Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best of the Decade: Foreign and Action Films

Welcome once again to my series of blogs that takes a look back at the decade and counts down the best in film. This is the fifth entry in the series, Foreign and Action films, and the first from which I will hopefully post weekly every Wednesday night.

So, let's get on with it. Foreign language films are strangely enough the toughest sell to the general American audience - more than any genre of film. It's somewhat odd, because foreign is not a genre per se. It just means that it came from somewhere else. So, there are foreign language films of every genre that appeals to the general American audience (animation, action, comedy - you name it). But it's still tough for foreign films to catch on here. Why? Because of subtitles. As a result, out of the hundreds of foreign films that are released every year, only a small few make a mark - and the lucky handful become popular Stateside.

Regardless, foreign films did gain some acceptance from American audiences this past decade, thanks to the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Because of that film, there seemed to be one big foreign hit every year for a while - usually an Asian film of some kind with bright, vivid colors and spectacular visuals. So, here are my picks for the best foreign language films I saw that were released this decade. Bear in mind, there are hundreds released every year, so there might be one or two that I missed (e.g. Oldboy).

10. Night Watch
9. Volver
8. 4 Weeks, 5 Months, 2 Days
7. House of Flying Daggers
5. Kung Fu Hustle
4. Hero
3. Let the Right One In
2. Pan's Labyrinth
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Honorable mention: Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amelie

I've really gotta say, it was a toss-up between Let the Right One In and Pan's Labyrinth for the number two spot - they are equal to each other in their dark, quietly acted, and powerfully told adult fables. But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon still reigned supreme for its long-forgotten subtleties by its leads, the magnificent visuals that were unmatched (only copied), jaw-dropping action, and beautifully-told story. But I will forgive anyone who prefers my number two or three picks over it as they are truly magnificent, must-see films.

So, on to action films. This genre is one of movie studios' favorites to make, because they typically don't take any chances, are fun, and are proven to rake in money at the box office. As a result, most action films rehash stuff we've already seen before, consider story-telling a waste of energy, and lack any intelligence whatsoever. But there still manage to be some really great action films despite this. What makes a great action film? First, it prioritizes the action as second to the story - or if not then it's at least too fun to notice. Second, it does something that we've never seen before or improves on what we have seen. Third, it doesn't completely insult your intelligence. Here are the action movies from the past decade that I think do this best:

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
9. Planet Terror
8. Transformers
7. Mission: Impossible III
6. District B13
5. Unleashed
4. The Bourne Supremacy
3. King Kong
2. Casino Royale
1. Kill Bill

Honorable mention: Crank, Once Upon a Time in Mexico

If you haven't seen any of those then you're in for an absolute blast of a night in with the DVD player. Every one of these films is a lot of fun and fulfill what I laid out above toward making a great action flick. And what film fulfilled those requirements more than Kill Bill? That film is all about making cooler what we've seen before (or haven't seen, depending on your tastes in film). Yes, I do consider Volumes I & II as one film, because they are! This film, like The Lord of the Rings, was divided up mostly because of marketing and financial reasons. But what a great use of the age-old revenge story! And what amazing action and visuals! Equally important, the acting was uniformly solid throughout, something that can't be said for most action films.

So, there's my picks for the best foreign language and action films of the decade. I strongly encourage you to check out each and every one of these films that you haven't seen. No matter how well you like them, you certainly won't regret seeing them. That's going to do it for this week. Please feel free to add a comment below. Thanks to those who have commented in the past, but not many of you readers are giving feedback. Don't be shy.

Next week, I'll be back to count down the best actors and actresses of the decade; those who made the biggest mark, produced the best (not most) material, and/or were indispensible to film this past decade. So, that could be interesting. Until then, enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Best of the Decade: Musicals and Family Films

All right. So, I'm back with the 4th part of my series of blogs that looks back on the movies of the decade and counts down the best. I've finally reached a point where I can be more consistent about how often I post blogs. I hope to be able to post once a week from now on.

So, this week I will be counting down the best in musicals and family films. Let me begin with musicals. The musical genre had a bit of a resurgence this decade, beginning with the success of Moulin Rouge in 2001. I believe this lead to a release that averaged one or two musicals per year (excluding animated features). Unfortunately, some were not very good and others were adequate. Due to the lack of output and quality, it was impossible for me to create a top 10 list. Therefore, I present to you the top five musicals of the decade:

5. Hairspray
4. Bride & Prejudice
3. Dancer in the Dark
2. Once
1. Moulin Rouge

Honorable mention: Dreamgirls

And now for family films. The reason this was quite difficult was because family films are one of the most commonly produced genres of film. Unfortunately, most are pretty bad or mediocre because they either talk down to kids or rely on formulas and cliches to tell stories. But there were enough exceptions to formulate a list of ten great family films. These are typically fantastical, but almost always have some message about the importance of family. So, here they are:

10. Peter Pan
9. The Spiderwick Chronicles
8. Bridge to Terabithia
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
6. Charlotte's Web
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
4. Elf
3. Enchanted
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
1. Where the Wild Things Are

Honorable mention: Because of Winn-Dixie, the Harry Potter series, Prince Caspian

So, there are my picks for the best in musicals and family films. To be honest, I'm kind of glad to be done with this one. I hope to be back next week with the best in foreign films (non-English language films) and action films. Until then, feel free as always to leave comments below on where you and I differ or what you agree with. I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Best of the Decade: Comic Book Movies & Sci-fi (revised)

Ok, so it's time for another entry into my series of best movies of the decade. Just to remind everybody, this is a series of blogs that is counting down the best of the decade in film, first through the top 10 of each genre, then the top actresses and actors of the decade, moving into a countdown of the top 10 films overall, and a list of the top 100 films of the decade. A lot of work? Perhaps, but I am up to the challenge and have been hard at work on this for a couple months now.

So, here we go. This week, I will look at comic book movies and science fiction films. First up: comic book movies.

This decade has seen an explosion of sorts with movies based on comic books to the extent that it went beyond just an occasional novelty - a la Donner's Superman, Burton's Batman, and every Howard the Duck and Steel in between - to a respectable genre of its own. Some say it started with 2002's Spider-Man, others claim 2000's X-Men, but I say it really started with 1998's Blade. You may notice that these are all Marvel comics properties. It is no coincidence that the publishing company that started the CBM craze grew to such success that it built it's own movie studio and ended the decade by being bought by one of the top corporations of the world: Disney. Blade made X-Men possible, which made Spider-Man possible, which blew the doors open for CBMs and has been unstoppable since.

But not every comic book movie was gold. Yes, there were many instant classics - most of which will be featured below. But there were also plenty of movies like Elektra, Catwoman, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and some in between. Below are the best you'll find to come out this decade. Keep in mind, comic books are way more than just superheroes and so are CBMs.

10. American Splendor
9. 300
8. Ghost World
7. Sin City
6. Road to Perdition
5. Iron Man
4. Watchmen
3. X2
2. Spider-Man 2
1. The Dark Knight

Honorable mentions: Batman Begins, V for Vendetta, and A History of Violence

So, that brings us to sci-fi. Now, I should preface this list by explaining that I was unable to catch Moon, which came out 3-4 months ago. And since the film isn't being released on DVD until close to January I thought it best not to wait around. So it's VERY possible that Moon would be included in this list had I seen it.

Now, having said that I think it's important to note what makes a great sci-fi film. Well, as 2001: A Space Odyssey showed us, a great sci-fi flick uses the science fiction aspect of the story as a secondary element to the story. These sorts of films feature a rather intellectual, heady theme or story that is often innovative or, at the very least, very creative to the genre. That doesn't mean that every great sci-fi film must be as high-brow as 2001. In fact, those kinds of films are in the minority - and because they are in the minority, most sci-fi films are familiar, predictable, or focus more on special effects than on character or story. But sci-fi can also be fun and exciting and remind us why we go to the movies! The list below has examples from both camps of sci-fi: the intellectual and the fun - both offer something new and innovative, if not simply a great time at the movies.

10. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
9. Transformers
8. Star Trek
7. Serenity
6. Minority Report
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Sunshine
3. District 9
2. Children of Men
1. Donnie Darko

Honorable mention: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Ok, so I imagine this may be my most controversial list thus far. Keep in mind the order of the lists are slightly loosely contructed. But feel free to draw and quarter me up in the comments section or tell me what films I may have overlooked - or even why you agree! I look forward to your feedback.

Next time I will be counting down the best in musicals and family films. Until then!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Worst Movies of the Decade

I just wanted to take a time-out from my series on the best films of the decade to recognize the worst. While I've only seen one film on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst reviewed films of the decade I have managed to see some crap. Thankfully, the nightmares must be over since I had to research my Netflix ratings to jog my memory on crappy movies.

So, here are my top 25 worst movies I've seen this decade. The movies listed below are all theatrical releases only, NO straight-to-DVD films. I've decided to make a brief statement about the top 10 as to why I thought they were crap.


1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
While the action in this cash cow is truly awesome, the reason this movie stands above all the terrible action movies listed below is it isn't just horrendously ridiculous, illogical, or full of itself - no, it is the single most offensive film I've seen this decade. It's racist, sexist, objectifies women, and insults the audience's intelligence - all of this from a film marketing a kid's toy line!

2. Teeth
Many thought this was a great horror film. I found all the characters to be horrendous and difficult to believe, which defeated the movie's point.

3. Doogal
On Rotten Tomatoes' list. Only saw it because of work. The single worst animated movie of the decade. A complete waste of a talented cast.

4. What the Bleep Do We Know?!
Absolutely moronic. Worst documentary of the decade.

5. Gods and Generals
Bloated and unnecessary sequel to a war film of all things. Most boring film of the decade.

6. What's the Worst That Could Happen?
The joke is "This movie." It's in no way a funny movie. Worst comedy of the decade.

7. Cat in the Hat
Embarrassingly bad for everybody involved. Mikey Myers' worst performance.

8. Haunted Mansion
I weep for Eddie Murphy. Watch Beverly Hills Cop and then this (if you must). The difference is unbelievable. Terrible idea. Terrible family film.

9. Pearl Harbor
Michael Bay directing a history film is an awful idea. It so painfully tries to be Titanic at war and ends up being the worst romance and epic of the decade. Painfully bad. The bombing sequence was good, however.

10. Aliens Vs. Predator
Horrendously acted. Embarrassingly cheesy. Laughingly bad. And not nearly as gory or scary as it should've been.
11. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
12. Cursed
13. Zu Warriors
14. Van Helsing
15. Balls of Fury
16. Zombie Strippers
17. Bad Boys 2
18. Underworld
19. DOA: Dead or Alive
20. Wolverine
21. D.E.B.S.
22. The Punisher
23. S.W.A.T.
24. American Pie 2
25. Pauly Shore is Dead

Feel free to argue, respectfully disagree, or yell in the comments section below.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Best of the Decade: Documentaries & Animation

All right, finally on to the next countdown of the decade. For this entry, I'll be counting down my picks for the best documentaries and animated features of the decade.

This has been a highly politically-charged decade and documentaries reflected the polarizing issues of the time. The genre also took a more populist turn this decade, which worked in favor of the issue-heavy films. In fact, at first glance it was rather difficult to think of films that didn't have anything to do with foreign politics or social issues. But upon further research, it was clear there were just as many Grizzly Mans as there were Inconvenient Truths. Here are the ones that are guaranteed to entertain and engage your minds:

10. DiG!
9. Control Room
8. Winged Migration
7. Spellbound
6. An Inconvenient Truth
5. Who Killed the Electric Car?
4. Fahrenheit 9/11
3. Murderball
2. Bowling for Columbine
1. Fog of War

Honorable mentions: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, The Corporation, and Super Size Me

Even if you know nothing about any of these, I encourage you to check them out and add them to your Netflix queue - you won't be disappointed!

Now on to the Animated features. I know that some bristle at the idea of segregating them as a separate category. While I don't disagree that animation can masterfully tell stories of whimsy as well as heartache or horror, I just felt I had to honor them alone to give a better opportunity for some to be represented.

Now, I think it goes without saying that Pixar pretty much ruled the decade in the field of animation. No, I'm not being paid by them in any way. But if you look in terms of prioritizing character and story first then technical achievment second, Pixar always comes out on top in every way. However, there are a few non-Pixar animated movies that came out this decade that made quite a mark.

Briefly, I would note that when considering this category, I thought of the movies that had memorable characters, a story that makes you care, and that tried doing something different either on a technical or thematic level. For every Monsters Inc. there's a hundred Happily N'Ever Afters. Here we go:

10. Shrek
9. The Triplets of Belleville
8. Finding Nemo
7. The Incredibles
6. Bolt
5. Spirited Away
4. Ratatouille
3. Persepolis
2. Up
1. Wall-E

Honorable mention: Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

I'm sure you've probably seen most of these. But be sure to check out the one or two that have escaped your attention. They are all thoroughly enjoyable.

Right. Well, if there's a film you think I neglected to consider, please write in on the comments below. Remember, the order of these lists are somewhat rough so don't be offended if you thought The Incredibles was a slightly better film than Bolt or something. That being said, I welcome your feedback.

Next time I will be counting down the best in comic book and sci-fi movies. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Best of the Decade: Romance & Horror (revised)

The decade is winding down. And people all over the internet are starting to count down (though slightly prematurely) their best of the decade lists. I am no different in catching that excitement and interest in reviewing the decade that soon will be no more in film. So, starting this month I hope to write a series of blogs (one per month) that counts down the best in film, first by genres, then my ultimate Top 10 of the Decade, leading to a list of the 100 Greatest Films of the Decade. Some may recall I started this list over 4 years ago, counting the Top 50 of the decade's 1st half.

So, with this first entry of the series, I thought I'd focus on two genres. In celebration of the release of Paper Heart and (500) Days of Summer, the latter in particular is getting exceptional buzz, I thought I'd count down the Top 10 Romances. And as a contrast to that, Top 10 Horror.

All right. So, romance movies. If there's ANY of these films you haven't seen, definitely make sure you do, because each of these do something different with the genre or are the best the typical Hollywood romance has to offer.

10. Knocked Up
9. Moulin Rouge
8. High Fidelity
7. Before Sunset
6. Love Actually
5. Waitress
4. Once
3. (500) Days of Summer
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
1. Brokeback Mountain

Honorable mention: Amelie, Atonement, The Notebook

And now for the Top 10 Horror movies of the Decade.  If there's a film listed here you haven't seen and you like horror definitely check it out. The thing about horror is it's usually a cheap-thrill, cliche-ridden genre. Well, these films are the ones that rose above these trappings and offer something better or simply do it all really well.

10. The Descent
9. The Orphanage
8. Drag Me to Hell
7. 28 Days Later
6. The Mist
5. Dawn of the Dead
4. The Ring
3. Shaun of the Dead
2. The Others
1. Let The Right One In

Honorable mention: Identity, Paranormal Activity, Slither, 1408, and Zombieland

So there you have it. Bear in mind that the order of these lists are somewhat loosely constructed. Check back in the future as I count down other genres such as documentaries and animated films. Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section below. Do you agree or disagree? What would you have included or left off?