- Hot Rod (2007)
Andy Samberg’s stab at a leading man role (long before he left SNL) came with this comedy about a wanna-be stuntman with some serious daddy issues. It was directed by his fellow Lonely Islander, Akiva Schaffer. The critical reception was lukewarm, but it had enough jokes to seep into the pop culture biosphere. Ever heard someone say: “Cool Beans”? They’ve probably seen the movie.
- Grandma’s Boy (2006)
It may be a movie filled with Adam Sandler collabs and buddies, but it rises above the plot about a pot smoking video game designer forced to move into his grandma’s place towards something gracefully absurd. It also has Linda Cardellini, which is a plus.
The whole movie in 2 minutes:
- Spirited Away (2001)
Fans of Hayao Miyazaki are practically in mourning because the animation master is retiring. Spirited Away is my first and so far only foray into his intricate worlds, but I feel the loss too. The film is sort of an Alice in Wonderland -type exploration of another world and oneself. The story is heart-warming and lyrically told, like the best Pixar movie never made, but so different. I was exposed to things truly outside the range of my imagination. Wondrous comes close to explaining the experience of this film.
- Taken (2008)
This Luc Besson produced action-flick rocked audiences worldwide and reinvigorated Liam Neeson’s career. Who knew it but Oskar Schindler was going to be the next late-period Harrison Ford? In the film, Neeson plays a retired CIA agent who must blow up half of Europe to save his daughter from sex traders. Yeesh. Since Taken, Neeson has gone on to star in more B movie-ish action flicks, but Taken will always be his Air Force One.
When to watch: Sleepover with the boys!
- Best in Show (2000)
Christopher Guest and company are responsible for some of the finest mockumentaries ever. This is Spinal Tap launched his crew into the comedy stratosphere and Best in Show maintains their reputation. To describe the plot (misfits take part in a dog show) hardly grazes the surface of what makes this comedy work. It’s about the characters and their flaws, their quirks, and ultimately their little successes. You may laugh, but never negatively at someone.
Further Viewing: Waiting for Guffman
- Wedding Crashers (2005)
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are not in the midst of career highs. Their last pairing, The Internship, was a financial flop and a critical misfire. However, Wedding Crashers collected $285 million worldwide, more proof that R-rated comedies are a force to be reckoned with at the box office. Wilson and Vaughn charm their way into bridesmaids pants at wedding after wedding until their schemes go too far and they are invited to a weekend long stay with another family. The raunchy comedy takes a fairly sentimental turn, musing on love and devotion, without losing its scatological jokes.
Bradley Cooper as a villain:
- Saw (2004)
I saw this movie at a sleepover. The viewers frequently looked away or changed the channel. I changed it back. There is hardly a better compliment to a horror movie than to say it scares someone, but if that doesn’t impress you, recognize that Saw is not just a movie but a phenomenon. There is the crazy plot; two men chained together, given the chance to saw their feet off to get to freedom. There are the sequels; there are the sick games. There is a classic ending. If you haven’t seen it you owe it to your pop culture capital to give it a viewing.
Further viewing: Se7en. Fincher’s film plays in the same grimy ballpark of urban horror.
- Wonder Boys (2000)
Wonder Boys is a gem. Like the best Coen Brothers work it possesses a je-ne-sais-quoi surrealism that makes it hard to write about. It follows Michael Douglas as a failing English professor in Pittsburgh as he tries to finish the follow novel to his one hit, to mentor a brilliant student, to manage his affair (the sex kind), and to get his life on track. Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) keeps the bizarre happenings moving at a brisk, droll pace.
Watch with…Your parents to make your tastes seem more mature.
- The Ring (2002)
Remakes of Asian horror are a dime a dozen, but in the sure hands of Gore Verbinski, The Ring was a smash hit in America. Who doesn’t know about the tape that if you watch it, you will die in seven days? It’s an ingenious concept, but it’s the visuals which elevate the picture. Gloomy rain and fog mix well with creepy VHS footage. If you’re in for a scare, revisit this solid remake.
- Juno (2007)
Actors: Jason Reitman. Ellen Paige. Diablo Cody. Michael Cera. Plot: A teenage girl gets knocked up. It sounds like a bad reality show, not an indie-style (studio made) comedy, but when you add the aforementioned talent, it transforms into a quip-filled, irony-fest with a heart of gold. Juno was the damn hipster zeitgeist, and for good reason. The Academy-award winning script was matched by Jason Reitman’s sharp direction and Ellen Paige’s career defining performance.
Part 4 of 10
- There Will Be Blood (2007)
2007 was a heated Oscar year. Both Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were up for Best Picture. The equally gritty pictures were filmed just miles apart in Texas. Ultimately, PT Andersons flick about a greedy oilman getting rich in California lost, but remains one of the best movies in recent memory. Daniel Day Lewis racked up another win for his portrayal of a capitalist tycoon at the turn of the century.
If you’re thirsty:
- Nacho Libre (2006)
Yes, I like Nacho Libre better than There Will be Blood. Sue me. Nacho Libre was the follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite by Jared Hess. Riding on Jack Black’s energetic performance, the movie takes us from a small Mexican orphanage to the hallowed canvas of a Luchadore arena. Critics weren’t as kind as me, but Nacho Libre is something of a dream. Sharp and stylish like a Wes Anderson film, but much more silly. They don’t usually make movies like this for kids, and that should be enough reason to celebrate it.
Eat: Elotes – Mexican grilledstreet corn with mayo, chili powder, and lime.
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Oh look a real Wes Anderson film! I love Rushmore for many reasons, but The Royal Tenenbaums remains Wes Anderson’s defining film. The all-star cast goes on for pages, as do their bourgeoisie problems. The movie succeeds overall because it has a strong beating heart underneath its healthy helping of style and glam.
Let Alec Baldwin explain the movie better:
- Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Speaking of heartwarming movies, this feature could thaw a frigging iceberg. Little Miss Sunshine wowed critics and audiences, singlehandedly making indie movies seem important again. Like any hit, it has a million imitators now, but if you haven’t checked it out, don’t be disheartened by the rip-offs. The story of a ______ (insert adjective: quirky, real, strange, etc.) family on a journey to a beauty pageant will hit you in the feelings. Consider yourself warned.
- Step Brothers (2008)
Quotability level: high. Plot level: Low. Two manchildren becae step brothers when their adult parents get married. Hilarity ensues. If you haven’t seen this movie, get out from under your rock – why are you even reading this article?
- Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle (2004)
Unlike Step Brothers, Harold and Kumar is more than just a string of good jokes. It is equal parts homage to classic stoner comedies like Up in Smoke, and a withering social commentary. The two minority leads are put through hell for basically being not-white in America. When your dad rolls his eyes at your Friday night Netflix choice, you can explain the deep seated themes of xenophobia, acceptance, and the quest for great munchies.
This is also the movie that revitalized Neil Patrick Harris’ career. Just sayin’.
- High Fidelity (2000)
John Cusak owns it in this romantic comedy for everyone with a beating heart and a love for music. He’s an independent record store owner who goes through a nasty break-up, and then re-examines his past relationships (and the music that goes along with it). High Fidelity is based on a book by Nick Hornby and the author gave it his stamp of approval. Honestly, it seems like a music-centered work is better made for stage or screen. Look for Jack Black in an early career-defining role, and Tim Robbins as the new douche boyfriend.
Jack Black, ladies and gents:
- Ratatouille (2007)
Pixar is a high quality, filmmaking brand. Like everyone on the planet, I’ve always been a fan of their work, and in my opinion, Ratatouille is one of their best. For starters, it’s got a gonzo plot: a rat who loves to cook controls a bumbling human and catapults himself to culinary fame. Naturally, the film deals a positive message about equal opportunity, the power of positive thinking, and how to put aside snobbish ideals. Plus, it’s got a shotgun wielding grandma.
Eat: I think you know the answer to this one.
- Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Wallace and Gromit are an iconic pair, in some ways the weird British counterpart to another duo from my childhood, Tintin and Snowy. The adventures of the inventor and his dog are chronicled in a series of brilliant shorts and this fantastic feature length about a mutant rabbit that’s messing up a vegetable eating competition. It’s utter nonsense at times, but also hilarious and gushy in the middle. The day I stop loving movies like this will be a sad on, indeed.
- Sherlock Holmes (2009)
I shouldn’t like this film as much as I do. Yet, when I try to explain why Guy Ritchie’s version of the famous sleuth – or should I say Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the sleuth – is so much fun, I realize that Sherlock Holmes exemplifies a blockbuster to a T. Sure it’s disposable. There are movies higher on the list that deal in much deeper themes than it (other than a mystery, it’s a bromance) and are actually historically accurate. But, damn, it’s fun. Well-paced, well-acted, enjoyable. Many blockbusters fall under the weight of their own seriousness, get caught up in plot holes and antics, or are too factory made to stand out. Sherlock Holmes deftly steps over the common pitfalls, and comes out jolly good on the other side.
The Facts: Two more Jack Black films