Thursday, May 6, 2010

Top 50 of the 2000s: #40-31


40. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000): At one time, this movie was a Top 20 selection for the decade. Unfortunately, it hasn’t held up quite as well on repeat viewings. The appeal of the story is still there, as I would have loved nothing more than to have been alive in this era and leading the life of Patrick Fugit’s character. That being said, while I still enjoy it, I can’t help but seeing it as coming dangerously close to being just a fictionalized story that incorporates as many Led Zeppelin-related rock n’ roll clichés as possible into the tale. It remains wildly entertaining for me and if for nothing other than the music it is worth watching. This entry makes it sound like it is a movie that I dislike, which is not the case or I wouldn't have included it in the Top 50 at all. I am just explaining why it at one time appeared in the top twenty and is now #40. Still one I enjoy watching, if not quite as much as I initially did.



39. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009): OK, OK, I was wrong. I admit it. When I first came home from the theater and tried to give the latest Tarantino film a rating, I admitted that I liked it but was a bit underwhelmed. I thought it was a 7/10 type movie. Watching it again, though, I quickly realized two things. First, I enjoyed the film a lot more when I didn’t watch every minute expecting laughs like Pulp Fiction. And second, that my original criticism of the film having some fluff sprinkled throughout its near three-hour running time remains valid. I still firmly hold the belief that Basterds is better in parts than it is as a whole. But those outstanding parts are among the best work that Tarantino has done. The opening interrogation scene is superbly paced and shot. The tavern sequence, as some of the Basterds go undercover as Nazi officers, is both fun and intense. The audacity to change history, as Tarantino does in the shocking finale, was probably too bold for me to stomach – even now, I still am a little surprised he had the guts to go through with and, even more shocking, that it was so well received in many quarters. But the quote that has stuck with me since I re-watched it is Christoph Waltz’s Landa declaring that, “In the pages of history, every once in a while, fate reaches out and extends its hand… What shall the history books read?” This, I think, helps to explain what Tarantino tried to do. Whether you buy it or not is a different story. I’m still not completely sure how it works in the end, but it’s an interesting thing to see how a twist of fate could have radically rewritten history. While I ponder my final verdict on the historical liberties, I just have to admit that I have too much fun watching Waltz and Brad Pitt not to place this movie in the list. Does it make me a hypocrite for reassessing my initial reaction?


38. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000): A film title that alludes to anything Preston Sturges-related is halfway home to winning me over. The first movie released by the Coens in the decade remains one of their most beloved, also contributing to a sudden explosion of popularity for the bluegrass and folks artists who performed the music used in the soundtrack. Set in the Great Depression and based loosely on Homer's The Odysseey of all things, the movie somehow works. Its charm is almost irresistible, and even those that aren’t particular fans have to at least acknowledge how infectious the Coen’s playfulness can be. I have to admit to never having been a George Clooney fan, and he does get a bit annoying at times, but on the whole remains humorous throughout. His compatriots in the trek are even more entertaining, as John Turturro (a longtime Coens favorite) is amazing, as is Timothy Blake Nelson. The Depression-era fairy tale is just too much fun to keep off of a list like this.


37. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002): The film most likely to take the title for most depressing in the countdown has to be Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. I didn’t see this one when it initially hit theaters and only recently watched it for the first time. The importance of this detail is that I went into it pretty fresh, without much of an idea of what the story centered on and how its unique structure would work. The three parallel stories, taking place in three different eras, is never fully explained, but this is actually to the film’s benefit. The enigmatic atmosphere created by it is palpable. In reviews that I have read, a lot is made of the gay and bisexual overtones of many of the characters, which seems important to a lot of writers and critics. It didn’t make a bit of difference to me, as I was much more interested in the way that Daldry manages to show the interconnectedness of actions through the ages. One action can have ramifications for years to come. People that have never met can be more alike than relatives. It is a draining, depressing movie, but certainly one of the best of the decade.



36. Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005): Yes, it prominently shows off its influences, calling to mind similar stories like A Place in the Sun and Woody Allen’s earlier Crimes and Misdemeanors. But I have always felt that Match Point is coming from a different place. In A Place in the Sun and Crimes and Misdemeanors, we see two characters wrestling with a decision that they do not want to make but cannot see any other way to solve their problems. It is still a reprehensible decision, but the audience at least sees the anguish they go through in making the choice. In Match Point, Chris seems nowhere near as torn. Perhaps he struggles to actually put his plan into motion, but everything happens very quickly and he admits afterward that he had to do it. I think this distinction in lead characters is significant in allowing Match Point to stand on its own. It is not as good as either of the two earlier movies I mentioned, but it’s still the best work that Woody Allen has done in over a decade. The ruminations on the role of luck in one’s life are interesting, and Woody uses the tennis metaphor to set the audience up in the final act. He uses the opening freeze frame of a tennis ball lingering over the net to toy with the audience in a way that would make even Hitchcock smile.


35. The Man Who Wasn’t There (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2001): If this doesn’t make it obvious, as they are already making their third appearance in the list, I think that the Coens were rarely short of spectacular for the entire decade. The Man Who Wasn’t There is another quirky effort from the brothers, a dark, tongue-in-cheek drama masquerading as a film noir. The black and white photography from longtime Coens collaborator Roger Deakins is arguably the most impressive of Deakins’ superlative career. The characters are every bit as quirky as other memorable Coens personalities, with the supporting actors all adding flavor to the final product – Michael Badalucco as the incessantly chattering brother-in-law; Frances McDormand as the annoying unfaithful wife; Jon Polito as the scheming upstart drycleaner; and Tony Shalhoub as the high-priced defense attorney. But what fully puts the film over is the complete lack of flavor in Billy Bob Thornton’s Ed Crane. Nobody could have made the character fit the title more perfectly than the brooding Thornton. Also worth pointing out is the amazing soundtrack that incorporates Beethoven perfectly.


34. Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006):This is another instance where the response to a movie is all over the map. Some consider Mann’s reimagining of the classic TV show to be among the finest crime dramas ever made. Others are convinced that it is the weakest film in Mann’s entire filmography. Both are taking things to the extreme. The best crime drama of the decade? No, it’s not even Mann’s own best crime drama of the decade. But is at as bad as some have declared it? I think not, as evidenced by it’s placement in the Top 30 here. In fact, the horrible reputation that it held among many critics and movie fans kept me away from it for the longest time. When I finally watched, I disagreed with the negative assessment, but could see where some people make take exception. Almost everything is overly stylized and glossy, but Mann holds it all together. It works very well as a straight action movie, but is even better as a Michael Mann examination of what makes criminals, or in this case those pretending to be criminals, tick.


33. The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008): I have gone back and forth as to whether this latest Stephen Daldry film deserves to be placed here or close to the Top 20. I’m still not completely sure I am making the best decision, but this is still high praise for a film that elicited varying degrees of critical acclaim. Many reviewers took offense to active participants in the persecution of Jews being portrayed as also being victims of the Nazis and the Holocaust. Hanna Schmitz is convicted of crimes that she apparently did not commit, but does that mean she is completely innocent? No, it does not. But does this in turn justify imprisoning her for anything, even if she is not guilty of the acts for which she is convicted? These are interesting questions without easy answers. Kate Winslett proves once again that she might be the finest actress working today and justifiably earned the Oscar for Best Actress. This is certainly a polarizing film, to the point that I flip-flop myself on my true feelings for it. For now, I keep it as my favorite of Daldry’s two big accomplishments this decade.


32. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007): The first movie to appear from what I consider the best year of the decade. 2007 was monstrous, particularly in American cinema (or if you want to expand it, English-speaking cinema). Expect much more from this year to be sprinkled through the countdown. This one easily could have been rated even higher, but plot twists are such a tricky thing. For most of its two hours of running time, Ben Affleck shows himself to be surprisingly adept at allowing a tense mystery to believably unfold. His younger brother Casey is light years ahead of him in terms of acting ability and he is allowed to shine in the leading role as Patrick Kenzie. He and Michelle Monaghan have great chemistry together. The knots that Patrick is tied in, conflicted over what he needs to do and what he _must_ do, is gripping stuff. The ending, though – as is so often the case with modern mystery or thriller novels – gets a bit too tricky for its own good. Is it believable? Yes, but it might be just a bit too much. Even so, the drama is engrossing enough to make up for any problems one might have with the conclusion. And Casey Affleck turns in a second incredible performance for the year.


31. Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007): More from 2007, but this time from outside of the English-speaking world. Ang Lee, who had already come to the United States and been highly successful, returned to Chinese cinema to make this Hong Kong-based WWII espionage thriller. The story centers on a group of college students who plot to get one of their own close to Mr. Yee (played by Tony Leung), a collaborator and high ranking official of the puppet government set up by the occupying Japanese. Using pure sex appeal, they manage to get Wong Chia Chi close to him as a mistress. Then an unbelievably deceptive tale of espionage and counterespionage unfolds, boasting enough explicit sex to earn the film an NC-17 rating in the US. The sex scenes can be graphic, but are nowhere near as explicit as the rating would lead one to believe. They are raunchy to be sure, but fall short of being a glorified porno. The atmosphere Lee fosters in recreating war-torn Hong Kong and Shanghai, working with Mexican-born cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, is what sticks with me most. The unhurried pace that Lee takes in telling the story could be hard for some to accept, but it is worth the effort. I think a valid argument could be made that this is the best film Ang Lee has made to date.

21 comments:

  1. Well, another set of provocative and intriguing films. I'd say Basterds and THe Reader are two films that will improve with the years.

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  2. Very nice Dave, I've enjoyed both entries so far and am really curious to see what follows.

    With this set of 10, I didn't particularly care for either Almost Famous or The Reader, and have yet to see Lust, Caution, but I really like/love every other one here. Miami Vice in particular I finally watched after reading Doniphon's passionate defense during his countdown and it really blew me away, so I commend you for its inclusion. Love seeing Inglourious Basterds too of course, and really admire your honesty in regards to your ambivalence with it. I personally feel like it's Taratino's best, and echo JAFB's thoughts that it will only become richer as the years go by.

    Keep up the great work!

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  3. Another marvelously exhaustive consideration of the decade's best film Dave, and while I have the typical agreements and disagreements, I think your genre diversity here is amazing.

    My favorite films of this lot are THE READER, MATCH POINT, LUST CAUTION and THE HOURS, the latter of which made my own Top 50. ALMOST FAMOUS has lost a lot with me too, and I still haven't connected with MIAMI VICE, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and that one particular Coens offering. Most engaging capsule consideration here! I greatly look forward to the next batch!

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  4. A very interesting list, Dave. I'm glad you've reassessed Basterds, which as JAFB says, is one that I think will continue to grow in stature over the years. It'd rank quite a bit higher on my own list.

    It's great to see so much Coens love, and especially for the oft-forgotten Man Who Wasn't There, which is, in my opinion, one of their very best films. It's such a perfect noir pastiche.

    I'm not quite as enamored of Miami Vice, but at this point I've accepted that I'm just not going to understand the acclaim for that one. I've seen it a few times now and each time come away with the impression that it's slick and kind of empty, not nearly up to the level of Mann's best work — and he's made some great films this decade, like Collateral, Public Enemies and the underrated Ali.

    Match Point is an interesting case. I liked it when I first saw it but it's only decreased in my estimation over time. From this decade, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody's masterpiece, a much fresher, more inventive film rather than a retread of previous successes.

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  5. I'm a huge Woody Allen's fan, but i never really enjoyed watching Match Point. I can see the Woody touch in a lot of scenes, but there's something about the film that i really dislike - i'm not sure what it is.
    Love the Coens; but i'm not convinced about Miami Vice...
    Greetings from Portugal

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  6. I agree with Ed on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a wonderful, sexy movie, although I also liked Anything Else quite a bit. I didn't get anything out of The Reader or The Hours or Almost Famous, but I love Miami Vice (of course), as well as the two Coens here, and Gone Baby Gone and Inglourious Basterds were both very pleasant surprises. Casey Affleck was especially good in the former, and has me really excited for Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me (one of my all-time favorite novels). Great stuff here, Dave.

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  7. I thought I was virtually all alone in liking Anything Else. Definitely another great Woody movie from this decade, sadly overlooked or dismissed by almost everyone.

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  8. I checked it out because Quentin Tarantino, of all people, spoke so highly of it. Glad we're on the same page there.

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  9. I love the beginning of Inglourious Basterds and you may be right about it being better in parts than the whole.

    Can't say I liked Miami Vice. Too indulgent.

    Welcome to LAMB and check out my site for tips on movie blogging and running a movie website.

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  10. Dave, I'm kind of shamefully surprised at how few from this batch I've actually seen. Of the lot I've only seen the two Coens', Basterds and The Hours. The Tarantino will always be a problematic film but the problems it raises testify to its ambition. The Hours is a good call, though I don't know where it'd fall in my own survey. The Man Who Wasn't There has gone unseen by me since its theatrical run, when I remember feeling very underwhelmed by it. It's probably overdue for another look if I want to continue calling myself a Coens fan.
    But it seems that I have a lot of milennial catching-up with to do in general.

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  11. Not much of a fan of Almost Famous and O Brother. I also consider Tarantino and W. Allen to be vastly overrated. They basically make the same film over and over. All you need is one movie by both and you basically know everything they have to say. The dialogue that seemed so fresh in Pulp Fiction is now tired and unbearably annoying. Every actor in his movies sounds like they had a brain transplant and now the director is reciting their lines for them!!! I'm a huge fan of Michael Mann but found Miami Vice to be his weakest of the decade. I do admit I have only seen it once so a reviewing might change my mind. The Hours is a good film but wouldn't make my top 50. The Reader is wonderful. The same thing I said for Miami Vice applies to The Man Who Wasn't There. I probably need to watch it again though I didn't like it on first viewing. Gone Baby Gone has an incredible performance by Casey Affleck. I 100% agree he is the more talented Affleck brother. This was a great year for him as he was involved in an even better movie which I'm certain you will be featuring in 4 or 5 days. I never saw the Ang Lee movie. The only picture you in your top 50 I have not seen yet.......M.Roca

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  12. JAFB - You might be right concerning both Basterds and The Reader. The Reader deserves another viewing from me in the near future.

    Drew - As I said, Almost Famous has fallen significantly in my eyes, but I do still enjoy it. Surprised to hear that you didn't like Lust, Caution. Miami Vice is another one that might actually go up in rankings like these in the future.

    Sam - Yes, many personal preferences here, as responses seem to show. I remembered that you thought highly of the three you mention and remember seeing The Hours in your own decades list.

    Ed - The Man Who Wasn't There is one that I watched again specifically for this list and it's a good thing I did. Before, it was a borderline pick and now there is no way I could have left it out. It's almost a toss-up for me between Public Enemies and Miami Vice, but I sided with Vice for now. Ali I have never really been a fan of.

    Luis - Thanks for stopping by... keep following the countdown!

    Doniphon - I agree completely on Affleck and Gone Baby Gone wasn't even his best performance of 2007. I am looking forward to The Killer Inside Me as well. Your enthusiasm for Miami Vice was one of the reason that gave me the push to give it a real shot and I'm glad I did.

    ProMovieBlogger - Thanks for the welcome, please keep following the countdown!

    Samuel - I can see The Man Who Wasn't There not working for everyone... for me, though, I thought the cinematography was stunningly spectacular and that Billy Bob Thornton was perfect for the film. Definitely check out Lust, Caution as I think you might respond well to that one.

    M.Roca - I could not disagree anymore with your assessment of Woody Allen, or Tarantino for that matter, but Allen in particular. Tarantino I suppose could be covered with Pulp Fiction, although I love Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown as well. But with Allen, I think this is a myth. What would be the one film that covers everything he does? Annie Hall? Manhattan? Those two are somewhat similar I suppose, but they are different from Hannah and Her Sisters, which is from Zelig, which is different from Radio Days, which is different from Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is different from Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Sorry for the rant, but I thought the same way when I first started to get into Woody, but now am amazed that I once believed that.

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  13. I've watched so many Allen movies they all tend to blur into this mass of mediocrity. I find his musings on relationships and people to be irritating and pretentious. His films don't look good, every time he shows up in one he simply plays himself. Babbling on and on about things maybe I'm not sensitive enough to care about. He's like the Neil Young of film. Super prolific with a batting average of .122. The failures far more numerous than the successes. You get one good movie for every 4 or 5 bad ones (but never a great one). I actually do find Match Point to be one of his best. I still think some of the scenes are filled with an insufferable feel that leaves a pungent taste in my throat. Sweet and Lowdown I also somewhat enjoy though again the quasi documentary interviews are irritating. I think maybe his world view and mine are too different for me to get over. He is also not a great stylist like Mallick or Mann who not only make films that tone wise are more to my liking but also deliver a visual look that can be appreciated repeatedly. I'm probably being too hard on him and will just chalk it up to him not being my cup of tea. Not to disparage Neil Young too much, the man has made many dreadful albums, but also more than a handful of masterpieces.

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  14. I'm catching up here Dave because my laptop died this week (and on finals week no less), but I can already tell I'm going to be both surprised and delighted by your choices. I feel like the Kingdom of Heaven director's cut fans should have some sort of special handshake, and by now I've completely come around on Miami Vice and think you may actually have underrated it (so take THAT, your own opinions!). Hopefully I'll have stable comp access soon to keep monitoring this.

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  15. I still have not seen Lust, Caution nor Miami Vice but I am in agreement with The Hours, Match Point, Ob, Brother,and The Reader. Gone, Baby Gone, I am not sure it would make my own top 50 which I am working on. Bastards and Almost Famous are also borderline cases.

    I too would make a case for Vicky Christina Bacelona showing up here.

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  16. M.Roca - Well then you don't need one movie to cover Allen, you need zero! (LOL) I think you're right, it's just a matter of you not liking his films in general. And perhaps we are approaching rating a director's output from radically different points - similar to how I judge a musician, I am not concerned with the number of failures, I want to see how high you can reach with your successes. In my opinion, Woody has hit some HIGH notes with his best films, which his one-a-year average of moviemaking cannot take away. Same with the Neil Young analogy. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and After the Goldrush are so good, I don't really concern myself with the crap he's produced along the way.

    Jake - Wow, that's a tough break for finals week. Good luck with that... hopefully you'll get a chance to check in along the way here.

    John - I of course can't reveal anything concerning Vicky Cristina, but we shall see... I think you would appreciate Lust, Caution so I would definitely say to check it out.

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  17. I actually do approach directors with a similar criteria. You can make many bad movies as long as your great ones are truly outstanding. I guess with Allen I don't consider any to be great though the two mentioned above plus Annie Hall and Manhattan are decent enough. As for Neil Young the two you mentioned are wonderful as well as Rust Never Sleeps and Zuma.....M.Roca

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  18. The Neil Young comparison in hindsight was probably not a good one. He does have works of art that I really love as opposed to Allen.......M.Roca

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  19. in this list you have some really good movies, but the most of you have are pretty women in the list, Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and many others.

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