Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Top 50 Favorite Films of the Twenty-First Century



The best films of the decade were the films with screenplays that I would have wanted to direct myself. I would be proud to have had any of these films on my filmmaking resume- they deal with subjects that I care about, and they do it masterfully. Each and every one of them, in my opinion.

There were dozens of other films from this decade that I loved. However, I've reduced this list to a minimum of 50. In other words, the 50 films that inspired me the most. But I also have to point out that some titles didn't make the list simply because I haven't seen them yet, or because I'm still unfamiliar with the work of that filmmaker. You may also discover the sad lack of world cinema on the list since I mostly just stuck to American films this decade.

Whatever. My favorites in order of preference coming right up. Or, at least, my top 10 is a definite order of my favorite ten films of the decade in order of preference. After that, 11-50 is ordered rather loosely.



1. Munich (2005)

Steven Spielberg's international thriller about Israel's violent response to the Palestinians following the Black September assault on the 1972 Munich Olympics is the most important film of the decade. Eric Bana gives the first incredible performance of his career as Avner Kaufman, hired personally by Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) to lead a team of Jewish hit men to find and kill the terrorist agents who plotted the massacre. The team consists of Steve (Daniel Craig), a South African mercenary; Hans (Hanns Zischler), recruited for his ability to forge documents; Robert (Matthieu Kassovitz), a toymaker turned inexperienced bomb maker; and Carl (Ciaran Hinds), the cleanup man. The mission wrecks personal crises on all five of the men, in ways that are best explained by sitting through the film itself. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner are clearly supportive of Israel, but they are not afraid to criticize right-wing governmental policies (conservative author George Jonas, whose book Vengeance inspired the screenplay, took offense to the film); on that basis you could argue that Spielberg and Kushner's film sets an example for any citizen of any country concerned about how to effectively respond to something as atrocious as terrorism. 2005 was the year in which Spielberg finally dealt directly with the horrors of 9/11: if the flawed but excellent War of the Worlds is all about the attack itself, then Munich is about the spaghettied aftermath. For me, the heart of the film is the scene at the end, in which Avner confronts supervisor Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) to complain about whether or not eliminating the mission's targets has put an end to the terrorist threat. It is not a film to be forgotten.



2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg's breathtaking visualization of the odyssey of David (Haley Joel Osment), the first robot with the ability to love. The film is divided into three acts: the first act, in which David struggles to coexist with his human family, as Monica (Frances O'Connor) assumes the role of his mother, with problematic results; the second act, in which David is banished from his home and journeys with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) to Rouge City and beyond; and the third act, set thousands of years later, in which David wakes up from the end of human civilization only to be reborn in a world dominated by mechas of an advanced technology. O'Connor is magnificent in her performance as the ashamed mother, whose graceful presence becomes an obsession on the boy's mind- ditto for Law as the player robot framed for murder, and William Hurt as the benevolent Professor Hobby. And Osment's performance as David is the kind of performance that smashes the boundaries of method acting- notice that his eyes do not blink once throughout the picture. From beginning to end, Spielberg remains faithful to the late Kubrick's vision, and the fascinating hybrid of the two filmmakers gives birth to one of the most dazzling cinematic accomplishments of all time.



3. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen's thrilling, philosophical, even sad, adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, tracking the crazy happenings that come about when Llewellen Moss (Josh Brolin) steals a briefcase from the scene of a drug cartel massacre and takes off with it, pursued by what might as well be described as your average shoulder angels: Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an aged Texas cop whose voice of reason is failing in a time of violence and despair; and Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardhem), an unstoppable, gigantic Hispanic armed with a cattle stun gun and an enormous shotgun. Despite the summary, this film is not a conventional chase picture. It is wholly unpredictable, and ends on a note that almost moves me to tears every time.



4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson's majestic conclusion to his adaptations of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy. I don't remember the last time I anticipated a film as much as this one; I may never anticipate another film quite like it ever again. As a former student of Tolkien's novels, I was overjoyed when this film began with a prologue of the birthday of Smeagol (Andy Serkis), in which he murders his best friend Deagol in order to take possession of the One Ring, is poisoned by it, forgets his own name and transforms into the creature Gollum over the next five-hundred years; after which he will unwillfully serve as the guide for Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), the two Hobbits charged with descending into Morder and destroying the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. It sounds like another silly fantasy adventure, but back when these films came out, I truly believed I was witnessing the evolution of cinema. CGI has never looked better than it has in these films. And though non-readers of the books still complain about the dragged-out ending that stretches over half an hour, I admire every minute of it. Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens do justice to Tolkien better than anyone ever could have, and the film deserved all 11 of its Academy Award winnings (it should have gotten more, too, in my opinion). It's considered cool to hate on Jackson's accomplishment these days, but I can't help it: I love these films.



5. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant American epic, adapted from Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!", detailing the rise of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who has a competition in him, and wants no one else to succeed. He won't give in to anyone's wishes: not his clients; not his brother (Kevin J. O'Connor); not the local preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano); not even his own son, who goes from a reliable business partner to a deafened, juvenile burden. Though it lacks the massive sequences of violence, I actually think this is a more entertaining film than No Country for Old Men, since Day-Lewis' performance (arguably the best male performance of the decade) is just plain titanic. Anderson takes the socialist messages of Sinclair's literary prose and twists it inside out into a fable of capitalism at its meanest.



6. Youth Without Youth (2007)

Francis Ford Coppola's astonishing comeback after a ten-year hiatus is his greatest film in a generation. From the moment the protagonist, Dominic, (Tim Roth) wakes up in bed and tells us in a voiceover, "Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to finish my life's work", we're immediately reminded of the musings by Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. But Coppola's film is not a collection of self-homages: it is one of the most original American films ever directed. It starts out as an international thriller, then becomes a love story like no other. Expertly edited by Walter Murch, the film also moves at a fast pace, and Coppola uses a nonlinear, stream-of-consciousness approach in his handling of the story. After Dominic, a 70-ish year old man, is struck by lightning, he magnificently begins to age backwards into a young man again. Who knew that Coppola could be so wonderously innovative?



7. Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch's miraculous work of surrealism in Hollywood speaks for itself. So, wait a minute: how exactly do Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring end up swapping character roles? And why again does filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Teroux) lose control over his dream project... only to suddenly have complete control over it again? Whatever the explanations are, it makes no difference. Lynch has devised a motion picture so endlessly creative that one can see it dozens of times and pick up a different sort of reaction with each viewing.



8. The Pianist (2002)

Roman Polanski's harrowing dramatization of the experiences of Wladyslaw Spzilman, a pianist who escaped certain death in Nazi-occupied Poland not because of skill or wit, but because of mere luck. In his terrific portrayal of Spzilman, Adrien Brody (who won a richly deserved Academy Award for his performance) undergoes a jaw-dropping transformation from well-dressed artist to unshaven street survivor; and Ronald Harwood's screenplay compares to Steve Zaillian's script for Spielberg's Schindler's List as a bitterly truthful document of a terrible time. Polanski, himself a Holocaust survivor whose mother perished in the gas chambers, never turns away from the subject matter. The most haunting shot in the film occurs when Spzilman climbs over the side of a fence: Polanski's camera rises to show Spzilman running into an abandoned city covered in snow, with no clear sanctuary in sight.



9. The Aviator (2004)

Martin Scorsese's biopic on the glory days of Howard Hughes (Leonard DiCaprio) is not your standard biopic. Rather, it is a story about how fame and fortune can be cruelly limited by disease. DiCaprio is surprisingly good as Hughes, but he's surrounded by great co-stars, including a knockout Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn, Alan Alda as the fierce Senator Brewster, Alec Baldwin as the pesky Juan Trippe, and John C. Reilly as Hughes' pressured advisor Noah Dietrich. Scorsese's film is not really a tribute or a criticism of Hughes- or even a straightforward summary of his life. It is, well... something. In the last scene, an unraveling Hughes is locked into a room for the sake of his own sanity. This is Scorsese's way of closing the door on Hughes' glory days- he will, in a sense, be locked in a room for the rest of his life.



10. Redacted (2007)

Brian De Palma's fiery, unflinching critique of the War in Iraq. It is certainly one of the most controversial and divisive films of the decade, and has earned more than one threat against De Palma's status as a filmmaker and as an American. Myself, I consider this the best film on the Iraq War to date. I admire De Palma's original screenplay for its immediacy and its deconstruction of the dishonesty the war was founded upon. Many have criticized the performances of the inexperienced actors; I, on the other hand, give a thumbs-up to De Palma's approach of capturing those feelings of fake behavior as seen in any average home video. To be sure, there is a devastating performance by Rob Devaney as Lawyer McCoy, who is powerless to stop the men of his unit from molesting and slaughtering a 15-year old girl. He then reports the incident, and returns home in tears to a family that assumes he is fighting for a good cause in a country that appears to be worth fighting in. The film is De Palma's most revealing since Hi, Mom! (1970) and his strongest effort since Carlito's Way (1993), and cements his place as one of our bravest living film artists.



11. Minority Report (2002)

Steven Spielberg's terrific futuristic neo-noir headed by Tom Cruise as John Anderton, a Washington D.C. police officer in charge of an advanced security program that uses the visions of psychic Precogs to locate and stop domestic crime before it occurs. Alongside Cruise's powerhouse performance, there is also a swansong performance by Max Von Sydow as Lamar Burgess, the well-intentioned chairman of the program, who attempts to bend and break the law for the sake of the safety of the people, and winds up crippling the justice system. Spielberg made this film in the wake of 9/11 in response to President Bush's USA Patriot Act. However, now that the current administration has problems with its own national security system as seen over the holidays, we may need films like this more than ever right now.



12. Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher's heart-pounding dramatization of the unsuccessful attempts by cops, detectives and outsiders to uncover the identity of the infamous Zodiac killer of San Francisco is the first of Fincher's films that has ever left me gasping for air. Literally. As one who has never been much impressed with Fincher's popular work (I'm no fan of Fight Club and am even less enthusiastic about this decade's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), I was startled by how much this film excited me and drew me into its atmosphere. First of all, Fincher makes good on his promise to make this film not just convincingly set in the 1970's, but the film itself even feels like it was made in that decade: from the moment we see the classic Paramount and Warner Bros logos, we know we're in for something unabashedly old-fashioned. The film evokes the pleasure one gets when watching an Alan J. Pakula crime picture; and Fincher even at times has his characters stare directly into the camera, a la Jonathan Demme. Yet what gripped me most of all was how much I identified with Jake Gyllenhaal's obsessed cartoonist character- not since Twin Peaks have I so desperately wanted to learn the identity of the murderer.



13. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Peter Weir's adaptation of the Pat O'Brien novel is as great an epic of the sea as there ever was one. Russell Crowe's performance as Jack Aubrey, the captain of the HMS Surprise, is by far my favorite of any of Crowe's performances; and Paul Bettany mirrors him as the ship's ambitious doctor Stephen Maturin. Weir reduces the number of the battle sequences; this film is not so much about action as it is about life at sea and the tolls it can take on patience and trust. At the heart of the film is the friendship between Aubrey and Maturin, and their political differences: Aubrey is a conservative and seeks to eliminate the enemy at whatever the cost, while Maturin, a liberal, detests authority and champions the virtues of science first and foremost. Oh, and Weir proves that the theory of Darwinian evolution is right after all.



14. The New World (2005)

Terrence Malick's exotic retelling of the Pocohontas story, with an emphasis on naturalism. Colin Farrell is a commanding John Smith and Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, Wes Studi and David Thewlis round out an impressive male supporting cast- but it's the performance by Q'Orianka Kilcher as the Native American princess that truly breathes life into Malick's colorful reimagining of history.



15. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Peter Jackson's first installment in his trilogy was the first mind-blowing cinematic experience I ever had as a child. Suddenly, I had fallen in love with Middle Earth. I wanted to be just like Ian McKellen's Gandalf and do battle with a Balrog, or get in a wizards' duel with Christopher Lee's Saruman. I wanted to be like Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn and come to the rescue of Sean Bean's Boromir at the last second. I wanted to be like Elijah Wood's Frodo and pull Sean Astin's Sam from beneath the lake. Basically, I wanted to go on that quest, and my wavering dream of becoming a filmmaker was confirmed. I still don't understand how Jackson pulled it off. "So do all who live to see such times..."



16. Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut (2005)

Ridley Scott's best film since Blade Runner is also his single great film of this decade. As far as the rest of his twenty-first century output goes, I think that Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and American Gangster are all entertaining but overrated; while Hannibal, A Good Year and Body of Lies are mildly interesting failures. This film, however, is glorious- depending on which cut you see. The original theatrical cut that the studio pressured Scott to deliver initially is little more than a mediocre action flick. The director's cut, however, fleshes out all of the characters and provides us with a glimpse of the passionate vision that was really on Scott's mind. Thus, Orlando Bloom's Balian is a more likable hero; Liam Neeson's Godfrey is a more understandable father figure; and, most importantly, Eva Greene's Sibylla becomes a three-dimensional character, thanks to a subplot involving her struggles to raise a leper son (a subplot that was not in the theatrical cut). Scott and screenwriter William Monahan present us with the ultimate Crusades epic, one that understands the actual value of what a city like Jerusalem is worth: "Nothing. Everything."



17. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Sidney Lumet's brutal, hard-hitting melodrama, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as two of the most repulsive brothers you've ever seen in a film. What starts out as a heist thriller becomes an extremely painful story of the downfall of a normal American family thanks to the misdeeds of the brothers. With the addition of Albert Finney as the brothers' weary old father and Marissa Tomei as the chick who's sleeping with both of them, Lumet gives us a story so vicious, so cold, and so relentlessly nasty that... it's dynamic material. The film has all of the shouting matches of 12 Angry Men, all of the crime devastation of Dog Day Afternoon, all of the satirical elements of Network and all the character flaws of The Verdict. In short, it's the kind of film that Lumet has basically been building up to his whole 85 years of living, and it's nothing short of a powerhouse.



18. Gosford Park (2001)

Robert Altman's whodunit is not so much about the murder at the center of the plot as it is about the first-class people involved in it, and, especially, the lower-class servants who bear witness to the events that follow. All of this is composed in an excellent screenplay by Julian Fellowes, and one wishes he and Altman could have collaborated on more projects. The cast is stellar, but the best performances come by Michael Gough as a pompous beaurecrat who can't keep his hands off his dog; Maggie Smith as his rich, neglected old sister; Helen Mirren as a cold housemaid; and Clive Owen and Ryan Phillipe as male servants who both have mysterious intentions. Sadly, I haven't seen any of Altman's other films from the decade (Dr. T. and the Women, The Company, A Prarie Home Companion), but this one reassures me that he was at his finest hour in the last eight years of his life.



19. Saraband (2005)

Ingmar Bergman's final film is an unofficial sequel to his masterpiece Scenes from A Marriage (1974), bringing back Erland Josephon and Liv Ullmann as Johan and Marianne, who divorced in the earlier film and yet have never been able to break the bonds between them. Bergman's filmmaking remains as towering as ever, and he provides us with tons of memorable sequences: the sudden burst of red that overpowers the frame in the midst of a family brawl; the overhead shot of an abused girl walking across a calm pond and screaming off-camera; and the dreamlike scene of a cello player surrounded by a vast space of white. Through all of the ugly family disputes and the cruelty between father and sons (and fathers and daughters), somehow Bergman's illustration of the relationship between Johan and Marianne is, nevertheless, able to endure. In one scene, Bergman even has both of these elderly people undress for the camera, but reverses the gender politics: Johan undresses in the light, while Marianne undresses in the darkness.



20. Spirited Away (2002)

Hayao Miyazaki's mixture of a little bit of Lewis Carroll and a little bit of Edgar Allan Poe. An adventure, a nightmare, a story of a whiny little girl who learns how to become a better, stronger human being. Many have called it the greatest animated film of all time. Though I don't quite share that exact opinion, I wouldn't try to disagree or anything- as this is most certainly the best animated film of the decade, at the very least.



21. Inland Empire (2006)

David Lynch's... oh, enough of that. What's the point of summarizing a Lynch film, anyway? Lynch's films are about visuals, not words. Questions- not answers. This film in particular is kind of, sort of about actors who become their characters, but enough of the plot. A summary would reduce everything. Just see the damn film! I will add, however, that Laura Dern gives her best performance ever. And Lynch has finally made his point that digital is the new thing.



22. Angels in America (2003)

Mike Nichols' HBO Miniseries adapted by Tony Kushner from his own incomparable play- still the best fictional story ever written about AIDs. Everybody in the cast- Meryl Streep, Ben Shenkman, Patrick Wilson, Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell- is excellent, but most of all I love Al Pacino in his portrayal of the nonfictional Roy Cohn, who is dying of AIDs himself in 1980's Reagan-era America; and is failing in the attempt to clear his name as a committed conservative while covering up his past as a gay man. As far as the rest of Nichols' output this decade goes, I admire Closer and don't care for Charlie Wilson's War, but this film is my favorite of his stuff from this decade. It's probably even my favorite of all of his films. Of course, Kushner's prose helps a great deal. And so does Thomas Newman's angelic score.



23. Gangs of New York (2002)

Martin Scorsese's tough-as-nails epic detailing the greed and gore covering a New York City caught in the middle of the Civil War era, flirting with the kind of corruption to be seen eventually in the Gilded Age that would follow. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are likable as the young leads, but Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as the infamous Bill the Butcher is really what shatters the bones. It is also a tale of revenge, and how vengeance only leads to piles of collateral damage. The one glaring flaw is the superfluous presence of U2 on the soundtrack.



24. King Kong (2005)

Peter Jackson's tribute to Merian C. Cooper is one of the best remakes ever made. Naomi Watts is a fitting successor to Fay Wray (and Jessica Lange), and I even applaud the unorthodox casting of Adrian Brody and Jack Black in the two male action-hero roles. I suppose, though, that the best performance in the film is by Andy Serkis, who follows up on his performance as Smeagol/Gollum in the LOTR films with a digital performance as the mighty Kong. Sure, he only does the movements, but all of that thrashing and chest-beating sure is exciting, isn't it? You gotta love that lengthy fight with the V-Rexes, as well as that icky sequence in which the men find themselves trapped in a giant man-eating-insect infested pit. What matters most, however, is whether or not Kong's relationship with the Watts character gains our affections, and it does.



25. Eastern Promises (2007)

David Cronenberg's visceral, filthy look at the inner-city violence of the Russian mob is a worthy follow-up to A History of Violence. Viggo Mortensen has never been better as the mob's chauffeur, and Naomi Watts gives one of her best performances as the heroine who gets in way over her head- after she takes possession of the baby daughter of one of the mob's rape victims. The great Armin-Muehller Stahl gives a tremendous comeback performance as the don of the mob family, playing him as a seemingly friendly man whose villainous nature takes shape in no time. It's more of a Samuel Fuller-type gangster melodrama than it is a straight-up mob picture. Nice to see such a cinematically-influenced turning point in Cronenberg's career.



26. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Paul Thomas Anderson's Godardian, Altman-esque examination of the crumbling misadventures of Barry Egan (a stellar Adam Sandler), whose boring life and aggravating troubles are salvaged with the intervention of the perfect woman (an equally stellar Emily Watson) whose love proves to be the greatest medicine of all. Anderson literally tells the whole story with his camera, infusing long takes with dreamlike scene transitions to result in a cinematic experience that is purely intoxicating.



27. Finding Nemo (2003)

Andrew Stanton's seductive fish tale is Pixar's most satisfying achievement of the last ten years. Sure, the plot is the same-old, same-old: it's another story about a quest to find and rescue somebody, which is not unlike countless other Disney films before it (not to mention John Lasseter's own Toy Story 2). Yet this film does as remarkable a job as any of putting a unique twist on conventionalism so that the film looks and feels so, so new. The voice talents by Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres and Willem Dafoe are expectedly charming, but what I adore most of all is the animation of the ocean, the coral reefs, and the entire enviornment surrounding Sydney, Australia and beyond. Stanton's Wall-E is another great film from this decade- though I still prefer this film, in terms of visual appearance. Not even James Cameron's films seems to have as much appreciation for the wonders of the deep as this film does. And, again, another angelic musical score by Thomas Newman.



28. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Clint Eastwood's powerful examination of the Japanese point of view during World War II, and a truthful depiction of the Japanese code of honor at the time. Such scenes as the soldiers comitting suicide, one by one- just moments before defeat- introduce us to the side of the war that we're not used to seeing in the other films. Unusually, Eastwood, a Libertarian in real life, is also not afraid to demonize American troops, as he does in a scene where U.S. soldiers murder an unarmed Japanese P.O.W. There is a marvelous performance by Ken Watanabe as a general who holds no grudges against the Americans (indeed, we see him in a flashback joyously chatting with some Americans at a dinner table), but is nevertheless willing to die for his country. Though I admire Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby (and cannot stand Space Cowboys), this is the only Eastwood film from the decade that I admire tremendously.



29. City of God (2003)

Fernando Meirelles' innovative film about the gangs of Rio de Janeiro, in which boys become members of the mob often at incredibly young ages. Most, like L'il Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora), turn predictably to lives of murderous crime. However, Meirelles is more interested in the story of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), who somehow is able to find a life out of this hellish underworld thanks to the miracle of photography. No wonder Robert Altman was a fan of this film.



30. Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog's eye-opening account of the tragic story of Tim Treadwell, the impassioned environmentalist who, after failing to get cast in Woody Harrelson's role on Cheers, turned to a life of activism for wild bears, became so obsessed that he reached the point of wanting to become a bear himself, and ended up being killed and eaten- along with his alienated girlfriend- by a bear that evidently wasn't charmed by his constant interferences with nature. Herzog grants us access to many of Treadwell's video diaries, and we get a laugh out of footage of Treadwell going on an obscene tirade against all the government officials trying to set limits on his prospects. But Herzog makes sure to underline a strong point: that Treadwell's inability to cope with the fact that all creatures abide by a "survival of the fittest" code is what led to his demise.



31. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese's return to the gritty streets and the dealings of the gangs that lurk there has been lampooned in recent times as overrated, largely due to the fact that Scorsese had already been thought to have moved on from this genre. Still, I cherish every single minute of this film, which is thoroughly suspensful and entertaining despite the whacky William Monahan screenplay. Say what you will about the cast: I think that DiCaprio, Nicholson, Damon, Baldwin, Winstone, Wahlberg, Sheen and Vera Farmiga are all top-notch (and who else but Scorsese could assemble such an awesome team of actors?). I like to think of the film as Scorsese's own Touch of Evil- it's like a masterful B movie. Maybe the upcoming Shutter Island will be his The Trial.



32. Femme Fatale (2002)

Brian De Palma's stylish thriller rivals Spielberg's Minority Report for a great modern noir. It starts out as a heist film, then becomes a chase picture, and suddenly- just when you think you know where it's headed- it folds upon itself like a Chinese box and you realize that everything you've just seen is untrue. To its advantage, the film has the only good performances that either Rebecca Romijn or Antonio Banderas have ever given; and there's even a nice role for Peter Coyote as a rich guy caught in between the conflict. Like his underrated previous film, Mission to Mars, De Palma also places a female in the heroic role, proving once and for all that he's no misogynist. The film gets a little silly towards the end, but that's forgivable. When De Palma is the one getting silly, it means you're in for a real treat. And after all, isn't it just fine when a pair of sparkling, blinding diamonds end up playing an unconventional role at the last minute?



33. Ratatouille (2007)

Brad Bird's perky celebration of cooking is the most original film Pixar has ever released. Who knew an animated film about food could be so amazing? It's got the adult wit of Bird's The Incredibles, but it's actually a superior film because Bird retains a little bit of that childlike point of view he used with 1999's The Iron Giant as well. Along with that, there are some nice camera and crane shots that feel like they've come right out of Hitchcock or Welles. Or De Palma.



34. Road to Perdition (2002)

Sam Mendes' absorbing gangster tale is rather Oedipus Rexian in its structure, which is why I cherish it so. Tom Hanks takes upon the antiheroic role of Michael Sullivan, a hitman who is forced to flee with his young son after the rest of his family is slaughtered by order of his own mentor, John Rooney (Paul Newman in one of his last great performances). In some ways this is the Spielbergian mob movie that Spielberg never directed- as Mendes casts future Spielberg stars (Hanks, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci) in many of the key roles, and also employs familiar Spielbergian elements like a touching musical score (by Thomas Newman) and expert cinematography (by the late Conrad Hall); not to mention he tells a heartwarming story about the struggling bond between a father and son. I should probably also voice the admiration I have for Mendes' Revolutionary Road, another film from this decade about an American Dream that graphically dissolves in front of the very eyes of the family that tries to live it.



35. The Lives of Others (2006)

Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck's remarkable study of Communist East Germany during the pre-Gorbachev days in the 1980's, when the Secret Police wired the apartments of all suspected individuals. For fear of giving away this film's important plot secrets, I will say no more.



36. Cast Away (2000)

Robert Zemeckis' marvelous survival picture, starring Tom Hanks in perhaps the bravest performance of his career as Chuck Nolan, whose FedEx plane crashes in the ocean and who spends the next 4 years building fires, talking to a volleyball, splitting his hand open, slicing out an infectious tooth, and so on. I admire this film because of Zemeckis' audacity to revive the days of D.W. Griffith- he comes about as close as any filmmaker ever has in the last twenty years in giving us a silent epic. Still, there's more to the film than just the survival elements. When Nolan returns home, only to find that his girlfriend (Helen Hunt) is now married with children, he is forced to deal with another type of survival. It's the best film Zemeckis has ever made.



37. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Peter Jackson's second installment in the LOTR trilogy is unquestionably the darkest and nastiest of the three films. I thought long and hard about keeping it off this list, since I wondered if it holds up as an individual film as well as the two climatic films that bookend it. Then I watched it again recently, and realized that it most certainly does: where the first film was about discovery and personal obligation, this subsequent film is summarized in the words of Sam: "...there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for." From what I hear, screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens invented that line on the spot, and it is a stroke of genius. It justifies the need for this film to exist before moving on to the overwhelming extremities of the third film.



38. Bug (2007)

William Friedkin's grueling adaptation of Tracy Letts' play, starring Michael Shannon as a peculiar man who walks into the life of a redneck woman (Ashley Judd) and turns her world upside-down. It's a gritty, disturbing film about paranoia, human agitation, and conspiracy theories- and Shannon and Judd's performances are so extraordinary, they almost seem impossible. A strong comeback for Friedkin, who combines the fast-paced energy of his The French Connection and the nightmarish horrors of his The Exorcist to result in something so wrenching, it's scary.



39. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)

Martin Scorsese's four-hour documentary was the film that opened up my appreciation for Dylan's music. We see his pretentious, self-absorbed side and his poetic side, and as a result we're able to formulate some sort of final opinion on him, ambiguities and all. What's more, it's refreshing to hear Joan Baez' side of the story, as she gushes about her "discovery" of Dylan before he became famous, only to seethe in anger about his refusal to allow her to sing with him on tour. Combine it all and you'll be screaming for Scorsese to make a sequel detailing Dylan's life after the 1960's (this film stops at 1966).



40. Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006)

Tom Twyker's romantic, shadowy serial killer picture is the most absorbing of its kind since Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Twyker, like Fernando Meirelles, is a master of fast cuts and handheld camerawork. At the same time, he uses widescreen to an exotic effect, at times evoking the films of Milos Foreman in his illustration of an 18th-France plagued by a serial killer with a fetish for the scent of female virgins. Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman are superb as always as two professional men unlucky enough to cross paths with the young killer.



41. Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Steven Spielberg's first collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio and second collaboration with Tom Hanks. As he did with Minority Report (and would also do later with the underrated The Terminal), Spielberg poses questions about America's national security system and how exactly we are supposed to deal with domestic criminals running around the country. Only, this time, Spielberg does what he did earlier with his career in The Sugarland Express (1974), and actually takes the point of view of the criminal himself, in a more personal attempt to see what went wrong. Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson only go so far as to suggest that divorce and family issues were what drove DiCaprio's Frank Abagnale away from home and into a life of check forging, and they go no further- a wise decision, if I may add. It's one of Spielberg's funniest films, but also in some ways the most effective response to his own childhood: the scene in which Abagnale reunites with his weak father (Christopher Walken, never better) evokes Spielberg's relationship with his father, WWII veteran Arnold Spielberg. Until this film, the conflicts of their real-life relationship never felt so present.



42. The Proposition (2006)

John Hillcoat's resurrection of the Western genre is a dark, violent story that preaches an antiviolent message. It's my favorite kind of Western, and one that John Huston and Sam Peckinpah would no doubt be proud of. Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, a gunslinger who is forced to find and kill his escaped convict brother, Arthur Burns (a badass Danny Huston, obviously channeling his late father) in order to spring his other brother from jail and execution. The supporting cast is irresistable: Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, David Wenham, and a wild-eyed John Hurt- how can you say no to that? Hillcoat's other film from this decade- the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road- is another highly recommended antiviolent film set in a country overrun by terrifying carnage.



43. Vera Drake (2004)

Mike Leigh's blistering, improvisatory drama of conservative England is headed by a performance by Imelda Staunton in the title role that is arguably the decade's greatest female performance. Leigh has all the energy and radicalism of a filmmaker like Peter Watkins, and takes advantage of it to tell a story that confronts the issue of abortion head-on. Equally recommended is Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh's followup film starring Sally Hawkins in a completely different role as an eternal optimist. She also appears in this film, in a parallel story as a rich girl who seeks to get an abortion directly from government officials- while Staunton's Vera Drake, who thrives in the lower classes, is cruelly punished for helping commit the same type of crime.



44. A Serious Man (2009)

Joel and Ethan Coen's examination of the troubled, Kafkaesque life and times of Larry Gopnik (a splendid Michael Stuhlbarg) was the best film of 2009. The film is definately a black comedy, and most of the laughs come at the expenses of Larry's misfortunes. That being said, it is not a 100% bleak film, and the Coens offer at least a glimmer of hope towards the end, when Larry makes peace with his embittered wife to join hands for their son's bar-mitzvah. And as they did with No Country for Old Men, the Coens conclude on a very mystifying note. Here is a film about a man's demons that somehow exorcises our own.



45. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ang Lee's film of E. Annie Proulx' tale of Ennis and Jack, two homosexual cowboys who find it impossible to have a life together in a part of the country where gay men are known to be killed for their orientations. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal give the performances of their careers, and Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are just as fantastic as their wives, both of whom are confused with how exactly to deal with the strange friendship between their husbands. I like all of the films Lee has made this decade so far- Hulk and Lust, Caution are both highly interesting experiments, and I have a lot of affection for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well. Yet I consider this to be his defining film- never before has he made a film that deals so poetically, and painfully, with such a bemusing love and loss.



46. Sideways (2004)

Alexander Payne's refreshing romantic comedy is, to quote Owen Gleiberman, the best of its kind since Annie Hall. Before I saw the film, I read the novel by Rex Pickett, which I found mediocre and ridiculously over-the-top. Payne and Jim Taylor, however, make it more realistic and true. Not only do they really bring Paul Giamatti's Miles and Thomas Hayden Church's Jack to life as living, breathing, wine-drinking men, but they make an even greater change with Virginia Madsen's Maya, giving her a monologue about her interpretation of a bottle of wine as "alive" that takes the film to a different level entirely. It's a decidedly more optimistic film than Payne and Taylor's previous work- the excellent Jack Nicholson vehicle About Schmidt (and obviously a more fully realized vision than their hammy screenplay for Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III)- but like many of this decade's finest comedies, it also has a darker edge to some of its humor. On the downside, the film appears to have seriously hurt the Merlot industry!



47. The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Noah Baumbach's bitter, funny chronicle of an intellectual family that is forced to feel the stinging effects of divorce. As one who has witnessed many of the exact kinds of domestic arguments and differences that occur between the Berkmans (Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney), this film really struck a nerve in me. It is also a great film about literature, most notably in the way that the Berkmans' son, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) attempts to use the lessons about Dickens and Kafka taught to him by his father to use in his daily life with his girlfriend (and does a lousy job at it). The film was written and directed by Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson, and it's a collaborative effort that results in something far more brilliantly wicked than anything else they've done together.



48. Match Point (2005)

Woody Allen's Bergmanesque parable about how a burned-out tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) gains access to the high life, is forced into a corner after getting involved in a situation of infidelity with his best friend's girl (a stunning Scarlett Johanson), is driven to murder, and is aided by a little luck. This is definitely not you average Allen fare (it feels like Crimes and Misdemeanors without the comic relief), but it elevates Allen to one of the most beautiful stages of his career. There is even a nod to Cries and Whispers, when a character begins having a conversation with ghosts from the past. I'd like to think that this makes Allen the new Bergman.



49. The Statement (2003)

Norman Jewison's exciting international thriller, starring Michael Caine (in his best performance of the decade) as Pierre Brossard, an aged Nazi who is on the run in France and who is being sheltered by- what else?- extremist members of the Roman Catholic Church. The film has all of the energy of the legendary Jewison's previous work: the social-thriller elements of In the Heat of the Night and A Soldier's Story; the ultraviolence of Rollerball; and the lovely cinematography of both Moonstruck and Only You. This film actually gets off to an amazing start, from the moment when Brossard kills a stalker, stuffs him in a car, pushes it off a cliff and watches sweatingly as it tumbles down and slowly disappears into the trees- a nice Hitchcockian touch on Jewison's part. The other cast members include Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam as the Judge and Lieutenant out to find and arrest Brossard; Alan Bates as a government official who tries to put a stop to their case; and Charlotte Rampling as Brossard's wife, who is given a scare when he invades her home in a desperate seek for sanctuary. To be sure, the screenplay by Ronald Harwood has a lot of problems: we're never quite sure who the secret mercenaries out to find and assassinate Brossard are (are they fellow Nazis, or are they members of a Jewish commando?), and the film's political message is rather hard to determine. In the end, I consider it a flawed great film, thanks to the complex performance by Caine, as well as the expert direction by Jewison, who has apparently retired from directing. If so, this was a fitting close.



50. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Charlie Kaufman's wonderful, dreamlike story of Caden Cotard, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a playwright who spends 17 years preparing for a play that nobody ever goes to see. In the course of the film, he draws hundreds of people into his world, and at some point the line between reality and fantasy really begins to blur: the film reaches a point where we can no longer discerne what is going on- and how beautifully it does so. Like Coppola's Youth Without Youth, it's an intelligent film about the process of unnatural aging (in the same year, Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released, and proves to be pathetic competition next to both films). And I don't remember the last time I loved a Kaufman screenplay as much as this one. Roger Ebert has called it the best film of the decade, a sentiment that makes perfect sense.

You know what? I feel like I've grown fifty years older just typing all of this, actually.

31 comments:

  1. Oh my, so many wonderful films. I was actually just having a discussion with someone about Kingdom of Heaven's director's cut: it's a brilliant way of tackling the religious fervor that inflames both sides of the ideological line in our current conflicts by showing, ultimately, how little is changed. The men on the ground are swayed by rhetoric, yet the leaders maintain a certain level of civility with each other, hollow as it may be (a clear reflection of our alliance with Saudi Arabia despite policies that are every bit as regressive and downright repugnant as the regimes we toppled). I'm trying to think of a more revelatory director's cut (true director's cuts, not something like the restorations of The Big Red One or Touch of Evil) and I'm drawing a blank.

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  2. Was that the conversation you were having with Tony over at Cinema Viewfinder? You made a very excellent case for the film! The director's cut most certainly clarifies the civility of the leaders, too- although in some ways it even makes them more brutal at times (as when Saladin not only slits Reynald of Chatillon's throat, but even proceeds to cut his head off!). I don't remember the last time Scott made a film so fiercly in tune with the political times. Or so surreal.

    Many thanks for your comments, Jake.

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  3. Great stuff, Adam, no matter how much I may disagree with some of the inclusions (guess what they are, get a cookie!), and even then with your wonderfully detailed yet brief capsule reviews you flesh out your stance well enough that I can't complain, and I'm a complainer by nature.

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  4. Ryan, I'm always happy when you stop by here. I've been trying to rival your own website, but it's no use- yours is still more popular!!!!

    But unfortunately, I may never get that cookie you've promised me, since I'm not sure I can name all of the titles you and I differ on. I know we're at odds on Redacted, The Proposition, A Serious Man and the LOTR sequels... what else? There may be something I put in there without QUITE realizing it was going to make you wince at the monitor. Haha.

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  5. Very nice Adam!

    Spielberg's newest films seem to be having a renaissance in critical circles. I wasn't impressed by Munich. It was so even-handed that it was a bit wishy-washy for me.

    Many films on here I disliked (there will be blood, pianist, aviator, lord of the rings etc.) and of course many I like (Match Point, Inland Empire, Eastern Promises).

    My top 10 would be:

    1 The New World
    2 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    3 Three Times
    4 Spirited Away
    5 Notre Musique
    6 A.I.
    7 Mulholland Drive
    8 Antichrist
    9 A Tale of Two Sisters
    10 Miami Vice

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  6. Stephen,

    Your comment about Munich being "even-handed" is startling to me because I am more used to hearing the exact opposite criticism: that the film has a political bias. George Jonas (author of Vengeance, the book that inspired the film) has charged that the movie is anti-Israeli; while several Palestinian minorities insist that the film is anti-Palestinian. It is clear that the film struck millions of nerves, and sometimes people took it the wrong way.

    Ironically, the person who has most successfully countered these criticisms is Spielberg himself, who said in an interview with Roger Ebert:

    "I am as truly pro-Israeli as you can possibly imagine. From the day I became morally and politically conscious of the importance of the state of Israel and its necessity to exist, I have believed that not just Israel, but the rest of the world, needs Israel to exist.

    "But there is a constituency that nothing you can say or do will ever satisfy. The prism through which they see things is so profound and deeply rooted and so much a part of their own belief system that if you challenge that, you challenge everything they believe in. They say the film is too critical of Israel. The film has been shown to Palestinians who think it is too pro-Israel and doesn't give the them enough room to air their grievances.

    "I guess what I'm trying to say is, if this movie bothers you, frightens you, upsets you, maybe it's not a good idea to ignore that. Maybe you need to think about why you're having that reaction."

    About your own list, I thought long and hard about seeing Mann's Miami Vice, since friends of mine keep insisting that it is some kind of masterpiece. I was skeptical about those claims, but now that you've voiced praise, I know it's a must-see! And I truly regret not being able to see Godard's Notre Musique. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it anywhere.

    I can understand your dislike for The Aviator and LOTR. However, what do you dislike about The Pianist and There Will Be Blood? To me those are the kinds of perfectly constructed films that are hard to not admire; I'd be curious to know what you thought to be wrong with them.

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  7. I am pleased to report that our respective lists share many films! I'm truly glad to see that someone else recognizes "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" for what it is. Far too many people decry that film based upon what they felt it ought to have done or sought to accomplish, instead of what it actually does. (which I think is quite remarkable, affecting, and beautiful)

    However, I'm puzzled by the inclusion of "Gangs of New York" and "King Kong." The former I give credit for attempting to achieve greatness, but felt that it fell short in its execution. The latter, on the other hand? I think that I shall have to use the most academic of all possible words to describe my reaction to the film. Ug.

    As for "Match Point" being Woody's most serious film since "Interiors," have you seen "September" or "Another Woman?"

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  8. Adam,

    The inclusion of Gangs of New York (and, I might as well admit, the inclusion of The Departed as well) stem from my helpless stance as a Scorsese fanboy. All the same, because I'm an impassioned American history buff, I just got giddy at Scorsese reinventing the pre-Gilded Age, which rarely ever gets a cinematic treatment. Though I do agree that GONY falls short of being the ULTIMATE movie (I doubt I would even be able to fit it in Scorsese's top ten achievements), I still think that it's a pretty damn awesome movie... until the U2 song starts playing in the end credits. That just broke the fabric of the whole thing!

    My love for King Kong goes back to my appreciation for Jackson's total boldness to go out on a limb as as a good old-fashioned storyteller. The lack of cynicism in that movie (as well as the lack of cynicism in the LOTR trilogy) is simply refreshing! I love a good adventure epic that dares to be something more than a crowd pleaser. The James Newton Howard score is really the kind of music that sweeps one off of their feat.

    My only regret is what's not in the film: Jackson had originally wanted Fay Wray to deliver that final "beauty killed the beast" line... wouldn't that have been priceless? Unfortunately, Fay Wray died before that could be made possible, so the line went to Jack Black instead. Disregarding that, I think the film truly belongs alongside Always (1989) as one of the few great American remakes of an American classic.

    Also, thanks for the Allen correction. Truth be told, I haven't seen either September or Another Woman; in fact, I've barely even heard of them! It's probably because of Allen's immense career output: there's just SO MANY FUCKING MOVIES. I could only name about fifteen of his films off the top of my head!

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  9. Very interesting list - and I like the fact that you didn't try to be "even-handed" and openly selected multiple films from your favorite directors.

    Except for Peter Jackson - King Kong I consider a three-hour piece of garbage - it's one of the films that stopped me from going to theaters anymore. But hey...

    As for Munich, I quite liked it but never saw it as the masterpiece many acclaimed; rather, an intriguing, often compelling, occasionally overrought political thriller that appealed to my taste but was not Spielberg's trongest film. After all the praise, I'm interested in revisiting it, however.

    I was not able to read all your capsules (hopefully I'll return to read more) but while browsing I came across the first line of your Fellowship of the Rings blurb, which this website irritatingly will not let me cut and paste.

    I'm only twenty-six but damn, that made me feel old! How old are you, anyway - eleven?!

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  10. Movieman,

    Lol. I'm nineteen. But you have to understand, I saw Fellowship of the Ring when I was ten years old, and up until that point I had never really gone to see a movie and almost pass out from its epic-ness on the big screen.

    Oh, sure, I had had some nice cinematic experiences before then: I remember seeing Dante's Small Soldiers and Lasseter's Toy Story 2 in theaters, for example, and thinking they were both pretty cool. And of course, on the side I ate up junk like Stephen Sommers' remake of The Mummy (as well as its 2001 sequel). Enjoyed every idiotic minute of it.

    Also, A.I.. But at the time, if you would have asked me which film was better- Fellowship of the Ring or A.I.- I would have chosen FOTR; because even though I had tremendously enjoyed Spielberg's film I admit that a lot of the complexities in the screenplay had flown right over my head (like everyone else, I had assumed that the Supermechas were "aliens"). And honestly, I still think that FOTR would provide the more satisfying theatrical experience, since those films are best experienced in a cinema. As Ryan writes over at his own blog on FOTR, it was a relief to be witnessing a film that huge and satisfying in the wake of something as dreadful as 9/11 (though Ryan perhaps had even more reason to be thankful for the experience, since he lives in New York City- and I live in St. Louis).

    Of course, I do believe that A.I. holds up today as the superior individual film. I couldn't have said that at the time, as much of a fan of Spielberg as I was.

    Films like Munich appear to be painfully appropriate during this year, when President Obama has just sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan amidst cries that he's never going to "end terrorism", since terrorism can never end. Kushner and Spielberg point that out in their film, but they also weigh in on the options we have as citizens trying to defend our country. How should we respond to terrorism? Myself, since I live in Missouri- the state of Harry Truman- I'm a Truman sort of liberal who thinks it's important to take care of all the left-wing necessities (health care, unions, the poor), but at the same time I don't want terrorists to walk all over us. Perhaps the #1 reason why I love a film like Munich is because it gets people talking. There's little I detest more than apathy, but this film does what a great political film should do, and stabs apathy in the heart.

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  11. I am the strange cinephile who's not a big fan of Scorsese. It's not that I dislike his films, but I've often gotten the feeling that his stuff is somewhat overrated. I feel that Raging Bull, however, is an altogether different story. It's his masterpiece.

    While I'm certainly not the final authority on his work, I have seen about half of Woody's films, and would be happy to help out if you need recommendations. I love his work. Though it might sound silly to say this, it makes me happy, you know? There have been more than one time in my life that something I have been thinking about/dealing with has been encompassed in one of his films. I feel the richer for having shared the experience with someone, even if that someone is a filmmaker who I will probably never meet.

    Did you ever see my "Best of the Decade" list? It might have slipped past you, as my co-writer began a huge retrospective soon after I published it. It's at http://everythingyoualwayswantedtoknow.blogspot.com/2009/12/no-bull-no-chaser-just-best-films-of.html

    All the best,
    -Adam

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  12. Adam, I find it startling that people don't see Munich as a morally relativist 'we're all good we're all bad' washout.

    The Pianist and There Will Be Blood are typical of Oscar nominees in having a smarmy and empty veneer of IMPORTANCE. The acting is poor, the cinematography dreary, the story uninvolving. The wordless opening and silly ending to TWBB were so ludicrous in their banal artistic pretensions and the whole of the Pianist reeks of easy fake emotion.

    Sorry to come across harsh. I don't like the films but that doesn't mean you don't argue your side very well.

    Femme Fatale is great. It has so much manic creative energy.

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  13. To date I've seen seven of Allen's movies (Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Hannah and Her Sisters, Match Point, Whatever Works), and I like all of them. Still, as great of a filmmaker as he is, I don't always jump at the chance to see one of his movies; it's really just because his forte is usually comedy, which, if you could probably tell from this list, is my least favorite genre. Of course, Sleeper makes me laugh out loud whenever I see it.

    Didn't know you had a list of your own, Adam! I'm gonna look at it right now.

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  14. Stephen,

    Why do you think Munich should be defined in those black and white terms? Your argument isn't a new one, to be sure; I've heard this from other people who think that Spielberg's film is little more than a Rodney King-type parable that's asking everybody to get along. I've never thought it was that simple.

    Some people think that the film tries to be so neutral about the conflict that it refuses to take sides. I very much disagree- reading the comments that Spielberg has made, I am sure he believes that the film takes Israel's side before anyone else's (as for Kushner, that's another story; knowing his socialist politics and his admissions of having "a problem with a Jewish state", he's probably more in tune with the Rodney King rhetoric you're referring to).

    I need to turn you to something else Spielberg said in that same telephone interview with Ebert:

    "There was an article in USA Today by a Los Angeles rabbi, accusing me of 'blind pacifism.' That's interesting, because there is not any kind of blind pacifism within me anywhere, or in 'Munich.' I feel there was a justified need to respond to the terrorism in Munich, which is why I keep replaying images of the Munich massacre throughout the movie.

    "In 1972, when Black September used the Olympics to announce themselves to the world, they broke all the rules and broke the boundaries of that conflict. Israel had to respond, or it would have been perceived as weak. I agree with Golda Meir's response. The thing you have to understand is, Munich is in Germany. And these were Jews dying all over again in Germany. For Israel, it was a national trauma. The Avner character, in the end, simply questions whether the response was right.

    "Sometimes a response can provoke unintended consequences. The Rush character and Avner's mother reply. But people feel my voice is represented in Avner. The movie says I don't have an answer. I don't know anyone else who does. But I do know that the dialogue needs to be louder than the weapons.
    "

    Again, I think that the film takes Israel's side, but that doesn't mean Spielberg doesn't have his reservations about some of Israel's policies- and it certainly doesn't mean he has any prejudice against Palestinians.

    So, Munich can't really be defined as an ordinary prayer for peace. It's definately an angry, red-blooded film that doesn't want something like terrorism to be tolerated. That being said, Spielberg most certainly wants Israel (as well as the United States- in terms of the two wars we're fighting in) to proceed, but with elevated caution.

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  15. Stephen (con't),

    Your criticisms about the acting and the ending of There Will Be Blood are both valid. For me, they were exhilerating- perhaps because the film was released in the same season as No Country for Old Men and I was seriously on a sugar high for that sort of material (and in some ways I still am!). I'm not so sure why the cinematography of the film bothers you, though; to me it was the most grandeur use of celluloid since Kubrick. Just curious: what do you think of P.T. Anderson as a whole? I find that the film is even more enriching the more you're familiar with his (albeit small) filmography.

    About The Pianist, how is it guilty of "fake emotion"? Whatever emotions are present in that film feel like they are warranted. Personally, I feel that if you weigh the fact that Polanski, like Wladyslaw Spzilman, lost family to the Holocaust, it makes the experience of the film truly wrenching. Remember also that when Polanski was in the concentration camps, he ended up like Spzilman at one point and had to wander around Warsaw by himself. And to go back to the film itself, what about Adrien Brody's performance? The way he transforms from a healthy, slender artist to a starving, unshaven bum who has to wear a Nazi coat just to keep warm is totally unlike anything Brody had ever done before.

    But I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around your claim that the film feels "fake"... over at Time magazine, Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss said the exact opposite: "We admire this film for its harsh objectivity and refusal to seek our tears, our sympathies."

    No doubt there are a lot of Holocaust films out there (Life is Beautiful, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) that reek of false emotion and were made less because of care for the subject and more as an attempt at pure Oscar chasing. But The Pianist is hardly one of those films; and Polanski's personal traumas with the subject are all the more reason as to why any emotions that one might receive from the film are there for a good reason. I am curious to know which kinds of films on the Holocaust you find to be more honest in their emotional effect.

    Totally with you on Femme Fatale. As I noted in my capsule, I think the ending is ridiculous, but then again I'd expect that from De Palma. What do you think of his other films from this decade? For me, Redacted and Femme Fatale are both masterpieces, while Mission to Mars- while seriously flawed in a few parts of its script- has a visual and intellectual genius of its own. The only film of his from this decade that I'm not feeling the love for is The Black Dahlia; but I've talked to some hardcore De Palma aficionados who insist it's an unsung gem, so that has definately resurrected my interest!

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  16. The discussion thread really took off here, and I'm happy to finally be here. (I've had a very difficult week health-wise) I think we are in agreement maybe 10 times of the 50 spots, which all things considered is pretty good. I particularly applaud your #2 choice - A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and your #5 THE RETURN OF THE KING. (which I had at the same position).

    THE LIVES OF OTHERS, INLAND EMPIRE, VERA DRAKE, THE NEW WORLD, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, all exemplary choices. Even three I didn't choose here, RATATOUILLE, SARABAND and GOSFORD PARK are most deserving choices.

    Geez, Adam, 19 years old. Wow. You have some background for that age.

    Great great list.

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  17. Sam, it's such a pleasure to be hearing your thoughts. Actually, I've decided that I'm going to be swapping There Will Be Blood and Return of the King's positions; I will now put ROTK at #4, and TWBB at #5. The change is going into effect because I revisited ROTK just minutes ago and forgot how timeless of a cinematic experience it is whenever I see it. And it strikes a more personal note for me than TWBB does, which is the most important reason as to why I'm going to raise it a notch higher.

    And I'm really sorry about your health- hope you recover soon!

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  18. Adam, I'm not bothered about Spielberg (or rather the film) not taking sides. My problem is that he takes everyone's side until the film is basically just saying 'stop being such bad boys - violence breeds violence don't you know'.

    I do not know nearly enough about the situation to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestine but I do know dramatic whitewash when I see it applied so liberally.

    I feel There Will Be Blood is one of those films that cannot distinguish between a beautiful / striking thing and a beautiful / striking image, cannot distinguish between a grand view and grand cinematic backdrop. There is a difference, a nebulous quality certain directors have and others don't. For example a sunrise is beautiful in real life but when it becomes a cinematic image (like in Silent Light) it does not necessarily have the same effect. Subconsciously our mindset, when presented with this filtered alternate reality, is different.

    The Pianist has long faded from my memory except for the general thrust of what I felt. I really am not sure what these Holocaust dramas are aiming for when I see no new or important perspective being put forth. This tragic period in history is too often used as an easy springboard to theatrical emotion.

    Whether Polanski personally suffered is really by-the-by.

    The ending of Femme Fatale is ridiculous, in that it made me laugh. I enjoyed the ending. It forces an overarching meaning in a way that is silly and exciting. The opening Cannes scene is mesmerising.

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  19. But again, Stephen, I disagree with you when you charge that Munich is as pacifist as you say it is. Remember that in one of the earlier scenes in the film, Golda Meir specifically says, "forget peace for now. We need to show them we're strong."

    I don't necessarily agree with your claim that Spielberg "takes everyone's side", either. Yes, Ebert said something on those lines in his own review of the film, but Spielberg only sympathizes with the Palestinians to the point of knowing that they deserve some of the real estate that was taken from them after WWII. That's common sense.

    The rest of the film is pretty pro-Israeli. It's true that the film's final shot (of the World Trade Center) is trying to make a case that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has spawned tons of collateral damage in the events since Black September- but Spielberg underlines this fact simply because it is the right thing to do. As much as the film supports Israel more than it supports the Palestinians, it shouldn't appear to be a call for inciting violence.

    It's a film that asks for peace in our lifetimes, to be certain. But Spielberg also recognizes that there are times, like now, when the idea of peace is a little unreasonable.

    I hate to keep going on like this, but I definately think that The Pianist has a unique purpose as a motion picture. I don't think it's fair to say that Polanski's own personal connection to the Holocaust is "by-the-by" because in some ways the parallels between Polanski and Spzilman's survival story echo one of the film's possible messages.

    Polanski's mother died in a gas chamber, and Spzilman's entire family perished. Both Polanski and Spzilman escaped concentration camps and had to wander for days before being rescued. But- and I'm going to get to the point, I promise- as they got older, they found salvation through one thing: art. Even though it didn't erase any memories, it at least helped them find a way out of utter despair. That isn't a springboard for easy emotion, if you ask me; I can't think of another film that offers those words, as subtle as they may be in their delivery.

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  20. Man, your Spielberg groupie attitude is really taking something away from this potentially fine page.

    Also, Munich was arguably his dullest movie (along with Amistad), and the second example of him stealing (or, for the more sentive of you out there, adapting) Michael Mann's atrocious filmmaking aesthetic. Disgusting.

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  21. Ah, goloven. Good to see you. Hey, how are things at the Roman Polanski IMDB boards? Is shit stilll hitting the fan over there? Also, are you as pumped for The Ghost Writer as I am?

    And someday you'll be a Spielberg groupie like the rest of us. Maybe we need to convert you... or something.

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  22. Nah, I'm too old for all this shit (5 years older than you, in fact). I just know that Spielberg's homogenized good white all-American boy approach to cinema is not my cup of bergamot tea.

    Having said that, I love Always (much better film than A Guy Named Joe), and I won't be ashamed to include it in the list of my favorite movies.

    Can't bloody wait to see The Ghost Writer, though I'm not too big on Brosnan. Let's hope Romie found a way to put him to good use.

    Did you watch Mississippi Siren, by the way?

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  23. Did I watch what? You'll have to refresh my memory... because I don't even know what Mississippi Siren is.

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  24. La sirene du Mississippi (1969), a Truffaut picture with Jean-Paul Belmondo (in one of his best performances) and Catherine Deneuve. I recommended it to you a while back on the Polanski board.

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  25. Ohhh. I thought you recommended The Last Metro (which is another one I'm planning on seeing- I promise!).

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  26. i'm agree with you dude ...

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  27. Great list thank you!

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  28. Wow excellent choice of films. There are quite a few I haven't seen & will be sure to check them out. Good taste

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  29. Adam

    I am following your suggestions for some time now and saw some of the films you liked. Thank you for your good work.

    I have a question though. No Christopher Nolan film in your top 50?

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  30. Yeah you have a great COLLECTIONS OF MOVIES!! I liked this collection very much. Angels in America is my  greatest films ever . I have seen this movie several times and my favorite actor Justin Kirk worked in this movie.

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  31. WOW!! This is such a huge list of best movies. I was searching for the term Top 10 movies and I found your blog. You have done a phenomenal job indeed!! Thanks for providing this big list and refreshing our minds. Keep publishing the good work!!

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