Another year, another list. After hours of cramming movies, I’ve come to what I think to be a list of ten great movies. I haven’t been able to see everything I oughta have before making this list, like Broken Embraces, Doctor Parnassus, A Single Man or the White Ribbon. And I’d like to cheat and mention three more films â€“ (500) Days of Summer, The Box and Tokyo Sonata â€“ as my almost-made-it-picks. They’re not far from the top ten, and on another day they just might make it. I also need to clarify that the picture to your right is most definitely intended to be sarcasm.
But with all that aside, let’s begin.
It’s not exactly breaking news when Pixar delivers a great film. But there’s a lot to be said of Up in that it’s by far the most imaginative effort from the guys who created entire universes run by cars and monsters. Up, more than anything else put out by the powerhouse, has crazy, thoroughly unrealistic elements thrown in for no apparent or necessary reason. So whey are they there? I don’t know that there is (or has to be) a reason, but what makes Up what it is is the supreme joy it takes in inventing all of its fantastical beasts, flying homes and talking dogs, without ever feeling unnatural. It’s an utter pleasure to watch, and just another reason why Pixar is the greatest force for good in Hollywood.
Leave it to Spike Jonze to give us an anti-climactic monster movie. But that shouldn’t scare anyone away from Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze’s emotionally resonant if calm memory of being a kid. Jonze isn’t interested in crafting a clear metaphor of childhood or wowing us with special effects (although the latter certainly happens), he just wants to remember what it was like to be a kid. Neither the audience or the main character, grade-school aged Max, knows why his life is so hard, it just is. We don’t know why ten foot tall monsters listen to a ten-year-old, they just do. Explanations are boring, and all Jonze wants to do is let his imagination run wild, and we’re all invited for the ride.
In a year where the two highest grossing movies are Avatar and Transformers 2, it’s all too obvious that for a Sci-Fi movie to be greenlit, it has to be part action. So, as a Sci-Fi fan, I was enormously appreciative that filmmaker Duncan Jones gave us Moon, a sci-fi film that was more mystery than action, and one that was able to utilize futuristic technology to ask startling questions, and not just look cool. The most unfortunate thing about Moon is that you can’t seriously discuss it without spoiling it, so I won’t go much further. But I will say that, while Avatar and Transformers 2 will go down in history as making hundreds of times as much money as Moon, neither is any match for Jones’ breakthrough film.
This devastating account of a not-particularly remote post-apocalypse isn’t exactly a feel good flick. But John Hillcoat’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel shouldn’t be seen as a downer either. It’s an intimate observation of the paternal instinct in the worst of circumstances – should you allow your child to live and risk letting him be violently taken away from you? When it comes down to it, can you trust anyone with the only thing you love in this world? But the vision of McCarthy’s dying earth might be what makes the movie. Desolate, massive, without hope. No one said it was pretty, but The Road proves that art doesn’t have to be about beauty, it can be about the total absence of it.
Right now, American culture has a giant crush on the 80s. Its flashy clothes, the synthy songs and so much more – you can’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing something that calls to mind the flash of the decade. But Adventureland isn’t interested in making 80s jokes (well, I guess there’s a gag with Falco). Adventureland is more about a kid growing up, but never in the clichÃ©d, over-trodden way we see in most movies. Jesse Eisenberg’s lead adolescent lives in his brain, too busy planning for grad school to figure out how to get laid or enjoy life. It’s not until his life goes to shit and he has to work a shit job that he manages to stop trying to understand life and just go along with it. Okay, that sounds clichÃ©d; but Superbad director Greg Mottola presents dimensional characters and real life situations that don’t scream afterschool special. There’s a lot of depth to Adventureland, and I haven’t even mentioned that it’s seriously funny.
What kind of twisted world do we inhibit? We’re talking about a place where the dude who directed The Godfather can make a great work, and critics don’t even acknowledge it. Such is the director’s plight with Tetro, an Argentine tale of two brothers that hardly know each other, trying to come closer to each other in the wake of a famously talented father that neither can escape the shadow of. At times it’s about the coming-of-age of two artists, at others it’s a family drama that waits to reveal its terrible secret. But throughout the film, Coppola never stops showering the viewer in gorgeous black and white photography of Buenos Aires, or of the jagged face of lead Vincent Gallo. It might only be a footnote in Coppola’s storied filmography, but we’re doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring one of the most seamless works of film in recent memory.
Little was said of Goodbye Solo, the newest film from the terribly-titled Neo-Neorealism movement, when it came out early this year. You wouldn’t expect it to â€“ full of actors you’ve never heard of and, and with the depressing story that begins and ends with a man and his struggle with suicide, it was never going to play in an AMC. But I hope people still find this touching tale of a man who doesn’t want to do anything but be liked, and the surprising difficulties the hugely personable man, a Senegalese-American cab driver, encounters in being a good friend, husband, and father. He drives the clean, empty streets at night of an unnamed city, trying to find a way to cheer up his customers and convince his friends to enjoy life. Its hypnotically quiet and simple style will draw you in, but its characters are what makes it one of the best movies of the year.
After seven semesters of Film School, catapulting into the final year of college, I make myself try to find the hidden messages and meanings in film. I try to understand what the director is saying, and what the point of a movie’s existence is. But with all of that, the most insightful thing that can be said about Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell is that it is fucking awesome. Raimi took the most crapped-upon genre, the PG-13 horror film, and churned out a solid piece of shiny-ass gold. Is it meaningful? Do I care about the characters? No, not really. But you know what I can say about it? It has a talking goat, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. A lot of critics would be afraid to put this kind of movie in their top ten, but fuck it, Raimi crafted a perfect roller coaster ride that had me gasping, had my heart pumping, and had me laughing out loud. Maybe I won’t be discussing it in a film class, but I’ll never be too mature to talk about it with my friends.
The Coens are just ridiculous. Their nearly-yearly output of product would suggest they’re just throwing out whatever comes to mind, but any filmmaker would be lucky to put together something as tight, and simultaneously meaningful and meaningless as A Serious Man. Maybe the best thing about the movie is that everyone has a different idea of what it’s supposed to mean – all we can say for sure is that it follows the life of Lawrence Gopnik, a guy who lives honestly and faithfully, yet finds his entire life crumbling to pieces. I’d say it’s about the absence of God, the foolishness of believing that he’s watching out for you; but so many have said just the opposite. Even if there’s not any message to it, it’s still a sheeningly perfect looking tale of an oddball Jewish community from the 60s that, as you would expect from the Coens, is darkly and utterly hilarious.
The first two times I saw Quentin Tarantino’s WWII picture, I passed it off as an incredibly entertaining, well-assembled flick, along the lines of Drag Me to Hell; but I wasn’t taking in a lot of what might be Tarantino’s greatest film yet. Sure, it’s awesome to see Brad Pitt use an overkill Tennessee accent with perfection, and Hugo Stiglitz will go down as one of film’s baddest of all motherfuckers; but Tarantino’s got a lot more to say. Presenting us with two charismatic racist murderers (Aldo Raine and his bastards, though on the right side, are unquestionably both racist and murderers), QT gives us a reflected image – one of the Nazi, one of the Allies, both having a good ol’ time as they wipe out the other without a chance for mercy or understanding. Now sure, the Nazis needed to be stopped, but while we’re disgusted by Hitler laughing as Fredrick Zoller offs another soldier in the film-within-a-film Nation’s Pride, we laugh and cheer when the Bear Jew pumps his body full of lead only minutes later. Obviously, the Third Reich needed to be stopped; but it still presents a compelling parallel, and forces one to ask if there is a difference between the just and unjust sides of warfare.
Of course, if you don’t care for that sort of thought in your film, you’re totally free to just enjoy incredibly tense scenes on the dairy farm, or the motherfucking basement of the Louisianne bar, or the irreverent climax. You can take in Samuel L. Jackson’s narration and short explanation on film history. You can fall for the totally strong, beautiful and badass MÃ©lanie Laurent as the Jew that got the Nazis back, and Christopher Waltz as the despicably entertaining German that, deep down, just wants to be an American for totally shallow reasons.
Even as a pure piece of entertainment, Inglorious Basterds could still top my list because Tarantino took every aspect of the film and so tightly put it together, like an expert piece of machinery would to entertain every facet of its audience. It’s a perfect film, and I’m going to watch it again and again.