Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best Movies of 2005

1) A History Of Violence (David Cronenberg)

David Cronenberg, bless him, is a director that has never resorted to formula in his over 3 decade career. In this one-of-a-kind Gangster picture, the Canadian filmmaker crafts his best movie since 1986's The Fly - a mind bending journey into the violence that exists in all of us. This sexy, erotic, aggressive picture is typical Cronenberg with a flawed hero in Viggo Mortensen's mysterious family drifter. The violence is grotesque, the sex kinky and the narrative unlike any you've ever seen.

2) Cache/Hidden (Michael Haneke)

This is my kind of movie - one that asks more questions than actually answers them yet provokes enough mystery and intrigue to get you talking about it for months on end. Haneke is a master manipulator and an artist that refuses to resort to any kind of formulaic narrative. His movies are unafraid to show you images that shock. In this french import he decides to give us a deeply penetrating look at an abundance of themes that have obsessed him over the years; roots, familial trees, the immigrant experience and culture clash.

3) Old Boy (Chan-Wook Park)

This Korean import is a whodunnit with a stinging climax. Revenge is the word of the day and director Park -just like the first two films on my list- decides to shock as well as artfully intrigue us. A man tries to find the perpetrator that locked him up in prison for more than 15 years. There's much more to it than just that but only a fool would want to reveal the dark secrets that lie deep underneath Park's Korean Masterpiece. One for the ages and bound to get an American remake.

4) Munich (Steven Spielberg)

Whenever Steven Spielberg tackles Jewish themes, a personal film always must always come to fruition. in 1993 it was his beloved Schindler's List, in 2005 it is Munich - the story of the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the ensuing retaliation on the ones responsible by Israeli Intelligence. Just like Old Boy this is about revenge but the revenge here is more real and comes with more realistic consequences. Do you need to commit evil to revenge evil? Spielberg is at war with himself with the answer and so are we.

5) The Squid And The Whale (Noah Baumbach)

Here comes what is clearly a breakthrough film for writer/director Noah Baumbauch. Every once in a while comes a film that deals with family neuroticism in such a way that it makes you cringe yet entertained at the same time. The Squid And The Whale doesn't deal with easy themes; divorce, puberty, kids, hippie-dom - yet it treats them in such an expertly devised way you'd think these people actually existed, therein lies the miracle of Baumbach's film; its laughs come with stinging truthfulness.

6) Downfall (Olivier Hirschbiegel)

The final days of Hitler. It's as simple as that. How a once mighty man, filled with grand ambitions and egotistical evil fell flat as he neared certain defeat. Director Hirschbiegel brings us into Hitler's bunker and it's as if you are actually there waiting for the man to have a downfall. the details are incredible and the fact that this was a German movie, made with German actors only brings more authenticity to the film. This will most likely be a film that will get shown in history classes for years to come.

7) The 40 Year Old Virgin (Judd Apatow)

A 40 year old man -funnily played by Steve Carrell- still collects toys, rides a bike to work, has a job at a Best Buy-style store, oh, and has not had sex yet. We have not seen post-40 adult virginity tackled in movies before, which is why director Apatow's film is so damn fresh. The screenplay is filled with witty insights and one line zingers that are as quotable as any other movie this year. However, the real brilliance of the films lies in how it never mocks its subject matter and instead embraces this geeky man and all his neurotic tendencies. You truly want him to get laid.

8) Capote (Bennett Miller)

This moving film lives and breathes on the powerful shoulders of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's stunning performance in the title role. Hoffman captures all of the unique physical characteristics that made Capote such a familiar public figure in his lifetime and invests them with a humanity that is almost unbearably poignant. Beautifully told, masterfully performed, harrowing, amusing, cruel, moving. Benneth Miller's film is a sensational achievement.

9) Cinderella Man (Ron Howard)

The movie-movie of the year. This boxing saga starring Russell Crowe and directed by all American boy Ron Howard is a rousing, sentimental triumph for both star and director. In tackling the true life tale of Washed up boxer James J Braddock, Howard and Crowe play with our emotions and rattle us with the down and out life this man really had in depression era USA. A Rocky-like fairy tale that actually happened and one more great example of why Boxing is the most cinematic sport to film.

10) Me, You & Everyone We Know (Miranda July)

This one-of-a-kind miracle movie by first time indie director Miranda July is the most original treat I saw all year. A lonely shoe salesman and a performance artist fail to connect in a unique take on contemporary life. Not for everybody but something I appreciated quite a bit for the artistry at work and the way it told its quirky multiple stories in such fresh, inventive ways.

11) War Of The Worlds (Steven Spielberg)
12) King Kong (Peter Jackson)

Two Hollywood blockbusters that gave us jolts of relentless action in a year lacking of those traits. Leave it to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson to school the rest of the industry in just how to mix ambition in mainstream filmmaking. Ironically they both have botched endings yet the highs outweigh the lows. In Spielberg's remake of War Of The Worlds, the action is so well directed that I was at times left breathless by its intensity - ditto for Peter Jackson mega epic, a 187 minute remake of the 1933 classic, in which the majestic sweep of the story completely enthralled my sense in every which way.

13. Lord Of War, Andrew Niccol

14. Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan

15. Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch

16. Red Eye, Wes Craven

17. Hustle And Flow, Craig Brewer

18. The Devil's Rejects, Rob Zombie

19. Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog

20. Good Night And Good Luck, George Clooney

21. Junebug, Phil Morrison

22. North Country, Niki Caro

23. The Ice Harvest, Harold Ramis

Best Movies of 2006

1) Children Of Men (Alfonso Cuarron) 

It took a while before Alfonso Cuarron's science fiction masterpiece finally hit the top spot. It started off at #5 and slowly creeped up as the years went by. An absolute virtuosic feat of filmmaking with some of the most remarkable shots you will ever see in any movie. In its telling of the last pregnant woman on earth, Cuarron has crafted a timeless movie that resonates deep in your thoughts. The cinematography is incredible and the narrative is a pure lesson of the craft.

2) The Departed (Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese doesn't necesarilly tell a story as much as pour heart and soul to it. There's no way a person can come away unaffected from any of his movies. In The Departed Scorsese tackled familiar territory -the Gangster genre, yet reinvented himself by way of form and style. This is unlike any of the other Scorsese Gangster pictures in that it lets go of the New York  Italian Mob and decides to the tackle Boston Irish brood. Scorsese injects an intensity that he only he can inject in a film and there isn't a moment in the film's 140 minute + running time.

3) Borat (Larry Charles)

Sacha Baron Cohen made a real name for himself in 2006. I was already a fan of his brilliant but retired Da Ali G Show but it was a real kick to see him bring back his loveably racist Kazakhstani man Borat Sagdiyev. The real kicker of the film is that its brilliance doesn't just lie in its Guerilla style doc filmmaking but that the laughs comes with satirical sting. Cohen's Borat brings out the worst of America, a homophobic, racist culturally divided nation that hides beneath its hate. Has any other film done so much to expose that before?

(4) Little Miss Sunshine (Valerie Farris/Jonathan Dayton)

Here's the little comedy that could. Straight out of Sundance in fact. An incredibly reliable cast that brings laughs at you every which way. Little Miss Sunshine is the crowd pleaser that 2006 needed - a raucous showcase for Steve Carell and -especially- Alan Arkin's talents. An almost too relevant satirical look at the little miss beauty pageant scene that only makes you recall how outrageous Honey Boo Boo really is. A family Drama that -for once in movies- actually IS about family. A scathing look at addiction through humor, with Alan Arkin's junkie Grandpa using in a very matter of fact way. pure dark, unadultered fun.

5) United 93 (Paul Greengrass)

Paul Greengrass shoots with a handheld camera to make you feel like you were really there with the passengres and crew of the ill fated September 11th United 93 plane. A heroic story of unimaginable horror with an edge of your seat finale that only reinforces the importance of why that plane had to go down. Greengrass gives his film a documentary style look that goes well the subject matter. It also helps that he casted no name actors to give the film even more realism. When it came out people asked if it was soon. It clearly wasn't.
6) Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro)

Del Toro finally makes a film worthy of his immense talent. This is no Blade 2 or Hell Boy, instead it's a cinematic triumph with enough stunning images to pop your eyes wide open. If there ever was a modern day Wizard Of Oz, this is it - with a schizophernic little dorothy, scarily created monsters and brilliant open ended finale that made us all talk about it when the lights came back on. In his short Hollywood career Del Toro has always had a knack for visuals but never had the story to back it up - here he did.
7) Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

Director Inarritu makes deep, depressing movies about the human condition. One can look at his first 2 films Amores Perros and 21 Grams as brilliant examples. I'll be the first one to admit that his shtick might be getting tiresome but if he has one more left in him it might be this one. A maddening, mosaical film that shows the connectivity we have with one another in this small planet. It veers towards melodramam at times and frustrates yet its brilliance lies in how much we care of the outcome and how the filmmaking is just so damn good. muchos gracias.

8) Apocalypto (Mel Gibson)

When watching Apocalypto, you can clearly tell it is the work of a mad man. All the better for it. What I look for in movies is a person's vision and if that person has clear issues then it isn't my problem and it, at times such as this one, makes the movie pleasantly cinematic. The director is Mel Gibson and given all his problems with the law, the racist comments he's splurred out and his psycho horror religious previous film The Passion Of The Christ - it kind of made it all the more fun to watch. Which is not to say Gibson is not a brilliant filmmaker. He actually really is. His shot selection and handling of the camera is incredible and his love for historical stories -here it's the mayans- undeniably there.
9) Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick)

Some may have this movie but I dug it very much. This is an important piece of filmmaking about an important subject; the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone. &&& If you still think Leonardo Dicpario is not that good of an actor, watch this film, he's just so good and so is Dijimon Hounsou who justifiably got an Oscar Nomination for his intensely emotional performance. This is probably the movie-movie of 2006. I don't know many people that didn't like this picture, critic proof but audience ready.

10) The Illusionist (Neil Burger)
10) The Prestige (Chriistopher Nolan)

A great year for movies about Magicians. It's interesting how so many people that I know mix both of these up but in a way they are so different. Different because of their filmmakers. The Prestige is directed by Christopher Nolan and he's just a very different kind of Hollywood director. The ending he uses in The Prestige is head scratching and you really do have to think hard to figure it out, whereas The Illusionist's director Neil Burger is more conventional in his storytelling but nevertheless just as effective as Nolan wth his subject matter. I Couldn't choose one or the other so I decided to make it a tie for 10th place.

12. Inside Man, Spike Lee

13. Casino Royale, Martin Campbell

14. Little Children, Todd Field

15. The Descent, Nei Marshall

16. Cars, John Lasseter

17. Block Party, Michel Gondry

18. The Queen, Stephen Frears

19. V For Vendetta, James McTeigue

20. Crank, Mark Nevldine & Brian Taylor

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gangster Squad + The greatest of Gangster movies

(R) ★★½

Gangster Squad which is directed by Ruben Fleischer -of Zombieland fame!- is a typical gangster film that doesn't break much ground. Its colorfully elegant images recall Curtis Hanson's far superior L.A Confidential which also dealt with L.A cops. The cast is uni formally good starting with Sean Penn as Gangster impressario Mickey Cohen and Josh Brolin as the LAPD cop that wants to put him down. It's all flourishng, flamboyant stuff with the typical genre cliches that we have seen before yet I was hooked, especially in its last 30 minutes where things tighten up and the violence gets upped a notch. This isn't a film that we'll be talking about years from now and it has enough flaws to warrant cautious expectations before you go see it but if you're a fan of the genre as I am then it's worth watching at a cheapie film house or on DVD. Not much praise eh? Well it isn't Landmark stuff, what can I say.

You want Landmark stuff? Fleischer's film got me thinking on past gangster pictures. I dig the genre, in fact I eat it up. It's classic cinema and has its roots deeply inserted since Howard Hawks' first Scarface hit the screens in 1932. Along with film noir, the Gnagtser film might just be the most cinematic genre in movie history. But what makes a great gangster picture? In my humble opinion, A mix of style, story and directorial flair. Being List-Making maniac that I usually am - based on a mix of major ADD and OCD- I decided to make a list of my 15 favourite Gangster pictures of the past 4 decades of film. The following 15 are all great, masterful examples of what happens when you do it right with the most cinematic genre imaginable. They all range from different decades and all don't resemble one another, which is why they are just so damn good. Pardonne-moi if I didn't leave any comments below the titles.

1) The Godfather Part 2 (Coppola)
2) The Godfather (Coppola)
3) Goodfellas (Scorsese)
4) Pulp Fiction (Tarantino)
5) Casino (Scorsese)
6) Mean Streets (Scorsese)
7) The Departed (Scorsese)
8) A History Of Violence (Cronenberg)
9) Donnie Brasco (Newell)
10) Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino)
11) Gangs Of New York (Scorsese)
12) Carlito's Way (DePalma)
13) City Of God (Mereilles)
14) Miller's Crossing (Coen)
15) The Limey (Soderbergh)
16) Road To Perdition (Mendes)

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