Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1998

Back to the countdown after a couple weeks off. The total number of films seen continues to drop. This was a pretty good year for movies, despite the grossly overrated oscar winners.

60. 54
59. Your Friends & Neighbors
58. Snake Eyes
57. Godzilla
56. Psycho
55. Star Trek: Insurrection
54. Lethal Weapon 4
53. Celebrity
52. Disturbing Behavior
51. Permanent Midnight
50. Pecker
49. Mulan
48. American History X
47. No Looking Back
46. Next Stop Wonderland
45. The X-Files
44. Small Soldiers
43. Without Limits
42. Sliding Doors
41. The Replacement Killers
40. The Faculty
39. The Last Days Of Disco
38. Armageddon
37. The Truman Show
36. Enemy Of The State
35. Shakespeare In Love
34. Little Voice
33. Slums Of Beverly Hills
32. Saving Private Ryan
31. The Mask Of Zorro
30. The Waterboy
29. The Opposite Of Sex
28. Can't Hardly Wait
27. The Seige
26. What Dreams May Come
25. Croupier
24. Wild Things
23. A Simple Plan
22. Smoke Signals
21. He Got Game
20. Bulworth
19. A Civil Action
18. Dark City
17. The Wedding Singer
16. Buffalo '66

15. Ronin - Low-key spy/action movie starring Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno. Directed by John Frankenheimer, and possibly his best movie that isn't The Manchurian Candidate. It's similarly styled, but smarter, than Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity. Also stars Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathon Pryce, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean and my all-time favorite figure skater, Katarina Witt.

14. Primary Colors - It's not a great film, but I rate it this high because it has a lot of nostalgia value for me, as I followed the Clinton campaign pretty closely in 1992. John Travolta and Emma Thompson are alright as the Bill and Hillary characters, but Billy Bob Thornton is great as the James Carville character. Kathy Bates' character is really annoying. Adrian Lester is good as the audience surrogate campaign worker and Maura Tierney is outstanding, as always.

13. The Zero Effect - Odd little film in which Bill Pullman plays a brilliant detective who has problems interacting with actual human beings. Ben Stiller plays his frazzled assistant and Kim Dickens is his client/love interest. Written and directed by Jake Kasdan, the son of director Lawrence Kasdan. A quirky, very likable movie, in fact, I've yet to hear of anyone who saw it and didn't like it.

12. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Not as good as the book, of course, but still pretty good. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro are great in the lead roles. Terry Gilliam's film works because he walks the same fine line Hunter S. Thompson did between madcap drug-induced hilarity and biting social satire and poignant nostalgia: "a savage journey to the heart of the American dream". The best parts in the movie are the slow ones: Thompson writing about the crashing of the 60s wave, the diner scene. the movie, and book are about a lot of things, drugs are not one of them.

11. Out Of Sight - The overrated Steven Soderbergh;s best movie, by far. Also probably the best of the Tarantino-imitation films of the 90s. It helps that it's an adaptation of a story by Elmore Leonard, Tarantino's favorite author. George Clooney plays an escaped bank robber, Jennifer Lopez is the US Marshal who hunts him down. Of course, there's a romance along the way. Great supporting performances from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Luis Guzman, Steve Zahn, and Michael Keaton. It's told in a non-linear style (a la Tarantino) and is a really great-looking movie with a very cool use of color. I haven't seen his Oceans 11 films, but this is very slick for Soderbergh.

10. Elizabeth - Speaking of slick, this is an MTV version of the historical costume drama. Director Shekhar Kapur uses a great sense of color, and a modern visual style to make a Queen Elizabeth biopic that is never boring. Actually, compared to recent highly acclaimed biopics like A Beautiful Mind, Ray and Walk The Line, this is a masterpiece. Cate Blanchett is remarkable in the lead role, unfortunately, the other actors aren't so good. Geoffry Rush and Richard Attenborough chew scenery as the Queen's top advisors, Fanny Ardant, Christopher Eccleston are alright, and John Gielgud is really old. Joseph Fiennes though, he's really bad as Elizabeth's whiny, incompetent boyfriend. He really drags the movie down.

9. Meet Joe Black - Three great looking movies in a row. This is a guilty pleasure of mine, as I've yet to hear of anyone else who actually likes this movie. I love it though, and I've seen it a lot. Anthony Hopkins is a wealthy old businessman with a couple of daughters. Instead of dying like he's supposed to, Death decides he's curious about life and gets Hopkins to show him around. To help with this endeavor, Death kills Brad Pitt and takes over his body. Of course, Death promptly falls in love with Hopkins's youngest daughter, Claire Forlani. It's all very melodramatic and romantic and tend s to make the room a little dusty but I dig it nonetheless. Director Martin Brest has had an up and down career (Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, Scent Of A Woman, Gigli), but this is my favorite of his films. It's the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki that really gets me: very lush, deep browns and yellows, everything looks so rich. Looking him up, he's a pretty accomplished DP. In addition to this and the upcoming Terrence Malick film The New World, he also did Y Tu Mama Tambien, Ali, Reality Bites, A Walk In The Clouds, The Birdcage, Sleepy Hollow The Cat In The Hat and Lemony Snicket.

8. Pi - What a year for great-looking movies, though this is about as opposite to Meet Joe Black as you can get. Darren Aronofsky's debut film is about a schizophrenic mathematician who believes he's close to cracking a code that will explain the meaning of life, or something like that. Soon, he's under attack by corporate goons, the NSA and crazy cabalistic Jews. It's shot in an ultra-low budget handheld black and white, rapid cut style (and a punding techno soundtrack) that gets more and more frantic as the film moves along. The film is structured like a black hole: the main character spirals around, faster and faster until he reaches the center, where all the laws of physics breakdown. A great great film. But I'll still never watch Requiem For A Dream.

7. Run Lola Run - Another very inventive indie film with a loud electronic soundtrack. You probably already know the gimmick here: Lola has to find a bunch of money that her boyfriend lost before he robs a grocery store and gets himself killed. The film explores three different scenarios in a clever game of What If? Franka Potente is great as Lola. A very fun, stylish movie, quite possibly my favorite German film. It's certainly up there with M and Aguirre: The Wrath Of God.

6. There's Something About Mary - Not so much the cause of the dumb character/gross-out comedies of the late 90s/early 2000s as it is the best of them. The reason it succeeds where so so many others failed is that it actually does have a heart. Not an ironic heart, but an actual sappy corny melodramatic heart. Ben Stiller gives one of his best performances, and one of the few where he isn't playing the angry guy from Mystery Men. Cameron Diaz is great as the object of everyone's desire and Matt Dillon and Chris Elliot are terrific in their supporting roles. Also stars Jeffery Tambor, Markie Post, Keith David, W. Earl Brown (from Deadwood, unrecognizable as Mary's brother), Khandi Alexander and Sarah Silverman.

5. Pleasantville - A great cast highlights this inventive coming of age movie. Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels Don Knotts and JT Walsh star. Witherspoon and Maguire were largely unknown at the time (though not to film geeks like me) and they give their typical great performances. Joan Allen is outstanding as the slowly-becoming-unrepressed housewife (she even makes an appearance as a sound clip in each episode of The Rachel Maddow Show). One of those movies that suffers because people focus way too much on it's political content (which isn't all that interesting) to the detriment of it's inventiveness as a film. The mixed black and white/full color scenes are really beautiful and the coming of age stories are very well-told and believable. One of those movies the Academy inexplicably passed over: it got great reviews, did very good business, had great performances, but got nothing come Oscartime. It's ten times the film that Shakespeare In Love is. Writer-director Gary Ross also wrote Big, Mr. Baseball and Dave, and wrote and directed Seabiscuit.

4. Rounders - A great little movie that was largely ignored theatrically but found a great following on video as it got caught up in, and helped fuel, the great poker revival of the early 2000s. Directed by John Dahl, who did Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, this film stars Matt damon as a former poker hustler trying to go straight by going to law school after he lost all his money to John Malkovich. But when his amoral old buddy Edward Norton gets out of jail, Damon gets sucked back into the poker lifestyle, to the detriment of his relation ship with the cute wet blanket girlfriend Gretchen Moll. Norton predictably gets them both into big financial trouble and the only way to save them is for Damon to beat Malkovich in the big game. Along the way he gets some help from his law professor Martin Landau and Famke Janssen. Oh, and John Turturro shows up somewhere in there too. It's the Karate Kid of the 90s. A truly classic sports film.

3. The Thin Red Line - By far the best World War II film of the year. Way better than that Tom Hanks propaganda cheesefest that won all those awards and so many people still inexplicably drool over. This film, Terrence Malick's first since Days Of Heaven, which I rated #2 in 1978, is an adaptation of the novel by James Jones, who also wrote From Here To Eternity, the film of which is also better than Saving Private Ryan. Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin, and Jim Caviezel are the three main characters, though theres a cast of dozens, including Woody Harrelson, John Cusak, George Clooney, Nick Nolte (a terrific performance), Elias Koteas, Adrian Brody, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly, John Savage, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Travolta. the films is basically three action set pieces divided by some long, slow reflective scenes with the characters narrating various ruminations on life and war and nature. The action scenes are as good as anything in SPR, and the slow parts, while sometimes kind of annoying, are at least more thoughtful than waving a flag and shouting "Earn this!"

2. Rushmore - Wes Anderson's best movie is about a very strange kid, the school he loves, his rich midlife crisis-ridden friend and the teacher they're both hot for. Jason Schwartzman, whose band does the theme song for The OC, is great in the lead role. Bill Murray revived his career with this role, and doesn't seem to have stopped playing this character yet (this is much, much better than Lost In Translation). Olivia Williams plays the teacher, you might remember her as the bridesmaid Joey hooked up with during the wedding in London episodes of Friends. It's Anderson's best because it isn't nearly as silly as The Life Aquatic or Bottle Rocket, but still has the sense of fun and play that is sorely missing from the depressing The Royal Tenenbaums.

1. The Big Lebowski - If you don't know why this movie is the best of the year, then you simply haven't seen it often enough. It is, without a doubt, the best film noir musical western bowling comedy ever made. One of the most quotable movies ever. For those who don't know, it stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, Tara Reid, Ben Gazzera, Sam Elliot, Peter Storemare, David Thewlis and Flea. After mistakenly having his rug soiled by loan collectors, The Dude becomes caught up in a blackmail and kidnapping scheme involving the rich Big Lebowski, his trophy wife and former porn star Bunny, his artist daughter Maude, a trio of former German electronic pop nihilists all while trying to get ready for the big bowling match against convicted sex offender Jesus. It's big, weird, totally unique and absolutely brilliant. Watch it enough times, and you'll see that the entire universe can be understood in its terms. The Out Of The Past podcast guys did a big podcast a couple weeks ago comparing and contrasting this with Howard Hawks's the Big Sleep that I highly recommend. They clearly preferred Lebowski, as do I, though I liked The Big Sleep more than they did. Sometimes, there's a man.

A decent number of Unseen Movies this year, but nothing I'm in a big rush to watch:

Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
After Life
Hilary And Jackie
Babe: Pig In The City
Six-String Samurai
Clay Pigeons
The General
Flowers Of Shanghai
Velvet Goldmine
Half Baked
Apt Pupil
The Horse Whisperer
The Red Violin
Great Expectations
Central Station
Gods And Monsters
The Avengers
Patch Adams
The Celebration
City Of Angels
Rush Hour
You've Got Mail
Deep Impact
A Bug's Life
High Art
Kurt & Courtney
Chairman Of The Board
The Newton Boys
My Giant
How Stella Got Her Groove back
Safe Men
Gadjo Dilo
Kiki's Delivery Service

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's Pronounced EE-ON

Saw Aeon Flux last night. It's pretty bad. None of the creativity of the cartoon. In fact, they seemed to be trying to not do everything that was actually cool about the cartoon: the stylish filming, the dark, noir atmosphere, the inexplicable plot. Not as bad as Tomb Raider, but still bad.

Started watching Carnivale last week, but through some kind of Netflix screw up, they sent me disc 1 of The Wire instead of disc 2 of Carnivale, so now I'm watching The Wire instead. One disc into each of them, they seem pretty good. I can already tell I'm gonna be mad that Carnivale ended after only two seasons. Speaking of HBO, this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was pretty dull, the worst season yet in fact, but the season finale was great. And Rome, which ended it's first season a couple weeks ago, was outstanding.

Not a lot going on in Marinerland as they've only signed Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, though it looks like he'll be pretty good and certainly over last year's offensive black hole. Baseball's winter meetings are going on this week, so maybe something will get done there. I'm hoping for a Kevin Millwood signing.