Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Decade in Movies... The Muchacho's Favorite Flicks

A new decade has begun, and what better way to look ahead to a new decade by looking back?

When I look back at the Aughts or whatever we decide to call them, one of the first things I'll think about are the movies. I watched hundreds.. literally hundreds... of movies over the last 10 years. I don't know how the decade will be seen in retrospect when given a few years of perspective in terms of it's place in the history of cinema, but I know one thing for sure... The Aughts certainly produced at least a couple of my all-time personal favorites. The 40s have Casablanca and Citizen Cane. The 70s have The Godfathers. The 90s have Braveheart and Silence of the Lambs and American Beauty and Unforgiven. I don't know what movies I'll immediately point to from the Aughts, but I'm certain they'll be movies from this list.

The following is a list, broken down by clumsy-ass categories, of my 20 favorite movies of the last 10 years. I've decided not to rank these at all.. Too hard.


Finding Nemo (Pixar, 2003)

Finding Nemo is among the 2 or 3 most re-watchable of any of the films on this list. I can consistently enjoy it, and I am consistently awed by the absolute beauty of the animation. In terms of the animation, I think it really signifies a marked leap toward realism that had only been hinted at previously too. The story is truly affecting and and there are at least 3 scenes/sequences that are so perfect I'm amazed every time. Dory speaking Whale is in the conversation of "Hardest I've Laughed" moments of the decade.

Up (Pixar, 2009)

I really love Up in general, but this movie makes the list because of the opening sequence. I'd say it's among the greatest opening sequences of any movie ever. I'll never forget sitting in the theater after that montage and just hearing absolutely NOTHIING but sniffling. Even during a serious moment in most movies, you'll still hear rustling in the seats or the crinkling of candy or the sipping of drinks. All I heard was soft weeping. And you know that's not cheap crying when people go to a Pixar movie and are expecting a light-hearted cartoon and end up crying in the first 5 minutes.

The Incredibles (Pixar, 2004)

Possibly the most out-and-out fun of the Pixar movies... The voice performances of Jason Lee and Craig T. Nelson especially are great too. Pretty hard to go wrong with super heroes and I have always been a little fascinated by the inner thought processes of the super heroes and villains. Syndrome is one of the funniest, yes legitimately dangerous villains in the Disney canon, and I do love me some villains. I think also, of all of the Disney/Pixar movies of the decade, this is the one where the characters are as interesting as the overall plot. As great as Finding Nemo is, I'm not sure I'd care to re-visit the characters in a second story. The Incredibles are the characters most ripe for sequel.


Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros., 2001)

Best overall cast ever! I wasn't expecting a lot from Ocean's Eleven, but it has become one of the few movies I'll watch literally any time I come across it on television. There were points where I've put in the DVD a dozen times over the course of a month. Not as much since the sequels came they were disappointing.... nonetheless... The first was pure awesomeness and cool. I loved every silly, slick minute. There are movies where you just know that the actors and creators are having the best time ever, and this movie may be the greatest example of that. The final 30 minutes of Ocean's Eleven stand up against any 30 minutes of almost any movie of the last ten years, and that was enough to put it on the list. Not even considering the awesomeness of Brad Pitt in this movie. Seriously... if you at all thought Brad Pitt was a tool... watch this movie. It'll give you a whole new perspective.

Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks, 2008)

What can I say about Tropic Thunder? It's effing awesome. Tom Cruise finally made me forget he was insane (in real life). Robert Downey Jr. (one of the most talented actors on the planet) played an Australian actor playing an African American Vietnam soldier. The spoofs and the send-ups of Hollywood were so smart and spot-on that you almost believe that Ben Stiller actually gets it. I believe I saw this movie 4 times in the theater, and I bought it on DVD the day it came out. There aren't many movies like that in recent memory. I think I enjoyed The Hangover a little more overall, but Tropic Thunder would be a close second in the comedy category for the decade. It definitely has the single most surprising moment of any movie on the list. Steve Coogan explodes. 'Nuff said.

A Mighty Wind (Warner Bros., 2003)

I think Christopher Guest is a genius, and I can't think of a movie of his that I didn't enjoy, but for my money, this one is the most complete as a film, and not just as a collection of oddities and bits. Don't get me wrong... there are oddities and bits (Jane Lynch's dark past is a great throwaway), but of his recent movies, this one has the most "soul" to it. The music, all original, is both hilariously perfect and also genuinely good and fun. The Mitch and Mickey storyline is just excellent plotting. Eugene Levy is funny as Mitch, but is also so genuine and honest. He makes a character, that could have easily been too weird and broad, real and sympathetic. And "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" is a truly great song. Oh... and Michael Hitchcock slapping Bob Balaban... Gold.

Love Actually (Universal, 2003)

I love this movie. It's a romantic comedy (sort of), but it's not done in the traditional by-the-numbers way. I like the Christmas backdrop for it, and I love the different relationships that are fleshed out over the course of the film. Each has it's obstacles, and each is resolved in a satisfying way (though not necessarily happy). A consistent feature in all of my favorite movies is excellent acting, and I think the giant cast comes through nicely. Bill Nighys' is probably my favorite performance overall, but it's hard to go wrong with the Keira Knightly stuff or the Colin Firth stuff. Also this is probably the most likable Hugh Grant will ever be.

Wedding Crashers (New Line, 2005)
Probably not as stand-out funny as The Hangover or Anchorman, but it does have more heart than those two...and truth be told... I am a sucker for heart. It's really a chick-flick disguised as a buddy movie. Probably the deadliest combination of films known to man. There's a reason Knocked Up and Wedding Crashers and 40-year Old Virgin are huge successes. It nails the 2 key demos. Anyway... This movie is on this list for largely sentimental reasons. I love the characters. It features 2 of my favorite actresses (Isla Fisher and Rachel McAdams) being super hot. I also love the chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson... it works better in this movie than any of their other ones. Also? Walken.

The Hangover (Warner Bros., 2009)
Easily the funniest movie I've seen in years. I don't expect tight plotting from Todd Phillips (who I find to be incredibly douchey and unlikeable whenever I see him speak as himself), but this movie was seemless. There are several moments in this movie where I was laughing so hard I struggled to catch my breath. It has just about everything I look for in a comedy. Great perforances? Check... Galifinakis, Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper carry the movie as the 3 protagonists, but then you also have Brian Callen, Rob Riggle, and the insane Ken Jeong, who gives the most ridiculous and amazing performance...maybe ever. Great setting?Check. Doesn't get much better than Vegas..and the best thing is that they seemed to use more acual Vegas locations than most movies set there. Signature Scenes?Check. Mr.Chow in the trunk (and everywhere else). The police station. The tiger. Incredible. One of the funniest movies ever, and made even better by the fact that I wasn't really expecting it at all.


Road to Perdition (Dreamworks, 2002)

I'm a known Tom Hanks fan. At some point early in the decade people seemed to get tired of acknowledging he was the best actor working. I'm fairly convinced that had this not happened Tom Hanks wins Best Actor for Road to Perdition. He's truly spectacular in this anti-hero role. It's a break for him... a bad person doing the right thing. This movie also features two of my all-time favorite scenes... Paul Newman and Tom Hanks playing piano at the wake, and Hanks assassinating men in the pouring rain. It's a beautiful movie about the relationship between a man and his son. It features some other astounding performances by great character actors. Jude Law as the uglied-up assassin after Hanks is especially excellent. It made me utterly infuriated when this movie wasn't even nominated for Best Picture and Hanks got shafted too. Only Newman got an acting nomination. Conrad Hall did win for Best Cinematography, but it's hardly enough for a truly great and forgotten film.

Almost Famous (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

You know how some movies... you're watching it and you just know it's great? That's how I felt about Almost Famous when I first watched it. Amazing performances. Amazing soundtrack. Great writing. One memorable scene after another. It's interesting... Everyone who loves this movie (and that's a lot of people) points to a different scene as being their favorite. The scene that sets this movie apart for them. For some it's the "I'm a Golden God" scene. For some it's the "Tiny Dancer" scene. For some it's the plane crash scene. For some it's the Emily Rugburn scene. For me.. I don't know if I have a favorite. Too hard to pick. That seems like a good thing when you're talking about a great movie.

Seabuiscut (Universal, 2003)

Hard to not include an inspirational sports movie on the list, and when I looked back at the decade, this was my favorite. I loved the book, and I find Charles Howard such an incredibly interesting historical figure. On top of the performances in this movie, which are really excellent (especially Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper), the setting and circumstances around the horse and the grabbing of the collective imaginations of the public, mired in the depression, to rally behind this ugly, stubby horse who just happened to run like lightning. It's a chilling story. The other top sports movie candidate was Cinderella Man, which oddly has the same plot. Incidentally, Chris Cooper had won the Best Supporting Actor the year before for Adaptation and with this pretty much established himself as one of my favorite character actors. He gave one of my favorite performances of the previous decade as Ricky's father in American Beauty.

Finding Neverland (Miramax, 2004)

This may be shocking, but this is the only film on the list that I did not see in theaters. In fact, it was given to me as a gift by my buddy Alan, because he knows how much I like Johnny Depp, he knows that Peter Pan is my favorite Disney movie, and he knows I'm basically an emotionally weak puppet... He hit a homer on that one. Depp gives an incredible performance as J.M. Barrie. He lost the Oscar for Best Actor to Jamie Foxx in Ray, and while Foxx was great and I didn't have much of an issue with it at the time, looking back... man... hard not to give it to Depp here. He's amazing. In terms of being an emotionally weak puppet, Alan told me that I would cry when I watched it, and I didn't necessarily doubt him, but let me just be clear on this... I cried like a true bitch and I have cried like a true bitch every time I've seen this movie. If you don't cry at this movie you're an android.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Focus Features, 2004)
This is a movie that is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't watched it... And probably that's part of the attraction for this movie. It's so original and so interesting that it stands out among all of the other cutesy indie-type movies. I don't know how this could be called an indie with the star-power behind this one, but it has that feel. It doesn't feel like a big studio movie. The subject matter is dark. The filming style is jerky and grainy. Simply put, though, this is the most emotionally impactful movie that Charlie Kaufman has written. The acting is beautiful and subtle. I think the thing that sets this movie apart in another way is how wonderful the "b plot" really is. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo are especially great. I think my favorite part is how in a fairly dark movie full of upsetting exchanges, and the willful killing of memory, which is an interesting idea... there is a hopefulness to the whole thing that sort of underlies the idea that the outcomes for these people are maybe inevitable.

Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage, 2007)
I'm not really a huge Sean Penn fan. I think the guy is really talented, but kind of annoying as a person. That said, I really was moved by this film and the story. There aren't a ton of movies where the main character (in this case Christopher McCandless, played by Emile Hirsh) is totally unlikable and yet the movie itself is great. I find the decisions made my McCandless (a real life guy) to be so awful and selfish and yet I also find myself sympathizing with him throughout. He treats everyone pretty badly. Especially a hippie girl he meets (played by a pre-Twilighted Kristen Stewart) and an old man (played amazingly by Hal Holbrook in one of the best performances I can think of.), and yet... despite the bad treatment and selfish behavior I find myself sympathizing with him. This is a success of film making. It's also worth seeing for the great soundtrack (by Eddie Vedder) and Alaskan scenery.

Catch Me if You Can (Dreamworks, 2002)

There's something about the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. that is just fascinating to me. I love the performances by Tom Hanks and DiCaprio, but most especially Walken again. He was absolutely great in this movie as Frank Sr. The movie features the signature, smooth filmmaking of Steven Spielberg, but doesn't seem to have all of those weird ticks that end up in his movies a lot of the time. I like movies where the protagonist is probably the bad guy... Just like in Pirates where you root for the pirates over the British Navy, this one you're supposed to root for Frank to keep on capering and out-pacing the FBI. The best part of this movie is that it's based on a true story, and Frank Abagnale is a real person who did these things. Probably the most interesting biopic subject of the decade. (Since again.. no Disney biopic.)

Children of Men (Universal, 2006)

Officially my vote for best movie of the last 10 years. It's the only movie in this decade that makes a run at my top spot. I'm talking my personal, ALL-TIME top movie. It's simply incredible to watch. Of the very few things that my dad does that infuriates me, it's his abject passive refusal to watch this movie. I've probably watched it 5 times now, and it's truly shocking to me every time. There are so many things... The camera work is legendary... there's a long tracking shot of a motorcycle encounter that was done in one single shot that is so claustrophobic and intense that I, to this day, have no idea how they did it. That's the one people always point to, and rightly so, but for my money it's not even the most impressive shot in the movie. That honor goes to the 5 minute long single shot sequence at the end. This movie has some absolutely killer performances too... Michael Caine stands out, but then... so does Chiwetel Ejiofor (I just saw Dirty Pretty Things, and he's great in that too!). And so does Julianne Moore. And so does Pam Ferris. And maybe most of all so does Clive Owen. It's a stunning movie that pretty much everyone should see. I mentioned earlier that I'd seen it 5 times. I realize that doesn't seem like a lot, but it's not an easy movie to watch. It's intense and heartbreaking and violent and unrelenting. Doesn't take anything away from it being an absolutely incredible movie. Oh... and the soundtrack is fucking sweet. When I first started creating this list, this was the first movie I thought of.

ACTION /ADVENTURE/ FANTASY / SCI-FI (See...told you it was clumsy)

Unbreakable (Touchstone, 2000)

My personal favorite of the M. Night Shyamalan movies. This was his second big movie, and came out before everyone expected his "Twist" endings. It's a simple story about a man realizing an inner power. I love super-hero movies, and I think this one is especially original. It's in a world where super-powers aren't known to exist and where the heroes can be flawed. The first time we meet the main character, he's scamming on a woman on a train (who isn't his wife). I love the way this movie is shot, and the moody atmosphere. I think my favorite thing about the movie, though, is the introduction of one of the most interesting and sympathetic villains ever, in Elijah Price (a.k.a. Mr. Glass). Samuel L. Jackson at his best.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (New Line, 2001-03)

Simply the greatest achievement of movie-making of all time. People are saying that shit about Avatar now, and I agree that Avatar is impressive, but Avatar is less than a third of the length. "But Muchachooooo.... It's three separate movies, not one!" Wrong. They filmed one long movie and divided it into "chapters". This is not the Harry Potter movies where each is self contained. This story relies on continuity and consistent performances. Peter Jackson and team succeeded in every respect. The effects are seamless. The acting is excellent. The imagery is breathtaking from beginning to end. They raised the bar for all Fantasy films forever. It's no longer acceptable for a studio to put out crap. The nerds demand excellence. We have this film to thank. Other things of note: Andy Serkis as Gollum created one of the single most memorable characters we'll ever see. The Battle of Pelennor Fields sequence was one of the most incredible scenes I can remember. Ian McKellan is a badass. Orlando Bloom is not a badass, but this movie fooled us into thinking he is... (Greatest achievment overall?)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Disney, 2003)

The Summer of 2003 was fucking awesome for movies, and this was the best of them all. Pirates of the Caribbean wasn't highly anticipated by anyone but me. Being the huge Disney fan I am, I saw the first preview for it, and was pretty much ready to camp out for tickets at that exact minute. When it finally came out I was fucking PUMPED for that movie, and it didn't disappoint at all. It's funny, exciting, original, well acted, and true to the Disney ride from which it was inspired. Maybe most memorably, it brought us the complelely singular performance of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. A character so popular that they adjusted the ride to make him a part of it. I think that's an exceptionally huge achievement that is often not discussed. He was so good they changed the source material. Depp lost the Oscar that year to Sean Penn in Mystic River, but Sean Penn isn't in a ride at Disney World. Who got the more poignant honor?


Unknown said...

No 'History of Violence'? No 'Memento'? 'The Dark Knight'? Ummmm...and 'Spirit'???

Beefy Muchacho said...

If it had been a Top 25, Dark Knight likely makes it in. Top 30, History of Violence. Both were considered for this list. I ended up not taking Dark Knight because I can't separate my love for Heath Ledger's performance with my overall feeling that Dark Knight was a little too long, and the themes were a little too circuitous. It was close.

A History of Violence has a phenomenal performance by William Hurt in his one scene. Viggo was great. It really is a great movie, but I had to go with my gut on the list since I saw so many movies...this didn't make the final cut.

I didn't like Memento nearly as much as everyone else (mostly because it was my idea and it was stolen from me). I've not seen Spirit.

Red-Headed Step-Child said...

A really great list Dan and I can agree with you on the issues with the Dark Knight. I haven't seen some of the movies and one of them I started and couldn't get into it (I'm an andriod but I might need to revisit since its been a few years). No love for Inglorious Basterds, Hot Fuzz (Shaun of the Dead), Coen Bros, Miyazaki films? Granted it is your list, and ultimately your decision and I like your taste.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Alright... Instead of addressing specific movies other people mention, I'll just say this:

Aside from a couple of select movies (Children of Men, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings) not only is the list entirely subjective, but to at least a small degree it's fluid. This was my list as of 2 weeks ago, and I felt good enough about all of my movies on it that I know that when I look at it in 10 years, I'll still love each of them.

There are some great movies that didn't make the cut. Hot Fuzz was definitely among the final movies I cut.

Inglourious Basterds was good, and features an absolutely stunning performance by Christoph Waltz. It didn't stick with me, overall.

If I was going to take a Taratino movie, it would have been Kill Bill 1, but I have a hard time thinking of the two Kill Bills separately. Where the LOTR movies are to be considered one long piece, the Kill Bill movies are definitely distinct entities.

I made the determination recently to accept recommendations for films of the past decade that I DIDN'T see. So... feel free to post your lesser known Aughts movies that would go on YOUR list.