Monday, March 22, 2010

Top 100 Films Of The Decade: Intro and 100-91

I originally thought I would start in on this whole list upon seeing 1,000 movies from 2000 through 2009, but I've found that my viewing habits have become focused a bit more on watching older films as well as catching up on films from the current year, so I figured now would be as good a time as any. Besides, since I'm just about 20 films shy of 1,000, it seems unlikely that I'd find something that would crack the top 100 anyway. Especially when I had to leave so many films I really like off this list.

Since I'm linking in friends and family from Facebook who might not be quite as familiar with my tastes in film, I figure I might try to give you a little idea of what to expect here. I've been a bit of a movie dork all of my life, and as a kid, would ride my bike down to the local movie theater at Seminole Mall and see pretty much everything that was playing (those of you who worked at the movie theaters in high school can probably attest to this!)

But with so much time spent watching movies in my teens, I just saw a lot of trends come and go, and every time an interesting film came along, the studios tripped all over themselves to remake that same movie over and over again to see if lightning struck twice (...or more often, three, four, or ten times). For example, remember all the "Tarantino-esque" movies that came along in the wake of Pulp Fiction? Or how about all of the teen horror flicks that came along in the wake of the first Scream revitalizing that genre?. I guess, one part of developing my tastes was born out of that, and I stopped going for the obvious cash-grabbing ploys. And sort of going hand-in-hand with that, I've stopped listening to a lot of the mainstream hype. It seems like each summer, one big special effects extravaganza comes along after the next, and roughly 80% of the time, the people I know who saw that weekend's "event" film would tell me how much it sucked later that night at the bar or at work on Monday. Mostly, it seems like the hype exists to get as many people into the theater opening weekend before word of mouth spreads. This isn't to say all of these films suck, but think about it... for every Dark Knight that comes along, there are a lot more Transformers 2.

While I've learned to avoid a lot of films, I've also learned to seek out the sorts of films that I never had access to growing up... foreign films, documentaries, micro-budget indies and such that simply weren't available at our little AMC or at Blockbuster. This isn't to say that any of those genres are necessarily better. I've seen a lot of terrible foreign films and documentaries too. And while there will be quite a strong number of foreign films on this list, you have to consider just how many different countries there are around the world putting out film, and the U.S. is merely one of them. But don't fret... American filmmaking is more than amply represented here.

So, the 100 films I picked here are all films that made me think, struck a personal connection, lingered in the brain, entertained me in a way that I found smart, felt innovative, or even appalled me to the core in some cases... but all of have managed to stick with me in one way or another. Where available, I've linked to trailers, so you can watch the trailer for most of these films by clicking on the film's title.

100. Fat Girl
(2001) Catherine Breillat - France

This one is one I went back and forth on including honestly. When I first saw it, I found it ballsy, unnerving, and completely unflinching in it's look at sexuality and it's willingness to go to places I never imagined. Yet, with subsequent films by Breillat, I'm starting to think of her as someone whose main purpose is crass shock value, and it has somewhat diminished my appreciation for this film to a certain extent. I know people who love this one to pieces, and I know others who find this film absolutely abhorrent. I understand both sides of the argument. But, I decided to include this one because I think to retroactively dismiss it would be to deny the impact I felt.

This one is about a couple of sisters vacationing with their family and discovering their sexuality as well. The elder sister is young, thin, and conventionally attractive. The younger sister is chubby and plain and doesn't attract the boys. But beyond their physical differences, the sisters also have very different views about romance and sex as well. The ending here is shockingly abrupt, graphic, and disturbing, and I think it's probably the reason most people either love it or hate it. At the time, I loved it for it's boldness. I'm not quite sure where I fall on it now.

99. Sangre de mi Sangre
(2008) Christopher Zalla - USA/Argentina

There've been a few films as of late that have delved into illegal immigration and the immigrant experience, some successful, others less so, but I this is the one that I found to be the most interesting of the bunch, and interestingly enough, one I caught entirely by accident.

This two young men sneaking into the country - one is meet up with the father he never knew when his mother dies, the other a criminal who is fleeing to escape some hoodlums who want him killed. The two become friendly, but their friendship is short lived as the criminal steals the other guy's backpack with everything he had and shows up on the father's doorstep assuming the other's identity. The real son is left to wander New York City alone with no resources. The film follows what becomes of these two boys and both halves of the story are equally compelling.

98. Best In Show
(2000) Christopher Guest - USA

One thing I've come to discover is that my taste in comedy doesn't seem to match up with the majority. There always seems to be one big breakout comedy that comes along each year that breaks box office records and people endlessly quote or become sort of cult classics. But I've watched them, and I simply don't understand. The Hangover, Wedding Crashers, Borat, Napoleon Dynamite... all these films seem to make people laugh, and well, I wish I was in on the joke. I just never found myself laughing or even amused. But Christopher Guest's mockumentaries... THESE make me laugh.

This one follows a bunch of pet-obsessed eccentrics who compete in the dog show circuit and it really sort of spoofs and mocks the whole culture of these little stage parent-like kooks that obsess about their dogs and these contests. And I crack up every time.

97. Werckmeister Harmonies
(2001) Béla Tarr - Hungary

Curiously intriguing would probably be the best way I could describe this one. It's one of those films that's rather ambiguous in nature, but manages to evoke a mood and a feeling like few others I've seen, and it's managed to linger ever. I recall watching this one, and experiencing such a feeling of dread, even though I had no idea what lied ahead or if I was even supposed to be feeling that way. There's just such an odd and ominous air about the film the builds and grows, and mostly through Tarr's use of music and uncomfortably long takes (I recall reading that there were only 33 takes or something like that in the entire two-and-a-half hours). If a largely dialogue-free, black-and-white Hungarian film sounds like it would be a chore to you, than it quite likely will be. But for the few who think that the above sounds interesting, I would encourage you to check it out. Although I couldn't find a trailer with English subtitles, I think this clip does a pretty good job of succinctly giving you a feel for the film.

(2002) Lynne Ramsay - Scotland

Lynne Ramsay was one of my favorite directors to emerge at the turn of the decade, so it's been disappointing to me that she hasn't made another film since this one, though I recently read that she is teaming up with Tilda Swinton to adapt the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin into a film, which makes me very happy. I find this one a little more difficult to discuss regarding the whole plot, but I find this one fascinating mostly because of the character and the actress who plays her. Samantha Morton stars as the title character, and I believe her to be among the best actresses of her generation (she'll be in quite a few of these films, including another in this segment). I don't think many actresses could have played such a damaged character like Morvern quite so effectively, especially since much of the performance (and the film, by extension) is so internal, and I think that her performance fuses beautifully with Ramsay's style of filmmaking.
95. The Gleaners And I
(2000) Agnès Varda - France

While Varda is probably best known for her films from the French new Wave, such as Cleo From 5 to 7, she's one of those directors whose documentary work I find infinitely more fascinating. In part because I find Varda herself so fascinating. One of the biggest lessons I learned in college was that a fascinating professor could make even the dullest of subjects interesting, and I think that sort of applies here as well. Inspired by a painting of a woman gleaning (or, scavenging) wheat, she set off to make a documentary about people who live off the land scavenging to survive, both in rural and in urban settings. But Varda is very much a part of this film, as she mingles with the subjects she speaks with and scavenges along side of them. And while in her 70's at the time the film was made, she's a complete free spirit and her childlike enthusiasm for what she's doing makes this such an enjoyable watch.
94. The Weather Underground
(2003) Sam Green & Bill Siegel - USA
While this group drew more attention later in the decade, I'd not been familiar with them at the time this film came out, and I found this to be an interesting and well-researched look at the group who despite lofty ideals, imploded in on itself by adopting the wrong tactics to convey their message.

93. Minority Report
(2002) Steven Spielberg - USA

See, I like mainstream stuff too! It's not all artsy-fartsy existential documentaries about Bolivian ox herders and stuff :)
But seriously, I've always appreciated this one quite a bit and find it a bit underrated among the decade's science fiction films, and I find the moral implications of the story interesting. Though I'm no Tom Cruise fan and I think the supporting cast (Max Von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton) is much better, he didn't annoy me, so there's that. This one might have come in just outside of the top 100, but I actually happened to catch this one again not too long ago, and found it held up rather well and I found myself reconsidering it for this list.

(2006) Jeff Feuerzeig - USA

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a fan of Johnston's music, but I did find this documentary about this man and his career to be a rather amazing look at mental illness. I can't say I knew much about the man beforehand, though I'd heard of him and was aware that he had a small but devoted cult following, I was unaware of the man's battle with severe bipolar disorder that has both shaped his work and undermined any hopes for success he would ever have.

91. The Virgin Suicides
(2000) Sofia Coppola - USA

Back when this came out, I saw the trailer, and I didn't recall thinking too much of it (I think it had somewhat of a teeny bopper chick-literature appeal), but I caught it later on DVD and was interested to find it had more depth than I imagined it to have. The story focuses more on the group of young boys in the film who now, 25 years later, are recalling the events that occurred one summer when the Lisbon sisters - the object of all the boys affections - offed themselves, and the memory that lingers for them all these years later. Coppola gives the film a very moody, mysterious aura and manages to imbue the whole film with a very distinct feeling of time and place that makes this film work so well. I was happy that my preconceived notions were wrong.
90-81 will be up soon...

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