Posted: 01/13/2010

 

Matt’s Best and Worst Films of the Decade

(2009)

by Matt Fagerholm




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TOP 10 OF THE DECADE

1.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—Director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman forged one of the cinema’s most electrifying artistic collaborations in this spellbinding comedy of the mind and soul. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are revelatory as two ex-lovers who attempt to erase the memories of their failed relationship. Gondry’s brilliant playfulness fuses perfectly with Kaufman’s spectacular creativity. Mind-boggling, endlessly inventive and deeply romantic, this timeless masterpiece gets closer to visualizing the depths of the human heart than any film this decade.

2.) Mulholland Dr.—No one knows how to utilize cinema as a language of dreams better than David Lynch. This is the crowning achievement of his extraordinary career. Though its literal meaning is strictly interpretive, its emotional impact is overwhelming and undeniable. Few films have proved as rewarding upon repeated viewings.

3.) Requiem For A Dream—Darren Aronofsky uses every cinematic trick in the book to pull audiences head-first into the deteriorating mind of a drug addict. This film offers a transcendent example of how to make visual effects serve a story dramatically, externalizing the inner-life of the characters. Ellen Burstyn truly delivers the performance of a lifetime.

4.) The Diving Bell And The Butterfly—Like the previous three films, this visually and emotionally captivating drama allows the viewer to literally experience the world through the eyes of another. Director Julian Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski masterfully adapt the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a paralyzed man who dictated his entire memoir through the blinking of his left eye.

5.) Angels In America—Playwright Tony Kushner’s epic ensemble piece about the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s was transformed into a masterful six-part miniseries for HBO. It cements Kushner’s reputation as the one of the most important and provocative artists of our time. It’s also the film that officially made me a lifelong fan of Meryl Streep. The acting and writing are second-to-none, while the themes and messages are as relevant and powerful as ever.

6.) Pan’s Labyrinth—Guillermo del Toro’s darkly dazzling faerie tale is guaranteed to leave you breathless. It marries the childlike awe of escapist fantasy with the brutal realism of historical wartime fiction. The creature effects are stunningly lifelike combinations of costumes and computer animation, similar to what Spike Jonze achieved in Where the Wild Thing Are. Neither film should be considered children’s entertainment, yet they both view the world through the imaginative mind of a child.

7.) WALL-E—Here’s one for all ages. As a science fiction film, it’s wondrously creative. As a physical comedy, it’s thoroughly inspired. As a romance, it’s beautifully touching. As a cautionary parable for our troubled times, it’s bold and provocative. Pixar’s track record has been unmatched this decade, and this is their finest achievement, signaling director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) as the studio’s most gifted filmmaker.

8.) There Will Be Blood—Also worthy of multiple viewings is Paul Thomas Anderson’s gutsy adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel, “Oil!.” Centered on an exhilarating performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, the film works as both an epic allegory on the ills of capitalism, and a brilliant tribute to the work of Stanley Kubrick. It’s like the dawn of man in reverse.

9.) Almost Famous—The most jubilant and warm-hearted film of the decade. Cameron Crowe’s note-perfect tale about a plucky high schooler (Patrick Fugit), and his experience covering an up-and-coming rock band for Rolling Stone magazine, is loaded with insights about the world of music, journalistic integrity, and coming of age. It’s also a hugely entertaining human comedy, filled with unforgettable performances by Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman and (in her sole great role) Kate Hudson. This is the one film in this list I wouldn’t mind living inside.

10.) Where The Wild Things Are—I saw it three times in the theater, and I can’t wait to see it again.


BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF THE DECADE

Grizzly Man—Werner Herzog’s portrait of doomed animal activist Timothy Treadwell is one of the most unforgettable and provocative dramas of the decade.
The Fog Of War—Errol Morris’ stunning interview with former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Includes perhaps the most haunting of score of any documentary.
Deliver Us From Evil—The most vital and horrifying investigation of the Catholic Church’s history of sexual abuse, and its repeated attempts to keep the abuse under wraps. Profoundly disturbing, yet absolutely essential.
Taxi to the Dark Side—Director Alex Gibney won a well-deserved Oscar for this quintessential look at America’s torture practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters—One of the most purely entertaining documentaries ever made. Seth Gordon captures the hilariously true tale of two men whose gaming obsessions have overtaken their lives. Outrageously funny and poignant.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan—This epic two-part documentary has as much to say about Dylan as it does about American music and culture. One of Martin Scorsese’s towering achievements.
Bowling For Columbine—Michael Moore was the star documentarian of the decade, inspiring passionate reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. This is the film that put his name back on the map, and it remains his most provocative work to date.
Lake Of Fire—The most unbiased and uncompromising film made about the abortion debate. Extremely difficult to watch at times, which is as it should be.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father—Kurt Kuenne’s devastating reflection on the death of his late friend, and the trouble that followed, has more plot twists than a summertime thriller, and more dramatic impact than the majority of wintertime Oscar bait.
Man On Wire—Marvelously exuberant portrait of Phillippe Petit’s life on the high wire, and his astonishing walk between the twin towers.


OTHER FILMS THIS DECADE I COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT

Kill Bill—The ultimate guilty pleasure.
Moulin Rouge!—The ultimate love letter to theatrical exuberance
Best in Show—The ultimate improvisational comedy.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence—An astonishing thematic coda to Stanley Kubrick’s career, and the most unsentimental film Steven Spielberg has ever made. With each passing year, this film becomes more resonant and relevant.
Nine Lives—The ultimate multiple character study.
The Wrestler—One of the most viscerally powerful character portraits I’ve ever seen. Mickey Rourke’s performance is one for the ages.
Little Miss Sunshine—The ultimate feel-good ensemble comedy.
Adaptation—Charlie Kaufman’s self-reflexive comedy may be the most ingenious film ever made about the inner-mind of a writer. Nicholas Cage’s best performance(s).
Superbad—My personal favorite Apatowian bromance. Michael Cera captured awkward teenage behavior with a spot-on authenticity that left me awe-struck. I’ve never heard more cathartic, gut-busting laughter in a theater before or since.
(500) Days of Summer—The most imaginative and insightful film about romance and break-ups since…well, Eternal Sunshine.


BIGGEST EMBARRASSMENTS OF THE DECADE

The Room—The worst film of the decade is also one of the funniest. Writer/director/producer/lead actor Tommy Wiseau’s hysterically bad infidelity drama (reportedly filmed “with the passion of Tennessee Williams”) deserves comparison with the all-time worst cinematic spectacles, such as Manos: Hands Of Fate and Troll 2. The blank-faced Wiseau has a speech pattern as hilarious and oddly fascinating as that of Christopher Walken or Borat. Since debuting on one screen in LA, it has become a midnight sensation with audiences nationwide. It’s the only film on this list that’s actually worth seeing, and trust me, it must be seen to be believed.

Lady in the Water— The first of two reputation-tarnishing, career-destroying films this decade from the once promising one-hit-wonder M. Night Shyamalan. After his previous film (The Village) was panned by critics (and audiences), Shyamalan decided to cast himself as a misunderstood writer whose work has the magical ability to change the world. The villain of the piece? A film critic, of course. In the midst of this horrifically smug failure is a marvelous performance by Paul Giamatti, who must be applauded as the “Best Sport of the Decade.”

The Happening— Here’s the other one. Shyamalan’s writing has become so awful, he makes James Cameron look like Paddy Chayefsky. A sampling: “You know, hot dogs get a bad rap. They got a cool shape.” “Why are you eyeing my lemon drink?” “Can you believe how crappy people are?” And my personal favorite, “With whom?”

Battlefield Earth—John Travolta thought this adaptation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi novel would be the most important film of his career. Instead, it was merely his most unwatchable. A loud, ugly, laughable mess, featuring Travolta in dreads and nose-tubes, spewing dialogue like, “Damn right, Rat Brain!” Hugely funny? Damn right.

Mamma Mia—Brings new meaning to the word “highest grossing.” The enormous box office success of this ABBA musical is all the more amazing, considering how profoundly inept the film adaptation inarguably is. The singing is horrid, the actors are haggard, the lip-synching is horrendous and the emotions are as phony as the tacky backdrops. Plus Pierce Brosnan sounds like a constipated David Bowie. Mamma mia, indeed!

The Last Sin Eater—Since when did Christian entertainment become synonymous with gloom and death? This was the worst film from Fox Faith, a failed distribution arm seeking to cash in on the financial success of Passion of the Christ. The story centered on a young Welch girl with a guilt complex that leads to her to daydream about hurling herself off a cliff (in one of the worst green screen effects in recent memory). Why the studio regarded such dull unpleasantness as “spiritual family programming” is beyond me.

The Dukes of Hazzard—An offensively awful excuse for entertainment. The titular heroes are “closer’n brothers” and dumber’n a bag of bolts. They spend the entire film speeding along in their car…going up ramps, smashing into things and hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole way. I kept waiting for them to crash into the inevitable tree. In my original review, I wrote, “if this film is any accurate representation of our present American society and culture, it’s no wonder why the terrorists hate us.” I stand by my review.

Across the Universe—Julie Taymor’s ambitious musical described itself as “the most original, exhilarating, spectacular, groundbreaking motion picture of 2007.” Talk about over-hype. Her actual film, a 60s-set romance scored to Beatles tunes, was over-baked, over-thought and melodramatically over-the-top, resulting in little more than an epic Beatles in-joke. A poor man’s Moulin Rouge!.

Pearl Harbor—The most juvenile historical epic ever conceived by Hollywood. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay were clearly aiming for a classic tragic romance on par with Titanic or Gone With the Wind. Yet the excruciating three-hour production came up pathetically short, with wooden performances, atrocious soap opera dialogue and action sequences that succeeded in making human carnage look cool.

Death to Smoochy—The most woefully misconceived comedy of the decade, starring Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Catherine Keener in roles they would much rather forget. Director Danny DeVito comes up with dark gags that may sound promising on paper, but just look mortifying onscreen (such as the image of Williams as a kiddie host who dances with a group of midgets while singing “Friends Come In All Sizes”). The best moment comes at the end when Williams, Norton and Keener fly away to the tune of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.” The moment rings true, since the actors seriously couldn’t get any lower.

Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.



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