Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Top 10 Films of the Decade

Now that the decade is over and I have some time to reflect, I want to go back and honor the things that really stood out over the past 10 influential years of my life. I love music. I love it to death. But truth be told, my true passion is storytelling. I have dabbled in one way, shape or form in many different methods of storytelling. From written word, to music, to videogames, there are many ways a story can be conveyed. However, my favorite, and arguably the most easily accessible of all formats is the motion picture. I have a deep rooted passion for cinema, so I can thinkk of no better place to start reflecting. Here are my top 10 fave films of the 2000's... ok... technically 12.

10. Kill Bill vol. 1 & 2 / Clerks 2

After seeing Kill Bill vol. 1, I was like "wow". The film did something that I had not seen to that point... at least not to that extent. It was absolutely saturated in style. Tarentino really invites you into his head with this one. Reality and reasoning have no place here. It's all about the scene. The moment he is trying to create. He accomplished this so well that, for a time, the Kill Bill movies were my absolute fave. I wasn't as thrilled with vol. 2 as vol. 1, likely due to the slower pacing. But I see the movies as one film, and vol. 2 still oozed with that charismatic style that really made it one of a kind, even when compared to other Tarentino films.

I initially forgot about Clerks 2 when compiling this list. I dunno how I could, coz I was legitimately touched after walking out of the theater. I mean, it really is a coming of middle age for 2 friends who just don't wanna grow up... something I can relate to as I know as every day passes, this is something I will have to face. I don't know how to be old, and neither do they. But they find a way to hold onto themselves during the transition. Kevin Smith really showed something that few writer / directors do: true love for their characters. Every moment of this film shines with this and it makes the sequel feel not only right, but almost necessary. And if the closing to Soul Asylum's Misery doesn't hit the ball outta the park, I dunno what will. Or maybe I'm reading too much into a movie that has a convo about going ass to mouth.

9. Oldboy

This film is not on here for one reason. I have to keep reminding myself that. However, years after I've seen the film, I still can't get over it.

That fight scene was one of the best choreographed fights I've ever seen!

You will believe that this man really did take on 20 guys at once and win! How? You see every hit connect. You hear flesh pounding flesh (as opposed to the Hollywood style *POW* that accompanies punches). You feel the pain of every single strike because they are sold so well by the actors. Follow through, connection, reaction. Unlike most action scenes now a days that take The Matrix route with highly glorified acrobatics and style, this is a low down, dirty, orgy style street fight. But the ballsiest move of them all, the real reason why its believable, and the real selling point for me as it is something I have wanted to do in film for years: Two minutes, Thirty eight seconds... no cut. The fight scene is ALL one take, one shot. No edits. That. Is. Fucking. Skill.

The rest of the movie is fantastic too, though the M. Night Shyamalan twist I saw coming from 15 minutes into the film. Though its not really about that. Its the journey to that point. And just like the fight scene, its dark, gritty, and dirty, but so well done you are left in awe.

8. Gran Torino

I hate The Academy. In probably the biggest Oscar snub in history (and the second that I just can't forgive them for, the first being Saving Private Ryan losing Best Picture to Shakespeare In Love), this film received not a single nomination. Not one. Just watch this film and you will see why this is absolutely unforgivable. Most people don't associate Clint Eastwood as a dialogue director like Tarentino, Smith, or Scorsese. However, the dialogue in this film is so well written, that you would swear the screenplay was by Carroll O'Conner. Eastwood takes this man, who you really should hate, and makes him a hero, with some of the best dialogue I've ever head. The film is so filled with heart and emotion that you can really tell that Eastwood put his whole career (over 5 decades) into this brilliant work of cinema.

7. Team America: World Police

I only saw this movie once. In the movie theater soon after it came out on what I was hoping was a date. Unfortunately it wasn't, but that's not what stayed with me. What did was that I had never laughed so persistently with a movie up to that point, or since. It's coz this is when I really saw Trey Parker and Matt Stone combine the absurd potty humor that made them famous, with wit and satire about current events that is unparalleled. They are so smart, and relentless in their writing. I was really afraid that the film would be the tired-out unfocused bashing of the right. But instead, they tore EVERYONE a new asshole. The jokes where just so clever and relevant, especially the finale with the Dicks, Pussies, and Assholes speech, that I couldn't help but feel justified that they were taking everyone down. Oh, and the film has one of the best theme songs ever:

6. No Country For Old Men

Key word here: tension. This movie knows how to create it, and GODDAMN does it do it well. Its an absolute nail biter from start to finish. It also takes some bold and daring risks with its direction. First is that there is almost no soundtrack. Some of you may think this would make the film dull. You are oh so wrong. With no sound track, you hear all of the twitches, scratches, and heavy breathing, and it makes your heart race. Second, You never see any of the main characters on camera at once. This really creates the sense of the chase that this film is about. No real deep story here, or deep philosophical meanings, just great characters and suspense beyond belief!

5. Battle Royale

Probably more so than any other film in this list, I have problems with this film. Its hammy, poorly acted, had a part in popularizing CG gore (something I fucking DESPISE), some scenes leave you scratching your head asking "What the fuck...?" and its cheesy. So why put it on the list at all? Because it really made me think. The sheer situation of the film made me think long and hard about what I would do to survive. What strategies would I come up with? What alliances would I form? Who can I really trust? How far am I willing to take my will to live? Could I live with myself if I survived? Could I even survive? These and a hundred other questions still plague me to this day. Only one other film has haunted me more in my dreams, Alien, which as recently as last week gave me a night terror, and ranks as one of my favorite films ever. And despite the film's flaws, its still really enjoyable to watch, unlike its disjointed, sloppy, over acted, anti-American, cash-in sequel.

4. Memento

Easily the most original approach to story-telling in a LONG time. Yeah, I know that Seinfeld episode did something similar, but not on the scale of this! You two seemingly separate story-lines going on. A storyline told in black and white, which fleshes out the history of a man who has no short term memory, and a story told in color about why that man seemingly killed a man in cold blood. And here's the twist, the color story is told backwards. This story telling method proves to be genius as one of the greatest mystery movies ever made unfolds before your eyes. The film concludes in what is actually the middle of the story line, and has one of the best twist endings ever. It may not be as shocking as The 6th Sense, but it is one of the most ironic. This is also one of those rare films that you'll discover new parts of the story through each watch through. It feels rewarding picking up on these new tidbits, and makes it a movie you will want to force your friends to watch!

3. Wall-E / Up

Some of you may remember the Late winter and spring of 2008 and I was going on almost non-stop about how Wall-E was gonna be amazing. Pixar, throughout the years, have proved themselves to be pretty much the only flawless movie studio out there. Everything they do is pure gold. Every film they put out can be enjoyed by people from the age of 5 to 105. And this had me thinking that Wall-E, from all that I heard about its production, story, and themes, would be their best film yet. And it was. The film was so cute, adorable, and touching that you would have to be Ty Cobb to not feel something after watching this. It also had a daring first act that likely threw many people for a loop where there was a dark and foreboding atmosphere with almost not a single word spoken for the first 20 minutes. But it an excellent job setting up the story, and getting intimately acquainted with the lovable character of Wall-E. The film literally moved me to tears. I thought Pixar could do no better.

The one year later I witnessed the first fifteen minutes of Up.

I bawled. Up contained what is easily the most emotional musical montage I have ever seen. Even typing this thing now I'm fighting tears back a bit remembering how beautifully moving this sequence was. What followed was a gripping tale that, once again, left me thinking about doing things. Things I always meant to do, and most of all, not getting stuck in the past (something that speaks to me on a personal level). Its an adventure film like no other.

About a year later, I still don't know which I ultimately like better, and with the impending release of Toy Story 3, who's mere trailer got a little stiffness in the throat going, they debate may become a triple threat match for my favorite animated film ever.

2. The Departed

You ever get the feeling that someone, who has worked for decades and decades honing his craft, gaining praise work after work for his talents, only to have it all be mere preparation for the one work, that one crowning achievement that he was destined to do? This is exactly how I feel with Martin Scorsese and The Departed. Yes it is a remake, but like Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt, he made the someone-else's creation his own. This is an absolute example of a master film make at top form. Details are so precise, actors truly become the characters, ever moment is unforgettable, dialogue goes beyond natural, and the roller coaster ride never stops. A great deal of attention was also put into immersing you in Boston. Everything from locations to accents to references to terminology makes it feel almost as if the city itself is a main character. The multi-leveled plot is executed nearly flawlessly... I have to stop myself. I could go on for another 4 paragraphs about how incredible this film was, but as good as it was, there is one film that was just, hands down, better.

1. The Dark Knight

"Some men just want to watch the world burn". No film has ever gotten this across as well as The Dark Knight. This film finally did justice not only to the Caped Crusader, but also who is, in my view, the greatest villain of all time. How Christopher Nolan (the director of Memento and the only director with 2 films on this list) did this was not only by making the Joker bad, but by doing what few writer/directors do. He makes him smart. Sometimes, making him smarter than even Batman. This created not only a test of wits, but a test of morale for Batman. How can he beat someone who can't be broken? It really felt like Batman was, indeed, challenged by The Joker. And it genuinely felt like a challenge that consumed him. The story just has so many layers and subplots that it should have failed. So many comic book movies have tried this before, most infamously X-Men The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3, and have failed miserably. The multi-villain format is almost always a recipe for disaster. However, not only does Nolan do it, he interweaves it into this grand plot of romance, self-discovery, tyranny, mass hysteria, and the good of mankind. The themes explored are perfectly brought to light, the awkward moments from the first film are completely gone, and the gravity of the absolute hell Batman is put through is fully felt. It also has what is probably the most chilling exchange I have ever heard in a movie. In a scene where Alfred is giving Bruce some light on the motives of the Joker, he tells Bruce a story from his military days that related to Bruce's current situation about a madman living in a forest. When Bruce asks him if he stopped the mad man, Alfred replies yes. Bruce asks "How?". Alfred's reply "We burned the forest down" Now THAT is heavy.

This was, beyond a doubt, the must see film of the decade and, given that it was also the highest grossing film of the decade (Avatar only made $200 million by the end of 2009), I hope it sets precedent for how a true blockbuster should be made... if Avatar didn't completely destroy it with its style over substance attitude.