Thursday, September 24, 2009

Decade in Review: Top 50 Films #30 - #21

#30. Tropic Thunder (2008, dir. Ben Stiller) - Tropic Thunder triumphs much the same way that Team America does. It is a dark and deep satire, but still stands as a silly and brilliant film in itself without it being too political. Ben Stiller directed it so you know what kind of lampooning you are going to get. It's honest about making fun of Hollywood and it's blindness to the world around it. Every actor in the film makes fun of different kinds of actors: method actors (Robert Downey Jr. in maybe the best role of his career since Chaplin), drug addled one-trick ponies (Jack Black) and beefy, mindless action stars (Stiller.) They are lampooning their own profession. They even got the likes of Tom Cruise to help in this. It's a parody of the ridiculousness of the movie making process and it's a brilliant work of comedic genius. Downey Jr. could have ended his career by appearing as a black man in the film, but the real message here is how insensitive actors can be when it comes to this. He isn't actually a racist for appearing in psuedo-black face. It's actually affirming that his character can come to terms with just how ridiculous he is sometimes by the movies end. It stands alone as a satire and stands high above as an action film as well. The stunts and explosions are all awesome and you get wrapped up in just how ludicrous the film actually is. Ben Stiller always hits homers when directing.

#29. A Very Long Engagement (2004 dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet) Not every romance movie is formulaic and boring. Where movies like The Notebook go for the tears and more formulaic romance genre pitfalls, the French film A Very Long Engagement shows just how dedicated love can be. The tale of two young lovers separated by war and then separated by supposed death is beautiful and tragic. Mathilde, played by the lovely Audrey Tautou, is in denial that her love is dead and goes on a desperate search to find out. We also see in flashback,the WWI battlefront where Manech, played by the timid Gaspard Ulliel, and other of his comrades are forced to trudge the no mans land after trying to get out of their duty on the battlefront. Jeunet has always had an eye for the fantastical and even in this period piece, he finds places to add his flair to make it come alive in a whole new light.

#28. Che (2008, dir. Steven Soderbergh) How on earth does a 4 hour movie captivate any audience? Unlike Grindhouse, Che is really one long movie showing the rise and fall of the titular character. Split between two films entitled The Argentine and The Guerilla, we see how Che's revolution was successful and a failure all at once. The first half is based around the Cuban revolution and it's tedious depiction shows how hard it was for their revolt to succeed. The second half shows the failure in Bolivia and his eventual execution. One part without the other loses the focus on the life of Che and although this film doesn't show his entire life, it shows the importance he had on Latin America. Benicio del Toro shines as Guevera showing all the power, coolness of character and just how smart the man was perfectly. Soderbergh, who changes his game and style constantly, shoots one of the best war films (and one of the only ones on this list.) Che also had one of the more unique movie going experiences with it's "Road Show" showcase. A high quality booklet with all the credits were handed out, no actual credits in the film and a intermission made it all the more enjoyable.

#27. Michael Clayton (2007, dir. Tony Gilroy) As corporate fears grew in the 00's with Enron and all the mortgage chaos that has been happening, it was no surprise that the corporation would become an enemy in the world of Hollywood. This can either be disastrous (ie. The International) or flat out ingenious. There are a few of these fantastic films, but Michael Clayton is superior to some of the rest. What Michael Clayton does is it not only injects the political/corporate gains and losses of the characters involved, it also delves deeply into their characters lives. Not through voice over or extended flashback, but through context clues and subtle character developments. George Clooney's character is clearly a man who has lots of debts and problems yet is still driven by his duty and profession. Tom Wilkinson's troubled lawyer who comes to terms with his problems by dropping his medication and spiraling out of control is fitfully brilliant and hard to watch all in one. Tilda Swinton's ambition driven female shows her fragile side through her painstaking preparations before she goes and does her job. All of this surrounds a twisting plot of corporate conspiracy. It's a crying shame that this film lost the Oscar to Juno in the screenwriting category this year as it's a pitch perfect script. At least we know Michael Clayton has some longevity as apposed to the aforementioned piece of pop culture throw away material.

#26. The Prestige (2006, dir. Christopher Nolan) Easily one of the best directors of the 00's, between his massive Batman franchise came a small yet effective film entitled The Prestige. The film came out the same time as the less riveting more popular The Illusionist and many times gets set aside for it's inferior counterpart. The two only have the era and the idea of magic in common. The Prestige is written much the way an actual magic trick plays out. Everything is not what it seems. The two dueling magicians, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, both take different directions to develop their trade. Bale represents the sleight of hand or "prestidigitation" side of magic where as Jackman, who reels out of control, looks for more supernatural and true "magical" sides of the profession. The rest is a web of back stabbing and revenge and utterly shocking turns of events. I may have given some of the plot away, but it's so complicated in it's structure that it's still worth seeing for yourself. Plus, David Bowie as Tesla may be some of the best casting ever. Nolan's writing and directing is always top grade, as you will see some of his other films appear on this list. The Prestige is no stranger to this and is easily one of the most underrated films of the decade.

#25. The Royal Tenenbaums - (2002, dir. Wes Anderson) Wes Anderson is the kind of director who's fantasy view of the world is so stylized and precise that it exists on another plane. The Royal Tenenbaums, often lauded as his best, takes us through an ensemble cast of misfits living in parallel universe Harlem and fighting for the survival of their family as patriarch Royal tr to wriggle his way back into their lives. What makes The Royal T's so damn good is that it's eclectic cast carries these quirky characters to the heights of their possibilities. It's a film that proves Gwenyth Paltrow can play more than just the pretty face that she is. It's star and easily one of the greatest actors of all time, Gene Hackman, portrays royal as a royal asshole but one that you can't help but love. Wes Anderson is an easy target for people to make fun of. His uber nerdy world view is definitely not for everyone, but his auetuership and his eye for precision and wacky characters is pitch perfect.

#24. I (Heart) Huckabees (2004, dir. David O Russel) - When I first heard peoples complaints about I (Heart) Huckabees being too preachy or overwhelming or even confusing, I scratched my head in wonder thinking "did you not get it?" Huckabees is the perfect lampooning of movies trying to strive to have some existential meaning behind the curtains. It bashes you over the head with existential thought in such an innovative and clever way, it's sometimes hard to get past how smugly brilliant David O Russel's comedy actually is. Jason Schwartzman brings his A-Game as usual, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin shine and even more surprises, cameos and supporting roles come forth out of this ridiculous film. It's almost a slapstick film in it's comedy approach, but that gets seriously overshadowed by the tongue in cheek seriousness of the characters. Hearing Mark Whalberg rant and rave about America's petroleum dependency is hilarious. As much as this films zany cast intertwines and we slowly unravel that certain characters problems lie within themselves and their own insecurities, it takes this approach without a sense of sincerity. It's utterly hilarious.

#23. The Proposition (2005, dir. John Hillcoat) A western out of Australia penned by Aussie native Nick Cave is hardly the kind of film anyone expects to be transcendent, but I guess that would be a fools game to assume. The Proposition is utterly riveting to watch from start to finish. Thanks in part to brilliant director John Hillcoat and to the amazing cast, The Proposition takes it's lofty subtext and poetic storytelling to new heights. Guy Pearce, Danny Houston and Ray Winstone play the perfect trifecta of good, evil and somewhere in between. The violence may be graphic, but it's never glorified. Brutality and lawlessness in the Australian settlements is perfectly depicted both in it's period costuming and it's stark and arid climate. People look battered and old by the elements and their spirits are even more battered. It's a really impressive movie on all fronts. It has a mystical charm that not many other westerns since Dead Man could actually pull off well. A delightful indie flick that flew under the radar.

#22. There Will Be Blood (2007, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) PTA's flawless character epic There Will Be Blood is a daunting task to watch. Much of what rises to the top of the year that was 2007 is very intense both visually and in theme. The themes of greed and the lust for power deep inside the heart of Daniel Plainview, brilliantly portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis, is the same reaction to the greed and power of present day oil companies and conglomerates. Lust for power doesn't stop in the corporate world in this film, however. Even Paul Dano's character of Eli Sunday is a preacher who craves attention and power. In a sense, these characters have no redeeming qualities, yet their tale is utterly captivating. The decent into madness that Daniel Plainview takes is raw and filled with rage and a goal for self-fulfilment. As he and his son claim New Boston for it's rich oil and are pitted against Eli Sunday, we get this clash of two titanic egos that take some comic turns but are mostly looks into their greed driven fantasy worlds. One comes out triumphant in a brilliant final sequence. Every aspect of this film, from cinematography to Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame's score, is pitch black perfect. Black as the oil under the ground and as the hearts of it's characters.

#21. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring -(2001, dir. Peter Jackson) Everyone rants and raves over The Return of the King, but where Lord of the Rings really wins is in it's first and most succinct chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. Bolting through a ton of back story in one of the most captivating opening sequences in cinema, Fellowship takes off and even if you weren't a fan of the Tolkein classics, you would be sucked into another world immediately. It was a roller coaster ride. When that ended, we got the slow build of characters and the introduction to the all too important Frodo Baggins. Elijah Wood's career was more or less limited to indie films after his career as a child actor ended, but taking up this role obviously made him to be one of the most known actors of our time. The star studded cast of misfits came together to make the Fellowship and we followed these characters through there adventures over 3 years and 10+ hours of film stock. It was the only epic film of the decade that really captivated more than any other. More than Harry Potter and any of the many Superhero franchises. It was a world unlike I've seen and easily one of the most eye popping experiences at the cinema all decade long. One ring to rule them all.

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