The Sessions

Posted March 12th, 2013. Filed under Movies

First up is a movie about awkward sex. Or something.

The Big List – 50+ Best Movies of the Decade

Posted December 31st, 2009. Filed under Movies

50 -  The Aviator (pictured above)

Directed by Martin Scorcese, 2004

I’ll take this over The Departed (another Scorcese/DiCaprio flick) any day.

49 -  Sin City

Directed by Frank Miller, 2005

Sin City is the reason later hits like 300 and The Watchmen exist - it’s still the king of the graphic novel adaptations.

48 -  The Last King of Scotland

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, 2006

Forest Whitaker absolutely embodies the role of Idi Amin.  There’s only one acting performance (mentioned later) that I found more convincing this decade.

47 -  The Bourne * (trilogy)

Directed by Doug Liman, 2002 and Paul Greengrass, 2004, 2007

This decade’s Die Hard, a thoroughly enjoyable action-adventure-thriller.

46 -  Star Trek

Directed by J.J. Abrams, 2009

One of the things this decade will be remembered for is reboots of dormant series.  This was definitely a solid one.  I’m a die-hard Star Wars fan and not at all a Star Trek fan.  Somehow, though, I disliked this decade’s Star Wars movies but loved this decade’s Star Trek movie.  It’s definitely a mid-summer special effects bonanza, but it’s such eye candy and it’s so much fun.

45 -  Big Fish (pictured above)

Directed by Tim Burton, 2003

This movie proves Tim Burton can tell an uplifting fairy tale as well as he can a dark and spooky fable.

44 -  Gran Torino

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2008

This story has been told a hundred times before, but it’s never been given such a memorable ending.

43 -  Knocked Up

Directed by Judd Apatow, 2007

Superbad and The Hangover seem to get all the praise, but I liked this comedy best.

42 -  Minority Report

Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2002

The chase is afoot about a third of the way in and it absolutely never lets up.  This is a great movie to pick up when you’re in the mood for an action flick.  Samantha Morton’s portrayal of Agatha is an eye-opener - I hadn’t heard of her previously.  Tom Cruise is on screen about 80% of the time and, surprisingly, this isn’t problematic.  That’s probably because he’s busy running for his life instead of talking.

41 -  Little Miss Sunshine

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006

This movie was full of great performances from talented actors and actresses perfectly cast in the roles of memorable characters.  That’s it.

40 -  Up (pictured above)

Directed by Pete Docter, 2009

This was a very touching story with plenty of laughs along the way.

39 -  Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008

A vampire tale that is subtle, quiet, and creepy (like a vampire!).

38 -  Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

Directed by Ang Lee, 2000

This movie was remarkable and memorable for it’s fight sequences that were more like intricately choreographed dances than what you’d expect from any other martial arts movie.

37 -  Before Sunset

Directed by Richard Linklater, 2004

Definitely, definitely see Before Sunrise (1995) first, then enjoy a contemplative stroll around Paris with Before Sunset.

36 -  Zodiac

Directed by David Fincher, 2007

Absolutely perfectly paced, I didn’t realize this was an almost 3 hour long movie until the credits rolled and I looked at the clock.  This is top-shelf suspense and tension and occasional brutality that hits you square in the chest when you remember that you’re watching an adaptation of a true story.

35 -  El orfanato (The Orphanage) (pictured above)

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007

Another horror movie (this time creepy kids and ghosts instead of a vampire) that unfolds at a wonderfully slow and subtle pace.

34 -  Crash

Directed by Paul Haggis, 2004

Love it or hate it, Crash is one of the most polarizing (and thus important) movies of the decade.

33 -  Brokeback Mountain

Directed by Ang Lee, 2005

If you are still avoiding this movie because it’s “that gay cowboy movie”, do yourself a favor and go see it anyway.  Really.

32 -  (500) Days of Summer

Directed by Marc Webb, 2009

Don’t we all wish the romantic comedy sub-genre gave us more gems like (500) Days of Summer and less BridgetJonesian cruft

31 -  Gladiator

Directed by Ridley Scott, 2000

This is the most personally significant movie on this list.  In 2000, I was a sophomore in college, I had my own car for the first time in my life, and I began seeing movies of my own choosing for the first time.  In middle school and high school, I only saw what my parents took me to see (middle school) or the summer blockbusters all my friends wanted to see because of the flashy trailer commercials on TV (high school).  I saw Gladiator and it was instantly my favorite movie ever.  I saw it twice, I bought the soundtrack, the guidebook, everything.  Gladiator was, in fact, the first DVD I ever owned.  I still have that DVD even though it’s scratched up beyond the point of playability.  Gladiator was the gateway drug to my movie addiction.

30 -  Memento (pictured above)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2000

Memento was the movie that taught me to appreciate non-linear story telling.  It taught me to stop looking for action and cool effects and pay attention to story and character.

29 -  Atonement

Directed by Joe Wright, 2007

Atonement finds Keira Knightly at her (rare) best in a love story that is absolutely heart-breaking to watch unfold.

28 -  Into the Wild

Directed by Sean Penn, 2007

This movie fed right into my ongoing love-affair with experiencing and exploring the outdoors.

27 -  Avatar

Directed by James Cameron, 2009

This is all about the technical achievement.  See Avatar in 3D as soon as you can.  3D has grown up.  This isn’t the gimmicky 3D of yesteryear with the red-and-blue paper glasses and the silly “look out, that doohickey is flying out of the screen right at you!” moments.  This is 3D that gives an amazing sense of depth and beauty to a movie that I believe will be remembered as marking the beginning one of the big theme of the next decade - the 3D blockbuster.

26 -  Juno

Directed by Jason Reitman, 2007

Juno was witty and funny and believable.  I expect Ellen Paige will be one of the great actresses of the next decade.

25 -  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (pictured above)

Directed by Andrew Dominik, 2007

The fact that Casey Affleck is so easy to dislike is actually a strength in this movie - he’s the titular coward Robert Ford.  Brad Pitt gives another stellar performance (is it just me or is he the epitome of the really good or really bad hot-and-cold actor?)

24 -  El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, 2006

Every bit the fairy tale it is billed as, but definitely not what I expected going in.

23 -  District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2009

District 9’s cinéma vérité style was off-putting to moviegoers that expected to see a big budget alien invasion flick, but if you haven’t rolled your eyes at most of the preceding movies on this list, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this movie as much as I did.

22 -  Hotel Rwanda

Directed by Terry George, 2005

What I appreciated more than anything else about this movie is that it’s an unfortunately rare movie about Africans in Africa (as opposed to the usual European/American heroes surviving the savagery of Africa - I’m looking at you Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland).  Plus, Don Cheadle can do no wrong.

21 -  Requiem for a Dream (pictured above)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

I made the mistake of purchasing this movie.  It’s a fantastic movie, but it’s downright painful to watch.  I don’t think I could ever watch it again.

20 -  Amores Perros

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000

This movie is a violent gangster movie, a love story, a spiritual coming of age awakening, and a morality tale all at once with all four of these themes connected to one another by a dog.  Amores Perros is difficult to describe, but it’s worth a few hours of your time.

19 -  Milk

Directed by Gus Van Sant, 2008

Sean Penn plays this movie to perfection and it came out at a perfect moment - during the 2008 firestorm of Proposition 8 in California.  Harvey Milk’s story deserves to be told and this movie does that job well.

18 -  Kill Bill (Vols 1 & 2)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 2003, 2004

My reaction to watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 in theaters was that it was the perfect movie full of fun characters, fun fights, and tongue-in-cheek gore but still somehow able to take itself very seriously.  Vol. 2 turned out to be my favorite of the two because it’s much more understated and the fun characters from Vol. 1 get to be much more completely and interestingly drawn.

17 -  Der Untergang (Downfall) (pictured above)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004

Downfall gives you a look inside the Führerbunker as Allied troops closed in on all sides in the closing days of World War II.  It’s a reminder that while he has been rightly vilified by history, Adolf Hitler was still a human being (a particularly evil human being, but still … ).  It’s fascinating to watch the growing madness and despair of the frail old dictator as his dreams of empire and world domination literally fall to rubble all around him.

16 -  Million Dollar Baby

Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2007

This boxing tale will give you the experience of boxing - the struggles and growing pains of training, the thrill of being in the ring, and finally the knock-out sucker punch to the gut that you’ll definitely feel in the morning.

15 -  Slumdog Millionaire

Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, 2008

Much hyped Academy Award winner for Best Picture that was really good inspite of the silly plot driver (really? back-room interrogations over success on a television game show?).

14 -  Finding Nemo

Directed by Andrew Stanton, 2003

Ellen Degeneres as the hilariously forgetful fish Dory is comedy gold!  Easily, one of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen in an animated movie.

13 -  The Pianist (pictured above)

Directed by Roman Polanski, 2002

This movie portrays the slow, methodical descent into degradation and despair experienced by many Poles in Nazi occupied Warsaw.  Adrien Brody is Adrien Brody (which is to say, he’s great).  As you might expect from the movie’s title, the music is also amazing.

12 -  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Directed by Michel Gondry, 2004

Eternal Sunshine was a mind-trip, it took a second viewing to fully appreciate everything that happens.  Charlie Kaufman is a legend in the making (look him up!)

11 -  Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001

Who doesn’t love Amelie?  Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone seeing this movie and not falling in love with Audrey Tautou and her portrayal of the adorable do-gooder Amelie.

10 -  Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2001

Spirited Away oozes creativity - it’s best experienced as a 2 hour long piece of moving art (it’s hand-animated, so technically, that’s exactly what it is).

09 -  The Royal Tenenbaums (pictured above)

Directed by Wes Anderson, 2001

I almost missed this movie.  I finally saw it at the tail end of this year (2009) and wow, was I ever missing out on greatness.  How’s this for an ensemble cast?:  Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Alec Baldwin.  Great performances from each and every one of them.

08 -  The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird, 2004

Every time I see The Incredibles on TV, I stop to watch for a few minutes and end up watching until the end.  There is so much to love about this family and how they are each individually willing to give the entirety of their being (in this case, their superpowers) to save the one’s they love.  Such a feel good movie.

07 -  The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)

Directed by Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003

An obvious choice - the ultimate epic adventure.  See the extended versions of all three movies if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

06 -  Wall-E

Directed by Andrew Stanton, 2008

Wall-E is by far the most inventive piece of storytelling among the many great animated flicks this decade.  If the second half of this movie was a continuation of the first half of this movie, it’d definitely be hovering around the #1 position on this list.

05 -  The Dark Knight (pictured above)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2008

Heath Ledger delivers the (much talked about) performance of the decade.  The hype is absolutely grounded in truth on this one; it’s worth seeing for his performance alone.

04 -  Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Directed by Fernando Meirelles, 2002

I have a weird addiction to watching those prison shows on the Discovery Channel and MSNBC - I think it’s something to do with the fascination of experience a dark and gritty world of criminals, a world I’m curious about but never ever want to actually physically visit.  City of God gave me that same experience (even though it’s not a prison movie).  Fascinating and frightening.

03 -  Children of Men

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 2006

Engaging and surprising and beautifully shot from the explosive opening sequence to the quiet and serene end.  If you like your dystopias dark and glum but believable, Children of Men is for you.

02 -  No Country for Old Men

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007

The quiet menace of Anton Chigurh is one of the most chilling things ever put on screen.  He is the ultimate villain and the centerpiece of this Coen Brothers masterpiece.

01 -  There Will Be Blood (pictured above)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

This movie grew on me over the course of 4 viewings and it’s reached a place where I now consider it my favorite movie of the decade.

There Will Be Blood” is the kind of film that is easily called great. … It was filmed in the same area of Texas used by “No Country for Old Men,” and that is a great film, and a perfect one. But “There Will Be Blood” is not perfect, and in its imperfections (its unbending characters, its lack of women or any reflection of ordinary society, its ending, its relentlessness) we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonorable thing.

Roger Ebert

At it’s simplest, There Will Be Blood is about an oil man who leaves a trail of exploitation and broken promises behind him as he meanders across the gorgeously photographed wide open oil fields of turn of the century Texas, ruthlessly using any-and-everyone in his path for his own monetary gain.  Watch again and you’ll see this is really about an undeclared war, a struggle to the death between the aforementioned oil man Daniel Planview and his nemesis, evangelical preacher Eli Sunday (perfectly portrayed by Paul Dano).  And of course, as promised, there is (eventually) blood.

10 movies deserving of a second chance

Posted December 23rd, 2009. Filed under Movies

*These are ranked in order of how likely I think I would be to like each film if I gave them a second viewing.*

10 - Syriana (pictured above)

Directed by Stephen Gaghan, 2005

I think I didn’t give Syriana a fair chance because it kept feeling to me like an anti-westerner rant about how the oil industry is all screwed up because of westerners alone.  My respect for Jeffrey Wright’s acting abilities along with a growing suspicion that the assessment of the influence of the west in the oil industry might not be entirely off-base is reason enough to give this a second chance.

09 - The Fountain

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2006

My distaste for this movie is due to just plain not understanding what is happening from scene to scene.  Some of the imagery is beautiful, and Rachel Weisz is a treat (I think I’ve mentioned that before?). Perhaps if I come equipped with a pen and paper to jot down some notes, I’ll be able to follow along a little better?

08 - The Prestige

Directed by Christopher Nolan, 2006

I absolutely hated the way this movie ended.  It felt like a parody of Hollywood twist endings.  Coming across as an unintentional parody is never a good thing.  In hindsight, there was alot to like about The Prestige, though.  Perhaps if I watch up until the last 15 minutes and then imagine my own ending in my head?

07 - The Darjeeling Limited (pictured above)

Directed by Wes Anderson, 2007

I think this one boils down to me not getting Wes Anderson’s M.O. When I first saw The Darjeeling Limited, I hadn’t yet seen the Royal Tenenbaums.  I loved the Royal Tenenbaums and, after watching it, I looked up Wes Anderson’s filmography.  I think I might appreciate this movie more now after reading about how the two films are stylistically and psychologically very similar.

06 - I Heart Huckabees

Directed by David O. Russell, 2004

I saw this movie as being quirky for the sake of being quirky and I thought it just tried too hard for it’s own good.  I honestly don’t think I gave it a fair chance — I couldn’t recount the plot to you if I tried; I don’t think I could even name any of the characters.  I vaguely remember a large rock? And a dinner scene?  Yea, I need to watch this again.

05 - Shaun of the Dead

Directed by Edgar Wright, 2004

I watched Shaun of the Dead at the tail end of an October full of watching horror movies.  I think I was all zombie’d out and didn’t really appreciate this as much as everyone else I know.  I did love Hot Fuzz, so I imagine I am capable of loving this too.

04 - Waltz with Bashir (pictured above)

Directed by Ari Folman, 2008

This was beautifully animated, but I think I was too busy enjoying the visual spectacle and didn’t pay enough attention to the story.  In the end, I just didn’t get it.

03 - Punch-Drunk Love

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002

A while back, I watched and hated Robin Williams in One Hour Photo.  I think this experience convinced me that comedians should stick to comedy and colored my viewing of Punch-Drunk Love in less than rosy colors.  More recently, Will Ferrel’s Stranger Than Fiction has convinced me that I was probably wrong -  comedians are definitely capable of putting together a good, serious, even sublime performance.  Also, Paul Thomas Anderson directed one of my absolute favorite movies of all time more recently (this unnamed movie will appear on my big 50-movie list.  You could go look up his filmography, of course - but if you don’t already know what movie I’m referring to, why spoil it? :P) so I feel compelled to give his earlier work a second chance.

02 - Donnie Darko

Directed by Richard Kelly, 2001

I understand there are several different versions of Donnie Darko out there?  Maybe I’ll have better luck with one of the other cuts?  I really want to like this movie - just about everyone whose opinion I respect loved it and recommended it.

01 - Lost in Translation (pictured above)

Directed by Sofia Coppola, 2003

Lost in Translation is the poster child of movies almost universally loved by critics and journalists yet panned by the viewing public.  Over the years, I’ve found myself agreeing more and more with critics.  Every time I see this movie referenced, I find myself saying “I should really see that again.”

15 personal favorites (the YMMV list)

Posted December 21st, 2009. Filed under Movies

15 -Sunshine (pictured above)

Directed by Danny Boyle, 2007

If their movie doesn’t float your boat as a work of science-fiction, action, philosophy, heliocentrism, or staggering visual spectacle (although, it really should), then it certainly succeeds as a parable for cinematic ambition.

Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe

Why your mileage may vary: the final plot-twist (and the resulting final 20 minutes of the movie) is about as ludicrous as any movie I’ve seen.

Why I loved it anyway: truly beautiful imagery (watching Mercury drift across the face of the sun? amazing!), also I’m a sucker for science fiction.

14 - Cadillac Records

Directed by Darnell Martin, 2008

The movie’s biopic aspect is multiplied by the sheer number of players who made Chess the first family of Chicago blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll…That all of them were later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame attests to their enormous influence on popular music and culture.

Gene Stout of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Why your mileage may vary: the story is littered with omissions and half-truths and embellishments - three things all problematic for a biopic. Also, Beyonce isn’t a very good actress.

Why I loved it anyway: I loved the music, much overdue exposure for three of the greatest and most influential musicians ever (Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Etta James).

13 - The Brothers Bloom

Directed by Rian Johnson, 2008

The Brothers Bloom has it all: charming romance, jaunty adventure story, witty dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and superb performances.

Claudia Pulg of USA Today

Why your mileage my vary: the ending rambles a bit and there are, perhaps, one (or two) too many twists.

Why I loved it anyway: Rachel Weisz.

12 - Talk To Me

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 2007

Someone like Petey Greene made a difference and made a mark, and broadcasting is better because of his transparent honesty. He helped transform African-American stations more, probably, than their mostly white owners desired. And talk talents like Howard Stern, whether they know who he was, owe him something.

Roger Ebert

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a simplified biopic about a pretty obscure radio personality.

Why I loved it anyway: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Taraji P. Henson are stellar (as usual for all three).

11 - The Great Debaters (pictured above)

Directed by Denzel Washington, 2007

Tailor-made for maximum inspirational, historical and educational impact, The Great Debaters shines a bright spotlight on a remarkable example of black achievement long forgotten in the sorry history of the Jim Crow South.

Todd McCarthy of  Variety

Why your mileage may vary: it’s often cliche and deviates significantly at the end  from the true story on which it’s based.

Why I loved it anyway: Jurnee Smollett is incredible, Denzel Washington and Forest Whittaker are  a powerful presence.  I don’t think it’s possible to watch this movie without your throat lumping up.

10 - Snatch

Directed by Guy Ritchie, 2000

If the film is too similar to Ritchie’s first movie, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” with its multiple story lines, complex plotting, and double-crossing antics, it’s at least colorfully told with dialogue that shines with the inventive slang of Ritchie’s screenplay.

David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor

Why your mileage may vary: you’ll probably need subtitles to follow the (English) dialog.

Why I loved it anyway: it’s my favorite of the British cockney gangster flicks and Brad Pitt’s performance is at least as enjoyable as in Fight Club.

09 - Stranger Than Fiction

Directed by Marc Forster, 2006

This is a Ferrell you’ve never seen before, nailing a role that calls for breakneck humor in the final race against the clock and touching gravity in the love scenes with Gyllenhaal.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone

Why your mileage may vary: you might be expecting a Will Ferrell movie and find yourself disappointed.

Why I loved it anyway: this is easily and by far my favorite Will Ferrell movie.  Also, Emma Thompson is a great, great actress.

08 - Akeelah and the Bee

Directed by Doug Atchison, 2006

The innate suspense and charm of the spelling bee, along with a trio of crack performances, turn what is in essence a formulaic sports picture into something more satisfying: an underdog tale that manages to inspire without being sappy.

Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a family-friendly Disney Channel ready feel-good movie.

Why I loved it anyway: It’s feel-goodness really does feels good.  Keke Palmer’s performance outshines those of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett - that’s saying alot.

07 - American Gangster (pictured above)

Directed by Ridley Scott, 2007

Meticulous and detailed, a drug-world epic that holds you from moment to moment, immersing you in the intricate and sleazy logistics of crime. Yet the movie isn’t quite enthralling; it’s more like the ghost version of a ’70s classic.

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly

Why your mileage may vary: this movie is lengthy and if the drama of the drug trade isn’t your thing, you’ll be watching the clock in pretty short order.  Also, RZA probably shouldn’t be acting.

Why I loved it anyway: watching Frank Lucas as portrayed by Denzel Washington exert a stranglehold on the streets of Harlem and then watching it all fall apart is interesting from beginning to end.

06 - V for Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue, 2005

Portman doesn’t catch fire until the second half, then heaves herself into emotional action; this suits her initially passive, mostly unthinking character. Weaving, who acts entirely with his voice, is V’s ideal embodiment: witty, rueful, pitiless, visionary and mad.

Lawrence Toppman of the Charlotte Observer

Why your mileage may vary: it’s on the long side and too philosophical for it’s own good.

Why I loved it anyway: when Natalie Portman turns it on, her performance is enthralling.

05 - A Beautiful Mind

Directed by Ron Howard, 2001

As Nash gets closer to Crowe’s own age (and level of dissipation), the performance settles down and becomes first credible and then overwhelming. This is a stupendous piece of acting.

David Edelstein of Slate

Why your mileage may vary:  the plot and pacing jumps around a lot and the idea that you can conquer serious mental illness with the love of a good woman might end up feeling ridiculous.

Why I loved it anyway:  great performances from open to close, especially from Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, the leads.  Also, it’s fascinating for me to watch a biopic about someone I’ve actually met.

04 - Serenity (pictured above)

Directed by Joss Whedon, 2005

If you’re a novice, this is a plucky introduction to Whedon’s world and the most fun sci-fi of the year. If you’re a devotee, this is the magnificent return you’ve been praying for.

Olly Richards of Empire

Why your mileage may vary: if you haven’t watched the television series Firefly, you’ll be disoriented for the first half of the movie and you’ll lack the connection to the characters necessary to really appreciate the second half of the movie.

Why I loved it anyway: I watched and loved every episode of Firefly; I know and love every one of these characters.

03 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Directed by David Fincher, 2008

There’s no denying the film’s power of compulsion and the sense that, when it’s all over, it means something. Most viewers will be entertained and moved, and some will find their intellect aroused.

James Berardinelli of ReelReviews

Why your mileage may vary: it’s a really long movie and it basically rehashes the Forrest Gump story.

Why I loved it anyway: the visual effects are ground breaking and game changing - so much so that you never realize you are watching an effect.

02 - Little Children

Directed by Todd Field, 2006

Unnervingly good, Little Children is one of the rare American films about adultery that feels right — dangerous, hushed, immediate.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune

Why your mileage may vary: Again, a rehash - this time of American Beauty.

Why I loved it anyway: I saw it as honest and believable and more of a complement to American Beauty than a rehash.

01 - Finding Neverland (pictured above)

Directed by Marc Forster, 2004

The film rests on Depp’s evocation of Barrie’s gentle, playfulness and deeply buried sorrows; it’s difficult to imagine another actor so gracefully evoking Barrie’s childlike qualities without seeming creepy or emotionally malformed, and only the hard of heart will come away dry-eyed.

Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide

Why your mileage may vary: it’s sappy and glossed over.

Why I loved it anyway: I think it’s more touching than sappy, and Kate Winslet’s performance is moving.

timecrimes

10 - Los Cronocrímenes (pictured above)

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, 2007

The first of two time travel mind-benders, Timecrimes is layer upon layer of just-right plot twists and smarts in a style very reminiscent of old episodes of The Twilight Zone.

09 - Volver

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, 2006

Pedro Almodóvar is one of the great directors of our generation. He sports a resume full of great films dating back to 1980.   Penelope Cruz is one of the most under-appreciated actresses around.  These two Spanish heavyweights get together to craft a quirky feel-good story about incest, death, and the supernatural.

08 - Primer

Directed by Shane Carruth, 2004

Break out your pencil and notebook - you’ll need a page or two full of notes and diagrams to keep up with Primer.  Actually, I’d recommend just watching it 3 or 4 times.  Attempting to digest exactly what happens in this movie is near impossible in a single viewing.  In a nutshell - two dudes accidentally invent time travel.  Paradox ensues. Alot.  This is the ultimate low-budget, no budget sci-fi flick.

yiyi

07 - Yi Yi: A One and a Two (pictured above)

Directed by Edward Yang, 2000

What I think I love most about Yi Yi is that it’s many plot-lines are all so engaging and believable.  It’s so easy to feel something (usually sympathy)  for each these characters.   After sitting through this 3 hour tale, I found myself wanting another hour or two.  This was also  one of the very first foreign films I ever saw as a young college kid exploring independence for the first time, so it definitely has added meaning to me for that.

06 - Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love)

Directed by Kar Wai Wong, 2000

Far more than for its characters or its plot, I love this movie for it’s visuals. You can almost watch this with no subtitles and still have a good idea what’s going on.  Every camera angle, every room and corridor portrays the secrecy and lust and deception that is central to the story.

05 - Hable con ella (Talk to Her)

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, 2002

This time with feeling: Pedro Almodóvar is one of the greatest directors of our generation.  This movie gets off to a pretty slow start, but you’ll be rewarded with a story about human emotion and relationships (minus the preachiness you might expect, given the subject matter).

once

04 - Once

Directed by John Carney, 2006

The music.  It’s all about the music.  Also, the charming Markéta Irglová.  But mostly the music.  This might be my all time favorite romance - boy meets girl, boy and girl make beautiful music together.  The on-screen musical and interpersonal harmony feels so genuine because it is genuine.  Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are dating and performing together as The Swell Season (were I to put together a list of great music of the decade, both Swell Season albums would definitely find their way onto that list).

03 - Oldboy

Directed by Chan-wook Park, 2003

This movie draws you closer and closer to the screen with compelling characters, interesting visuals, gritty toughness, and amazing fight coreography just so it can give you a good solid slap across the face with it’s completely unexpected final act.  Definitely see this before the long-rumored American remake finds it’s way to the screen.

02 - Das leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007

Set amidst a landscape of suppression, surveillance, fear and mistrust, The Lives of Others tells an engaging and delightful story with one of the least cheesy feel-good endings around.  The acting is top-notch, the drama is powerful, the characters are well drawn - this is just an all around great movie.

4m3w2d

01 - 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) (pictured above)

Directed by Cristian Mungiu, 2007

Remember how it felt to watch the last 10 minutes or so of Requiem for a Dream?  Remember how it left you emotionally drained and unsettled?  This movie is that feeling drawn out for a solid 80 minutes.  I absolutely love how this movie tells a story in a very natural and realistic way - things happen that are never explored or explained, things do not wrap up neatly, many many questions remain - Just Like Real Life™.  Every character and every setting adds to the palpable tension, even the happy and carefree family celebrating a birthday around an overflowing dinner table (an image, by the way, which is a very interesting contrast to the image at the ending of the movie…).

Quick disclaimer - this is the movie I saw most recently, and it definitely left  a very strong impression.  If I had seen this 2 years ago, would I still rank it #1?  I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.

Remember how it felt to watch the last 10 minutes or so of Requiem for a Dream?  Remember how it left you emotionally drained and unsettled?  This movie is that feeling drawn out for a solid 80 minutes.  I absolutely love how this movie tells a story in a very natural and realistic way - things happen that are never explored or explained, things do not wrap up neatly, many many questions remain - Just Like Real Life™.  Every character and every setting adds to the palpable tension, even the happy and carefree family celebrating a birthday around an overflowing dinner table (an image, by the way, which is a very interesting contrast to the image at the ending of the movie…).
Quick disclaimer - this is the movie I saw most recently, and leaves a very strong impression.  If I had seen this 2 years ago, would I still rank it #1?  I don’t know, but I’d like to think soRemember how it felt to watch the last 10 minutes or so of Requiem for a Dream?  Remember how it left you emotionally drained and unsettled?  This movie is that feeling drawn out for a solid 80 minutes.  I absolutely love how this movie tells a story in a very natural and realistic way - things happen that are never explored or explained, things do not wrap up neatly, many many questions remain - Just Like Real Life™.  Every character and every setting adds to the palpable tension, even the happy and carefree family celebrating a birthday around an overflowing dinner table (an image, by the way, which is a very interesting contrast to the image at the ending of the movie…).
Quick disclaimer - this is the movie I saw most recently, and leaves a very strong impression.  If I had seen this 2 years ago, would I still rank it #1?  I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.