Monday, April 06, 2009

10 films for the Aughts

Two of the film writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle and Peter Hartlaub, have published dueling "10 best films of the decade" lists.

To my way of thinking, it's a mite early for this. After all, the decade isn't over yet.

Then again, people get all squishy over lists, don't they? So, anytime is list time.

I use the word "dueling" above, not because Hartlaub and LaSalle hate each other (they may, but I don't think so — it's more an Ebert-Siskel rivalry), but because their lists have nothing in common. That's right: Two major film critics compiled lists of the best 10 films from the past decade, and not a single film appears on both lists.

(For your reference, here's Mick LaSalle's list, and then Peter Hartlaub's list.)

As a former professional film critic myself, I couldn't resist taking up this challenge, premature though it may be. I always preface these things with the caveat that "best" is a subjective and ultimately ridiculous concept when applied to the creative arts. So, let's call this...

My 10 Favorite Films from the "200x" Decade

1. Sideways

Funny, vulgar, touching, winsome, outrageous... I could keep stacking the adjectives, but none of them can completely express my affection for this film. Paul Giamatti's Miles is the person I would probably be if I drank. (Which is yet another good reason why I don't.) Virginia Madsen's soliloquy about the deeper meaning of wine may be the sexiest sequence in any film this decade — and she delivers it while vertical and fully dressed.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Peter Jackson's three-part cinematic thunderbolt may never be equaled, in terms of its sheer size, scope, and groundbreaking spectacle. As a longtime fan of Tolkien's magnum opus, I don't see how The Lord of the Rings could have been delivered to the screen any better or more faithfully — in spirit, if not in minute detail. (See: Bakshi, Ralph.) Perfect? Perhaps not. Seven levels of awesome? Heck, yeah.

3. Children of Men

No film I've seen in the past ten years moved me as powerfully as this darkly haunting slice of science fiction by Alfonso Cuarón. Children of Men strikes some of the same notes as Minority Report (another film I liked very much; surprising, since I'm not a fan of either director Steven Spielberg or star Tom Cruise), but it strikes them with more genuine emotion, and less hyperslick flash.

4. Memento

The first truly great film of the decade, Memento is noteworthy both as a dazzling achievement in cinematic storytelling (often imitated, but never approached) and as the revelation of one of the period's signature filmmakers: Christopher Nolan, who went on to direct Insomnia (an underrated flick, spoiled only by too hefty a dose of Robin Williams), Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight.

5. Spirited Away

Not only the best animated feature of the decade, but one of the finest animated films of all time. Hayao Miyazaki is sometimes referred to as "the Walt Disney of Japan," but this astounding, heart-wrenching film demonstrates just how inadequate that label is. It's not as much fun as many of Miyazaki's other pictures (it's hard to top Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, or the masterful Princess Mononoke in that department), but not every animated film has to be fun.

6. Best in Show

The funniest comedy of the decade, hands down. Will Christopher Guest ever make another movie this good?

7. Lost in Translation

I fully expected to hate this movie. I detested Sofia Coppola's pathetic attempts at acting, and her previous directing turn (The Virgin Suicides) left me cold. Plus, Bill Murray wore out his welcome with me way back around Ghostbusters. But its existential charm won me over.

8. Pan's Labyrinth

Like Jackson's LOTR, Guillermo del Toro's film sets a new high-water mark for technical achievement. More than that, however, it's an engaging and compelling journey into a world unlike any other. Many filmmakers are content to simply repeat the tried and true. Instead, del Toro chose to reinvent the fantasy film. Pan's Labyrinth defines the word "unforgettable."

9. Inside Man

I had a choice between two Spike Lee films here, Inside Man and 25th Hour. When in doubt, choose the movie with Denzel Washington in it. Especially if Jodie Foster and Clive Owen are in it, too.

10. Ocean's Eleven

Okay, okay. I'm allowed one low-brow selection. The true testament to Ocean's Eleven's greatness is that I've watched it more frequently than any other movie on this list, with the possible exception of Best in Show. I wish Steven Soderbergh hadn't followed it with two lackluster sequels (the middle film in the trilogy flat-out reeks), but that doesn't make the first one any less cool. Vegas, baby.

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8 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

That's an interesting list. I think you've inspired me to figure out my favorite 10 films from the last nine years. I think it would differ quite a bit from yours, LOTR notwithstanding. Oh, and I don't like Guillermo Del Toro, either. He ruined Hellboy 2 for me.

I think I've figured out why our opinions are so different - you're drawn in by art above other things. I know a lot of comic book fans who will buy a book for the art. I would never do that, no matter who the artist is. I would, however, buy it for the author. That's how I look at movies, too.

3:34 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Avitable: Strange that you would come to that conclusion. As a writer, I almost always look at things from a writer's perspective.

In the world of comics, I never buy a book because of the artist. Rarely do I buy one for the writer. (Gail Simone's Secret Six being a notable recent exception.) Almost invariably, I choose my comics for the characters.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

How strange! A lot of your movie choices seem to be ones that all of my artist friends like because of the visual nature of the films (like Spirited Away, as one example).

I buy a few things just for the character, but usually it's only the author. And even if my favorite character in the world was being written by someone like Claremont, I wouldn't buy it.

8:39 AM  
Blogger MetropolisQuartet offered these pearls of wisdom...

See, I think his list shows an encompassing enjoyment of the entire audiovisual experience as a whole. Immersable experiences are few and far between and these are really good choices on that bent.

That said, I truly tend more toward the farcical, rather than the adventurous or dramatic.

I've put my own list together and while it's not a perfect list, necessarily, it suits my own tastes quite well. And, again, two guys of the same age with very similar circumstances & tastes and nary a repeat on the two lists. Here's mine, sans commentary:

Collateral, The Incredibles, The Queen, Fantasia 2000, Almost Famous, Amélie, Gosford Park, High Fidelity, Two Weeks Notice, Elf and Ray.

Maybe we just have too many good films out there in the past 9-10 years to agree on the 10 best? Hasn't seemed so, but maybe.

9:38 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Metropolis: I believe you're right on a couple of important counts, Brian.

I tend to judge a film in terms of the degree to which it involves me. For me, that's critical, because I have an extremely brief and brittle attention span. If something loses my interest, it's hard for me to get back into it. So, the movies I like tend to be immersive experiences, regardless of the specific genre.

I also agree that this has been a remarkable decade for good movies. Not great artistic movies, necessarily, but certainly well-made, entertaining ones. It's surprising, because as you say, it hasn't seemed like that kind of decade, given some of the films that have been most popular. But there have been some wonderful little gems.

Several of the films on your Top 10 might have made the second half of my Top 20, including The Incredibles (which narrowly missed my Top 10), Amélie, Ray, and Gosford Park.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

Heh. I'd put The Incredibles on my list of the worst movies I've ever seen. For some reason, I cannot stand anything that Brad Bird does.

11:35 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Avitable: We just can't reconcile our tastes in films, can we?

I tend to enjoy both Bird (The Iron Giant might make my "10 Films from the '90s" list) and Del Toro (I liked Mimic, Blade 2, and the first Hellboy -- I haven't yet seen Hellboy 2).

You're still my bud, though. :D

11:55 AM  
Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

I love the first Hellboy, but I think it was only because the studio reined Del Toro in. The second one was pretty to look at, but had a horrible plot, predictable story, and very poor characterization. If Del Toro, Peter Jackson and Brad Bird never directed again, I'd be a happy man!

Our movie tastes may never coincide, but it's the love of movies in general that's the most important.

12:00 PM  

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