Monday, October 5, 2009

10 Years, 100 Movies: Part 2 (75-51)

The countdown of my top 100 movies of the '00s continues. (Read Part 1 by clicking here.)

Part 2 finds me feeling like I have to defend many of my choices; most of the little capsules you'll read here are for films that many of you probably don't like very much. There's a one-two punch here involving Jackie Chan and Tom Cruise that even I find a little embarrassing ... but at least I'm honest.

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75. "Black Hawk Down" (Ridley Scott, 2001)
74. "Memento" (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
73. "Cloverfield" (Matt Reeves, 2008)

72. "Proof" (John Madden, 2005)
Largely written off as a talky bore, I find this adaptation of the David Auburn play fascinating, thanks to its acting ensemble. Gwyneth Paltrow gives perhaps her career-best performance as the daughter of a math genius who may be a misunderstood genius herself. In a bit of casting so perfect you can't believe anyone hadn't thought of it before, Hope Davis plays Gwyneth's controlling sister, and their relationship stirs amid flashbacks to the now-dead genius, played by -- who else? -- Anthony Hopkins.

71. "Grindhouse" (Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
Separated for DVD, the two features that comprise "Grindhouse" work so much better in their original theatrical form, complete with trailers for phony films by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth. So few of us got to experience this in the theater, but man, are we a happy little group. Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is the goopy, silly crowd-pleaser, and QT's "Death Proof" is more of a slow burn, building to a car-chase finale that is so unexpectedly real in the CGI age. (Take that, "Fast & Furious.")

70. "No Country For Old Men" (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)
69. "Shattered Glass" (Billy Ray, 2003)

68. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (David Yates, 2007)
I thought "Half-Blood Prince" was better when I first saw it, but "Order of the Phoenix" is the "Harry Potter" film that stays with me. It doesn't have the dark elegance of Alfonso Cuaron's "Prisoner of Azkaban," but it does tell the most cohesive, adult story of the series. The kids really are grown up now, forming Dumbledore's Army to subvert the oppression inflicted by Dolores Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic. The climactic scenes within the ministry's walls are tragic and spectacular, much like the characters themselves.

67. "A Mighty Wind" (Christopher Guest, 2003)
This send-up of folk music was the first of Guest's mockumentaries that didn't seem to hate its "subjects," and the result may not be his funniest film, but certainly his best. Many of the songs, written by Guest and his usual repertory company, are good enough to transcend parody, particularly those performed by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as the film's central characters, Mitch and Mickey. Levy and O'Hara have been working together for a long time, and their real affections for each other come through in a film that, despite some biting humor, feels like a warm hug from some of your favorite funny people.

66. "Hot Fuzz" (Edgar Wright, 2007)
65. "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (Wes Anderson, 2004)
64. "A Prairie Home Companion" (Robert Altman, 2006)
63. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Ang Lee, 2000)

62. "Away We Go" (Sam Mendes, 2009)
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph impress in this dramedy about a couple who are unhappy with their lot in life and travel the country looking for a suitable place to raise their impending child. The conclusion the couple comes to won't surprise anyone in the audience, but the journey will, with its alternating moments of hilarity and honesty. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, with small turns from Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney, Melanie Lynskey, Jeff Daniels and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

61. "Brokeback Mountain" (Ang Lee, 2005)
60. "Notes on a Scandal" (Richard Eyre, 2006)

59. "Shanghai Knights" (David Dobkin, 2003)
Yes, "Shanghai Knights," the sequel to an underwhelming kung-fu Western starring Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan, charts higher than "Brokeback Mountain," "No Country For Old Men" and other bits of Oscar bait. What can I say? It makes me laugh. Hard. And it's probably the only American film aside from Tarantino's "Kill Bill" saga that really gets Chinese martial arts movies. Unlike Brett Ratner's "Rush Hour" flicks, "Shanghai Knights" lets Chan do action scenes his way -- and that means very long sequences that tell little stories of their own, and which sometimes owe more to Gene Kelly than Bruce Lee. (Chan explicity acknowledges as much in a fight involving umbrellas.) The script, by "Smallville" show-runners Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, is gleefully anachronistic, which suits Wilson's surfer-dude mentality just fine.

58. "War of the Worlds" (Steven Spielberg, 2005)
The first of Uncle Stevie's movies about terrorism is more potent than "Munich," even though it shuns reality in favor of remaking H.G. Wells' famous story about an alien invasion. Moviegoers blinded by their fresh hatred of Tom Cruise only saw what they thought was a total cop-out of an ending; I saw a truly terrifying movie that was the first to capture the feeling I felt on 9/11 -- remember the scene of Cruise looking in the mirror and seeing his face covered in the dusty remains of his neighbors? I get the chills just thinking about it.

57. "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
56. "Star Trek" (J.J. Abrams, 2009)
55. "Monsters Inc." (Pete Docter, 2001)

54. "Signs" (M. Night Shyamalan, 2002)
Yes, it is silly for an alien race to invade a planet covered in the substance that kills them. Yes, M. Night Shyamalan is more than a little enamored of himself. And yes, Mel Gibson is out of his mind. But none of that changes how effective "Signs" is at entertaining an audience, either by scaring us, making us laugh, or, in one scene around the dinner table that might be Gibson's best ever, making us cry. The facts of the invasion may not hold water, as it were, but this is not really a movie about aliens -- it's a movie about regaining your faith, not only in your religion but also in people. All things considered, this is Shyamalan's best film. (And the intense, Hitchcockian score by Shyamalan's constant collaborator, James Newton Howard, is a big reason why.)

53. "United 93" (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
52. "Punch-Drunk Love" (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
51. "Amelie" (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

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Coming soon:
Part 3: 50-26
Part 4: 25-11
Part 5: 10-2
Part 6: The Movie of the Decade

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