulpy, noir comic, but it was a fun filled comedy fest and a feast for the eyes. Sin City was one of many times that the cinema really exploded in fun and an overall exciting atmosphere. It's not a heady movie filled with deep sub plots or intriguing character developments or studies, but a story of caricatures doing their best and being the best enhanced versions of those standard noir characters. Mickey Rourke's Marv would be the first step towards his career being revived, Benicio del Toro and Clive Owen shine in their opposing roles and their was plenty of blood and guts to keep anyone interested.

#49. The Aviator (2004, dir. Martin Scorcese) Martin Scorcese has had a stellar post 90's slump with many a great film and his story of Howard Hughes and his breakdown is just one of them. The Aviator is a sumptous movie that is all Hollywood glitz and glamor of the early years melded around the story of a man spiraling out of control. Hughes debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder is perfectly portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. It's hard to watch at sometimes as he reels out of control not only in his ambitious career as an innovator in aviation but also on a personal level. Stellar supporting cast including Cate Blanchett and John C. Reilly, it's a movie that has visual flair and emotional characters that are engaging and heartbreakingly beautiful to watch.

#48. Oldboy (2003, dir. Park Chan-wook) - I first heard of this film from a Korean classmate in my film noir seminar class and his description, although vague, made the movie out to be one of the outstanding discoveries of this particular class. Asian cinema has always had this brilliant grasp on the human condition and Oldboy is no exception. A cross between Kurosawa and Tarantino, Chan-wook depicts this film graphically, but it's all sincere violence with a motive. It's not violence for the sake of violence, it's a film with a very intense subject matter and one of vengencace acted out in massive detail. To bog you down with plot points is to ruin one of the greatest things this film has going for it: mystery and surprise. It's a neo-noir with a taste of the east and one that is extremely bitter and graphic. It's a harrowing journey, but one that you can't take your eyes off of.

#47 - Lost in Translation (2003 dir. Sofia Coppola) - What Sofia Coppola did with Lost in Translation is take an element all of humanity fears and make it heartbreaking and beautiful to watch. That emotion of course is loneliness. Both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansenn's characters are earth shatteringly lonely and complacent with their lives. It's not just hte language barrier that is hard, in fact that isn't even the point of the movie. Where the real emotional trash comes in is in their own relationships with their spouses. Either physical distance in the case of Bob Harris and his wife or the cold, uninterested distance of the newly weds of Charlotte and John. Visually stunning as well as emotionally charged, Lost in Translation is the perfect little movie. A small idea that has global proportions and emotions that effect everyone perfectly crafted. Also, the soundtrack is quite excellent which helps mirror the mood with great detail.

#46. Grindhouse (2007, dirs. Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez) - The ultimate movie going experience. Throwing back to the 70's and 80's schlock and awe film era of the Grindhouse, Tarantino and Rodriguez teamed up to make to films that would play as a double feature aptly named Grindhouse. From the gritty film stock to missing reels and fake trailers, it was an experience unmatched by any other film of the era. The two films, Rodriguez's zombie comedy romp Planet Terror and Tarantino's ode to classic stunts and meaningless dialogue are good in their own right. One is a fun ride filled with crude and rude gore and smart talking heroes and villains, the other a strange and surreal look at the world of stunt drivers and unsuspecting women. One has plenty of exploding heads and limbs being torn apart where the other has the most intense car chase scene since the heyday of true stunt driving. The fake trailers for Machete, Thanksgiving, Don't and Werewolf Women of the S.S. added a brilliant element. Sadly the film was not as well received as it should have deserved and now the original point of the film is lost on the DVD release, but luckily it was an experience I got to have in the theater.

#45. Zodiac (2007, dir. David Fincher) - The true crime story of the Zodiac killer is a mystery in itself. A mystery that spans decades of time and many different possible suspects. It was surely painstaking and a huge pain in the ass in reality, so when David Fincher helmed the movie, everyone expected something along the lines of Se7en. What they got instead is a brooding, long and hard film to watch, but one that is absolutely riveting. It's not hard to watch in the way of violent or boring, it's hard to watch because it puts you right next to the Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo characters. You are painstakingly trying to figure out along with them who was doing these scattered, brutal murders with almost no links whatsoever. It's a modern day spook story of sorts. Fincher is a brilliant choice to direct as his murk and mire shooting is perfect for such a story shrouded in mystery.

#44. Shaun of the Dead (2004, dir. Edgar Wright) - The first in the "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy," Shaun of the Dead is a perfect genre bending film. It takes the conventions of a romantic comedy and a zombie film and perfectly mesh them into one cohesive parody film. Simon Pegg plays the schmo who loses his girlfriend after he total screws up left and right over and over again. As he is trying to win her back, BOOM! Zombie apocalypse. As things slowly go from shitty to the shittiest, Pegg and crew are all cooped up together and dealing with their relationship problems at the same time dealing with their existence. Everything from endearing moments to fast zoom cuts and blood and gore are all shoved into the same frames. The idea seems like it would just be a campy comedy, but Shaun of the Dead is way more than that. The characters are engaging and the comedy is not just straightforward rom-com material, but authentic story telling and acting.

#43. Spirited Away (2001 dir. Hayao Miyazaki) The world of Miyazaki is a fantastical one, filled with strange beasties and precocious children spiraling into their fantasy worlds. Where American animated features tread on the trite and usually not as deeper themes (until Pixar, that is), Miyazaki tackles the transition from youth to adulthood with visual prowess and brilliant imagery. Spirited Away is sort of a revisionist tale of Alice in Wonderland. The comparisons are hard to deny, but something deeper seems to be going on in this version. The characters are bursting with life. Even though the images are surreal at times, every character and creature seems to have a personality all their own. It's a truly magical film that really captivates. From what I've read, Miyazaki's films can sometimes be geared more for children of a young age, like this years Ponyo. What makes Spirited Away an instant classic is that it bridges the gap between family and adulthood just like the characters. Anyone who sees this film will be captivated, no matter the age.

#42. Synecdoche, NY (2008 dir. Charlie Kaufman) - One of the best existential films I have ever seen, Charlie Kaufman's fantastic directorial debut Synechdoche, NY is a heartbreaking, captivating and visually sumptuous film. The world as we know it, our day to day lives is examined in a very strange way. Through the life of a playwright who's stage show slowly melts into his own personal life and as things become more and more complicated with his stage production, they also become increasingly harder on his physical and mental stability. As usual, Kaufman's kooky world view comes out shining in this film. The set within a set within a set idea and concept is utterly mind boggling. Each viewing of this film gives you another insight into the mental decline of the fabulous Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character. The supporting cast of Michelle Williams, Katherine Keener, Samantha Morton and many many other greats is nothing to sneeze at either. It's a superbly complex film filled with life lessons. It also has one of the greatest quotes from a film I've heard in ages: "There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They're all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due."

#41. Road to Perdition - (2002, dir. Sam Mendes) - Gangster films are usually less thoughtful and less about the characters and more about action and running through the usual gangster plot devices. When Sam Mendes helms a project, expect some breaking of genre conventions. Mendes takes the Gangster Genre and turns it into a beautiful tale of family. In one of Tom Hanks understated and under appreciated roles, we see a father stuck in a situation where he's lost so much but his one son who because of emotional distance and an awkward home life proves to be difficult but necessary to his character. At first, their relationship is strained and tough as Hanks has to run from his former boss, one of Paul Newman's finest and final roles, but as the film progresses, you see just how much he cares for his son. Not only is this a character driven film, but the Academy Award winning cinematography is beautiful. Bleak and stark colors never looked so beautiful except in this film. Truly an under appreciated masterpiece of the past ten years.

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