Thursday, June 17, 2010

Top 25 Movies of 2000s: 21 300

Warning: If you are a guy, do not ask your wife/girlfriend is she thinks you are in as good of shape of the Spartans after you watch the movie 300. She will lie to you and tell you yes. Or she will tell you No and encourage you to join a gym.

Yes, the movie is a simple. Yes, the acting is not great. Yes, it is “based” on historical fact. Yes, those historical facts are not accurately depicted. Yes, there are times when the movie is a commercial for 24 Hour Fitness. Yes, the movie has slow parts. Yes, every actor has done better work. Yes, it is based on a comic book. Excuse me “Graphic Novel.” Calling a comic book a graphic novel is like calling porn Erotica. It is the same thing, but costs five times as much and you can keep it on our coffee table without people thinking you are a freak.

It is also the best pure action movie of the past decade. It has amazing fight/action scenes. The bad guys are evil. You cheer for the good guys. You want them to win. You despise the characters who betray the brave 300. You get caught up in the movie.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Top 25 Movies of 2000s: 22 Love Actually

Love, Love, Love
Love, Love, Love
Love is all you need.

My favorite Beatles song made it into this very simple Romantic Comedy. That gives this movie a little bit of a bump, but the movie has more than a good cover of a great song.

Since it is a romantic comedy the producers were required by law to cast Hugh Grant. Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman, Mariano Rivera and John Grisham all only do one thing well, romantic comedies, a great man with a fatal flaw, a perfect slider and a simple lawyer story, but they do them exceptionally well. Hugh Grant does his usual Hugh Grant thing and does it very well. This time he is doing the Hugh Grant thing as Prime Minister of Great Brittan. Hey, if you can believe a multiple men can fall head over heels in love with Sara Jessica Parker you can suspend disbelief enough to think of Hugh Grant as Prime Minister.

Love Actually is a combination of eight (yes eight!) love stories all slightly connected either through friendships or random chance. This is an example of how the sum is great than the parts. Each of the stories is unique and even at their most bizarre (one British man goes to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to meet women because over there he will be exotic) to their most ominously foreshadowing (Liam Neeson plays a widower, six years before his wife’s tragic death, who is trying to raise his son on his own and give romantic advice to a 10 year old). While all of these stories revolve around love/romance they have at their true center courage. These are stories of a Prime Minister who stands up to a bullying US President (played perfectly by Billy Bob Thornton who is channeling Bill Clinton) and starts a relationship, a cheated on wife who has the courage to make her marriage work, a man who has the courage to fly to America to seduce women (ok, maybe that one is more lust and desperation), a husband whose marriage is ended by his wife’s infidelity with his brother who has the courage to learn Portuguese to seduce the woman he has fallen in love with, a washed up rock star who has the courage to be a real human being and a decadent rock start at the same time, and a man who has the courage to walk away from the woman he loves because she is married to his best friend.

This movie also benefits from having an amazing cast.
Alan Rickman (2nd best performance barely edging out Galaxy Quest and behind Die Hard)
Bill Nighy (great washed up ROCK STAR)
Colin Firth (women like him)
Emma Thompson (getting better at comedies)
Hugh Grant (always good/never great)
Laura Linney (Massively underrated, deserves more good roles and an Oscar)
Keira Knightly (a role that is right in her wheelhouse)
Rowan Atkinson (has a two minute appearance that is the perfect amount of time for him)
Billy Bob Thornton (has he ever been bad?)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (you may not know him now, but he has been in a ton of great movies, Inside Man, Red Belt (trust me), American Gangster, Children of Men. Watch three of his movies and judge for yourself. It is possible that he could turn out to be the best actor on this list.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Top 25 Movies of 2000s: 23: Traffic

This decade Michael Douglas is known more for being Catherine Zeta-Jones husband than for being a good actor who has made some great films. Wall Street, Romancing the Stone, The China Syndrome, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct,the criminally neglected Wonder Boys and Traffic are all great films. These roles are all very different. At the time these movies were made is there anyone else who could have played a Evil Wall Street robber baron, a soldier of fortune, a camera man, a police detective with a kinky side, an unfaithful husband, a stoned out college professor/writer and the United States Drug Czar? Maybe Harrison Ford in Romancing the Stone, but that is it. No two characters are the same. No two characters have the same motivation and when watching none of these movies do you feel you are just watching Michael Douglas.
Traffic is great for a lot of reasons. One, it showed that Stephen Soderberg could make a commercially successful film, that addressed serious topics in a realistic way. The acting is phenomenal. Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid (very good here), Don Cheedle (someone please give him another great script and let him get the Oscar he deserves), Topher Grace (showed he could act with some heavy weights) and the Oscar winner Benecio Del Toro are all great.
This movie could very easily become a movie of the week saying drugs are bad and they hurt families. It did not. It makes you ask questions about what is actually going on with our families. Also, what is the price we pay for our ambition? Would Michael Douglas’s daughter gotten on drugs if he had put more time at home and less time advancing his carrer? Did Cather Zeta-Jones always suspect that her husband was a drug dealer and only got upset when the perfect life she had for herself was upended? How was success change Benecio Del Toro?
Soderberg weaves three essential stories together. The story of a Drug Czar who is struggling to help his daughter kick drugs. The story of a Drug Dealer’s wife who copes with her husbands arrest and her ethical changes and she evolves from naïve wife to cruel drug dealer. The story of the one honest Mexican cop who despretly wants peace in his time and to watch a simple game of baseball.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Top 25 Movies of 2000s: 24: No Country for Old Men

Being bad is more fun than being good. If this was not the case no one would have heard of Hugh Hefner. No Country for Old Men is a perfect example of this. The movie has two good performances (Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin), one very underrated and darkly funny performance (Woody Harelson) and one skin crawling, vicious, scare the crap out of Hannibal Lector Performance, in what could be the best performance of the decade (Javier Bardem).
This is a great movie. The Cohen Brothers, in the first of their two entries on this list, prove once again that they cannot be placed in one type of movie. They make brilliant comedies (Raising Arizona, Burn after Reading) and incredible dramas (The Man who wasn’t there and Miller’s Crossing) and movies that cannot be truly categorized (Big Labowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Their only consistency is brilliance. They take chances with the work they do. They focus on making good work that they find interesting and seem to follow the belief that people will seek out good films.
Their work brings up the classic Chicken and the Egg argument about filmmakers. Do filmmakers need to find an audience with commercial films and then make the films they want to make that are much more creative and better? See David Fincher’s arc of Alien 3 to Fight Club to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Or should filmmakers make their own passion projects gain credibility and then make commercial films to secure financing for more adventures films. See Steven Soderbergh’s arc Sex, Lies and Videotapes to Ocean’s 12 to The Girlfriend Experience.
I personally like this film because it introduced me to the writing of Cormac McCarthy. He is a brilliant writer whose work has been turned into other works including All the Pretty Horses and The Road (my favorite book I read in 2009).
However, this movie rises and falls based on the brilliant and evil performance of Javier Bardem. His character of Anton Chigurh is introduced to the audience by having him strangle a man to death with his own handcuffs. Then he gets mean. The character is purely evil. He enjoys exerting his power over other people. He enjoys watching their fear before they die. I cannot adequately describe his work on this page.
Go watch this movie as part of a Cohen Brothers Double feature along with their classic Raising Arizona. Both films have the parallel structure of a Husband and Wife being pursued by an evil character because they took something that does not belong to them. These parallel by polar opposite films show the Cohen’s genus and take the audience on an amazing journey.

Top 25 Movies of 2000s: 25: Motorcycle Diaries

Motorcycle Diaries is the Che Guevara Bio-Pic based on the Che Guevara’s personal diaries of the trip he took from his home in Argentina until throughout South America. Originally, the trip was planned to only take a few months. He would return and finish his final semester of Medical School and become a simple Argentina Doctor. Instead, his journey took him to Mexico where he befriended Fidel Castro. It is there that he joined the movement to invade and over throw the Cuban government.
Motorcycle Diaries mentions almost none of his political beliefs. Instead, it shows the events of his life and the viewer is free to interpret how these events dramatically influenced his life. In its simplest terms, Motorcycle Diaries is a coming of age story. On its most complex, it forces you to evaluate your own life. Here is someone who took a massive change in his life. He gave up a very safe, easy and prosperous life in order to do what he really felt was important. After traveling throughout South America he saw extreme poverty, disease, the influence of greedy corporations and the disparity between rich and poor.
The question that I came away with from the movie is how much does age play in life decisions. He stared on his trip in his 20s. Would he have given up what he gave up in life if he had been in his 30s or 40s? It also asks the question; do our values change as we age or are our psychological need for stability (emotional, psychological, societal and financial) overrides our sense of societal outrage?
The other element I find interesting is his meeting Fidel Castro. Obviously, he had communist beliefs and a sense of revolution prior to meeting Fidel, but if they had never met what would his world and to a large extent our global political system be like today?
What makes this movie great is the fact that it takes a simple story, two guys in their 20s on a motorcycle trip, and presents so many questions to the viewer. Like the movie itself, Motorcycle Diaries is not great exclusively for the journey we see, but the thoughts, beliefs and questions we have afterwards.

Top 25 Movies of 2000-2009: Introduction

Yes, I am unoriginal. I am compiling a list of the 25 best movies of the 2000-2009. I know every hack writer and unoriginal pod caster is doing this, but I think this is a great way to reevaluate what are some overlooked movies and remember what makes movies great. Movies made my list based on several things.
1. Were they great movies? When I left the theater or finished watching them did I think they were just great movies?
2. Did I have emotional event? Did watching this movie have an emotional impact on me or did the movie just glaze me over like I was a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
3. Did the movie take a chance? Did the writer/director/actor take a chance when making the movie or did they stick to a generic movie formula.
4. Was there a purely amazing element of the movie?
5. Did the movie have a scene that if they flashed 5 seconds of it on a TV screen would you know it instantly? Meg Ryan saying Yes! Janet Leigh screaming in the shower. Charleton Heston seeing the Statue of Liberty.
6. Did the movie have a great script or at least a very memorable monologue/line? “I’m out of order! You’re out of order!” “You can’t handle the Truth!””Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
7. Did the movie make you think?
8. Did the movie being made have a lasting impact on other movies going forward? All romantic comedies have elements of Annie Hall. All gangster movies have elements of the Godfather. Except for the movie Mobsters. That movie sucked!
9. Great soundtracks pushed some movies into the list.
10. Movies also lost points for being overrated, having a noticeably very bad acting aka the Sophia Copola exception, being too cliché and for being a life support system for special effects.
Here are some movies that did not make the list:
1. Avatar – amazing special effects, solid acting and technology that could redefine the future of movie making. The toughest cut. The story was too simple.
2. Rocky Balboa – yes, all the rocky movies are clichés. But like being proposed to at the Eifel Tower, some clichés are still pretty good.
3. Gangs of New York – not a truly great scene.
4. One Hour Photo – very touch omission. Robin Williams took a chance on a very evil character. Gary Cole did an amazing book end performance as a manager. This would be an amazing movie to watch after Office Space.
5. There Might be Blood – an amazing performance by Daniel Day Lewis. His exemption hurts. He did some of the best acting of the decade and his two best performances did not make my list.
6. Gladiator – very good, but it never connected with me the way it did for other people.
The goal is to have three movies from my list be posted each week. Let me know what you think. Some of my choices will not be popular and I hold the right to have a tie with some of my numbers.
The current lists has three foreign language films, two documentaries, six comedies, no cartoons, two based on comics, one mini-series (it is from HBO Films so there is sort of an asterisk), the star of my number one movie of 2000 is also the start of my number 2 movie of the 1990s. It is not Russell Crow, Tim Robbins, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, or Jack Nicholson. Only one director appears on the list twice.