Thursday, 31 December 2009

Best of the 00's: The Twenty-Five Greatest Films Of The Decade

So we finally get to the one that really matters. To adjust to the occasion accordingly, this bitch is a bit longer then previous entries, but given the gravity of list-making at work here I'm sure you'll forgive me this indulgence. So, the TWENTY-FIVE best films of the decade, so says yours truly.

25) The Royal Tenenbaums

This is perhaps the highest point quirk based film-making ever got, before every 'indie' film in the consequent nine years absorbed the idea and it became almost as formulaic as studio fare. But this is not to take away from what in all likeliness will remain Wes Anderson's finest hour. A fantastic combination of colorful, stylistic extravagance and restrained emo-ing. What sets it apart from Anderson's other films is the presence of Gene Hackman, who lends some welcome animation and warmth to Anderson's often suffocatingly deadpan universe. But the two combined works a treat.

24) Donnie Darko

Richard Kelly is looking increasingly like a one hit wonder, so to speak, but if this is the only great film Kelly ever makes, then its a hell of a film to be remembered for. I think Donnie Darko is a great film almost in spite of the sci-fi, which works precisely because it is shrouded in mystery. What makes this debut great is the small-town satire and character work, containing very strong performances across the board (Particularly from Battlestar Galactica's Mary McDonnell), which is then accentuated by the occasional flashes of supernatural crazy. There's a strong sense of humanity and wit to the film, and that for me is what makes it great. Remove that aspect of it and you basically have Southland Tales or The Box, all crazy ideas with no reason to give a shit.

23) Let The Right One In

Vampires are polluting everything but the air we breathe these days, from tween mega-franchise Twilight to The Campy but occasionally awesome HBO show True Blood. The ironic thing is those two products tell the same core story as Let The Right One In. In which a tortured vampire falls in love with a human. It goes to show how much of the magic is in the execution then, because Let The Right One In soars to levels those labels could only dream of. Given the similarity of story, it can only be this film's nuance that sets it apart. And it does, it tells its particular love story with a sweetness and a sadness ( and a standard of acting) that make all else seem immature by comparison. An immensely powerful, intimate genre film.

22) American Psycho

American Psycho may not be a masterpiece, it may not be particularly subtle or flawless in its telling. But what it is, to use academic phrasing, is plain fucking awesome. Its gleeful wickedness and strong sense of black comedy and parody of 80's yuppie culture, make it perhaps our decade's slasher film for the intellectual. What really rises it above the level of curio is Christian Bale's career-making, unleashed performance which is basically entertainment nirvana. Its popularity is ever-growing and in twenty years it will have lost none of its draw, and that certainly can't be said for every other film on this list.

21) Amores Perros

Sure, people will go for 21 Grams or Babel because there's no subtitles, which is a good point, but in spite of that I think Innaritu's best film remains his first, which has a more visceral power then those that followed. That's not to say the weren't good, or even great, but given the similarity of structure between all three, I think the first dose of something new remains the strongest, because from then on you repeat yourself, which lessens impact, even if Sean Penn is involved.

20) Sideways

Perhaps the best movie for the middle-aged that ever was. But as a viewer of an age well below that target demographic I still enjoy the fuck out of this movie. Its a clever, funny and often painfully insightful. The kind of underplayed comedy that there really should be more of. Still even if there were, there would be few as good as this, which represents the maturing of the very talented Alexander Payne, and sees at least three epic performances from Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church and in particular Paul Giamatti.

19) Taxi To The Dark Side

Because it allows the facts to appall you in their own right, rather then with the helping hand of overwroughtedness a la Michael Moore of late ( although Bowling For Columbine missed this list by a whisker) its so much more horrifying. Detailing the atrocities and use of torture by the US Government against foreign combatants, in terrifying detail, there's never been a documentary to so effectively show us the appalling consequence of what we long ago justified. Its hard to see ourselves as the white hats after this.

18) Ratatouille

I think this film was the best combination of what Pixar does best, which is amalgamation of moving you, entertaining you and wowing you. Ratatouille is more fun then what came after it but more mature then what came before it, and for me represents Pixar at their pinnacle. I'd like to also give a shout-out to the under-rated talents of Brad Bird, who has given us the Iron Giant, The Incredibles and this, a trio of movies better then many more highly respected film-makers can match.

17) Requiem For A Dream

Pi was promising, but Requiem For a Dream really did announce the arrival of a great film-maker. The film's innovate visuals and immense standard of acting, with Ellen Burstyn being the standout, but Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans ( Yes Marlon Wayans of Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, White Chicks, Dungeons And Dragons, Little Man, Norbit AND GI Joe: Rise Of The Cobra) have never been better. The kind of film that is so good it makes other films look lazy by comparison.

16) Pan's Labyrinth

Well who would have thought that the director of Mimic had this in him. Del Toro, prior to this was quite close to the arena of Hollywood hired hand (albeit a good one), with Blade 2 and Hellboy already on his resume. But then comes this, a magnificently told, impressive in nearly every way, full-out masterpiece of modern cinema. It creates a magnificent sense of wonder in its fantasy sequences, all the while making its reality set scenes almost more intriguing, thanks in large to the fantastic characterization Of Sergi Lopez' Captain Vidal. A film to inspire a cinema lover if there ever was one.

15) Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy's greatness is something that is easy to under-estimate, because at this point we've seen it enough times, and its imitators enough times, to take it for granted. But Jackson created a visually wondrous, truly epic experience that both sublimely entertains and impresses. They are masterpieces of populist movie-making really. The Two Towers is the strongest, because while the first is an almost joyous quest movie with an impressively somber ending, the third notoriously ended too many times, leaving the second with its constant presence of hopelessness and dark psychological ferocity, not to mention the awesome Helm's Deep battle, which shall remain for a long time one of the more impressive things you have seen on a cinema screen.

14) United 93

I've seen the Bourne Ultimatum make a few lists of this nature, which to me just seems a little silly when you remember that Paul Greengrass also made this film, which is beginning to look like an increasingly forgotten classic, despite its reviews being almost unanimously glowing. Its a film that's not so much political, but simply current, which is in itself daring. (it really shouldn't be, but such is Hollywood's attitude to anything approaching politics in cinema) This is more a tale of the courage of the passengers of United 93 more than anything else, not glamorizing it, but simply showing it as it probably was. Immense kudos for not demonizing the terrorists either, who are even sympathetic despite their apparent monstrosity. An intelligent, bleakly honest and an ultimately very powerful film.

13) Amelie

Call it the feel good film of the decade. Reviewers seem to have a lot of time for intensity and tragedy, but when a film communicates happiness and optimism as well as this, it should be equally rewarded. And this is cinema as if it were the most delicious dessert you've ever tasted but also if that meal contained moments of unexpected and impressive complexity, which Amelie does in places (It so does. Check out the bit with the middle-aged man.) But I guess its main calling card, is the ridiculously amazing sense of style that Jean Pierre Jeunet brings to the film. The man who for once and for all decked the Alien Franchise in the balls dusted himself off and made one of the best films of the decade. In your face, I guess.

12) There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day Lewis consumed this film. He so wowed critics and viewers with his truly awesome performance that he almost rose above the film and it was belittled in his presence. Which I'm not sure is quite fair. Lewis may be astounding, but Anderson is equally as on fire, both as a director and writer. The film looks truly spellbinding, and there's a genuine, existential horror amongst the opportunism and the oil wells. In selfishness there is loneliness, and this is something that few other films have told quite so beautifully.

11) The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Despite it being a western in name, Andrew Dominik's triumphant return to the helm after a seven year resting spell after the equally awesome - and also only just not on this list - Chopper, has the darkness and violence more commonly associated noir genre. This is then a Western-noir, and the best of its kind that ever was. Dominik commands every frame with meticulousness, in a way that reminds me of David Fincher at his best. There's also Casey Affleck's amazing performance as the titular Robert Ford, and given how good he is here, he should have had some seriously bigger roles then he has received.

10) Spirited Away

Nine out of times I have no time for anime. Its too often excessive without merit and reminds me too much of Pokemon. The exception to this is certainly the work of Hayao Miyazaki, who rather then adopt the ' look at this random stream of cool shit' attitude of most anime's, invests his films with heart and innocent, child-like sense of wonder and also a real talent for story-telling, which in turn allows the random stream cool shit to become a purposeful stream of cool shit. And thus he is on to something special. Spirited Away will perhaps remain his masterpiece, but he's someone whose films I'll never lose interest in seeing.

9) Hidden

Michael Haneke, who might be the most relentlessly bleak and cynical film-maker of the decade, is also a fucking good one. One would have to be into some serious deprecatory mentalities to call his films an enjoyable experience, but what they are great movies. So rich in texture and design that they are the kind of films that could be studied and explored at great length and still leave you feeling intellectually inadequate. Hidden shows that Haneke isn't above scaring the living shit out of his audience either, which is perhaps what makes it his best work. An existential horror movie of the finest kind.

8) The Dark Knight

I think I already used my populist masterpiece bit when discussing Lord Of The Rings earlier, but for what they were in visual awe-inducement, the Dark Knight is in near everything else. Its quite something to make one of the best films of the decade about a dude dressed as a bat fighting another dude dressed as a clown, but Nolan went ahead and did it. Creating an intelligent, challenging, purposeful and magnificently thought out movie that for all the slew of adjectives I could throw at it, so wonderfully speaks for itself. And Heath Ledger is pretty good too.

7) No Country For Old Men

The Coens, with Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, were having a shaky decade. People were throwing around terms like 'washed up' with abandon. But being the contrary guys that they are, they gave their detractors the finger and made the best movie they've made possibly ever ( I can't say its better then The Big Lebowski, I just can't.) All it took was an injection of seriousness, a couple of great, under-utilized actors and they redefined what the well trodden thriller genre could do.

6) Mulholland Drive

Yeah. Having seen this film a more then respectable amount of time, I still don't feel comfortable talking about it in depth because I fear there's something I might be missing. But then you realize that what the film's about, as infuriatingly intriguing as it is, doesn't matter all that much. Its a masterpiece of atmosphere, of suspense. And no film in my memory has used unanswerable mystery in a way that the audience loves quite so much. Visual story-telling at its absolute best. Plus there's a fair amount of lesbian sex for those who can't be bothered with all that.

5) Zodiac

This may be a matter of personal preference, but I love this movie, almost more then in any other aspect, for just being this movie. Having enough faith in its audience to be a thoughtful, truly accurate investigative movie. The sheer, agonizing frustration of it. You don't just click your fingers for your revelation. Its back-breaking, unrewarding and horrifying in that sometimes it means nothing at all. The only deserving successor to All The President's Men that the elapsing time between them has produced.

4) The Lives Of Others

The most perfectly written, intelligently affecting character study of the decade. And well there's plenty of prescient thought about communist occupied East Berlin, and the very nature of eaves dropping itself, its characters struggles and beliefs are so magnificently realized I'd have no problem calling it the dramatically richest film of the decade. If that were the only factor, this film would be unquestionably number one. As it is, I wish it could be number one as I have done for the previous six or seven films above it, given that there is so little wrong with ny of them. C'est la vie.

3) Oldboy
I once saw this described as the kind of film that 'reminds you why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.' Nothing I could say would as effectively describe it better then that, because that's exactly what it does. The film is so good that it validates you sitting through endless amount of films that disappoint and otherwise enrage you. This is why you do it. This is how good it can be. Oldboy is a uncompromising neo-noir classic in every sense of the word.

2) Memento

The movie that spawned a thousand gimmick's. But fuck those movies because when a 'gimmick' works as well as this, it brings with it a wondrous originality. You had truly never seen a film like Memento, and despite its rip-offs it remains a testament of genius via cinematic ingenuity. You knew once you had seen this film that Christopher Nolan was meant for great things, and none of us were wrong. Dude has two films in my top ten, for fuck's sake, and many more in other people's. Memento is so fucking good it may remain his best, and I'm fully confident Nolan will make several great films yet.

1) City Of God

Like I said, separating the movies in this list has been like choosing which one of my teeth is going to be pulled out with those pliers from the Hostel posters. Its that hard. They're all so good and who am I to say which one is narrowly better. But if I were do that in spite of myself, I'd have to say that as a cinematic achievement, I think City Of God is the most glorious of all the many great films this decade has produced, its all so wonderfully layered and designed. Director Meirelles, who has since made two 7/10 films, brought the noise here so to speak. A near perfect film, or as near to perfectas it is possible for a film to be.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Best of the 00's: The Fifteen Best Male Performances Of The Decade

Actoring. You get the idea.

15) Johnny Depp, Pirates Of The Caribbean

The Pirates trilogy's gargantuan success can pretty much be put down to the popularity of Depp's Jack Sparrow. Whatever you think of the rest of the movie, Its a near perfect PG-13 performance, relentlessly entertaining and just so life-affirming in a movie like this. It may not be Sean Penn or anything but for what it is, it is fantastic.

14) Jeff Daniels, The Squid And The Whale

Because in all of cinema, I don't think anyone in history has captured the self-satisfied intellectual quite as unflinchingly truthfully as Jeff Daniels in this movie. He's hilarious, whilst being reprehensible but above all self-involved. Painfully overlooked, but this is some great work here.

13) Adam Sandler, Punch Drunk Love

No-one hates Adam Sandler movies more then me. All of his films, aside from not being funny, Are just plain annoying and feature way too much Rob Schneider. And then I saw Punch Drunk Love. And fuck. Paul Thomas Anderson's twisted romantic comedy is a great movie in its own right ( And perhaps should have featured on my under-rated movie list. Doh) but Sandler is a flat-out revelation in the film, and that's a term I use very reservedly. Its the only performance of its kind her ever gave and that, perhaps is what makes it even better.

12) Forest Whitaker, Last King Of Scotland

Its a great, Oscar winning performance this. It hits all the right notes for awards attention. But that isn't to say it's not a marvelous, masterclass in great acting. Which it is. Everyone else in this film looks a bit pedestrian in comparison to Whitaker, who literally knocks every moment of it out of the park.

11) Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men

Chigurh could certainly have been the most empty role of No Country For Old Men, but he ends up being the most satisfying, in large part to Bardem's towering presence and charisma, which can communicate so much without the need for him to say anything, not to say Bardem doesn't have a couple of cracking scenes in NCFOM to really act the shit out of. A villain for the times.

10) Christian Bale, American Psycho

They key to over the top performances, I think, is that it must feel credible to the character, otherwise it just takes you out of the film. Bale, in a now legendary performance, does it to a tee in this film. He has his fun, but never forgets to also work the character at the same time, and as a consequence all the larger then life stuff works almost more awesomely. Terrifying yet bleakly hilarious.

9) Nicolas Cage, Adaptation

Cage takes a lot of crap, perhaps for making so many shite movies of late, but the reason I can never go completely to that side of the line on the Cage debate is because I've seen him give performances like this, where he is truly excellent, playing two parts effortlessly and really finding the soul of Charlie Kaufman, as weird as that it is to say.

8) Paul Giamatti, American Splendor

After years of playing dorks and fourth fiddle's in action movies, Giamatti got some well-earned and well past due recognition for his truly excellent performance in American Splendor. He was almost equally great in Sideways a couple of years later, but for me there's slightly more to his solemnly hilarious performance here.

7) Choi-Min Sik, Oldboy

Ignored by and large from awards because of the violent nature of the movie and perhaps because its Korean. Regardless of territorial politics, Min Sik gives a powerhouse of a performance in what might be the noir masterpiece of the decade. Humbling.

6) Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

Nicholson has long been one of my favorite actors, as he has been everyone else's. But this was a change, because Nicholson jettisoned his usual cool and confidence and played a genuinely weak man, and gave him a real beaten down soulfulness. One of Nicholson's subtler performances and given that it might be his last really great performance, a fitting quality swansong to a great career.

5) Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Most lists, when faced between Ledger's joker and Ledger's equally stellar performance in Brokeback Mountain, went the way of the latter. Which I understand, and as much as I love his work in that film, there was just something extra-ordinary about what he did in the Dark Knight. Perhaps the psychopath of the decade, and quite possibly the single most popular piece of acting of the same timeframe.

4) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Hoffman might be my favorite actor currently going. Every performance he gives is something to see, and he's certainly one of the most consistent. His performance in Capote though is astounding. He disappears into the role, and everything about his performance captures the man perfectly. The best piece of Chameleon acting in a long time.

3) Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

It seems to a pattern in Brad Pitt films, that although the film will be great, and he'll take the lead role, they'll be someone to blow him off the screen. Be it Kikuchi in babel, Affleck in this or Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, its something he really should take more notice of. Anyway, Affleck proves himself to be the more talented member of the family, with a performance so good and perfectly weaselly that it deserves all the acclaim that anyone can throw upon it.

2) Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Well, what is there to say that hasn't been said. Legendary stuff.

1) Ulrich Muhe, The Lives Of Others

I went for Muhe is my number one because, more then any other performance this decade I think this is the single best character performance. There's such an unrelenting sadness behind Muhe's eyes that even if you were to only watch five minute you know you're watching genius at work. I've never been so impressed by a piece of acting, or at least not in this decade anyway.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Best of the 00's: The Fifteen Best Female Performances Of The Decade

Actressing. Here is the best of it, from this decade at least. Short blurb right.

15) Bjork, Dancer In The Dark

Supposedly Bjork has vowed never to act again after her experience on this film, and to be fair Lars Von Trier doesn't seem like the most accommodating of directors, but he does get results. One has to look no further then this great performance he extracted out of a person known primarily for being weird. But whatever the source of it, this is a great performance, and as much as it pains me to put Bjork in any kind of list, it would be dishonest not to.

14) Laura Linney, The Savages

I think what makes Laura Linney great is that she maybe the best actress around at communicating intelligence. There's something so thoughtful about all of her characters, regardless of whatever faults they might possess. I think her best performance is in this underrated middle class indie fest, in which the neurotic script fits in nicely with her usual intelligent delivery.

13) Audrey Tautou, Amelie

Yeah, fine. Tautou perhaps doesn't do much more than stand around and look designedly cute. But, she took a character that could in the wrong hands have been one of the most irritating in all history and made her one of the most likeable in all history, and that's as much of a skill as being intense I would have thought.

12) Nicole Kidman, Dogville

Speaking of intense. Another Von Trier leading lady, dealing with a biblical amount of brutality. Kidman is an actress I often find slightly overrated but she is very good here, and its a shame she got recognized for more middle of the road fare that shall remain unnamed.

11) Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven

Moore has perhaps more then anyone else been the benchmark for high quality indie cinema, and having her name attached to your film makes it about a thousand times more credible. This is perhaps because very few people convey inner emotional disquiet better then Moore. She gives the kind of performances that are great because of how contained she is. Except possibly, you know, Evolution. But this is the quintessential Moore performance, because she makes everything so awesomely repressed.

10) Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Babel is the weakest of the Innaritu films this decade, but it perhaps contains the best performance. Not from its leads or its stars, but from Ms Kikuchi, who in her performance as the almost tragically sexually frustrated deaf girl makes an unforgettable mark, and it takes quite a lot of skill to steal the movie from the array of talent present here. One of those great performances where you know the actress is destined to return to the obscurity from when she came as soon as their done.

9) Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

There had to be a Winslet here in some form, so rather then go with conventional wisdom I'm putting up her performance in this, the quite underrated Sam Mendes' 50's marriage disintegration movie. Its a really great performance, perhaps not getting as many plaudits as her Eternal Sunshine bit, or The Reader but it really should have. The smartest and subtlest work she has done.

8) Judi Dench, Notes On A Scandal

Its an awesome role, and pretty much any actress worth her salt would have been good, But Dame Judi lends a relatability amidst the craziness. There's a real sense that what she does she does simply to connect with someone, rather then just cardboard crazy being the go to. Its a thoughtful portrayal of real human villainy.

7) Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

In a movie full of Bob Dylan's, who would have thought that the closest capture would come from a woman in a jewfro wig. Blanchett may have had a backlash of sorts lately, but one only has to watch this movie to see how good she is at what she does.

6) Ellen Page, Hard Candy

The tiny Canadian will feature on many of these lists I would think, but probably for Oscar nominated turn in Juno. And while she is excellent in that movie, it didn't hit me quite as hard as her performance in Hard Candy. Its the performance that instantly announces a real and present talent, and she, with the help of a stellar supporting performance from Patrick Wilson, creates perhaps the most terrifying and powerful female antagonist/protagonist, depending on your perspective, this side of Y2K.

5) Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose

Biopics, as much as I loathe them, do draw out great performances. And Cotillard as Edith Piaf pretty much covers every emotional state known to humanity, and does so without missing a performance. A great, grandstanding performance.

4) Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive is a very difficult film to be good in. And Watts doesn't just manage it, she does it in a way that nearly upstages all of Lynch's weirdness and unanswerable mystery. It gave her a career as one of the most respected actresses of the decade and quite fairly so.

3) Penelope Cruz, Volver

Cruz recently won an Oscar for her stereotype confirming near cameo in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but she is so much better in Volver its hard to compare why she was ignored for this and recognized for that. You hear the term strong woman bandied about quite regularly in film without it actually meaning anything, but it means something in Cruz' performance here, in which she lends a real authority and power, yet vulnerability when the occasion calls for it.

2) Sally Hawkins, Happy Go Lucky

When you saw the trailer for this film , you could have sworn that Sally Hawkins was going to irritate the shit out of your face. And for the first ten minutes you're standing firm in that belief, but then you realize that she is actually being pretty awesome, and by the movie's end she almost becomes a role model in showing us cynical folk how to live happy. It takes a lot of talent to sell such blind faith in the world, but Hawkins does it fantastically.

1) Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For A Dream

And so to number one, which for me was only going to be Ellen Burstyn's peformance in Requiem For A Dream. And yes I know you could say its just two hours of someone tripping balls, but you'd be wrong. There's so much more to see here, and its just one of the greatest performances from anyone in anything. Full stop.