Monday, January 4, 2010

Best of the Decade: 50-41

50. The 40-Year Old Virgin (d. Judd Apatow; 2005)

Apatow and his merry band of man-children held a virtual vice grip on mainstream comedy throughout the decade, be it in sex farces or bro-mances, their loose and improvised style helped launch a new generation of comedic talent. None was better than the film that seemed to launch the movement, anchored by a sentimental character who positively effected those who at first wished to change him. With perfectly staged changes of beat, emergences of unexpected raunch, and marvelous character humor, it’s Apatow’s best to date – as director or producer.

49. Gladiator (d. Ridley Scott; 2000)

Who said sword-and-sandal epics died with “Cleopatra”? By relying so heavily on the generic forms that were said to have been obliterated – obviously borrowing nods from “Ben-Hur” and “Spartacus” – while using new age technology and a variety of techniques to make the most captivating battle sequences possible, Ridley Scott resurrected a cinematic form, giving way to multiple (inferior) imitators.

48. The Incredibles (d. Brad Bird; 2004)

One of Pixar’s greatest achievements and certainly one of the best superhero films of the entire decade, the animation in “The Incredibles” is fluid, dynamic, and punchy. Meshing up action heroes with a dysfunctional family ripped straight from TV comedy heaven gives the film plenty of space to add invention at every turn, making it just as much about stressing the interrelationships of the characters as it is creating a spectacular environment. That, and it’s absolutely thrilling.

47. Munich (d. Steven Spielberg; 2005)

Spielberg’s indictment against terrorism provoked heated discussion and debate about the director’s personal politics when it was released, but none of that seems to matter in such a visceral and devastating experience. With some of his most stunning sequence execution to date, the populist director again tackles big subjects with big questions – does “violence beget violence” work? Where are the scars of revenge? What makes a terrorist justified and can we ever find piece under such a system? “Munich” dealt with our society in terror with such bold directness for a studio film by a major director.

46. Y Tu Mama Tambien (d. Alfonso Cuaron; 2002)

Cuaron erupted onto the national scene with this Mexican odyssey of adolescent sexual awakening. As two young boys wind through the countryside with an older woman, there’s sexuality at every turn, but Cuaron’s camera is absolutely penetrating, sustaining the action and the tension at every moment and slowly breaking down and melding these characters’ identities into a sexy stew.

45. American Psycho (d. Mary Harris; 2000)

Is it a maddening character study of a deeply unhinged man? A horrific serial killer movie? A satire of late-80s yuppie culture? Harris’s film is all that and more, a deranged loop of a movie where Christian Bale acts as if every moment and every word is the most important of his life, exerting such ego and banality while gleefully chopping up his co-workers. By reveling in insanity, it trips head over heels over that wire between comedy and terror, going to the darkest recesses of violence while gently parodying how corporate culture drives us all a little mad.

44. Let the Right One In (d. Tomas Alfredsson; 2008)

If the last half of this decade saw anything, it was a massive rise in vampire love, largely fueled by Stephanie Meyers’ “Twilight” phenomenon. No vampire film was better than “Let the Right One In,” a magnificent and deeply sympathetic look at the creatures of the night, complete with snow-covered cinematography, a deep indebtedness to traditional lore, and two child actors who turn this horror film into a twisted fairy tale of love and hope.

43. Dogville (d. Lars von Trier; 2003)

If Brecht were to ever conjure Americana, it may come close to von Trier’s masterwork: taking place on a stage where foundations are outlined in chalk and the backgrounds recede only into darkness, this winding and exhaustive detail of America’s broken promises is an astonishing work of a mad auteur who can’t help mix his politics in his art. As one town betrays an outsider they agreed to help, the whole ideal of community seems to fracture. Our selfish society perhaps does hang so carefully in the balance.

42. Requiem for a Dream (d. Darren Aronofsky; 2000)

Aronofsky’s chaotic plunge into the self-inflicted destruction of would-be drug runners undone by their own addictions is, by his own adjective, like a form of “hip hop.” Its editing and beats pulse with rhythms, it constantly changes beats, and its themes are about the destruction of the self. Instead of just making another “drug movie,” Aronofsky sky-rockets the concept through every inch of the design, creating discomfort not only through explicit images but through high contrast compositions, surreal colors, and convention-breaking editing that only adds to the harrowing noise.

41. The New World (d. Terrence Malick; 2005)

Genius poet-director Malick released only one movie the entire decade, but it took history to task with sweeping grandeur. Reconstructing the early years of Jamestown’s colonization with both stinging accuracy to place and departure for factual events, the film is staunchly anti-narrative, instead building atmosphere and tone. The romance and conflict seem to grow out of the settlement and the nature, as each camera movement and edit feel carefully designed to magnify the beauty and passion of a newly discovered America.

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