Friday, April 16, 2010

My Top 10 Films of the Last Decade

10. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson
Cast: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci

A transforming cinematic experience. Great directing, production value, and acting, especially by Caviezel as Jesus and Morgenstern as Mary. Heart-wrenching and deeply inspirational.

9. Chocolat (2000)

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Writer: Robert Nelson Jacobs, based on the novel by Joanne Harris
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Lena Olin

This is still regarded by many as one of the worst Oscar Best Picture nominees in recent years...and I'm still baffled by it. This is a wondrous, magical, touching film about two of our favorite things in the world: love and chocolate. Binoche is amazing in thus one, as she always is.

8. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost

Brilliant British comedy that masterfully combines the horror of a zombie apocalypse (the undead here are as frightening as any in a Romero film) and the biting humor of the Brits. One of the best films in two different genres.

7. Love Actually (2003)

Director: Richard Curtis
Writer: Richard Curtis
Cast: Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney

Repeated viewings (say, five or more) would show more than a few things in the film that would keep it from being technically perfect, but you really wouldn't care. Such an endearing ensemble dramedy. My favorite Christmas movie. Hugh Grant has never been better.

6. Hero (2002)

Director: Zhang Yimou
Writers: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen

Amazing splash of colors, awesome battle sequences, and great performances. This is a masterpiece.

5. A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard

Still as whimsical as other Jeunet films, with a heartwarming romance between Tautou and Ulliel. The tenacity of Tautou's character is stirring. This is where I first saw and recognized the greatness of the fantastic Marion Cotillard.

4. My Sassy Girl (2001)

Director: Jae-young Kwak
Writer: Jae-young Kwak, based on the novel by Ho-sik Kim
Cast: Tae-hyun Cha, Ji-hyun Jun

This is the first Korean film that I saw, and I instantly fell in love with it. With as fiery and absorbing a title character as Ji-hyun's, and as fantastic a love story as theirs, it is difficult not to. The American remake tried to capture the magic but, while not being a bad film, failed to do so.

3. Kill Bill (2003-2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen

Volume 2 could have been satisfying (though that fight between The Bride and Elle Driver is pure pulp bliss), but the astounding, mesmerizing, unforgettable first Volume more than makes up for that. Tarantino's vision has never been as gorgeously displayed on onscreen, with visual and aural spectacles that always leave me enraptured.

2. Avatar (2009)

Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

Say what you will about the derivative story (when it's about how humans destroy the environment, how can it not be?), but this is a true cinematic experience to be cherished during and long after the viewing. Mind-blowing visuals, a strong plot, and interesting characters (with Saldana turning in an Oscar-worthy performance, IMO) make for a fantastic way to close the decade.

1. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis

THE most awesome trilogy of all time, and quite simply among the best films in cinematic history. Flawless production values, direction, writing, and acting. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has set the standard not only for fantasy films but also for sweeping epics with majestic vistas and soul-stirring soundscapes. It will be a long time until we have another film with this much magnificence.

Numbers 11-20
Numbers 21-30
Numbers 31-40
Numbers 41-50

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Festival de Cannes 2010 Lineup


"Another Year," U.K., Mike Leigh
"Biutiful," Spain-Mexico, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
"Burnt by the Sun 2," Germany-France-Russia, Nikita Mikhalkov
"Certified Copy," France-Italy-Iran, Abbas Kiarostami
"Fair Game," U.S., Doug Liman
"Hors-la-loi," France-Belgium-Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb
"The Housemaid," South Korea, Im Sang-soo
"La nostra vita," Italy-France, Daniele Luchetti
"La Princesse de Montpensier," France, Bertrand Tavernier
"Of Gods and Men," France, Xavier Beauvois
"Outrage," Japan, Takeshi Kitano
"Poetry," South Korea, Lee Chang-dong
"A Screaming Man," France-Belgium-Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
"Tournee," France, Mathieu Amalric
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," Spain-Thailand-Germany-U.K.-France, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
"You, My Joy," Ukraine-Germany, Sergey Loznitsa


"Tamara Drewe," U.K., Stephen Frears
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," U.S., Oliver Stone
"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," U.K.-Spain, Woody Allen


"Adrienn Pal," Hungary-Netherlands-France-Austria, Agnes Kocsis
"Aurora," Romania, Cristi Pui"

"Blue Valentine," U.S., Derek Cianfrance
"Chatroom," U.K., Hideo Nakata
"Chongqing Blues," China, Wang Xiaoshuai

"The City Below," Germany-France, Christoph Hochhausler
"Film Socialisme," Switzerland-France, Jean-Luc Godard
"Ha Ha Ha," South Korea, Hong Sang-soo
"Les Amours imaginaires," Canada, Xavier Dolan
"Life Above All," France, Oliver Schmitz
" Los labios," Argentina, Ivan Fund, Santiago Loza
"Octubre," Peru, Daniel Vega
"Qu'est-il arrive a Simon Werner?," France, Fabrice Gobert
"Rebecca H.," France, Lodge Kerrigan
"R U There," Taiwan, David Verbeek
"The Strange Case of Angelica," Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira
"Tuesday, After Christmas," Romania, Radu Muntean
"Udaan," India, Vikramaditya Motwane

Monday, April 12, 2010

#s 20-11 of the Decade

20. Before Sunset (2004)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

One of the most intelligent, natural, and character-driven romantic films of the last decade (or the last two, for that matter), with endearing performances by Hawke and Delpy. The ending sequence is precious, perhaps one of the best in cinema.

19. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Director: Brad Silberling
Writer: Robert Gordon, based on the books by Daniel Handler
Cast: Jim Carrey, Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Jude Law, Timothy Spall, Catherine O'Hara, Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep

Not having liked the books on which it was based, I wasn't expecting this film to be so much fun and, beyond that, a truly well crafted film on the technical aspects. Great art direction, cinematography, costume, makeup, score. And of course, great acting, including an amusing turn by Streep. Some parts are really touching.

18. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Alvin Sargent, based on the comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco

Easily the best of the trilogy, with spectacular visual effects and a great, well rounded villain in Molina's Dr. Octopus. Still one of the best superhero movies of all time.

17. The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, based on characters by Bob Kane
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

THE best superhero movie of all time. Amazing film made even better by the phenomenal performance of the great Heath Ledger. The biggest travesty committed by the Academy in recent years was not having nominated this film and its director.

16. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson

Gondry at his best, and Winslet at her most endearing (many fans' favorite performance of hers). This is easily one of the most creative and finely made films of the last decade.

15. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Deborah Moggach, based on the novel by Jane Austen
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike

This is a faithful adaptation of one of the all time wittiest, most romantic novels. The film and its actors are effortless, especially Knightley and Sutherland.

14. Dogville (2003)

Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Paul Bettany

Spare, austere, horrifying, liberating. Brilliant film by the brilliant oft misunderstood von Trier. A film that uses no sets except lines on the ground to denote where the houses are, it looks bare but the emotion is never so. A great ending sequence that has one thinking if s/he is a little too emotionally invested in the plight of Grace, Kidman's character. This is her best performance, in my opinion.

13. Summer Wars (2009)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writer: Satoko Okudera
Cast (voices of): Sumiko Fuji, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Ayumu Saito, Nanami Sakuraba

From the visionary director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has come another amazing feat of Japanese animation. Thoroughly engaging and spectacular.

12. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writer: Satoko Okudera, based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Cast (voices of): Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi

Summer Wars may be the more innovative film of Hosoda's, but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the more emotionally resonant. Nice take on the sci-fi trope of time travel, with romance thrown in to make one of the best anime films of all time.

11. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Vikas Swarup
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto

An exuberant, emotionally stirring film that I found myself watching over and over without getting tired of it.

Numbers 30-21 here.
Numbers 10-1 soon.

Friday, April 09, 2010

#s 30-21 of the Decade

30. Battle Royale (2000)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kenta Fukasaku, based on the novel by Koushun Takami
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano

One of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films. Excessive on many levels, but it's so unique and so much fun to watch.

29. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai, based on the book by Du Lu Wang
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-Fat, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Chang

This excellent film made wuxia popular again and made a star of Zhang Ziyi. Thank goodness for that.

28. The Others (2001)

Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Writer: Alejandro Amenabar
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Alakina Mann, James Bentley

This atmospheric film definitely ranks as one of the all-time best ghost stories, with a creepy feel all throughout and a satisfying twist at the end.

27. Atonement (2007)

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Christopher Hampton, based on the novel by Ian McEwan
Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave

Amazing film with great performances and a heart-twisting premise that plays out powerfully.

26. Coraline (2009)

Director: Henry Selick
Writer: Henry Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Cast (voices of): Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, John Hodgman, Keith David

Neil Gaiman's work deserves such a magical adaptation. Great animation and musical score.

25. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Cast (voices of): George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe

What quirkiness you've come to expect in an Anderson film, you'll see here animated. Also a fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat.

24. Mean Girls (2004)

Director: Mark Waters
Writer: Tina Fey, based on the book by Rosalind Wiseman
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tina Fey, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried

This is such a fun film that I can keep on watching over and over. Lohan's shining moment, and McAdams's breakthrough. This shows what Lindsay is capable of, so I wish her the best.

23. Magnifico (2003)

Director: Maryo J. de los Reyes
Writer: Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: Lorna Tolentino, Albert Martinez, Gloria Romero, Jiro Manio

Quite possibly one of the best Filipino dramas ever, without being a typical melodrama. Very human and very sincere. Can be devastating at certain points, but that's a good thing when you're looking for a film that packs an emotional punch.

22. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones

Del Toro has given us one of the most hypnotic and involving fantasy masterpieces of all time in Pan's Labyrinth. Not to mention one of the creepier creatures in the Pale Man.

21. Children of Men (2006)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writers: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, based on the novel by P.D. James
Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore

A true modern sci fi classic. Cuaron expertly directs this gem about a dystopic Earth, perhaps the best such portrayal in decades.

Numbers 40-31 here.
Numbers 20-11 soon.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

#s 40-31 of the Decade

40. Spirited Away (2001)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast (voices of): Rumi Hiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki

Animation god Hayao Miyazaki deservedly won an Oscar for this mesmerizing, magical (what Miyazaki film isn't) creation.

39. A Tale of Two Sisters (2002)

Director: Ji-woon Kim
Writer: Ji-woon Kim
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim, Geun-Young Moon

Captivating, intelligent, creepy psychological thriller that, like most Asian horror flicks, relies more on atmosphere than on cheap scares. Great acting by the principal cast. Korea has got to have among the best child actors in the world.

38. The Science of Sleep (2006)

Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Michel Gondry
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg

A criminally overlooked adorable, touching Gondry pic starring the adorable Bernal and Gainsbourg. It's classic Gondry with the surreal animation.

37. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)

Directors: Tetsuya Nomura, Takeshi Nozue
Writer: Kazushige Nujima

This is how that other visually great but ultimately flat Final Fantasy film should have been. These are characters we've learned to love in the games, with breathtaking animation and action sequences. What a trip for fanboys!

36. Moon (2009)

Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Brilliant sci fi flick that's a throwback to the intelligent, human-driven science fiction of the 70s. Rockwell is great in this one-man show.

35. Paris Je T'aime (2006)

Directors: Multiple
Writers: Multiple
Cast: Too many to mention

Ah, the city of love. This omnibus from some of the best filmmakers is a product of love. Touching and emotionally involving. Stand-outs include Gurinder Chadha's "Quais de Seine," Alfonso Cuaron's "Parc Monceau," Vincenzo Natali's "Quartier de la Madeleine" (the only horror segment), Tom Tykwer's "Faubourg Saint-Denis," Nobuhiro Suwa's "Place des Victoires" (in which Juliette Binoche is, as always, amazing), and the winning closing segment by Alexander Payne, "14th arrondissement," which features the lovable Margot Martindale.

34. The School of Rock (2003)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Jack Black, Mike White, Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman

Black probably hasn't been funnier or more natural than in this fun, music-driven flick. The kids are great and so are the songs. I'd love to see a sequel.

33. A Knight's Tale (2001)

Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Laura Fraser, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk

This could have failed miserably, mixing medieval Europe with modern pop beats. But it soars and delights, thanks mostly to the great chemistry and fantastic humor among the cast, led by the late great Ledger.

32. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

One of the best, most well written romantic comedies in recent years. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel are both adorable.

31. The Incredibles (2004)

Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Brad Bird
Cast (voices of): Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee

The title says it all. Great kinetic fun, much better than a lot of live-action superhero movies. How about a sequel?

Numbers 50-41 here.
Numbers 30-21 soon.

Monday, April 05, 2010

My 50 Favorite Films of the Last Decade

It took me a fair amount of time to decide on what 50 films from 2000 to 2009 most excited, intrigued, or impressed me. Some have simply stuck to my memory regardless of overall quality. This is not my list of "Best Pictures" of the last decade. These are instead films that I treasure for many different reasons and that I wouldn't mind watching over and over. This list, my first of its nature, is very important for me, since the cinephile in me was awakened only in 2001, twenty years after my birth and having been at best a casual moviegoer.

Here are #s 50-41:

50. Infernal Affairs (2002)

Directors: Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak
Writers: Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Sammi Cheng

The movie that directly inspired Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed. A masterful film, perhaps Hong Kong's finest in the last decade.

49. Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

What a performance from Bjork! Raw, innocent, powerful. The film itself scars and wounds, especially in the last few sequences, and it leaves an indelible mark.

48. Bayaning Third World (2000)

Director: Mike de Leon
Writers: Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., Mike de Leon
Cast: Joel Torre, Ricky Davao, Cris Villanueva

Of the many Filipino films about national hero Jose Rizal, this is easily the most imaginative. Surreal, bizarre, sometimes bordering on absurd, but never anything less than genius. Mike de Leon, a major player in Philippine cinema's second Golden Age (the 1970s), proves he still has it.

47. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)

Director: Auraeus Solito
Writer: Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: Nathan Lopez, Soliman Cruz, JR Valentin, Neil Ryan Sese, Ping Medina

The Filipino indie scene is now dominated by gay films, but before that deluge of mostly derivative, exploitative drivel, this true gem of the digital movement impressed viewers here and abroad, even getting a Spirit Award nomination for Foreign Language Film. A very refreshing take on the homosexual Filipino adolescent, in that his very macho father and older brothers love him dearly and dote on him.

46. WALL-E (2008)

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon

Brilliant piece of animation and science fiction. Having a silent robot with emotions as the lead character goes a long way.

45. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writer: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

This is easily the best in the series. Cuaron's little touches elevate this to a very good fantasy piece. And the three actors are at their best here.

44. Sideways (2004)

Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

This film is so smooth and effortless in the way it captures the audience's emotion that it latches on and doesn't let go. I cannot forget the amazement I felt at Paul Giamatti's brilliance...and my vexation at his not having been nominated for an Oscar.

43. Enchanted (2007)

Director: Kevin Lima
Writer: Bill Kelly
Cast: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marden, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel, Susan Sarandon

Amy Adams is aces as a Disney princess transported to modern-day New York in this very memorable and highly entertaining film. The songs are contagious, and James Marden plays a hilarious Prince.

42. Doubt (2008)

Director: John Patrick Shanley
Writer: John Patrick Shanley, based on his play
Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis

Just writing that cast list has me thinking back to this powerful film. It's a good story and a well-crafted movie, but it's the cast that got me. All four, including the immortal Meryl Streep, at their finest. What more can you ask for?

41. In Bruges (2008)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

This film had me simultaneously in stitches, frightened of Ralph Fiennes, falling in love with Bruges which I had not heard of prior to watching this, and thinking how fantastic an actor Colin Farrell is. He should have been nominated for an Oscar.

Numbers 40-39 soon.