Monday, October 5, 2009

10 Years, 100 Movies: Part 3 (50-26)

Click here for Part 1; click here for Part 2.

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50. "Moulin Rouge!" (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
When it first hit theaters, this film's critical and popular success was a mystery to me; how did a movie this flat-out insane connect with so many people? But in the age of the iPod, where singles and ringtones reign over albums, the popularity of Luhrmann's schizophrenic carnival makes sense, delivering short bursts of musical gratification. Sadly, eight years have passed and we're still waiting for Ewan McGregor to make another good movie.

49. "King Kong" (Peter Jackson, 2005)
The success of "Lord of the Rings" gave Jackson the license to do whatever he wanted, and he wanted to make a three-hour epic about a giant ape. It suffers on the small screen, but "Kong" has few parallels as a big-screen spectacle, thanks to peerless character animation by Weta Digital. The most impressive feat, though, belongs to Naomi Watts -- she actually sells a "romance" between her character and a giant ape. (And it's a giant ape who isn't really there, to boot.) The (in)famous scene of Kong and Watts spinning on the Central Park ice was absurd to some, but pure magic for me.

48. "The Royal Tenenbaums" (Wes Anderson, 2001)
47. "Cast Away" (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)
46. "Finding Nemo" (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
45. "Crash" (Paul Haggis, 2005)
44. "Road to Perdition" (Sam Mendes, 2002)
43. "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (Tim Burton, 2007)

42. "Oldboy" (Chan-wook Park, 2003)
The most brutal of the decade's many revenge films, "Oldboy" begins as a mystery: Who kidnapped Korean businessman Oh Dae-su, held him prisoner for 15 years in a dingy hotel room, then suddenly let him go? The path to the answer is caked in blood, and the protagonist's discovery leads to another, more horrifying one.

41. "Bowling for Columbine" (Michael Moore, 2002)

40. "Untitled" (Cameron Crowe, 2000; "Almost Famous" director's cut)
When I saw "Almost Famous" in the theater, I found it extremely underwhelming; what was everyone fawning over? And why was that woman from Rolling Stone such a bitch? But the director's cut -- which is apparently no longer available on DVD -- was a revelation. The 30 minutes Crowe put back into the film made it feel shorter, amazingly. The characters, Penny Lane in particular, are more fleshed out, and the story just feels much more complete. There are other films on this list whose extended versions are as good as or better than the theatrical versions ("Zodiac," the "Lord of the Rings" films), but this is the only one where the director's cut is absolutely essential.

39. "Ratatouille" (Brad Bird, 2007)
38. "Juno" (Jason Reitman, 2007)
37. "Letters From Iwo Jima" (Clint Eastwood, 2006)

36. "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (Adam McKay, 2004)
I saw this with an absolutely raucous midnight crowd at the Streets of Woodfield, the kind of crowd that can convince you a comedy is far, far funnier than it actually is. But over the years, "Anchorman" has more than proven its worth, as it still makes just about everyone I know laugh. (And it's one of the few films that no one seems tired of quoting ad nauseum.) This movie vaulted Will Ferrell into superstardom, took Steve Carell's career to the next level, cemented Paul Rudd's path and gave Christina Applegate her best chance to shine -- it is her performance, upon repeat viewings, that really stands out.

35. "The Ring" (Gore Verbinski, 2002)
A far scarier and more artful film than its Japanese predecessor, "The Ring" should be laughable on its face: watching a creepy videotape will kill you! But Verbinski ramps up the atmosphere of dread, and the film succeeds within the set of rules it creates, building to that fabulous moment when Samara walks out of the TV set. When "The Ring" ends, we want more -- unfortunately, the sequel violated that set of rules, and was just as silly as the original could (or should?) have been. (One also has to wonder how the film would have played with the original ending intact.)

34. "I Heart Huckabees" (David O. Russell, 2002)
33. "School of Rock" (Richard Linklater, 2003)
32. "Minority Report" (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
31. "The Dark Knight" (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
30. "25th Hour" (Spike Lee, 2002)
29. "Requiem For a Dream" (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
28. "V for Vendetta" (James McTeigue, 2006)

27. "Dawn of the Dead" (Zack Snyder, 2004)
The remake dreaded by every horror fan in the world turned out to be one hell of a movie, better in many respects than George Romero's subversive, exceedingly gory original. James Gunn's often-ingenious script is the framework for an uncommonly good action movie with uncommonly good dialogue and acting, the latter courtesy of Sarah Polley, Jake Weber and Ty Burrell. The distinct color palette that Snyder brought later to "300" and "Watchmen" is present here, but this film is more active, more alive than those loftier films.

26. "Man on Fire" (Tony Scott, 2004)
Ugly, brutal and exploitative, it would seem to be hard to make a case for "Man on Fire" as anything but a guilty pleasure. But it has a haunting quality that takes it to another level. Scott's frenetic, borderline-masturbatory camera techniques actually make sense here -- and that's a big part of why the film works so well -- but its success ultimately falls to Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning, who are able to craft an indelible on-screen duo in a very short time. When Fanning's Pita Ramos is kidnapped about 45 minutes into the film, it hurts. We want Creasy Bear to do whatever it takes to get her back. And so he does, but ultimately at a terrible cost. I think it's safe to assume that Ridley's brother will never make a better film than this.

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

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