Monday, November 29, 2010

Film Fan #101-150

#101. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Farces were a big thing in the early days of Hollywood. Unfortunately, I don’t really have much experience with them, whether they be Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, or the Marx Brothers. I’ve seen Stooges! But for my money, this is my kind of farce, starring George Clooney, the man who ended up defying conventions because he had no other choice (anytime he attempts to fit them, the critics hate it, even though he was born for them, too; the man is probably the consummate film star), and under the direction of the famed Coen Brothers, with whom I have precious little experience. It seems appropriate. Anyway, this one is a treasure all the way around.

#102. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Talk about a crime: this was a cult favorite in the making for years, until it was actually made. But I cannot emphasize how much I adore it, from the perfect casting to the exquisite sense of how Douglas Adams worked best.

#103. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s first pass at the Dark Knight is a riveting character study, which is appropriate to the director, but it lacks a sense of surprise, other than the awesome twist revolving around Liam Neeson, so I’ve struggled a good deal with my exact level of appreciation for it. Tom Wilkinson is another standout in the cast.

#104. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The popcorn blockbuster, in the years before it was perfected by Hollywood, in one of its purest forms, the best of the Terminator films; just a rollicking series of set pieces, with some good performances and standout casting choices, and a good sense of scale.

#105. Toy Story (1995)
The first Pixar flick is also the first Pixar flick on the list, in every sense the most pure experience of the studio’s sense of modern animation magic, an irreverent (but, as with every Pixar experience, always bordering a little too close to total reverence) look at the inner life of toys, with Tim Allen and Tom Hanks in some of their defining roles, which is saying something, because both are known better for others.

#106. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
This second hundred of the list is a walkthrough of films that could have and at one time or another actually did make the top hundred in previous editions. This is the first Harry Potter to make this version, and has been my favorite since its original release, the first of the series to reach true maturity, and real transcendence, which is what the whole experiment of this series of films based on books that were still being released at the time was all about. Harry doesn’t ask for anything that happens to him, and it’s never more true than when he’s drafted into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, where he competes against, among others, a pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson, whose death still manages to elicit the most emotional moment in the films to date. Also Michael Gambon’s breakout movie as Dumbledore. Oh, and Ralph Fiennes debuts as Voldemort. It’s been hard to rank any of these films while they’re still being made, since this is the longest continuous, single-story movie saga ever. There’s the constant sense that the best is yet to come, and that a lot of the momentum points forward. That the one in the middle has done it best, but that others since have managed to maintain a lot of the momentum, might suggest that in the future, Harry will permanently crack the top hundred, along with other favorite series.

#107. The Proposition (2005)
A good year continues, with Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston leading an Australian western that cuts to the emotional bone with a saga of justice that spares very little. Exquisite.

#108. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Daniel Handler’s clever books about some really hard-luck orphans takes a backseat to Jim Carrey unleashing some of his most inspired character acting, in a number of iterations. If this one wasn’t successful enough to bring about, oh, twelve sequels (it’s okay, since this one already squeezed a lot of them together, so there wouldn’t really have been so many), it was enough to just sit back and enjoy this one.

#109. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley Scott sets out to prove that Gladiator was no fluke, bringing his historical focus to the bloody mess of the Crusades, with a more complicated story revolving around Orlando Bloom (another guy attempting to win some much-deserved acclaim) and his quest for redemption, both for a wife who committed suicide and a father (Liam Neeson, naturally) who helped point the way. An embarrassment of riches in casting includes an unlikely turn by Edward Norton.

#110. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (2009)
The next Harry is the one that got to put the spotlight squarely on Michael Gambon, who here gets to outclass Ian McKellen (this one gets to explore all the depth Tolkien left out of his Lord of the Rings, which Peter Jackson also overlooked, flattening even what McKellen did in Fellowship of the Ring for the next two in that epic), while Tom Felton stirs horribly as Draco Malfoy and Alan Rickman gets some of his best material as Snape.

#111. Cradle Will Rock (1999)
An incredible ensemble piece, with a lot of great performances, including Bill Murray and Hank Azaria, revolving around the Great Depression and a bunch of artists and performers attempting to make the best of it.

#112. The New World (2005)
Colin Farrell in one of his standout performances, mostly holding it in, but occasionally unleashing some of his latent Alexander incredulity, in this Terrence Malick version of Pocahontas and John Smith, incredibly lush, and packed with supporting roles.

#113. The Prestige (2006)
Christopher Nolan, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine spin real magic out of a deadly rivalry that exposes the extent, and limits, of ego. This time, it’s really about Jackman, however, in perhaps his career performance.

#114. The Princess Bride (1987)
Disney has cornered the market for modern fairy tales, except for this adaptation of the William Golding book, spinning Cary Elwes into a modern Errol Flynn, with Robin Wright an enchanting prize, and a host of character actors rounding out an iconic fable.

#115. Lady in the Water (2006)
Speaking of fables, here’s one from M. Night Shyamalan, supposedly from the point of his career where he’d become completely irrelevant, but really when he started doing some of his most interesting work. Paul Giamatti had one of his last leading roles in that sudden hotstreak that finally won him so much deserving acclaim as a man caught in an incredible bedtime story come to life.

#116. Back to the Future (1985)
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd gain immortality as a pair of unlikely time-travelers who actually make an unforgettable trip to the past.

#117. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale match macho wits in this version of an enduring western fable about a family man drafted into escorting a notorious outlaw to prison.

#118. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson, as it later turned out, had this one chance to step into history, and he made the most of it, defining warrior poets for the ages.

#119. Jackie Brown (1997)
Quentin Tarantino understand pure acting magic better than anyone, how it can literally shape movies. Here’s his most unexpected outing, matching a pair of has-beens (Pam Grier and Robert Forster) in career-defining performances, with supporting work from, among others, Chris Tucker and Robert De Niro, neither of whom have appeared in any other film from the director. That’s a dirty shame. But there’s also Samuel L. Jackson, probably in a better all-around appearance than Pulp Fiction.

#120. Daredevil (2003)
As far as Marvel movies go, most people prefer X-Men or Spider-man or Iron Man, but here’s where I get my jollies. Ben Affleck has everything to do to keep up with Jennifer Garner, taking her Alias appeal to a whole new level, while Michael Clarke Duncan tries to keep up with Colin Farrell as the opposition.

#121. Terminator: Salvation (2009)
Christian Bale, Anton Yelchin, and Moon Bloodgood all play second-fiddle to Sam Worthington, exploding onto the screen in his first major role, months before Avatar, a film he actually stars in, but lacking the same impact.

#122. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
What I like about this one, more than the increasingly zany Jack Sparrow, in the expanded sense of storytelling, with an opening that makes no bones about how pirates were really treated, no matter all the adventures going on with the main cast. A fitting…segue to the upcoming four-quel.

#123. The Aviator (2004)
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio return! This time they attempt to explore the psychoses of Howard Hughes, the man who obscured his own legacy by succumbing to obsessive compulsive behaviors, which this film in its best moments foreshadows.

#124. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
Eric Bana had an exceptional year in 2009, and this was, technically speaking, his only starring performance, as a man who flits through time, while the love of his life, Rachel McAdams, struggles to accept her role as his anchor. Powerfully compelling, but was mostly overlooked by critics and audiences.

#125. Children of Men (2006)
Such a defining role that Clive Owen himself later parodied it (Shoot ‘em Up), with Michael Caine and Julianne Moore offering support in a story that explores a world driven to utter desperation, and falling apart at the seams.

#126. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Daniel Radcliffe’s best film to date is the first one that asked him to carry the story himself, based on what still remains my favorite book of the series. David Thewlis and Gary Oldman offer support, but clearly it’s all about Harry this time around, with the young wizard now old enough to begin grasping the terrible mess he’s inherited.

#127. The 13th Warrior (1999)
Antonio Banderas in one of the last starring performances from his brief foray as a Hollywood leading man, an atmospheric version of Michael Crichton’s riff on Beowulf.

#128. Training Day (2001)
Denzel Washington unleashes a fiery persona in this ultimate portrait of police corruption, with Ethan Hawke pulling in one of his typical roles as an overwhelmed observer just trying to keep up. Alas, an impossible task.

#129. Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
Here’s perhaps another instance of my overall ignorance perhaps being an asset; where critics saw just another unremarkable Woody Allen excursion, perhaps weary from all the other Woody Allen excursions they’ve taken (and that’s pretty much all I read in every review I’ve come across during my lifetime and/or movie going experience), I saw brilliance. Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor struggle with impossible decisions, made worse by a demanding Tom Wilkinson, and the tangled web they weave together feels like nothing else I’ve seen from Allen.

#130. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Mel Gibson erred when he entered Hollywood when his first role cast him as a sort of descendent of Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront, a man desperate to escape a past that has done him no favors. That’s what this one really is for me. Gibson essentially follows the same past for the rest of his career to date, and like Brando, the public has grown less and less kind.

#131. Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005)
Robert Rodriquez at his most focused, following the pulp noir curves of Miller with a stellar cast, including Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, and Jessica Alba. Benecio Del Toro steals Clive Owen’s segment with a completely atypical gonzo vibe, during a sequence directed by Quentin Tarantino.

#132. Phone Booth (2003)
Colin Farrell often does a lot of jumping around in his films, in whatever sense he needs to, but here he’s stuck in the eponymous public service, which is now even more antiquated than when the film was released. Forest Whitaker and Kiefer Sutherland serve as ample support, but it’s really Farrell, performing a variation on the kind of performance that would win him back critical acclaim with In Bruges after several rough years, that must be seen.

#133. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Marlon Brando dominates this one for me, a sheer force of will, portraying a desperate man in a bad spot of love and little sense of how to handle it. One of the ways to identify someone as great at what they do is to have a hard time picturing anyone else doing it the same way. That’s kind of acting Brando exhibits here, what he did throughout his career.

#134. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Will Ferrell had done a few films by this point (Old School, Elf, Anchorman) that were popular favorites, but it wasn’t until this one where I found the movie star version of the Saturday Night Live standout that I could call my own, where he completely loses himself in a role without it feeling like a sketch, probably because he’s got a lot of help around him, including Sasha Baron Cohen as a rival on the racetrack.

#135. Grindhouse (2007)
Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino, filmmaking brothers, collaborate in this combo pack of b-movies: Planet Hell, with Rose McGowan and Josh Brolin, among others, under Rodriquez, and Death Proof, raging with a powerful female cast and Kurt Russell under Tarantino. The fake trailers that got most of the attention (and an actual spin-off this year) are icing on the cake. The films themselves are terrific.

#136. Desperado (1995)
Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are the hottest outlaws since Bonnie & Clyde in Robert Rodriquez’s best original film, itself a quasi-remake of his breakout pre-Hollywood debut.

#137. Fight Club (1999)
Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, two actors who avoid convention at every possible term, one out of necessity, the other because it amuses him, share the highpoint of their impulses, one struggling to understand what’s going on (the reverse of what Norton usually does), the other seemingly in total control (the opposite of what Pitt normally experiences). What I’m saying is, don’t just watch this for the twists and conceits, but for the actors who drive it.

#138. Smokin’ Aces (2007)
Joe Carnahan is a directing ace that has worked sparingly, best known for Narc but better seen with this one, a riveting and madcap ensemble piece that centers around Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds, both displaying more depth than they typically get to. You can also catch Chris Pine and Ben Affleck, among others, going against type.

#139. Titanic (1997)
I still remember all the fuss about how this was going to blow up in James Cameron’s face, the extravagant expense of it, which was all going to go to waste. Well, we all know how that actually turned out. Thing is, I didn’t see it until years later. Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are every bit as captivating as the mass audiences made them seem. I also enjoyed Billy Zane, for the record.

#140. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in one of my personal favorite romances, one that was doomed to fail from the start. I shared Levitt’s heartbreak, but couldn’t find myself capable of despising Zooey, who is just too adorable and captivating. Plus, technically she made it pretty clear that it was going to end that way (okay, maybe not exactly that way) right from the start. Anyway, inventive and fun and incredibly moving.

#141. We Are Marshall (2007)
Matthew McConnaughey is technically the star, but the love of football, plus Matthew Fox and Anthony Mackie, that’s what’s really worth it here. After Lost, Fox got a chance to become a movie star, and this has been his best effort to date.

#142. Marie Antoinette (2005)
Sophia Coppola is better known for other movies, but this one’s my favorite, with a typically captivating Kirsten Dunst as a monarch who would recognize our times quite nicely, inhabiting the gray areas we seldom appreciate about life, someone who didn’t even luck into a posh life, but who suffered through it, with a little extravagance thrown in to make it bearable. Really, the story about bad timing, all the way around, so Coppola’s decision to use a lot of modern touches fits right in.

#143. The Happening (2008)
M. Night Shyamalan does the post-9/11 film that seems to be about anything but 9/11, but the effects are all there, from the bodies falling from tall buildings to a world that suddenly doesn’t make any sense, no matter how hard Mark Walberg and Zooey Deschanel fight with all their reasoning. They do what they can to survive, whatever works. Seldom is so little pretense used to such great effect. Ah, but isn’t that Shyamalan directing?

#144. The Doors (1991)
Only Oliver Stone, it seems, is capable of piecing together a tapestry that includes the Vietnam War, JFK, and Jim Morrison. Val Kilmer was born to play the eccentric, elevated, and altogether unknowable mind of the Lizard King, whose descent is seen as his attempt to connect with a past he barely understood.

#145. Elizabethtown (2005)
Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, and Cameron Crowe weave this enchanting vision of a life (Bloom’s, technically), spinning out of control in a way that presaged the Great Recession, an existential crisis set to great music.

#146. Across the Universe (2007)
Speaking of great music, here’s the Beatles, cleverly interpreted for new audiences, great performances and expert staging all the way around, from the obvious to the transcendent.

#147. Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar has attempted just about every new permutation of Toy Story possible, but the most natural effort was the one that transposed the bond of boy and sheriff doll (and/or space ranger) with that of father and son, who happen to be clown fish, with oceans of personalities covering the space of toy boxes.

#148. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
Cameron Diaz (Mary) and Ben Stiller (in his perfect showcase) explore a modern kind of romance (strangely, it’s a lot more pathetic than you might care to admit), with a lot of zaniness and quirky music thrown into the mix.

#149. Match Point (2005)
Woody Allen in the recent film critics actually loved, featuring Jonathan Rhys Myers in an unlikely romantic quest for Scarlett Johansson, a meditation on the vagaries of fate that unfolds like a poem.

#150. The Avengers (1998)
Here’s a movie that most people don’t even remember, and even if they did, they would still dismiss. Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery star in this update of a TV show that oozes effortless British cool, and doesn’t need much more than that. Like A Series of Unfortunate Events, could have resulted in a lot of sequels, but is as enjoyable now on its own as ever.

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