Thursday, December 31, 2009

Big Mike's Top Films of the Decade, Part 3

10. About A Boy (2002)

Hugh Grant gives his finest, his favorite and his most natural performance in About A Boy, a film that could have fallen into more than a dozen movie clich├ęs, but instead becomes something very touching by belying it’s story with relatable characters in real situations. A strong British cast and a director who insisted on keeping it British-based like the novel by Nick Horby, combine to make a film would shun conventional wisdom and become a new type of film in the romantic comedy genre. Divorce, suicide and drug use may have been slightly more taboo in 2002, (no rhyme intended) but Will, Marcus, Fiona, Ellie, Rachel and Ali manage to come together and carve out a life for themselves amongst their unique island chain that more closely resembles the familial units of today that perhaps any other movie before or since it.

9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Very few romantic comedies actually get to be funny, touching and realistic all at once which makes Forgetting Sarah Marshall so unforgettable (pun intended.). With a great script and leading turn from Jason Segal made his Peter Brenner such a lovable character, you sympathized with him instantly. But, the performances of the other Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Russell Brand made a much more profound story of people caught up in each other’s love lives, where nobody is the villain and even our hero needs to work on himself. It’s a very personal and moving film beneath the full frontal male nudity and puppet musicals, Forgetting Sarah Marshall stands as one of the best pure romantic comedies of all time.

8. Iron Man (2008)

The second best comic book movie on this list, for being able to do what The Dark Knight did better. By making Tony Stark a human character with very real flaws and setting the story in a world we recognize, director Jon Favreau blew the lid off of the summer last year for Marvel comics, die hard comic geeks, mainstream audiences, rival studios and oh yea, a little actor named Robert Downey Jr. Although he never really left, Iron Man was his overhand right knockout punch of a comeback that solidified him not only as one of our most talented actors, but a bonafide movie star.

7. Amelie (2001)

Exaggeration aside, it is extremely difficult NOT to fall in love with Audrey Tautou’s Amelie and her fabulous destiny. A romantic fantasy of a movie with a look that goes hand in hand with the main character, Amelie was a movie that made casual moviegoers take a second look at foreign films, but honestly, I just fall to pieces every time that I watch it. Even though the outcome is predictable enough after the first viewing, you fall in love with Amelie and hope for her to find love and find herself all over again.

6. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Combining zombies, British romantic comedies and a fast paced visual style that matched the tone of the picture; Shaun of the Dead was a bit of fried gold in a genre that had long gone stale.Action comedies had died off in the early Nineties, along with horror films, but here was a movie that never took itself too seriously, but was dead on (pun intended) as both a great film and a loving homage to it’s numerous influences. Scary, hilarious and touching, the movie and its creators managed to achieve what many movies fail to even aspire to become and that’s why you find it on most lists for this decade.

5. The Aviator (2004)

The second Scorsese movie on the list already, but it was probably a more personal film than even Gangs of New York. The story of Howard Hughes follows him from a young film director to aviation pioneer and shows us his relentless drive for perfection, the toll it takes on his personal life and what it means to struggle and fight for your vision. Sound familiar? Scorsese also seamlessly weaves in brilliant performances from everyone in the cast including DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda and Alec Baldwin while shooting the film not only in period, but also in the cinematic style of the period from two-strip color film to dazzling Technicolor. One of his many underrated masterpieces, in the end, it might hold up better than a lot of his other films.

4. The Prestige (2006)

This might have been the movie I watched the most times in this decade, if for no other reason than I was determined to discover the secret of Borden’s trick. But, that’s not important in hindsight, because The Prestige is an amazing film that is not only a meditation on cinema itself, but plays with the very idea of entertainers, audiences and the relationship between the two of them. A lot of people talk about seeing something new every time they watch a movie, but The Prestige is a film in which it’s actually true. Chris Nolan made this movie in between both Batman films and matures so nicely as a director, it’s exciting to think about what he will bring in the 10’s with Inception and a third Batman film.

3. Children of Men (2006)

Though Children of Men certainly has its detractors, the movie has made several best of the 00’s lists and for good reason. Coming of the critical success of his installment of Harry Potter, director Alfonso Cuaron co-wrote and directed the science fiction story of a future where humankind is going extinct and made an amazing movie by focusing on the simple plotline of ‘get the girl to the boat.’ Clive Owen gives probably his best performance as Theo, a disillusioned former revolutionary, who becomes the reluctant hero that might just save mankind. But, the movie just pulls you into the story with a stark vision of the future that every day looks more and more likely and combines it with very simple characters trying to change the world and make a new future.

2. The Departed (2006)

The first of a few Scorsese movies on this list, The Departed is unique on the 2000’s because it is the one film that is really Scorsese in his comfort zone. A cop and robbers story set against the backdrop of Boston and Irish Americans (yes, it is important to note that.) he goes back to theGoodfellas style of directing and pulls out all the tricks, winning himself his Academy Award at long last. But, for me the film is all about the performances of the two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. That both were ignored in the award season that year is more criminal that anything else in the movie. Even when you can start to sense every twist and turn in the story, Leo and Matty keep you on edge and manage to make you fearful for both of their lives, never knowing which one you really want to side with. And isn’t that a great theme for the film?

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

What can I say about this movie a year after its release that I haven’t said over and over again on this blog? Forget about the Academy Awards, the billion-dollar box office, the brilliant performances of Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart, and the amazing talent of Chris Nolan as director and writer, the IMAX images, the breathtaking action sequences and the horrifying realistic themes of the film. The Dark Knight is just pure entertainment, a crime story, a comic book movie, and a political and social commentary and hands down one of the most fantastic movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I said it that morning after I walked out of the theatre and I will stand by it for the next several decades.

Big Mike's Top Films of the Decade, Part 2

20. Revolutionary Road (2008)

Some movies leave your memory almost as soon as you leave the theatre, but Revolutionary Road is a film that stays with you long after you finished it. Hypnotizing you with the beautiful imagery of the “Mad Men” era, (the television series was based on this book), the more in depth you get into the lives of Frank and April, the more crushing it becomes when their world falls apart. And yes, this was Kate Winslet’s best performance of that year.

19. No Country For Old Men (2007)

Not only did No Country make me go back to back with my Best Picture predictions, but also it was one of the most serious films about violence and the human psyche ever made in America.Though I have heard some crazy theories about the film, (not the least of them being that Javier Bardem’s character didn’t actually exist, but he was a figament of Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s imagination, allowing HIM to commit these killings.) I really admire Josh Brolin’s performance above all of the others.

18. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

The reason I chose the second Bourne movie over any of the other two is basically because I feel that in the second installment, Jason Bourne has an emotional drive throughout the film that’s not necessitated by survival, but simply by revenge. Yes, Matt Damon kicks ass in all three movies and the Greengrass films are probably superior to Liman’s, but in Supremacy, the origin story is out of the way and we simply watch as Jason Bourne does what Jason Bourne was made to do.

17. Volver (2006)

One of Almodovar’s best films ever and probably Penelope Cruz’s best performance ever, the film took elements of Hitchcock, a brilliant color palette and of course, a love of cinema to make what appears to be an ethereal story about life into a simple story of family and love. And of course, it opened up Cruz to a better range of roles and we’ll all better off for that.

16. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

With the exception of Memento, no other film this decade played more with the narrative structure of a story than Mulholland Dr. David Lynch reminds audiences why every movie he makes is required viewing and the pairing of Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring has been written about ad nauseam, but they are one of the best on-screen couples of all time.

15. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Beautiful. There is no other single adjective to describe this film than that. In terms of visuals, emotions, acting, dialogue, casting and everything else that went into the making of this movie, Ang Lee crafted a film that was so moving and so profound that many people had no choice to ignore it, rather than look inside of themselves and let the film affect them. People will still be watching this instead of reruns of ‘Crash’.

14. Y Tu Mama, Tambien (2001)

One of three foreign films on this list, Y Tu Mama was a huge success in Mexico and a moderate success in America, but it really opened the door for director Alfonso Cuaron (who will appear later on the list) as well as Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal. But, the reason is was so successful it that it was a very touching coming of age story ably told by great acting and wonderful direction.

13. Chicago (2003)

Amongst all the musicals of the decade, there may have been a few I enjoyed more, but Chicago was simply a much better made film than all of them. It opened the door for the new wave of Hollywood musicals while showing shades of the Golden Age musicals and keeping in touch with its roots as a Broadway production. And in case you’re like me and had a hard time paying attention to MORE than Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and John C. Reilly are criminally unappreciated for their supporting roles.

12. The Incredibles (2004)

This is the only Pixar movie on my list, the only cartoon and without out a doubt the best superhero movie (Batman and Iron Man have NO superpowers) of the decade. Spinning the classic superhero genre and comic book setting of retro future by placing the heroes in a litigious, ignorant world that too closely resembled our own, The Incredibles became an instant classic that could be enjoyed by everyone in your family, even when inspiring obnoxious criticism such as this. Oh yea, and with only about five minutes of screen time, Edna Mode goes down as best supporting character of the 2000’s.

11. Gangs of New York (2002)

Martin Scorsese’s labor of love that was considered an impossible project for more than twenty years finally came to pass in 2002, following closely on the heels of the attacks of 9/11. While it certainly remained in many viewers’ minds as they watched, most could not ignore the sheer magnitude of Scorsese’s biggest film ever. Though the film is far from perfect and had a large contingent of critics who were jumping to point them out, even they could not deny the scope of Scorsese’s vision. Huge sets in Rome, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, and a long running time that garnered a lot of media attention were just a few of the elements that helped the movie earn 10 Acadeny Awards nominations and helped re-establish Scorsese as a master filmmaker after a couple of flops, which in turn would lead him to make the movies that follow this one on the list. Personally, this movie helped me rediscover the magic behind making movies and I became fascinated with everything from the cinematography to Day-Lewis’ accent.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas, Part 2

The second half our of Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas double feature is the film that Downey had hoped would be part of his big comeback, but instead has enjoyed a much more unique status as a cult comedy, the Shane Black scripted and directed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Co-starring with Val Kilmer, Downey is perfectly cast as Harry Lockhart, a petty criminal who literally stumbles upon the acting opportunity of his life. Flown from New York to Los Angeles, he tags along with Kilmer's private eye Gay Perry in an attempt to study for his upcoming audition. What follows is murder, mystery, long lost loves and laugh out loud one-liners. Downey and Kilmer play beautifully off each other as they try to stay one step ahead of the criminals while they try to figure out how to work with each other before they get killed. They're not the good cop/bad cop type of team, as Kilmer calls them, they're fag and New Yorker. The jokes fly as fast as the bullets but the real pleasure simply comes from watching Harry slowly frustrate to Gay Perry to profanity laced outbursts. Michelle Monaghan also co-stars as Harmony, Harry's childhood love who has become an out of work actress in Hollywood and crosses paths with Harry and Perry, enlisting their help in her own adventures. While the three actors have great chemistry with each other, again it is Downey who carries the film and as many dramatic notes as he hits in Less Than Zero, he is flat out hilarious in this picture, narrating the film, talking directly to the audience, apologizing for his bad narrating then maintaining the entire flow within the scene. Critics hailed his performance as one of the best of his career and rumors of a sequel have been floating around even recently on Twitter. But the movie stands alone as an underrated film that my friends and I love to use as a barometer of other people's humor.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the perfect way to end your Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas because it ends on a note of optimism. Like Harry says, it was just last Christmas that he and Harmony changed the world. And the sight of Michelle Monaghan running around in a Santa one piece certainly help to make it a happy holiday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas, Part 1

Ho, ho, ho readers. And a merry Christmas to you and yours. Nothing quite captures the spirit of the holidays for me like getting together with my closest family and friends, strolling out in jeans and tees in the warm, eighty degree California sun and driving down to Sunset Boulevard to catch at least three different movies that open on Christmas day. Forget about the Lakers, I'm watching something else entirely. Everyone has their own favorite movies from A Christmas Story and It's A Wonderful Life, to Die Hard and The Ref. But for me, I like to celebrate the holiday with a very special man, who has come back to grace us with his presence and allow us to bask in his warm glow. That man is Robert Downey Jr. And this is how I celebrate a Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas.

The first Robert Downey Jr. Christmas movie is actually pretty tough to watch, especially if you're a fan of the actor. In Less Than Zero, Downey plays Julien, a rich kid from Beverly Hills with a serous drug problem. Downey has since credited the role with leading him down the path of being a serious addict, but more on that later. However, it was his first major dramatic role after working in comedies like Back to School or Weird Science (following a brief stint on SNL), and it made people take notice of him as a serious actor. Alongside Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz, the trio of actors capture a slice of 80's Los Angeles that is nostalgic without becoming a parody of the decade. But Downey stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, including James Spader, as an addict unable to stop his life form spinning out of control. You cannot help but wonder where the line between fiction and reality blurs, but as an addict, Downey's Julien is scarily accurate. He lies, steals, bargains, promises and cajoles. He battles his addiction, but relents in the face of pressure from his dealer and succumbs to the addict's ultimate fate in the end.

If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly as the first half of a Very Robert Downey Jr. Christmas. And for the second half? You'll find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Big Mike's Top Films of the Decade, Part 1

Yes, I am writing my five part, DECADE in review list. You might have been seeing them a lot lately on sites such as Ain't It Cool, or the one I liked better at The A.V. Club. But, in order to get into the swing of things, I had to go with the movies I liked best, myself over the past ten years. While I struggled to balance movies that were actually good with those that were really fun, I had a hard time coming up with this list. 'Where are all the documentaries?' I asked myself. Foreign films? Indies? What kind of self-respecting film snob had I become in this decade, the one in which I got out of the Marine Corps, went to college to major in film, worked in television, went to jail and got my eyebrows waxed? In the end, I had to write what I know and pick the films that I liked for the reasons I liked them. It took a lot of coffee and a lot of research and in the end, I had to leave off some favorites, like Attack of the Clones and dig up some that I go back and watch constantly. I may not have the magic eye, but I think I got a pretty good list.

25. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

“You have a dirty, whorish mouth.” “The arsonist had oddly shaped feet.” “I love lamp.” “60% of the time, it works every time.” “That’s how I roll.” “I’m sort of a big deal. People know me.” “I don’t know if you were listening, I did over a thousand.” “I want to be on you.” “The party. With the pants. Party in the pants.” “I’m in a glass cage of emotion!” For being the most quotable comedy of the decade, Anchorman earns the first spot on the list. “You stay classy, Planet Earth.”

24. Up In The Air

The only movie from 2009 on this list, it is rare to see a film that perfectly captures the essence of its time. I know that has been written about this film constantly, but it is also very true and this movie got to me in a way that a lot of films never will. George Clooney plays a man searching for a balance between life and work and never knowing which one will win. We don’t necessarily know either and its wonderful to see a man and a movie that so accurately shows us the truth of our world.

23. Superbad

What Forgetting Sarah Marshall did for romantic comedies, Superbad did for the ‘teen comedy’. Superbad actually had kids that were neither nerds nor jocks, but looked something more like my friends and I in high school. And, they learned some important lessons along the way that are actually true, like a girl doesn’t have to be drunk to like you or sleep with you and that confidence is your most valuable tool. Though we may all be more like Seth and Evan than we like to think, trying to be more like them wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

22. Training Day

By now, it is a forgone conclusion that ‘going Denzel in Training Day’ is a sure way to win an Oscar nom, but in 2001, it was a bold move for Washington, which paid off nicely. But beyond that, Training Day may have been a wash for some, but for the hip hop generation it was targeted to, we saw cops that looked and acted like the ones who patrolled our schools and our streets growing up, and while Denzel embodied the evil we feared as kids, Ethan Hawke was perfect as his counterbalance. He became the hope we placed in the police force to do the right thing and protect us from everyone, even themselves.

21. Casino Royale

Forget about all those Bond movies of the past, Casino Royale was a kick ass action flick first and a Bond movie second. Daniel Craig is THE new Bond and succeeds by being an actor first and an icon second. From the free running in Africa and no limits hold ‘em in Monte Carlo to very clever dialogue and visual references to the Bond mythos, Casino Royale was both old and new, fresh and familiar, fun and fascinating. Even if they had never made a follow up, this film stands as one of the best action films of all time, let alone the 2000’s.

Keep reading this week, I will have the full list up before the New Year.