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.