My Top 10 Favorite Movies of the Past 10 Years

August 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

*DISCLAIMER*

This isn’t about the BEST 10 movies of the past 10 years. I probably haven’t seen the best 10 movies of the last 10 years. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great obscure foreign film I’ve never heard of, or some documentary that I skipped over or something…this is just my list of 10 movies that I could watch over and over again and that I adore personally. Your lists will differ, I’m sure. But mine’s clearly the best.

#10: The Descent (2005) 

Written & directed by Neil Marshall

I start off with a horror movie, and I think it’s one of the finest horror films of this age. It’s not as well known as movies like “The Strangers” or “The Ring” but it’s far better than either of those because it’s not only a creature feature–it’s also a psychological horror film where you’re not really sure if what’s going on is real or not. That might sound cliché and stupid; but Marshall handles the balance exceedingly well and you never feel cheated either way. It’s an all female cast of spelunkers who find that there are these nightmarish “Silent Hill” looking things that only compound the problem they have of being lost in a large cave that they don’t know how to get out of. But there’s also a subplot of the main character who lost her husband and child in a single car accident; and one of her friends may have had an affair with the husband. The thing I like about this subplot, too, is that it never overshadows the main story with melodrama. It’s very nicely put together by Marshall and is by far his greatest achievement in filmmaking so far.

 
#9: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s career has been a little more up and down than I thought, especially around this time when he already had “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” under his belt. And this movie was even better than both. Combining family drama with offbeat comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a very strong film. It never goes too far in either direction, although some of its quirkiness may turn some people off. But I think it’s Anderson’s most accessible film. And the soundtrack, once again, is outstanding. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, this one captures the feel of the movie so well. I think it’s Anderson’s last great film; he’s made a few good ones since…but I still haven’t forgotten “The Life Aquatic” and boy do I long for a lobotomy for that one. Very strong performances by Ben Stiller and Gene Hackman especially, who contributes a lot of humor to this story of pathos. It’s Anderson at his best.

 
#8: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Quentin Tarantino

I wasn’t sure to expect with this movie, because all we saw from the previews were the scenes about the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters that are all Jewish. It was a plan of vengeance, that was obvious. What I got, though, was probably my favorite Tarantino film of all time. While I thought “Pulp Fiction” was fantastic, and probably one of the most important films ever made, there’s something about this movie that I just can’t get enough of. I love that he doesn’t make his foreign actors speak English. For an American made film, almost half of it looks like a foreign language film. I also like that for a movie that’s as bloody and war-related as it is, it begins extremely quietly and slow-paced. But I love what Tarantino does with the quiet conversation scenes. There’s always tension in the room, and you know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s incredibly suspenseful. The opening scene, for instance, has a Nazi commander searching a French farm house that has been known to harbor Jews. Instead of interrogating the man of the house, however, they simply talk. Meanwhile, the Jewish family he’s harboring is underneath the floor. The camera dips once and shows us them hiding, and then it pans back to the room. And the talking goes on, and on. But you’re clinging to your chair, waiting to see if he knows. My favorite sequence takes place in an underground bar where a game is being played, and there are Nazi imposters in the bar that could be figured out to be infiltrating. You’re just waiting for a moment where things break out. The use of suspense is outstanding, and the theme of vengeance being all-for-naught is also refreshing. You’d think this is just an anti-Nazi fun filled movie. But the lesson to be learned is far more poignant.

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#7: The Dark Knight (2008)
 
 
 

 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan / Written by: Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan

This movie will be on a lot of people All-time Overrated List I think in the coming years rather than All-time Best Films list. But I really think if you step away from the hype, it is still a very solid film. It’s dark, it’s sleek, it’s intelligent–yes, pretentious too. I forgive it in this case because the plot moves quickly enough that I never felt bored. Obviously the strongest thing about the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker; but there are some other things about the movie that I liked–I still like that Batman is a more tortured soul, and that he makes decisions in this film that he ultimately regrets and has to live with the tragic results. I like that a heroic character becomes a villain–even if it was rushed a bit. Two-Face certainly could have been given his own film. But I didn’t think it was a total waste. Besides the Batvision subplot, I think most of the film works extremely well. As a superhero flick, it’s epic. But even more, as a character drama it’s very complex and endearing. It’s my second favorite Batman movie, besides “Batman & Robin”. Just kidding. “Batman & Robin” was better.

 
#6: AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by Stephen Spielberg

Here’s another one that gets a lot of bad word of mouth; it got mixed reviews, and Spielberg was accused of destroying a possible Kubrick project and wasting it. I can’t disagree enough with the detractors of this imperfect masterpiece. I think it’s one of Spielberg’s most personal films, along with it being a love letter to Kubrick himself. Most of the negative comments are directed at the ending; they all thought it should’ve ended with the boy finding the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the ocean that at one point had been Coney Island. While that would have been dark, and cool–it would not have been an ending. The film’s theme is about getting what you want too late, and not being able to move on. Finding the Blue Fairy as something that was just a symbol of the past was not a true resolution to the plot. The boy still had to find his parents. The movie is two halves: the first half is about a set of parents that want to covet a relationship with a child, and yet something’s always missing because the child is synthetic; and there‘s something to be said about the fact that their biological kid is a sniveling brat. The second half is about a synthetic child that wants to covet a relationship with his mother, who is real. At the end, they are long gone, as well as all of humanity. It’s the complete opposite of the first half of the film. And in the end, the day he spends with his mother IS synthetic, which turns him into a real boy–and he finally dies. Now that, to me, is far more beautiful, far more bittersweet and even tragic in a way; and it’s far more POWERFUL than if the film ends with the boy finding the Blue Fairy. So that’s my defense. Is it perfect? No. It probably could have been a bit shorter. It probably could have had a stronger handle on its theme. But it holds true to everything that Spielberg is all about as a storyteller, and adds an element of Kubrick that makes it dark enough to be less conventional than the typical Spielberg film. It’s all about loss and grieving and broken families, and that’s where Spielberg thrives.

 
#5: Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
 
 

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson / Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens

I have to include all three films and treat them as one here, although I’d probably watch “Fellowship” over “Towers” and “King”; but all three are part of the same story and to me is one of the strongest adaptation of a book in the history of film. It breathes new life into the “Lord of the Rings” and does so with such a command by Peter Jackson, it will have to go down as his greatest accomplishment. His career was delightfully progressing from his bloodspattered early days of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” to the more mature but still off-the-wall “Heavenly Creatures” and then the fun, weird “The Frighteners”. All of these seemed to lead up to a perfect storm of creativity, expression, imagination, and…fun. The look of this film is magnificent. The performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, and Vigo Mortensen are fantastic–but one I really thought was special was Sean Astin’s. While there was all the homoerotic talk between Frodo and Sam–the story really is about a friendship that is very deep. This film is epic fantasy but it is also a story about relationships. All of it is well handled by Peter Jackson. He took all of his best elements and put them forth in this trilogy that I think will go down as the best film trilogy besides the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

 
#4: Sin City (2005)
 
 

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino / Written by: Frank Miller

If you ever wanted to see a comic book truly put to film in its total essence, I don’t think there’s a better example than “Sin City”. It combines the talents of two gifted filmmakers along with Frank Miller, whom you could tell had a lot of fun with his own material, adapting it to the screen. This collection of talent on one film is as great as the Romero/King/Savini holy trinity that made “Creepshow” in ‘85. The movie is just a bunch of vignettes, but all of them are woven together so well that it feels like one big story. There are some sickening things going on in this film, but it all looks so good it’s hard to be reviled. It’s more than just an exercise in style; it’s got nice, fleshed out storylines and some really strong performances by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. And who can forget a Jessica Alba pole dance? This movie, again, takes joy in its excess violence and nudity, and because it revels in it…we can’t help to follow its lead.

 
#3: Children of Men (2006)
 
 

 

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron / Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

I think what I liked most about this movie is how bleak it is, and how much it really builds this dystopian world in which no children exist. For some people, maybe this is the best world you could ever live in. But it is utterly depressing to think about, with no future, nothing to look forward to. In the film, there’s even a suicide drug that’s so popular, there are ads littered everywhere on streets and on TV. Clive Owen stars in a very strong role as a man who joins a group of rebels that actually have a woman who is pregnant. They have to protect her, but there are many bloody realistic battle scenes that have you on the edge of your seat, hoping she can get to safety. This movie pulls no punches, and even kills off one of its big stars early, and still somehow ends in a satisfying manner. It’s very taut at times, and it’s very engrossing. I like that it’s a kind of nativity story, too; about the protecting of life, whether you’ve conceived it or not. It was one my favorite films of 2006.

 
#2: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

If you haven’t seen this movie, and are a fan of fantasy/horror/storytelling…stop whatever you’re doing and see this movie. And PLEASE see it in its native language, subtitled, and NOT dubbed. Not because the dubbing job is bad; but because dubbing itself is lame. And it would take away from a great dramatic story. Del Toro is Mexican but he has a fascination it seems with Spain, and more precisely, the Spanish Civil War. So that’s the underlying theme and backdrop to this otherwise fairy tale of a girl who is brought to meet her stepfather, who is a captain of the Spanish army, trying to quell a rebellion. Her real father is dead, and her mother is a dutiful wife to the captain. The girl, though, embarks on a fantasy journey that can be as dark and deadly as the real life war that’s going on. The way Del Toro uses visual horror is amazing. Every one of his creatures comes to life and while some are more terrifying than beautiful, they are all wonderful to look at. It’s a sad story for the most part, because we know it’s not real. We want to believe in the fantasy, as little Ofelia does, but reality comes crashing down as it always does. It’s a very sweet story as well as it is tragic, and it’s terrifying at times, too. Just a brilliant film, and one of the best of the decade.

And now…my number one movie…is something a bit different. But I couldn’t think of anything that makes me smile more than…

 
#1: Team America: World Police (2004)
 
 

 

Directed by Trey Parker / Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady

Maybe this film suffered from bad timing (Roger Ebert didn’t find it amusing at all) but as time grows on, this movie becomes more and more dear to me. During the reign of W, America always seemed to be butting into foreign affairs that were revolving around terrorism, as it was called the War on Terrorism. Well, because there’s no known true villain (besides Osama Bin Laden), we started a few wars just to sort it all out. Parker and Stone are at their best when they’re angry and anarchic, and this is their best execution of their satire that I’ve ever seen. Not just because it satirizes American foreign policy and its flag-waving jingoism; but because it savagely satirizes every single thing about America that is oversaturated and over the top. What makes it fun is that it uses the typical Hollywood Action Movie as its conduit. A beautiful overproduced score is a great contrast to the shoddy production values of the sets, and of course, the marionettes. Everything is done cheaply, but loudly. And everything is done on purpose. All of the songs mock all the sugary sweet top 40 Billboard genres that we’re forced to listen to on the radio (including an hilarious one about film montages), and all of the dramatic dialog is so stupid, you can’t help but laugh because you KNOW it’s been in a Michael Bay film sometime (“Maybe feelings are feelings because we can’t control them.”). This movie had me howling with laughter; but meanwhile, also nodding my head to how stupid this country can be when it’s so simple minded. It ridicules the so-called patriots in this country who don’t understand our true enemy, and who are more of a detriment to our society than even the enemy that we’re attacking. The point of this film is that WE are the true terrorists. And at this time in our history, it couldn’t be more spot on. I call this the “Dr. Strangelove” of our generation. At the time, that movie perfectly satirized the present day America that was also insecure about the Cold War and communism and so in love with war. This movie does the same, but adds the sweet touch of making fun of Hollywood as well. And the most brilliant thing is that this could have been a movie that Hollywood would’ve taken seriously had it not been for the puppetry. In fact, it already has. It was called “Armageddon”. As much as I love “South Park”, and most of what Parker & Stone do–this is their greatest accomplishment, and this film belongs in the discussion of greatest comedies of all time.

That’s my list! Fuck yeah

The Balcony Is Closed: A Look Back On “At The Movies”

May 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment

Growing up, I loved movies. I guess that’s evident here. I’ve been “reviewing” movies since 1989–something I didn’t realize till a few years ago when I dug up my old journals from elementary school and found that the unused pages in the binder were dedicated to reviewing movies such as “Arachnophobia”, “Willow”, and “The Abyss”. I used a star system, 1-4. It was hard being a critic at age 11, I found. I pretty much liked everything I saw, unless it was something I didn’t understand. I gave “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” 2 stars because at the time I found it “weird and kind of boring”. Later, obviously, I understood how great it was. I thought I knew everything at 10 years old. How naive I was not to think that you know everything by 16.

But my inspirations for such aspirations as being something as spectacular and rewarding as a film critic were Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert; the stars of the CBS Saturday early evening special “At The Movies”. The show eventually moved to the mornings, but I had first started watching them in 1985 when my dad would sit me down on the couch in upstate New York and convince me this was a fun show. I just saw two guys yelling at each other about movies I’d never heard of like “Prizzi’s Honor”. One guy was thin, the other guy was fat. But the two grew on me, and throughout the years, I started following their show more.

In the late 80’s, when I myself became a film reviewer, I paid more attention to their show. I especially liked their specials that dealt with giving Hollywood some pointers. They liked to think they had an impact on the industry. Perhaps they did. “Memo: To The Academy” became one of my favorite features because it focused on the more obscure talents of Hollywood that would never get a whiff at the Academy Awards–which as we all know, is the ONLY awards show worth watching. Why? Because it’s hosted by Billy Crystal. That’s why.

Well, the 90’s saw my inner critic grow. I began keeping my own journal of movie reviews. Most of the movies I saw were on cable at the time; I didn’t get to see a lot of movies in the theatre. But, I can tell you this–“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” received 4 stars. They were just flawless films. What was interesting was that I gave “Dances With Wolves” only 3 stars. I distinctly remember the running time being a fatal flaw in the film. I’d still give it a thumb’s up–sure. But did my butt need to suffer through so many sequences of  subtitles and scene after scene of buffalo chasing? I found more solace in “Cameron’s Closet”–a film I gave 3 and a half stars. The review ran thusly: “This movie scared me. I thought it was great.”

Now that’s journalism. If I had really thought I had a chance at professionally writing film reviews, I guess I should have pursued it. But of course, I was a modest chap. I just really liked watching movies. I loved the smell of a movie theatre. The scents of stale popcorn, crusty carpets, and that ubiquitous butter smell that permeated the walls. I loved the strange creepiness of the darkness that shrouded the entire theatre. I’d sometimes look around the theatre to find those entirely black areas, and wonder if a ghost was there haunting it. And if that ghost would haunt me.

I loved watching the previews. Movie trailers in some cases are better than the actual movie itself. Like “Red Eye”. Can you think of a better example of a movie trailer OUTDOING the movie in such a way that “Red Eye” did? I didn’t think so. Shut up, I said I didn’t think so. And I’m right.

I loved all aspects of moviegoing. In fact, I included that in my review of “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country”. I admitted that I didn’t pay attention to the movie, but I absolutely loved how the EXIT sign looked so cool. So distant, and yet…inviting. Not because I didn’t like the movie–as I said, I didn’t really pay attention to it. Except for Kim Cattrell. She was quite attractive in it. And me being a Star Trek fan in general, I immediately liked it. But something about that EXIT sign. I don’t know. It really grabbed me. It made me want to stand up and cheer. It was outstanding. It was Oscar worthy.

I really thought of those two as my pals. Or at least, they were my intellectual equals. But really, Siskel and Ebert provided something that no one had ever done before; they were televised critics. Critics had always been subjugated to the written word on cheaply rendered paper. Now we were getting criticisms through that warm blue glow of a television screen. Really worked wonders.

And Siskel and Ebert were entertaining. Did I always agree? No. I didn’t like “Benji: The Hunted”. I didn’t hate  “North”. But they had so much heart. I believe both Gene & Roger just *loved* movies. Loved them to the point where they lived and breathed film. You can see it like lightning when they talk. Watch the old reviews they did. Whether they liked or disliked a film. They were passionate about it. Siskel with his baggy and deeply wounded eyes when he loathed a film, and his cautioning fingers; his thumb touching his forefinger as if he were orchestrating a symphony of criticism through his own hands. Ebert with his gaze and flailing arms, his loud voice. Ebert was the loud; but Siskel was the real assassin. Roger had a pomposity that outweighed Siskel’s subtle demeanor. But both were deadly with their words, and thoughts.

Ebert always seemed more sensationalized; although I believe if he were ever to read this, he’d argue that he was the “sensible” one. It was Siskel that was overbearing.

When Gene Siskel died in February of 1999, “At The Movies” went with it. Roger made an admirable effort to keep the show alive, even including an intellectual inferior critic such as Richard Roeper (whom I love dearly!!). But this show had such vitality at its prime and even collected some Hollywood ears on the eves of those 80’s and 90’s when it seemed as though film franchises went down like Pepsi and french fries. Their criticisms of “Colorizing the Classics” made a difference; it was discontinued soon after. Their exposure of “Video Nasties” brought the controversy  and regulation of the “Faces of Death” series into the mainstream. They criticized the controversial introduction of the PG-13 rating and said it was inconsistent and didn’t solve the problem of PG to R (brought on by the release of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” that was rated PG; but the bug scene was considered far too intense for a PG rating).

But mostly, it was their adamant demand of Hollywood to please us that was so honest. It was true. These were not two ideologues paid to be sensational and over the top. These were two men who absolutely loved film. Their hearts melted for films like “Shakespeare in Love” and “Schindler’s List”. Their teeth gritted through movies like “The Squeeze” (although Roger Ebert admitted to forgetting he saw it) and “Black Sheep” (the only film that Gene Siskel has ever walked out of while a professional critic).  They spoke of “getting a cup of coffee” and talking about “The Truman Show”, and hating big picture big shots for stooping to such lows like Stallone in “Judge Dredd” and Demi Moore in “Striptease”. They didn’t just break down Hollywood–they wanted it to be better. They knew it was better.

Siskel once called out Eddie Murphy for “A Vampire In Brooklyn” and told him to be a supporting character in a film directed by a great director. It was like they had a lifeline into the vein of Hollywood itself.

That voice is gone now. It is merely a ghostly relic of a time that’s passed. We don’t have TV movie critics anymore. Part of that is due to the internet. Any worthless University of Delaware drop out can be a film critic these days. And actually like the remake of “Halloween”. Yes. Somehow, it happened. The art of film criticism is a dead one these days.

Roger Ebert still punches out his columns. He’s still passionate about films. . He’s still a vital writer. But he’s seen the best days of his life go. He can’t dictate the screen like he did when he was with Gene back in “At The Movies”. But there was a time when the two of them held Hollywood by the balls, and it was wonderful. Not just because it could be done; but because it was the right people that could do it.

Roger and Gene were the essence of what criticism is, and that is love and honesty. And we rarely see either of those in media these days.

The balcony has closed. You can still find some of their reviews on YouTube. Watching them  makes me miss them both. And, makes me feel lucky that I got to see it when it mattered.

To look at most of their reviews going all the way back to 1986, visit this website to relive some “At The Movies” movie reviews:

http://bventertainment.go.com/tv/buenavista/ebertandroeper/balcony.html