Monday, January 4, 2010

My Ten Favorite Movies of the Decade

Same rules apply here as to my music blogs (songs and albums). Unlike with music, I consider myself a pretty astute judge of film. Still, I'm perfectly aware that there are others more qualified than I to make a "Best of" list for the decade. Thus, movies that I consider works of art, such as Brokeback Mountain and There Will Be Blood will only make the honorable mentions list. As great as I think they are, I don't want to watch them over and over again.

Therefore, this list should be considered the 10 movies that I never got sick of. If I see any of these showing on cable, I'm guaranteed to watch for at least 15 minutes.

First, the honorable mentions:

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Almost Famous (2000), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), Mission: Impossible III (2006), X-Men (2000) and X-2: X-Men United (2003), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Star Trek (2009), Old School (2003), Casino Royale (2006), Bowling for Columbine (2002), Children of Men (2006), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Milk (2008), Miracle (2004), Road to Perdition (2002), Super Troopers (2001), There Will Be Blood (2007), Unbreakable (2000), Training Day (2001), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Grizzly Man, (2005), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), Kill Bill, Vols I and II (2003, 2004).

The two films I had the toughest time omitting (Honorable Honorable Mentions?): Batman Begins (2005) and Garden State (2004). Begins would've made it if I didn't like The Dark Knight even better, and Garden State would've made it if Zach Braff had let someone else play the lead instead of moping through his otherwise excellent film.

The top 10:

10. The Departed (2006)
A brilliant mobster/cop flick where everyone's throwing their fastball, sans perhaps Jack, who decided to chew scenery rather than craft a three-dimensional character. The rest of the cast more than makes up for it. Damon and DiCaprio are so good they make me want to see an inverse version of the film where they switch roles. Wouldn't that be fascinating?

The film's got crackerjack tough-guy dialogue as well, like this exchange after DiCaprio punches a guy for demeaning his choice of cranberry juice at the bar:

Mr. French: [calmly] Hey, hey, hey... do you know me?
Billy Costigan: No, no.
Mr. French: Well, I'm the guy that tells you there are guys you can hit and there's guys you can't. Now, that's not quite a guy you can't hit, but it's almost a guy you can't hit. So I'm gonna make a fuckin' ruling on this right now. You don't fuckin' hit him. You understand?

However, Wahlberg gets the best lines. My favorite:

Dignam: This is unbelievable. Who put the fuckin' cameras in this place?
Police Camera Tech: Who the fuck are you?
Dignam: I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.

9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
This loving ode to the 70's is by far my favorite Will Ferrell performance. Is it a great film? No, but it's absurdly funny.

When I first saw this movie, by myself on dvd, I'm not sure I even liked it. Oh, there were some chuckles here and there, but nothing special, I thought. Anchorman is like one of those catchy pop tunes on the radio, though. The lines just went around and around in my head and got funnier on repeated viewings. It eventually ended up my most quoted film of the decade.

To wit:

Ron Burgundy
: I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly...

Veronica Corningstone: My God, what is that smell? Oh.
Brian Fantana: That's the smell of desire my lady.
Veronica Corningstone: God no, it smells like, like a used diaper... filled with... Indian food. Oh, excuse me.
Brian Fantana: You know, desire smells like that to some people.
News Station Employee: What is that? Smells like a turd covered in burnt hair.
News Station Employee: Smells like Bigfoot's dick.

Ron Burgundy
: You are a smelly pirate hooker.
Veronica Corningstone: You look like a blueberry.
Ron Burgundy: Why don't you go back to your home on Whore Island?

[to Baxter the dog]
Ron Burgundy: What? You pooped in the refrigerator? And you ate the whole... wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad; that's amazing.

Ron Burgundy: I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal.
Veronica Corningstone: Really.
Ron Burgundy: People know me.
Veronica Corningstone: Well, I'm very happy for you.
Ron Burgundy: I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

Ron Burgundy: Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale's vagina.
Veronica Corningstone: No, there's no way that's correct.
Ron Burgundy: I'm sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don't know what it means. I'll be honest, I don't think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.
Veronica Corningstone: Doesn't it mean Saint Diego?
Ron Burgundy: No. No.
Veronica Corningstone: No, that's - that's what it means. Really.
Ron Burgundy: Agree to disagree.

Ron Burgundy: I'm gonna punch you in the ovary, that's what I'm gonna do. A straight shot. Right to the babymaker.

And, of course, the immortal Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell)...

Brick Tamland
: I love... carpet.
Brick Tamland: I love... desk.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, are you just looking at things in the office and saying that you love them?
Brick Tamland: I love lamp.
Ron Burgundy: Do you really love the lamp, or are you just saying it because you saw it?
Brick Tamland
: I love lamp. I love lamp.

...and my favorite moment of the film:

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn't it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I've been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you're probably wanted for murder.

8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
A couple years ago, this would be higher on my list, but for whatever reason it hasn't aged for me as well as some of the others. I haven't watched it in a while. It's possible I'm also downgrading it because of the colossal wreck that is Spider-Man 3. Anyway, it's still beloved.

Like many sagas, Spider-Man really hits its stride in the second installment. All that origin stuff is out of the way; now Peter must deal with being a hero and the toll that can take on one's social life. He goes through the same doubt that anyone does when they undergo a huge lifestyle change. What did I just do? Is it too late to take it back?

He loses his mojo for a while, which is something else we can all relate to. However, he has enough of it to save everyone's bacon in one of my favorite scenes of the decade. The train rescue itself is great, but what gives me chills is the part at the end where the passengers catch Spider-Man and pass him backward through the train. When the little kid says, "Don't worry. We won't tell," (unfortunately, it's not in this clip) well, let's just say my allergies start acting up.

7. The Bourne Identity (2002)
The second installment might be a better film, and the third is no slouch, either (although I could never quite get into it the way I can the first two). However, the first Bourne movie was so refreshingly different than any other action/spy thriller that came before it.

It's hard to recall now, but the odds were stacked against this film being a success. Nobody thought of Matt Damon as an action star; it turned out he was the best choice for the agile, cerebral Bourne. The film's director (Doug Lyman) was known for making hip comedies like Swingers and Go, not helming an action franchise. Nevertheless, his kinetic style serves as the perfect tone for the techno cool of the film.

Not only does The Bourne Identity get credit for being awesome on its own merit, it also deserves kudos for inspiring the amazing Bond reboot, Casino Royale. There's no way that movie gets made in the style it did without taking its blueprint from Bourne.

In terms of cerebral action, both Bourne's escape from the embassy and his Mini Cooper joyride are as good as it gets, without our hero firing a shot and with nary an explosion in sight. That sound you just heard was Michael Bay snorting in derision.

6. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Have I ever laughed harder in the movie theatre? Not in my adult life (seeing The Naked Gun when I was 12 probably wins out all-time). The truly amazing thing about the most hilarious film of the decade is that my expectations were incredibly high going in. I was a fan of The Ali G Show, where the Borat character originated. The buzz before the film's release was otherworldly. Still, I found myself crying tears of laughter along with a packed house on opening night at Sasha Baron Cohen's antics.

Admittedly, some of the scenes are one-trick ponies because of their shock value. You can only get the full comedic effect of the nude wrestling or the "attempted kidnapping" of Pamela Anderson once. But a line like this gives me the giggles just thinking about it:

Sometime my sister, she show her vazhïn to my brother Bilo and say "You will never get this you will never get it la la la la la la." He behind his cage. He cries, he cries and everybody laughs. She goes "You never get this." But one time he break cage and he "get this" and then we all laugh. High five!

Like any great satire, the film can be enjoyed on two levels. My teenage students think it's funny because "It's so racist!" (this applies to stupid adults as well). The rest of us are able to see that Borat is not skewering Kazakhstan or Jews but our own cultural ignorance (not to mention geographical ignorance- the Kazakhstan bits are actually filmed in Romania, neither of which most Americans could get close to finding on a map).

Regardless of one's comedic acumen, everyone is rolling when Borat and his portly assistant throw money at the cockroaches, supposedly a kindly old Jewish couple who have "changed their shape." Or when Borat demands of a woman at a garage sale, "Gypsy, give me your tears." Or when Borat addresses a cheering rodeo crowd, "May George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq!"

5. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
A funny thing happened here. When I first wrote my list, I had the first Lord of the Rings movie as an honorable mention, and The Two Towers made the Top 10. I had convinced myself that it was my favorite of the three excellent films. Then I started thinking about all the moments from the movies I liked...and 70% of them came from Fellowship.

The mines of Moria scene is still the series' seminal moment. It's the spot when the daunting challenge of Peter Jackson's really long movies about wizards, elves, and hobbits suddenly became, "Holy crap! This is actually going to work!" When it comes down to it, if I could only watch one of the three LOR films for the rest of my life, it would be this one, which came as a surprise to even me.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)
There's been a revisionist tendency to describe this film as overrated after the initial rush of praise. Sorry, I still love it. It's filled with tension; there's not a dull moment. Bale's "Batman voice," first mocked, has now become a pop culture staple. I still believe the movie missed an opportunity, but that will affect further installments, not this masterpiece.

3. The Ring (2002)
I love horror movies the way a fat kid loves cake. It's my guilty pleasure genre, and I end up sitting through a lot of dreck in search of a few good scares. Most of my favorite horror films (Halloween, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street) came out before I was alive/allowed to watch them in the theatres; thus, The Ring is the most scared I've ever been at the movies, narrowly edging The Blair Witch Project. When Samara crawls out of the well and through the tv at the end, I can still remember what I said aloud, squirming with the rest of the opening night crowd: "Oh my god, you've got to be f#%&ing s@#tting me."

It would've been one of the best horror films of the decade if it had ended after the harrowing scene with Naomi Watts "rescuing" Samara out of the well. That double climax just made it an instant classic. Basically, you're on edge of your seat from the masterful opening scene with the two girls alone in the house, and it never lets up. The tape that supposedly kills you if you watch it itself is unsettling, and when you get home and realize that you've also seen it, you're just hoping that the tv isn't on static when you turn it on, or you just might wet yourself.

As for The Ring 2, let's all just pretend it never happened, shall we?

2. Donnie Darko (2001)
I already covered this extensively. Click it or ticket.

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
When I sat down to make this list, it was the first one I wrote down. Still, I figured something would eventually surpass it. I mean, it's a silly little comedy movie. Hell, let's face it; it's pretty much a romantic comedy. I hate romantic comedies!

Or do I?

Isn't what I hate about most romantic comedies what I hate about other crappy genre flicks? They stick to formula. They're usually merely star vehicles. They're sloppily written. They're full of flat characters. They're cynically aimed at an audience who doesn't care about any of that; they want to turn their brains off and drink in the formula.

It occurred to me that another favorite, eminently re-watchable movie of mine is Say Anything, essentially another rom-com. So it's not this genre of film I necessarily hate (although I certainly don't gravitate to it), it's just that very, very few of them do love and funny as well as Sarah Marshall.

It's one of the few films that gives me a grin just thinking about it. I own it on blu-ray and also have it saved on my dvr. My wife asked me why, and I told her it was because we don't have a blu-ray player in the bedroom, and I might want to watch part of it when I'm down there. It easily passes the "If it's on cable, will I watch for at least 15 minutes?" test. Speaking of my wife, she had to threaten a divorce if I didn't stop singing "Die...die...die...I can't" from "Dracula's Lament."

There's simply nothing I don't like about this film. Most importantly, all the characters are multi-dimensional and believable. Even the supposed "bad guy," Aldous Snow, is a pretty decent fellow. Main character Peter Bretter reluctantly admits, "Fuck, you're cool!" Those typical "cute" romantic comedy moments never feel forced, even though they're all there: The first kiss, the first fight, and the guy gets the girl.

Then there's the fact that it's funny as hell. Lance already posted a lot of his favorite lines in his own blog about Sarah Marshall, but I can list a bunch more without repeating any.

Brian: You don't need to put your P in a V right now.
Peter Bretter: No, I need to B my L on someone's T's.

Brian: Look. Liz and I, we think the world of Sarah. We think she's great. But, and I'm just being honest here, every time she would come over to our house, she always acted, you know, like a... like a little bitch. Okay, okay, okay, pump the brakes.
Peter Bretter: Dating Sarah is not like dating Liz, okay? Sarah is better than Liz!
Brian: You really want to have this conversation? Do you really want to have this conversation?
Peter Bretter: Yes.
Brian: [screaming] She is the mother of my unborn child!
Peter Bretter: [meekly] Sorry.
Brian: You're my step-brother! We're not even blood! I have no qualms with sticking you! I will equalize you!
Peter Bretter: Sorry.
Brian: You dick!

Sarah Marshall: When were you planning on telling me this?
Aldous Snow: I just told you, then.
Sarah Marshall: Yeah. No, I know. But telling me now isn't really the same as telling me.
Aldous Snow: Well, look, you know, I've not told you I've got genital herpes, because it's not inflamed at the moment...

Kunu: [singing to himself] Oh the weather outside is weather...

Aldous: It was like going on holiday ... not with Hitler maybe — but Goebbels, yeah.

I'll leave you with my favorite moment from the film:

1 comment:

Lance Christian Johnson said...

A pretty respectable list, and if I made one, quite a few of these would make it on there as well. I always consider doing these sorts of things, but I think that I prefer the format I went with Movie-A-Day. I hate giving ratings or putting stuff in order. I just like to write about the movies I like. Still, if I did...

And I'm surprised that you'd put Revenge of the Sith on your honorable mention list. I thought that you liked it as much as the other two prequels. As I've said before, it's a total B-movie, and it doesn't transcend the genre like the original or Empire did, but it's a goofy, fun ride.