Monday, April 27, 2015

The Best of the Decade (So Far): Comic Book and Sci-Fi

It's the year 2015, which means we're halfway through the decade already!

For the next several weeks, I'm going to assess the decade that is so far.  I'll post lists of the best movies of several genres, as well as the best talents of the decade - all leading up to an overall list of the 50 Best Films of the Decade (So Far), taking into consideration any film that was theatrically released between January 1, 2010 to May 15, 2015.

This week I'll focus on two genres: Comic Book Movies and Sci-Fi. Let's get started.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Best of The Decade (So Far): Romance and Documentaries

It's the year 2015, which means we're halfway through the decade already!

For the next several weeks, I'm going to assess the decade that is so far.  I'll post lists of the best movies of several genres, as well as the best talents of the decade - all leading up to an overall list of the 50 Best Films of the Decade (So Far), taking into consideration any film that was theatrically released between January 1, 2010 to May 15, 2015.

I'm going to kick it all off this week with two lists: Romance and Documentaries. Let's get started.

Best Romance Movies:

Annie Hall. When Harry Met Sally... Before Sunrise. Brokeback Mountain
What makes a love story stand the test of time?  It isn't about whether or not the guy gets the girl.  It certainly isn't any by-the-numbers formula.  The love stories that are remembered and revered are the ones that say something about love and relationships. They offer something more than the plot, they move us, they relate to us, their characters feel like real people we can care about, mostly because (again) we can relate to them.  Below are the best love stories of the 2010s.

10. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence anchor this story about a man with bipolar disorder's misguided attempts at creating a stable life and the young woman he meets that turns it all upside down.  Cooper gives one of the most nuanced, less showy depictions of manic depression while Lawrence offers a feisty love interest that calls him on his bullshit. It has a hint of familiarity in the end, but it's certainly one of the most intriguing romance movies of the past few years.

9. Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke's painful portrait of a couple at the end of their lives is one of the most poignant stories about marriage you'll encounter.  It's full of little touches that add to the character's reality and pain. Being about illness and death doesn't make for a fun date night, but Amour is certainly a fine film that any married couple would appreciate.

8. The Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything is known as the Stephen Hawking movie, but it's really about the marriage of Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones).  Sure, Redmayne gives the star-making performance, but Jones is equally impressive as a woman who loves and is devoted, but is weighed down by the stress of care-taking a man with ALS. The Theory of Everything is a lovely film that begins as a charming and beautiful love story, but evolves into a fine film about the limits of love and devotion.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
For those looking for an antidote to the Twilight series, this is the movie for them. Beautifully shot, this is the slice-of-life story of two long-time lovers who happen to be vampires. Director Jim Jarmusch isn't known for making incredibly

6. Beginners (2010)
Beginners was one of those films that ended up being way better than anyone expected. Ewan McGregor stars as a graphic artist whose father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet. The film bounces between McGregor's relationship with his father and a budding romance with a French actress (Melanie Laurent). Plummer received lots of kudos for his performance as a twilight-era free-spirited homosexual, however all the major players here are excellent and deserve more credit than they received. McGregor gives a career-best performance and Laurent is lovely, charming and the perfect love interest.

5. Enough Said (2013)
This is a charming little film about a 40-something relationship between two parents of college-aged kids. Director Nicole Holofcener makes her most accessible film, yet it still never feels like a typical rom-com. Julia-Louis Dreyfuss stars as a massage therapist who discovers her client-turned-friend is her new boyfriend's ex-wife. The late, great James Gandolfini plays the boyfriend, a take-it-or-leave-it sort of everyman. The two leads are charming, the script avoids going full rom-com, and it's wonderfully peppered with relatable asides and moments that make it one of the most enjoyable love stories of the decade.

4. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)
Edgar Wright dips into the comic book genre with this brilliant adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's series of graphic novels. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a manic look at the baggage we all carry into a new relationship full of pop culture references. This isn't a film so much for the Millenials as it is for Gen X, a generation that can relate to the video game references and, most importantly, can appreciate what it was like to date in your early twenties. Scott Pilgrim is a creative, fun film that looks at relationships through an entirely new lens.

3. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine is one of the decade's most significant love stories. Directed by Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines) and starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it bounces in time between the beginning and the disintegration of a relationship. It may not move one to tears, it is an effective and emotionally brutal look at what can happen when life moves faster than a relationship and how we're raised can lead us to repeat past mistakes.

2. Before Midnight (2013)
Stop! Move on if you've never seen Richard Linklater's wonderful Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)!  If you have seen those then you must see Before Midnight, the possible end of a trilogy about Celine and Jesse. The Before trilogy has always been an unconventional love story (two people just walk around talking?!) that taps into something very unique to love at certain stages in one's life. Before Midnight does that, as well, however its real power doesn't come until a climactic hotel room fight that once again puts this relationship in question.

1. Her (2013)
Her is a breathtaking love story, a film with a simple concept, but a lot to say. A lonely man buys an artificially intelligent operating system for his computer and mobile devices and falls in love. Her is a love story, first and foremost, that questions the boundaries of love and what society finds acceptable.  It also perfectly expresses the excitement of getting to know each other, the fights brought on by a well-meaning gesture or action, and ache of the realization that one of you has grown beyond the other. Joaquin Phoenix is great here, playing a man far removed from Johnny Cash, Commodus, or any of his other famous characters, and makes us believe in this relationship.  Scarlett Johansson is even more amazing here, having come late into the production (Emily Watson was originally cast as Samantha and read off-camera to Joaquin) and never met her co-star. Scarlett's disembodies voice work transcends and makes us believe Samantha is a real being, and thus, her relationship with Phoenix's Ted equally real. It is, along with 2014's Under the Skin, Johansson's best performance and a great film about love.

Honorable Mentions: About Time; Crazy, Supid, Love; Friends with Benefits; The Kids Are All Right

Best Documentaries:

The previous decade popularized the documentary and, as a result, saw many great ones released. Bowling for Columbine, Fog of War, Murderball... there were social injustices, political failures, and lots of human interest that were insightful, maddening, and moving.  A great documentary is one that shows us something incredible about our world or society without being too didactic or cursory. The following films do just that. Some are so incredible, full of twists and turns, that the viewer is better off letting them wash over the viewer instead of knowing everything or even watching a trailer ahead of time. All of them must be seen and shared and discussed.

10. How to Survive a Plague (2012)
This documentary by David France about two groups of activists - TAG and ACT UP - and their fight for awareness and survival during the AIDS epidemic of the '80s and '90s is a fantastic 'never forget' wake-up call on those who risked everything, because they'd otherwise have nothing. We've come a long way since AIDS first hit our shores and spread like wildfire. This film reminds us how lucky we are now.

9. 20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
The unsung heroes of rock music finally get their moment to shine in this enjoyable doc by Morgan Neville, producer of 2011's Pearl Jam Twenty. Music lovers, both casual and sincere, will appreciate this spotlight on the incredible voices that back up our greatest musicians. It's a feel-good flick, however one that also puts a face to many of the greatest voices in rock history.

8. Catfish (2010)
There's very little that can be said of Catfish to those who might not have seen it (hint: it's not about bottom-water fishing). At the same time, it's so notorious that it was verbed ("to be catfished") and, bizarrely enough, spawned an MTV reality series.  The enjoyment of Catfish, like some of these other docs, is in not knowing anything about it beforehand.  It's a film that started out as one thing before becoming something entirely different, complete with a "No effing way!" moment.

7. Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Searching for Sugar Man is an incredible story about the legend of a musician named Rodriguez, a folk music hero on par with Bob Dylan who never got his due. It's a journey, one with plenty of twists and turns. The late (and young) director Malik Bendjelloul does a great job proving Rodriguez's talent and taking the viewer through this incredible legend and all of its surprises. Go in fresh on this one, as well.

6. The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Meet Jacqueline and Richard Siegel. He's in his seventies; she's in her forties. He's a timeshare mogul; she is a former beauty queen. They are incredibly rich. They are so rich that they embarked on building what would become the largest home in the United States, modeled after the Palace of Versailles in France, it is nearly 179,000 square feet, 11 kitchens, 13 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms and much, much more. Then the economy crashed. Construction on Versailles stalled and this incredibly wealthy family was having to shop at Wal-Mart and eat from McDonald's. This documentary about one family's struggle (however outlandish) during the Recession is at times uncomfortable, but always fascinating.

5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)
Joan Rivers was one of the hardest working women in show business. If anyone needs proof of this they need to look no further than this documentary. Filmed as the comedienne turned 75 it shows Joan's daily life and professional struggles and proves she was still a sharp tack and force of nature.  Thankfully, when she passed last year fans and curios had this film to celebrate her and be reminded of what made Joan Rivers a legend.

4. The Imposter (2012)
Imagine your teenage son disappears without a trace. Now, imagine three years later he returns, but something isn't right about him. You think, with everything he endured nobody would be the same. However, you suspect there's something more going on. This is the story of The Imposter. If that story resonates with you then definitely check this out. It's another doc worth going in fresh.

3. The Interrupters (2011)
From the director of Hoop Dreams, Steve James, comes what may be the most powerful documentary of the decade, The Interrupters. What are the Interrupters?  They are a group of people who are fighting against violence in the Chicago area via an organization called CeaseFire. They are tireless crusaders devoted to helping their community end violence at its source, to end conflicts before violence erupts.  With all of the cop/civilian violence we've seen lately, The Interrupters is one of the most important social documentaries of the decade. The film follows a handful of these community heroes, delving into their own histories of crime and violence, and witnesses their impact on several lives.  It will move you like no other documentary this decade.

2. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
What a mind-fuck! There are very few films that are as mind-bending and meta as Exit Through the Gift Shop, which features the elusive street artist Banksy. This is like viewing an Escher painting as documentary.  What starts as one thing, a look at graffiti artists and, in particular, Banksy, becomes an entirely different thing that examines the relationship between observer and subject.  Watch this film knowing little - but pay very close attention!

1. Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)
From the director of An Inconvenient Truth comes this dissection of America's public education system. 'Superman', through easy-to-understand graphics, statistics, and the lives of a half-dozen students, breaks down what isn't working in our education system and examines possible existing alternatives when the status quo fails our youth.  Director Davis Guggenheim helps us understand why our education system is broken and how not everyone will be afforded the opportunities that exist outside that system. But at least there is hope for some of our country's youth. Waiting for 'Superman' will make you angry, it will move you, and it will make you sad. But, hopefully, it will also make you more aware of the opportunities available for your kids to get the education they deserve.

Those are my picks for the best Romance and Documentaries of the decade so far.  What do you think?

Check back soon, as I'll look at the best Comic Book Movies and Science Fiction films of the decade so far.