Top 50 Films Of The Decade : 1-9
9. American Psycho (2000)
”I think we (Mary Harron and I) made the film we wanted to”, star Christian Bale told me in an interview in 2000. ”Unfortunately, in the US, there was all this silly business about the ratings so the US theatrical release was snipped over a couple sex scenes”.
Bale was right; there was a lot of unripe comments floating around about “American Psycho” prior to its release – it was too dirty, too violent (Huey Lewis & The News asked for their song, Hip to be Square, to be removed from the soundtrack because they’d ‘heard’ it was a grisly picture) and, they said, not a shade on the book. As a consequence, the satirical thriller was heavily edited in some territories, and ultimately pushed through cinemas quicker than a Hoover.
But like Bale, I loved what director Mary Harron did with the novel which was to distill the humour from the book and create a script with a distinct point of view. And in my opinion, Bale has never been better – his Patrick Bateman is one of the most deliciously fun characters of the past ten years.
8. Little Children (2006)
The film that ”American Beauty” should have been (there! I said it! I didnâ€™t think it was â€œall thatâ€!), ”Children” is a sometimes amusing, sometimes disheartening look at relationships and suburban life in the noughties â€“ without being ostentatious, and keeping it unflinching and real. But that rundown is merely scratching the surfaceâ€¦ thereâ€™s actually more going on in this sardonic piece of sculpture than (that dreadful trailer) first impressions might peg.
Thereâ€™s hardly a flaw in this film. From the beautiful direction, the well defined set of characters, the backdrop, the pacing and, of course, the performances (newcomer Patrick Wilson, of ”Hard Candy” fame, really gets to show off what heâ€™s made of here) itâ€™s a clear-cut cinematic masterpiece.
7. Lost in Translation (2005)
An ancient copy of WhatDVD (which I wrote for for many years) reminds me that this was my favourite film of 2005. I’m also constantly reminded of how gaga I went for it every time I check out the back-cover of the local DVD release. Who am I kidding!? I don’t need reminding how great this film is – it’s never left my mind. This film really left it’s mark on me.I see a postcard of Tokyo, or a pic of Scarlett Johansson on a perfume counter, and I think of it straight away.
The movie that put Bill Murray back on top (some say “Rushmore” did; I beg to differ), “Translation” is a sweet, meaningful, feel-good dramedy about a bored American film star (Murray) who hooks up – not necessarily romantically – with the young wife (Johansson) of a visiting photographer. Both separately and together, they live the experience of the American in Tokyo.
I really must watch this again.
6. The Straight Story (2000)
My second favourite David Lynch film (see below for the fave), “The Straight Story” is, as the title suggests, a rather simplistic tale about a man dealing with his own mortality and the lasting bonds of family. The pic was unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the visionary filmmaker – it was, for lack of a better word, ‘normal’. Yep, no backwards-speaking dwarfs, no demonic spirits, no ambiguous twists and turns, no Kyle MacLachlan. It was all very un-Lynch’ian.
The film is based on the true story of Alvin Straight, a man who, in order to get to his ill brother, journey’s across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawnmower. Lynch’s very sweet flick follows the story of Alvin’s (played marvelously by Richard Farnsworth) six-week journey across rural America, the people he meets, his impact on their lives, and theirs on his. It has been called a modern odyssey of a man dealing with his own mortality and mistakes and the lasting bonds of family.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
”The Dark Knight” is chilling, moving, thrilling, depressing and predominantly real. Batman is a real guy with real feelings, and a not-so-great job. He has made his choice to dash around in a cape and save people at night, rather than spend them with a loved one. He wants a normal life, but it doesnâ€™t look like thatâ€™ll ever happen, not unless someone else steps up to the plate and starts playing hero. Enter Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart); a good-guy district attorney whoâ€™s hell-bent on putting Gothamâ€™s criminals away for good. And with Batman (Christian Bale) and Sgt. Jim Gordonâ€™s (Gary Oldman) help, he does.
Unfortunately, thereâ€™s one guy, a mysterious chap with a painted face named â€˜The Jokerâ€™ (Heath Ledger), standing in their way. Heâ€™ll stop at nothing to bring Gotham city, and his antagonist Dent, down. Itâ€™s already been said a million-and-one times, but the late Heath Ledger really does give the performance of his career as The Joker. Heâ€™s creepy, menacing and extremely easy to watch. Every bit of dialogue is delivered like the finest mantra, every bit of scenery chewed to the core. Heâ€™s over-the-top at times, sure, but heâ€™s just as silently wicked at other times.
”The Dark Knight” is an epic film. A very long film. Director Christopher Nolan approaches this film as if it were any other film (in some respects, he treats it as a gangster film, not a superhero movie), and it completely works. In short, its the best Batman film ever made, the best superhero movie ever made, and the best superhero movie of the decade.
4. Mulholland Drive (2002)
Magnetically freakish music, puzzle-box-like manoeuvrings, insanely nonconformist characters, striking camera tricks, unconventional editing, and a total mind-teaser for all… it could only mean one thing… David Lynch is back!
(He of the Compulsively Warped Directors Troupe, he of surreal masterpiece ”Twin Peaks”, he of smoking classic ”Blue Velvet”, mind bogglingly beautiful “Wild at heart”, and he of ‘I’ve got a much cheaper alternative to that acid trip you’re considering’.)
The chronicle behind the film is an interesting one. This is a two-hour, 27-minute retooling of a script originally shot as a 94-minute pilot for a TV series; ABC, which had approved the script, but chose not even to air the pilot once it was done, despite Lynch’s labours to cut the project to their liking. And now it’s Lynch who is having the last laugh, having helmed what could be the finest film of his career.
Strangely reminiscent of some of his earlier work – notably the excellent murder mystery series “Twin Peaks” – but in no way a re-tread of it, this film revels in its cavernous creepiness and offbeat humour, somewhat a Lynch trademark.
“Mulholland Drive”, in some respects, is “Twin Peaks” packed away in a suitcase and opened up in the glitz and glam of a Los Angeles backdrop with characters just as idiosyncratic and somewhat spooky as the one’s who revolved around Laura Palmer and company back in Apple Pie country.
To try and dissect the story of a David Lynch movie is like trying to squeeze juice from stale Cheese – it’s almost impossible, but thankfully a few days later you’ll be able to comprehend this one.
Better experienced than explained, ”Mulholland Drive” reels the viewer in hook, line and sinker. From its stirring opening score by acclaimed Angelo Badalamenti (who also has a role in the film) to its unnerving final moments and unrestrained wallops of sex and scares, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. Lynch, this time, in addition to weirder than weird moments – some very reminiscent of Peaks and Lost Highway – tackles themes he hasn’t paddled in before, most notably deep emotion and a completely credible romance between two women.
Performance wise, the film is a showcase for Naomi Watts. The Australian actress nails every subversive impulse under Betty’s skin, and is commanding in each and every scene. Less a revelation, but still appropriate is voluptuous actress, Laura Herring, as the mysterious Rita.
The support cast consists mainly of – no not former “Twin Peaks” favourites as one might guess – but familiar faces of the screen noir period, unruffled Chad Everett is in there, a Piper-Laurie-like Ann Miller, and versatile Dan Hedaya.
Also look, if only briefly, for Australian actors Marcus Graham and Melissa George, as well as singer Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Anderson, Lee Grant and Justin Theroux, impressive as pressured filmmaker, Adam Kesher. What you will notice is some characters/actors disappear after one or two lines – one in particular is Robert Forster as a detective. Obviously hired for the series, Forster must have been unavailable to return for the additional shooting to make the film, and hence his role is almost inexistent.
For a former TV pilot, ”Mulholland Drive” is sensational. For a major motion picture, ”Mulholland Drive” is sensational. Everyone involved in this film – director Lynch, cinematographer Peter Denning, production designer Jack Fisk, and music man Angelo Badalamenti – has immersed themselves in an ultra-unrealistic world and closed the gate; thankfully, for us -the audience- we can sneak in the back way.
3. Memento (2000)
Another Christopher Nolan film (the other being “The Dark Knight”) makes the Top Ten! This one, a brilliantly-written, immaculately directed/performed, and exceedingly captivating thriller, probably needs no explanation – but here’s a wee one : Leonard (Guy Pearce), an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories, attempts to find the murderer of his wife by way of leaving himself notes that he sticks to both paper – and his body. The movie is told in forward flashes of forthcoming events that compensate for the lead character’s dodgy memory.
Guy Pearce is brilliant here (they say “L.A Confidential” made him in the states, but I think is the one that really set his career on fire!), as is Joe Pantoliano, Carrie-Anne Moss, and, my old bud, Stephen Tobolowsky in a small supporting role. But the real star of the show is that divine screenplay – I really hope they’re using it as a textbook example of ‘perfect writing’ in high-school English Literature classes.
2. The Departed (2008)
If heads is â€˜gutsâ€™ and tails is â€˜gloryâ€™, then Martin Scorsese has obviously been dealt a dud coin in recent years, because heâ€™s been flipping nothing but bottoms.
Now, after all the bank and acclaim that he generated with ”Gangs of New York” and ”The Aviator”, the one-time cinematic rebel returns to shovel some steaming hot coals back into the cinematic fire.
And how ”The Departed” burns bright.
The veteran director returns to trying to please an audience again, rather than â€˜Academy Membersâ€™, and the result is a scrumptiously thrilling epic the likes of which we havenâ€™t seen since De Niro sold his soul to comedy and DePalma stopped making gangster pictures.
Thereâ€™s a reason the film wasn’t advertised as a remake of Hong Kong hit ”Infernal Affairs” and thatâ€™s because, it isnâ€™t â€“ well, it is, but theyâ€™re about as close as second cousins twice removed. Scorsese has merely taken the blueprint for the acclaimed film of the same name, and extracted its detail with his own â€“ resulting in a film that plays as fresh as any original piece. And if not more so at times.
This thing has got more guts than John Goodman I tell ya â€“ itâ€™s gritty, itâ€™s compelling, itâ€™s powerful, itâ€™s surprising, itâ€™s mesmerising, itâ€™s gold! Gold! Gold! Youâ€™re arse is usually asking for an ice-pack after sitting through a two-and-a-half hour movie, but in this case, itâ€™s as cosy as the actors are on screen, and by golly you wish it would just prolong.
Scorsese has crafted some of the most interesting and compelling characters to grace a vanilla screen in quite some, and coupled with the amazing performances of the actors, Nicholsonâ€™s smug mob boss, DiCaprioâ€™s flustered hero, Damonâ€™s morally-conflicted crook, Martin Sheenâ€™s benevolent captain, Alec Baldwinâ€™s decadent lunatic fed and Mark Wahlbergâ€™s indifferent gung-ho agent will be remembered for awards shows to come â€“ as the movie hopefully will be too.
”The Departed” isnâ€™t just a return to form for Scorsese â€“ letâ€™s admit it, his recent efforts have been good, but not this good â€“ itâ€™s one of the finest films of his career.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
If you’ve an idea of what I’m ‘into’ (feel-good 80s comedies, musical biopics, pretty girls, bad karaoke, Zooey Deschanel, Cameron Crowe, stories-of-overbearing-parents) and remember anything about my back-story (I was a young – I was 16 when I started – radio announcer turned on-the-road D.J cum entertainment writer), you probably won’t be surprised to find “Almost Famous”, writer/director Cameron Crowe’s love-letter to music journalism, at the top of my list.
Granted, I’ve loved every one of Cameron Crowe’s films – dating back to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – so it was probably a no-brainer that I was going to walk out of the media screening smiling from ear to ear. It didn’t need to be about music journalism, in other words, it just needed to be as sweet, well-written, funny, feel-good and as pragmatic as the rest of the filmmaker’s efforts. All of Crowe’s films have left an impression on me : I adored “Say Anything…” (it’s probably one of my favourite films of all time – definitely my favourite ‘romance’), revisited “Singles” (Oh Bridget Fonda; be still my heart) many-a-time on VHS, and, like Jerry Maguire, fell head-over-heels for Dorothy Boyd (and my adoration lasted right up until the moment I met the woman behind the bespectacled kid – Renee Zellweger. Say no more).
But “Almost Famous” is undeniably my favourite Cameron Crowe movie – it’s just wonderful. It’s got everything – great tunes (if you don’t own the soundtrack, what are you waiting for!?), great dialogue (“If you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken”), wonderful characters (Penny Lane & Russell Hammond are two of the most memorable and well-written characters in recent screen history), speaks truths about not only life and love but the entertainment industry, and predominately, features one heck of a cast (led by newcomer Patrick Fugit; with stellar supporting turns by then rising-tar Kate Hudson, a pre-vamp loving Anna Paquin, the always-dependable Frances McDormand, and Billy Crudup, whose in-arguably one of the most versatile and commanding actors of his generation. Pity he doesn’t get more love).
Being Crowe’s story – he started as a reporter before he turned his hand to film-making – it’s all handled very delicately, playing exhaustively truthful and perfect.