Way Harder Than Sophie’s Choice (More Top Ten Faves of the Decade)
Continuing in our TOP TEN FAVE FILMS OF THE ‘00s series—inspired by similar lists announced by A.O. Scott and that other guy on the awesome new edition of At The Movies, even though their lists are kind of, uh, ridiculous—Brian chimes in with some absurd junk that will surely cause him no end of grief from the guy who cuts his hair.
10. DEADWOOD (2004-06/HBO DVD) & BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-09/SCI-FI CHANNEL DVD) What! Am I crazy? Starting off my list with *sniff* cable TV junk instead of worthy efforts like Billion Dollar Barbie or Grandpa Torino? Hey, cool it, Keith! I know these are TV shows, which is a whole different thing than film, but frak, experiencing the compelling construction (and near destruction) of these two godsforsaken worlds was a more satisfying viewing experience than just about anything released on film. Whole sections of dialogue have taken residence inside my head. And it’s a MESS in there. (Shhh! It likes the bleak.) The dialogue in the opening scene of my fave Deadwood ep, season one’s “I Am Not The Fine Man You Take Me For,” is profoundly heartbreaking epic poetry.
9. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000) My favorite Coen bros. film since Raising Arizona (yeah, I hear ya, nerd, I also prefer the silly underrated Hudsucker Proxy over the way over-praised, merely OK Big Lebowski) rides squarely on the sturdy comic shoulders of George Clooney’s charming and hilariously verbose Ulysses Everett McGill, an ever cheerful Dapper Dan-slick depression-era convict that convinces his two slooooowww chained accomplices (played all slack-jawed to perfection by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) to escape their dusty chain gang and journey to his old homestead to collect a buried treasure that might or might not exist. If their extremely silly takes on old south draaawwwls and just plain dumb old southerners rubs you funny, that is indeed the point. This isn’t all silly accents and yokel jokes, though—the photography, Grammy winning soundtrack, and art direction combine with the material to create something transcendent here. While I do really do appreciate the serious side of what the Coen brothers do—their dark, brooding adaption of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is one of their best—I find it’s their lighter stuff that connects most deeply.
8. KNOCKED UP (2007) & SUPERBAD (2007) & ANCHORMAN (2004) & TALLADEGA NIGHTS (2006) Judd Apatow & his merry band of bonerz reshaped what comedy was in this (not so) new millennium, creating something smarter, dumber, and way more blue. And you gotta respect a man who’s loyal to his crew—After first making a name for himself as a producer in regular old rabbit ears TV with the sharply funny and poignant Freaks & Geeks and the equally short-lived but excellent slacker dorm com Undeclared, he brought much of his unknown TV casts (including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and that spastic kid from Undeclared) along with a few already established but falling off the map gems (Paul Rudd, Apatow’s babymama/cast supplier Leslie Mann) and Comic Find Of The DecadeTM Jonah Hill with him into an inspired series of improv-heavy films, starting with producing the hilariously absurd Will Ferrell vehicle Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and peaking (thus far) with writing and directing line-for-line the funniest film of the past decade, Knocked Up. (You might not recognize this as your favorite comedy—I didn’t until months later when I realized that I had unintentionally retained dialogue from literally every scene. It’s a sickness.) He’s not perfect, by any means—just check out his writer/directorial follow-up to Knocked Up, the overreaching 2009 disappointment Funny People (a lesson in making hubris your bitch) and the string of Apatow-produced also-ran stinkers (Year One, Drillbit Taylor, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) that sorta pooed offstage with very little fuss. But, like the creepily optimistic old dude at the end of Some Like It Hot says, you know, that thing he says.
7. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006) I saw this film and Pan’s Labyrinth in the same week, and holy shit, was that a depressing week. Children of Men‘s tension level is intense—on the way home my viewing partner and I were silently shell-shocked. A bone-chillingly realistic view of a dystopian future where babies, for some unknown reason, haven’t been conceived or born in two decades, leaving the race of man staring down its own expiration date. An explosively emotional sequence towards the end, where hundreds of battle-crazed people in a bloody, chaotic urban free-for-all are stunned silent in their tracks as they see a living miracle—the first baby born in two decades—and allow it to pass safely by, will surely be an iconic moment in modern film.
6. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) A film so fantastical and dark that even the Nerds Of The World were convinced that the highly anticipated two-part film of The Hobbit would be just fine in Del Toro’s very capable hands. (SML.com’s Sarah G said it best here.) Side note: Del Toro directs movies as well as he writes books terribly, so please do whatever you can to avoid exposure to his dreadful debut novel, the vampire/zombie mashup The Strain (the first of a projected trilogy of horrible books to come, co-written by Chuck Hogan), because the dialogue it contains literally sucks. (And by the way: Hee)
5. LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) There has simply never been a series of films as sprawling, utterly successful, and just plain excellent films as Peter Jackson’s epic LOTR trilogy. (Yes, including Star Wars, duh.) So what if his 2005 take on King Kong paled in comparison by being merely “good” (overshare: my only problem with Kong [besides, you know, why remake it at all?] was Jack Black awkwardly delivering that “It was beauty killed the beast” line. If Jackson felt he needed to keep that line [taken verbatim from the original Kong] maybe Black, like milk, was a bad choice), and the prerelease buzz on his upcoming (and from the looks of the trailers, probably crappy) The Lovely Bones is painting Jackson as more interested in effects than storytelling—this guy made THREE huge, fantastically entertaining epics AT ONCE! And of a consistently high quality audiences haven’t seen in epic moviemaking since, well, since never. He made magic, and has earned the right to live undisturbed (making crappy movies) on Awesome Island and never talk to us plebes ever again.
4. GRINDHOUSE (2007) The most fun I’ve had in a theater in many years. A mini double feature of two 60min-ish genre flicks with fake trailers shown before and between. Unlike most of the critics, I adored Robert Rodriguez’s silly zombiefest Planet Blood just as much (if not more) than Quentin Tarantino’s talky stunt man serial killer yarn Death Proof. But don’t miss the extended, separately released DVDs for both features—the fleshed-out 90min-ish versions are still all killer and no whatever that other stuff is that is not killer. My prescription: Take w/ one mini bottle of cheap vodka and call me in the morning. Or whenever. I’m not desperate. (BTW, one of those fake trailers has spawned into a real movie: Robert Rodriguez’s Machete [starring Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan!] was shot in Austin, TX over the summer and is coming to a theater near you in April, 2010.)
3. IN BRUGES (2008)
Having missed its theatrical and DVD debuts, I came upon In Bruges quite by accident on the shelves of my local library (I love my library and would marry it if those types of things were tolerated legally in Missouri). Luckily I wasn’t too turned off by the DVD art, because it is ridiculous. AND Colin Farrell is one of the leads, which was a big turn off for me at the time, having just slogged through that horrible piece of shit Miami Vice remake. This is the film that turned me around on Farrell, because his performance here is amazing. Along with Brendan Gleeson—playing a pair of hit men laying low by order of their boss, an outstanding and very blue Ralph Fiennes, in Bruges (a tourist-y city in Belgium) after a botched hit in London—this odd pairing of Gleeson’s frustrated dad to Farrell’s near idiot son bicker their way through two days of unexpectedly hilarious highs and devastatingly harrowing lows. Director/writer Martin McDonagh—unbelievably making his debut feature here—deftly handles this captivating gem’s nearly bi-polar range of emotion with a master’s touch. In this world, if you’re not laughing or crying, you’re likely one of these guys’ (sometimes unintentional) victims.
2. WALL-E (2008) One of the ballsiest “family” films ever, unapologetically showing Americans what’s in store for them several hundred years down the road—SPOILER: we’re all socially retarded fat, doughy babies who do/know nothing but CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME, obsessed with watching the boob tube and totally blind to what is happening around us. So, good news is: basically we don’t change a bit! Allowing the first third of the film to unfold dialogue-free was an inspired move, having faith that kids (and their dopey folks) can keep up with a film devoid of the usual fart jokes and kitchen sink pop culture Shrek bullshit that makes up most modern day family filmmakers’ stock in trade. But it’s the journey at heart of this film—will Wall-E, an innocent, childlike robot left alone on a post-apocalyptic Earth clearing debris and stacking it for hundreds of years, be reunited with his chance companion and instant crush, a more futuristic model robot called EV-A? Hearing heartsick WALL-E sweetly call out his new friends’ name will melt even the hardest hearts. (Makes me cry to THINK about!)
1. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) Adam Sandler’s performance was so extraordinary in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ignored and underappreciated mini-masterpiece that (to fellow SML contributor Kimberly’s chagrin) I later willingly sat through craptacular misses like Spanglish (AIEEEEE!) and Reign Over Me. What an inspired mix of explosive colors (Jeremy Blake‘s gorgeous organic art, like a fully realized visualization of a mad endorphin rush, delightfully utilized here as credit-less opening credits) and emotions, presented in deeply muted and too often painful real life. That singular, combustible concoction makes this small film feel otherworldly while at the same time painfully personal. A sensual, breathtaking experience of unusually brilliant and inspired capital “A” art. So there.
notables: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), Sunshine (2007), The Incredibles (2004), Away From Her (2006), Coraline (2009), X-Men (2000) & X2 (2003), The Wrestler (2008), The Pianist (2002), Grizzly Man (2005), God Grew Tired of Us (2006), Up In The Air (2009), An Arctic Tale (2007), Up (2009)