Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 50 Best Films of the Decade (40-31)

40) Casino Royale (2006) dir: Martin Campbell

The best Bond film ever made with some of the best action sequences of the last decade. The only bad thing about Casino Royale is that the best sequence comes within the first 15 minutes, a high-energy chase through a construction zone in a developing African city (I could look up which city, but really?) Quantum of Solace wasn't terrible, but please give the Bond films back to Martin Campbell. He did this one and another pretty good one (Goldeneye). Let's just stick with what works, ok?

39) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) dir: Werner Herzog

Honestly, given another few months, this film might move up on the list. A perfectly written, perfectly conceived, and perfectly cast film. Nicholas Cage is the only person who could have played this role, and there are very few roles that I could say that about. Cage's hyperactive, frantic expressions work brilliantly here. John Updike once wrote of Vladimir Nabokov: "Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written. That is, ecstatically." That's how Werner Herzog directs Bad Lieutenant.

werner herzog and nicolas cage

38) Adaptation (2002) dir: Spike Jonze

Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze made amazing films before Jonze went to the big leagues and Kaufman started getting all up in his own business. (Maybe I should see Synecdoche, New York again?) A silly, twisty comedy that becomes a thriller that becomes a comedy again, Kaufman managed to adapt a book about flowers and make it completely about himself. Sounds like something I would do.

37) High Fidelity (2000) dir: Stephen Frears

Frears' best film since My Beautiful Laundrette (boo-ya!), I almost forgot High Fidelity still came out within the last ten years. I was still in high school when I first saw it, and it was maybe the first time I saw a comedy in theaters that was both really funny and "a film." Intensely enjoyable with the performance that made Jack Black a star.

36) Munich (2005) dir: Steven Spielberg

That's right. Spielberg was in top form this decade -- and Munich was neither pro nor anti-Israeli. It presents the story of what men do when they feel threatened, and the systematic process by which war can be conducted in modern times. The film also looks great, and Spielberg creates some wonderfully suspenseful moments. I'm thinking of the sequence where the little girl runs back into the apartment where the bomb is ready to explode.

35) Gran Torino (2008) dir: Clint Eastwood

It's been difficult for me to fully embrace Clint Eastwood as a director. I enjoyed Mystic River, but thought Million Dollar Baby was way overpraised. In the last few years though, I finally got it. His best film is Gran Torino, though the also excellent Letters From Iwo Jima could also be on this list (one of those many Honorable Mention omissions). Gran Torino allows Eastwood one more chance to be the ultimate bad-ass, though he's a bit more crotchety here than when he made films with Sergio Leone.

34) Swimming Pool (2003) dir: Francois Ozon

One of many glorious mindfucks that came out in the past decade, Ozon lets us watch two fine actresses do their thing, with motivation and agenda always under the surface. Charlotte Rampling plays a mystery novelist tired of doing the same old stories. She travels to her editor's empty home in France to get some inspiration. What she finds there is his sexually bold daughter, and a mystery far more cerebral than your standard Agatha Christie.

swimming pool

33) You Can Count On Me (2000) dir: Kenneth Lonergan

"Remember what we used to say to each other when we were kids?" Thank goodness Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo leave that question unanswered. It's part of the often-brilliant subtlety of this drama. Lonergan's follow-up film, Margaret, comes out this year. We can only hope it's as incisive and well-structured as You Can Count On Me.

32) No Country For Old Men (2007) dir: Joel and Ethan Coen

The film that finally got the Coen brothers their directing Oscar is a masterpiece of suspense. Javier Bardem's performance as Anton Chigurh is one of the most menacing and eerie in recent years. His eyes show no conscience and no remorse. It is his actions, contrasted with the persistent but ultimately flawed police work of Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff Bell, that lead to No Country's spare and nihilistic conclusion. The Coens' first film, Blood Simple, also took place in rural Texas. This setting is the perfect backdrop for characters that simply get up to no good.

31) The Lives Of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2007) dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (spelled correctly on the first try!)

If you haven't seen this film yet, do yourself a favor and Netflix this action. Some people think it suffers from Return Of The King Neverending Syndrome, but I think it ends exactly where it should. For a story that crosses over so many years, and with lives that are undeniably connected, each new twist lends new meaning. Ulrich Mühe plays an agent in the East German secret police in the 1908s. He's charged with spying on a playwright who's suspected of acting against the government. This story develops not because of political intrigue, though, but because of a woman. Even the most hardened of communist politicians have weaknesses.

No comments: