Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Fifty Recent Viewings

#1. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Because the Film Fan never sleeps, 2011 must be represented, and this is one movie I’ve been waiting for since its release was delayed from last fall. Considering the sheer number of Matt Damon projects that’ve been released over a very short period, I choose to believe the studio couldn’t possibly have been concerned about the quality, because this is a mind-blowing experience that, as the trailers suggest, explores free will, with politician Damon attempting to win campaigns and the heart of Emily Blunt, all the while dodging the likes of John Slattery and Terence Stamp, while getting a little help from Anthony Mackie. I’m always a sucker for ambitious material, and this one’s very ambitious indeed, based on Philip K. Dick, but with expanded scope (it’s usually the other way around).

#2. Bronson (2008)
After Tom Hardy’s breakout appearance in Inception, suddenly everyone wanted a piece of him. Having been a huge fan of his after Star Trek Nemesis, I’d anticipated this kind of reaction years earlier, but a variety of setbacks (including the reaction to Star Trek Nemesis) made it difficult to keep track of him. One of the projects that helped put him on the comeback trail was this explosive and highly imaginative portrait of a real-life small-time criminal who gained notoriety by repeatedly breaking out of prison (though the tone is radically different from I Love You, Phillip Morris, mind you) and being an all-around badass. You walk away from this one impressed by the audacity of Bronson, and once again marveled by Hardy.

#3. 12 Monkeys (1995)
My love of Terry Gilliam has been developing since 1999, when I first saw The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and I’ve been working my way through his catalog ever since, and finding myself more and more impressed. I’ve grown to love this one, the more familiar I’ve become with it, based not as much on Brad Pitt’s gonzo performance, but the quiet bewilderment of Bruce Willis, in the lead role, one of his best attempts to finally crack out of the action mode Die Hard had placed him in. If he weren’t so determinedly Hollywood rather than prestige-performance driven, Willis would have so much more respect than he does even to this day.

#4. Reds (1981)
Warren Beatty is another actor whose career was basically overshadowed by peripheral concerns, even though he consistently brought magic that few other actors in film history, even though with considerably more acclaim, have ever approached. Here he actually makes a communist manifesto, though it’s more about fighting for ideals over conformist corruption, a complex political drama that’s as relevant today as when it was released thirty years ago.

#5. Wyatt Earp (1994)
Kevin Costner does one of his typically epic character studies, and that’s all well and good, but what I’d really like to take note of is Dennis Quaid’s appearance as Doc Holliday, one of the greatest supporting performances I’ve ever seen, a truly stylized effort that steals every scene Quaid appears in, and easily the best acting I’ve ever seen him do. Where the hell is that guy in his other films? Because I like Quaid, but his Holliday is a true revelation.

#6. Traffic (2000)
Quaid’s here, too, but so are a boatload of other talented actors, including Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones (in the project that introduced her and Michael, and thus the fucker that broke a million hearts), Don Cheadle, even Topher Grace, all led by the momentarily glorified directing of Steven Soderbergh. Besides all the acting brilliance is a piercing study of the modern drug scene, which is stupendously complicated.

#7. The Good German (2006)
Speaking of Soderbergh, he’s here, too, in one of the projects that eventually got him blackballed by critics, who apparently both love and hate cinema, because they hated this one because they claimed it aped classic cinema too much, calling it a poor variation of Casablanca. Listen, baby, I know Casablanca, and The Good German is not Casablanca, and I don’t say that because I think poorly of The Good German, but because there’s only a fleeting resemblance, so little that it doesn’t even need to be referenced. What you’ve actually got here is George Clooney, who’s had most of his career suffering to break free of his classic movie star appeal (though he prefers to fall back on it in direct defiance), as maybe a distant cousin of Rick’s, caught in the middle of a complicated affair that involves an ambiguous pairing of Tobey Maguire and Cate Blanchett (how critics don’t love her as much as I do is another mystery). Anyway, it’s also in black and white, so all around it looks and unfolds beautifully.

#8. Sucker Punch (2011)
Even more recent movie alert! Obviously, I’ve only just seen this one, but I’m a big fan of Zack Snyder, more so over Watchmen than 300, so I was anticipating this one for maybe as long as The Adjustment Bureau, and since it’s basically his first original vision, there was that much more intrigue involved. Emily Browning (she liked to tie her hair up in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) must find some inner resolve to overcome a world that seems diametrically opposed to her, and that strength ends up being metaphorically visualized by a lot of ass kicking. Having already proven himself a visual master, Snyder now demonstrates that his storytelling flair is not exclusive to adaptations. I rank this one above the similar Black Swan for reasons I’ll get into when I reach the Natalie Portman spotlight a few entries from now.

#9. The Thin Red Line (1998)
It’s taken me a number of years to fully absorb this one, even though I’ve had ‘The New World” to amply demonstrate Terrence Malick’s genius (small prediction, but I suspect his upcoming The Tree of Life will be a 2011 favorite), but I’ve finally done it. The obvious highlights are Jim Caviezel and Elias Koteas, both spiritually troubled in the patented Malick fashion.

#10. The Missouri Breaks (1976)
Marlon Brando may have been the greatest actor to garner some of the worst reviews Hollywood ever saw. This one is inexplicably among them, another of his efforts to capitalize on his sudden Godfather-inspired career revival, though the movie really belongs to Jack Nicholson as what has become one of my favorite antiheroes, a horse thief attempting reform on the basis of falling in love. Sporting a wild beard, he looks and acts like one of the more authentic and sympathetic types you’re likely to find in a Western not staring the cuddly John Wayne.

#11. Green Hornet (2011)
Another recent release! I have yet to see Knocked Up in its entirety, so Funny People is for me the defining Seth Rogen flick. Well, now it’ll have to be Green Hornet, since Rogen folds so perfectly into this particular vision of the relatively obscure superhero that it’ll now be impossible for me to separate the two. Rogen is basically Seth Rogen, with a more sympathetic background, until he decides becoming the Green Hornet is a strategically good idea, and from there, expectations continue to be subverted, whether in the presentation of Kato, Christoph Waltz as the villain, or Cameron Diaz as the unexpectedly helpful office temp. Diaz is more appealing here than she was in Knight and Day, which was another nice surprise.

#12. The Phantom (1996)
Here completes our unofficial B-level superhero group, with Billy Zane bringing it as an iconic version of the newspaper strip staple, and basically a direct precursor to Mask of Zorro, even having Catherine Zeta-Jones along for the ride (how the hell it took until Zorro for Hollywood to officially notice her will forever baffle me).

#13. Brothers Grimm (2005)
Here’s Terry Gilliam again, in a movie I think I’ve finally come to completely appreciate. The whole reason I watched it originally was basically to help round out the Heath Ledger catalog, but even then, I liked it well enough to wonder why it was received so tepidly. Monica Bellucci, you’ve got Monica Bellucci! I also realized this time that Lena Headley’s in it, and Lena Headley (300) is awesome. Peter Stormare is a comedic genius here, too (he was also a highlight in The Million Dollar Hotel and Prison Break, but he seems to be appreciated very sparingly, another confusing notion). Ledger plays very tenderly against type, while Matt Damon seems to be lampooning his emerging Jason Bourne persona, and the whole affair cleverly places the Grimm brothers in a fictional but historic context, making it enjoyable on too many levels to dismiss as easily as everyone seems to have.

#14. Black Swan (2010)
Not included in the 2010 list last week because I hadn’t seen it yet, as with The Fighter (a few entries down). Remarkably similar to Sucker Punch, in that much of the story is presented from the warped perspective of the central character. But while Zack Snyder unambiguously integrates every element of his story together, Darren Aronofsky once more obscures the impact of his troubled lead by relying on audience participation and sympathy than outright skill. This movie undoubtedly builds on the Natalie Portman canon, and is perhaps its apex, at least to this point, and so the actress absolutely deserves all the accolades she’s received based on it, but I always find it puzzling when a filmmaker doesn’t seem to realize, or doesn’t care, when they leave enough clues about an alternate interpretation. Black Swan is supposed to be about unbearable pressure, but it’s probably easier to view it as Portman crumbling under expectations and passion that she herself never really shared, and is only now just realizing where exactly it’s gotten her. Or maybe that’s exactly what Aronofsky was going for. Either way, I guess I’m still working on this one, while Sucker Punch, for instance, is far more deliberate, though just as much an overall artistic achievement. Sometimes easier really is better, even if temporarily.

#15. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)
Very much like the earlier Devil Wears Prada, in that someone is thrust into a job that proves more difficult than they previously imagined (ha! and reads just like Black Swan, too), but with the added benefit of Simon Pegg. Around him are Jeff Bridges, before everyone started caring about him again (and, like Meryl Streep in Prada, sporting atypically silvery hair), Kirsten Dunst (vulnerable and alluring, as always), and Megan Fox (trying to prove her acting appeal).

#16. Bowfinger (1999)
Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy were hailed as an inspired comedic pairing at the time, but it seems as if this movie has since been completely forgotten. Well, no more!

#17. Solaris (2003)
Soderbergh again, this time accused of aping (ha!) 2001: A Space Odyssey, even though this is a remake of another book adaptation entirely. George Clooney (this director’s own personal De Niro, or DiCaprio) is plunged into a deeply psychological mess when he’s forced to confront his lingering feelings for his late wife, Natascha McElhone. Jeremy Davies seems to audition for Lost as one of the troubled astronauts who attempt to demonstrate how much trouble Clooney is going to find.

#18. The Fighter (2010)
Boxing is such an inherently cinematic sport that it’s no surprise that Hollywood has repeatedly explored it, even as boxing itself has become less culturally relevant. Famously, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale portray a pair of Lowell, MA brothers who unexpectedly found success, though how exactly is what provides the story for this film, the fall of the older brother, and the rise of the younger. While I wish the movie had provided more of an arc for Wahlberg’s lead character, his loss is Bale’s gain.

#19. Primary Colors (1998)
One of the movies that attempted to break the stranglehold Titanic maintained for months at the box office and in the imaginations of filmgoers, this is the adaptation of the famously anonymous (at the time) look at a fictionalized Bill Clinton, and probably the last time John Travolta really got to shine in his big comeback.

#20. Sanjuro (1962)
The less famous follow-up to Yojimbo, I can really get behind the strategic and brilliant mind on display here.

#21. An American Tail (1986)
I honestly can’t explain at this point how this one was left out of the 500 countdown, because this is an acknowledged touchstone of my childhood, a classic tale of a misfit trying to find his way, with songs I still sing today, even though it’s been a long time since I last saw it.

#22. Simone (2002)
This is a movie that has long fascinated me, but one I’ve only recently seen. Al Pacino fabricates a movie star (almost entirely Rachel Roberts), but the reasons why and how he does it and completely fascinating. Mostly, I guess, critics didn’t care because they mostly don’t care for Pacino, though as always, it’s their loss.

#23. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Martin Scorsese went through a period where he was kind of anonymous (much as how Shutter Island was received last year), though there was tepid praise for this one, in which Nicholas Cage can’t seem to find equilibrium in a world he can’t seem to understand.

#24. What Dreams May Come (1998)
Critics really hated this one, I mean with vehemence. God knows why. Robin Williams must have shot their dogs or something. Anyway, what some like to call manipulative, I call fantastically imaginative, as Williams literally walks through paintings in his quest to understand death and reunite with his troubled wife. Cuba Gooding, Jr. forever torpedoed whatever respectable career he might have had after Jerry Maguire by having the hubris to appear in something like this.

#25. Go (1999)
Lots of great actors and storytelling in this one. Sarah Polley navigates a baffling night trying to do the right thing, and a million obstacles get in her way, including William Fichtner, Scott Wolfe, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, and Taye Diggs.

#26. The Postman (1997)
I’m pretty sure this one marked the end of Kevin Costner’s epic characters phase, the concluding backlash review all but burying it, to no other explanation other than the critics finally wanted to put the actor behind them. Based on a book, but it doesn’t matter, more inspiring than The Road could ever hope to be (read that book, never did see the movie).

#27. More American Graffiti (1979)
The sequel that cashed in on the sudden popularity of George Lucas after Star Wars, that brought back most of the characters from the original, with more focus on the characters themselves.

#28. Alpha Dog (2007)
This and Primary Colors serve as the predecessors to The Social Network, and this one even has Justin Timberlake! Basically following a bunch of completely unlikable characters around (including the apparent victim in all of it, Anton Yelchin), and like the other two movies, based on real events. Of all the egos represented, Alpha Dog features the most unsavory. Yay for achievement!

#29. American Graffiti (1973)
George Lucas’s second movie, and the one that most properly established his interest in following events and characters rather than truly exploring them (when you think about it, that’s what really happens in Star Wars, and it’s only different in the prequels because he finally has a character he’s literally committed himself to hanging something around). Basically a series of vignettes, but a little less clearly so than the sequel he had nothing to do with. Also not related to it, but clearly inspired by it: Happy Days!

#30. Battlefield Earth (2000)
So many people were petrified that this was a blatant attempt to popularize Scientology that the word of mouth was sour from the start, and not a scrap of film ever needed to be seen to sustain this momentum. John Travolta and Forrest Whitaker have a grand time oppressing humans, represented by scrappy Johnny Good Boy Tyler (Barry Pepper), one of my favorite names of all time. All considered though, even with all the efforts from the filmmakers insisting that it didn’t, if you really think about it, you can still pull off a Scientology interpretation if you want. But you don’t have to!

#31. Jabberwocky (1977)
Terry Gilliam in his first attempt to make a movie that had nothing to do with Monty Python, even though it is clearly inspired by his days running with the crazy Brits (though Michael Palin stars), is probably a better overall movie than the Pythons themselves ever made. (Heresy! Heresy!) But Gilliam was only getting warmed up.

#32. K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
Kathryn Bigelow makes a movie that explicitly asks us to care about a bunch of Ruskies. How far we’ve come! Though not too far, because critics wouldn’t really care about her until The Hurt Locker. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the showdown between Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford, even though, technically, neither of them are Russian.

#33. Kalifornia (1993)
David Duchovny does those Blair Witch Project brats one better, by setting out to study serial murderers and actually finding them, but still being able to handle it. Michelle Forbes is another story, though. Juliette Lewis does her best crazy person, and Brad Pitt is his usual awesome.

#34. Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola won mounds of acclaim for this one, and Scarlet Johansson basically got a career out of it, but try as I might, I still can’t think of this as anything other than a Bill Murray movie. He’s done plenty of movies at this point that have attempted to be the “latterday Bill Murray movie,” but this may be the definitive one, other than Cradle Will Rock. And he will probably never surpass, for the record, his new comedy cred from Zombieland.

#35. Merchant of Venice (2004)
Jeremy Irons, you’re in this too, but you’ve got to contend with Al Pacino. Long dismissed as a slander of Jews, Merchant of Venice is perhaps better understood as a study of the clash between cultures, and maybe this movie helps make that clearer, at least for modern audiences. Because Bill Shakespeare does pretty good on his own.

#36. Gandhi (1982)
I had this one on my to-see list for years, but only recently got around to it, half to finally see the performance that made a name out of Ben Kingsley though only mostly a career, and the other to better understand Gandhi himself. And while I greatly appreciate the example he set, I emerge from Gandhi with something of a shattered myth on my hands. On the one hand, he had an incredible amount of willpower. And on the other, it’s not like he began his campaign from a position of little respect. Anyway, it was, in the end, worth all the anticipation.

#37. Snake Eyes (1998)
Nicholas Cage in perhaps a prototypical wild man performance, at least in the early scenes, when he’s bursting with confidence and ego, until good friend Gary Sinese lets his conspiracy unfold. It seems like this is a classic just waiting to be appreciated.

#38. Romper Stomper (1992)
On the flipside from Gandhi is this movie, about a couple of hoods lost in racial theories that don’t even belong to them, and caught up in a tide of events that are both bigger than them and collapsing on them (Nazi dreams, ironically, once helped stem the tide of British imperialism, so there’s that, too), as they’ve already collapsed for others, even though they don’t seem to realize it. Of course, none of that would matter if it didn’t star Russell Crowe, all pure savage appeal.

#39. Southland Tales (2006)
This is almost like the ultimate B-movie, filled with cheesy characters and situations, and utterly reveling in it, and blesses with an awesome cast, including Dwayne Johnson in one of his best roles, Seann William Scott (ditto, though they paired up well in The Rundown), and Justin Timberlake, who at one point basically makes a music video for The Killer’s “All These Things That I’ve Done.”

#40. Sunshine (2000)
For a while, it seemed as if Ralph Fiennes was going to be the critically acclaimed version of Kevin Costner, until he became too obscure even for critics to take notice. Sunshine tracks three different generations, and each of them is portrayed by Fiennes, as they attempt to find prosperity in trying times, until, finally, one of them realizes that going back to the start really isn’t such a bad thing.

#41. The Way of the Gun (2000)
Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro spend the whole movie disproving the confident image represented in the opening sequence, and that’s pretty awesome.

#42. Young Frankenstein (1974)
If Mel Brooks had made a career of such biting parody of Hollywood itself, instead of enjoying himself, Hollywood would ironically have liked him better.

#43. Days of Heaven (1978)
Terrence Malick and Richard Gere in one of Malick’s earliest visual feasts.

#44. Infernal Affairs (2002)
The original version of The Departed is fascinating to watch, if not in outright comparison, then in its own right, though I will probably always prefer the Scorsese version.

#45. The Missing (2003)
This is almost Ron Howard’s version of True Grit, starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones.

#46. Oscar and Lucinda (1997)
Cate Blanchett again, in Ralph Fiennes’ sandbox. But this is basically Cate’s first big role, so there’s that to admire, too.

#47. Rock n Rolla (2008)
Guy Ritchie, Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson…Now that I’ve had a little time to process it, maybe I’ll say the goods are in Tom Hardy’s performance, which is totally different from anything else I’ve seen him do.

#48. Starship Troopers (1997)
Like a parody of WWII patriotism, this adaptation is somewhat notorious, but deserves to be kept in mind. Also, check out a younger Neil Patrick Harris, not yet having outlived Doogie, and not yet having transformed into Barney. Awesome!

#49. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor are not the highlights here, but Burl Ives. Seriously!

#50. The Conformist (1971)
I’ve tried several times to penetrate this one. Now it occurs to me that it plays like a moody predecessor to The Godfather. You will never view Michael Corleone the same way again.

That’s it, then, that’s the absolute end of the Film Fan, unless you absolutely demand I continue! We will otherwise segue into the Jabroni Companion, where you will find such noted actors as Dwayne Johnson (see Southland Tales above), Roddy Piper (They Live), Hulk Hogan (Suburban Commando), and even Ken Anderson (Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia), in slightly different roles!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2010 Top 50

#1. Inception (2010)
I can’t begin to say how much I love this movie. Its poor showing in the official awards ceremonies, especially the Oscars, was a slap in the face to films. How do you not celebrate when someone like Christopher Nolan, who has already made at least two timeless movies (Memento, The Dark Knight, which ranked at #7 and #4, respectively, in the 500 countdown), has just made what he calls his passion project? To put this in perspective, it’d be like saying the Mona Lisa was a minor accomplishment, or the Sistine Chapel, or Moby Dick, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The sheer imaginative scale of it alone, from the idea of dreams being the last true place to exploit in the human psyche, to the visualization of it, to how the dreams are actually experienced, to how they fold into numerous plots…This is postmodern filmmaking. And to say nothing of the Hans Zimmer score. And to say nothing of the cast, any one of whom I could mention here, but I’ll settle on two: Leonardo DiCaprio, still among the hungriest actors to ever land in Hollywood, and Tom Hardy, finally receiving the recognition he’s been working on a decade to earn. If you can’t find at least one movie every year that would have a good shot at entering your favorite-ever experiences, you are probably not trying very hard to enjoy movies. Not that a movie like Inception is much of an effort. Unless you really want it to be.

#2. Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, together again (Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster), bringing a terrific sense of reality to the Robin Hood legend. Critics seemed to hate this one, mostly because Gladiator is still something they’re trying to figure out. They hated it so much they kept insisting that Robin’s Merry Men weren’t very merry. I honestly have no idea what movie they were watching! Great Big Sea, a favorite Celtic rock band of mine and Crowe’s (he’s listening to them on the radio in State of Play), contributes Alan Doyle to play some of the best music any Merry Man has ever played. Cate Blanchett also appears, playing a fiercely independent Maid Marion, perhaps the only actress capable of matching wits with Crowe. Mark Strong, who has quickly become the unsung darling of supporting actors, contributes a strong hand to the unusual villainy afoot.

#3. Shutter Island (2010)
Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed) knock the socks off the Dennis Lehane book, with Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley, among others, turning in strong supporting performances.

#4. Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Russell Brand reprises his supporting role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to help justify the huge amount of hype he’s gotten in recent years. The songs, played mostly for laughs last time, are more integral and better this time around, and a lot of the reason I love this movie so much. I also enjoyed Colm Meaney, marking something of a resurgence in recent years, as Brand’s dad. Rose Byrne, who normally fades into the background, is another surprise as Brand’s estranged lover, and the source of more memorable music.

#5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This is the full-geek version of (500) Days of Summer, with Michael Cera strong enough to pull off both the unlikely romantic and comic lead performance. There’s a lot of stuff going on around him, but he never gets lost in it. Good stuff all around.

#6. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Oliver Stone has become a critical afterthought, so it was no surprise that his follow-up to one of the defining movies of the 1980s was almost completely overlooked, even though it’s as important to today’s world as the original was to its own time. Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, and Frank Langella are all excellent. This is the version of The Social Network that doesn’t get lost in its own sense of self-importance (which is ironically what that movie was supposed to be about).

#7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)
It’s always hard for me to rank a Harry Potter. Even more than a Star Wars, you’re constantly aware that there’s another movie that continues the story (that was the main problem of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings). There’s always something unique about them, but you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if the filmmakers could truly cut loose. They’re still infinitely better than every other movie they inspired, though. The problem with this one? It’s literally the first of two.

#8. The Warrior’s Way (2010)
I loved Ninja Assassin, but this was like that movie, improved maybe a thousand percent, with a whole world built around another mystical figure stepping out of one world and spinning into another. It really helps that Kate Bosworth has a chance to steal the show, a performance that comes out of nowhere, especially since she’s been virtually absent from the screen for the last few years.

#9. The Next Three Days (2010)
Remember when everyone was going nuts over Paul Haggis? Well, he’s another classic backlash case, and this is the latest victim. Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks try to figure their way out of a bad situation, and it doesn’t get a lot more thrilling than how it all plays out. Olivia Wilde has a supporting role.

#10. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010)
Based on real events, this is the next evolution of Jim Carrey, which is really strange, since the more he grows as an actor, the smaller his audience gets. Ewan McGregor plays Carrey’s lover. Maybe that explains why you didn’t hear about this one.

#11. True Grit (2010)
Jeff Bridges completes his transformation into one of Hollywood’s undisputed titans, claiming the role of Rooster Cogburn for his own. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are equally memorable in supporting roles. May also be the Coens’ most complete movie experience.

#12. Remember Me (2010)
Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin star in this heartbreaking journey that unexpectedly ends in the tragic events of 9/11. Like Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown, Pattinson is liberated as an actor by completely breaking free of his usual persona.

#13. The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck completes his Hollywood comeback by making his version of The Departed, starring as a habitual bank robber looking to start over. Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively are among the excellent supporting cast.

#14. The Losers (2010)
The biggest action thrills of the year came from this ensemble flick headlined by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jason Patric that’s basically an American version of Desperado.

#15. The Way Back (2010)
Peter Weir directs this absorbing drama about the unlikely journey to escape the legacy of WWII, though from a perspective that’s rarely tapped in Hollywood, so that the only American we meet is Ed Harris, and everyone else is some other nationality, whether hero Jim Sturges (whom I’ve been following since Across the Universe), whose betrayal in Poland lands him in a Russian gulag, where he meets, among others, Colin Farrell, putting a new spin in his character credentials as a selfish thug who doesn’t have to be in the whole movie to leave a lasting impression.

#16. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
The best animated movie of the year was a strong message of tolerance set in unlikely circumstances. The portrayal of dragons as dogs is a novel one, and helps to give the story unexpected depth. Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler are effective Vikings.

#17. Valentine’s Day (2010)
Like He’s Just Not That Into You, but better, with a strong central performance from Ashton Kutcher, and a huge heaping of supporting efforts, including Jennifer Garner, who’s just one of many participants in surprising romantic situations.

#18. The Social Network (2010)
If anything was going to win Best Picture at the Oscars and not be Inception (True Grit was less likely to win because the Coens had previously won with No Country for Old Men), it should have been this one, which takes a smattering of mostly unlikable people and tries to make you sympathize with them. Jesse Eisenberg, a scowling version of Shia LaBeouf, makes Mark Zuckerberg into an insufferable genius douchebag. Andrew Garfield, a previous standout in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and the future Spider-man, is probably the only likable figure in the movie.

#19. Hereafter (2010)
Critics burned out on tapestry filmmaking years ago, which is mostly why this powerful and Dickensian flick from Clint Eastwood was all but completely ignored. They didn’t even need the recent tragedies in Japan to downplay the tsunami that serves as the dramatic spectacle here for no real reason. Matt Damon is an actor whom I appreciate more and more, and he does a standout job as the anchor of three narratives.

#20. Cairo Time (2010)
I know Patricia Clarkson has gotten the bulk of the praise (and attention) for this one, but I prefer to focus on Alexander Siddig, an actor I admittedly first noticed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But he has since become one of film’s great unsung treasures, popping up in supporting roles all over the place, mostly as the sympathetic Arab (Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana). This is his first starring role, which is something to celebrate.

#21. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Woody Allen is yet another accomplished and talented filmmaker critics like to downplay at their convenience (and to their loss of credibility). I’ve grown to admire him in recent years (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream), and this is another strong entry, revolving around struggling author Josh Brolin, with a lot of fun pieces moving around him, including an unusually appealing Naomi Watts, the luminous Freida Pinto, and Antonio Banderas.

#22. Cop Out (2010)
Kevin Smith disowned it, but he really shouldn’t have. Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, and Seann William Scott all shine in this buddy cop parody.

#23. Death at a Funeral (2010)
Chris Rock actually grounds this farce, with an outstanding supporting cast around him, so that at times, you may actually forget that Chris is sharing the screen. At times.

#24. Megamind (2010)
Will Ferrell has a signature role here with his “giant blue head.” Brad Pitt shines every time Metro Man appears, too.

#25. Machete (2010)
Robert Rodriquez is like the indy version of Christopher Nolan, never failing to bring anything less than a complete vision to the screen. He also manages to corral some of the best casts anyone has ever seen for his movies. Here you get Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriquez, Robert De Niro, and Don Johnson, who makes (except within this film’s credits), an unappreciated comeback after several years away from the screen.

#26. Unstoppable (2010)
This is like a factual version of Speed, with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, getting his first starring role since Star Trek, swapping in for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Standout supporting roles go to Rosario Dawson, who’s always awesome, and Kevin Corrigan, who also steals every scene he has in a recurring Fringe gig.

#27. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton, who normally has a tendency to spin a little out of control, is one of the few directors who seems to completely appreciate the advances of technology and the increased ability to step, well, into Wonderland.

#28. Devil (2010)
M. Night Shyamalan attempts to become a brand, renting out this story about a group of strangers who wind up in a dilly of a pickle.

#29. The Last Airbender (2010)
He also adapts the Nickelodeon cartoon and steeps his own impulses deep into mythology, allowing some of the visuals to do what he normally does psychologically, which is to immerse his audience into a breathtaking situation.

#30. The Book of Eli (2010)
Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis survive in a post-apocalyptic world by being awesome.

#31. Clash of the Titans (2010)
There’s any number of reasons why I loved this movie that was tanked by 3D backlash: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Greek mythology. The last thing I cared about was that this was basically a remake of a flawed 1980s experience.

#32. RED (2010)
Bruce Willis and a strong supporting cast, and I will choose to spotlight Karl Urban over several eminently worthy names, in another fine action adventure.

#33. Tron: Legacy (2010)
As much as anything else, it’s almost as if this movie was made to redeem the 1980s as a legitimate source of material that was not originally a cartoon and/or action figure. Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde are standouts.

#34. Despicable Me (2010)
Steve Carrell and Jason Segel engage in an epic feud and create distinctive character voices in a movie that’s basically Monsters, Inc. made by someone other than Pixar.

#35. Takers (2010)
This is one of those movies that seemed to taunt me for months with some preview or another, and so I was just glad that it was finally released, and ended up being worth the wait.

#36. Jonah Hex (2010)
Given how low it is on this list and that it landed on a list of 500 overall favorites previously, you might think that I reevaluated my interest in this one, but that’s just how things sometimes work out. For the record, I stand by it.

#37. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Better than the first one, with more interesting things for Robert Downey, Jr. to do, and better supporting stars around him, aside from the steady presence of Gwyneth Paltrow. This time around, Mickey Rourke and a boisterous Sam Rockwell lend their support. Scarlet Johansson, surprisingly, falls a little flat here, though she’s basically competing with Jennifer Garner’s untoppable performance from Daredevil, so it’s not such a surprise.

#38. Shrek Forever After (2010)
The fourth Shrek rebounds from a somewhat pointless third entry by bringing the focus back directly onto Shrek himself. Basically the ogre version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

#39. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
I think they finally figured out how to make a really good Resident Evil movie. Milla Jovovich is joined by the returning Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller, marking his first significant role since Prison Break, playing far more ambiguously, and with a sinister edge, than Michael Scofield.

#40. Gulliver’s Travels (2010)
A silly modern update of Jonathan Swift’s classic featuring Jack Black being Jack Black. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are among the supporting cast who help parody expectations.

#41. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Surprisingly effective, what I would call an American version of Harry Potter. Nicholas Cage may appear to be fairly indiscriminant, but I think he has a better eye than most people give him credit for.

#42. Predators (2010)
I have never seen any other film with said Predators in it, whether the originals in the series this ostensibly continues, or the mash-ups with Aliens that a bunch of comics helped make possible. Adrien Brody and Topher Grace are among a strong cast that gets to try and survive.

#43. Skyline (2010)
Speaking of survival, this was like the American version of District 9, in that it was made on a shoestring budget, and you’d hardly know it. While lacking as effective a story, it still features an engaging alien problem with a transcendent final sequence that effectively eliminates the need for any of the actual actors to appear.

#44. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Everyone loved this movie, the latest Pixar movie to redefine the possibilities of animated movies. Everyone except me. Pretty much a rehash of the second movie, with less engaging additions, and a less compelling obstacle. The only thing that redeems it is the element that everyone else was busy concentrating on, the fact that for the first time, Andy isn’t a complete afterthought. In fact, it’s mostly his scenes that give this entry any meaning at all, and they’re worth the hype.

#45. The Other Guys (2010)
Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell engage in a fairly standard oddball pairing flick that also features Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne Johnson.

#46. Knight and Day (2010)
Tom Cruise attempts his big comeback, and while the charisma is there in spades, I guess audience interest wasn’t, even though this is thoroughly enjoyable material. Cameron Diaz has a fairly routine supporting performance, mostly reacting to what happens around her.

#47. Salt (2010)
This was basically Angelina Jolie’s Knight and Day, an enjoyable ride, but with more of an edge. Liev Schreiber co-stars.

#48. The A-Team (2010)
Joe Carnahan gets a little lost in the spectacle he creates around the personalities he helps revisit with actors like Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Sharlto Copley. Jessica Biel and Gerald McRainey put in additional layers.

#49. The Wolfman (2010)
I was hoping for a more potent combination from Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. Maybe I’ll just have to revisit this one at some point.

#50. The Bounty Hunter (2010)
People like to shit on Gerard Butler, mostly because he presents a dynamic that’s almost completely unfamiliar from the standard Hollywood tropes. He’s incredibly masculine, but in a relatable way. It seems like an impossible contradiction, but there he is. Jennifer Aniston gets to play with that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Film Fan #476-500 (conclusion!)

#476. National Treasure (2004)
So, obviously, I like the sequel better, but the first one is pretty entertaining, too.

#477. Serenity (2005)
I have this huge problem that I assume most other people have, too, and that I just don’t entirely understand the appeal of Joss Whedon. Now, obviously, he’s got a fairly rabid, if small, following, that believes just about everything he does is genius, but what I see, when I periodically sample his material, is something that a really good collaborator could improve on easily (much the way I’ve viewed J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5). Bottom line is, Joss has too many people fawning over him to reach a higher level. Serenity, and the short-lived TV show that preceded it, Firefly, was cast almost perfectly (hence the reason why many of the actors keep popping up in fairly prominent ways), and that remains the highlight and draw for me. It’s how everyone and -thing seems so darned stilted…I just don’t understand how much apparent passion can lead so much wasted potential. Then again, maybe Joss simply isn’t as talented as he has been successful…

#478. The Road Warrior (1981)
The sequel to Mad Max remains true to the established formula, and is in many ways exactly like For a Few Dollars More, another second act in a famous trilogy that would give way to a little more inspiration in the third.

#479. Alien (1979)
I don’t know at this point how many low budget rip-offs eventually dimmed the impact of this movie, or if it’s simply that I’ve been trying to play catch-up with the whole franchise for years, since it was Star Wars and Superman that amounted to the big new series begun at the end of that decade. The fact that only one other entry in this particular series seems to have actually been well-received also helps to dull the impact. Still, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver create a unique experience that truly does deserve the franchise treatment. But it kind of makes you wonder how things would be if that franchise were a little more deliberately created…

#480. The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
Herbert Lom truly has a chance to shine when bumbling Clouseau finally drives Dreyfuss crazy in this entry.

#481. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
This is basically a fairly flimsy Beatles parody, but I liked it all the same. Eric Idle is the Rutles version of Paul McCartney.

#482. Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
Peter Sellers’ last actual turn as Clouseau (three other films technically follow in this original phase of the franchise, with the second beginning the process of trying to replace Sellers) is a strangely appropriate romp where the French inspector is apparently murdered.

#483. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Absolutely sensational…until you get the sense that the filmmakers got a little ahead of themselves and forgot to continue developing the story, and instead started resting less on inspiration and more on obvious developments that don’t ring true.

#484. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Who am I kidding? This was the second movie that year to feature Gemma Arterton, and this time in a far more prominent role. I was powerless to resist. Otherwise, fairly clever, though not the second coming of the Pirates of the Caribbean films that Disney obviously expected.

#485. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
I should maybe note for the record that I haven’t gotten swept up in any of the periodic waves of zombie mania, and that this was a fairly random experience that happened to resonate. Great cast, including Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Mekhi Phifer, and Ty Burrell (yes, the Modern Family dad, years before anyone else noticed him). Great twist ending, too! But, mostly I’m a zombie spoof kind of guy, Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland.

#486. Rat Race (2002)
This was like a modern remake of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, just a film packed with funny people in a nonsensical race. Stars include Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Lovitz, Rowan Atkinson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Cleese, Breckin Meyer, Amy Smart, Seth Green, Wayne Knight, Kathy Bates, Dean Cain…Basically a whole cast of actors who could barely star in their own movies, but together are magic.

#487. Ned Kelly (2003)
Orlando Bloom was in an incredible hotstreak when he made this. It turns out, making a story about an infamous Australian outlaw doesn’t really compete with Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. Anyway, it was one of his first chances to demonstrate some real versatility. There’s also Heath Ledger, playing a variation of his solemn heroes from other films, and Geoffrey Rush, who was busy being Geoffrey Rush, as always.

#488. Ladder 49 (2004)
John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix explore what it’s like to be a firefighter. Apparently it’s pretty tough.

#489. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
I’m mostly going to talk about Nic Cage here, so let’s mention Eva Mendes, one of the most luminescent stars to have ever graced the big screen. So, Nicholas Cage. I’ve talked him up before, so let’s just state for the record that this may be his consummate role, where he’s almost completely out of control, but struggling for the small percent that isn’t, the fa├žade that keeps the whole thing going. Surprisingly or not, one of the few times critics seem to get what he’s doing.

#490. Wide Awake (1998)
This would be the first M. Night Shyamalan flick, which possibly you weren’t aware of because it doesn’t fit the pattern that seemed to be established with The Sixth Sense. But if you watched this one, you might see a completely different pattern, one that sees Night explore genuine human experience in extraordinary circumstances. Wide Awake could literally change the whole perception of this filmmaker, if it were better known (if, in fact, known at all).

#491. A River Runs Through It (1992)
Mostly, I remember this film for Robert Redford’s narration. Redford’s peak was probably right around just before I was born, and so during the first ten years or so of my life, he was busy growing into a quiet authority, the rare actor who could rest on his voice alone, which is funny, since it was probably anything but that originally got him Hollywood roles.

#492. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Ah! So we meet The Road Warrior again!

#493. The Champ (1979)
Critics really hate when a movie appears too manipulative. Well, sometimes, that manipulation is earned, by good old filmmaking. I only really remember and care about the ending, in which tearful Ricky Schroder is trying to rouse his fallen dad, Jon Voight. Hollywood loves boxing movies (this was actually a remake of a film many decades older). Sometimes someone really does make them distinguishable.

#494. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood attempts his Shootist. Not only is he a little early in his career (though he subsequently made a career of exactly this role), but he’s better. Still, if it weren’t for the sensationalism, there wouldn’t really be much here. Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman co-star. I know this is one of my many heresies, but Hackman was better in The Quick and the Dead.

#495. Jonah Hex (2010)
I seem to have been the only one to have enjoyed this one (welcome to the club, big guy!). Josh Brolin has a rare, unabashed (well, except for that ugly scar) starring role, Megan Fox is better than people admit (as always), and there’s some really fantastic editing toward the end that alone would make it memorable for me.

#496. Last Tango in Paris (1973)
This was how Brando chose to follow up The Godfather, with a creepy guy who’s looking for sex in a foreign country. It’s the only way he could have made it, on the good graces of Vito Corleone.

#497. The Men (1950)
From creepy Brando to freaky Brando, proving he doesn’t even need the use of his legs to electrify, in another movie that his presence alone makes.

#498. The Man Without a Face (1993)
Remember when Kevin Spacey does this exact role in Pay it Forward? Well, as it turns out, Mel Gibson does it better.

#499. The Shootist (1976)
I’m more interested in Jimmy Stewart. I guess John Wayne owed it to him, after Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

#500. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Henry Fonda and cinematography help make this one a classic.

That’s it. Let me repeat, that’s it! We’ve finally reached the end of the 500, which I started posting back in October. I should perhaps remind you that this list, the latest version of a project I’ve been working on for most of the last decade, consists of movies and opinions I’ve had dating back to 6/20/2010. This may be important, because next week I will be putting one last entry into the Film Fan, the top fifty films from 2010. Some of my rankings of films from this very list may seem to be contradicted, if you think too much about it. But mostly, (and because I’m crazy enough to loosely consider a second post-list entry that consists of fifty films seen and reconsidered since last June that don’t necessary come from last year’s releases), my love of movies continues unabated, even if that love seems downright reckless at times…

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Film Fan #451-475

#451. Yes Man (2008)
Tracking a particular actor’s career can be pretty interesting. During at least part of it you can’t help but virtually love everything they do, otherwise you wouldn’t really be that interested in them. After a while, it seems, it’s only natural for that interest to wane a little, for any number of reasons, some being either that you’ve been distracted with someone else, or you generally find you don’t find that actor’s choices to be all that interesting anymore. Anyway, Jim Carrey, thanks to Ace Ventura in 1994, became unquestionably one of my favorite actors. I tracked his career backward, and I continued tracking it with each new release. It wasn’t until a few years into the new millennium where it seemed Jim was finally slowing down a little, feeling a little less fresh. Of course, this isn’t to say that I found him less appealing, only that some of the material coming his way seemed a little more tame, a little more geared to his reputation and not his talent (Bruce Almighty, The Number 23, though both are films I enjoy, and there are other examples where he seems to challenge himself more, with the most recent one being last year’s I Love You, Philip Morris). Yes Man is one of those films, a gimmick in the guise of Liar, Liar, designed to put him in an artificial situation that forces him to bug out a little. I’d be lying if I said Zooey Deschanel isn’t a strong draw for me in this one, and there’s nothing wrong with Jim almost taking the back seat. But shouldn’t Jim Carrey always sort of be the star of Jim Carrey movies? This isn’t Earth Girls Are Easy. You can tell because there’s less fur.

#452. Hitch (2005)
Will Smith is almost the opposite of Jim Carrey, in that he can be routinely trusted to anchor material that without him would probably spiral out of control. This is one of his rare movies where Will can just be Will, romancing Eva Mendes (perhaps never more gorgeous). Kevin James has his first big movie role here, too, although…in hindsight, it probably would have been better to just stick with Will and Eva.

#453. Crazy Heart (2009)
This was a huge awards draw last year, thanks to Jeff Bridges, a role that helped make him popular again, although I don’t think the movie around him really helps him out too much. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an actress with a considerable critical following, but her acting and her role here distract more than help the story. Colin Farrell gets precious little time to inhabit the character who helps motivate Bridges along his path throughout the movie, so the best you get to enjoy about him is his singing. And it might be said that it’s better than Bridges’. Aside from Ryan Bingham (who wrote much of the music), Farrell has the best version of the signature song, “The Weary Kind.”

#454. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton can sometimes become lost in his own gothic leanings, but here he finds material that is perfectly suited to him, bringing to full whimsical life the characters of Lewis Carroll in a kind of sequel to the original stories. It’s no surprise to me that this owes more to the spirit of Mars Attacks! than Edward Scissorhands.

#455. Music and Lyrics (2007)
Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore literally make beautiful music together.

#456. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
A fantastically clever stop-motion animation effort, anchored by George Clooney.

#457. I Love You, Man (2009)
I have very little actual experience with Paul Rudd, but he seems like a perennially underrated talent. Ironically, I’d suggest that he’s the only Woody Allen type to never have appeared in a Woody Allen movie, and the only one who hasn’t had to appear in a Woody Allen movie to fit the bill. Anyway, I really love this one for the way Jason Segel plays against him. Oh, and Lou Ferrigno.

#458. Dog Soldiers (2003)
Neil Marshall’s reputation seems to have fallen in recent years, but here’s where it began, and rightfully so, with Kevin McKidd trying to create a line of defense against werewolves, ahead of the Twilight curve.

#459. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Sometimes, a critic can allow a review to get away from them because of some personal bias or agenda (I would actually, less generously, suggest, “almost all the time”), and that seems to have been the case with this one, with many people cheering it more for the fact that it seeks to normalize homosexual acceptance than for its actual critical worth. I find it to be a little lazy and manipulative, yet on the whole it’s also pretty good. I guess the term would be unassuming, which is exactly the reverse of how it was received. I have a hard time with movies whose reputations are completely distorted (see: The Blair Witch Project, Gone with the Wind). I’d probably like Brokeback more if the popular perception were more reasonable. It doesn’t hurt that Heath Ledger really is allowed to act, and that his performance anchors the whole film, in a way that’s completely the reverse but to the same effect as his turn in The Dark Knight.

#460. Extract (2009)
Mike Judge has a knack for creating characters who are perfectly cast for the situations they find themselves in, whether you’re talking Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, or Office Space (I still haven’t seen Idiocracy, but I assume it fits the pattern). Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins, Jr., and J.K. Simmons (I don’t know whether I’m transposing him into both this and Burn After Reading, because both are fairly similar, or whether he truly is in them; either way, I love him) form another fine cast. Did I mention Mila Kunis?

#461. Scarface (1983)
Al Pacino in the role that probably spoiled him for every single critic, and made him an icon for everyone else, so completely overblown and outsized that it’s impossible to talk about Pacino and Scarface as if they’re separate entities. But really, isn’t that the goal of every performance, every movie?

#462. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Apparently not, because Robert De Niro barely registers in this one, with the filmmaker so completely detached from his subject matter, it would probably play better as a short film. I keep trying to completely figure it out, why it’s got such a big reputation, and I keep finding myself shut out. Still, the famous Russian roulette sequence keeps it in play.

#463. Rooster Cogburn (1975)
Take note, folks, because this is the sequel to the original cinematic version of True Grit, with John Wayne returning to perhaps his most famous role, and Kathryn Hepburn reprising her African Queen persona. Anthony Zerbe, however, ends up being my favorite actor in it.

#464. Be Cool (2005)
Speaking of sequels, this one follows Get Shorty, but also pairs John Travolta back up with Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman. Vince Vaughn and “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, however, are the real draws, at least in my humble opinion.

#465. Bottle Shock (2008)
Based on true events and centering on the improbable clash of personalities between Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman, this was also Chris Pine’s last chance to shine before Star Trek, and with a helping of long hair, completely nails it. Might also be Eliza Dushku’s most appealing, least assuming, performance.

#466. Death at a Funeral (2010)
Frank Oz doesn’t get a lot of love on this list, and he doesn’t get it this entry, either, because this is the remake, not the original, starring Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana (she had a supporting role in every other movie that year, including The Losers and Takers), and Martin Lawrence. As outsize a personality as he is, Rock doesn’t get nearly enough love. This may be his best movie to date. I also enjoyed him in Head of State, among others.

#467. Fred Claus (2007)
This was Vince Vaughn’s Santa Clause. I know it seems obvious, from the title, but beyond that, it’s really just as entertaining, and has the added bonus of Paul Giamatti as the other Claus.

#468. The Robe (1953)
Another popular favorite in my family growing up was watching the religious films Hollywood used to make in droves. This one concerns the fate of, well, the robe that was taken from Jesus at the crucifixion.

#469. The Fourth Kind (2009)
Reputedly based on real events, this one casts the always appealing Milla Jovovich against footage of the real woman who experiences crazy alien visitations. Anyway., clever filmmaking that was all but ignored by audiences on release.

#470. Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Combine Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, and Broken Lizard, and you’ve got a surprisingly effective update of the Good Ol’ Boys. I also enjoyed M.C. Gainey, Tom Friendly on Lost, in a rare appearance off-island.

#471. Kickboxer (1989)
I went through something of a minor obsession with Jean-Claude Van Damme after repeated viewings of this on TV.

#472. Just My Luck (2006)
Remember Chris Pine? Well, surprisingly, he once co-starred with Lindsay Lohan, before everyone hated Lindsay Lohan (or right around the time everyone started to hate Lindsay Lohan). Surprisingly entertaining.

#473. The French Connection (1971)
If this hadn’t starred Gene Hackman, it might have seemed more like The Deer Hunter. Come to think of it, maybe The Deer Hunter should have starred Gene Hackman, and French Connection should have starred Robert De Niro.

#474. Aliens (1986)
In hindsight, this is almost a direct precursor to Avatar. Go ahead and watch it again for yourself.

#475. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and John Cleese were so memorable in this one they ended up making a quasi-sequel, Fierce Creatures.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Film Fan #426-450

#426. Rob Roy (1995)
Liam Neeson is an actor who has only become more popular as he’s aged, going from someone who could be easily overlooked in minor supporting roles (Excalibur) to headlining unexpected blockbusters (Taken), and becoming an invaluable second lead in countless movies. Here’s one of his leading roles, a sort of Irish Braveheart, with Tim Roth equally memorable as his villainous foil.

#427. Cinderella Man (2005)
Russell Crowe went from powerhouse leading man to afterthought within the span of the Aughts, mostly due to his unruly behavior off-camera; in truth, most people were just looking for an excuse to ignore him, because he broke all the rules concerning what it means to be a leading man, too confounding and powerful a presence to easily categorize. This is another blockbuster collaboration with Ron Howard, a Boxing Movie that focuses more on the heart of the fighter than size of the fight in him.

#428. District 9 (2009)
A South African ditty about aliens who come down to Earth and end up residents, an elaborate allegory for Apartheid that quickly spirals from documentary to chase sequence, all spinning around the increasingly manic performance of Sharlto Copley, who would later steal The A-Team.

#429. Two Lovers (2009)
Released in the early days of that oddball experiment that saw Joaquin Phoenix totally trash his reputation, and thus completely lost to all good affection despite being a terrific story of pain and redemption, co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

#430. Lucky You (2007)
Eric Bana quickly became one of my favorite actors, and so I’ve made it a point to follow his career closely. This one apparently had some sort of tortured release history, so it was easy to overlook, even though it’s good work from everyone involved, including a typically scene-stealing Robert Downey, Jr. from just before Iron Man completely salvaged his career.

#431. The Cutting Edge (1992)
My sister is a huge figure skating fan, and so that’s why I’ve seen it, but truth be told, I’m a fairly decent fan of both, too.

#432. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Imagine if people had told Shakespeare his stories were too repetitive. Ha! Well, given that his historical reputation really needed to be built up, I’d argue that maybe good Will is not so different from our own Orson Welles or the like, an incredible talent his contemporaries found very hard to appreciate. Anyway, so that’s the story of Woody Allen, a filmmaker most critics have grown tired of, so they pretty much rehash every thought on his new films from old reviews, no matter what the new material actually has to offer. I personally loved this one. Will Ferrell may be one of those “Woody Allen surrogates,” but he’s still Will Ferrell, and I for one could go fro Chilean sea bass lightly misted with lime. Also, Wallace Shawn. You cannot go wrong with Wallace Shawn. I was also amused to see Josh Brolin appear in a tiny supporting role. And while Rhada Mitchell sometimes theatrically overdoes it in her smoking scenes, I love this as one of her few leading roles.

#433. I’m Not There (2007)
This crazyquilt project is a character study of Bob Dylan, with a number of actors portraying a number of incarnations, including Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, in one of the few projects where he was really able to cut loose creatively, which like Lords of Dogtown present the long shadow before The Joker that few fans even now seem to appreciate.

#434. Funny People (2009)
Judd Apatow became one of the biggest names in filmmaking in recent years, and while I’ve had my share of enjoyable experiences from the most famous examples, this is the one I like best, starring of all people Adam Sandler, who embodied the spirit of what Apatow set out to accomplish before either of them knew it. This, then, also constitutes my favorite Sandler flick (Happy Gilmore and Punch-drunk Love are his other highlights as far as this film fan goes). Seth Rogen is here, too, but the guy who steals this show is Eric Bana, finally showing up in Hollywood full Aussie. Did you know he’s known as a comedian Down Under?

#435. Smart People (2008)
Similar in title to the above, and they both share a fair amounting of depression, too. I suppose I latched onto this one on account of the stars, doing fine work with little recognition. Ellen Page, who made her name in the cutesy Juno, is probably more appealing in a better performance here, while Dennis Quaid has another fine appearance here. Thomas Haden Church, who won accolades in Sideways but has been overlooked since (even though he’s the main reason I love Spider-Man 3), joins this little circle, and in fact might as well be considered the lead actor, even though time is shared pretty equally between them.

#436. Remember Me (2010)
I had Robert Pattinson pegged as a standout actor based on a very limited performance/appearance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, long before tweens swooned over him as Edward in the Twilight films. This is easily his best film to date, casting him as a troubled young man (with no trace of his usual dry line readings) whose path leads toward one of the more poignant fictional stories to come out of 9/11.

#437. The Soloist (2009)
Robert Downey Jr. proved he wasn’t universally beloved after the Iron Man revival by starring in this nuanced portrait of a man trying to do good in extremely difficult circumstances, with Jamie Foxx pulling off one of his best performances as the homeless man he tries to help. This is basically Good Will Hunting’ minus Harvard.

#438. The Mist (2007)
Frank Darabont has now invested most of his cinematic career with adaptations of Stephen King, and this was the first time he was met with apathy (though to be fair he lost his critical mystique previously with The Majestic, a “Capra-esque” fable with Jim Carrey). Surprisingly, though, he still does good work, especially with the cinematic choice of black and white to add extra tension.

#439. The Wrestler (2008)
Like Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke was finally “rediscovered” thanks to a perfect project, even though he’d been doing exceptional work previously (notably Sin City, which is a better performance). As a wrestling fan, I know how much Darren Aronofsky gets wrong, preying mostly on popular misconceptions, but as a portrait of anyone down on their luck and forced into less than ideal circumstances, this is a real stunner.

#440. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The truth is, James Dean might have been a great actor, but he simply didn’t have the time or a real opportunity to prove it. His is a legend that will die over time, since the work he actually left behind will age mostly to irrelevance, something only connoisseurs will appreciate. Watch this without the reputation, and it’s at best a passable study of alienation and angst, something that would be a TV movie today, or maybe fifteen years ago. Beverly Hills 90210 and its descendents have replicated the James Dean formula for twenty years now.

#441. Julius Caesar (1953)
The difference between James Dean and Marlon Brando might as well be explained this way: whereas Dean really needed to do scenes that focused mostly on him to achieve his aura, Brando completely outclasses everyone else, even doing Shakespeare. As Marc Antony, he’s a lightning rod, especially in the impassioned speech after Caesar’s assassination.

#442. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Whereas some people might choose to remember Jason Segel in this film because of his junk, what really helped make him stand out was his puppet work, which showcased his singing and inventive humor. Speaking of that, there’s also Russell Brand, in what I now like to think of as the prequel to Get Him to the Greek. Plus Mila Kunis, in her breakout movie performance.

#443. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Recently I’ve gotten the distinct impression that most people don’t think as highly of Robert Rodriguez as I do. Granted, sometimes he can go the full Schwarzenegger in his eagerness to make kid-friendly material, but when he’s truly on fire, he’s got enough energy and swagger to fill the screen as few other filmmakers dare, both in pure showmanship and his ability to cast perfectly. This is the finale of his Mariachi trilogy, and while Antonio Banderas makes his second appearance of the franchise, this one really belongs to Johnny Depp. Coming in the same year as the birth of Jack Sparrow, most people probably considered his performance here as something of an afterthought, but to me, it’s one of his best, and least affected, performances. It’s simply Depp bringing out all his gonzo charm, with almost only Depp himself, not some weirdo character, showing.

#444. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007)
Nicholas Cage is another actor who gets almost no respect, and it’s pretty much his own fault, although I have very little personal experience to show for it. I simply haven’t seen his early performances, before he crossed over from dramatic roles in critically acceptable films to blockbusters, in one of the first Hollywood careers to fully embrace the modern era. The problem is, he could never hope to survive the critical backlash, even when he periodically attempts to placate his earlier fans (Adaptation would have been a fine movie for anyone; for Cage, it’s untoppable, and it came well after he made the transition). Now he seems to drift from one outsize persona to another. One of his more fascinating ones is the strange riff of a franchise that successfully crosses Indian Jones with Robert Langdon. The second film has more energy, a successful sequel that understands that “lived-in” shouldn’t be equated with “mailed-in.”

#445. The Spirit (2008)
Since filmgoers did not actually go ga-ga over Sin City (at least not quite in the same way I did), Frank Miller might have expected his own version of it, adapting the Will Eisner material that originally inspired him, to go almost completely over the same heads. It’s funny, too, because this is almost the reverse Sin City, with one central hero (a game Gabriel Macht) and one central villain (a typically expressive Samuel L. Jackson), and all the awesome women (Eva Mendes, Scarlet Johansson) surrounding them doing their best to not upstage either of them. More stylized, and owing more to 300. This is perfect cinematic material, but since it doesn’t call to mind any useful associations for the majority of filmgoers, it’s easy to dismiss.

#446. Garden State (2004)
The movie that briefly made it appear as if Zach Braff would have a career on the big screen was a tour de force that co-stars Natalie Portman, and overflows with charm.

#447. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s first opus (and no doubt the movie he had to live down, and perhaps found that he never could) is a slice of life tale that explores the state of racial relations in 1989, which as it turns out still had its share of problems. Lee did make a bunch of other movies in the same vein, because those relations did not significantly improve over the course of the next decade. I’d strongly encourage him to make another movie on that topic today.

#448. Clash of the Titans (2010)
While everyone seemed to embrace Avatar as that James Cameron movie with all the giant blue people, a lot of its appeal for me rested on Sam Worthington, whom I’d earlier pegged as a standout in Terminator: Salvation, which is why when this movie was released, I didn’t view it as the first of many ill-advised attempts to cash in on the 3D craze with material that didn’t seem to warrant it. While Worthington perhaps spends a little too much time seemingly entirely too human (as his character keeps insisting he is), I still enjoyed a good romp through Greek mythology. Hey, did you notice Liam Neeson as Zeus? Also, the movie that helped me fall in love with Gemma Arterton, who serves more as narrator than actual onscreen presence, and still ends up stealing the movie from some other notable beauties.

#449. Brick (2006)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first standout movie performance (enough time passed after 10 Things I Hate About You that he was basically starting over) is another little riddle I’m still trying to solve, but I admire its ambition too much to overlook in the meantime. Emilie De Ravin, who also co-stars in Remember Me, has a more notable role here.

#450. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Movie (1993)
It’s weird that for me, this biopic serves more as a legacy for Bruce Lee than any of his actual films, but that’s better than nothing, right?
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