Monday, February 1, 2010

The Aughts in Movies: 80-76

Apologies for the delay.  To make up for it, I'm gonna bombard you with the rest of the list right now.  If you need a refresher, check out #85-81.  Let's get to it.

80. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(Garth Jennings, 2005)
A lot of people complained that the film version of Douglas Adams' book wasn't faithful to the original, completely forgetting that each adaptation of the story is fundamentally different from the last.  What Garth Jennings manages is to take Adams' story and use it to satirize some of the more ridiculous conventions of modern sci-fi cinema.  It's a damn shame the film didn't make any money, because this was a franchise that could've only gotten better.

79. Stranger than Fiction
(Marc Forster, 2006)
On the outside the film feels like a poor man's Adaptation, but underneath cursory similarities, Stranger Than Fiction is a sobering reminder of just how confined we are to routine, the mundane, and the blandness of the real world.  While the central conceit is pure fantasy, the only magic in Harold Crick's life is the magic he has to create himself.  This is easily Will Ferrell's best performance.

78. The Village
(M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)
People love to dump on Shyamalan lately, and despite the fact that The Happening is easily his worst film, I still don't understand all the hate for The Village.  It's less about the scares than most would have liked, and the twist is pretty easy to see coming.  Despite that, this is a remarkably deft film about how we handle our fears, and the performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and Adrien Brody are some of their best work.  Screw the haters, I love The Village.

77. Speed Racer
(Andy & Larry Wachowski, 2008)
Speaking of 'screw the haters', Speed Racer is awesome.  After the disappointing double-whammy of the Matrix sequels, I was eager to see how the Wachowskis would bounce back.  I never expected a live-action remake of a classic anime series.  The sheer amount of energy and aggressive effects wizardry on display here is infections.  Sure, it's a big, silly cartoon, but it's one of the most purely entertaining films I've ever seen.

76. Clerks II
(Kevin Smith, 2006)
Clerks II is the sequel nobody asked for, let alone expected.  As it turned out, there was still material to be mined from Dante and Randall ten years after the fact.  In a sense, it's basically the same as the original Clerks.  Where this film shines is in creating a long, slow burn that eventually explodes in one of the strangest third acts I've ever seen.  It's equal parts disgusting and poignant, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

The Aughts in Movies: 85-81

You know the routine.  Click here for 90-86.

85. Bowling for Columbine
(Michael Moore, 2002)
Sure, Michael Moore is an exploitative blowhard, but when he gets it right, he really gets it right.  He raises a number of difficult questions over the course of the film, like "Why is America so gun crazy?"  The answers ultimately become "That's just the way we are," and it's a sobering admission.

84. Best in Show
(Christopher Guest, 2000)
While I prefer A Mighty Wind, Best in Show is clearly the better film.  The characters in this film just feel a bit more realistic, and at the same time utterly ridiculous.  It's hard to pick a standout performance from the bunch, though Fred Willard's dog show commentator is easily the funniest. 

83. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
(George Clooney, 2002)

It's one of Charlie Kaufman's lesser scripts, but as directed by George Clooney, the story of Gong Show host Chuck Barris' stint as a government assassin is as warped and twisted as it is fascinating.  Sam Rockwell's performance is one bright spot out of half a dozen great performances.

82. Crank / Crank: High Voltage
(Neveldine/Taylor, 2006/2009)
I realize I'm cheating by choosing both, but the two fit together so well that they almost demand to be seen back to back.  Whereas the first Crank was a frantic attempt to become the ultimate cinematic video game, the sequel manages to up the ante by offending just about every sensibility in the book.  Statham is a blast to watch in both, and the third act of Crank 2 has to be seen to be believed.
81. Idiocracy
(Mike Judge, 2005)
Mike Judge's third feature was criminally dumped onto DVD by 20th Century Fox, but since then it's gained a sizable cult following.  Judge's vision for the year 2505 is a bleak one for the human race, where everyone is an idiot and smart people are labeled 'fags'.  We may never get to see the original cut of the film, but what we've got is still one of the sharpest satires of the decade.

Next up, five that you'll probably think I'm crazy for including.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Aughts in Movies: 90-86

For #95-91, click here.  Otherwise, let's continue.

90. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
(Adam McKay, 2004)

The sheer amount of ad-libbing on display in Anchorman is amazing, amazing enough that they cut together a second movie from the remaining footage (a shitty movie, but a movie nonetheless).  I'm honestly not too thrilled about the prospect of a sequel, but if it's half as good as Anchorman, it'll be way better than any of his recent comedies.

89. Primer
(Shane Carruth, 2004)

Here's proof that in the right hands, $7000 can make a great movie.  Those who love Primer always talk about how plausible Carruth makes his time travel story or how it's some kind of DIY sci-fi treatise.  What I love about Primer is how the actors treat the dialogue as though it were a Robert Altman film.  The film doesn't care if you keep up or not, so you'd better pay attention.

88. The Brothers Bloom
(Rian Johnson, 2009)

Most of you never saw this, because it only played in a couple hundred theaters, so when it hits DVD (if it hasn't already), go find it.  Nine times out of ten, I hate caper movies, but Rian Johnson's goes so far out of his way to make this the Ulysses of caper films that it won me over in spite of myself.  Style by the truckload, humor by the gallon, and probably the best expletive use of the decade.

87. Walk the Line
(James Mangold, 2005)

Reese Witherspoon may have won the Oscar for her turn as June Carter, but Joaquin Phoenix is infinitely better as Johnny Cash.  Of all the music biopics of the decade (not that there were that many to begin with), Walk the Line is easily the best.  Great cover songs and strong performances.  Does a rock biopic need anything else?

86. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
(Guillermo del Toro, 2008)

It's a difficult thing to combine sci-fi and fantasy and have the result be a success.  While del Toro's Hellboy sequel is really more of a remake, it's better than the original in almost every way (Danny Elfman's score pales in comparison to Marco Beltrami's original).  The fantasy elements are some of the most interesting you'll ever find, and the performances are uniformly brilliant.  Comic book films rarely look this good.

Come on back for #85-81.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Aughts in Movies: 95-91

If you missed 100-96, click here to catch yourself up.

95. Hot Rod 
(Akiva Schaffer, 2007)

Here's the part where I have to say, "Hear me out on this one..."  As far as straight comedy goes, I'm a pretty tough sell, doubly so when we're talking about anything involving SNL cast members.  So it came as a pretty big surprise when I found Hot Rod to be unexpectedly hilarious.  The plot itself isn't anything special, but the way Schaffer, Samberg, et al string together absurdist humor is...let's say unique.
94. The Terminal
(Stephen Spielberg, 2004)

Sandwiched firmly in the middle of Spielberg's 2001-2005 creative spurt is The Terminal, one of a litany of films dealing with post-9/11 anxieties.  Spielberg's decision to apply a Capra-corn approach to the tale of Viktor Navorski (a role in which Tom Hanks provides a square mile of heart) may make it seem needlessly schmaltzy to some, but for me it makes the film infinitely more palatable. 

93. Superbad
(Greg Mottola, 2007)

With the explosion of the Judd Apatow brand of comedy, one of them was bound to rise above the rest.  Some prefer Knocked Up, others prefer Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  For me, the best is Superbad, not because of how crude the humor is or how incredibly, latently gay Seth and Evan are.  This one stuck with me for recapturing the notion of the teen sex comedy as some kind of grand adventure.  And the opening credits are pretty classy as well.

92. Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
(George Lucas, 2005)

What separates Revenge of the Sith from the other two prequels is that things actually happen, and they're things that the fans actually care about.  Just as this was the story the fans had always wanted, it's pretty clear that this is the prequel that George Lucas always wanted to make.  The other two were just filler.  There are a couple of groaners, sure, but the sheer entertainment on display here is a reminder of how good Star Wars used to be.

91. The Hurt Locker
(Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)

How do you make a movie about a war where there is no clearly defined enemy?  Remove the enemy entirely.  Bigelow's film about a bomb squad in Iraq is incredibly well photographed, and each scene in which SSgt. James defuses a bomb is exponentially more tense than the last.  The Hurt Locker is a very different kind of war film, and it's all the better for it.

Come on back for #90-86.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Aughts in Movies: 100-96

The Aughts have come and gone, and that means lists of every damn thing under the sun.  My primary focus is movies, so that's where I'll start.  Of all the movies I've seen this decade, I've paired my list down to 100 (could've probably made it smaller, but 100 is a good number and it'll make for quite a few posts).  Now certainly, there are movies that I haven't seen that might potentially wind up on this list later, and still others whose absence you might find egregious.  Tough.  This is my list.  If you don't like it, go make your own.  Here's what I'll do.  Five movies a day throughout January 2010.  20 posts, 100 movies.  Let's get crackin', shall we?

100.  Cloverfield 
(Matt Reeves, 2008)

It's a simple enough concept.  Take a modern spin on the kaiju monster film and tell it through the lens of a group of 20-something hipsters with a video camera.  The gimmick works more often than not, and there are some genuine scares to be found.  As far as these camcorder flicks go, Cloverfield is head and shoulders above the rest.

99. Team America: World Police 
(Trey Parker, 2004)

It's a real shame that Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to hate the filmmaking process so much; when they do make a movie, it's hysterical.  As utterly ridiculous as the film is, the puppetry is top-notch, and Bill Pope's cinematography turns this silly puppet show into something as visually stunning as it is obnoxiously crass.  If Team America had been a musical (and it very nearly is), it would've been even better.

98. Kung Fu Panda 
(Mark Osborne/John Stevenson, 2008)

  After some ten years of truly groan-inducing animated films, Dreamworks drops Kung Fu Panda on us.  I was elated to find that Kung Fu Panda is every bit as good as some of Pixar's work, and infinitely better than most Dreamworks films.  The fluidity of the animation, a timeless story with a decent message, and one of Hans Zimmer's best scores all help make this one of the most fun animated films of the decade.

97. Millions 
(Danny Boyle, 2005)

Between Danny Boyle's zombie movie and his Oscar winner, this one got lost in the shuffle, but it's every bit as good.  The story of a kid consulting the saints on how to spend his found million dollars is a simple enough one, but Boyle paints a multi-faceted portrait of greed, honesty, naivete, and a truckload of other personality traits.  And if you're in the right mood, Millions even works as a Christmas movie.

96. Drag Me to Hell 
(Sam Raimi, 2009)

As entertaining as his Spider-Man films are, Sam Raimi's expertise is in horror, and his little PG-13 grossout flick was a breath of fresh air in a genre overstuffed with J-horror remakes and increasingly lame slasher flicks.  Drag Me to Hell is a ton of disgusting, goofy fun, and proof that Spider-Man hasn't dulled Raimi's style.

Keep an eye out for 95-91 in the next day or two.