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The Best Movies of the Decade [Filmmakers Bleed]
Dec 29th, 2009 by Dan

In no particular order…

Memento (2000)

Guess what readers, this post is more or less one giant love letter to Christopher Nolan. With the exception of Insomnia, this list contains every movie the man’s directed since Memento (NOTE: Insomnia is not bad, it’s just not best of the decade caliber). Memento does what Christopher Nolan is known for doing very well. It shifts time and perspective (since each time episode is essentially a different Leonard with no memories of the previous events) just as well here as in future Nolan movies like Batman Begins and The Prestige. If you’ve never seen this crazy exercise in perception and memory, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Go rent it.

WALL-E (2008)

Pixar really has a way of making you care about inanimate objects. Toys, cars, and now a robot. WALL-E has so much charm and character that it’s impossible not to love him (although I know people who do). In what is both a cautionary tale about waste and a love story between two robots, there are genuine characters who speak maybe three or four different lines of dialogue and get the audience to care about their plight like it was an Oscar-bait drama. Pixar’s best work to date.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

You probably didn’t see Robert Downey, Jr.’s best movie of the decade, but you can bet that this movie pushed him front and center for what you might think his best movie was (Iron Man). KKBB doesn’t seem like it should be so good. Its name is kind of generic and I don’t even remember hearing about it before it came out. In fact, I have no idea how it ended up on my movie queue, but it was an instant favorite that I had to share with my roommate. Bonus points to Val Kilmer for his brilliant acting as a sarcastic private detective.

Ghost Town (2008)

My favorite romantic comedy of the decade stars a pudgy British comedian and does not feature one kiss between the two leads. Ghost Town is different, but in all the best ways. Ricky Gervais’ character experiences the same clichéd character development that you’d expect in a role like this, but it still feels fresh thanks to his odd sense of humour. It also features a romantic rival who is not that bad a guy and is one of the few Gervais projects that doesn’t feature extended, super-awkward scenes. Definitely worth watching.

Mean Girls (2004)

I know, it seems really lame for a guy to love this movie, but Tina Fey’s writing is so sharp that this movie can’t help but be good. Sure, it meant that we had to deal with Lindsay Lohan for a long while after, but that’s mostly done with now and we can enjoy Tina and Rachel McAdams and everything else about this movie that’s so well put together. As an added bonus to me, the book the movie was based on was written based on the behavior of girls at the National Cathedral School, a rival all-girl private school to Holton-Arms, which some of my good friends attended, so I’m glad it gives them some bad press.

The Prestige (2006)

Oh? Is it time to praise Christopher Nolan again? How often do you see a movie based on a book that is far superior to its source material? This tale of dueling magicians in 19th century England is engaging and interesting to the bitter end. Most people’s only complaints with the movie have to do with its sci-fi plot twist, but I guess it’s probably because they don’t realize that this movie is not firmly based in reality until about 4/5 of the way in. Regardless, it’s a fantastic story and all of its roles are spectacularly acted. The narrative structure is also unique and interesting as the magicians invade the personal lives of their rivals through their diaries. A definite must see.

Snatch (2000)

There’s one thing that Guy Ritchie does well and it’s gangster films, but, given the choice, I’d say Snatch takes the prize for his best work. It’s funny, has great plot twists, and great, quotable characters.

Rent (2005)

Should this even count? It may come from the ’90s and portray NYC in the ’80s, but this musical made the transition to film quite nicely, preserving most of its atmosphere and earning its place as one of three musicals on this list.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Who said that fairy tales were dead in modern society? Slumdog Millionaire is just a great movie. The narrative structure that revolves around the interrogation of Jamal Malik and his answers on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? works beautifully and the trials and tribulations of the characters make for great drama. Will you be surprised by the ending of the film? Of course not. Will you be able to resist tapping your toes to the music of the closing number? Only if you lack a soul.

Batman Begins (2005)

Talk about a challenge. Batman movies were absolutely dead before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame Batman and Robin (1997) for killing superhero movies until Spider-Man came around in 2002. All it took was hiring a real director and a close look at the source material to come up with this fantastic adaptation of one of the oldest superheroes in the business. Nolan was right in getting rid of the cheese factor and trying to make the character seem more realistic than he’d been portrayed before. His choice of antagonists, Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, were great choices in establishing a world based more in reality than the earlier movies created by using Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy and paved the way for the amazing direction he took for The Joker. Batman Begins is proof that a superhero movie can be as great as other movies.

City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) (2002)

Powerful in the same ways that Slumdog Millionaire explored its slums, City of God is unapologetic in its portrayal of favela life in Brazil. Splitting up the story into arcs and showing how one man can seize power and create hell through the eyes of an outsider proved to be an effective narrative technique. This movie is heavy, but it’s also quite good.

21 Grams (2003)

Another hyper-depressing movie, this time centered around a car crash with three fatalities and the fates of the people involved: the man who killed the three people, the wife and mother of the two boys and man who died in the crash, and the man who received a heart in a transfusion. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s quite good (far better than Babel).

Juno (2007)

Yeah, no high school kid talks like her. Sure, this movie made being a hipster seem cool and caused your friends to act like insufferable idiots. Yes, Michael Cera has gone on to be pretty annoying since this movie and Arrested Development. Beyond all that, it’s still a funny movie with witty, fun dialogue. Bonus points awarded for having Jason Bateman in it.

Garden State (2004)

While we’re on the subject of movies that spawned annoying indie-ness, Garden State did it first back during my freshman year of college. I admit, part of why I like this movie so much has to do with my trek down to Cinemopolis in downtown Ithaca, but I actually enjoyed this movie. I might have a different opinion if I watched it now, but it always seemed to me that Zach Braff didn’t overdo it here with the pretentiousness. It’s also worth stating that Peter Sarsgaard is a fantastic actor in almost everything he does and that this movie proves that Natalie Portman is not as bad an actor as the prequels might lead you to believe.

Casino Royale (2006)

I don’t care what you say, but old-school James Bond was stupid. More of a superhero than a spy, he had ridiculous gadgets and was just plain campy. I think it took Austin Powers for me to fully understand how dumb the whole thing really was. Funny thing about Casino Royale is that its reinvention of the wheel stems instead from a return to source material. The Bond of CR is a brutal killer closer to a sociopath than the suave secret agent that we grew up with. Unfortunately, the second in this new series went and screwed it all up with poor casting and poor cinematography, but I like the direction this new Bond is going and I have high hopes for the future of the series.

Up (2009)

Pixar just keeps hitting them out of the park. WALL-E was fantastic and Up came along right after to prove that a movie for children can be just as mature as a movie for adults. I won’t spoil the plot too much, but let’s just say the opening 20 minutes or so will break your heart, if you’ve got one. A truly great cartoon about a man dealing with regret and clinging to his past, but eventually moving on.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The best way I’ve heard this movie described is “A love story that starts after the love is gone.” ESofSM does many things well as it examines the memories of this failed relationship as they are yanked away from Jim Carrey’s mind while he struggles against that very darkness he hired them to create. Another great movie that I haven’t seen in too long. I should pull this out sometime soon.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Since we’re talking about movies that deal with relationships ending, let’s push right on into a completely different type of movie. FSM is on my list because I think that, despite all the ridiculous exaggerations of the peripheral characters, the way that all of the actors interact with each other seems real. It’s a genuinely funny movie with good acting and hilarious situations.

Children of Men
(2006)

With a plot remarkably similar to Y: The Last Man in many respects, this post-apocalyptic look at a world scarred by a lack of childbirth is just awesome to watch. Fresh off the success of Sin City, Clive Owen, this time with his natural accent, stars and kicks ass in all kinds of believable ways as he escorts the first pregnant woman in ages to a research vessel. This movie makes the list more for its look than anything else. That last scene in the refugee camp where Clive Owen is chased by the military and the terrorists is stunningly shot. The end scenes also remind me a lot of Half-Life 2. Great movie.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)

Strangely enough, I’d never seen anything by Joss Whedon until I saw DHSAB. I wouldn’t quite call myself a browncoat yet, but this movie inspired me to start checking out and loving his work. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion really need to start alongside each other in more things, because they’re dynamite on screen. This is my favorite musical of the modern age and you should watch it if you haven’t seen it.

The Dark Knight (2008)

One man is responsible for making this film truly great: Heath Ledger. His portrayal of The Joker was beyond amazing. The interrogation scene (and the rescue that follows) still gives me chills every time I watch it. Like no other man in film or comics, Ledger really understood that The Joker is a force of chaos and entropy. It really is too bad that it will never happen again due to Heath Ledger’s sad death. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time.

Filmmakers Bleed: Pineapple Express
Aug 14th, 2008 by Dan

Back when I first got Superbad on Blu-ray, there was a short excerpt from Pineapple Express that I watched excitedly, assuming it would be as hilarious as Superbad. The clip seemed to suck pretty badly and I just didn’t get it. It was boring and just not funny at all! Then I saw a trailer for the movie before Forgetting Sarah Marshall and my interest was rekindled. Perhaps the clip just wasn’t funny in context (that’s actually the case, I found the same clip funnier when I was more familiar with the characters and context). So when Pineapple Express finally came out, I found myself really wanting to go fueled by enjoying Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad and deciding that Judd Apatow-produced movies are just plain good.

I bought some tickets and watched on Wednesday and, despite the strength of the comedy, the movie just can’t quite match the humorous power of its predecessors. The story goes a little something like this: (SPOILER TIME!) Dale Denton (Seth Rogan) is one of those dudes who delivers subpoenas (can’t remember what they’re called) and a pretty heavy marijuana smoker. He spends all day alternating between putting on disguises to trick people into acknowledging who they are so he can serve then and smoking pot. His pot dealer, Saul Silver (James Franco) desperately wants to be friends with Denton who wants nothing to do with his pot dealer other than business. Saul receives a shipment of some very rare weed (THE Pineapple Express) and proceeds to sell this weed to Dale and Dale alone, while also revealing that he’s the only dealer in town who’s got any. While attempting to serve Ted Jones (Gary Cole), he witnesses him murdering a drug rival along with his policewoman co-conspirator. In his escape they realize he was smoking Pineapple Express and begin to chase him as hilarity ensues.

The story was more or less pretty good and funny and nothing beyond what you’d expect, with one minor exception. Denton has a girlfriend who is a high school student and whose life he puts in jeopardy inadvertently because of what he has witnessed. When he does visit her house and he attempts to convince her family to flee, I don’t think that I ever witnessed the moment where they came to believe him. Perhaps it was just strange editing, but one second they think he’s full of it and the next they’ve decided to flee to a hotel. They also kind of leave the relationship up in plot land once Dale and his compatriots have completely destroyed Ted’s operation. This is probably because it wouldn’t have been very funny at all, but I prefer not to have my plot points left dangling.

SPOILER END!

Should you go see Pineapple Express? If you like Judd Apatow-produced movies (and one that’s actually a bit tamer than his older ones, unless you find drug culture more offensive than sex), you will most likely enjoy this movie unless you have overhyped it. I’m torn in recommending seeing this movie in theaters just because it’s good compared to other comedies, but not great compared to the body of work that has preceded it. If you can catch a matinée or get someone to take you, go see it. Otherwise, just wait for the DVD: it’s the weakest of the Judd Apatow bunch, IMHO.

Filmmakers Bleed: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
May 1st, 2008 by Dan

I’m a naturally skeptical guy when it comes to my entertainment. There is only so much time in a day and I don’t want to devote my time to watching crummy movies, playing bad games, or reading stupid books. So it takes someone whose tastes I trust to recommend a movie to me or a rock-solid trailer coupled with good scores on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes to really get me to see a movie. I initially resisted The 40-Year-Old Virgin based on trailers, but when I finally saw the movie based on The Office-related Steve Carell love, I found a rather funny and enjoyable movie.

Then Knocked Up began to be advertised as “From the people who brought you…” which is a giant red flag to me. I mean, how often have we all been burned by that ad trick? Producers are not directors, so who knows how this could turn out? I was dragged out to see it, kicking and screaming, but I found myself, again, pleasantly surprised. Perhaps these Judd Apatow-produced movies could continually be good. Maybe the same producer does have an influence on a film.

It all came to a head with Superbad. Fueled mostly by my desire to see Michael Cera in any project he’s ever a part of, and saw one of the best comedies I have ever seen. So nowadays I don’t ever doubt the Judd Apatow brand and I will blindly go and see any Apatow-produced movie, no matter whether or not the trailer is any good (strangely enough, maybe brilliantly? Judd Apatow movies never have good trailers and they are generally not that funny to me).

His most recently produced movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was also written and directed by one of my favorite tv actors, Jason Segel, and also starred another of my favorites, Kristen Bell, so I wanted to go before I even saw the movie trailers. If you haven’t seen any trailers, here’s the general plot: Peter Bretter (Segel) is a moderately successful composer for the TV show his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Bell) stars in and they have a loving relationship. Except she breaks up with him to be with British rock star Aldous Snow (Russel Brand). To escape the pain, he heads out to Hawaii only to find that Sarah is also vacationing there…with Aldous. Hilarity ensues.

So let’s talk about the movie a bit: This is Segel’s debut as a writer and a director and he definitely does a great job on all counts with this movie. The scenes don’t go on for too long, the writing is on its game about 99% of the time, and the acting is all really well done. I’m not typically a fan of toilet humor or any sort of crude, idiotic humor, yet this movie still tickles the funny bone, even with its crude humor just because it has that balance that all Apatow movies seem to have with making me laugh at things that are truly not funny in any other movie. You couldn’t say that the humor was intellectual, but it’s still on a level beyond what you expect it to be. You will laugh hard if you see this movie. Forgetting Sarah Marshall also has some funny self-referential moments with Kristen Bell’s show being canceled after its third season (I think) and it being a detective show as well, mirroring the great Veronica Mars that was criminally (see what I did there?) canceled too soon.

Go and see this movie, seriously. It’s funny. I emphatically recommend it.

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