Thursday, October 08, 2009

Decade in Review: Best Films #10 - 1

Here it is. The Top Ten. Instead of bogging you down with one at a time in separate posts, here is the ten best films of the past ten years.

#10. Pan's Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro) Meshing the fantasy world of a young child and the cruel world of Franco's Spain, Guillermo del Toro directs the decades best fantasy film. The story of a young girl retreating the harsh reality of the world around her into an equally dark place is chilling and touching. The world that del Toro makes is bizarre and distorted and unlike any child's fantasy world I've seen. Fairies are demonic looking, the faun is a large and imposing character with motives that are not known and the villains in the realm of imagination are as scary as those around in real life. It's bad when life is hard, but when your fairy tale escape is just as surreal, you find that there is no escape. It's a very suspenseful film that rarely has a laugh or a light moment. To say this film is a fairy tale is not to say it's for kids. Del Toro's eye for the surreal and the otherworldly is almost untouchable. Thankfully he opts for real effects and make-up over CGI (for the most part) and in Pan's Labyrinth, he comes up big.

#9. The Lives of Others (2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarc) 2006 was a great year for foreign film. Out surpassing almost anything else that year, both Pan's Labyrinth and the spectacular The Lives of Others is a post WWII look at the Eastern Bloc. The paranoia and government fearing was at it's all time high. The government cracked down on any anti-Eastern Bloc activities. We follow a civil servant who starts the film as one of the countries best enforcers of the law to feel bad for the people he is forced into watching and listening in on. In our own times where the Patriot Act allows for government wire tapping, it's a timely piece. What is more important: the privacy of the citizenry or the balance of power and control? It's a huge question that is asked and not exactly answered. A beautiful love story also prevails here that is truly believable and tragic all at once. As if life wasn't hard enough for those living in the GDR, but to be watched so closely would have made it even worse. It's an amazing film with lots of power and message behind it.

#8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, dir. Michel Gondry) When Michel Gondry and Charlie Kauffman team up, you know that movie magic is going to be made. Their first feature together, Human Nature was weird and funny but didn't have the emotional and comic turn that makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind one of the best films of all time. Jim Carrey shines in a rather serious role as a man so distraught by heartbreak, he signs up to have all memories of his ex, Kate Winslet, erased from his brain. As he starts the process and starts reeling through his memories as they are being washed away, we see a man tormented by his decisions and one trying desperately to hold on to all the good moments that he's had. Visually the film is stunning with walls melting and people slowly turning to unrecognizable shadows. The real triumph is in Winslet and Carrey's relationship which seems all too real and beautifully somber to watch as it deteriorates.

#7. Kill Bill (2003-04, dir. Quentin Tarantino) I know there are two parts to Kill Bill, but this is really one movie. Since the two are just parts, I count it as one. Moving on from a technicality, Kill Bill is easily one of the best times at the theaters I've had, one of the most intriguing mixtures of genre and just general badassery amount to cinema gold. It also helps that it's a female empowerment film, has touching moments as well as brilliant comic relief. Tarantino feels at his most comfortable during the filming of Kill Bill. Uma Thurman's "Bride" is easily one of the best characters in film, as is the titular target played by the late David Carradine in easily his finest role since Kung Fu. Filled with tons of amazing action sequences, ridiculous characters and some of the best dialogue of his career, Tarantino will be hard pressed to top this film. It may not be as gritty as Reservoir Dogs, but as far as big budget action flicks go, this one hits all the right chords. Revenge never tasted so good.

#6. Requiem for a Dream (2000, dir. Darren Aranofsky) After Pi, Darren Aranofsky went on to make one of the most harrowing and dark films of the new millennium. Requiem for a Dream is a fantastic film, even if it's hard to watch. The film follows several different characters and their different dissents into addiction and the dark side of it. Ellen Burstyn hits a home run as Sara Goldfarb who is obsessed with television and her appearance as she gets older. Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly and Marlon Wayans are three tweakers who go from low time drug addicts into deeper darker areas of their personality are all in top form in this film. AS they slowly spiral into the darkest parts of the human experience, we are stuck with them unable to help. We are voyeurs to their demise. But something beautiful can be found in all the stark darkness. It's visuals are eye grabbing and it's soundtrack is pummeling. We are guests to the characters downfalls and although it's incredibly hard to watch sometimes, it's still utterly captivating.

#5. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (2007, dir. Julian Schnabel) There is no movie worth seeing more than The Diving Bell & The Butterfly. It's a very sad film, but it's uplifting and a lesson about life, the importance of family and friends and the importance of imagination. Based on a true story and very true to the memoirs, the film follows Elle Magazine in France's editor Jean-Dominique Bauby after he has a massive stroke that paralyzes him completely, but leaves all of his major brain functions intact. It's called Locked In Syndrome and it sounds like the worst possible thing anyone could get. Luckily, he is resilient after a few weeks of self-loathing, and he escapes into his imagination bringing up old memories, both good and bad, as well as conjuring the magic of the imagination. His freedom while being seriously debilitated is enrapturing. The way the film is shot is also incredible. Mostly from a first person perspective, we are also locked in with Jean-Domonique. Julian Schnabel makes this film a triumph over the will and spirit of man. When all else could have failed and giving in is the easy way out, sometimes it's worth holding on and enjoying life for what it is.

#4. Memento (2000, dir. Christopher Nolan) It's hard to believe that Memento is already going to be 10 years old. It still feels original and contemporary. Christopher Nolan has made stellar movies since, but nothing compares to the genius storytelling and great cast that Memento packs. The story of a man who has no short term memory playing vigilante to avenge his wife's death sounds more like a super villain premise than one set in the real world, but Nolan weaves a web in the most unique way. The film is told backwards. From start to finish, the narrative is nonlinear, but starts with the end and ends with the start. At first viewing, you are on this fantastic ride right there with Leonard, played impressively by Guy Pearce. You are putting the puzzle pieces together right along with him. As more layers are added on, you find out that people take advantage of his malady. The film has many devices that make it one of the most unique films of all time. The reverse narrative juxtaposed with the voice-over scenes that go from black and white to color add elements of intrigue and add to the movie's unique storytelling perspective. Christopher Nolan hits a home run on his first feature film and he hasn't stopped since.

#3. Adaptation. (2002, dir. Spike Jonze) - Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kauffman first teamed up on Being John Malkovich which misses this list by a two months. Luckily, however, their second effort is one of the greatest films and easily the best written film I've ever seen. Adaptation. takes Charlie Kauffman's attempt at adapting Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Theif into a feature film. Instead we get a treatise on the world of screenwriting and one of the best pieces of post modernism in cinema history. Kauffman injects himself and his "twin brother" into the story and as it becomes more and more self aware, it reels into this strange alternate universe in the last half. Nicholas Cage is forever in debt to Jonze and Kauffman for landing the dual roles of Charlie and Donald. He is a revelation in this film, filling in the loser and hyperactive roles perfectly. The supporting cast reaches to new heights as well, with both Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper stealing the show. It is fitfully brilliant in it's comedy and it's scope and view of what making movies is like.

#2. Amelie (2001, dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet) When it comes to visual brilliance, usually one does not think of romance films. But Jean-Pierre Jeunet with most of his films has injected visual grandeur into romance. Amelie is the perfect example of this. Not a second of that film is dull or drab to look at. Even the somber moments are filled with visual flair. Amelie is a whimsical story and a very simple yet quirky romance plot. Amelie wishes to do more with her life by helping those in need. But she realizes that she has yet to help herself to the sweet life that she's been sharing with others. The film starts in rapid motion, introducing many characters both minor and major with their likes and dislikes as the world of Montmarte floats by us. A simple shot of Amelie dipping her hands into a sack of grain is beautiful. The film is filled with beautiful shots, some simplistic and some very complex like a shot of skipping stones on a stream that does a 180 flip. It's a feel good story that is beautiful on an art level. Truly perfect all around.

#1. City of God (2002, dir. Fernando Meirelles) As it stands on top of my all time favorite movies list, it's a no-brainer that the best film from the past ten years goes to City of God. The Brazilian masterpiece is nothing short of dazzling. It's direction is jarring at times and fluid others. It really exposes the dark side and the lighter side of life in the slums of Rio. Before Slumdog Millionaire, City of God followed the rising of a poor slum child from youth to young adulthood in his desperate escape from the crime world that ravaged so many other youths. It's a touching story as well as a harrowing one. Death is around every corner for Rocket, a young man who aspires to do more than be sucked into the drug culture around him. Luckily the good people and even the bad people of the slums all seem to not get in his way of a destiny of a brighter future. Although the film is surrounded by death and despair and poverty, Rocket is a beacon of light amongst the dark underbelly of society. His naivete and his adaptability is nothing short of brilliant. With a cast basically entirely of children and teenagers, it's a surprise how amazing the acting actually is. My only suggestion is that anyone who hasn't seen this transcendent film should do so.

That's the end of our Decade in Review for film. Diving headfirst into the albums soon. Might do a recap of some great live acts I've seen. Not sure. Stay Tuned!

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