Saturday, April 24, 2010

Watch a Movie and Die (Part Two)

So yahoo put out this list of 100 Movies to See Before You Die, focusing on movies released in the last twenty years. I like that idea since lists like this tend to be heavy on the 1930s and 1940s. Nothing wrong with that, but it is refreshing to pay tribute to some greatness that's within living memory. Well, MY living memory, anyway.

I'm old.

Yesterday I ran through the list for the years from 1990 to 1999. Today it's the decade only just recently completed, the two-thousandsies! I'm already feeling nostalgic.

I'll note which films in each year that yahoo thinks you should see before you die, then I'll suggest five others that are at least equally worthy and -- in more than a few cases -- even better. It works like this ...


Almost Famous
Best in Show
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Yi Yi

Can't say as I've seen that last one. My foreign film-going has frankly not been up to snuff. But I love the other three. Best in Show is maniacally funny, with Fred Willard and Larry Miller providing some of the most hysterical moments in the era. CTHD showed that action movies could also be beautiful. And Almost Famous gives you poignant coming-of-age stuff and raunchy rock and roll on the road all in one. Might I also suggest ...

Battlefield Earth
Dude, Where's My Car?
Ready to Rumble
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Dungeons and Dragons

Just checking to see if you were still paying attention. Seriously though, all five of those stinkbombs came out in the same year. Remember as we celebrate movies to see before you die, there are plenty of movies that just make you wish you were dead. Not these next few, however.

Cast Away
High Fidelity
O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother is the Coen brothers' version of "Hee Haw." That's a compliment. Unbreakable is the last great M. Night Shyamalan movie. High Fidelity is a film that hits way too close to home for us music nerds. Traffic is everything that Crash five years later wanted to be, but wasn't. Cast Away is a Hitchcockian exercise in limiting the options available to a filmmaker. Makes me pine for the days when Robert Zemeckis wasn't making creepy cartoons.


Donnie Darko
In the Mood for Love
The Lord of the Rings
Mulholland Drive
The Royal Tenenbaums

Haven't seen In the Mood ... Not as wild about Donnie Darko as the cultists are. The rest are great choices. The Lord of the Rings movies properly deserve a slot through the next three years, but honoring the Trilogy here will be acceptable. Tenenbaums is more quirky Wes Anderson fun. Amelie is a joy. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is the craziest piece of filmmaking in the year. At least until you see Memento. Both are intense, unique experiences. Might I also suggest ...

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Ghost World
Moulin Rouge!
Monster's Ball
The Majestic

Some controversial choices there, I reckon. A.I. is a savage meditation on the nature of love; most people have not warmed to it, probably because it rejects the whole idea of warmth. The Majestic is an attempt to do a modern-day Frank Capra movie; it might fall a bit short of those heights, but its still wonderful, anchored by Jim Carrey's earnest performance. Ghost World is kind of the girl version of Superbad and a lot of fun. It's worthwhile after all the crud she's done since to go back to Monster's Ball and marvel at just how brilliant Halle Berry is in it. Roger Ebert once wrote of Moulin Rouge that it was like being trapped in an elevator with the circus. That mania is exactly why I'm so fond of it.


The Pianist
Y Tu Mama Tambien

Only two in 2002? Both top notch. Might I also suggest ...

Minority Report
Catch Me If You Can
Panic Room
Punch-Drunk Love

Two Spielberg films this year, both wildly entertaining. David Fincher's Panic Room is intense and inventive and underrated. Chicago is a great big, splashy musical and we need a lot more of those. And then there's Punch-Drunk Love, a kind of deconstructed Adam Sandler comedy that's not to all tastes, but I dig it.


City of God
Finding Nemo

Interesting choices from yahoo for this year. They're all about just how harrowing it can be to be a kid (or to be around a kid). I wouldn't include Nemo, the least of the Pixar films. Might I also suggest ...

Mystic River
Lost in Translation
Kill Bill
(The ...uh ... Duology? Biology?)
A Mighty Wind
School of Rock

If yahoo can count all three Lord of the Rings movies in 2001, I can count both Kill Bill movies for this year, even though only Volume 1 came out. School of Rock and A Mighty Wind are both completely winning music-comedies. Lost in Translation is a sweet, sad, enigmatic romance. Mystic River is Macbeth on the banks of the river Charles.


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Shaun of the Dead

Love 'em all. It's all been downhill for Will Ferrell since Anchorman. Shaun is a hoot. Sideways is an alcohol-fueled road buddy film that turns disarmingly serious. And Eternal Sunshine delivers a labyrinthine look at love gone wrong, then gone away. Might I also suggest ...

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Spider-Man 2
The Incredibles
The Aviator
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Oh, I know. Some will disagree with that last one. All I can say to them is, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!" The Aviator is the best Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration to date. Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles are neck and neck as the best superhero movies ever. Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movie. Lots of bests.


The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Brokeback Mountain
A History of Violence

Again, it shames me to admit that I haven't seen the non-English language film on the list. But then, what good would a list like this be if it didn't steer you towards stuff you haven't managed to catch yet? Oldboy, you're on my radar and I'll take a look soon. Virgin is the picture that defined the Judd Apatow aesthetic that's been so prevalent in American comedies since. Violence is a taut thriller starring one of my favorite actors in the world, Mr. Viggo Mortensen. And after the dust settled and everybody was done telling their dumb gay cowboy jokes, with Brokeback, we were left with an incredibly sad American tragedy about lies shattering families and costing lives. Might I also suggest ...

Cinderella Man
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Sin City

Okay. So Serenity is mainly up there serving as a kind of tombstone for the late, lamented "Firefly." That series is utterly and completely essential and that means that this movie is, as well. Munich is another in an incredibly prolific run from Steven Spielberg, and it's chilling. Cinderella Man, on the other hand, is fully uplifting and triumphal. Subtle it ain't, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith functions as a great action adventure and a societal satire as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attempt to kill each other with a lifetime's accumulated clutter. Sin City is a stylistic stunner, impossible and audacious.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Children of Men
The Lives of Others
Pan's Labyrinth

The three of these that I've seen are absolutely necessary. Borat is a riot. Duh. Children of Men is science fiction for grown-ups. And Pan's Labyrinth is a journey inside a child's mind that isn't all candy coating and primary colors. It's not so much a fairy tale as it is the raw, unrefined material that fairy tales are made of. Might I also suggest ...

United 93
Inside Man
Little Miss Sunshine
Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima

Got another twofer in there. This time at least they were both released in the same year. Eastwood's meditations on the seminal battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II are both good movies on their own (Letters is a little better than Flags). But taken as a piece, they form an unprecedented attempt to truly tell a balanced account of a legendary conflict. Little Miss Sunshine is an uproarious comedy about how everyone's family looks insane. Inside Man is Spike Lee's meticulous hold-up thriller with another stellar turn for Clive Owen; good year for him. Babel interweaves the tales of three groups of people separated by continents. And United 93, with no stars and a documentary approach, tells the tale of those ordinary Americans who saved countless lives on 9/11.


4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Again, I haven't seen the foreign films on the list. I swear, I like foreign films. Sigh. The Bourne movies are dandy little popcorn thrillers, but I wouldn't have one on a list like this. Clayton, Blood, and Old Men are all towering achievements. Might I also suggest ...

Into the Wild
(Full theatrically released version)

The theatrical presentation of Grindhouse with cheesy double feature and fake trailers (one of which, Machete, is about to become an actual film) appears to have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, since the Weinsteins show no interest in a full DVD release. Glad I caught it. Zodiac is the antithesis of a film I listed earlier from the same director, Se7en; here the serial killer ain't that clever or artistic and the investigation dead-ends. Ratatouille is nothing less than a meditation on what it means to be an artist. A rat artist. Superbad is the template for all the bromance comedies that have followed. Into the Wild is a truly touching film, triumphant and tragic, centered around Emile Hirsch's tour de force starring role.


The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

All three are deserving. All three are dialled in to serious issues without sacrificing entertainment value. Dark Knight centers on trying to wrap your head around an incomprehensible threat. Slumdog Millionaire examines the role of destiny/pure dumb luck in determining one's social and economic fate. WALL-E is an environmental fable and the best silent movie in three quarters of a century. Might I also suggest ...

Rachel Getting Married
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Wrestler
The Bank Job

Rachel Getting Married proved once and for all that there was more to Anne Hathaway than airy-fairy princesses. Forgetting Sarah Marshall cleverly reverses gender roles with Jason Segel getting the bawling diva part while Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis play tough and sexually empowered. Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky toes a fine line between being upbeat and being annoying; the key to her character is a wry intelligence. Mickey Rourke's comeback in The Wrestler is one of the great stories of modern cinema. Marisa Tomei is superb here as well. And The Bank Job is a tight little thriller with Jason Statham ably stepping out of lunkhead action and laying claim as the heir to the British new wave of Angry Young Men. He ain't that young and the wave ain't that new, but film geeks know what I mean.


The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Ah 2009. it seems like only four months ago ... So wistful. Well, those are my top three films of the year, so I guess I can't complain about their inclusion here. Avatar is this generation's Star Wars. The Hurt Locker sidesteps any overt political commentary and makes a much more potent political statement than a shrill screed ever could have. Basterds might have the trappings of a WWII film, but make no mistake about it, it is firmly set in Tarantino-ville and is all about those twin Quentin obsessions, movies and vengeance. Might I also suggest ...

(500) Days of Summer
District 9
A Serious Man
Up In the Air

It wasn't all that long ago, right? We all remember these, right? Well, just in case ... Up is another charmer from Pixar about the glories of -- and the burdens of -- the past. (500) Days of Summer tells you right up front that it's not a romance. But it is. Shhhh. District 9 subjects aliens to apartheid. Turns out they don't care for it any more than humans did. Even with all the cat food. A Serious Man features an ancient Jewish fable that the Coen brothers just made up. And Up In the Air shows the perils of detachment while living through the downsized recession of our modern economy.

Phew. So there you go. 100 movies from yahoo. 100 more from me. Looking back, it's been a pretty fair 20 years. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some foreign films to watch before I die.

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