Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top 25 Favorite Films of the Decade: 2000-2009 - Part 5, 5-1

This past decade has been awesome for movies with tons of really good big adventure films like Spider-Man, Batman, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. It also featured great genre films, highlighted by the emergence of wonderful new auteur directors and fantastic new stars. Here is the list of my personal favorite twenty-five films from the decade (not necessarily the best films critically speaking, just my favorites):

Rank: 5
Release Year: 2008
Genre: Adventure/Crime
Summary: The second film in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy finds Bruce Wayne looking to leave Batman behind, having put away most of Gotham City’s organized crime with Jim Gordon and DA Harvey Dent. However, the absence has allowed a new entity to rain chaos upon the city – the Joker.
Why It Made the List:  Most conversations about The Dark Knight begin with the sheer brilliance of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker (and why should they not, it is only the performance of the decade). His work is so good, that Nolan had a very difficult job in pacing the film, as when the Joker is not onscreen, you just cannot wait until he is again. And yet, the film still works incredibly well. The journey that Bruce Wayne goes on is probably the most compelling of any comic book movie for adult audiences. It is a film that seems to be better with each viewing (though, I wish I could go back to before I saw it, just so I could see Ledger’s performance again for the first time – things like ‘the magic trick’). The aesthetics are also quite astounding, especially the music composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard – the chilling ambient noise that grows into something menacing changed how similar films have been scored ever since (listen to a clip here). Nolan seemingly has the impossible task of living up to this film with The Dark Knight Rises (a film that is sure to make my top 25 for the next decade).
Watch the Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming and to Rent

Rank: 4
Director: Sofia Coppola
Release Year: 2003
Genre: Dramedy/Romance
Summary: An unlikely friendship forms between to strangers in Tokyo, Japan – one an apathetic movie star who is in a bit of a midlife crisis, the other a newlywed who is searching for who she is, looking out at her future.
Why It Made the List: It is a wonder that this film turned out as well as it did – Sofia Coppola, cast and crew showed up to Tokyo without confirmation that Bill Murray was in fact making the film (he had only given Coppola his word, but nothing was signed), and most of the script was written on location during filming (some of it improved on the day). But what resulted is one of the most beautiful, funny and sweet films of all-time (and reportedly Bill Murray’s favorite of his own work). Coppola has shown in her work to have a great eye for style and her films have a wonderful aesthetic to them (which sometimes plays a bigger role than plot). Lost in Translation is her masterwork – the look of the film, the rich characters and the magnificent performances.
Watch the Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming and to Rent

Rank: 3
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Release Year: 2004
Genre: Adventure Fantasy
Summary: The third in the Harry Potter series, the film finds Harry in danger (as opposed to his normal carefree lifestyle), as the man convicted of killing his parents, Sirius Black, has escaped Azkaban Prison and is coming after him.
Why It Made the List: Alfonso Cuaron forever (and for the better) changed the trajectory of the Harry Potter films. Prisoner of Azkaban is almost unrecognizable when compared to Chris Columbus’s first two films in the series. Cuaron did away with all the kids’ stuff, replacing it with a dark and grittier tone, style and look, and an almost perfect narrative structure (plus, Hermione punches Draco in the face). From the time Harry, Ron and Hermione depart for Hagrid’s just before Buckbeak’s scheduled execution until the end of the film is maybe the best sequence of the whole franchise – Cuaron’s direction is playful, engaging and utterly enjoyable. Gary Oldman and David Thewlis are also both brilliant in the film (giving maybe the strongest performances of the whole series). Cuaron’s best choice however, and a distinct change from the first two films which try to be just like the books, was to make a piece of cinema (not merely a recreation of the book on film) and focus on the characters and not all the minutia. Prisoner of Azkaban gives us rich characters and a new mandate for all the films that followed to live up to (and even as much as I like both Deathly Hallows films, this is still my favorite). Who would have thought that a Harry Potter film would be one of the best films ever made (as it made AFI’s shortlist for its top 100 films of all-time) – it helps having an auteur director at the helm.
Watch the Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming and to Rent

Rank: 2
Director: Sam Raimi
Release Year: 2004
Genre: Action/Adventure
Summary: Peter Parker is feeling the strain of being both a hero and trying to have a personal life, the former infringing too often on the latter. He wants to give it all up and just be a normal guy again – go to school, have friends and get the girl. But, when a new villain shows up in New York, Parker must again head his calling.
Why It Made the List: The narrative structure of this film is flawless – every scene builds upon the last, enriching the characters, their narrative arcs and the story. Sam Raimi’s style has a lot of camp too it (sometimes too much, as in some of the dancing stuff in Spider-Man 3) – but here it is tempered, and also unleashed depending on the moment – and it works wonderfully. There are so many fantastic sequences (like the birth of Doctor Octopus, Peter giving up Spider-Man and then the visual and musical reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the closing moments that feel so powerful and reminiscent of the final moment of The Graduate). While Spider-Man was a good comic book movie (on the level of Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman, making up the three best comic book films at the time), this movie is a great film (not just comic book movie) setting a high standard for all to follow. Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is also one of the great villains of the decade, being both typically evil and sinister but with human emotions and motivations – he is one of the few comic book villains that the audience can actually connect with and feel sympathy for. Spider-Man 2 is my favorite adventure film of the decade (and it is a genre I love and grew up with, things like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, The Princess Bride), as it does everything well – it is funny, emotionally engaging and poignant and ultimately very entertaining and action packed.
Watch the Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming and to Rent

Rank: 1
Release Year: 2001
Genre: Romance
Summary: A French film about Amelie Poulain, who grew up sheltered from the outside world a bit. She relied on her vivid imagination to keep her company. Now a young woman, she decides to help those around her to feel a sense of purpose in her life, but finds that she is actually quite lonely as the people she helps’ lives are full of people that love them. Thus, she discovers that she too might be needing love.
Why It Made the List: The performance by Audrey Tautou, completely becoming the character body and soul, is my favorite female performance of the decade. From the first time I saw this film at the Fox Tower in Portland, OR, I knew this was a special film, and I altogether fell in love with Tautou’s performance Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s style, Bruno Delbonnel’s exquisite cinematography, Yann Tiersen’s score, and the film as a whole. Both Delbonnel and Tiersen’s work also represent my favorite cinematography and score respectively of the decade (here is a sample of the score; and here is another; and just one more here). The film has such a beautiful mix of fantasy, quirkiness and true emotion to make it a great romance – plus, it in a way plays as a modern take on a fairytale. Paris is also one of my favorite places and the film uses the city so well, especially the Montmartre neighborhood where most of the film takes place. Amelie is my favorite film. It feels fresh every time I watch it. I cannot recommend anything more.
Watch the Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

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