Friday, March 18, 2011

NBR: The Best of the 00’s (Film)

I’ve spent a lot of time preparing my article on the best baseball players of the 2000’s (2000-2009).  I’ve put a lot of time and thought into it, so it’s taken me longer than I expected.  Then I got the idea to list the best films of the 2000’s.  It didn’t take nearly as long as I expected and was fun to put together.

I’ll start by naming my favorites by genre, and then I’ll finish with the best acting performances of the decade.  The following is based solely on my opinion, of course.  Keep in mind that I haven’t seen everything, even including some really notable films that everyone ELSE has seen, but I haven’t gotten around to yet.  Feel free to leave a comment if you wish to dispute my rankings.

The Best Action/Adventure Films:

#5:  The Dark Knight

This was as nasty and brutish as anything Thomas Hobbes could have envisioned.  It was also pretty brilliant.  I only had a few problems with it, notably the fact that it was crammed with a little too much plot.  But Heath Ledger was an inspiration.  I doubt he would have won the Oscar had he survived, but in any case I think he deserved it. 

#4:  Iron Man

I really don’t know what to say about Iron Man that hasn’t been said.  Every bit of it was just a good movie, superhero or not.  You can’t say that about many “franchise” movies.

#3:  Kill Bill Vol. 1

I’ve never been so truly delighted by a film that used so many buckets of blood.  It walks the line between fantasy and irony with perfect aplomb.  I didn’t care as much for Volume 2, as it was more of a character study (especially at the end), and that didn’t really work for me given the context.

#2:  Children of Men

I’m always frustrated when a great movie like Children of Men merits nothing more than a passing notice at the Oscars (in this case, a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay).  Granted, I’m much more cynical about the Oscars than I used to be, but I still like to see brilliance rewarded.  I don’t know that I could single out one individual part of the film for praise, but I have to mention the superb use of one long, continuous shot in the action scenes.  It really makes you realize how over-cut most action films are, and it does nothing but reduce the human impact.

#1:  Sin City

Sin City was made for my generation.  It’s not so much a film as a tremendous gift of utter visual brilliance.  I enjoyed watching this so much that I was literally bouncing in my seat.  Yes, this movie was about boobs and bullets, but I’m not ashamed to say that I loved every bit of it.

Action/Adventure Summary:

  1. Sin City
  2. Children of Men
  3. Kill Bill Vol. 1
  4. Iron Man
  5. The Dark Knight

Honorable Mentions: 

Casino Royale was a terrific addition to the Bond franchise.  As much as I miss the old Bond movie formula, it was time to break the mold … Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was phenomenal … Enemy at the Gates isn’t as good as the other films on this list, but there’s something about it that I find very appealing.  It’s the history nerd in me … Hero is easily my favorite Jet Li film … The Incredible Hulk was good enough to make me forget Ang Lee’s Hulk, and that’s saying something … V for Vendetta left me feeling a bit iffy, but I’ve really warmed to it since then.  Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for strong supporting characters, so I loved Steven Rea and Stephen Fry … The X-Men Trilogy gets inducted as one, even if the third movie was a bit disappointing.  Studio executives:  see what happens when you cast legitimate actors in superhero films?

The Best Comedies:

#5:  A Mighty Wind
There was something very sentimental and human about A Mighty Wind that set it apart from the other Guest/Levy comedies and made it, in my opinion, the best of them all.  I wouldn’t have guessed that adding more sentiment to the mockumentary format would work so well.  But it did.  Thanks also to some fabulous original songs.

#4:  Rat Race
My all-time favorite movie is It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  It’s no surprise, then, that I was unusually fond of Rat Race.  The cast wasn’t the all-star affair you’d expect for a chase comedy, but they worked out quite well.  And I kind of fell in love with Amy Smart …

#3:  Hot Fuzz
I actually liked this a lot better than Shaun of the Dead.  I thought Shaun was spotty and unusually serious towards the end.  Hot Fuzz, though, was just plain old fun.  Dark humor done well.

#2:  Love, Actually
Romantic comedy is, actually, my least favorite genre.  Which tells you all you need to know about this film.

#1:  O Brother, Where Art Thou?
I cannot begin to describe how delighted I was to watch this film.  It connected to me on a personal level, being from the south and a diehard fan of classic bluegrass and gospel music.  I tend to run hot and cold on the films of the Coen brothers (as you’ll see below), but here they managed to make one of the most charming films of all time. 

Comedy Summary:

  1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  2. Love, Actually
  3. Hot Fuzz
  4. Rat Race
  5. A Mighty Wind

Honorable Mention: 

There have been a lot of movies like Dodgeball recently, and I usually don’t like them.  But this was an absolute pleasure.  Thank you, Ben Stiller … Juno almost didn’t make my list, but although I wasn’t as crazy about it as some were, I genuinely enjoyed it (once I got used to the friggin' dialogue) … , Mrs. Henderson Presents was just charming and delightful.  No surprise there from old favorites Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins … Sideways was a great deal of fun, even if I don’t understand why I liked it so much.  Maybe I identified too much with Paul Giamatti’s character … Tropic Thunder  was just … words cannot describe it.  As outrageous and hilarious as everything was, nothing – but nothing – compares to Robert Downey, Jr.  “I don’t read the script – the script reads me.”  Comic brilliance … Up in the Air really was a treat.  That was one movie where everything came together pretty seamlessly to form a really enjoyable film experience.  The star turn here was by Anna Kendrick.

The Best Documentaries:

#2:  Super Size Me
This is just a top two list.  I don’t watch a whole lot of docs, and I didn’t want to fill out the list with movies I didn’t think belonged there.  That said, Morgan Spurlock’s breakthrough film easily earns its spot here, especially since it’s inspired so many other comic docu-health films.

#1:  Sicko
Michael Moore knows how to push buttons.  I’m a leftist myself, so I generally agree with what he has to say.  What I dislike is his over-simplification of the issues.  For example, the potential problems of a state-run health care system are never mentioned, nor does he bat an eye at the great hospitality shown him by Cuba.  But Sicko was, to me, his best film of all.  There weren’t as many useless stunts, and more time was spent talking to people and actually using a sensible approach to evaluating the problem. 

Honorable Mention:  Fahrenheit 9/11 made me angry, as does much of recent history … The Fog of War was a really fascinating look at former Secretary of Defense McNamara.  I’m really amazed he allowed the filmmakers to essentially conduct a study of him.

The Best Dramas:

#5:  Brokeback Mountain
This will forever be known as The Gay Movie.  But the best compliment I can possibly put forward is that the film would have been brilliant if the characters were gay or straight.  This was simply a great film with an unbelievable, Oscar-worthy performance by Heath Ledger.   The fact that it deals with issues of homosexuality is not the only thing that makes it noteworthy. 

#4:  Munich
After watching Munich, I wondered why in the hell I’d never heard more about this film.  It was absolutely excellent and timely and controversial and everything that usually gets a lot of press.  Surely a Spielberg film has never been so quietly received – even if you consider the Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
I saw the answer to my question in the DVD introduction by Spielberg himself.  Actually, it wasn’t so much an introduction as a disclaimer.  Spielberg clarified what the film was meant to be and tried to calm some more hysterical interpretations of it.  The only time I’ve ever seen a disclaimer before a film warning of its controversial nature was before watching some old cartoons with offensive racial stereotypes.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  Any movie that engages in an honest discussion about terrorism, retribution and the state of Israel is just hitting too many hot buttons.  I’m not implying some vast Jewish conspiracy to silence the film, just a typical Hollywood attempt to distance itself from any real controversy, controversy that hurts rather than helps a film.

#3:  Letters from Iwo Jima
As the credits rolled on Letters from Iwo Jima, I wondered if this might be the greatest war movie I’d ever seen.  In retrospect, I don’t know if I’d go that far.  And yet the film is so marvelously unique that I can’t help but single it out for praise.

What really makes LFIJ stand out is its hybrid Japanese-American production.  Director Clint Eastwood is, of course, an American, but the film still manages to offer a uniquely Japanese look at World War II, something heretofore unheard of in American cinema.

LFIJ pulls of a rare feat; it takes on larger issues of war, culture and morality but presents them through the lives of very specific characters.  This gives us new insight into the Japanese experience during World War II.

Some common war movie themes emerge, such as the conflict between duty to one’s country and duty to what’s right.  LFIJ goes one step further, examining the clash between traditional mores and the emerging neo-samurai subculture of honor that prevailed in the military/political spheres in imperial Japan.

I really can’t tie together all the positive things I have to say about this film.  I hate to rate it as low as number three, but then it’s got some stiff competition.

#2:  Downfall
Downfall has to be considered the best film study of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.  It takes us inside Hitler’s bunker during the final days of World War II (and his life), giving us a shocking look at the grotesque decay of fascism on one hand, and Hitler’s personal descent into some sort of madness.

Bruno Ganz is an absolute revelation as Hitler.  How he escaped an Oscar nomination is amazing (well, it’s unfortunately not that amazing).  Ganz brilliantly portrays Hitler’s delicate, personable side while also manifesting an ego and mental state of profound malignancy.

We also get a glimpse into the life of those around Hitler, pathetically stroking his ego and jockeying for position.  Albert Speer is the only one who retains a shred of dignity, and even that’s because the film seems to accept Speer’s version of the events of the final days.  We get to see Martin Bormann, more powerful even than Hitler toward the end, conniving until the end to turn Hitler against Goring, Himmler and others.  And most importantly, we have the ordinary German citizens and workers (notably Hitler’s secretary) who find themselves stuck in some grotesque tragicomedy.

The most memorable scene, though, may belong to Josef and Magda Goebbels, who poison their six children before taking their own lives.

#1:  In the Valley of Elah
You know you’re talking about a special film indeed when words fail you completely.  So it is with In the Valley of Elah, a film that defies any attempt to do it justice in print.

Elah tells the story of an army veteran (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife (Susan Sarandon) dealing with the death of their son, an Iraq War veteran.  The unusual aspect of the case is that the soldier doesn’t die in Iraq; he’s murdered on a deserted road near his base.  The father, a former Army investigator, stubbornly seeks to find out what happened, with the grudging assistance of a police detective (Charlize Theron).

There was every chance that this film would be generically anti-war.  I am anti-war myself, but I don’t enjoy seeing these things presented as a melodramatic morality play where good an evil are easy to tell apart.  Fortunately, the film was nothing like that.  Jones gives the best performance of his career in presenting this very complicated man trying to make sense of insensible things.  The dead soldier’s comrades are neither glorified nor demonized.  They’re just real.

That’s the best world to describe this film:  real.  It deals with so many complex and troubling issues.  Not just broad ones like war and peace, but the very real complexities of this family.  This refreshingly realistic portrait of humanity shows us again what movies can do.

And I LOVED the ending.

Drama Summary:

  1. In the Valley of Elah
  2. Downfall
  3. Letters from Iwo Jima
  4. Munich
  5. Brokeback Mountain

Honorable Mention

Too many to discuss in detail, so I’ll cut my comments short … Atonement; Capote; Good Night, and Good Luck; Gosford Park; Hotel Rwanda; The Hurt Locker; The Last King of Scotland; Notes on a Scandal; The Pianist; The Queen; There Will Be Blood; The Wrestler

The Best Horror Films:

#3:  The Grudge

The Grudge was the first horror movie in years to really – pardon the phrase – freak my shit out.  I can’t say what it was about the “ghosts” specifically that kept me up nights.  But the if the filmmakers wanted to scare/haunt me, they succeeded – ridiculously so.

One specific thing I can point out is how the film eliminates “safety zones.”  In every horror movie, there are several scenes in which somewhat spooky things may happen, but no big scares are coming.  Scenes with big scares are usually given a big build-up.  That’s not always so in The Grudge.  And if you’re not expecting this, it can cause you to yell out an obscenity in a crowded theater (not that such a thing could happen to me …).

#2:  The Others

If The Grudge was scary in new and unpredictable ways, The Others was just a classic suspense film.  It manages to combine the best of horror and suspense, without the gore of the former.  It manages to use subtlety to create a truly suspenseful atmosphere, thereby making the scary moments even more effective.

The moral of the story is that, even with all the CGI monsters in the world, we’re still more scared of dark corners in rooms or footsteps in the night.  Sometimes the scariest thing of all is silence.

#1:  Dawn of the Dead

The re-make of George Romero’s classic zombie flick uses more action-horror than suspense.  The result is a film that is, apologies to Mr. Romero, better than the original.

A cast of very effective actors and a well-tuned script creates a variety of new situations that don’t just involve shooting the undead in the face.  Different characters create different dynamics that gives the film a depth unmatched in other splatter films.

Not that there isn’t a lot of splatter here – they’re zombies, duh – but there’s a lot more here for the viewer to appreciate, and it’s pulled off with a very skilled hand.

Honorable Mention:  Paranormal Activity comes a close second to The Grudge on the freak-your-shit-out meter.  It also has perhaps the biggest scare I’ve ever experienced in the theater … Grindhouse: Planet Terror knows what it is and who it is for, and just goes with it.  If that doesn’t sound like fun, trust me – it’s an absolute blast.

The Best Musicals:

#3:  De-Lovely

There’s a real charm about De-Lovely, even if there’s not any one thing you can point to that’s really outstanding.  Kevin Kline is good, but maybe not at his best.  The film is interesting, but not entirely compelling.  Perhaps it’s just good ol’ Cole Porter that makes this film such a treat.

#2:  Chicago

Chicago really isn’t a good musical.  The music is great, sure, but as a production, it’s just a poorly-connected series of musical numbers whose tone is hard – if not impossible – to fathom.  Imagine my surprise, then, that the film version of such a poor musical could be this good.

Director Rob Marshall makes the songs work by setting them off slightly from the world of the characters.  Most of the songs take place in an imaginary world that depicts the inner lives of the characters.  This together with a number of brilliant concepts for each song – namely the puppet number – makes Chicago a great deal of fun.  The stars are all good, but none as good as Marshall, who keeps things moving quickly, so that you don’t notice how paper-thin the whole thing is until long after you’ve left the theatre.

#1:  Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! is one of those magical movie experiences that a review simply cannot do justice.  I could talk about what a memorable, charming and dynamic experience that film was as a whole.  Or I could focus on the details – I can’t think of any film in the past 20 years that got the details so right.

Therefore, my attempt to review Moulin Rouge! will inevitably sound like an Oscar acceptance speech.  I’d like to thank Jim Broadbent, first of all, for being such a fantastically talented actor and a brilliant, inspired comedian.  I’d like to thank Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor for kicking it up a notch.  I’d like to thank the design team for creating the most memorable visual experience of any film in recent memory.  I’d like to thank whomever chose those wonderful, wonderful songs. 

Last, but not least, I’d like to thank Baz.  For the magic.

Honorable Mention:  If anything, Sweeney ToddThe film was good, but then I came into it with impossible expectations.  I think Sondheim’s seminal work is the best musical of all time, so any film adaptation – even a good one – will inevitably disappoint me. 

The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy:

#3:  Star Trek

Star Trek probably wasn’t a great film.  But it was a fresh one, and I truly didn’t think such a thing was possible.  There were a lot of small things about this film that bugged me, but overall I was thrilled watching it and thrilled when I left the theater.

#2:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was, I think, the best of the Potter films so far.  There’s a great narrative underpinning this story, and I thought it was really well-captured here.  The last couple Potter films seemed in too much a hurry to cram in as many details as possible.  Half-Blood Prince somehow managed to believably condense a huge book into a mid-sized movie while still telling the story well.

#1:  Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King

Choosing just one film from the trilogy is tough, but I’ll agree with the Academy that they saved the best for last.  Any superlatives that might be used to define this trilogy have been exhausted already.  I can only think that it will take its place among the great and iconic film series of all time.  And honestly, after barely ten years, I think it’s already there.

Honorable Mention:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the best of the films before Half-Blood came along … LOR:  The Fellowship of the Ring and LOR:  The Two Towers should probably rank #2 and #3 on this list, but I opted for a bit more variety … Minority Report annoyed me, probably because it was a good movie that was oh SO close to being a really good movie.  I found the denouement to be a thorough disappointment, turning a unique and exciting movie into just another action/thriller, albeit a good one.

The Best Thrillers:

#1:  Michael Clayton

I hesitate to make this a category unto itself because, as you can see, most films that are thrillers are better listed under another genre.  It’s rare that I see a true “thriller” that isn’t really an action/adventure or sci-fi/fantasy at heart.

That said, I picked a good place to start with Michael Clayton.  When I first tried to rank this movie, I didn’t see any one exceptional thing to make it one of the best of the decade.  But when I tried to pick out the things they did wrong, I was stumped.  This is just a really fun time, a movie that does its job and does it well.  I guess if anything here is exceptional, it’s the work of Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton.  And yes, I am an Anglophile when it comes to actors.

Honorable Mention:  I enjoyed Memento; I just didn’t see it as a real game-changer.  The unique plot structure made it a good watch, but it didn’t appeal to me a great deal beyond that … Red Dragon was a really pleasant surprise, especially after sitting through the dud known as Hannibal.  Without copying The Silence of the Lambs, the filmmakers were able to present a truly compelling film that was far ahead of my expectations.  And here again, we have very good (English) actors:  Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson.

The Best Leading Actors of the 2000s

#10:  David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck

It’s always inspiring to see great non-“star” actors like Strathairn get the recognition they deserve.  Strathairn has been doing good work for years, anchoring Eight Men Out, providing strong support in Memphis Belle and Sneakers, and even propping up otherwise disappointing efforts such as Dolores Claiborne.  As Edward R. Murrow, Strathairn was appropriately understated, a tactic that works for the role but rarely brings nominations.

#9:  Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Speaking of understated, Renner did a great job as the star of a great movie without resorting to the histrionics that so often typify the big “acting” roles.

#8:  Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah

Jones has always been a great actor, but he shone in this film.  In yet another extremely reserved performance (I swear I didn’t plan it this way), Jones manages to portray an utterly believable character whose lack of big emotional swings doesn’t prevent him from being tremendously compelling. 

#7:  Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Hoffman made this film work.  Not only did he manage a great impression of Capote, he did so while still being able to define the character within the bounds of the film – no easy task.

#6:  Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Whitaker is another actor who’s been doing good work on the fringes without ever getting a real chance to shine.  I think Good Morning, Vietnam was the first time I saw him, and I was duly impressed.  He impressed me further as the heart of an otherwise unexceptional film, Panic Room.

Few roles offer an actor the chance to break out like Idi Amin.  Whitaker took advantage of the opportunity and then some.  He was exactly what he needed to be, and yet he was still so dynamic and creative that he was always a joy to watch.

#5:  Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

Ledger lost the Best Actor Oscar to Hoffman’s Truman Capote.  They both made the list, so it’s not like either choice was wrong . . . but I really think Ledger did something really special in this film.  I came into this movie thinking of Ledger as just another generic movie star, but I came away thinking of him as one of the best actors in the business.  He was not unlike Tommy Lee Jones in his ability to create an intriguing, complex character with a minimalistic style.  And hell, he just was the character.

#4:  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t already been said, except to point out that as a long-time wrestling enthusiast, I think Rourke captured everything about wrestling in one performance.  And yet he was still believable as an individual.  Breathtaking.

#3:  Bruno Ganz, Downfall

Best. Hitler. Ever.

#2:  Sean Penn, Milk

I used to think Sean Penn was a good actor.  But after seeing this film, I think he’s been slacking.  Has he always had the abilities of a chameleon?  I didn’t know Penn – or anyone, really – could transform themselves so completely.

#1:  Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Is Daniel Day-Lewis the best actor of his generation?  If so, then he’s done it without becoming an iconic name on the level of, say, Robert Duvall.

Not that it matters, I guess.  It’s impossible to imagine anyone else doing what he does.

Leading Actor Summary:

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
  2. Sean Penn, Milk
  3. Bruno Ganz, Downfall
  4. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
  5. Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
  6. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
  7. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
  8. Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
  9. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  10. David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck

The Best Leading Actresses of the 2000s

#5:  Helen Mirren, The Queen

Yet another understated performance by an English person.  Maybe I should give them their own category …

#4:  Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

This film was like a clinic on good acting.  Someday we’ll look back at The Princess Diaries and realize, to our surprise, that that was the same Anne Hathaway.  And I’m kind of in love with her (don’t judge!).

#3:  Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal

As beautiful and talented as she is, I don’t think Blanchett is appreciated enough, and that’s taking into account her elite status and Oscar win.  This film just took the character study to a whole new level, thanks to Blanchett and another lady on this list.

#2:  Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake

GR.U.P.E.P:  GReat Understated Performance by an English Person.  Even among a top-notch ensemble cast, Staunton defined this film, an underrated gem.

#1:  Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal

The other people on this list are great actresses.  Dench inhabits a plane one step above that.

The Best Supporting Actors of the 2000s

#7:  Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky

Marsan is British, but I wouldn’t call this performance understated.  There was something very angry and very modern about this character, which is a challenging combination.  Marsan met the challenge and made the character seem like a believable inhabitant of the Mike Leigh universe.

#6:  Toby Jones, W.

Toby Jones is probably most famous for starring in the other Truman Capote film.  As such, he’s somehow missed out on the reputation of a top character actor, but that’s what he is.  His work as Karl Rove in W. was excellent, the best performance in an otherwise disappointing film.

He was also excellent in The Painted Veil, an unjustly forgotten film with several fine actors at their peak.

#5:  Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Yet another great character actor who finally got an Oscar nomination.  And if it were up to me, he would have won.

#4:  Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder

One of the great comic performances of recent years.  You must see it; nothing I say can do it justice.

#3:  Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge!

I simply delight in the work of Jim Broadbent.  It seems like he’s been in everything over the past ten years, but his best work came in a charismatic, charming and multi-faceted performance that anchored one of the decade’s great films.  “Like a Virgin …”

#2:  Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire

Shadow of the Vampire had one of the best set-ups for any film of the 2000’s.  And while it was good, it largely failed to deliver on that promise … except for Dafoe, who was both hilarious and haunting in one of the most unique performances I’ve ever seen.

#1:  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

If he were still alive, perhaps I (and everyone else) wouldn’t have been so crazy about this performance.

But crazy we were.

It’s almost like he wasn’t really acting, as such.  What he was doing was something different, something I can’t really describe.  And it came in a superhero movie.  How very delicious.

The Best Supporting Actresses of the 2000s

#5:  Emily Watson, Gosford Park

The most talented film actress whose name wouldn’t ring a bell for 95% of filmgoers.

#4:  Amy Adams, Doubt

Maybe the fastest-rising stock in Hollywood.

#3:  Rosemarie Dewitt, Rachel Getting Married

She’s never heard of you, either.  She was great in this film, as was pretty much everyone.

#2:  Mo’Nique, Precious

Words?  They fail me.  The only thing that comes to mind is … catharsis.

#1:  Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Did I really say that there was nothing exceptional about this film?  Perhaps I spoke too soon.

The WORST Pictures of the 2000s

#10:  Mirrors

I probably shouldn’t put this on the list, since it wasn’t meant to be anything but B-level horror.  Even by that standard, though, it was pretty sorry.

#9:  The Spirit

If I may present a metaphor:  think of the film Sin City as an apple.  Now, hollow out that apple so that there’s nothing left but the skin and a stem.  That’s The Spirit.  The only redeeming qualities here are the occasional bits of acting that are bad enough to produce a good belly laugh.

#8:  A Scanner Darkly

Phillip K. Dick’s novels have been adapted into some high-quality, successful films:  Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report.  But I’d yet to see a film that took me inside Phillip K. Dick’s head.

Then I saw A Scanner Darkly.  I can report that the inside of this man’s head is not fit for human consumption.  Watching this movie was like swallowing a spike laced with meth.

Imagine what it would have been like without Robert Downey, Jr.

#7:  Ready to Rumble

This was the film vehicle for the now-defunct wrestling company World Championship Wrestling (WCW).  WCW was notorious for its failures, and this film continues in that proud tradition.  Just consider these two phrases:  “David Arquette” and “starring vehicle.”

The wrestlers – even Sid Vicious – were the best actors.

#6:  Walk Hard:  The Dewey Cox Story

I try to give every movie a fair shake when I watch it.  I gave Walk Hard fifteen minutes – which was MORE than fair.

#5:  Hairspray

Maybe I didn’t give this one a fair shake.  But I honestly couldn’t recognize the appeal here – not at all. 

#4:  30 Days of Night

Vampires in Alaska?  How could that possible go wrong?

Oh … like this.  Where the filmmakers somehow managed to avoid the appeal that even most terrible horror films offer.

#3:  Hamlet 2

I didn’t finish this one, but I did give it more time than I gave Walk Hard.  And that’s time that I will never, EVER get back.  Let’s just say that I don’t automatically think that obnoxious = funny.

#2:  Halloween 2

I thought Zombie’s first Halloween was all right, but that the things he changed tended to be the parts that most appealed to me.  The sequel lacked any redeeming qualities; it was just awfulness.  So much so that it upset me.

#1:  Drag Me to Hell

I walked out on this one.  It’s the only time I’ve EVER done that at a movie theater. 

The Most Disappointing Films of the 2000s

#10:  300

Peter Griffin’s complaint about The Godfather was that “it insists upon itself.”  I always thought that was an odd thing to say until I saw 300.  Sure enough, this film insists upon itself.  It presents a sweeping, epic quality to the story that it never earns – at ALL.  The result is mindless spectacle and unintentional comedy.

#9:  Van Helsing

There was the seed of a good idea here, but it was overwhelmed by the blight of the screenplay.

#8:  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

“Nuking the fridge” has entered our vocabulary.  It’s one step beyond “jumping the shark.”

It’s only fitting that this film’s only contribution to the world of film was a new verbal representation of awfulness, unbelievability and decay.

#7:  Gods and Generals

One of the key questions Roger Ebert asks about a film is if it would be more interesting to watch the actors have lunch.  I’d like to propose a similar question:  would it be more interesting to watch the author read the book aloud?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

#6:  Sleuth

I’m a tremendous fan of both the stage play and the 1982 film that this was adapted from.  Jude Law and Michael Caine are great actors.  Kenneth Branagh is a great director.  And screenwriter Harold Pinter … fucked it all up in the third act.  In fact, I think it would be more apt to say that Pinter took a brilliant script and “Pinter-ized” it.

#5:  Pirates of the Caribbean 2:  Dead Man’s Chest

The first Pirates film was pretty good, I thought; not great, but good.

In cancer patients, a tumor starts inside otherwise healthy tissue and grows to grotesque sizes, stretching the original organ to an obscene mockery of its former self.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean grew an odious, 200-minute tumor that became this sequel.

#4:  The Village

Why beat a dead horse/directorial career?

#3:  Avatar


#2:  The Black Dahlia

This was a noir film in the sense that it was often quite dark onscreen.  Otherwise, bleh.

#1:  Crash

One of the worst things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not just talking about movies.

I tried this one twice.  The first time, I made it just 15 minutes in before my sense of shame forced me to turn it off.  The second time, I made it as far as 45 minutes before my soul became nauseous.  Crash is a fairy tale intended to scare simple-minded liberals.

And I say this as a left-wing radical myself.


Up next:  The 1990’s

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