Friday, December 18, 2009

Favorite films of the decade: Part 2

Welcome to part two of my look back at my 21 favorite films of the first decade of the 21st century.

“Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
Imagine a British romantic comedy with a slacker trying to win his ex-girlfriend back. Nothing special, right? Now add zombies into the mix. This is the movie that introduced American audiences, to the joys of Simon Pegg and his best mate on and off camera, Nick Frost. They are a dynamic comedic duo in a genre parody that doesn’t forget to create characters that we actually care about.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2” (2004)
Quentin Tarantino's tribute to chopsocky films and spaghetti westerns was originally one very long film, but in an attempt to make more money the film was split in two.“Vol. 2” is the more talky of the two with a brilliantly charismatic performance by David Carradine. What started out as just stylish fun in “Vol. 1” becomes surprisingly affecting by the end of “Vol. 2.”

“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
The film was advertised as a madcap road movie and a parody of beauty contests, but this look at a dysfunctional family runs deeper. The idiosyncratic family is believably brought to life by Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Toni Collette. This is a feel-good film that mines its humor from reality and the sort of movie that will make you laugh and cry, maybe even at the same time.

“Pan's Labyrinth” (2006)
Thanks to “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter,” this was the decade that saw the return of the fantasy film. For me, though, this is the best example of the genre. A girl escapes to a dark, scary fantasy world that is still more appealing than reality: fascist Spain in 1944. The endlessly imaginative writer/director Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a fairy tale in the original, slightly twisted tradition. It is a disturbing, but beautiful film.

“Stranger Than Fiction” (2006)
“Saturday Night Live” alum Will Ferrel became a big star early on in the decade in comedies like “Anchorman” and “Elf,” but here he reveals he can be more than just a goof. The ingenious premise has a man hearing a woman (Emma Thompson) narrating his life. The film is funny and features a sweet romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal, but it is also thoughtful and philosophical in surprising and moving ways.

“Children of Men” (2006)
Few films of the decade struck me as profoundly as this one. This is science fiction deeply rooted in reality and a cautionary tale of weight and depth. In the future, women have become infertile, but hope comes from the first pregnancy in 18 years. Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore and others desperately fight to bring the mother to a safe haven. It isn't easy viewing, but absolutely rewarding in the end.

“No Country For Old Men” (2007)
The Coen Brothers, the quirky filmmakers behind such films as “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski,” serve up an extremely faithful reworking of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man who stumbles upon a satchel of money from a drug deal gone wrong and the unrelenting killer that comes after him. With Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem created one of the most memorable villains of this decade, or any decade for that matter.

“Juno” (2007)
In this fresh and endearing comedy, a smart, sardonic 16-year-old (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant and decides to give the baby up for a adoption to a seemingly perfect couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). Some claim the film’s dialogue is too clever, but it is all about the delivery and the fantastic Page nails the tone. The film inches up on the predictable, but takes a sharp left into an ending that is completely satisfying.

“Across the Universe” (2007)
The musical genre was revived thanks to the success of films like “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago,” but this is the one I keep returning to. A musical comprised entirely of Beatles songs is a dangerous endeavor to undertake, and, while Julie Taymor’s film is flawed, it is also ambitious, visually stunning and has flashes of brilliance. The film is a joy for Beatles fan, with re-interpretations of classic songs that are at times thrilling.

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
This was the decade of the superhero movie with “Iron Man” the “X-Men” and “Spiderman” all getting worthy adaptations, but “The Dark Knight” stands above the rest. The second film in director Christopher Nolan's reboot of the “Batman” franchise is a fully realized crime epic that deepens previously presented themes. The film is fueled by the late Heath Ledger’s extraordinary performance as the Joker, a performance that is the stuff of legends.

“Up” (2009)
Pixar Animation has the most consistent track of any film company working today with each film better than the last. “Up” stars a grumpy widower (Ed Asner), who when threatened with a retirement home uses thousands of balloons to convert his home into a flying house and sets off to South America. The film is bright and funny, but has an emotional resonance that few animated films achieve.

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