Without much ado, and certainly not in any order other than alphabetical, here are my 100 favorite films of the decade, sprinkled at random with excerpts from my original reviews.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
American Psycho (2000) American Psycho is the portrait of a morally bankrupt, financially flush, superciliously apathetic Wall Street turk. But the film doesn’t merely observe 80’s yuppie Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) — it invites us into his world. A swanky world of designer suits, haute cuisine, chic skin creams, custom-made tanning beds… oh, and a hooker’s gore-spattered head in the glossy, steel-front freezer (right next to the gourmet sorbet, natch). Patrick is so obsessed with taking his cues from the outside for what to wear, what to eat, what to listen to, who to date, who to be seen with, who to be, that there is nothing inside. Aw, how sad. But wait — it’s funny, too. Director Mary Harron and Christian Bale create an almost magical balance between the tragic and comic elements of this story.
Auto Focus (2002)
Aviator, The (2004)
Bad Santa (2003)
Best in Show (2000)
Big Fish (2003)
Birth (2004) There are ghosts here, but not the traditional sort that might come to mind: Birth is more a metaphysical mystery with a dash of psychological horror. Although nothing overtly scary happens, there is a creepy feel to the whole thing thanks mostly to a young, intense actor named Cameron Bright. Nicole Kidman, no stranger herself to spooky plots (think: The Others), plays off the child’s quiet oddness perfectly. The story begins with a man named Sean (Michael Seautels) out jogging. It’s a nippy, frosty morning and if you have a bad heart, the cold and physical exertion is a very bad combo. He collapses, and dies alone underneath a tunnel in the park. Cut to a baby boy being born. Cut to ten years later: Sean’s widow, Anna, is celebrating her mother’s (Lauren Bacall) birthday with her fiancée, Joseph (Danny Huston). Everything is fine until an unsmiling little stranger shows up, sneaking into the high-rise apartment along with some party guests. He demands to speak to Anna alone. She chuckles, humoring the kid, and goes into the kitchen with him. “It’s me, Sean.” He tells her. “I love you, and I don’t want you to marry Joseph.” Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone.
Breakfast on Pluto (2006)
Broken Flowers (2005)
Brotherhood of the Wolf, The (2001)
Cell, The (2000)
Children of Men (2006)
Cold Mountain (2003)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
CQ (2002) What if you had to direct a movie without an ending? That’s the dilemma — twice over — for a young American filmmaker living in Paris in the year 1969. When he is not working as a film editor on a cheesy sci-fi flick called Codename: Dragonfly, Paul (Jeremy Davies) is making a cinema verite documentary of his own life. When the director (Gerard Depardieu) of the feature is fired over “creative differences,” and when the second auteur (Jason Schwartzman) meets with an unexpected fate, Paul must step in to save the day… and come up with an ending. Coming up with endings to both films proves difficult when the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred and Paul finds himself being seduced by the allure of Dragonfly (Angela Lindvall) while trying to save the crumbling relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Marlene (Elodie Bouchez). There’s an underlying theme of duplicity and doppelgangers in CQ, which I found quite intriguing. As Paul figures out that “CQ” is code for “seek you,” he realizes that he has to find himself before he can find the endings to his films. The idea that everyone has a double is especially interesting, since Davies looks uncannily like Henry Thomas in this role, and Lindavall morphs between Jane Fonda and Edie Sedgwick.
Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008)
Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The (2002) Based upon the novel of the same title by Chris Fuhrman, who died of cancer before the book, his first, was published in 1994, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is a magical mix of live action drama and animated adventure. The animated sequences are cool and interesting, but the heart and soul of the story is in the live action sequences, which are beautifully directed by first-time feature helmer Peter Care, and vividly, realistically realized by the impressive young cast. Led by another first-timer, the cast consists of Emile Hirsch as the artistically-gifted protagonist, Francis; Kieran Culkin as the comic book editor and mischief-mastermind, Tim; and Jena Malone as the suicidal, poetry-loving beauty, Margie. This leisurely, character-driven film focuses on the boys’ obscene comic story (featuring the priests and nuns who teach in their school doing some rather ungodly things) coming to the attention of the faculty. Foremost among the forces of evil in the book is the one-legged, bitter nun, Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster, who also produced the film), whose alter-ego rides a wicked motorcycle and goes after the boys with a sharp, deadly scythe. When Sister Assumpta seizes their artwork and suspends the boys from school, they are set on a path of payback that ultimately changes their lives.
Darjeeling Limited, The (2007)
Departed, The (2006)
Descent, The (2006)
Devil’s Rejects, The (2005)
Devil’s Backbone, The (2001)
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2003)
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Far From Heaven (2002)
Finding Neverland (2004)
Fountain, The (2006)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Ghost World (2001)
Gosford Park (2001)
Hangover, The (2009)
Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Hoax, The (2007)
Hot Fuzz (2007)
House of Sand & Fog (2003)
Hurt Locker (2009)
Illusionist, The (2006)
I’m Not There (2007) Mirroring the lyrics “No, no, no, I ain’t the one you’re looking for, babe…” Bob Dylan would shed each of his public “selves” the instant they became popular, or at least publicly accepted. He willfully alienated and baffled his fans by doing everything unexpected (moving away from his trademark acoustic sound to embracing sound-splitting electric; going from disaffected misanthrope to rallying Holy-roller).The Dylan dynamics cut back and forth onscreen in this quasi biopic, these almost ephemeral aspects manifesting themselves vigorously in corporal form as everything from a diminutive African American child named Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) to an agitated British woman (Cate Blanchett, who embodies a bitter, biting persona named Jude). Collaged throughout the film’s patchwork geography are other aspects of the Dylanesque character, portrayed by a defiant, riddle-spitting Ben Wishaw (who was amazing in last year’s overlooked and misunderstood Perfume); a wry and dismissive Heath Ledger as the private core; and a sage, wily Richard Gere as the enigmatic recluse hiding out in a Western town whose residents are obsessed with the Halloween holiday. I’m Not There is very much there in every sense: visual, aural, emotional. Cinematographer Edward Lachman has worked with many of the greatest filmmakers ever born: Herzog, Wenders, Godard, Fassbinder, Schrader, Soderburgh, and Altman… his considerable experience and ingenuity are illustrated in a variety of styles here. Director Todd Haynes keeps all the plates spinning with a poignant through-line and a narrative nucleus that every human being can follow and relate to.
Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Juana la Loca (2001)
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) The title character, reduced to a voice and hovering presence in the first movie, is bigger than life here as he gently spoofs his flute-toting Kung Fu character from the days of TV yore. Carradine’s craggy face and his cougar-purring voice are seen and heard to great effect as he sizzles onscreen with the golden, green-eyed Thurman. While I must grudgingly admit there are a few slow spots in the first half of Volume 2, I am pleased to report that the quirky dialogue Tarantino is famous for flows from the tongues of his wickedly-fashioned cast of characters. One of the best personalities is The Bride’s Chinese fight teacher, Pei Mei (Gordon Liu), the white-haired monk who also schooled Bill in the ways of deadly martial arts. With a sparkle in his elderly eye and an impish smile on his lips, he is a pitiless and shockingly agile master. Under his cruel tutelage, The Bride learns many valuable lessons which will later save her life. Liu, heretofore famous for playing heroes and good guys, will no doubt be a delightful discovery to American audiences. Another excellent character actor who makes the utmost of his character, is Michael Parks. He played the Texas town’s sheriff in the first installment, and now he is back as a totally different person: Esteban Vihaio, a Mexican whoremaster and Bill’s mentor. The soundtrack is a brain-bashing mash of traditional Oriental, with a drib of Johnny Cash, a dash of The Zombies in a mesmerizing remix by Malcolm McLaren, and much more to perk up your ears (Robert Rodriguez and The RZA did a great job on the original music). The cinematography, too, is all over the place in just the right way, each shot setting a different mood. Locations, set decoration, costuming… it’s all picture perfect.
Let The Right One In (2008)
Little Children (2006)
Lookout, The (2007)
Lost in Translation (2003)
Man Who Cried, The (2001)
Man Who Wasn’t There, The (2002)
Meet the Parents (2000)
Mexican, The (2002)
Moulin Rouge! (2002)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
Night Watch (2004)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Ocean’s Eleven (2001) Ex-Con Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his hand-picked crew of specialists gather in Las Vegas to attempt the most ambitious casino heist ever: to rob The Bellagio, The Mirage, and Treasure Island simultaneously (it helps that all three establishments share the same vault). Ocean goes first to his right-hand man, cardsharp Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and Ryan brings pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) on the job. Then there’s demolitions maestro Bashir Tarr (Don Cheadle with a Cockney accent), seasoned con man Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner, in an outstanding performance), moneybags Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), bickering bros Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), electronics expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), inside man Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) and finally, contortionist cat-burglar Yen (Shaobo Qin). This is quite a motley crew — I do think it would have been funny if one of them appeared to be missing a limb (a one-armed bandit… get it?), but there are plenty of other inside laughs.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) The always innovative and niche-finding Johnny Depp plays Agent Sands, an American CIA operative who has a penchant for whacky tee shirts and a certain Mexican pork dish. He has been sent to Mexico to track the slippery sidling of a baddie (Willem Dafoe) who is, naturally, a drug lord with a murderous streak. Sands recruits a reluctant but game El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), and the two work uneasily toward the same bloody goal. Persuading his partners Lorenzo (Enrique Iglesias) and Fideo (Marco Leonardi) to fight the good fight, “El” vies for top spot as a conga line of other local and shady characters worm in on the battle for control of Mexico’s drug trade. Editor/composer/cinematographer/writer/director Robert Rodriguez’s loose homage to Sergio Leone’s 1969 horse opera, Once Upon A Time In The West, does a fine job in bringing together a plethora of diverse characters, all well-played by a passel of addictively watchable actors (Mickey Rourke and his Chihuahua, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek for about 5 minutes, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, and many more).
Orphanage, The (2007)
Others, The (2001)
Panic Room (2001)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, The (2006) Jean Cocteau. Guy Maddin. David Lynch. Robert Wiene. Do you know who those directors are? Do you like their movies? If so, then The Quay Brothers’ latest film, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, will tinkle all your ivories. I must confess my ignorance and admit that I had never seen a Quay Brothers movie before viewing The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Known mainly for their work with miniatures and stop-motion animation, this is only the identical twins’ second full-length, live-action film — though, the theme of automatons and reanimated corpses does lend itself to the occasional flips to the animated side of things. The quasi Phantom of the Opera storyline follows the deadly obsession of opera fan Dr. Droz (Cesar Sarachu) with a soon-to-be-wed diva, Malvina (Amira Casar). On her wedding day, the bad doctor steals the raven-haired beauty’s life, then her body, and spirits it away to his remote island home. Malvina awakens to her new existence as a musical automaton but her despair keeps her silent, her cogs and wheels stubbornly unmoving. Droz’s only hope to hear her voice again lies in the hands of the most gifted piano tuner (Cesar Sarachu) in all the land… but will the piano tuner also fall prey to Malvina’s unearthly charms? With Terry Gilliam on board as an executive producer, fans of visually arresting style and mood will not be disappointed. Although there is, without a doubt, some lack of substance and certainly a tenuous narrative at best (but I did love the use of voiceover, ala Philip Marlow-in-Wonderland), The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is an elaborately fabricated art horror film of the highest order.
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Prestige, The (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Red Violin (2000)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Rules of Attraction, The (2002) The Rules of Attraction, based on a novel by the brilliant, completely twisted author Bret Easton Ellis, is not exactly a love triangle. It’s more like a love octagon — or, what passes for love in Easton’s skewed little universes. I suspect it’s a love-it or hate-it movie for most people. Me, I can’t quite decide. But there is one thing I can say about it: the images stayed in my mind long after the end-credits rolled. Those images — some beautiful, some ugly, some horrible, some ethereal — make up a very intriguing little cinematic kaleidoscope.
Runaway Jury, The (2003)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Singing Detective, The (2003)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Talledega Nights: Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Training Day (2001)
Watchmen (2009) [director’s cut only]
Weight of Water, The (2002)
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Wonderland (2003) Unfolding with a tip of the hat to Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, Rashomon, Wonderland recounts the true tale of how the has-been porn-king, John Homes (Val Kilmer), aka, Johnny Wadd, and his vulnerable teenage girlfriend (Kate Bosworth) became inextricably involved with the infamous “four on the floor” murders in 1981. Kilmer astounds and amazes yet again with his seemingly effortless portrayal of an iconic character, losing himself within. This is an actor who has played real people ranging from Robert Eliot Burns (The Man Who Broke 1000 Chains, 1987), to Billy The Kid (1989), to Jim Morrison (The Doors, 1991), to Doc Holliday (Tombstone, 1993) — to name a few. Heck! This guy has even played God (voice, 1998’s Prince of Egypt). Although Kilmer was naturally blessed with the good looks of Jim Morrison, he is still utterly believable as the lanky, less-blessed John Holmes. It’s all about the charm. How did such a low-life, leeching, drug addicted has-been win so many friends and influence so many people? Charm. Kilmer projects that easy-going, harmless and hapless charm in spades as Holmes digs himself deeper and deeper into an inescapable hole of addiction, corruption, deceit, and vicious murder.
Wrestler, The (2008)
Youth Without Youth (2007)
Zoolander (2001) Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a self-involved, simple-minded, but likable ubermodel. He’s revered not only in the rag trade, but all over the world. Enter newcomer, Hansel (Owen Wilson). He’s a blonde, buff beach boy who threatens Zoolander’s place at the top of the haut heap. When Zoolander loses his couture crown to Hansel in a humiliating public defeat, he contemplates retiring. However, an evil, under-worldly fashion cartel has other plans for him. They need Zoolander to off the Malaysian prime minister because he threatens to put a stop to their sweatshops, thereby raising designer clothing production costs. Corset-wearing, poodle-hugging henchman Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell), is sent to capture Zoolander and brainwash him into an unsuspecting assassin. Kind of like a modeling-world Manchurian Candidate. A girl reporter, Matilda Jeffries (Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor) figures it out when she gets phone calls from a ‘Deep Throat’ type who reveals the insidious plot. (It’s David Duchovny in a great cameo as a has-been hand model / conspiracy theorist.) When Mugatu fools Zoolander into thinking he is being hired to be the spearhead of his whacky new collection “Derelicte,” Matilda steps in.
And now, for the bonus 50, my list of Best HORROR movies of the decade, courtesy of Horror.com
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Aside from all this list-making (I feel like Santa Critic), I’ve been writing reviews, attending screenings and junkets, and drinking lots of coffee (I’ve lost only f the countless pounds I gained between Thanksgiving and Xmas). Yesterday I did two junkets — for DEAR JOHN and LEGION — and today it’s THE BOOK OF ELI, plus the TCA Red Carpet. So, those stories will have to wait till later.
But here’re links and clips from some reviews I’ve done, as well as a report on my first junket of 2010, DAYBREAKERS. Kind of nice to start off the new decade by chatting with one of my favorite actors — but one whom I’ve never interviewed before — Ethan Hawke. Here’s a shot of him from the L.A. Times how he looked that day, and what he was wearing, there at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Some more of my recent reviews:
That’s it for now. Stay tuned — and if you haven’t yet, please click the subscribe button below.