Saturday, December 12, 2009

10 Movies From the Last Decade that Deserve a Second Look

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The title alone is a provocation that invites the reader to leave his or her preconceived notions at the door. Wasn't Jesse James an outlaw? And aren't outlaws "brought to justice" as opposed to "assassinated"? And aren't the people who bring outlaws to justice "heroes," not "cowards"? "Jesse James" is a great existential Western in the spirit of "Unforgiven" that patiently deconstructs the mythology of the old American West, a terrific film about men trying to define themselves. It's one of the most beautifully shot films in ages and is the rare example of a movie with a voice over from an omniscient narrator that actually works, adding to skillfully crafted atmosphere and performances filled with moody brooding.

Sunshine (2007)
Everyone loved "Slumdog Millionaire," but Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" is one of the great sci-fi mind trips ever made, right up there with "2001." It's a film that touches on very primal nerves by remaking current anxieties into a hellish sci-fi narrative. Let's put it this way: how does your perception of the crew of Icarus II change when you realize that, in a sense, they are all suicide bombers?

Hot Fuzz (2007)
Along with "Shawn of the Dead," Edgar Wright has demonstrated that he doesn't make parodies so much as he makes loving homages to genres he knows all too well. "Shawn" mocked zombies one moment only to revel in absurdly gory violence the next -- all to great effect. Fuzz upped the ante by including all the violence necessary for a shoot 'em up cop drama and added a pretty good detective story with a hysterical villain played by Timothy Dalton.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)
It's a sports movie, a martial arts flick and a live action Looney Tunes carton all wrapped into one. Stephen Chow built a hilarious story that spoke the physical language of both Asian kung fu flicks and Western slapstick comedies and the result was one of the great pleasures of the decade to watch. Shaolin Soccer may be one of the rare films with a sense of humor that transcends cultural boundaries (or borrows from them all).

Blindness (2008)
Fernando Mierelles' adaptation of the novel by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago about a world where everyone goes blind except for a single person can be at times brutal to watch. It's easy to fall into the trap that the story is little more than a continuously pessimistic examination of human nature and social decay under extreme stress, but to do so would be a mistake. "Blindness" is an intensely spiritual movie about the distance between human being in the modern world and paints a bleak picture, but ultimately a redemptive one.
Hamlet 2 (2008)
A great movie that examines the thin line between genius and catastrophe via the staging of a "sequel" to a play in which everyone dies by a high school drama class directed by an out of work actor whose lack of acting ability is only exceeded by his inability to teach. Hilarity and calamity ensue. It's "The Producers" (complete with it's own signature "Springtime for Hitler" musical number) meets a delightful inversion of "Dead Poets Society."

Wonder Boys (2000)
One of the best movies ever made about writing and a vivid portrayal of the absurdities and triumphs of the endeavor. Wonder Boys is a great coming of age story that begs the viewer to ask "Whom, exactly, is coming of age? The awkward young undergrad or his even more dysfunctional college professor?" The scene where Rip Torn boldly -- and pretentiously -- declares "I am a writer!" to the thunderous applause of a conference of writers, may be one of the best moments of professional self-importance ever captured on celluoid.
Collateral (2004)
The best Michael Mann film since "Heat" and Tom Cruise's best acting work in ages. While there isn't much plot to speak of -- it's really just an episodic series of assassinations -- but the awesome and stylized action scenes really just move the central conflict of the film: the spiritual war between Vincent's (Cruise) nihilism and Max the cabbie's will to survive.

Downfall (2004)
Yes, it's the movie with Hitler in the bunker, but if that's the only scene you've ever seen from the movie you're missing a great film, probably one of the best historical dramas ever made.

24 Hour Party People (2002)
Michael Winterbottom must be England's version of Steven Soderbergh: someone who makes risky, high concept movies at a furious clip. 9 Songs, A Cock and Bull Story, and A Mighty Heart are all worthy of praise in one respect or another, but "Party People" sticks out for being one of the best movies made about music in a long time.

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