Part 1 of 10
During the hot afternoons when my shirt is glued to my back (humidity in the upper 80s!), and it’s too hot to move, I get to thinking. I think about movies. It’s been a whopping five and a half years in our current decade, which means I can finally dissect the previous one for its cinematic gems and guilty pleasures. Over the next few weeks, I’ll focus that boredom into a master list of my fave movies in the from 2000 to 2009. Here’s what I’ve got now.
100. Big Fish (2003)
Tim Burton’s Southern gothic/fairy tale is perhaps his most sentimental movie. It’s got a bit of Forrest Gump in its meandering, larger than life scope, but filtered through something much weirder and less political. At its core, the movie follows the reconciliation of a dying father and his distant son, which adds a serious bookend to what is essentially an anthology of tall tales. The result is a portrait of a life well-lived, a meditation on the people that we meet and impact even when we mess up at home.
Double Feature: Second Hand Lions
99. Hidalgo (2004)
Even before Joe Johnston directed a smashing Captain America, he had a great adventure his belt. There was The Rocketeer and one of my guilty pleasures, Hidalgo. Fresh off LOTR, Viggo Mortenson and his horse (the titular character) travel to the Arabian desert for the world’s most grueling horse race. Interestingly, this movie is loosely based on fact, as much a tall tale as anything in Big Fish above. It’s a little too long (136 minutes) and a little too serious (the massacre of Native Americans in a kids movie – points for trying, I guess) but ultimately I take Roger Ebert’s view: “Bold, exuberant and swashbuckling.”
Fun Facts: It’s got Malcolm McDowell and Omar Sharif, so it can’t be that bad.
98. Zombieland (2009)
Good action comedies are hard to come by, perhaps why director Ruben Fleischer’s next film 30 Minutes of Less was such a lame duck. Still, it’s hard to argue against Zombieland‘s brand of violent fun. It takes the angsty, dreadfully serious world of the zombie apocalyse and finds a strange humor to it. When there is no one around, there is no one to stop you from having some fun too. Cue montages, excessively violent zombie dispatching, and the best cameo in years. Comedy vet Woody Harrelson anchors the laughs, and lets the radiant Emma Stone and the brilliantly idiosyncratic Jesse Eisenberg (one year from The Social Network) take center stage.
Remember…the crazy ad campaign with Harrelson and Eisenberg explaining the rules of surviving the apocalypse. “Always carry a change of underwear.” Sigh
97. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
If you are seeing a pattern here, don’t be surprised. Benjamin Button, like Hidalgo and Big Fish is essentially a tall tale with similarities to Forrest Gump. The difference? David Fincher. Fincher injects this tale of a man who ages backwards from a geezer to a toddler, with regret, thoughtfulness, and yearning. Sure, Benjamin travels the world, but not in style. He freezes in Murmansk and works on a tugboat. His journey is frequently beautiful but never glamorous. Most of all, Benjamin never gets the life he deserves with Daisy (Cate Blanchett: graceful, sad), his soul mate. More of study of solitude and the “ships passing in the night” problem, The Curious Case of Benjamin shows that even in reverse, life has a lot of ups and downs, which is ok. Human condition, I guess.
Eat: Beignets while watching, for New Orleans. They are a form of fried pastry, like a donut and funnel cake combined. Cover with powdered sugar. Enjoy.
96. National Treasure (2004)
It’s impossible to watch this treasure hunting flick without a healthy greasing of nostalgia. For better of worse, the Nicolas-Cage-as Indiana-Jones-film was a smash hit and probably a better movie than the actual Indiana Jones film that came out later in the decade. Today we laugh about the “map on the back of the declaration of independence!” and it all began here. The ludicrous plot creates effortless fun and one of the best heist sequences in recent memory. I’d try to explain it better, but even after many views, I’m not sure I can.
Justin Bartha’s Peak:
-Cage: “Do you know what the Preservation room for?”
-Bartha: “Delicious jams and jellies?” Classic.
95. Adventureland (2009)
More Jesse Eisenberg! This time his twitchy ways are transported to suburban Pittsburgh, where his soon to be Ivy League self must work at an amusement park to fund grad school. For some reason it’s in 1987, for some reason Kristen Stewart is actually pretty good, and for some reason it turns out more sad than funny. Greg Mottola was coming off Superbad, which for all it’s sex humor had a heart. This one goes even further, not reaching The Graduate levels of despair, but coming close.
Further viewing: Breaking Away, a late 70s classic about living in a small town and trying to feel important. Coming of age at its finest.
94. Holes (2003)
Prison…for kids? Something like that. Shia Labeouf, back when he was cute, plays Stanley Yelnats IV. He’s part of a cursed family (though Henry Winkler is his dad, so is it that bad?) so naturally he gets arrested for stealing shoes and is sent to a prison camp in the desert. Along with some quirky buds who sound like the Cartoon Network version of the X-Men – Armpit, Magnet, X-Ray, and Zero – he’s able to reverse the curse and save the camp. There is a zingy plot about buried treasure, and flashbacks, but suffice it to say it’s more fun than serious.
93. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Otherwise known as when Harry went emo. No, it’s doesn’t reach the gloriously gloomy lows of Order of the Phoenix, but Azkaban marked a departure from Chris Columbus’ magical romps into some more serious territory. Spanish auteur Alfonso Cuaron brought some gravitas and visual style to Rowling’s world in an extremely satisfying outing. Hardcore fans lament the changes from the book, particularly the loss of the school uniforms for street clothes, but the movie succeeds because it feels urgent. For the first time, magic outgrows special effects and feels like an actual force, that can be manipulated for good and evil. As the final few books would hammer home though, love is the ultimate magic, and we see that in the films most tender moments.
Interviews with cute kids:
92. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
When it comes to historic films, anachronisms are always hard to avoid. So, for his the sports/comedy/romantic/drama, Brian Helgeland (writer behind LA Confidential) went a different direction to tell his jousting story. It’s got a soundtrack which features a host of classic rock like Queen and Classic Rock, and Paul Bettany’s in a supporting role as, uh, Chaucer who delivers WWE style pump speeches pre-joust. The best part has to be Heath Ledger, the scrappy underdog who impersonates a knight to enter the world of jousting. Ledger is funny, sexy, physical – a movie star rocketing to the top.
91. Saving Silverman (2001)
All of the films thus far have some degree of critical acclaim. Saving Silverman is about as well liked as a pepperoni pizza at a synagogue. (That terrible joke was to check if you’re still reading). True, it’s nearly nonsensical, directed by the guy who made Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, but it does feature some of the best, manic acting from the best man-children around: Jack Black and Steve Zahn. See, I like slapstick. I’m hopeless. I like movies where guys get tazed, tranq’d, run over, attacked by animals, etc. The first time I saw this movie was after midnight on Spike in a hotel room. Against my better judgement, I laughed. A lot. Then I watched it again. What is it about? That guy from from American Pie is going to marry a shrew instead of the girl of his dreams. so his best buds kidnap her. Or something. So, while this might not be good, at least it’s but gusting. I mean gut busting.
2004 – 3 Movies
Jon Voigt – 2 Movies
Part 2 of 10
10 more flicks to dig into…
90. Almost Famous (2000)
Almost Famous follows the ups-and-downs of the fictional-ish band Stillwater on their tour during the Golden Days of rock and roll (the early 70’s). Teenager William Miller is along for the ride to report for the almighty Rolling Stone, despite only being 15. The story is semi-autobiographical, inspired by director Cameron Crowe’s real childhood, and with a killer soundtrack too, the movie feels very real. But what do I know, I wasn’t alive then! Beyond the verity, it’s also a tender coming of age story and an insight into the world of music and fandom, made more interesting by a band that aren’t superstars or amateurs but, well, almost famous.
Which version? There is a director’s cut that runs 40 minutes longer. If you are a fan of hard rock, check out the extended version just for more tunes. Otherwise, 2 hours should do it.
89. Castaway (2000)
Tom Hanks is a national treasure. He’s built his career with dramatic performances in movies like Philadelphia and charming turns in comedies like Big, but his best work combines both in amazingly relatable performances. Castaway tells the story of a regular guy stuck on an uninhabited island in the Pacific. He’s simply trying to survive and eventually go home. There is dialogue in the movie between Hanks and a volleyball companion, but it’s still an atypical blockbuster, built around some small moments.
What was in the package, eh?
88. Snatch (2000)
Guy Ritchie was one of the stylized directors to emerge from the ashes of Quentin Tarantino’s explosive entry into the film world. He borrowed a similar violent and humorous pastiche to tell the story of a missing diamond and the underground world of boxing. Technically the film is related to his first feature (see Lock, Stock below) but you don’t really need to watch it to get the film.
Double Feature: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
87. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Goldmember is the third movie in the franchise and easily the worst, but as its predecessors were 90’s flicks, this is the only one that can make this list. Its biggest offense is repetition: if a gag worked before, it shows up again. That being said, Mike Myer’s spy spoof is still a romp that fires off jokes at a rapid pace, so you can soon forget a previous dud. In addition, for better or worse, I watched his movie dozens of times. Even though I’d rather know all the words to a better movie, there are few sillier movies I could be this familiar with. It also set a new standard for celebrity cameos in a film that wasn’t touched until Anchorman 2 this past year upped the ante.
86. Shanghai Noon (2000)
Jackie Chan and…Owen Wilson? Following the success of Rush Hour, which paired Chan and the quick-talking Chris Tucker, studios lined up a different kind of buddy action flick: a western. They replaced the street-smart detective who can’t fight, with a laconic wanna-be con man that can’t fight. The result was a great mix: a western and a martial arts bonanza featuring Owen Wilson’s surfer charm and Jackie Chan’s insane stunts. It also is a homage to Westerns and is filled with in jokes, references, and parody sequences. Last year’s flop The Lone Ranger (actually entertaining, if flawed) could have taken some pointers from this exceedingly fun and watchable movie.
When to watch: Car ride! Pop it in the mini-van’s DVD player and ogle at the stunts on the tiny screen. Follow with the sequel, Shanghai Knights, which transplants the pair to London.
85. Road Trip (2000)
Todd Philips would later go on to direct Old School and The Hangover, two comedy classics, but Road Trip was his first fictional film (he had a controversial, if successful documentary career beforehand). What makes Road Trip so fascinating isn’t its plot (guys must make a road trip to stop an erroneously mailed sex tape) or even the jokes (basic R rated fare – mostly) but the legacy. Following the steps of American Pie, Road Trip produced the sequel/spin-off Eurotrip and a more direct to DVD duds. In addition, like the aforementioned American Pie, it’s a hallmark of that early 2000s, but pre-9/11 MTV generation aka Tom Green. Weird.