“Frozen Ground”: First Look Into Serial Killer Pic

Here’s one movie I now have on my radar. Scheduled for release in December of this year, Scott Walker makes his debut as writer and director of the serial killer thriller Frozen Ground. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (who also serves as co-producer), and — most exciting, John Cusack, playing the serial killer Robert Hansen. I’m not at all a fan of Cage’s numerous action movies — but I don’t think this project will resemble any of those works at all. When Cage wants to, he has the ability to be pretty damn good in some great movies (Matchstick Men, Adaptation, Bringing out the Dead).

Based on real-life events, Frozen Ground follows the 1980’s Alaskan investigation of serial killer Robert Hansen, who stalked or killed between 17 and 21 young women. Cage plays an Alaskan detective who tries to bring down Hansen (Cusack) and finally gets his opportunity after a 17-year old (Hudgens) escapes from the killer and provides key information. Jackson has a supporting role as a pimp. But how wonderful is it that Cusack signed on to play this kind of role?

I think Cusack — who made his screen debut almost 30 years ago — is one of our most underrated actors working today. We usually associate him with being “the nice guy,” the romantic, the likable hero. But his resume suggests that he is much more than that and has played a wide variety of roles and character types. I admire the change of pace and like seeing him take on “the dark” — so it goes without saying that I personally cannot wait to see what he does playing a serial killer. Here, his character kidnaps women only to take them out in the vast Alaskan wilderness to set them free — and hunt them! Are there no deer in Alaska?! Just take a look at the production photo…he looks so creepy!

The photos seen here are first-look photos released by Voltage Pictures, the company that released Killer Joe, The Hurt Locker, and last year’s The Whistleblower. No trailer just yet, but I can’t wait to check it out. I hope it turns out to be an edgy and smart thriller for Walker and crew — and not simply a cliche-ridden story of the rogue detective who makes a singular case of his turn very personal. For now, I remain excited.

Rent It or Skip It? 5 Movies on DVD!

With so much crap in the theatres lately, I’ve been watching more film rentals at home. Since these films were out earlier in the year, I didn’t bother to write up any extensive reviews here on the site. But I thought I would do a quick run-down of what I have been watching and letting you know whether you should RENT IT! or SKIP IT! Please note that these are not film reviews – just very brief thoughts on some of the movies I’ve been playing on the ‘ol DVD.

Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn)

What a pleasant surprise this was! In what has been a very lackluster year for film thus far, this one easily stands out for me as one of the year’s best. Highly entertaining, funny, unpredictable and clever — unlike any superhero film you have ever seen. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a nerdy high school student who no one seems to notice. He desperately yearns to do good for society and decides to buy a costume online and become a modern-day super hero. Johnson fits perfectly here and he is extremely likeable. A bright future for him, for sure. Nicolas Cage gives a strong and humorous performance in a supporting role and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (you know — McLovin) is great fun as the Red Mist. Who steals the show here is Chloe Moretz as Cage’s very young daughter. She comes out with some great lines and knows how to dish out her own can of Whoop-ass. What movies should be…great fun!
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Me and Orson Welles (dir. Richard Linklater)

A very sweet coming of age story and overall, a strong film based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. I don’t know anything about Zac Efron and haven’t really seen him in anything, but he is perfectly cast here as Richard Samuels, a high school student who yearns to make something of himself in the Big City as an artist. He impresses a young Orson Welles outside his Mercury Theatre and gets a small part in what would be an extraordinary revival of Julius Caesar by the famed director. Young Richard learns a lot about love, the theatre and the politics involved throughout while dismissing his duties at school and home. Christian McKay is phenomenal as Orson Welles, showing all of his ego, bravado, charm and brilliance with tremendous subtlety. Welles is portrayed as a real shit here, albeit ingenious. Zoe Kazan has a couple of great scenes with Efron and she is simply delightful to watch. Claire Danes is fine, but really…are we supposed to believe that she is the object of every man’s affection at the theatre? There is nothing physically appealing about Ms. Danes and for her to be cast as such is downright laughable. Nonetheless, a charming little film that should have received a bigger and better push from the studios.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

The Killer Inside Me (dir. Michael Winterbottom)

I was expecting big things here and had heard that Casey Affleck’s psychotic killer put Christian Bale’s (in American Psycho) to shame. First of all, that is in no way true. Second, this film, despite some very positive reviews, was a huge disappointment in my book. Winterbottom has yet to wow us, after the sub-par A Mighty Heart and the horrendously dreadful 9 Songs. And can I say this about Casey Affleck? Does this guy have anything in his reserve tank other than hit his one note? In the films I have seen him in, he hits that one note very well, but that is it — he does little else at all and shows absolutely no range. He is boring. Here, he plays a Texas deputy sheriff who is sent to drive a prostitute (Jessica Alba) away from town. Instead of doing so, he begins a torrid affair with her and we slowly see his psychotic inner being come to the forefront. The supporting cast is very effective here, especially Kate Hudson who plays his faithful and loving girlfriend, just waiting to be proposed to. Alba pulls in a gutsy and strong performance. Tom Bower and Elias Koteas are also quite good in this wanna-be film noir that seems to have so much potential, but in the end, misses the boat.
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

The Losers (dir. Sylvain White)

Another fun, entertaining, popcorn flick. I had heard some good things about this movie and was not led astray. The film centers around a CIA Black Ops team that is left for dead. The group begins to plot their revenge on those in power who targeted their assassinations. Their leader is Clay and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (impressive in Watchmen) fits the role very well. He is witty, strong, sexy and commands our attention. His crew is also filled with fine performances and it was nice to see some unknown faces do good work. Not a star vehicle at all, which is usually not such a bad thing. Jason Patric is the biggest name here and he is the villain of the film.  Patric is so cartoonish and over-the-top and given such ridiculous “villain-lines” to say that you know the creative team is not taking itself too seriously here. Zoe Saldana makes for one bad-ass female, assisting the team in seeking out who they need to find, though it is never quite clear whose side she is really on. Her chemistry with Clay is a strong one. If you are looking to sit back, unwind and have some snacks to an action-packed and at times, very funny movie, take your chances on this.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Cop Out (dir. Kevin Smith)

I don’t know why I keep watching Kevin Smith films, since he has only made one very good one (Dogma). And don’t give me Clerks because I’ll laugh at you. This one is a mess from start to finish and filled with all the cliches that make us roll our eyes repeatedly for about 90 minutes. Bruce Willis plays NYPD vet Jimmy Monroe whose daughter is about to get married. Jimmy refuses to let her arrogant stepfather (Jason Lee) pay for the expensive day so he decides to sell his very rare baseball card. Of course, the card gets stolen – and that’s when all of the zany lunacy begins. Paired up with Willis is Tracy Morgan, who is funny in short spurts – but not at all engaging enough to drive a movie. His back-and-forth with Willis is at times funny, but it wears off pretty quickly. Willis’ deadpan reactions to Morgan are also funny at times, I won’t deny that. But the film gives us nothing new. It is predictable, tedious, unoriginal, and, at times, weary. Some small laughs here and there, but not enough to waste your time on.
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

OTHER MOVIES OUT ON DVD/BLUE-RAY:

The Yellow Handkerchief (**) — SKIP IT!
The Girl on the Train (**) — SKIP IT!
The Joneses (** ½) — Can go either way here, but original & worth a shot
Mother (*** ½) — RENT IT!
Chloe (***) — RENT IT! despite it’s very poor final act

Gimme 5: Your Five Favorite Nic Cage Films!

OK, so today marks the release of one of the year’s most anticipated films and I know many (including myself) that are going to see it this weekend. So for this week’s “Gimme 5,” we’ll focus on THAT OTHER film being released today…that’s right — The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring the one and only Nicolas Cage! Now the trailer for this didn’t look all that bad and I will most likely catch it when it is released on DVD. An Oscar-winner, Mr. Cage has a long and impressive resume (despite films like Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man and a few others) dating back to his feature-film debut in 1982 in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

So for this week, I am asking you movie-lovers to:

GIMME YOUR 5 FAVORITE NIC CAGE MOVIES!

I will start…

5. Face/Off
4. Adaptation
3. Wild at Heart
2. Leaving Las Vegas
1. Matchstick Men

(this was actually much tougher than I thought it would be…)

Now, it’s YOUR Turn!!!

Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: Part Due

I posted the first part of my “Top 25 Comedy Films of the Decade” (2000-2009) a few days ago. What I find fascinating about these lists is that, no matter which films you include/omit, you’re likely to get a lot of beef about it: “How can you put so-and-so on the list?” “How can you leave out such-and-such a film?” Don’t get me wrong, I love any & all comments and I’m always up for a good debate (especially when it comes to movies I feel strongly about). But everyone’s list is going to be different from someone else’s…it’s all just one writer’s opinion (though I do happen to be right…HA!).

Now, I tried very hard not to include too many “obscure” films on the list (whatever the hell that means). But hey, what am I going to do? If I saw the movie and thought it was funny as hell, am I not supposed to include it simply because it is lesser known than “Napoleon Dynamite” (which you won’t see on this list and you’d have to threaten to do me severe bodily harm for me to even consider its inclusion). It sounds silly to me to omit a small film like “The Amateurs” (which I think is a terrific film and pretty damn hilarious) on the basis that not many have seen it. If anything, perhaps someone reads the list [cricket sounds], learns a little about a film they haven’t yet seen, and decides to rent it. I know when I read another writer’s list (on a blog or magazine, etc.) and I am not familiar with a movie…if it sounds good, I’ll put it in my queue for sure! So no, I am not in any way trying to go out of my way to put these little known films on the list (not that anyone is accusing me). And I’m not including a movie just because it seems to be on everyone else’s list covering the same genre. All I did was go through all the comedies I have seen from 2000-2009 and go from there. Like I said in my earlier posting, I started with about 50 and did my best to condense it to 25 funny films. In the end, I only tried to be true to myself and go with the movies I thought were the 25 funniest (in addition to being a good film, which was part of my criteria). It is all a moot point anyway, as the films that follow are mostly all very well-known. Here it is…Part Due of the Best Comedies of the Decade! Let the debate continue!!!

#15. Adaptation (dir. Spike Jonze)

Welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of Charlie Kaufman, ladies and gentlemen. Directed by Spike Jonze, this is an unbelieveably unique and oftentimes hilarious, offbeat film that unmistakably comes from the mind of Kaufman himself. The movie features a comically complex performance by Nicolas Cage as a writer who is trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction, un-adaptable book “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay. We watch the action of the book as we watch Kaufman (Cage) struggle to put it on the page. Cage also plays Charlie’s twin brother Donald who is much more carefree and dreams of becoming rich and famous for his own screenplays. Cage is the cornerstone of this film and he actually does a brilliant job in this dual role of the opposing brothers, which echoes Sam Shepard’s terrific play, “True West.” We also watch Meryl Streep (Orleans) interview and slowly fall in love with her subject, John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Both Streep and Cooper are terrific to watch here and all of the stories intertwine at some point with surprising results. The film is so bizarre and so quirky — if you enjoyed “Being John Malkovich” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” then you must definitely give this a watch. Kaufman has his own unique brand of comedy which not only challenges his audience to think, but gives them a tremendous payoff by being funny as hell.

#14. Pineapple Express (dir. David Gordon Green)

Seth Rogen hasn’t shown us much range as an actor and pretty much plays the same type of character, but you know what? He makes us laugh. Here, he plays lazy stoner Dale Denton who pisses people off every day by issuing them court-ordered subpoenas. He also is trying to manage his relationship with a high school girl eight years younger than he is. What does he do to escape? He visits his dealer, Saul Silver (James Franco). Franco has shown pretty good versatility as an actor and here, you can tell that he must have had a ball playing the languid, chilled-out, munchie-eating Saul. The two make a great pair in this incredibly funny buddy film. After purchasing the new Pineapple Express weed (Saul explains to him: “What you do… is you light all three ends at the same, and the smoke converges, creating a trifecta of joint-smoking power. This is it, man. This is what your grandchildren are gonna be smoking.”), Dale witnesses a murder by a crooked cop and leaves his new weed behind at the scene of the crime. bad news for Dale as it can of course be traced back. Dale’s hum-drum life is turned upside down as he and Saul spend the rest of the movie running for their lives from bad cops and other bad dudes. The camaraderie between the two is terrific, the one-liners are outrageously funny and the supporting cast lends their own comic talents as well. Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Gary Cole and the under-rated Kevin Corrigan are all terrific to watch. There is a lot of action, a lot of vulgarity, a lot of witty banter — all adding up to this movie being a whole lotta fun.

#13. Hamlet 2 (Andrew Fleming)

Listen, any movie with a musical number entitled “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” deserves a spot on this list just based on that alone. Steve Coogan is getting much more notice the past few years and looks to be a comedic force to be reckoned with. Here, he plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor who has relocated to Tuscon, Arizona to become an even worse high school drama teacher. Most of the comedy stems from Dana’s own limitations as an actor (“I’m having a herpes outbreak, right now – but you’d never know it. Thanks, Herpocol!” he says in a horrible looking commercial) and his completely inept teaching. He is informed by administration that drama will be cut the next semester due to budget cuts and when confronted with a student who writes for the school newspaper, Dana decides he’s going to save the theatre department or at least go out with a bang! He writes his own play, “Hamlet 2,” a sequel to the classic Shakespeare tragedy whereby the Prince of Denmark is paired with Jesus Christ to go back in time (via….you guessed it, a time machine)  to save the lives of Gertrude and Ophelia. I hate political correctness and this film is so politically incorrect that I absolutely loved it. Coogan is an absolute riot and carries the film extremely well. Though it has hints of the failed actor in “Waiting for Guffman,” Fleming’s comedy stands completely on its own. The students in Dana’s class provide even more humor and the way Coogan relates to each of them is great fun. Elisabeth Shue also has a delightful small role here. What makes everything more outrageous is Dana’s pomposity and delusions of grandeur…he truly believes that he is in the midst of creating a theatrical masterpiece. Sometimes it is painful to even watch, but in the best of ways.

#12. I ♥ Huckabees (dir. David O. Russell)

Certainly not a film for everyone. A somewhat polarizing film as many I know either loved it immeasurably — or hated it, with great prejudice. I belong to the former and consider O’Russell’s existential comedy to be one the most original, challenging comedies to come out in recent years. The stellar cast — Dustin Hoffman (reminding us of his brilliance), Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg (who should have received a supporting actor nom for this one), Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman, and Isabelle Huppert are all in top form. Hoffman and Tomlin play a husband-and-wife detective team that don’t take on traditional cases. No, they are existential detectives and they are hired by Albert (Schwartzman) to solve the coincidence of seeing the same complete stranger three times in a day. The tecs insist that they spy on his every move as they share with him their views on life and other philosophical issues. This film stands by itself on this list as being one that will constantly challenge its viewers — it is daring, creative, wholly unique, articulate, intelligent and yes, pretty damn funny. You catch something new with each viewing and O’Russell refuses to spell it all out for you. It is an affecting film, with an array of quirky and memorable characters. A daring film that is unlike most everything that Hollywood churns out — and never has to sacrifice any of the (very many) laughs in the process.

#11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (dir. Nicholas Stoller)

Not much new in the overall plot: boy loses girl, tries to get over his broken heart, finds true love. However, it’s how this story is told that make this a refreshing, sweet, & funny movie. Jason Segel’s script makes an old plot arc come alive with newness and, with Stoller’s direction, the two bring its own unique voice to the screen. Here, Segel plays the likable, romantic Peter Bretter who is dumped by his TV-star girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell). He is completely devastated and goes into a tremendous funk. His stepbrother (a very funny Bill Hader) suggests he take a vacation and so he does. Without any planning, he heads off to a heavenly resort in scenic Oahu, Hawaii. Can you guess who he bumps into there? Yup. Sarah…in tow with her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) who is a world-famous, perverse rock star who can’t get enough of the ladies or himself. Peter is befriended by the hotel’s clerk (Mila Kunis) and all four of them try to make the best of a very awkward situation. A very funny film with out-loud laughs throughout. Segel is an endearing romantic lead who we empathize with and root for. Some added comedy by Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill in supporting roles here as well. Kunis is a striking female ingenue here and is not only heavenly to look at, but is strong and funny in her own right. A great date movie, though not a “chick flick” by any means. Like most films out by this crew, it doesn’t skimp out on the trashy language, sex humor and overall vulgarity….but it never goes off course, managing to keep its heart and charm throughout.

#10. Monsters, Inc. (dir. Pete Docter)

A film for all ages, “Monsters, Inc.” remains my favorite Pixar motion picture so far. Here, Monsters, Inc. is a corporation that hires monsters of all kinds to scare children at night, channeling these nighttime screams into power for the city. However, they are terribly afraid of being infected by these children, so when a little girl named Boo (Mary Gibbs) enters this world, it disrupts the city and mainly the life of the company’s top scarer, Sulley (John Goodman). This is an adorable film, with constant laughs. What Robin Williams did to animated films in “Aladdin,” Billy Crystal does here with his green, one-eyed character, Mike. As Sully’s best friend (and agent in many ways to keep Sully at the #1 spot), Crystal lets the one-liners fly throughout. Steve Buscemi’s voice is perfect for the weasley Randall Boggs and Jennifer Tilly is very sweet as Celia, an employee of the corporation and Mike’s love interest as well. Sulley may be gigantic and intimidating on the outside, but he is just a big cuddly monster at heart and Goodman adds a tremendous warmth and tenderness to him. His bond with Boo is a touching one. The story is innovative, the animation is impressive, the talent inspiring and the movie…simply delightful.

#9. Death at A Funeral (dir. Frank Oz)

Before Hollywood decided to remake this very same film for an American audience — a whopping three years later (shame on you, LaBute), there was this outrageously funny comedy. And I don’t get it…it’s a British friggin’ movie! You didn’t even need to read subtitles or anything!!! Anyway, I have no desire to see the new version, but would recommend to anybody and everybody to rent this movie — for its clever and creative script, pitch-perfect timing, great cast and non-stop hilarity. The patriarch of a highly dysfunctional family dies and it is up to his son Daniel (Mathhew Macfadyen) to organize his funeral. In the gravest of circumstances, all chaos breaks loose and in that chaos, pure comedy: an undertaker screws up his job, his cousin’s fiance accidentally takes acid and is tripping the light-fantastic, his selfish brother flies back from the States, and a handicapped uncle who is an outright pain in the neck. On top of this, is the mysterious presence of a dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who no one seems to know, but threatens to reveal a dark family secret. I remember when I saw this, I could not stop laughing. I’m usually not even much of a fan of British humor, but I instantly fell in love with the characters and the storytelling. There are moments of dark humor to be sure (it’s a funeral for Jiminy’s sake), but most of the comedy is dry as the characters are all put into very compromising positions. There is something very “real” about the characters as well as we sympathize with their mourning, though the film never gets over-dramatic at all. There is also a very “theatrical” feel to it all, as if it had been written for the stage in the same manner as “Noises Off” was — something is always happening, and it comes at you fast — and funny.

#8. Elf (dir. Jon Favreau)

Upon its release in 2003, “Elf” quickly became one of my all-time favorite holiday films thanks to its ever-so enchanting screenplay (David Berenbaum), astute direction, marvelous casting, picturesque art direction and of course, its leading man, Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. And though I cannot deny that yes, it is a holiday film, I find it much more than that. This is a wonderful motion picture and can make me laugh out loud anytime of the year, including the dog days of summer. From the day he was born, Buddy is an outsider, raised as an elf at the North Pole by his father (how awesome was the casting of the stuttering Bob Newhart as Papa Elf?). Though he tries and tries so very hard to do well, Buddy just creates all kind of havoc while there and is eventually sent to New York City to find his real father — and in the process, finding his real self (how profound is that?!). Will Ferrell is nothing short of marvelous here and his childlike, inexperienced enthusiasm resembles that of Tom Hanks in “Big.” Ferrell is a polished comedian and here, we see him play a role that seems to be unfamiliar terrain to him, and he nails every aspect of it. He takes all of his fervor and energy and manages to put it into a sweet family film rather than his usual fare. Just answering the phone, he picks it up saying, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” and we laugh. In another great casting move, James Caan plays Buddy’s real father…the polar opposite of Buddy who is all work and very little play and has absolutely no time to play in his son’s reindeer games. Ed Asner is a wonderful Santa Claus and Zooey Deschanel is the woman who  steals Buddy’s heart. The love story within this comedy is heartwarming and Deschanel is simply quite captivating. The movie is simply contagious and makes you laugh from beginning to end. “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite,” Buddy says. If you too like to smile, then this is a must-see.

#7. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (dir. Judd Apatow)

After years of writing for television, Apatow made his debut as a film writer/director with this foul-mouthed, yet very appealing movie. Steve Carell (who co-wrote the script) stars as Andy. He’s 40 years old and yes…much to his male friends’ surprise, he’s a virgin! Andy rides a bike to work, his apartment is clustered with collectors’ item action figures and in his spare time, he likes to paint his miniature figurines in silence. He is surely the odd-man out of his bawdy group of male friends that include Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Romany Malco. Feeling mounting pressure (no pun intended) by his pals to finally do the deed, Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a single mother with three kids. Because she’s been with a lot of creeps in her past, Trish jokes that they should take it slow and begin their relationship with a no-sex policy…that is fine for Andy and they agree on no sexual activity for the first twenty dates. Carell is perfect here as he creates an awkward, nervous and very endearing character. Andy is a nice guy looking for love — and no one, not even Trish can fathom that such a man still exists (“You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!”). Much of the laughs stem from Andy’s sexual naiveté and his lame efforts into bedding a woman. The supporting cast is terrific here. In addition to the aforementioned actors, Elizabeth Banks, Gerry Bednob, and Jane Lynch as Andy’s not-so-discreet boss all make the very best of their running time. The chest-waxing scene became an instant classic and the “You know how I know you’re gay?” repartee is scathingly funny (“You know how I know you’re gay?” “How?” “You like Coldplay.”). “The 40 Year Old Virgin” does not tire with repeated viewings and remains the foundation for the Apatow comedies and the myriad of Apatow-like comedies released since then. I find it amazing that a film so crude and so dirty can still manage to be so pure and engaging. A credit to sir Apatow on finding a wonderful balance.

#6. Thank You For Smoking (dir. Jason Reitman)

One of the truly great satire comedies of recent years, to be sure. Before the over-rated “Juno” and the delightful “Up in the Air,” Reitman wrote and directed this wonderful comedy with an all-star cast. Aaron Eckhart truly shines as Nick Taylor who is the #1 spokesperson for the tobacco industry. Nick loves his job and he is a master at the art of speech and spin. In a time when the health risks involved in smoking are so obvious for all the world to see, Nick’s job has become all the more difficult. But Nick uses his skillset and twisted logic to promote the act of smoking against anyone willing to take him on. His biggest nemesis? Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (a very funny William H. Macy) who wants to bring Taylor and the entire industry down. The script is smart and fast-paced, mocking a number of industries all at once. The supporting cast is wonderful, especially J.K. Simmons, Rob Lowe, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott and David Koechner. There is also a great subplot following Taylor’s relationship with his 12-year old son Joey, who looks up to him like he’s a superhero. Joey escorts his father on an important business trip and Nick must figure out how to juggle doing his job and being a role model to his adoring son. The MOD Squad (“Merchant of Death”) scenes are very clever as the three lobbyists (for smoking, alcohol and gun control) fight over whose industry has killed more people. Reitman’s dialogue is pitch perfect and very clever. There haven’t been many good satires in recent years, so this stands out even more. A comedy with a lot of bite and a lot to say…

Only five more funny films to go! I will post what I thought to be the 5 Best Comedies of the decade that was 2000-2009 in the next day or two. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts and opinions on the very best comedies of the decade.

All I know is that it’s a sad day when I look at a full decade and realize that Woody Allen or Albert Brooks is not a part of such a list. What did Dylan say? “The Times, They are A-Changin…”

Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

The end of the decade is soon approaching and a number of my film-geek friends have been posting & sharing their lists of the decade’s best films, so as a self-proclaimed film-geek myself, I had to voice my own voluble opinion. This was much more difficult than I had anticipated (one of the reasons for including the long list of ‘Honorable Mentions’ that could have easily been twice as long). I started with about 25-30 and tried to chisel and reason bit by bit. I tried to stay away from what film critics would include just for the sake of showing off their (at times) pretentious “artiness.” I based my decisions on artistic merit, creativity/originality, and most of all, personal enjoyment. In any case, here they are….

10.    The Lookout (dir. Scott Frank)

This movie never really got its due when it was released in 2007. Part bank-heist film and part “Memento” (over-rated…sorry), this movie grabs you from the beginning and never lets up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt establishes himself nicely as a strong lead (as he did again in this year’s “(500) Days of Summer”) and Jeff Daniels is wonderful in a supporting role. If you haven’t seen it, it is great entertainment – smart and slick with great characters and a very tight script. We feel for Levitt’s character from his tragic beginning and empathize with his plight throughout. This is what Hollywood action films should be and probably why it never made much money – it’s actually pretty damn clever, expertly shot and high on entertainment.

9.  Little Children (dir. Todd Field)

When I think of the great filmmakers working in cinema today, the name ‘Todd Field’ doesn’t spring into my mind. However, with TWO films on this very difficult list, perhaps it is about time his name does start popping into the conversation of wonderful, artistic directors. This film is extraordinary. Very tough to watch at times, but for all the right reasons. Jackie Earle Haley got most of the press when the film debuted in 2006 and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar, however, all the actors are at the top of their game here. Phyllis Somerville (as Ronnie’s mother) was simply spectacular and was snubbed of her own nomination. The narration at first was awkward for me, but I quickly got used to it and in viewing the film again, fit nicely. This is a very daring film and Field makes some very strong choices throughout. Great details to each and every shot. Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet are perfectly cast and have strong chemistry on the screen. It is Jackie Earle Haley though and his performance that haunts us long after the final credits roll. The scene in the car after his date is one of the most disturbing scenes in recent memory. Overall, a dark, yet sadly believable look at suburbia and the ‘little children’ who inhabit it.

8.  The Illusionist (dir. Neil Burger)

I know this film is probably on no one’s list, but I don’t care. I loved it! I distinctly remember walking out of the theatre exclaiming, “That’s the best film I’ve seen in a long time!” Edward Norton is surely one of the finest actors of his generation (“The Incredible Hulk” a rare poor choice) and he does not disappoint here. I am aware that the film is high in melodrama and a bit “schmaltzy” in the romance department, but I bought it from start to finish. At its heart, the film is a wonderful romantic picture. It contains classic good and evil characters, no matter how orthodox they may be. Is Rufus Sewell over the top? Yes! But we HATE him!!! And Paul Giamatti is terrific here, giving us more dimension to his antagonistic character. He is not a “Bad guy” – there is much more to him. And Jessica Biel??? She is absolutely gorgeous here and does a fine job opposite Norton. Beautifully shot period piece, set in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The cinematography here is wonderful and the score, ever effective. The story sucks you in and the magic here is much more entertaining than that of “The Prestige” which came out the same year. This is the better film for you romantics out there. A great final act too that I was not expecting and don’t think many viewers did expect.

7.  Crash (dir. Paul Haggis)

Again, high melodrama. Fine. I’m comfortable with that. Despite what many have said, this deserved its ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and I remember being so relieved that it beat out the even more melodramatic “Brokeback Mountain.” All I know is this – I was not bored for a minute, I was sucked into all of the ever-weaving subplots, I cried in a couple of scenes, and I was sorry to see it end. Haggis’ screenplay is spectacular. It could have easily been very manipulative, especially when it came to the theme of racial relations – and it never fell into that dangerous trap. Matt Dillon creates a wonderful character with many sides – we can understand where this man is coming from after his scene explaining his father’s predicament. The highlight of this powerful film is Michael Pena and the scenes he has with his daughter. The invisible cape stuff? Couldn’t stop crying! And Ryan Phillipe is fine here….for being one of the only ‘innocent’ characters in this collage of events, it makes the ending all the more ironic. I felt all the stories blended nicely and Haggis does a splendid job at knowing when to keep us at the edge of our seats and when to let us breathe. He also manages to make some very profound statements on racy subjects such as race, sex, politics, crime, parenthood, and bigotry without preaching to us. The film is set in Los Angeles, but it could take place in any city, any town in our society. A riveting and at times, magical film.

6.  Sideways (dir. Alexander Payne)

Being in my mid-thirties when this came out in 2004, I think I was able to relate to Miles more than if I was just a student in film school. A very sad statement in itself to be able to relate to Miles at all here, but I think most men in their 30’d and 40’s can certainly do just that and that makes the film even stronger. What can be said about the cast that hasn’t already been said? Paul Giamatti is perfect for this role – he was born to play Miles. His camaraderie with Thomas Haden Church is a pleasure to watch. Church of course is the dissolute and immoral character, but he is talented enough to make his character more than that – and to have us sympathize with him at times. In fact, we sympathize with all four main characters in different ways – a tough feat and a credit to Payne and his cast. Madsen is warm and endearing here – a perfect match for Giamatti’s role. Payne writes a near perfect script here (even stronger than his previous “Election” which was in itself a wonderful picture). Yes, the wine is used as metaphor throughout, but there is much more to it with each viewing. Giamatti’s scene in the fast-food restaurant with his vintage bottle of wine is like a knife to the heart and though the film analyzes two middle-aged men who believe they will never amount to anything – Payne gives us a believable and optimistic ending that is filled with hope. A lovely, intelligent, witty and heart-breaking film that, like a fine wine, will most likely go down better with age.

5.  Matchstick Men (dir. Ridley Scott)

Though I feel that David Mamet’s “House of Games” is the classic con film, “Matchstick Men” holds its own and is superb in its own right. It is, I would think, a very tough challenge to create a “con film” but the script here is so good and the actors so convincing, that we buy the con hook-line-and-sinker. I have problems with Nicolas Cage and his many silly choices, but when he picks the right role, he can do some great work (see “The Weather Man,” “Adaptation” and “Wild at Heart”). He is equally terrific here as the obsessive-compulsive Roy Waller. Cage usually does his best work playing quirky characters. Sam Rockwell is intense and strong as always and Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, and Bruce Altman complete a very impressive supporting cast. The father-daughter relationship here works, the friendship relationship works – the con works. The film is funny, unpredictable, sweet and when it wants to hit you in the gut – it does so…and hard. Scott does a nice change of pace here from his epic films (“Gladiator” would be on a Top 30 list of the decade I am sure). This film is much more intimate, more delicate, more real. I was not sure why this film did not get the awards recognition I thought it deserved when it came out in 2003 and still can’t figure that one out. It’s hard not to love this picture. Though Waller is put through the wringer, we know that he is finally happy by the end of the ride – and so are we for taking it with him.

4.  There Will be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

You can perhaps count the list of masterpieces made from 2000-2009 on one hand, if that. This is undoubtedly one of them. A masterpiece in every sense of the word (amazingly, Anderson’s second, following the ever-daring “Magnolia”). And on this little list of mine, this may be the only one I can confidently use such a word (perhaps my #2 film can fall in that category, I’m not sure). So why is this not my number one film then? In creating this list I went with artistic merit, surely – but also other factors as well. This is not a film I can watch at any time. One needs to be ready for it…to brace themselves for the epic that follows. I do believe it to be the best piece of filmmaking of the decade. That said, this is the kind of film that will be studied by film students decades from now – extraordinary on every level. Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, Anderson’s adaptation of the story that revolves around family, greed, religion and oil is an achievement of the highest quality. Anderson has always been a courageous filmmaker and continues here. He trusts his audience – always has. He lets us sit in a darkened theatre for 20 minutes, following Daniel Plainview in the mines without a word of dialogue. And we watch. The score (by Jonny Greenwood) is unforgettable and brilliant. Robert Elswit’s cinematography may be the best I have seen in years. This is the film that should have taken home the Oscar for ‘Best Picture,’ but I presume that voters thought the Coen Brothers were overdue and went in their direction (and I am not knocking the Coen Brothers at all – they’ve been making some of America’s finest films since their debut in 1985 and in my opinion, have only made one bad film). The nucleus of this wonder is of course the character of Daniel Plainview – it all revolves around him. And what better actor to be up for this mighty challenge and play him than Daniel Day-Lewis? With Brando’s passing – and Newman’s that followed, he may very well be our finest screen actor working today. 95% of actors are cast in roles and never immerse themselves into their characters – or “become” the character. Remember when DeNiro and Nicholson used to do that? Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the handful of actors that are chameleon-esque and become someone new – the definition of acting. In Daniel Plainview, he creates a character for the ages. As long as there is cinema, we will always remember Daniel Plainview – one of the greatest screen characters in the history of film. I know this mini-review seems to be littered in hyperbole, but it’s not at all. Every aspect of this motion picture deserves the highest of praise. Day-Lewis is terrifying – one of the most charismatic screen villains of all time. The performance goes up there with Brando’s Terry Malloy and Vito Corleone. I do think Anderson could have done better than casting Paul Dano opposite Day-Lewis…he is fine here and does an admirable job – but Daniel Day-Lewis is perhaps too much for him in their scenes together. There are many classic lines and scenes peppered throughout. Anderson has truly made a towering achievement that deserves its place alongside other American epic classics such as ‘Ben-Hur,’ ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ‘The Birth of A Nation,’ ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and ‘Reds.’

3.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)

One of the most original and creative films to come out during the decade, for sure. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is as unique as they come and Gondry handles the story with deftness and care. Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey are wonderful here and both characters break your heart throughout their relationship. The premise is one that anyone who has had their heart broken can relate to – but it’s only through their process of loss do both characters realize what they had in the beginning. As bizarre and inimitable as the story seems, we can relate to much of this film and live vicariously through them. Is there someone in my past I’d like to wipe out of memory? Absolutely. This film though is a gentle reminder that even our most painful memories are ones that we should still hold close to heart – better to have a slice of the pie than never to have had none at all. Carrey gives a terrific, sincere performance and matches Winslet (no easy feat) throughout. The film has a bit of everything – but at its core is romantic a relationship that we root for. A strong supporting cast is led by Tom Wilkinson, David Cross, and Kirstin Dunst. This film is nothing short of a delightful gem – it tugs at your heart and, unlike the process the two characters go through – stays in your memory for a long, long time.

2.  In The Bedroom (dir. Todd Field)

A perfect, perfect motion picture. There is not a line spoken nor a shot taken that should be removed from this film. With “Little Children” and this tremendous achievement, Todd Field proves not only that he is a filmmaker to be reckoned with, but that he is a master at adapting written works. Here, it is a short story by Andre Dubus. It is one of the finest, strongest adaptations in recent film history. In fact, the first 70 or 80+ minutes of the film is all his creation based on what is given in the short piece by Dubus. He creates his own world founded on what is given to him in the short story “Killings” and it blends perfectly. Field gets the very most out of each actor while establishing the New England setting so vividly, so beautifully – you can almost smell the clam chowder coming off the screen. The cast is brilliant. Tom Wilkinson is extraordinary. One of the finest performances of the decade, for certain. Sometimes you don’t need to see someone play a psychotic, a mentally disturbed or challenged person, or someone larger than life to witness magnificence in the craft of performance. Wilkinson reminds us of this. He is our center here and keeps everything grounded around him. His scenes with his son are touching and genuine; the ones with Sissy Spacek are explosive. One in particular (when they are interrupted by a Girl Scout selling candy) is a remarkable watch that deserves additional viewings. Marisa Tomei is the ideal actor to take on the role of Natalie and she is a marvel to watch here, opposite Nick Stahl. Stahl may not be so very well known, but he is a fine actor (see the very powerful “Bully”) and gives his character exactly what it needs in order for the plot to follow through. Because it is, after all, a revenge film at heart. Though unlike any revenge film you have ever seen. This film is a constant reminder to me that the entire art of filmmaking begins with a story and a script. You get a great story and tight, creative and solid script, you are already ahead in the game. Big Hollywood blockbusters with CGI and special effects are all well and good – but it is films like “In the Bedroom” that remind me why I love film. I have seen this film numerous times and it never gets stale to me. There is humor sprinkled throughout, touching moments, moments when you just want to shake sense into the characters and moments when I can never stop the tears from coming. It is an experience to sit through Field’s wonderful work here and to witness the phenomenal cast at work – this includes great work by William Wise (as Wilkinson’s good friend who will do anything to help him in his time of need) and William Mapother who has his own challenging role. His Richard Strout is a great accomplishment. He is surely our villain here and is the reason for the Fowler family’s anguish – but in Strout, he gives reason (for lack of a better word), substance and a bit of empathy to his violent and reckless actions. I can watch this film anytime – to watch Wilkinson at work – he does not make a wrong move at any time here…every line spoken, every nuance, every expression is affecting and real. This film remains a testament to the idea that good works are based on great writing, skilled performances, and beautiful imagery – from the opening shots to its dark, startling last scene you are in this New England town and observing great art.

  •   Almost Famous (dir. Cameron Crowe)

I went with sheer pleasure in deciding this as my top pick of the decade…that, and the fact that it’s some pretty damn good filmmaking. I absolutely love this movie and am reminded of it each time I catch it. It is the ultimate coming-of-age story put on film and set to a glorious soundtrack. In just over two hours time, we watch William Miller, the young boy, become a man who has seen it all – and lived to tell about it. Patrick Fugit does a great job in the role as our naïve and besotted protagonist. Cameron Crowe’s dialogue reminds me of James L. Brooks in that he has so many ingenious and memorable lines in his films – and this one is no exception. His ear for screen dialogue is truly a gift – and he knows how to make his audience laugh or cry at his will. His ear for music is equally as impressive. Crowe has always incorporated music quite brilliantly in his films (with the exception of the highly disappointing “Elizabethtown”) and in this film it is used impeccably. The scene in the tour bus set to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is one of the greatest uses of a song to film I have seen in recent memory (tied with how “Falling Slowly” is utilized in the brilliant little indie,“Once”). As for the performances, everyone shines. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes the most out of his small role, stealing every scene he is in. Frances McDormand is hysterically funny (“Rock stars have kidnapped my son!”) and though we may not agree with her ideas about rock-n-roll music or how she raises her two children, we can certainly empathize with and have compassion for her. As the two frontrunners of the  Stillwater band, Jason Lee and Billy Crudup are very well cast and dazzle us with their performances. Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane is a great creation – she is impetuous, romantic, reckless, loyal and heart-breaking. This semi-autobiographical film is an absolute joy and I believe Crowe’s strongest work. Every note is hit with precision and care. We experience all the highs and lows as William Miller experiences them – we go on tour with him and certainly root for him to achieve his ambitious goal. Crowe obviously loves his music and we are reminded of some true classics here. It is a rock-n-roll film – but so much more than that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it in one sitting. It’s contagious and a great example of why I go to the movies. Debuting in 2000, it still stands as my absolute favorite of the decade as we approach 2010…Thanks, Cameron!

16 Honorable Mentions – in no particular order, though all 4-Star Films:

The Dreamers (dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
21 Grams (dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Swimming Pool (dir. Francois Ozon)
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet)
Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn)
Away From Her (dir. Sarah Polley)
Munich (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Die Falscher (The Counterfeiters, dir. Stefan Ruzowitsky)
Dancer in the Dark (dir. Lars von Trier)
Les Invasions Barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, dir. Denys Arcand)
A History of Violence (dir. David Cronenberg)
Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson)
Requiem for A Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
The Reader (dir. Stephen Daldry)
In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh)
District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

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