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Around the World in 24 Frames 11.20.09: The Great Films of the 2000's - The Honorable Mentions
Posted by Len Archibald on 11.20.2009





So the past few weeks I have found myself contemplating the year that is about to end – and then a thought struck me…"Lenny, the DECADE is about to end."

Seriously, where did the time go? On January 1st, 2000 – I was working at Rogers Video, about to be engaged (to someone who I now truly hate with every fiber of my being), living in Brampton, Ontario and living with my parents (not in their basement.)

Now, I work a 9-to-5 in a cubicle, am married (to someone who I absolutely am in love with), living in Ohio and live in a house which I own (mostly.) I have made the ten year leap to finally go back to school and my love and appreciation for movies is deeper than ever.

411Mania was 411Wrestling, a little green and black geosites page that had a few newsbits and a forum where only a handful of regulars attended. I remember names such as Widro, Ashish (who is still here – HAIL!), "The Game", "DMC", "Loftis", "Pheebz", "Stephen Martin" and some others that I can't remember because it was so – SO long ago. My screen-name was Stanley*Kubrick, or S*K for short. I remember stumbling here in 1999 because I was interested in finding out if anyone had any theories over who ran Stone Cold Steve Austin down at the Survivor Series where The Big Show won the (then) WWF Title in a Triple Threat match between he, Triple H and The Rock. Now, 411 has exploded into some sort of pop-culture phenomenon, one that I am more than proud to be a part of, especially since I can use my real name.

The 2000's may go down as one of the absolute craziest decades in modern human history. Let's see…We've had a screwed up U.S. election, the most devastating attack on U.S. soil in history, the Curse of the Bambino lifted, a perfect NFL season ruined, "Nipple-Gate", the rise of Reality television, the death of MTV as an actual music channel, the rise of sensational media and the death of mainstream journalistic integrity, we lost the King of Pop, the Godfather of Soul, an Angel, and The "Mac". A celebrity walked away from $50 million. The Rise, fall, rise, further fall and rise of Brittney Spears. The freefall of Lindsay Lohan and Amy Winehouse. Oasis constantly fighting until they FINALLY broke up. Garage Rock, Trap Musik, Neo-Soul, Prog-Metal and Backpack-Rap filled the airways. Auto-Tune (ugh). More sex tapes than you could shake a stick at. Baseball records being broken nearly every season…only to be "*" by the scandal of steroids. The first African-American President. The fall of a dictator. The near collapse of the world economy. Bennifer, part 1 AND 2…and a whole lot more.

I will remember the films. The times I sat in a dark theater (or comfort of my bedroom or living room) and was awed, inspired and floored by images, stories, performances and philosophies on the screen. This is how I will honor the Great Films of the 2000's. For the next six weeks, I will give you my thoughts on what I felt were the landmark achievements in film the past decade.

If you read my columns, you know how I feel about lists: I don't do them…technically. I engage in 411's Top 5 columns as a lark and to see what my fellow writer's opinions are, but when it comes to actually "ranking" films, I can't bring myself to do so - simply because you can't rank art. I mean, who's really going to discuss whether Whistler's Mother is a better painting than the Mona Lisa, or that Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come is better than Metallica's Master of Puppets in regards to songwriting? They're all excellent for entirely different reasons. If you want rankings, wait a few weeks for the 411 Staff's take on their 100 Best Movies of the Decade (which I will also take part in.)

To me, either a film is well made and powerful or it's not. There are varying degrees of course, but there are factors involved such as personal preference, historical and cultural significance and one's mood while watching a movie. If you catch me on any day of the week and ask me what my favorite movie is, I will give you an different answer every day. Today it may be Citizen Kane, tomorrow it can be The Seven Samurai. Next week may be The Godfather or Star Wars or Belle De Jour or Persona or McCabe & Mrs. Miller, or E.T.. How can I say I like Tokyo Story better than Lawrence of Arabia or Enter the Dragon when I enjoy them all on a deep level but for differing reasons? I can't.

I have taken on the task of compiling a list of my favorite (key word, here) films of the new millennium. I have not narrowed it down to a round number like 100 or 50 or whatever, but just decided to give a shout-out to the films that touched me, made me joyous, made me angry, inspired me and changed my life this decade. This is not a ranking – more of an alphabetized listing of the films I greatly appreciated from January 1st, 2000 to – hopefully December 31st, 2009.

I compiled the list down from over 1,100 films on my radar and basically cut close to 9/10ths of them. How did I do so? I just went with the films that affected me the most. There is no "best", here – each film I consider a "best" in its own right. I understand that you may have never heard of some of these films: I hope anyone who reads this can use this list as a guidepost to help discover new movies.

So, enjoy! Let's see if any of your favorites made the final cut…


THE HONORABLE MENTIONS


They were among the best of the decade, but when you have to cut down over 1100 films, some just can't make the cut. Some will be controversial for their non–placement on the final list - such is life.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Release Date: September 21, 2007
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Cast:
Brad Pitt
Casey Affleck
Mary-Louise Parker
Sam Shepard
Jeremy Renner
Paul Schneider
Zooey Deschanel
Sam Rockwell


In 2007, filmmaker Andrew Dominik visualized Ron Hansen's 1983 novel of the same name and with it, created one of the more powerful Westerns to be released in years. More of a psychological drama than a shoot-em-up slobberknocker, this film continued to display Brad Pitt's acting prowess (as the bullying Jesse James) and gave critical attention to Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel and Mary-Louise Parker. But ultimately, The Assassination… is Casey Affleck's time to shine. As Robert Ford, the "other" Affleck displays an insecurity underneath his obsession with the murderous gunslinger, who grows more paranoid by the minute. Both performances from Pitt and Affleck are arresting, and set to the backdrop of Roger Deakins brown and black cinematography, and Dominik's Terrence Malick-like patience (almost to a fault), a near-modern masterpiece in the vein of Unforgiven was created.


Bamboozled

Release Date: October 6th, 2000
Directed by Spike Lee
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Cast:
Damon Wayons
Jada Pinkett Smith
Michael Rappaport
Tommy Davidson
Savion Glover
Mos Def


The last of Spike Lee's great "angry black man" films is a triumph of satire and social commentary. Damon Wayans(?!) plays a television executive who creates the most racially insensitive show ever, including having Tommy Davidson and tap great Savion Glover performing in blackface in front of a watermelon patch…and it becomes a hit! For those who don't understand why Dave Chappelle turned down $50m, this film is for you. Network turned on its ear – Paddy Chayefsky would be proud.


Batman Begins

Release Date: June 15th, 2005
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Cast:
Christian Bale
Liam Neeson
Michael Caine
Katie Holmes
Morgan Freeman
Gary Oldman
Cillian Murphy
Ken Watanabe


The 2000's was THE decade for excellent Comic-based adaptations. From X-Men and the vastly superior X2, from Spiderman to the vastly superior Spiderman 2 and other greats such as V For Vendetta, Hellboy and Watchmen, studios finally found a balance between keeping true to source material and adapting to modern audiences and film technology. Christopher Nolan's re-boot of the Batman franchise was – for me, the best comic book movie ever made since Richard Donner's Superman. The reason it's only an honorable mention is that Nolan and crew would top themselves (understatement of the century) three years later.


Bobby

Release Date: November 17th, 2006
Directed by Emilio Estevez
Distributed by MGM
Cast:
Anthony Hopkins
Harry Belefonte
Lawrence Fishburne
Lindsey Lohan
Shia LaBeouf
Demi Moore
Elijah Wood
Helen Hunt
…And about 300 other "big names"


I never would have thought the leader of "The Brat Pack" and former Mr. Paula Abdul had a great movie in him, but here it is with Emilio Estevez's Bobby; an Altman-like ensemble piece that weaves characters in, out and around the tragedy of Robert Kennedy's assassination during his run for President. It may be overly melodramatic at times, and it may try too hard to reach the lofty heights imposed by the subject matter, but it works extremely well. Anyone and any film that can get a decent acting performance from Lindsay Lohan is a miracle worker.


Casino Royale

Release Date: November 16th, 2006
Directed by Martin Campbell
Distributed by MGM, United Artists and Columbia Pictures
Cast:
Daniel Craig
Judi Dench
Eva Green
Jeffrey Wright


I remember the outrage over the casting of Daniel Craig as the new 007; "James Bond isn't BLOND! BOLLOCKS!" Yeah, bollocks to you too, as Craig gave new life to the franchise-that-never-ends. Yes, this was more "Bourne" than "Bond", but this Bond had motives, flaws, and all the subtleties of a *gasp* human being. Martin Campbell's direction and pacing is a shot to the throat, even making a game of cards suspenseful. Bond…James Bond came back with a vengeance, here.


Chocolat

Release Date: December 15th, 2000
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Distributed by Miramax
Cast:
Johnny Depp
Juliette Binoche
Alfred Molina
Judi Dench
Lena Olin


I could go with all the cliché reviews of this Johnny Depp/Juliette Binoche vehicle: Delicious, delectable, decadent, etc. I will just say: if this delightfully shot Lasse Hallström tale of a choclateur who holds the secret ingredient to the passions of a tiny French town does not make you feel an inkling of euphoria and romance – then, simply put – you have no soul and I'm not sure if we could call ourselves friends.


Entre les murs aka The Class

Release Date: September 24th, 2008
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Cast:
François Bégaudeau
Esmeralda Ouertani
Rachel Regulier
Franck Keïta


The recipient of the 2008 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival is a touching little drama that takes the best elements of films such as To Sir…With Love and Dangerous Minds and adds a sensibility, maturity and depth to the story about a literature teacher in an inner city Paris school. François Bégaudeau is wonderful as the teacher, but he is overshadowed by the three "problem" children within the film. Adapted from Bégaudeau's own autobiographical novel, The Class perfectly mixes Italian neorealism with French new wave and American melodrama to create a great uplifting and rewarding film.


Elephant

Release Date: October 24th, 2003
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Distributed by HBO Films and Fine Line Features
Cast:
Alex Frost
Eric Deulen
John Robinson


Director Gus Van Sant is a polarizing figure. He is wholly capable of creating great films (Good Will Hunting), and he has proven to be more than capable of creating an abomination (the Psycho remake.) Here, the winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival is a tale straight from the pages of the Columbine shootings, and does nothing to explain reasoning – it…just…follows - literally…every single one of its characters all the way to its conclusion. Produced by Diane Keaton, Elephant is at first jarring, then stunning, then shocking, then it ends. It is what it is. The story is self-contained, which makes it maddening *and* brilliant.


Gladiator

Release Date: May 5th, 2000
Directed by Ridley Scott
Distributed by Dreamworks and Universal Studios
Cast:
Russell Crowe
Joaquin Phoenix
Dijimon Hounsou
Oliver Reed
Connie Nelson
Richard Harris


Not the first "Best Picture" winner that didn't make the final cut and I'll explain why: If Ridley Scott's mammoth testosterone-filled epic wasn't released in one of the best years of modern film and was released later, it would have given me a more immediate impression. As it stands, it is a great film with great performances that just got pushed back as more superior films were made. Russell Crowe delights, Joaquin Phoenix is excellent, Richard Harris is Richard F'n Harris, and the action is superb. I will give Gladiator this much – "On my command, UNLEASH HELL." may be the quotable of the decade.


Good Night, and Good Luck

Release Date: October 7th, 2005
Directed by George Clooney
Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures
Cast:
David Strathairn
George Clooney
Robert Downey Jr
Patricia Clarkson
Frank Langella
Jeff Daniels


Upon hearing that George Clooney was going to take the reins as director to a project, for some reason I carried a sense of anticipation. It was definitely justified as Good Night, and Good Luck was one of the gems to come out of 2005. The story of CBS newsman Ed Murrow and his heated battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy was a truly "American" tale of persistence, truth and justice. The glorious black and white cinematography only added to the dazzling performances of David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella and Jeff Daniels. Only an honorable mention because two more "newsworthy" films were released since then and I feel they are superior.


Hard Candy

Release Date: April 14th, 2006
Directed by David Slade
Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment
Cast:
Ellen Page
Patrick Wilson
Odessa Rae
Sandra Oh


Oh, what a devilish treat this film is – even if it seems a tad preposterous. Ellen Page's first taste of mainstream and critical attention started here, playing a 14-year old girl on the other end of a possible pedophile relationship. David Slade takes the audience on a hell of a ride, playing both Hayley Stark (Page) and Jeff Kohlver (Wilson) against each other and trading the victim/villain role seamlessly. A nice little thriller, a chilling performance from Page and a story that hits home personally for me makes Hard Candy hard to forget.


Hauru no Ugoku Shiro aka Howl's Moving Castle

Release Date: November 20th, 2004
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Distributed by Toho and Buena Vista Entertainment
Cast:
Chieko Baishō
Takuya Kimura
Akihiro Miwa


Hayao Miyazaki is an artist in the same vein as Picasso or Jackson Pollock. His drawings inspire a rainbow of emotions, and his stories carry all the wonder of a childlike imagination come to life. What is absolutely insane about Howl's Moving Castle - based off Diana Wynne Jones' book of the same name - is that it is considered one of Miyazaki's WEAKER works, and yet – it is still a classic because of the expectations he places on himself, and the expectations placed upon him by those who follow his work. The story, of a young girl and her love for a mysterious, yet seemingly vain wizard throws basically everything but the kitchen sink in regards to plot. References and twists on The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Lord of the Rings, Snow White, and even Miyazaki's own Spirited Away are put into the mix and the result is an enthralling and undeniably imaginative world of wonder and magic. A falling star is transformed into a fire demon? Spying bugs? When I was six years old, my imagination was nowhere near as vast as the "God of Ghibli" – but even if one finds the story too far-reaching, the beauty and excellence of the animation cannot be denied. Miyazaki is one of the lone guiding hands of hand-drawn animation on the planet, and there isn't anyone who does what he does better.


I'm Not There

Release Date: November 21st, 2007
Directed by Todd Hayes
Distributed by The Weinstein Company and Paramount Pictures
Cast:
Christian Bale
Cate Blanchett
Richard Gere
Heath Ledger
Marcus Carl Franklin


So, Todd Hayes decides he's going to film a semi-biopic of Rock and Folk God Bob Dylan – and he has…a woman play him? And a little black kid? And Christian Bale? And four other people? What drugs was he on? Apparently, the good kind, as the story re-tracing different facets of Dylan's life is a merrily disjointed narrative that works extremely well. Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn (representing Dylan circa 1966) is a revelation in the film.


In the Bedroom

Release Date: November 23rd, 2001
Directed by Todd Field
Distributed by Miramax
Cast:
Tom Wilkinson
Sissy Spacek
Marissa Tomei
Nick Stahl


2001 had a lot of great films released. Todd Field's In the Bedroom was a quiet little film with unbelievable realistic performances. Marissa Tomei began her climb back to acting glory playing a woman involved with a younger man (Nick Stahl) in Maine – but the film belongs to the two veterans, Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who play a grieving wife and husband with such vinegar and honesty that it is almost unbearable to take. In my mind, only a handful of films were better in 2001 than In the Bedroom.


The Last King of Scotland

Release Date: September 27th, 2006
Directed by Kevin MacDonald
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cast:
Forrest Whitaker
James McAvoy
Kerry Washington
Simon McBurney
Gillian Anderson


For years, Forrest Whitaker was on the list of "underrated" and "unappreciated" actors, giving superb performances in basically anything he was attached to. This won him his first Oscar – of course he had to play one of the most evil men in history as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to do so, but so be it. Kevin MacDonald's tale, an adaptation of the famed novel of the same name spares no prisoners, following James McAvoy as a man who becomes the dictator's personal physician and closest advisor with all the perks, only to discover he's willingly ignored the horror that has surrounded him. This is both a historical reminder and an intense thriller held together by Whitaker's magnificent portrayal of a man who justifies his evil through charm, then paranoia, and finally a strange sense of divine intervention.


Das Leben der Anderen Aka The Lives of Others

Release Date: March 23rd, 2006
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and Buena Vista Entertainment
Cast:
Ulrich Mühe
Martina Gedeck
Sebastian Koch
Ulrich Tukur


The 2007 winner for Best Foreign-Language Film is a controversial gem about the GDR, the secret police of East Germany during 1984. In the United States, the topic of interrogation techniques and breach of privacy in the name of national security became a hot button issue, and I think this hit close to home. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's feature film debut is a cracking drama, dealing with privacy and the lengths one will go to abuse power. The film reminded me of another great film about surveillance, The Conversation, especially how the plot patiently unfolds and unpeels out of itself into a tight thriller with a subtle, yet important message about invading one's privacy. The acting from the leads - Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch and Ulrich Tukur are raw and compelling, especially Martina Gedeck as the fragile actress Christa-Maria. This film packs an emotional punch that is hard to match.


Lost in Translation

Release Date: October 3rd, 2003
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Distributed by Focus Features
Cast:
Bill Murray
Scarlett Johannsen
Giovanni Ribisi
Anna Faris
Fumihiro Hayashi


Ah, this may get me a few flames. "Not best of the decade?" you say. "You've lost all credibility!" you holler. That's fine. I appreciate the film. It is very good, and Sofia Coppola proved her worth as a film-maker. Bill Murray gave the performance of his career and Scarlett Johannsen may have never been better – but when I look upon the other films I listed and for the reasons I listed them, this got put on the back burner. It just didn't affect me the way the other films that made the final cut did – if it affected you on a deeper level, though – more power to you. I will give credit where credit is due: the final five minutes of Translation is some of the most stunning and emotionally draining moments of the decade.


María llena eres de gracia Aka Maria Full of Grace

Release Date: January 18th, 2004
Directed by Joshua Martin
Distributed by Fine Line Features
Cast:
Catalina Sandino Moreno
John Álex Toro


Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace is one of those films that stick with you long after the credits roll. This powerful tale of 17-year old Maria (played with uncanny maturity and depth by Catalina Sandino Moreno) as she works her way from the Columbian sweat-shops to the drug smuggling ring that leads her to New York City, is horrifying, touching and all-too-real. Maria becomes a "mule" (a term used for drug smuggler) that swallows sixty-two pellets of cocaine to be extracted upon her arrival in NYC – of course, she's also pregnant to boot. Shot in a style that makes one think it is an undercover story for 20/20 and with its tight compositions, this dramatic thriller does its best to never let up on the viewer. Catalina Sandino Moreno is a part of some elite company being only one of three Hispanic actresses to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz are the others) and it was a well-deserved nod. The scene of how the drug cartel deals with one of the unlucky "mules" after a pellet of cocaine ruptures inside of her still gives me nightmares.


Million Dollar Baby

Release Date: December 15th, 2004
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Cast:
Hilary Swank
Clint Eastwood
Morgan Freeman


Another "Best Picture" film that only made the Honorable mention list – only because Eastwood earned his reputation as perhaps the most prolific filmmaker of this decade, cranking out near-flawless masterpiece after near-flawless masterpiece. This old school paced story of a female boxer (Hilary Swank), the cranky trainer that takes her under his wing (Clint Eastwood) and his best friend (Morgan Freeman) is a film where the sum of its parts and its intentions are far greater than the whole. The quiet moments are some of the most powerful – and the shots are – wow. Eastwood must have watched a TON of Ozu before shooting this.


Moon

Release Date: June 12th, 2009
Directed by Duncan Jones
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Cast:
Sam Rockwell
Kevin Spacey


Duncan Jones is a man to watch. With his debut feature, Moon about an astronaut (Sam Rockwell) who finds himself possibly teetering on the brink of isolated insanity, is one of the best "Hard" science fiction films to come about in a LONG time. Part Kubrick, part Tarkovsky, Moon dares to examine the human condition on a higher, yet deeper philosophical level than some of its other sci-fi counterparts. There have been a few movies released in 2009 that struck me on a deeper level than this film, but I feel as time wears on, I will look back on this and wonder why I never added it to my final list, as it is the kind of film that sticks with you the more you think about it.


Napoleon Dynamite

Release Date: June 11th, 2004
Directed by Jared Hess
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cast:
Jon Heder
Jon Gries
Efren Ramirez
Tina Majorino
Aaron Ruell
Diedrich Bader


I'll be honest, I wrestled with the notion of even placing this on the Honorable Mentions list. Dyanmite is a *good* comedy – not a *great* comedy with its awkward protagonist and his (mis)adventures and love of…whatever style of contemporary/hip-hop dance hybrid he does; but what I feel it lacks in a cohesive story and not living up to the LOL/minute pedestal of some of its die-hard fans, it makes up in atmosphere and a fully-fleshed character that has become something of a global pop-culture icon. Writer/Director Jared Hess truly understood how to best visualize his hometown of Preston, Idaho – with it's super-duper blue skies and vastness of…nothing, which is absolutely perfect for a character like Napoleon Dyanmite to fester in. Jon Heder literally throws everything into the characterization of the titular character, complete with moon boots, to create the template of the socially-awkward outcast nerd of the 21st century, eating away at his tater-tots that he sneaks into class from his pocket while drawing his mythical creatures and showing off his tetherball and skillz with "numchucks". Shout out to Jon Gries as the Al-Bundy wannabe Uncle Rico, who desires to go back to 1982 while taping himself throw footballs to…just who in the hell is he throwing those footballs to, anyway?


องค์บาก aka Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior

Release Date: January 21st, 2003
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Distributed by Sahamongkol Film International
Cast:
Tony Jaa
Petchtai Wongkamlao
Pumwaree Yodkamol


Whoa…What? Yes, I understand what you may be thinking. Yes, Ong-Bak is not a *great* film by any means, and it is no more than a vehicle for Tony Jaa to show off his acrobatic skills. That's the sole reason I have it here – from both perspectives. It is only an honorable mention because it is nothing more than a mindless action romp, but it *is* an honorable mention because Tony Jaa is a freak of nature and I will never tire of watching him do what he does in awe. Guilty pleasure viewing right here. If you're gonna watch someone get their asses kicked, at least do it with some flair.


The Passion of the Christ

Release Date: February 25th, 2004
Directed by Mel Gibson
Distributed by Newmarket Films
Cast:
Jim Caviezel
Maia Morgenstern
Monica Bellucci
Hristo Naumov Shopov
Mattia Sbragia
Rosalinda Celentano


Before (or during, depending) Mel Gibson's DUI-infested Jew-hating, he put together a HELL (ha…ha) of a movie that depicted the torture (literally) Jesus Christ went through before his crucifixion. Forget the supposed anti-Zionist symbolism some may see, this is a remarkable and painful work that truly explains for those who believe, exactly what was sacrificed to atone for the sins of man. Jim Caviezel gives Willem Dafoe a run for his money in regards to the best interpretation of the Christ; The scene when Jesus says, "Look ma, see how I make things new?" at Mary while being pummeled is the kind of beautifully torturous moments that are rare in its striking purity. Even if you don't believe, it is a powerful film, regardless.


The Pianist

Release Date: May 24th, 2002
Directed by Roman Polanski
Distributed by Focus Features
Cast:
Adrien Brody
Thomas Kretschmann
Frank Finlay
Maureen Lipman
Emilia Fox
Ed Stoppard
David Singer
Julia Rayner


As the Roman Polanski case is being set in motion, I look back at his return to artistic glory with 2002's The Pianist. Adrien Brody deserved his Best Actor Oscar playing Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman. The 2002 winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes is a truly paralyzing tale of one man's descent from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows during one of humankind's darkest periods. Polanski's direction and pacing is tight, weaving in an all-too-true story with a sense of hope. Other than flashes in Cadillac Records, I don't think Brody has ever been even close to this good with his talent.


崖の上のポニョaka Ponyo

Release Date: August 14, 2009
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Cast:
Cate Blanchett
Noah Cyrus
Matt Damon
Frankie Jonas
Tina Fey
Liam Neeson
Cloris Leachman
Betty White
Lily Tomlin


I am terribly disturbed that Western audiences just have not been able to catch on to Studio Ghibli. Only Pixar with its near flawless record as an animation studio is in the same league in my opinion. Miyazaki's beautifully colored story of a literal fish-out-of-water (loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid") contains all the magic and wonder that old school Disney animation was able to produce. The U.S. voice cast is top-notch and…well, I don't need to say anything about the animation other than it's gorgeous. SEE THIS MOVIE! This was in fact on my final list, but one film knocked it out.


A Prairie Home Companion

Release Date: June 9th, 2006
Directed by Robert Altman
Distributed by Picturehouse and New Line Cinema
Cast:
Garrison Keillor
Woody Harrelson
Tommy Lee Jones
Kevin Kline
Lindsay Lohan
Virginia Madsen
John C. Reilly
Maya Rudolph
L. Q. Jones
Meryl Streep
Lily Tomlin


Is it just me or is it kind of weird that I have two films with Lindsay Lohan in my consideration for "Best of the Decade"? (Wait - I have one more shocker for you.) Robert Altman's final film before passing away is a sly adaptation – something Charlie Kauffman may have produced. Instead of adapting the actual story of the Minneapolis radio show, Altman weaved a fictional tale of the behind-the-scenes events and the possible cancellation of the show. It is a fitting elegy coming from one of the world's greatest filmmakers. (trivia note: To receive insurance for the shoot, 80-year-old Robert Altman had to hire Paul Thomas Anderson as a "backup" director to observe filming at all times and be prepared to take over for Altman in case of his death.)


The Pursuit of Happyness

Release Date: December 15th, 2006
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Cast:
Will Smith
Jaden Smith
Thandie Newton
Brian Howe
Dan Castellaneta


Most knew that Wil Smith had the capability to astound audiences with a multi-layered performance. He did it with Six Degrees of Separation back in his "Fresh Prince" days and did it again with Michael Mann's Ali. Here, though – Smith is a powerhouse, giving a tour-de-force portrayal of salesman-turned stockbroker Chris Gardner. This carries the weight of a Frank Capra-inspired film, with just enough sweetness not to put one into a diabetic coma, but enough emotion to truly inspire those who want to move up in the world. Gabriele Muccino does a wise job of keeping distance within the picture when suitable, and somehow made sure that Jaden Smith wasn't too annoying or whiny. At the end, Happyness is a great inspirational Hollywood movie about the bond between father and son – one that could be used as a template for other films that try and fail in the same mold.


The Ring

Release Date: October 18th, 2002
Directed by Gore Verbiniski
Distributed by Dreamworks
Cast:
Naomi Watts
Daveigh Chase
Martin Henderson
David Dorfman
Brian Cox
Jane Alexander


I LOVE Ringu, the 1998 Japanese original version from which this film is based on. It was the first film in a long time where I had trouble sleeping after watching it. How pissed I was when I heard that it was being remade for American audiences. How wrong I was of the final output. In staying true to the source material, and contemporizing some of the ideas from the original Japanese film, Gore Verbiniski crafted one of the more genuinely thrilling U.S. horror films of the decade. Naomi Watt's gave a star-turning performance, and…yeah…that scene, whether in the Japanese or American context, STILL gives me a jolt. You know what scene I speak of.


Road to Perdition

Release Date: July 12th, 2002
Directed by Sam Mendes
Distributed by Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox
Cast:
Tom Hanks
Paul Newman
Jude Law
Tyler Hoechlin
Daniel Craig


Sam Mendes first film since the critically-hailed American Beauty was this 2002 period drama, based on Max Allan Collins graphic novel. Conrad L. Hall's cinematography is breathtaking (when isn't it?) and the performances from Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Jude Law are magnificent. I would be remiss to admit that watching Paul Newman's final performance, as Irish-American mob boss John Rooney is the glue that holds the picture together. Mendes wears his inspiration from Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves/The Bicycle Thief on his sleeve, trying too hard to juxtapose the relationship between father Michael Sullivan Sr (Tom Hanks) and son Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin), but the performances and the photography just can't be ignored.


Rocky Balboa

Release Date: December 20th, 2006
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Distributed by MGM and 20th Century Fox
Cast:
Sylvester Stallone
Burt Young
Milo Ventimiglia
Tony Burton
Antonio Tarver


Nostalgia never looked so promising. By going back to the basics, Sylvester Stallone gave the perfect curtain call to his most famous character. No Ivan Drago and "rah rah U.S.A.!" contrived plot line, no melodramatic chutzpah from Rocky V, no over-the-top WWE-like villain in Clubber Lang. Just Rocky Balboa, at the end of his career, looking for one more shot to prove he still got it. He did, and Sly finally gave a satisfying conclusion and some poetic justice to one of films' most iconic characters – and finally, with Milo Ventimiglia (now Peter Petrelli of Heroes fame), we got someone who could convincingly play Rocky's son – who *looks* like Rocky.


The Salton Sea

Release Date: April 26th, 2002
Directed by DJ Caruso
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Cast:
Val Kilmer
Vincent D'Onofrio
Peter Sarsgaard


Can someone give Val Kilmer a career resurrection, please? He was the most pleasant surprise in one of the greatest films ever made (Heat), he stole the show in Tombstone and delivered another knockout performance in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Where has he disappeared to? This little crime-drama about a trumpet player who makes the ill-fated (or is it?) descent into the world of methamphetamine addiction is a great drama filled with colorful performances (anything D'Onofrio is in is usually money) and a great Thomas Newman score. Salton also, in my opinion – has one of the better twists that's been captured on celluloid.


Shrek

Release Date: May 18th, 2001
Directed by Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson
Distributed by Dreamworks Studios
Cast:
Mike Myers
Eddie Murphy
Cameron Diaz
John Lithgow


Look, even if you HATE what the franchise has become (which is funny, because it should be expected – it's a CARTOON, people!) there is no way one can deny the charm and ease of storytelling of the initial story about the Scottish Ogre and his quest to get the rejects of Fairy Tale lore off his property. Some of the jokes have dated and now are clichés, but the chemistry between Myers, Murphy and Diaz never gets old. I also think two particular scenes are the funniest I've ever seen: The exchange between villainous Lord Farquaad (Lithgow) and The Gingerbread Man early in the film and the Let's Make a Deal parody where the Magic Mirror gives Farquaad the option of which damsel-in-distress princess to make his bride. Oh, this also has some pro-wrestling. WIN!


Slither

Release Date: March 31st, 2006
Directed by James Gunn
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Cast:
Nathan Fillion
Elizabeth Banks
Michael Rooker
Gregg Henry


Everyone except for the diehards in the horror community slept on this, and I don't know why. Perhaps because it was released in the same timeline as Shaun of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, Land of the Dead and other zombie-like films? This gooey, oozy mess of a comedy-horror with the same laugh-to-gore ratio as say, Evil Dead 2 is a gory homage to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other 1950 sci-fi goodies. Michael Rooker is an absolute…hehe…BLAST – to watch as rich-bitch Grant Grant (one of the best fictional names of the 2000's) as he slowly (or quickly, depending on your point of view) morphs into one of the most gratuitously grotesque creatures one will ever see. Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks are clearly having the time of their lives, playing the sheriff and Grant's wife in the confines of Wheelsy, South Carolina. This movie is tons and tons of fun.


Spider-Man 2

Release Date: June 30th, 2004
Directed by Sam Raimi
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Cast:
Toby McGuire
Kristen Dunst
Alfred Molina
James Franco
Rosemarry Harris
J.K. Simmons


Roger Ebert called this "the best comic book movie of all-time" when this was released. Of course, he would change his tune four years later, but even I wasn't going so overboard in the praise – but I will praise it. The inaugural Spider-Man movie was divine justice for followers of Sam Raimi and fans of the Marvel comic. The second film surpassed every expectation from special effects, to direction, to acting (Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus is one of the best comic-book villains come to life) and actually supplied a cohesion built upon from the first film. For all the injustices that Spider-Man 3 gave audiences, this film will always be around to remind exactly how to do it right. Oh, it also gave more mainstream attention to the excellent excellency of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jamison.


Superbad

Release Date: August 17th, 2007
Directed by Greg Mottola
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Cast:
Jonah Hill
Michael Cera
Chris Mintz-Plasse
Bill Hader
Seth Rogen


Judd Apatow was the undisputed king of comedy in the film world this decade. With his three directorial works, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People, he brought back the "Rated-R" comedy to heights and successes it had not seen since the 1980's. His producer-credited comedies brought the goods as well, including this raunchy little tale of growing up and apart. Michael Cera pretty much perfected his "quiet charm" persona that he's known for in 2007 with this and Juno and the chemistry he shares with Jonah Hill's Cartman-come-to-life persona and Chris Mintz-Plasse's McLovin' (another great name of the 2000's – and great character too boot) is genuine in how friends actually treat each other. Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as two lowly bumbling cops steal the show, though.


Volver

Release Date: March 17th,2006
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Cast:
Penélope Cruz
Carmen Maura
Lola Dueñas
Blanca Portillo
Yohana Cobo
Chus Lampreave


Pedro Almodóvar's ode to death – at least in the veins of Mexican culture – was such a matter-of-fact joyous piece of film that it almost broke me to place it on my honorable mentions, but here it is – only because 2006 was probably the single best year for movies in the 2000's. The story, about a family of sisters living in Madrid years after the death of their parents in a fire is wondrous, perplexing, laugh-out-loud hilarious and touching at the same time. Penélope Cruz gives an insane performance here, only topped by her Oscar-Winning turn in Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona two years later. The entire cast is magnificent, though – with a twist that is still both unbelievable and rational at the same time. Crazy, I know.


Wonder Boys

Release Date: February 25th, 2000
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Cast:
Michael Douglas
Tobey Maguire
Frances McDormand
Robert Downey Jr
Katie Holmes
Rip Torn


After making one of the best films of the 1990's in L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson took on the task of directing a film that should have made box-office waves with its cast, but did not. What we have here in Wonder Boys is an acting clinic. Michael Douglas was in TWO great films in 2000, and this was the better performance as creative writing Professor Grady Tripp, a Pittsburgh novelist and stoner who has been unable to complete his second novel, which has ballooned to over 2,000 pages long. The supporting cast is excellent, with everyone from Frances McDormand and Tobey Maguire to Katie Holmes(?!) and Robert Downey Jr's turn as Grady's homosexual predator of an editor with a great Bob Dylan-led soundtrack. A great film that has been all but forgotten, but not by me.


Y tu mamá también

Release Date: June 8th, 2001
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Distributed by 20th Century Fox and IFC Films
Cast:
Maribel Verdú
Gael García Bernal
Diego Luna
Diana Bracho


Ahh, Y tu mamá también (translation: "…And Your Mother, Too"), the quintessential threesome film of the decade. Well, I guess it's either this or Vicky Christina Barcelona. Before discovering Alfonso Cuarón's coming of age story, the most I'd been exposed to in regards to "acceptable" film in regards to an overt free sexually charged universe was Wild Things, with Neve Campbell and Denise Richards getting it on with Matt Dillon (bastard.) This is Cuarón's more explicit take on Jules and Jim, as a pair of friends embark on a road trip through Mexico with a woman who recently was the victim of infidelity, to find a made up beach, appropriately named "Heaven's Mouth". The three leads, Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna share an emotional and sexual chemistry that breaks the needle. Emmanuel Lubezki's bright and harsh cinematography, mixed with Alex Rodriguez's hypersnap editing gives Y tu mamá también an unforgettable movie-going experience. Just be prepared for that final…uh…romp.

{Film Passport Stamped]


That will do it for this week! What films resonate with you? Let's make this a big interactive deal and trade off.

Coming Attractions: I continue to heap praise on the first 23 films I felt were truly the best of the decade. 23? That's not a round number? Well, I'm not a round person.

Questions or comments? Completely disagreed with any of my picks? Are you in love with me? Leave comments below or email me at aa24frames@aol.com!!!

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