Saturday, January 09, 2010
10. L’Auberge Espagnole – 2002 – Cedric Klapisch
Romain Duris stars in this wonderful movie as Xavier, a 24 year old Frenchman, who leaves all he knows behind to enter the Erasmus programme in Barcelona, a college prerequisite for a job with the French government. After arriving, Xavier manages to find an apartment with roommates from all around Europe, including England, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Denmark. The international group grows to become good friends and they start to learn a lot about each other, their cultures, and what life in the new millennium is all about. Cedric Kaplisch weaves this film with a magic energy, and a melancholy touch. I was wrapped up in the apartment’s world beat, and I felt like I was their roommate, too. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Audrey Tautou is in the film as the girlfriend Xavier left behind in France… moron. All I know is that no matter how many times I watch it, the film still manages to excite, entertain and teach me something.
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – Ang Lee
Beautiful, magic, lyrical, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is in a class by itself. The artistry involved on every level is mind blowing and Yuen Woo-Ping’s choreography is like no other. The word “masterpiece” is bandied about a lot, but I think this film truly deserves to be called one. There are so many things I could say about it, but I will just stop and let the film speak for itself.
8. The New World – 2005 – Terrence Malick
What can I say about this movie? I think Ted said it best, “There are few times when you leave a movie theater thinking you have just witnessed a transcendent work of art.” I will never forget this movie experience, opening day, Christmas day, 2005. I took my Mother to the Arclight Cinemas and we ended up sitting in the second row of one of theatre’s larger blackbox theatres. It was the much longer Director’s cut of the film (only in theatres for that week long run) and from the first frame; I was transfixed on the screen that loomed large in front of me. It was total immersion in this beautiful work, no one else around me even registered. It was something so honest; the quiet purity of love, the essence of who people really are… this film is nothing short of brilliant.
7. Pride and Prejudice – 2005 – Joe Wright
I love Jane Austen, England and Keira Knightly, so the convergence of all three could only have one outcome in my mind, magic. I could write about why I love this film, why I think it is a remarkably tender, and lovely, but I won’t. Instead, I would ask you to watch the film, and when you come to the scene at the 25th minute, specifically 25:08 to 25:24, you will see just why I love it.
6. About a Boy – 2002 – Paul and Chris Weitz
I just watched this again a few weeks ago and it is still something special. Hugh Grant gives the performance of his career in Nick Hornby’s brilliant tale of a man who is his own island. I have to say I was a bit worried that a book like this would be entrusted to the directors of American Pie, but they certainly blew me away. It is a wonderfully crafted film, with a delicate, melancholy tone, which draws you in and doesn’t let go. You constantly feel heartbreak for Marcus, and you cheer for him to find some sort of happiness in his bleak world. Grant’s “Will” is equally heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant. It is a truly wonderful movie and is one of the best English films made in any decade.
5. 24 Hour Party People – 2002 – Michael Winterbottom
“Most of all, I love Manchester. The crumbling warehouses, the railway arches, the cheap abundant drugs. That's what did it in the end. Not the money, not the music, not even the guns. That is my heroic flaw: my excess of civic pride.” This is exactly how I feel and there will never be a time when I don’t. Manchester and Factory records are at the core of who I am and there was no way this film wasn’t going to be one of my favorites. They even give screen time to “A Certain Ration!” It is a brilliant, buoyant portrait of the place I think is nearer to heaven than any on Earth.
4. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy – 2004 – Adam Mckay
Not a day passes that I don’t speak to people in Ron Burgandy’s voice. Just today, I told someone that my apartment smelled of rich mahogany. This is one of the greatest comedies of all time, up there with the likes of “Caddyshack” and “Animal House.” There isn’t a bad performance in it and no matter how much I watch it, I find something new to laugh at. “Hello, Wes Mantooth…”
3. Honey and Clover – 2006 – Masahiro Takada
Based on the Manga by Chika Umino, “Honey and Clover” is a tender, lovely little movie that follows the exploits of a group of friends at a Tokyo art college. I don’t why, but this movie hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw it. It was so lovely, so innocent, so touching, I just felt like I had changed after watching it. It made me want to do things better in life, it made me want to feel, it just filled me with inspiration and love. Yu Aoi is brilliant in the role of Hagu, a wunderkind artist, and Ryo Kase is amazing as Mayama, an architecture student, who has a stalker-esque fascination with the boss at his internship. I just think you need to experience watching it, letting it find its place in your heart as it did mine.
2. Lost in Translation – 2003 – Sofia Coppola
There is a sense of quiet loneliness in this film that speaks to me, that makes me feel at ease. It is hard to explain how personal and affecting it is for me, so my comments on it will be ever so brief. I wish you could just plug into my mind and feel the way I did coming back from Japan, watching it on the plane. The lights in the plane were out while everyone slept, but I was wide-awake and on the verge of tears. I wanted to go back, I wanted to stay there forever. I felt akin to the characters in the film, which seemed to share the same wish to stay in that small window of happiness. I guess that isn’t so brief…
1. Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain – 2001 – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Audrey Tautou is amazing in this magic movie about life, love, and embracing your dreams. Jean-Pierre Jeunet does a remarkable job creating a film of visual bravado that never ceases to inspire and excite. He is a true master. I just smile incessantly every single time I watch this movie. I especially love the way she asks for Nino at the adult shop, so cute and amazing. You should just watch the film if you haven’t seen it… it will change your world as it did mine.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
20. Le Premier Jour du Reste de ta Vie – 2008 – Remi Bezancon
The standout film of the 2009 COLCOA festival is actually my pick for the best film of this year. It is a funny and touching film that follows the trials and tribulations of a modern French family as they grow over the years. Rarely have I seen a film that captures the joy and pain of family life like this and it was very refreshing to see. It is a bold film that dares you to laugh and cry along with the characters and that gives the viewer a sense of being a member of the family. It is just so good. Sadly, like so many other foreign films, Le Premier Jour won’t be having an American theatrical run. It is such a sad fact. Luckily, Amazon Canada stocks it on DVD with English subtitles.
19. The Bourne Identity – 2003 – Doug Liman
Outside of Gladiator, I think the Bourne Identity has been the most influential action film of the decade. Matt Damon is brilliant as the former CIA trained killer turned amnesiac nice guy trying to piece his life back together and Franke Potente is excellent as Maria, the girl who helps Bourne on his journey. The film has a dynamic mix of action, cerebral espionage, and thrilling chases, but its romantic story and personal drama are what really sets it apart. While the two sequels are excellent thrillfests as well, the original still stands apart for me. Just look at the new incarnation of James Bond, it has Bourne’s fingerprints all over it.
18. Hero – 2002 – Zhang YimouOne of my favorite things about movies in the 00ties was the artistic growth of Martial Arts cinema. While the HK industry seemed to be in hibernation, the renaissance of the Chinese action epic took hold. “Hero” was right at the forefront with a wonderfully orchestrated story crafted in the style of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashamon.” It is a beautiful, lyrical film, which lingers long after it has been seen. Jet Li is excellent as “Nameless,” the weaver of several deceptive tales of victory, which hopes to assassinate the King of Qin. There are brilliant performances throughout from Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi, and the cinematography of Christopher Doyle is nothing short of remarkable. It is a must see for everyone.
17. The Business – 2005 – Nick Love
Nick Love returns on the heels of “The Football Factory” with the lad culture gangster film of the decade! “The Business” is a coke-fueled love letter to Sergio Tacchini tracksuits and Britain’s early 1980’s lifestyle. The movie follows the tragic rise and fall of a young bloke’s career within a drug importing business run by a group of British gangsters living on the coast of the Costa del sol in Spain. Danny Dyer is the bollocks as “Frankie,” and Tamer Hassan picks up right where he left off in “The Football Factory.” This film actually contains my favorite scene of any film from this last decade, a scene in which Frankie drives Charlie around the Costa del Sol in a champagne coloured Mercedes, while listening to the 80’s fruitiest tunes.
16. Control – 2007 – Anton Corbijn
Manchester. Factory Records. Joy Division. Not much else is needed to describe why this beautiful, tragic film has made it so high on my list. Sam Riley is genius as the legend Ian Curtis and does a great job performing the icon’s songs in the film. The sumptuous black and white photography lends to the melancholy nature of the film and gives it a haunting quality. I am just so happy that it is on Blu Ray import from Germany.
15. Love Actually – 2003 – Richard CurtisLet me start by saying Richard Curtis is my favorite writer, and when I read about his plans to make a Christmas movie that explored the nature of love, I was absolutely over the moon. Thank heavens my exalted expectations were met because I love this film, actually! And I don’t care what anyone says about it being corny, sappy or overly dramatic, it is! It is also funny, tragic and hopelessly romantic and that is why I love it so much. It was also one of my favorite movie theatre experiences of the decade as well. “All I want for Christmas is, you.”
14. Nana – 2005 – Kentaro Otani
In doing this countdown, I have started to realize that I am a total whuss! Look at all of these movies?! Well, I guess I am attracted to films that make me feel something, and this brilliant little Japanese movie did just that. Based on the Manga by Ai Yazawa, Nana tells the story of two girls, both named Nana, living two very different lives. One is a jaded singer looking to break into the world of music, while the other simply wants to start a new life with her boyfriend. After a chance meeting on a train, the girls’ paths cross again when they unwittingly become roommates in an insanely cheap apartment. I can’t sing the praises of this film enough. It is so sweet, tender and melancholy… it really left a lasting impression. It is on DVD in America and is available from Amazon and Netflix. I suggest you get some Kleenex and watch it!
13. The Importance of Being Earnest – 2002 – Oliver ParkerBeing a bit of a dandy means that movies like this are right up my alley. Colin Firth stars in this delightful adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic play and it is both playful and funny. The comic duo of Firth and Rupert Everett is hilarious, making the film so much fun to watch. Dame Judy Dench is another standout with her amazing portrayal of Lady Augusta Bracknell. I’m sure that most people dismiss this film as fluff, but that is exactly why I love it. It never takes itself too seriously and it seems like everyone making it is having a great time. If you are in the mood for a late Victorian era romp this is the film to see!
12. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings – 2001 – Peter Jackson
This film was a long time coming. As an eight-year-old child, I was a huge fan of the Hobbit. I loved the animated special that aired on CBS and I had the book edition, which served me well. Hot on its heels, I attempted to read the Lord of the Rings, but the gigantic book (I had the all-in-one edition) seemed insurmountable and I easily gave up reading after 15 pages. However, Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film and several Hildebrandt brothers calendars arrived and kept my fire for Middle Earth burning until I could finally get through the book years later. Then, I read about Peter Jackson’s vision to bring all three books to the screen and all I could do is wait with baited breath. Would he be able to do it? Would it be like the books? Would is suck? How would they pull it all off? It was everything I could hope for and way more. All three films in the series are excellent, but this one stands out most for me. It has an epic sense of adventure and the fellowship’s sense of brotherhood is magic. It also has my favorite character, Boromir. Just thinking of Cate Blanchett’s voice in the opening darkness of the film gives me chills.
11. Bridget Jones’s Diary – 2001 – Sharon MaguireBridget Jones is a pure British romantic comedy and has Richard Curtis, too! Renee Zellweger does well as the frumpy Bridget, always smoking and drinking her way into personal disasters and Hugh Grant shines in the career-changing role of the cad Daniel Cleaver. Up to this point, Hugh Grant had been cast as the good guy in films, but he really showed dastardly charm that made Daniel come to life. Sure, the film is frothy, bubbly and full of sap, but there is nothing wrong with that. It is a winning comedy and you feel jubilated when Bridget finally finds her joy. Too bad they had to screwed it all up by making a terrible sequel.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
30. Death at a Funeral – 2007 – Frank Oz
This is a strange animal, a British film starring British actors, yet directed by a very American Frank Oz. It also stars some American actors in English roles and everyone’s favorite little person (sorry Billy Barty) Peter Dinklage. The film came and went in the theatre and no one seemed to notice, but it has found a bit of a second life on DVD and cable TV. I guess someone liked it other than me because there is already an African-American skewed remake coming out this spring with Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. Oddly, Peter Dinklage will be playing the same character in the remake. Anyway, Death at a Funeral is a very funny, very English comedy and is one of the few slapstick comedies made in this decade that doesn’t overly rely on making references to other movies and crass humor. Wow, did I just become a prude?!
29. Kung Fu Hustle – 2004 – Stephen Chow
Kung Fu Hustle may be the funniest martial arts film I have ever seen. It is so original and fresh, something that is hard to come by in this well-worn genre. There is amazing choreography, camera work, art direction and performances, especially that of Qui Yuen as the “Landlady.” Her comic look with curlers in her hair and fuzzy slippers is offset by the crazy yelling kung fu technique that she uses. Another great performance comes from Stephen Chow, the director and writer of the film. He plays “Sing,” a low-level criminal wannabe who has the power inside to become “The One.” Sing is such a screw up that it is hard to believe that he becomes the master of the Buddha Palm. The film really must be seen to be appreciated. I recommend the Blu Ray edition, one of the prettiest transfers out there!
28. Hors de Prix (Priceless) – 2007 – Pierre Salvadori
Audrey Tautou strikes again in this tale of a gold digger working her way through the south of France when she meets her match in a hapless bartender and reluctantly falls in love. Another of the great films screened at the 2007 COLCOA festival, “Hors de Prix” is an old fashioned romantic comedy and owes a lot of its success to Gad Elmaleh. His portrayal of “Jean” is both comically inept and vulnerable, and provides the pillar on which the film is built. There is a magic chemistry between Tautou and Elmaleh and you can’t help but smile when they are sharing barbs onscreen. It is actually a very accessible film, available on DVD and low cost Blu Ray in America, so go out and get it.
27. Marie Antoinette – 2006 – Sofia Coppola
This film is a divider of people. Some who saw it loved it and a great number of people didn’t care for it at all. For me, it is a remarkably ambitious, understated achievement. I love it for so many reasons, art direction, the subtle camerawork of Lance Acord, the modern score that accentuates every scene of the film and sense of melancholy that runs through the whole film. Then again, all I needed to see was the birthday scene set to the strains of New Order’s “Ceremony” and I was completely hooked.
26. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – 2007 – Jake Kasdan
“How do you feel about my music, Mr. Time Magazine?!” How did this get so high on the list? Is that what you are asking yourself? Well, I love it pure and simple. It is such an absurd movie and it has some of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. Who can take John C. Reilly serious ever again? I sure can’t! From the moment he utters, “I’m thinkin’ I might like to try me some of that cuckaine” all the way to the moment where he cringes after happening upon the Temptations, it is so brilliant. I have watched it at least 60 times on cable and it is ALWAYS funny. “Hello, Darlene. How’s Glen Campbell?”
25. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 2004 – Alfonso Cuaron
Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Harry Potter. However, I didn’t take much notice to the film series until this entry came along. Gone are the whimsical sweet shops and childlike musings of Christopher Columbus (Spielberg lite), they have been replaced by a filmmaker of vision and skill. Alfonso Cuaron took this series to the next level and delivered what is considered “The Empire Strikes Back” of the Harry Potter franchise. It is a smart, sophisticated, clever, and scary film that embraces a much darker tone and I am thankful for that. If you have not seen it, you should. And NO, I don’t have a Sirius Black action figure.
24. Hyakuman-en to Nigamushi Onna (One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Woman) – 2008 – Yuki Tanada
This movie speaks to me on many levels. It is a lovely, delicate film, but it is also very painful and heartbreaking. It has a wonderful sense of quiet and is as melancholy a film you will see. Aoi Yu stars as a young woman named Suzuko, who has just been released from jail and is forced to live back with her parents. However, the disgrace of her crime (though justified) causes her family shame and it is no longer viable for her to live with them. She decides to leave town and takes as many odd jobs she can to save up a million yen ($10,000) to embark on the journey. This journey will lead her to several different places, but she can never really seem to escape the past she is running from. I just couldn’t be a bigger fan of this movie and I hope that everyone out there will find it and watch it.
23. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – 2003 – Peter Weir
Peter Weir is a director of great talent and vision. He has made some of my favorite films (Gallipoli, Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously) and this one is certainly up there. Based on the brilliant series of books by Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander is as fine a seaward adventure film as has ever been made, and was one of the most costly films ever produced. I have watched this film numerous times and it never ceases to thrill me. I especially love the sequences filmed at the Galapagos. It has such lyrical beauty, something rarely captured on film.
22. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – 2007 – Andrew Dominik
This movie transcends the level of ordinary film and places you in an era so meticulously designed, you almost feel as if you are really in the turn-of-the-century south. It is a true snapshot of Americana and has some of the most beautiful photography of any movie this decade. Brad Pitt delivers a fine performance of subtlety and fury, while Casey Affleck is so good I can’t really think of words to describe it. I just know that I watched with total fascination and didn’t even realize the film was three hours long. I could have watched it for several hours more.
21. Brideshead Revisited – 2008 – Julian Jarrold
Nothing says Darrick quite like a movie about cold, English repression, and this new adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel doesn’t disappoint. There is a sadness running through this movie that I am drawn to, a cold sense of regret and sorrow. Why I like stories like that, I am not sure, but I just do. I know many people loved the miniseries, but this film offers so much more as far as I am concerned. Moreover, the use of one of the most beautiful properties in the world can’t hurt either. I know if I were Charles Ryder, I would do what I could to obtain the Lady Julia and that house! All I can say is that Brideshead is a sumptuous film and made me want to unleash the turn-of-the-century fancy lad lurking within!
Saturday, January 02, 2010
40. P.T.U. – 2003 – Johnnie To
That’s PTU, not PCU! Johnnie To’s second entry into my top 50 is a taught, cerebral cop thriller set during one very long night for a police tactical unit. Sparse artistic lighting, desolate streets, haunting silhouettes, and elegant camera orchestrations capture both the beauty and apprehension of Hong Kong’s night environs, and showcase the director’s ability to captivate with music and images instead of dialogue that almost seems superfluous here. I can’t recommend it enough!
39. A Very Long Engagement (Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles) – 2004 – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Amber-hued beauty… that is what I think best sums up this loving, romantic, and heartbreaking tale from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Set against the backdrop of the rarely explored World War I, the film follows a young woman’s relentless journey to search for her fiancé, who disappeared from the trenches of the Somme. Audrey Tautou is marvelous in the role of Mathilde, a woman of determination and vulnerability, who refuses to give up hope. Moreover, Jodie Foster makes one of the decades oddest cameo appearances as the wife of one of the French Soldiers. You would think that she would stick out like a sore thumb, but her years of study in France, and the fluency of her language made her fit right in. I could go on more and praise Jeunet, but I am going to save that for another movie in the list.
38. Naissance des Pieuvres (Water Lilies) – 2007 – Celine Sciamma
I’ve never felt like such a perv in a movie theatre. This is yet another film unearthed from the COLCOA festival. It is a coming of age story about the sexual awakenings of three teenage girls over the course of a single summer and is quintessentially French. The film has a slow, melancholy tone and relies heavily on music and imagery to set the mood and move the story along without a lot of dialog. It is a wonderful film and surprisingly had a theatrical run in America! I guess it is the power of hooters. I highly recommend you Netflix it or buy it from Amazon.com. And don’t forget your raincoat!
37. Lust, Caution (Se, Jie) – 2007 – Ang Lee
My quip for this movie was that it should be titled “Caution, Boner.” Taiwanese Director Ang Lee’s return to the Chinese cinema is a brilliant WWII espionage thriller filled with tension and sexuality. Tony Leung Chiu Wai shines giving one of the best performances of his long, distinguished career, and Wei Tang is powerful and moving in the role of a girl torn between the awakening of her passion and the convictions of her duty. It is a meticulously made film, with stunning camera work and production design and was easily the best film Lee has made since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
36. Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru (Heavenly Forest) – 2006 – Takehiko Shinjo
Clearly, I wasn’t ready for what this movie did to me. It was a nightmare finding it on DVD (right case, wrong movie on disc), and an even bigger nightmare finding it digitally. Then one fortunate night, I found it on a website in full resolution, downloaded it in haste and started watching. Let’s just say a few hours later I nearly cried my eyes out of my head. Set in Japan and New York, Heavenly Forest is a junai (true love) story from author Ichikawa Takuji, and is based on his novel "Renai Shashin: Mo Hitotsu no Monogatari." It tells the tale of two unlikely friends and the bond they share while taking pictures in a quiet, peaceful forest. There is a lot more to the story, stuff that will simply break your heart in half. All I can say is that if you are in need of a good cry, this beautiful little movie is all you need.
35. Ensemble C’est Tout (Hunting and Gathering) – 2007 – Claude Berri
COLCOA festival, what would this decade be without you?! Another Gem from the 2007 festival is this small, personal story of a young cleaning woman (Audrey Tautou) and two very different men who become her roommates. It is a warm, funny film with pure charm and verve. I can’t say enough here about little Audrey Tautou, my favorite actress. She gives another excellent performance, as does the luckiest man on Earth, Guillaume Canet. He is disheveled and French and brilliant in the role of Franck, Chef and grandmother lover extraordinaire. Nevertheless, the standout performance of the movie comes from Laurent Stocker, who gives the film much of its comic charm. He is such a tragic clown that you can’t help but bust up when he is onscreen. This is a great film and I hope that you will be able to find it somewhere. It is available from Amazon France and on a Thai DVD from EBAY with English subtitles.
34. The Football Factory – 2004 – Nick Love
“Don’t get lemon Bill, it don’t suit ya!” Footie hooligans, blow, bangin’ birds, Primal Scream, could it get any better? Nick Love (former male model and trainers aficionado) really delivers here with a tough film that is all about football, but features none of it. It has a true amphetamine laced pace and leaves you with a Chelsea smile at the end. I think Danny Dyer best sums up what this film is all about, “What else are you gonna do on a Saturday? Sit in your fuckin' armchair wankin' off to Pop Idols? Then try and avoid your wife's gaze as you struggle to come to terms with your sexless marriage? Then go and spunk your wages on kebabs, fruit machines and brasses? Fuck that for a laugh! I know what I'd rather do. Tottenham away, love it!”
33. The 40-Year-Old Virgin – 2005 – Judd Apatow
“Name’s Gina…” I think this is still the best of all the Judd Apatow genre of movies. I use the lines from it constantly and think that Steve Carell will never be better than this. The moment where he lovingly sets up his room with candles and silk pajamas for a masturbation session is still one of the funniest things I have seen. I also think that “Boner Jams” is possibly the greatest title I have ever heard. I think I watched this 40 times on cable and it never stopped being funny.
32. Ping Pong – 2002 – Fumihiko Sori
For the better part of a year, I would go to Amoeba records and see a movie called “Ping Pong” sitting in their import DVD section. The DVD often called to me, asking me to buy it, but I would continually deny the urge. One lazy day, I finally decided to pull the trigger and took the film home. How happy I am that I did. Based on the Manga of the same name by Taiyo Matsumoto, Ping Pong is at times melancholy, at times hilarious, always moving, and always engaging. It also opened my eyes to a whole new era of Japanese cinema that exploded in the “noughties.” A two-disc special edition DVD is now available in America through Amazon and Netflix, so I think you should run out and get it!
31. Nos Jours Heureux (Those Happy Days) – 2006 – Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Of all of the COLCOA experiences I have had, none has been quite as joyous as this, and it was the perfect capper to a memorable day spent with my friend, Ted. How fitting that a film of such warmth, humor and sentimentality would be headline to that wonderful Saturday. Loosely based on the experiences of the film’s directors (both were summer camp councilors), Those Happy Days follows the exploits of a group of councilors running a summer camp in the French countryside. It is a hilarious film and a true crime that it never secured a release in America. Thankfully, Amazon Canada stocks it on DVD with English subtitles so that YOU can buy it and find your own Happy Days.