Sunday, December 13, 2009

Aught 10 is Just Around the Corner:
A List of Movies

Of course this was going to be the hardest list for me. So it has taken some time. Some fiddling, some expanding. Now for your ocular pleasure, the list of the best movies over the past decade. Man alive, it's weird to think we've got another decade in the record books. I bet when we look back at this new decade that starts next month, we'll be talking about our cerebral implant projections, not celluloid projected through light.

Wonderboys (2000)
Michael Chabon wrote the source material. Curtis Hanson put that material on the big screen. What happened was a surprising small film with great actors telling an offbeat wonderful story. When I was in college, I saw this poster. It was around the time that it was announced that Michael Douglas was in talks to be in a big screen adaptation of "My Three Sons' TV show. That's what I thought this movie was so I was never going to go see it. Then I finally saw a trailer. This movie is filled with an all star cast. Great turns by Toby McGuire, Robert Downey Jr and Michael Douglas. Of course. Then you also have Rip Torn (Don Geiss himself), Katie Holmes, Frances McDormand, and a quick cameo by Alan Tudyk. I'm finally going to read the book this year. The story of a liberal arts college and a professor trying to somehow finish his never ending follow up novel. The story is wild and weaving. Truly a great small little film.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Shot in my city. A unique plot. The lead role played by one of my favorite actors. It showed that like many comedians before him, he's got dramatic acting chops. It's romantic without being schmaltzy. And of course, the first time he gets to hear the narration of his life, he gets bad news that puts the whole movie in motion. Great turns by Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Tony Hale and even Queen Latifah. None of the romance elements ring false. You get to go with this man on his journey and genuinely care about how he's going to come out the other side. Also, it's really funny. This is a feel good movie for someone like me. Beautifully shot and a great narration that for once affects the plot.

High Fidelity (2000)
The pinnacle of John Cusack films. The perfect storm of story (by Nick Hornby), location change (sweet home Chicago) and acting (Jack Black before America turned on him). It seems like my list is developing a couple of tells on how to make my list. Be filmed in Chicago (not true, sorry "Wanted" and "Eagle Eye"), come from a great book (this one is true) and have heart. High Fidelity is a great movie. It's great for music lovers. It's great for comedy lovers. It's great for romantics. I would consider this the high water mark for Cusack. Not to say he's doing bad things, but this is what his career was headed for from the beginning. Extremely re-watchable. Love lorn loser takes us on a tour of his past loves while moving forward with his most recent breakup. Plus there's a awesome Pavement concert print by his front door.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
I saw this movie in theaters on the worst day in America's recent history. It was the best medicine for one of the most shocking days I have ever had. This movie was made by the guys who created Mtv's The State. They did something quite special. WHAS is a spoof of 80's camp movies while being able to be one as well. What David Wain did here is the same thing that Edgar Wright is doing with his spoofs (Shaun and Fuzz). A lot of the State cast are present. Just a typical day of counselors and campers. Absurdest comedy from start to finish. Watch out for Paul Rudd's air guitar at the end.

The Royal Tennenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson really found his groove with this film. Just the right amount of sweet and sour. He got the best use out of Ben Stiller at the time (only recently redeeming himself with Tropic Thunder). The story title is a double entendre about the movie family's patriarch, Royal Tennenbaum. This is his story. We follow him through his last days trying to reconnect to his family. All the characters are flawed and broken in one way or another. This is what Anderson does best, comedies without a lot of laughs. Truly funny movie that isn't about the jokes, but about the characters. Not to say there aren't jokes. But it's safe to say that Wes' third film is the one that showed he was really moving to the next level of film making.

Hot Fuzz (2007)
Edgar Wright shows us how to do spoof / tributes to genres. Going 2 for 2 (starting with Shaun of the Dead, of course) and cashing in his chips to get other great British actors to sign up. A cop in London who is so good that all his superiors promote him to the suburbs just to get rid of him. To quote his captain "You're making us all look bad." If you want to see how spoof should be done, look out for homages for everything from Lethal Weapon to Bad Boy 2. For actioneers who don't mind a little gore (and of course, love levity in their action).

Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003)
Had he kept volume one and two together, it might not have seemed as impressive. But Tarantino wisely front loaded his first volume (decimation of the crazy 88 anyone?) that would all but guaranteeing people would return to cinemas to see volume two. I've heard some people say that volume 2 had the heart. Well, then volume one is the fists. I saw this 3x in the theaters. I could not get enough. The revenge tale of "the Bride" as she goes after the people who tried to put her in the grave. This is all id for 2+ hours. Kill Bill is the kind of mindless violent action that when you think about it, isn't so mindless. Just like all Tarantino films this movie is top down just great. One of the few movies that I own the soundtrack.

The Departed (2006)
Scorsese remaking a Hong Kong spy thriller? That's what gets him his Oscar? You're damn right. Based on the movie Infernal Affairs. Two spies. One in the Police department. One in the organized crime syndicate. They are doing a deadly dance with each other that ends in a refreshing way that I would never have guessed in a million years. I also love that Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio played the roles that they did. Plus a support cast that really elevates the whole thing. I bet against this movie to win the Best Picture Oscar because I couldn't bring myself to believe a movie so good had a chance in hell. Never have I been more pleased to be proven wrong.

No Country For Old Men (2007)
Now here is the feel good movie of the year. A cowboy gets himself into a jackpot (his words). True cowboys. Lots of shooting. No music. So haunting. And you know what else...fantastic. Again with the impressively refreshing plot. You think we're following one dude, then of course we're following another. And end that is truly an end in every sense of the word. Hey if you found a satchel of money, would you try your best to keep it? What if you found yourself digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. The Coen Brothers have made some great films. But I've never seen such a master of craft from them before, and that's saying something.

Dark Knight (2008)
This movie makes the Tim Burton/Joel Schumaker movies look like the Adam West movies. That's not an easy feat. This movie only needs about 15-20 minutes of trimming to become the perfect film. Shot in Chicago with IMAX cameras. You almost forget this is a movie about a guy dressing up as a bat. You could just as well see him as a regular detective and never know the difference. Batman goes up against his true arch nemesis, the Joker. Enough has been said about Heath the past couple years. But his performance is truly the anchor that holds this film in together. Is that what anchors do? I guess if you're the anchor leg in a race, then yes. And because of his untimely passing, the sharks in Hollywood can't get him shoehorned into the next sequel. I don't need another Batman movie for another 10 years because this one exists. Amazing.

Wall-E (2008)
While suffering through the usual trouble Pixar has with second acts, the first act is so good with almost no speaking, you could have put 2 Girls / 1 cup on the screen for the remaining time and I still would have put it on my tops list. A lonely robot has survived to be the last sentient being on earth. His task is to clean up the place. And he does it. Everyday. With a cockroach and movies to keep him sane. Until he gets a visitor. I almost wish Pixar had made this their first adult animated feature. Then they wouldn't have had to have all the adorable robots running amok with the humans. But still, just a wonderful sentimental warning for people. Like Idiocracy.
Judd Apatow's rise to golden boy of comedy in Hollywood started right here. With Steve Carell partnering with him on the screenwriting, they craft a movie that has some of the crudest jokes but still has a heart at the center. The perfect balance is struck even if it's almost like two different movies in the first half from the second half. But that's not to say it's a schizophrenic affair. A cohesive whole this movie is for sure. One of the criteria for making the top music of the decade is being able to listen to the album repeatedly. This movie is supremely re-watchable. This will be "Fletch" for kids growing up in the world right now. They will be happy to see it on TBS during a sick day on the couch.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Steven Spielberg is an interesting bloke (yeah I'm British for this entry). He has managed to go with a lot of different genres based on his interests at the time. In 2002 he felt like telling the true story of a kid who defrauded America for years by forging checks. He brings his muse along with him (T.Hanks) to create a typical old timey accent. But at it's center is a kid who's family is falling apart. Instead of watching it implode he runs away. Told over a great many years its basically his second chance to make a Peter Pan film. There are no real enemies in the movie, so it's more about the story itself. Many times overlooked, this is the movie that shows Spielberg can still craft an emotional gem.

I bet at the time when it said "An Apatow Production" during the opening credits, you didn't give it a second thought. Hind sight. This script was written and shelved for many years until Will Ferrell's star started to really rise. And from that one of the weirdest wildest funniest movies of the decade was born. Who hasn't said "60% of the time it works every time" when talking about, well, anything. This is the kind of movie that you get new little pieces every time you watch it. I had to have my roommate point out his favorite part (watch Paul Rudd when they get their ratings announced on set). And the best proof that this great movie is in the timing as well as the editing watch the second movie they made out of outtakes and excised plot point "Wake Up, Ron Burgundy" because it is TERRIBLE. But the finished movie that is Anchorman is great. No question. It's the pancake breakfast. We do it every month.

Bad Santa (2003)
The title role was originally going to be played by Bill Murray. Although I'm sure that would have been absolutely amazing, Billy Bob Thornton was born to play this role. A drunk safe cracker that makes his yearly salary by playing a mall Santa and then robbing the mall on Christmas eve, its basically the perfect plot. This movie is filled with despicable characters. They have no redeeming qualities. They beat up kids, drink, screw, swear. It's a twisted tale that has no comparison. God created this movie to counteract the families that watch "It's A Wonderful Life" every year. This is my holiday tradition. Mostly because everyone is so terrible that I feel better about myself after watching it. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

So that is the list. Put it in stone. It starts and ends with this list. Here endith the lesson.


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