Monday, March 22, 2010

Top 100 Films Of The Decade: 90-81

90. Burn After Reading
(2008) Joel and Ethan Coen - USA

In conversation, I've discovered that this falls into that "love it or hate it" category that so many Coen Brothers films seem to fall into. Quite obviously, I'm on the "loved it" side of that debate. I don't think Brad Pitt or Frances McDormand have ever been funnier or more endearing, and while it may be a screwball comedy that doesn't add up to much, it's one hell of an entertaining ride.

89. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
(2006) Cristi Puiu - Romania

This one's a bit more difficult to pigeonhole... a darkly comedic tragedy, perhaps? Anyway, this tale of a dying man being shuffled from hospital to hospital all over Bucharest is among the best of a great crop of films coming out of Romania these days.

(2009) Ruben Fleischer - USA

For whatever reason, I have a strange affection for zombie films, and seeing this in a crowded theater certainly added to that experience (it doesn't fare quite as well at home for me). It provided me with one of the most flat out entertaining theater-going experiences of the past year. And although Woody Harrellson earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Messenger I actually prefer his performance in this one, as the wisecracking Tallahassee, who gave the movie some of it's best laughs, along with the surprise celebrity cameo (which I won't ruin for you).

(2008) Matteo Garrone - Italy

Five different stories interweave in this film with one common bond: The Camorra, a Naples-based crime syndicate that controls the city and whose tentacles extend far beyond just the seedy criminal underworld. The stories are based on an exposé done by Roberto Saviano, who now lives under 24-hour government protection because of what he managed to expose about the Camorra's operations. If you're fond of films like The Godfather series or Scarface (which serves as the inspiration for the two young wanna-be gangsters at the center of one story), you may want to give this one a go.

(2003) Peter Mullan - Ireland

The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland were a place where "wayward" girls were sent for punishment, forced to work mercilessly while enduring cruel abuse at the hands of the nuns that headed the laundries. This is the story of one group of girls sent to live there back in the 1960's, many of whom found themselves there for wrongs that would even be considered slight by 60's standards. I don't much care for the trailer (Miramax went through a period where they had to make all of their films look like "triumphs of the human spirit," and this is one example). It's a lot grittier than the trailer suggests.

(2006) Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden - USA

As a devoted educator and teen basketball coach by day and a crack addict by night, Ryan Gosling deservingly garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance in this one. Matching him every step of the way was young Shareeka Epps, as a street smart young girl finding herself at a crossroads - she's clearly capable of so much more than what her surroundings offer her, yet in danger of becoming another statistic of those surroundings. An incredibly smart and insightful character study.

(2001) Lukas Moodysson - Sweden
Set in the mid-70's, the story starts off with a young mother of two leaves her alcoholic abusive husband and takes her two kids with her to go and live with her brother, who lives in a hippie commune with a group of friends. And what follows is a film about a lot of things, really.
But, what I most took away from this film was how human each character is made to feel. The group of hippies might constantly espouse ideals that they don't always live up to; the concept of "free love" isn't without unintended consequences; the characters who might seem unfathomable aren't portrayed as saints, but aren't beyond redemption either. And what I think most impressed me about Moodysson's first two films (1998's Show Me Love being the other) was that he has a remarkable knack for depicting children. While I felt that there were a lot of great storylines here, the one that strikes the most resonant chord was that of the little girl forced to move in with this commune of people she doesn't understand and her blossoming friendship with the chubby kid from across the street whose ultra-conservative parents despise everything the commune represents.

(2006) Billy Corben - USA
I've found that some of my favorite documentaries from the past decade aren't necessarily the most well-made films in the world in terms of filmmaking gifts, but the stories they tell are so compelling that I'm more than willing to overlook some of their shortcomings, and this would certainly be one of them. Cocaine Cowboys takes an uncompromising look at the cocaine trade that exploded in Miami in the 70s and 80s and the gruesome violence that came along with it. Some of the reenactments they use are kind of corny, but the stories presented were compelling enough to inspire a number of films and television shows, like Scarface and Miami Vice. Cocaine Cowboys takes a long hard look at the true stories of what went on, and it's horrifying but completely compelling.

(2004) Alexander Payne - USA
I have to admit that my reaction to this one wasn't one of immediate adoration. Upon first viewing, it was one of those cases where the hype that built during limited release elevated my expectations to unrealistic levels, so I left a little disappointed. Thankfully, I gave it a second chance down the road, and I think it helped me revel in the nuances that I was unable to when burdened with lofty expectations. I found so many relatable characteristics in each of the four main characters, and I found Virginia Madsen's dialogue with Paul Giamatti in the scene paralleling wine with life to be one of the more sly and fascinating insights on life articulated on screen during the past decade.

81. The Aura
(2006) Fabián Belinsky - Argentina

Belinsky only got a chance to make two films before his untimely death, and both of them are worth the watch. While Nine Queens got a little more ink upon its release, I prefer his later film. The story centers on an epileptic whose otherwise a relatively simple, normal man, but he often fantasizes about pulling off heists. He has no intention of actually carrying them out, but simply enjoys thinking about the various angles and formulating the plans. However, an ill-fated camping trip sets off a chain of events that lands him right in the middle of a heist in the works. While there are a lot of coincidences you need to suspend belief for, somehow Belinsky makes it all work.
80-71 coming this weekend...

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