Sunday, March 14, 2010

To be concluded... (finally!)

Before I get on with the countdown from two weeks ago, it occurs to me that I have a few honorable mentions/runners up that didn't really fit in with any of the other movie-type categories, so I wanted to take a moment to mention them here:

Cast Away: Fine acting from Tom Hanks- especially considering that there is little dialogue throughout the movie. Not an easy task, I am sure. You know he's done an impressive job when you find even yourself caring about Wilson and mourning his loss almost as much as Hanks' character does. I also like the ambiguity of the ending- surprisingly satisfying.

This film is just so goofy, one cannot help but laugh. Hard. Will Ferrell is brilliantly hilarious, but the supporting cast is also witty and engaging (I especially love Peter Dinklage as the "angry elf.")

Finding Neverland: Absolutely charming! Johnny Depp was brilliant, and for one of the first times ever, Kate Winslet didn't bug me. I really enjoyed her performance, as well. But the most incredible performance goes to Freddie Highmore- he just breaks your heart! (In a good way.)

Return to Me: In my opinion, this is one that finds a perfect balance between the romance and comedy in romantic comedies. It's an atypical story that still feels real. It is fun; it is sweet; it just makes me smile again and again! (Great scene: four old men dancing together to Frank Sinatra.)

The Lake House: Another romantic comedy that throws a not-unheard-of twist by playing with time... but it still makes my heart ache (in a good way) as the story unfolds and I anticipate the sweetly satisfying ending. Plus, I, for one, love the tie-in to Persuasion (I loved that book!).

The Mummy Returns: I would have included The Mummy in my top 20, but since it was one of those 1999 flicks, it didn't quite fit the required criteria. The Mummy Returns isn't quite as good, but it is still so thoroughly fun and entertaining that I had to give it an honorable mention slot!

: The kids in this movie are great, but for me, it is really Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson that do it. Simply hilarious!

Missed Runner Up to "modern musical": Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog (I love Joss and Nathan!) Yeah, I know it maybe shouldn't count since it was an internet release, but I'm sorry- it's too good NOT to mention. (If you haven't yet seen it, you'd better rectify that situation immediately!)

I also feel I should add a brief disclaimer here: The ranking of these films is based on my thoughts/feelings at the time of writing this post and could be subject to variation within any given conversation (With the exceptions of LOTR, which will always remain #1, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which will most likely remain at #2).

Now, on to what you really came here for- the rest of the best of the decade!

Picking up where I left off...

10. Spider-man 2: Having never been one for comic books, I give kudos to those who not only bring them to life, but do so with such creative energy that one cannot help but enjoy the ride (and what a wild ride the web-slinging wonder creates!). That being said, I chose Spider-man 2 over the first Spider-man simply because I like it better. Overall, I feel that the issues are more complex- dealing with who we are expected to be and who we choose to be, how those choices affect our relationships with the ones we love, etc. I also love Doc Ock as a tragically flawed hero-villain who ultimately finds redemption.

Runners Up to the Comic Book films: Spider-man (The original one was still pretty amazing!), X-Men (A fascinating look at the potential power of mutant evolution and how it can be used for good or evil), X-2 (Another of the rare sequels that was as good as the first, possibly better), Unbreakable (Yes, I know it wasn't technically a comic book-based movie, but I love the intriguing way it centers around comic book themes for it's plot... and it is a very interesting look at what makes a "superhero" and how they are invariably connected to the "supervillain.")

The Bourne Trilogy: The action in these movies is simply fantastic- it really is almost impossible to choose a favorite among the three. I love mysterious atmosphere of The Bourne Identity, the way the questions about his past continue to pile up. I love the simple revenge factor of The Bourne Supremacy and the way he tries to make amends (also, Karl Urban is very nice to look at in this one!). And I like that we finally get some answers in the third. Matt Damon is extraordinary in the role of Jason Bourne- as Steven is always quick to point out, he can make the most mundane item a deadly weapon, from a pen to a magazine! Of course, the best part is the way he is always one step ahead of his pursuers!

Runners Up to Awesome Action Flicks: Serenity (Come on, River taking on a whole flock of Reavers- almost completely unarmed?! Yeah, it's pretty much awesome.)

8. Casino Royale: Like Beckie, I was never a really big fan of the Bond franchise. I wasn't necessarily anti-Bond- I just never made time for them; I felt like I could take them or leave them (and, for the most part, I left them- I could probably count on one hand the number of Bond films I'd seen up to this point). This new Bond flick completely turned my opinion around. For the first time, I actually cared about James Bond. Daniel Craig's portrayal created an interesting combination of a gritty yet polished character (tough as nails yet smooth as satin...), not easily broken. Clearly, he is a man not to be messed with. I loved it!

Runners Up to the Action Flicks: Quantum of Solace (I really loved the explosive ending on this one!)

WALL-E/Finding Nemo: I'm sorry- I know this seems like cheating, putting two movies in the same slot/rank- I really just could not choose between the two. WALL-E was brilliantly creative considering the significant lack of dialogue. The characters are absolutely charming (and I really enjoyed the inclusion of Hello, Dolly! bits- though there must be a major scratch on the video tape since it cuts from the beginning to the end of the movie...) I also appreciated the rather disturbing satire on the future we may be looking at if current consumer trends do not change (e.g. severe obesity due to sheer laziness, expecting everything else to do the work for us, even thinking... And note how the world left behind is basically covered in garbage- WALL-E is able to build entire cities out of the garbage he has been compressing for who knows how long...)

Finding Nemo was equally delightful, though. The whole movie was hilariously funny, yet poignant as it takes a look at parents learning to let go and children learning how to grow up.

And let's be honest- Ellen as Dory- simply classic!

*Great Lines: "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming..."; "I wish I could speak whale!"

Runners Up to Animated Films: I agree with Beckie- basically ANY Pixar film made during this time period! (I especially liked The Incredibles)

The Bridge to Terebithia: When I first read this book as a kid, I was instantly entranced by by the imaginative world I was led to. I felt connected because these were kids like me- not entirely accepted by their peers, finding escape through their day dreams... The movie renewed that sense of wonder and loss and coping. Once, as I watched, I found myself weeping, not just because of the tragic turn of events, but because I longed to have my students experience the magic of imagination, to feel the wonder as creativity unfolds, and feared that they may never feel such things. Still, I continue to hope that all children will, at some point, discover the power and beauty of the visionary mind.

The Dark Knight: I'll be honest- I found some of the earlier Batman flicks to be entertaining, and Batman Begins definitely gets credit for breathing new life and new dimensions into the franchise, bringing greater insight and depth to the character (Also, though I like Maggie Gyllenhall okay as Rachel Dawes, I actually preferred Katie Holmes in the role). But while it was an amazing movie, The Dark Knight was even more phenomenal. Jack Nicholson had made a wonderfully twisted and demented Joker, playing a man pissed off at the world that had screwed him over in so many ways. However, Heath Ledger completely one-upped him by creating a frighteningly unmotivated character who "just wants to watch the world burn." Again, I love how it deals with various complex issues, the very kinds of twisted issues we only hope we never have to face in reality. It's like taking the game, "What would be worse?" and turning it into real-life situations... Yet, despite the dark themes, I love how there are still threads of hope woven throughout the film.

*Best line of the movie: "Let me get this straight: you think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?! Good luck!" -(Lucius Fox, after Coleman Reese reveals what he knows about Bruce Wayne)

4. Star Trek: Holy cow, such a good film! I love the unconventional use of time (i.e. the changed timeline is not "fixed" by the end of the movie); I love the attention to detail (despite all the violent fights found in film, you rarely see someone with wadded tissues stuck up their nose to stop the bleeding); I love how the first scene, with its simple heroism in the face of frightening situations, still makes me cry (the music certainly does its part well). Most of all, I love the actors and the way they own their roles. I love that they are not overshadowed by the overwhelming icons of their predecessors, especially those of Shatner and Nimoy. I love the way the writers/director add layers of complexity to Spock, dealing with both sides of his heritage. But as much as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto dominate, the rest of the cast still creates a powerful- and entertaining- supporting crew (I love Karl Urban and Simon Pegg!). The film was simply amazing!

3. The Prestige: This mind-bending film packs in some brilliant suspense as one magician is always trying to outdo the other. As entertaining as it is, it is also a thinker film with a fantastic twist that still blows my mind every time I watch it. David Bowie was an unexpectedly delightful surprise (I didn't recognize him the first time I watched it- he does a nice job with this more serious role- a complete change from the hypnotically over-the-top Jareth in Labyrinth.) This movie takes an interesting look at what drives us, to what lengths we are willing to go to "beat" our opponents/enemies. Even knowing the end, I still find it to be a fascinating journey every time.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: More often than not, my experience with literature-based films is that I watch the movie before reading the book. That way, I find that I can enjoy both (instead of experiencing the common feeling of let-down when the movie doesn't live up to one's expectations based on the book). Having read The Chronicles of Narnia back in college, I was both excited and worried when I saw they were turning it into a movie. The previews looked promising, but I know well how misleading previews can be. When I found myself moved to tears within the first five minutes of the movie, I knew I was in for an unbelievable experience, and was thrilled when the movie more than delivered! I felt it stayed true to the plot, and more importantly, the essence of the book, yet it added levels of complexity that only emphasized the meaning behind the story. Most especially, I fell in love with Skandar Keynes (well, not really- I mean, he is a little young...)- while Edmund is definitely a beastly brat for most of the book, this kid turned him into a far more dynamic and complex character. His portrayal- especially his redemption in the end, made me love Edmund when I really hadn't before. Considering the inexperience of most of the actors involved, this film was truly a triumph in so many ways!

Runners Up to Fantasy Adventure films: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Despite some changes from the book, I felt those changes didn't disrupt the essence of the story. There is some fantastic fighting (especially the duel between Peter and Miraz), and I still love Edmund and Trumpkin and their great one-liners!)

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Best! Ever! Really, I don't know what more I can add to what the family has already said numerous times (Both Steven's and Beckie's reviews say it all better, anyway). These movies have truly changed my life. They profound. They are moving (I still cry at Boromir's death, at Sam's speech about the stories that matter, at most of the end of The Return of the King... and several scenes in between). They have raised the bar and set a standard for films that may never be beaten. And I'm perfectly okay with that. (And for those who may disagree with this choice, I simply weep for your loss.)

So. Done. Take it for whatever it is worth.

At the very least, I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.

(And please forgive the weirdly tiny font in places- Blogger was really doing a bizarre, stupid number on my font-age...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Countdown Begins...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Beckie issued the challenge for us to come up with our top 20 movies of the decade. I liked the challenge, but felt at somewhat of a disadvantage because, while I have seen plenty of movies over the past 10 years, even good movies, I didn't feel that a majority of them would be considered the kind of life-changing, mind-changing, or mind-blowing movies that typically make these sorts of lists. This feeling was further exacerbated as I read through the lists she and my brother came up with, lists that many movie critics might agree with overall, but that felt out of my reach because I had seen relatively few of those movies.

Still, I did not want to give up on the idea of creating my own top 20 list (I just couldn't seem to pare it down to just 10), so I picked up the proverbial gauntlet and began my cinematic analysis of the best films made since 2000. I began to feel that it should have, perhaps, been a top 20 movies of the year 1999, since a lot of the movies that first came to mind were put out that year. Still, undaunted, I kept at it. It has been a long process over the last few weeks, (and I'd hoped to get this done BEFORE the Oscars- alas, too many other demands on my time...) but I feel that, at long last, I have compiled a list of movies that I, at least, feel have been the most meaningful and/or entertaining to me, movies that either changed the way I looked at the world or changed the way I looked at movies (or simply created a thoroughly entertaining experience).

So, without further ado, I give you:

The Top 20 Movies of the Decade (according to Elise Lambson)

20. Enchanted: Okay, so I know a lot of you would think this a fluffy enough film to wonder why it would make the top 20. However, I am always one who appreciates the non-conventional. (I loved Ever After so much for that reason- it twists the traditional story and makes it even stronger and more meaningful as a result, not to mention fun to watch.) What I loved about Enchanted was that a) it showed that the classic-style musical is not totally obsolete where film is concerned (come on, how can you NOT want to get up and dance with "How Will She Know?") b) it pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale genre (gross as it is, the Snow White-esque scene where she gets all the vermin to help her clean while she sings is cleverly sardonic.) c) it twists the genre by not only switching the "princes," but by having the princess save her true love. And let’s be honest, Susan Sarandon is a pretty fantastically evil queen!

19. Runaway Jury: I'll be the first to admit that typically, I'm not one who exerts a lot of effort to predict an ending- I just like to sit back and enjoy the journey. Thus, when a bit of a twist comes my way, it is usually extra delightful. Such was the case with this one. But even more than the twist, even more than the superb acting by John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, what I loved about it was the integrity of Dustin Hoffman’s character. As much as he wanted to win the case, and he wanted it very badly, he decided that the price of the jury was worth neither his soul nor his integrity. An amazing movie with fantastic suspense and tension!

18. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: I have said it often enough- Peter Weir is one of the most underappreciated directors ever. Yet I always find him insightful and profound in so many ways. Master and Commander was no exception. Aside from being just a good, old-fashioned adventure on the high seas, there are so many moments filled with poignant realization—the relationship between the captain and the doctor, the heartbreaking innocence of Blakeney that quickly dissipates in the midst of such experiences, the tragic misfortune of Hollam… I love Peter Weir!

17. Pirates of the Caribbean: Speaking of adventures on the high seas, this movie was just so much fun! It was a bit of a tough choice between this one and Stardust- both are truly entertaining, and Stardust is so delightfully unconventional (DiNiro dancing in a tutu never fails to make me giggle!). Ultimately, though, it was Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow that won out- such a “defining without defining” role for Depp.

Runners Up for Swashbuckling entertainment (yeah, I stole Beckie’s idea- so sue me…): Stardust, The Count of Monte Cristo (I love poetic justice, and this is a fantastic revenge film that successfully rises above the cliché.)

16. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: I was introduced to this little known jewel by my roommate, Rachel. I had never heard of it. She brought it home one day and asked if I wanted to watch it with her. I didn’t have anything else pressing on my time, so I did. Once again, the tragic innocence of the two boys of the film, one the son of a high-up Nazi officer, the other a Jewish boy in a nearby concentration camp, is absolutely heart-rending. It is an interesting look at the Holocaust from the eyes of children, how these two boys’ lives are forever changed by the friendship they dared to create… I highly recommend it (though I warn you, it is a definite tear-jerker).

Runners Up for Historical Fiction: Gladiator (I love how it makes history interesting, yet is not so at odds with historical facts that it couldn’t have happened that way.)

15. The Others: This movie proved that a director can still create an effectively spooky atmosphere without overdone, over-hyped special effects. The chills from this movie come from superb usage of light, shadow, scripting, and acting. From beginning to end, it is eerie and unsettling, with quite a thrilling twist.

Runners Up for Scary/Spooky films: The Mothman Prophecies (Bizarre, I’ll grant you, but also nicely disquieting and provocative), The Village (I love the relationship between Lucius and Ivy, made more profound because it is so restrained and subtle, and I find the twist at the end intriguing.)

14. Minority Report: Like Beckie, I am a fan of the dystopian story, and this one is fantastically done. What I love most about it, though, is the emphasis on the power of choice. Despite the impressive “technology” behind Pre-Crime, it is proved repeatedly that we can still choose to be the masters of our own fate.

*Profound line: “Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” (Dr. Iris Hineman)

Runners Up to Sci-Fi Action films: Paycheck (Yes, it perhaps unrealistic, and yes, it has Ben Affleck, but I just really like the mind-bending use of time, puzzles, etc.)

13. Invictus: Contrary to popular belief, this is not really a sports film, and that is where it is significant. While the plot seems to center around rugby, the team and the game are simply used to reflect the strong and harsh political issues and realities surrounding these people. We still care about the underdog team fighting against all odds, but the story manages to transcend the sport, and the rousing victory at the end becomes not just an athletic one, but a political one as well. Morgan and Matt are rock solid as the men fighting against the deeply ingrained prejudices of their beloved homeland who lead their people to greater heights as a result.

Runners Up to Underdog Films: Cinderella Man (Another one that successfully avoids being a “sports film” – wonderfully acted by all involved!), Remember the Titans (Yes, this falls under the more traditional “sports film” category, but stands apart because the sports story becomes more allegorical and meaningful as these kids also fight strong racism and prejudice.)

12. Avatar:
Whatever else one may say or feel about James Cameron, this movie is incredible. The visionary technology is amazing, and honestly, I think he manages to create characters that become real to us, characters that we find ourselves interested in, that we end up caring about (I didn’t cry when Michelle Rodriguez’ character died, but I was deeply saddened by the event). The story is, perhaps, a bit predictable, but that doesn’t equal meaningless. There is still a lot of meaningful relevance about the film, whether about conservation, spirituality, or simply peacefully co-existing with those that seem different from us. And quite honestly, it is worth the three-hour watch time just to see the exotic creativity and the amazingly breathtaking scenery.

11. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: I get completely enthralled by these books, and I feel that the last two movies were especially well-done—the music is extraordinary and original and fits the story perfectly, the acting is finally as solid as it should be (with very few exceptions), and they do a nice job of paring down the epic novels into reasonable movies without losing out on the essentials (and even some of the bonuses). While Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix gets kudos because it made me enjoy it when I hadn’t really enjoyed the book much, Half-blood Prince wins out because a) it is one of my favorites of the series (tied for first place alongside Prisoner of Azkaban) and b) the whole episode with Harry and the Felix Felicis is just too funny!

Runners up to Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy films: All the other Harry Potter films because they helped bring us to this point, Coraline (I just think it’s clever, creative, and I enjoy Neil Gaiman.)

Stay Tuned: Coming up soon, my Top 10 picks...