Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Fifty Films of the Decade.

Making a list of your favorite 50 films of the decade is incredibly annoying. It takes too long, and you inevitably reach a point where a third of the list is entirely interchangeable with other films. But I did it. Mostly because I was almost done by the time I realized I should have stopped at the top 25. Keep in mind that I was thirteen when the decade started, hadn't yet kissed a girl and spent more than half of the decade focused on that goal. It took that long to realize that movies are more interesting than women, and at that point I was too far behind to see every good film this decade. As a result, a lot of good films are not on this list because I didn't see them or didn't have the time to watch them again, but also because a lot of movies that you think are good most certainly aren't. So here is my list of my favorite films of the decade, which is a balance of quality and personal bias, because the best of the decade would have been about 50% different, but not nearly as fun. There's probably about fifteen films on this list that I could have swapped out with other things I omitted, but I consider the top thirty or so to be quite accurate. I also must apologize in advance for not being as humorous as usual, I'm much more on my game when I despise something.

Right now, I rank Up in the Air much higher than fifty on this list. However, I saw the film two days ago and until I allow myself some perspective on the thing, I'm going to plop it down at fifty. Up in the Air is the story of George Clooney who flies around the United States and fires people. They get pissed. He flies away. He loves it. What he really loves about his job, is the detachment. Rather than relying on people, he is able to rely on his routine, and his routine brings him joy. The other thing that gives him joy is the woman he repeatedly meets for sexual encounters who is, as she puts it, "[George Clooney] with a vagina." I don't know about you, but that sounds hot. I had a few problems with the set-up, but Up in the Air more than makes up for them with its humor and insight into our relationships with both ourselves and each other.

The vampire in Let the Right One In trumps Twilight by replacing shirtless vamps with pantsless ones, in a film that is undoubtedly one of the greatest films about vampires ever made, without ever really being a vampire movie. It's much more a story about two lonely kids and their devotion to each other; one who gets picked on, and one who brutally murders people. So basically it's My Girl, with a vampire instead of bees.
Patrick Fugit must not listen to Eminem, because when his girlfriend breaks up with him, he doesn't shove her in the trunk of his car; he commits suicide, like an amateur. Little did he know, that when one commits suicide they go to a world even more obnoxious than the one we already live in; a world inhabited entirely by suicide cases. What results is a long distance road trip with an awesome Russian dude and Shannyn Sossamon, which pretty much means suicide totally worked out for Patrick Fugit. It's funny, creative, and Tom Waits shows up; which is always strangely wonderful.
I was going to put The Fall here, in hopes to establish my indie cred, but then I remembered that Big Fish is almost as strange and also a lot better. It's about a son and a father, the latter of which is on his deathbed, and it recounts the tall tale of his life, an elaborate exaggeration filled with supernatural people and occurrences. It's an interesting and exceptional look at a man's life, complete with a giant, a werewolf, and all sorts of the other strange things Tim Burton loves. I do enjoy it when Mr. Burton makes a movie for people other than that girl you knew in high school, who never talked to anyone and wrote short stories about dragons.
Werner Herzog, armed with a camera, follows a weirdo around while he prances about with grizzly bears and foxes steal his hat. The film is both funny and touching, and filled with wonderful speeches by the strange little man who loves bears. Treadwell (the weirdo) was eventually killed by one of the bears he loved so much, which proves that everything you love will eventually destroy you, which is something you should think about before talking to girls.
One of my more random choices, About a Boy is a film I love. Hugh Grant is a lovable bachelor (as always) who is determined to remain "an island." He doesn't want anything to do with anybody for very long and that most certainly applies to women. He dates, but he always feels bad when he breaks up with them. Until he discovers the goldmine: single mothers. They're always worried things will get too serious, so they break up with him. He loves it until a young boy finds out that he's been pretending to have a son in order to pick up single moms. The boy blackmails Hugh into spending time with him and of course it turns cute from there. Sometimes I like cute, fuzzy things.
Probably the best film about middle school kids killing each other ever made, Battle Royale takes place in the near future, in which the Japanese government has instituted a program to keep kids from misbehaving. Every year, the worst class of kids is put on an island, given weapons, and forced to kill each other until only one is left standing. It's sometimes wonderful satire, sometimes horribly cheesy, often and increasingly strange, but always entertaining to watch friendships dissolve over spilt blood. A word of advice: Never watch the sequel.
This would never in a million years make a list of "best" films of any time period. It is uneven, nonsensical, way too long, and idiotic. But then again, it's a Japanese horror musical from Takashi Miike (Gozu, Ichi the Killer, Audition). Featuring suicide, murder, random transitions to claymation, and plenty of singing and dancing (some of which includes zombies), Happiness of the Katakuris is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen and I love it just the same.
One of my favorite straight horror films of the decade (and ever) was The Orphanage, which will undoubtedly be made into sub par Hollywood garbage at some point in the next few years. A woman moves her family to her childhood home where she intends to run a home for handicapped children. Her son soon makes an invisible friend, and vanishes. A while after her son's disappearance, the lady finally accepts the fact that there are ghosts in the house and calls in a specialist to investigate. Frightening, gripping, and much better than any other horror film I saw this decade.
I love me some Wong Kar Wai, so I'll just put In the Mood for Love right here. It follows two neighbors, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, who discover that their spouses are stepping out on them. The two begin spending time together, reproducing the infidelity of their significant others in an attempt to understand it. Like most of Wong Kar Wai films, the highlight here is the cinematography and the moods; but two phenomenal actors doesn't hurt the film either.
I wanted to put Talk to Her on this list because I remember it being phenomenal, but I can't remember it. So instead, I present Volver, which I am certain was excellent. Volver is strange and funny and Penelope Cruz is excellent as a wife and mother who stashes a dead body in the freezer of a restaurant and goes about her business. Penelope Cruz's sister keeps seeing the ghost of her dead mother, whose ghost is often confused by townsfolk as a visiting Russian. Though I grimace every time I use the word "quirky," Volver is certainly that. Most people will you it's a "celebration of womanhood," but don't worry. It's not annoying womanhood like a mom who goes on strike.
We all know that teen suicide is funny, and that's no exception in the twisted comedy/horror film Suicide Club. The opening sequence features thirty or so Japanese schoolgirls jumping in front of a train, so at the very least, it gets your attention. It turns out suicide is becoming a fad in Japan and before you know it, people are dying left and right. But is it simply a cultural phenomenon? Or is it a conspiracy? And what does the teen pop sensation Dessert have to do with it? Even if you watch it you probably won't figure it out, because I doubt you're Japanese and no one understands them but themselves. But at least we can appreciate them for being cute.
Choke may have moved up or off this list had I seen it since its theatrical release, but since I remember liking it immensely I threw it in at 38. It's kind of tasteless and raunchy, so it makes sense that I would like it regardless of its flaws. Based on the Chuck Palahniuk book of the same name, it's the story of a male sex-addict who sleeps with anything that moves, but can't get it up when a girl he actually likes coming along. Seems like a pretty good metaphor to me. As for whether it was pulled off well? All I remember is that it was funny. I probably should have only made a Top 30...
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, but mocking zombies isn't nearly as funny as mocking Keanu Reeves. Hot Fuzz had one of the best scripts of the decade. It managed to poke fun at nearly everything there is to poke fun at in the action/cop genre (which is a lot of poking), and almost every small tidbit of the narrative got brought back and upgraded in the film's conclusive shootout. Shaun of the Dead was witty, but Hot Fuzz was brilliant.
In 2005, March of the Penguins showed up out of nowhere and somehow made it into mainstream theatres, most likely because everyone likes it when Morgan Freeman talks about penguins. Left in the documentary dust was Murderball, which followed the lives of quadriplegic rugby players, who were funny, inspiring, and could totally kick some penguin ass (they just have to put snow tires on their wheel chairs first.) How can you not love a movie when a guy in a wheelchair tells you, "I'd rather be able to grab my meat than a toothbrush?" Documentaries and indies were really the only good thing about 2005.
This was the decade that everyone suddenly decided that they wanted to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Robert Downey Jr. again, and with good reason. Robert Downey Jr. may play the same character in every film, but it's a good role, and this was Downey's comeback film. Robert Downey Jr. and a hilarious Val Kilmer team up to solve a murder. They inevitably get in over their heads and attempt to unravel the mystery before one of them ends up dead. A perfect example of what Sherlock Holmes could have been, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang makes excellent use of its cast and unravels an interesting and unique mystery without CGI shipwrecks and slow-motion explosions.
No matter how many bad things I say about him, Quentin Tarantino is still a fantastic filmmaker. I don't always agree with his choices, I dislike that his films sometimes blatantly flaunt his knowledge of cinema, and it annoys me that his name is larger than the title of the film on my Chungking Express DVD; but he hasn't made a bad film yet. Kill Bill takes my pick for top Tarantino of the decade (by far). Which one? You can choose. I really don't feel I need to write a synopsis of a Tarantino movie, so instead I'll remind you how strange it is when The Bride finally kills David Carradine, because this was the decade we learned how Bill really died.
Groans abound from the cynical male audience (who secretly enjoyed Love Actually). Yes, it's sweet, clichéd, and certainly not as smart as it thinks it is, but as far as romantic comedies and Christmas movies go, it's at the top of its game. The cast is undeniably phenomenal and although the stories can seem a bit uneven, there's more than enough humor and cute couples to keep it fun. And yes, I placed this after Kill Bill as a formative measure of romance and violence.
Woody Allen is still the only person who gets me, and Anything Else is easily my pick for his best of the decade. Jason Biggs plays the dysfunctional neurotic this time around and Woody Allen takes his place as Biggs' mentor, an even more dysfunctional neurotic with a gun obsession and endless advice. Christina Ricci plays Biggs' sexually frustrated girlfriend, Danny Devito is his manager, and though it's not a step forward for Allen, a sideways shuffle in his case still trumps most films in my book. There were certainly fifty films better than Anything Else, but let's not forget whose list this is.
31. SAVED!
The runner-up for teen comedy of the decade is Saved! a creative and hilarious look into a Christian High School. When Jena Malone's boyfriend tells her that he thinks he is gay, she has a vision of Jesus telling her to prove him otherwise, and logically assumes that Jesus wants her to have sex with her boyfriend. She does. He's still gay and gets sent away to gay camp. Only now, Jena Malone finds herself pregnant, doubting God, and being pursued by Pastor Skip's son, Patrick Fugit, who is totally fine and a member of the Christian skateboarding team. A better teen pregnancy film than Juno, without being a teen pregnancy film, Saved's eclectic cast of characters and smart dialogue keep the laughs coming, while maintaining more social commentary than expected.
A coming-of-age, road trip comedy about two Mexican boys who take an older woman on a trip to the beach, Y Tu Mama Tambien has a tendency to be taken a bit too seriously, but is certainly worth taking seriously. It got an NC-17 rating from the MPAA and I'm sure anyone who watched it for the nudity was largely disappointed that most of it was male (shame on you, fifteen-year-old self!), but the sex is mostly comical, as is the rest of the film, with the addition of some interesting food for thought. Oh, and the girl has cancer. It's not a spoiler, because it's as stupid and unnecessary as The Hangover 2.
2008 had two standout frame narratives; the obnoxious and unnecessary hospital scenes in Benjamin Button, and Slumdog Millionaire's use of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," in which the main character, Jamal, answers every question on the show correctly and is then forced to explain the circumstances of his wisdom to a police inspector, who suspects that a "slumdog" like Jamal couldn't have gotten the answers without cheating. The rest of the film, told by Jamal, plays out in the slums of India. But rather than a tale of poverty and third world problems, Slumdog Millionaire is largely a love story. A really good love story, and the only Best Picture Winner on this list.
Noah Baumbach attempted to get Wes Anderson to direct The Squid and the Whale, but Wes Anderson knew he'd end up turning it into recycled cult quirkiness and thankfully turned him down. Instead, the Baumbach-directed film is a subtle, yet harsh autobiographical snapshot of a disintegrating family as the eldest son comes to realize that Jeff Daniels is an asshole. Baumbach has a knack for presenting despicable characters in a way that makes them uncomfortable to watch yet managing to highlight their realism. He may have taken this ability a bit over the top in his uneven follow up, Margot at the Wedding, but The Squid and the Whale is a fine blend of humor, heartbreak, wit and insight; the latter two features being what made his debut, Kicking and Screaming so promising. No, not the one with Will Ferrell.
Richard Roeper called Southland Tales a "confusing, ridiculous, pretentious and disastrous cinematic train wreck." I disagree. Southland Tales is a confusing, ridiculous, and hilarious cinematic train wreck. Discarding the film as trash (like so many have done) merely because it is so off-the-wall discourages creativity. Some people, my college poetry professor for instance, will only accept well-polished, logical work as quality. But I prefer unrefined bursts of brilliance to properly balanced average crap, and Richard Kelly apparently does too. Southland Tales has no real main character, and since the concept of the world the film inhabits is occasionally difficult to grasp, this point exponentially increases the difficulty of following the plot. Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Tooth Fairy), is a football player turned action star suffering from amnesia, Sarah Michelle Gellar is a porn star with a talk show and the hit single, "Teen Horniness is Not a Crime, Justin Timberlake is a drugged-up war veteran with an addiction to the word of God and the habit of breaking into musical this starting to sound like it's supposed to be serious? Southland Tales is a farcical take on post 9/11 America, in which everything is a mess: The characters, the logic, the outfits, the floating ice cream truck... I mean, c'mon, it was obviously intentional! But then again, The Box was really we can't be sure.
Anyway, if you let Southland Tales happen, rather than attempting to watch it, many of you might see what I see. If you get hung up on logic, plot development (or significance), or attempt to take the satire too seriously, you're going to get frustrated. It's essentially a non-linear, abstract Starship Troopers, with more loose ends, a musical number, a vague tie to Revelations, and Wallace Shawn.
American Psycho probably wasn't my twenty-sixth favorite movie of the decade, but it really needed to be on this list. Not only is it one of the few good movies I can convince people to watch instead of a horror film, it's as unique as it is violent. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a routine and status obsessed businessman with a weakness for business cards, pop music, and murder. Obviously, a recipe for success. And although the satire is often weak, and the plot unbalanced (sometimes seemingly irrelevant), American Psycho is the film that gave us the best excuse of all time: "I have to return some videotapes."
The film that finally highlights Colin Farrell's potential is In Bruges, a dark comedy revolving around death. And complaining. After screwing up a job, hit men Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are sent by their employer to Bruges, a wonderful place where dreams come true. Farrell considers it just short of hell (minus the "short of") and seeing the sights and the guilt of his mistake are driving him off his rocker. But then he meets a midget and a cute drug dealer and things start to turn around. In Bruges is full of drugs, violence, jokes about things that boring people don't find funny (death, black people, fat Americans, black midgets, fat black American midgets, etc.), and is a hilarious black comedy with a twist of existential crisis. Farrell plays the lovable screw-up well, and I hope we start to see more of him in things other than S.W.A.T.
24. UP
Now I didn't see WALL-E or Ratatouille, and if you want to argue that they were better than Up be my guest. But I never expected a Pixar film to make me want to weep like a little baby (okay, I wept like a little baby), and for that Up makes the list. Traditionally, Pixar makes kids films with a few jokes aimed at adults. Here, we find an adult (not the dirty kind, the complex kind) narrative dropped (literally) into a kids movie. There are dogs that talk, a fat Asian kid, and a strange bird named Kevin, but nevertheless, the main character is still a seventy year old man pining over lost love. I hope I have that many balloons when I'm seventy. More importantly, I hope I make it to seventy.
Two near opposites, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church go on a week long wine tasting in order to kick back before Thomas Haden Church's wedding. What results is a car wreck, a black eye, sex with married women, and a narrow escape from a fat naked man. Oh, and it's a drama. Sideways is The Hangover for adults; a funny, poignant look into the lives of two men trying to figure out where the hell they're going in life. Paul Giamatti stars as a failed novelist suffering from mild depression and the delusion that a man can actually be cultured. Thomas Haden Church may not be as well-rounded an actor as Giamatti, but his character used to play one on TV, and he is stellar as the soon-to-be-wed goofball looking for one last fling before the big day. Crack open a fresh box of wine (like a real man) and watch this thing.
Steve Martin is kind of an annoying narrator, but anyone who saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona knows he wasn't the worst of the decade; besides, it's forgivable because Steve Martin is not just some random dude. More importantly, Claire Danes, who has always looked good, has never acted this good, does wonders in the role of the titular character who spends the plot balancing between two suitors; the poor and eccentric Jason Schwartzman, and the rich, old sophisticate played by Steve Martin. What makes Shopgirl stand out is its "hands off" approach to the story. Rather than rely on a strict plot, it is more a collection of scenes (exceptionally shot scenes) that stimulate but rarely comment. What I mean is, there is no grandiose message or dénouement. Rather, it's a matter of active viewing; finding the pieces of the film that fit you and consuming them however you like. Also, Claire Danes shaves her legs a lot.
A perfect example of what happens when Sandra Bullock doesn't adopt you, City of God takes place in a Brazilian slum where drugs and gang violence rule. It involves several interlocking stories, the most prominent characters being two of its inhabitants; childhood friends who grow up in opposite directions: one a professional photographer and the other a local drug lord. There's lots of crying and dead black people, which supposedly turned people off of seeing it in theatres. If City of God had Oprah's seal of approval, that may not have happened. Just ask the producers of Precious. This is one film that may have been higher up on this list had I watched it recently. Don't give me that look; I ain't no Clockstopper, dogg. Is it too late to start casually referencing the films from this decade that I want to remember?
As overrated as it is, Donnie Darko still cracks the top 20, because after all, feces are baby mice. Richard Kelly's directorial debut is funny, strange, and maybe even a bit unnerving. Jake Gyllenhaul plays Donnie, a fine young lad with a bad habit of sleep walking and burning down the houses of perverts. There's some time travel involved, and of course some plot holes, but regardless of whether you think Richard Kelly has made a deep, meaningful film (he didn't), or whether you just like it when Seth Rogen says, "I like your boobs," Donnie Darko has great characters, funny dialogue, and is most certainly one of the best black comedies of the decade.
I assume that most people figure the Christopher Nolan films deserving to appear on a Top 50 list are Memento and The Dark Knight. I respectfully disagree. After all, my list is immune to the undeserving hype resulting from dead celebrities, and everyone knows that watching Memento a second time is a terrible experience. But The Prestige lacks the flaws of The Dark Knight and the gimmick-dependence of Memento, and what results is a far superior film. The story of two competing magicians, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman pits the characters against themselves and each other in a battle of identity and success that takes an intriguing supernatural twist and hopes to surprise you in the end. Nolan's other films all have their own merits, but in The Prestige exists a darkness and thematic weight that his other work can hardly touch.
In a decade of lackluster teen comedies, Mean Girls easily rises to claim the genre's crown, thanks to a brilliant script by Tina Fey. The presence of Lindsay Lohan as the lead may have scared away many, but those of us who took the chance found it exceptionally worth the risk. These days, a PG-13 rating tends to translate to "crap," but Mean Girls manages to be clever and endlessly quotable without crossing the MPAA. Its offbeat humor and sarcastic celebration of high school "drama" (The teenage girl's perception of drama is similar to TNT's.), is the best of its kind since Clueless and Heathers, and easily the best of the decade.
The Apatow crew have had a hand in most successful comedies this decade, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is, at least in my mind, vastly superior to a group of films which include hits like Superbad, Knocked Up, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, and Role Models. The difference here is in the use of characters. Rather than rely on one or two stars, Forgetting Sarah Marshall manages to develop all four of the major characters, including the female leads, something that can rarely, if ever, be attributed to any of the group's other endeavors. Russell Brand steals the show, but Jason Segal, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis hold their own in a hilarious celebration of getting over your ex.
The Hong Kong film that inspired The Departed, Infernal Affairs is the dissection of two moles and their attempts to catch each other. Tony Leung and Andy Lau are exceptional as the moles, managing to exude a subtle personal trauma rather than the intense overacting of the American remake. The majority of you have probably seen The Departed, but I doubt as many of you have seen this; immensely superior, in a dramatic sense, when compared to the entertaining but cartoonish Scorcese remake which consists largely of Leonardo Dicaprio yelling, Jack Nicholson acting like a clown, and Mark Wahlburg swearing for comedic effect. I liked The Departed too, but in a much different, superficial sort of way.
15. GOZU
It's been seven years since I watched Mulholland Drive, so I didn't feel right putting it on this list. As an apology, I present Takashi Miike's homage to David Lynch: Gozu. Symbolism, imagery, and general what-the-hell's run rampant in this valiant argument that Miike's skills rank far beyond his usual bouts of ultraviolence. Gozu is dark, twisted, and hilarious, and as its mystery builds towards the shocking finale, one begins wondering how Miike is going to top the lactating hotel proprietor and the cow-headed demon. Don't worry. He does.
Michael Vick's favorite film of the decade is Amores Perros, a film with three loosely intersecting narratives; all of which revolve around dogs. There's plenty of dog fighting, a pooch caught under the stairs, and some assassination too. All three plotlines stem from a car accident that overlaps each narrative. The film is about love and dogs, but John Cusack and Diane Lane have no cameo.
There aren't a lot of female directors around who haven't made a film with Katherine Heigl in it, but Miranda July's indie Me and You and Everyone Know is a fantastic reminder that some women are people too (misogyny is cool because Bogart did it). July introduces us to a unique cast of characters and their quirks, including herself. Somehow a simultaneous celebration and mockery of art, the film explores the balance of artistic interpretation and intent with bouts of brilliance and hilarity; turning a goldfish into a philosophical conundrum and childhood ignorance into illicit innuendo. Oh yeah, it's about love too. The film has its fair share of sexual situations involving teenagers (MPAA, dogg.), but July artfully manages to take Todd Solondz-like content and emphasize innocence rather than the ever-so-easy embrace of perversion. Brilliant, heart-warming, and hilarious--even if you miss the subtext--Everyone We Know is still one of the most amusing indie comedies in a long time, and there isn't a hamburger phone in sight.
The first of two consecutive Kaufman-scripted films on this list is his directorial debut, which most certainly should be pronounced Synecdouche only as a joke. What most likely happened in the case of this film is that Kaufman finally wrote a script that no one could figure out, so he had to direct it himself. Synecdoche is a difficult text to unpack, as Kaufman finally traded in his usual "weirdly brilliant" style , for intense surrealism. The film doesn't always make sense, it contradicts itself, and the plot is more of a lose construct than a backbone; but then again, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Synecdoche is definitely not for the majority of film audiences, but it has enough wit, humor, and profound moments to counter the occasional urge to scream at the screen in anger.
Michel Gondry's most weighted argument that he is an adequate director as long as someone else writes the script (also known as "James Cameron syndrome"), is undoubtedly one of the best films of the decade. It's certainly one of writer Charlie Kaufman's more accessible films; most likely because most everyone wants to have Kate Winslet erased from their memory. Especially if they've seen her pee on herself in Holy Smoke. Elijah Wood is an annoying little hobbit as usual, but Jim Carrey finally showed us that he could do more than make funny faces and flail about. For that, we can all be grateful.

I think it's obvious by now that I award major points for originality, which is why Stranger Than Fiction cracked the Top 10. It's an entry into my "Film Ideas That Can Only Be Used Once, So I Hope They Don't Screw it Up" category (I'm sometimes very literal) and thankfully, Stranger Than Fiction pulled it off. When the English woman anonymously narrating the life of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) mentions his imminent death, he naturally gets quite upset and attempts to avoid it. Naturally, the humor is largely due to the creative situation of Harold's predicament, but the dialogue excels as well. Stranger Than Fiction also manages to be a feel-good movie, all the while avoiding cheap sentiment and Sandra Bullock (You protect that quarterback like he's me, boy.)
In High Fidelity John Cusack reevaluates the lost loves of his life--Top 5 countdown style--through reunions, flashbacks and complete disregard for the fourth wall. The result is one of the most entertaining romantic comedies of the decade. Forced to deal with his fifth choice of a career (owning a record store) and recently dumped by his girlfriend, Rob (Cusack) spends most of his time making Top 5 lists with his music-nerd employees, alienating customers, and making mix tapes. "Her dad died" may be one of the weirdest excuses ever for getting back with an ex, but Tim Robbins has a ponytail. What more could you need?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favorite directors, and A Very Long Engagement may have made this list if I had watched it again since it came out five years ago. It's been almost as long since I've seen Amelie, but I actually remember Amelie, and it is indeed among my favorite films. Amelie is a quiet, charming girl who decides to ambiguously do favors for those around her. She sets up a couple at the shop where she works, pulls pranks on a bully, and sends a lawn gnome on trips around the world. Eventually, Amelie falls in love with a man she's never met, and goes about arranging their meeting. Amelie could easily have been a contrived exercise in sentiment from another director, but Jeunet molds the film into cinematic brilliance, relying heavily on narration that the film likely could not do without. Amelie is charming, funny, and romantic without a hint of cliché, something cinema has been hard-pressed for this decade.

Forever written in history as the moment Adam Sandler proved he could successfully exist in a movie without making a penis joke, Punch-Drunk Love showcases the transformation of a shy, insignificant man into a man driven by the power of love. Now I know that sounds like something James Cameron's audience would despise for being a little gay, but it works. And thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson's direction, it excels. Barry (Sandler), is a quiet man dominated by his seven sisters, who constantly infringe upon his personal space, occasionally driving Barry to bursts of violence. In search of psychological assistance, Barry calls a phone sex line run by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who promptly begins extorting Barry for money. In order to escape, Barry flies to Hawaii to meet Lena (Emily Watson) whom he was set up with previously through the meddling of one of his sisters. Barry and Lena fall for each other, which gives Barry the confidence to overcome his personal problems. Oh, and there's a harmonium. And pudding. Lots of it.
The significance of Punch-Drunk Love is not in its narrative, but in its emotion. Anderson manages to capture the empowering strength of new love on film, and he does so without corrupting or tarnishing it. Punch-Drunk Love is similar to Anderson's most recent work, There Will Be Blood, in that both films emphasize pure moments of emotion and their cinematic capture. The difference being that Punch-Drunk Love is far more captivating.
If Blood Car is on anyone else's list, I salute you for even seeing it. I had reservations about ranking it so high because of its weak acting, low production values, general lack of actual locations, seemingly trivial plot progression, and amateur-independent status, but those factors seem meaningless when weighed against uncontrollable laughter. And on the other hand, its amateur status plays a major part in the film's brilliance. For those of you unfamiliar with Blood Car at all, it is basically the financial equivalent of you and your friends buying a camera and deciding to make a film. And as everyone who has ever tried to make their own film knows, they almost always suck. Blood Car is a fantastic exception, because it's a film that no studio would ever touch.
Blood Car follows the story of Archie Andrews (no, not the red-headed freckled kid), a kindergarten teacher and enthusiastic vegan who, in his spare time, is attempting to make an engine that runs on wheat grass, because it's the future and gas prices have risen to over thirty dollars a gallon. After a particularly frustrating failed attempt to make his wheatgrass engine run, Archie accidentally cuts himself on a piece of broken glass and discovers that his engine does work. Unfortunately, instead of running on wheat grass, it runs on blood.
Archie then drains some of his blood and hops into his car (which apparently already had the blood-fueled engine in it) and drives to his wheatgrass supplier to show off the good news. Lorraine (Anna Chlumsky from My Girl), who sells wheatgrass in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere, is happy to see the car working; but not nearly as happy as Denise, the girl who runs the meat stand across the vacant lot, who is more than willing to exchange sexual favors for a ride in a car.
What results is large amounts of ridiculous sexual innuendo, the killing of human beings as fuel, more sexual innuendo, ludicrous government interference, and Archie's inevitable mental collapse. Not to mention, killer tarantulas for sale in vending machines. The most fun part about Blood Car is that as soon as you think they've crossed the line of distaste, the film takes another step. And it keeps walking. And as bad as the acting is, the comic timing is right on, so all is forgiven in my book.
Blood Car certainly isn't for everyone and it certainly wouldn't make my list of the decade's best films, but if you can appreciate low-budget camp and colorful jokes that would never fly in Hollywood, Blood Car is probably the best $15,000 film you'll find.
Rather than rub up on Eternal Sunshine like everyone else, I choose to focus on what I feel is Kaufman's strangest work of the decade, Adaptation. I say, "of the decade," because "of all time" is too close to call with Being John Malkovich still frolicking around out there. Not only did Kaufman write himself into the script, he wrote in a fictitious twin brother, Donald, who was later nominated for an Academy Award alongside Charlie. But Adaptation does not simply ride on Kaufman's potential lunacy, it is a well-crafted film outright. What starts as a straight adaptation of an actual novel, evolves into a fictional caricature of both the book and its characters. Writer's block is no longer an acceptable excuse, as Kaufman shows us it can simply become the story. The beauty of Adaptation comes in the spastic narrative progression, which ends up doing more adapting than Kaufman himself. The diagetic, unconfident Kaufman is hired to adapt The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, and gets humorously stuck in his attempts to do so. Kaufman's wild twin brother, Donald, is writing a psychological thriller (which Charlie dismisses as trivial) and asks Charlie, whom Donald considers brilliant, for help. Eventually, it is Donald who begins to help Charlie write his adaptation (which is, of course, the film itself) and Adaptation begins to take on elements of Donald's writing style. I really hope we've all seen Adaptation so this description doesn't make me sound like a nut. Wait, nuts? Nuts remind me of muffins...I could use a muffin right now.
The second film in Park Chan-wook's revenge trilogy is undoubtedly the stand-out. Oldboy represents a major shift in tone from its predecessor, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and the trilogy's third installment, Lady Vengeance; two films which make more sense together than the film in between them. But nonetheless, Oldboy is most certainly a revenge film in which a once drunk and disorderly Oh Dae Su is released from a mysterious prison (after fifteen years) fully prepared to exact revenge on the man who put him there. That is, as soon as he figures out who that man is. Oldboy at once combines elements of noir, romance, action and black comedy; seamlessly moving between themes and moods and rarely tripping up. Oh, and there's a five minute single take of Oh Dae Su fighting off dozens of men, using only a hammer. Some discard the film for being overly violent or "gross," but those are the same people who say Harry Potter works for Satan. The simple solution to all their nonsense is to have them watch Visitor Q so that they are never disgusted by anything else ever again.
One of the greatest musicals of all time, Once hardly feels like one. Far from the extravagance and excesses of the genre, the film is a simple tale of love and maturation set to songs that come from the characters diagetic talents, rather than spontaneous bursting-into-song. Glen Hansard plays Guy, a street musician struggling with a broken heart who meets Girl, played by Marketa Irglova, and offers to fix her vacuum. The characters share a love for music and begin a collaboration which ends with the recording of an album. The film rides on the music, which is phenomenal (The Once Soundtrack would easily appear on a Top 50 albums list if I made one), but the narrative moving scenes are often just as beautiful in their simplicity. As much a film about pouring yourself into art as it is the art itself, Once's depiction of life through music is one that goes unmatched.
While I probably shouldn't have included Infernal Affairs and Infernal Affairs 2 on a list of only fifty films, lumping the Infernal Affairs films together would be like lumping the Godfather and The Godfather Part 2 together as one movie, and I don't think I could live with that responsibility. Unlike The Godfather Trilogy, the second Infernal Affairs film is superior to the first. That's right, I said it. I'm sure plenty of people disagree on both counts. You probably didn't like The Godfather Part 3 either. Fools... Taken on their own merits, Infernal Affairs is the superior film. Yet given the context of the first film, Infernal Affairs 2 takes the trilogy's morality tale to the next level. While the moles of the first film take part in the narrative of this prequel, it instead focuses on Inspector Wong and future triad leader, Sam. The Godfather influence is apparent throughout, but that doesn't make the film any less effective, and the unique narrative and setting of Hong Kong's 1997 handover to China adds a resonance to an already beautiful film.
Closer is certainly not a work that evokes the escapist quality of popular cinema. And understandably, it is not a film that garnered mass approval from its audience. But Closer's appeal rests in its resistance to the popular conventions of relationship dramas, having the guts to showcase the despicable traits of humanity, and practically leaving out the positive. The characters of Closer are flawed; they make poor choices, they're self-centered, and they purposely and inadvertently destroy their relationships because of these faults. The characters aren't likeable, but they are most certainly relatable and therein lies the appeal. If you don't see a bit of yourself in any of them, then watch the film again after you've destroyed your first relationship and it will all make sense. Closer is voyeurism at its most honest. It follows the lives of four characters, over the course of a few years, all of whom are intensely unique, yet entirely similar in that they are too selfish to maintain a relationship. Through the raw, uninhibited dialogue of Patrick Marber and the excellent transfer from play to film by director Mike Nichols, Closer showcases the heartbreak and self-destruction of humanity with the honesty and raw emotion of no other film to date.


  1. Ok, very well done. I might point to Punch Drunk Love, Volver, Slumdog, Kill Bill, Closer, Amelie, Hot Fuzz, The Squid & the Whale, In Bruges, Grizzly Man, Eternal Sunshine, Adaptation and In the Mood for Love as particularly awesome choices, but overall it's a damn fine representation of the last ten years.

    Synecdoche, New York I kinda hated. Ditto with City of God, but that's just me. In the case of City of God, I really think it's just me.

    And right on with the Tarantino comment. I don't want his name and face mucking up my Chungking Express box.

  2. I realized Synecdoche was too high after I posted it, but it's still splendid. It definitely requires multiple viewings and a bucket of patience.

    I may have primarily posted City of God because I wanted to make a Sandra Bullock joke, but you're definitely the only person who doesn't like that movie.