Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Golden Globes Ramble

To start, a list of reasons why the Golden Globes are "better" (again, this is a subjective term) than the Oscars:

5) The awards are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The ceremony is basically a bunch of foreign entertainment reporters feting their favorite celebrities (how else to explain Julia Roberts's nomination?). I just imagine a bunch of foreign white guys a la "Two Wild and Crazy Guys" sitting around and deciding what movies they like in outlandish accents. Sounds awesome.

4) Because of this (and other factors, explained below), the Globes tend to take more chances than the Oscars. I mean, just look at last year, where Colin Farrell picked up an award for his performance in In Bruges. Okay, so his acceptance speech was a bit weepy and rambling, but it was more entertaining than anything that happened at the Oscars. My point is that neither the performance nor the movie ever had a chance at winning an Oscar. The Globes open things up a bit.

3) There is no host! Well, at least most of the time. This is the first year I can remember the Globes actually having a host, as they named Ricky Gervais the emcee of this year's ceremony. They couldn't have picked a better man -- Gervais is definitely not afraid to make people uncomfortable. No one in the room will  be immune from his barbs. Usually though, the Globes goes sans host -- and the lack of a monotonous presence only adds to the chaos that is Globes night.

2) The Globes actually recognize comedic performances! This is the biggest thing that annoys me about the Oscars -- generally, only one kind of movie (drama) has any real shot at winning. The Globes actually have separate categories for comedic films and performances (they also, for some reason, include musicals in this category, but it's an imperfect world). They do muck things up a bit by lumping supporting performances and screenplays together, but too many categories would probably slow the ceremony. But I love that they give comedies their proper... er... props.

1) THEY SERVE BOOZE. If you've ever watched the Globes ceremony, you've probably noticed a little rosy-cheeked affability about the place, as opposed to the staid stateliness of the Oscars. It's because everyone's buzzin' pretty good... if not legally drunk. This leads to many more off-the-cuff moments, such as Farrell's self-depreciating cocaine joke or Seth Rogan's Mickey Rourke-depreciating cocaine joke last year. Let's just put it this way: you're not gonna hear a lot of cocaine jokes at the Oscars. And THAT'S why the Globes are "better" than the Oscars.

At any rate, the Globes are probably the best-known Oscar precursor, so I figure it's worth exploring the nominations a little bit. I'll even offer some predictions, although I will add the qualifier that I haven't historically tracked the HFPA's voting tendencies like I have AMPAS's. That is to say, I really have no idea what will happen at the Globes ceremony. But I think the magic of the Globes is that no one else does either! So, enjoy, if you're into that sort of thing.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

District 9 -- Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
The Hurt Locker -- Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds -- Quentin Tarantino
It's Complicated -- Nancy Meyers
Up in the Air -- Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

I would have liked to see The Hangover, Up, The Brothers Bloom, (500) Days of Summer, and/or A Serious Man here, but, like I said, the HFPA lumps all screenplays (original and adapted, drama and comedy) into one category, so a lot of films are gonna miss the cut. That said, I have little problem with this group. The only oddball nomination is District 9, which, from what I understand, was largely improvised. But it's good to see the film get a nomination somwhere -- it really was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. I think it was probably the last one in anyway, so I'll leave it out of the rest of the discussion for that reason. Of the rest of the contenders, the only one I haven't seen (yet -- to be rectified soon) is Up in the Air. That one figures to be the frontrunner here, perhaps with Mark Boal's script for The Hurt Locker as the most likely challenger. As much as I loved Basterds (and Q's excellent script), I figure that the voters will feel that Christoph Waltz's seemingly-inevitable win for Supporting Actor is enough to honor the film as a whole. Meyers's script, while entertaining, probably doesn't have the weight to pull off a win here. I'm looking for Reitman and Turner to win for Up in the Air.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Penélope Cruz -- Nine
Vera Farmiga -- Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick -- Up in the Air
Mo'Nique -- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Julianne Moore -- A Single Man

Here's a fun fact:  I haven't seen any of these performances! I'll probably have rectified that by the time the ceremony rolls around, but just know that the following is pure conjecture. Just looking at the nominees, it just seems set up for Mo'Nique to win for a role in a movie that I really have no interest in seeing. Just not my kind of subject matter. Sorry. Anyway, Nine has been shat on by the critics which, while it doesn't exactly sound the death knell for Cruz, the fat lady is warming up in between pints of ice cream. Haven't heard anything about Moore's performance (the movie is Firth's show, from what I've heard), but I could see the voters giving a respected veteran a long overdue win if they don't go for Mo'Nique because... the Up in the Air chicks are probably gonna split the vote. It's tough to see either of them pulling it off over the other with some of the other options out there. So you'll probably see Mo'Nique take the stage next month for the W.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Matt Damon -- Invictus
Woody Harrelson -- The Messenger
Christopher Plummer -- The Last Station
Stanley Tucci -- The Lovely Bones
Chrisoph Waltz -- Inglourious Basterds

Again, I'll start with the disclaimer of what I haven't seen (hey, this is what you get for living in Arizona):  Invictus, The Lovely Bones, and The Last Station. I'll definitely be seeing the former two, but probably not the latter. With that out of the way, does anybody really see Plummer or Tucci taking this? Me neither. The HFPA clearly likes Damon (to the tune of two nominations), but I'm not convinced his role in Invictus is a statue-winning one, even if the statue is a knockoff of the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Harrelson is an interesting candidate -- his performance as a recovering alcoholic/Desert Shield "vet" is at once tortured and blanky funny. They could go the vet route and pick him, but the smart money is on Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, definitely one of the most memorable characters of the year, if not the decade. Perhaps the finest performance Tarantino has directed (although Robert Forster in Jackie Brown is tough in this category).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Sandra Bullock -- The Proposal
Marion Cotillard -- Nine
Julia Roberts -- Duplicity
Meryl Streep -- It's Complicated
Meryl Streep -- Julie & Julia

I've seen precisely one of these -- Streep in It's Complicated. Pardon me if I don't see every chick flick and musical that comes out. Obviously, I could care less about who wins this award (this of course being the downside of recognizing comedic performances). I mostly enjoyed It's Complicated, so I wouldn't mind seeing her win here. However, she's been getting more publicity and acclaim for Julia & Julia (which is probably a lock for an Oscar nom as well), so it'll be pretty tough to unseat that performance here. Roberts probably has no shot (again, the Globes are as unpredictable as it gets), but Bullock and Cotillard both have the cachet to take home the statue. Bullock is having an even better year that Streep (if that's possible), what with the double nomination and box office numbers. Cotillard is fresh off Oscar gold and is probably the best shot for Nine, which the HFPA clearly loved (it garnered five noms, second only to Up in the Air), to take home a major award. Lots to ponder, but for now I'm going with the favorite, Meryl Streep for Julia & Julia.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Matt Damon -- The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis -- Nine
Robert Downey, Jr. -- Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg -- A Serious Man

I've seen everything here but Nine -- I may or may not rectify that while it's in theaters. It probably depends on how much Oscar love the flick gets. Not a big musical fan. Moving on. I definitely have no idea how this category is shaping up -- I definitely didn't see Farrell winning here last year (even though I would've voted for him). Some of these nominations are a bit odd -- for example, how do you nominate Streep in It's Complicated but not Alec Baldwin? Their interplay made the movie. Similarly, how do you nominate JGL (what the cool kids call Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and not Zooey Deschanel? Perplexing. Anyway, I don't see D-Day (Daniel Day-Lewis, not Bruce McGill from Animal House) as a serious threat here, not with the withering reviews directed at his picture (and his singing ability). And as much as I love him -- in general and in this movie -- I'm not sure RDJ (what the cool kids call... oh, surely you get this by now) has a big chance either, what with the relatively ambivalent reviews for Holmes (although his would be a great acceptance speech, and they might just give it to him for the press it would bring). (500) Days of Summer got a lot more love than I would have thought, but the other two nominees have more clout. Stuhlbarg is the journeyman vet and critic's darling, while Damon is probably due for some hardware at this point in his career and a major box-office star. It could really go either way, but I'm going with Michael Stuhlbarg for now. A Serious Man is probably on the outside looking in, Oscar-wise, but I could see the HFPA choosing to award it here.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Emily Blunt -- The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock -- The Blind Side
Helen Mirren -- The Last Station
Carey Mulligan -- An Education
Gabourey Sidibe -- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Of the nominees, I've only seen Mulligan in An Education. I have no real desire to see any of the others (although, again, I will probably have to check out Precious at some point), so this is basically going to be a crapshoot. I think we can safely count Mirren out -- just doesn't seem the HFPA's style. Sidibe is also probably out since I can't see the film winning two major acting awards. The Young Victoria looks like a major period-piece snoozefest, but Emily Blunt is always worth watching (I especially enjoyed her in the under-appreciated Sunshine Cleaning earlier this year), so I could see her having a chance -- and she's a Globe vet, having been nominated for The Devil Wears Prada and actually winning for some miniseries or another. But the film seems to have absolutely no pulse right now (presumably similar to me after watching it). She's probably out. That leaves Mulligan and Bullock. They are both looking good for Oscar noms right now, so it should be interesting to see how this one plays out. I'm just going with a hunch here and saying that Mulligan wins the little gold man and Sandra Bullock wins here. Just a hunch.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jeff Bridges -- Crazy Heart
George Clooney -- Up in the Air
Colin Firth -- A Single Man
Morgan Freeman -- Invictus
Tobey Maguire -- Brothers

Another category where I haven't seen any of the nominated performances. Cool! Although it's useless for the purposes of this entry, I plan on seeing most of these by the end of the week (ah, the teacher's schedule -- nothing to do 'til the third week or January). I should be knocking out an Up in the Air/Invictus double feature tonight, followed by A Single Man and possibly Crazy Heart tomorrow. Most likely skipping Brothers -- although let's be honest, Maguire has no shot here. So I'm not worried about it. Anyway, most of these guys should be up for Oscars, so this is another race to pay attention to. The remaining four all have merit and impressive track records. Jeff Bridges is probably the most overdue man in Hollywood for some hardware (unless you don't count Peter O'Toole's honorary Oscar...) and could be primed for some major kudos this year. Clooney and Air are buzzing harder than than high school freshman after a couple wine coolers. "Voiceover" Morgan Freeman is always a threat, and Firth is another vet poised for a win. I think this is another case where the HFPA and AMPAS differ. I'm gonna say George Clooney gets the win here, but Bridges takes home the Oscar. I'll probably update this after I see some of these performances.

Best Director - Motion Picture
Kathryn Bigelow -- The Hurt Locker
James Cameron -- Avatar
Clint Eastwood -- Invictus
Jason Reitman -- Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino -- Inglourious Basterds

The more I look at this category, the more I'm convinced that whatever wins the Best Motion Picture - Drama award will win this one as well. Of course, this award will be presented first, so it's probably more accurate to say that whoever wins here, that film will probably win the big prize. That said, the question remains: How much does the HFPA *really* like Avatar? Enough for it to beat out the critics' favorite (Hurt Locker) or the presumptive audience favorite (Air)? I think those are the three clear favorites now, meaning Eastwood and Tarantino are out in this category and Precious and Basterds are out in Picture (although it would make my night to see Tarantino and Basterds pull off the upsets). I guess I'm going to tip my hand here a little bit, but I think you're gonna hear Jason Reitman's name called up to the podium for this award. We'll finish this conversation in the Best Motion Picture - Drama section.

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julia & Julia

Still need to check out Nine, will probably see Julia & Julia if/when Streep gets an Oscar nod. I think Nine was the presumptive frontrunner here, and I guess it could still get the Dreamgirls treatment (poor reviews, no Oscar love, but does well at the Globes). I could also see them ignoring it completely though. I'm just going to assume that's the case for now, unless it gets a surge of publicity/critical goodwill between now and then. I'm also going to ignore Julia & Julia -- I think the consensus is that it has the better Streep performance, but that It's Complicated is the better film. I also think the latter is a legitimate contender here. Again, I quite enjoyed Summer, but I think it's a bit too small of a picture to have a shot here. That leaves... The Hangover? Can an R-rated broad comedy really take home a major award like this? Well, if anyone has the balls to make it happen, it's the HFPA. Call me crazy, but I think they just might do it. If only because A) I have no idea how to pick this category, and B) I would love to see it happen, I'm going with the upset and picking The Hangover to win here.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Up in the Air

If you've been paying attention, you should already know what I'm going to pick here. I think Up in the Air is probably gonna win. Precious won't be able to pull it off without its director being nominated, and Waltz is probably the only winner that Basterds will see. Avatar and Locker are nipping at Air's heels though... and I think one of them will overtake it on Oscar night. Granted I haven't seen it, but Air seems to be a bit too... light for AMPAS's tastes. I just really don't see it getting too much Oscar love. I think Avatar or Locker are much more likely contenders... and I wouldn't mind seeing either of them win, as I loved both. Still, I think the star power of Clooney and audience goodwill factor tips the balance to Air at the Globes.

That about wraps it up. Consider these my Globes predictions, although I'll probably put up a mock ballot the night before, and maybe a reactions piece once the winners are announced. And then... Oscar time! Eagerly awaiting 2/2/2010... for a multitude of reasons. Thanks for reading. Ciao.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top 10 Movies: 2001

According to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanlry Kubrick, we were supposed to be sending manned missions to Jupiter and conversing with crazed computers in 2001. Well, no space-odysseying occurred (although that's not to say that artificial intelligence -- or Kubrick himself -- doesn't yet have a role to play). Obviously, 2001 wasn't the year of science fiction. It was, however, the year of fantasy, as the genre produced some of the biggest movies of all time in 2001 -- the first Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Shrek films were all released. I'm not a huge fan of the early Harry Potter films or of Shrek in general, but I can see the appeal. What I cannot see the appeal of, however, is some of the other top-grossing and award-winning movies of 2001. There were some spectacularly shitty movies released -- check out 6-10 of the top 10 grossing films: Pearl Harbor, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes, and Hannibal. Are you ****ing kidding me? Now 9/11 starts to make sense... Moving on, 2001 was also responsible for perhaps the worst Oscars of the decade. A Beautiful Mind? Yawn. Denzel for Training Day? That was a make-up award. And don't even get me started on Halle Berry for Monster's Ball. That, however, doesn't even compare to the shafting Amélie got in Forgein Film. At least Fellowship of the Ring and Black Hawk Down cleaned up in the tech categories.

So, neither the populists nor the critics got much right in 2001. That said, it was actually a pretty strong year overall -- one of the strongest of the decade, truth be told. A lot of under-the-radar gems mixed with some true classics, both cult and otherwise. Here's my top ten:

Honorable mentions: Donnie Darko (R.I.P. Patrick Swayze), Apocalypse Now Redux (would've been in my top ten but I don't count rereleases) Ghost World (under-appreciated), The Man Who Wasn't There (Coens strike again), Wet Hot American Summer (check out the cast -- ridiculous).

10) Ocean's Eleven
Directed by: Stephen Soderbergh
Written by: Ted Griffen
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts

Another year, another Soderbergh movie at #10. Ocean's Eleven, however, is a markedly different type of film than Traffic. To carry the Steven Spielberg comparison from the last movie entry through, this is The Terminal to Traffic's Munich. Except, you know, this is way better than The Terminal and Traffic is no Munich. So yeah. That was confusing. But either way, two top-ten movies in two years is pretty impressive, especially considering how different they are.

Whereas Traffic was a testament to his filmmaking prowess, in Ocean's Eleven, Soderbergh wisely steps aside and allows his cast to be the center of attention. And what a cast it is -- perhaps the three biggest actors of the decade in Clooney, Pitt, and Damon, as wells as Roberts, Andy Garcia, and a host of talented supporting actors including Don Cheadle, the late Bernie Mac and Casey "Don't Call Me Ben" Affleck. The rapport of the cast combined with Soderbergh's flair behind the camera results in a film that oozes élan, whimsy, and bravura. And other fancy-sounding words. But seriously, look 'em it. Because they fit. Ocean's Eleven is far from the most memorable film of the decade, but it certainly is one of the most unabashedly entertaining -- and that counts for a lot on this list.

9) A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Directed by: Stephen Spielberg
Written by: Stephen Spielberg, Ian Watson
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor

If you've been paying attention, you would have known this was coming. If not, this may have come as somewhat of a surprise -- that is, unless you read the New York Times, where critic A.O. Scott has it listed as the number two movie of the decade. I'm definitely not going that far, but I do feel comfortable putting it in the top ten of its year. A.I. is somewhat of an aberration in Spielberg's oeuvre -- it experienced only middling success, both critically and financially -- and a definite anomaly as far as Kubrick (who originally conceived the film) is concerned, what with its undercurrent of sweet sentimentality. Add to that the out of left field last thirty minutes and this is just an odd, odd film.

It's one that has always stuck with me though, for that very combination of oddness and sweetness.  Osment really is perfect in the role of a child android (much in the same way that Keanu Reeves is perfect as Neo -- not really a compliment, by the way) adopted by O'Connor, bringing an eeriness to the role that helps to ramp up the tension. That tension comes to a crux when Osment is abandoned to the wilderness along with a mechanized teddy bear. He eventually encounters Jude Law as pleasure model android. Together, they traverse a landscape of similarly-abandoned machines that culminates in a kind of demolition derby of androids that always reminds me of the Sid's House sequence from the first Toy Story. Creepy stuff. And then that ending... one of the most talked about endings in cinema, both then and now. You can either attempt to understand it or ignore it completely, for if Bad Boys II has taught us anything, it's that you shouldn't judge a movie by its seemingly-tacked-on, out-of-left-field ending.

8) The Royal Tennenbaums
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston

You've heard the one about the one-trick pony, right? (And no, I'm not talking about the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's god-awful title track to The Wrestler.) You know, "Yeah, but it's a pretty good trick." Well, Wes Anderson isn't a pony, but his one trick is pretty good. He'll never eclipse Rushmore, but this film comes pretty close (as does The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which holds up surprisingly well to repeat viewings), with its nutjob characters, distinctive visuals, and charming quirkiness. These things aren't always enough (not the biggest fan of The Darjeeling Limited), but it is in Tennenbaums. Stiller, Paltrow and Wilson the Younger are the ubiquitously oddball siblings to Hackman's powerfully devious patriarch (how he didn't get a Supporting Actor nod is beyond me) Eventually, the whole cast (including supporters Danny Glover and Bill Murray) achieves a kind of Zen contentedness that only makes sense in a Wes Anderson movie. It's not something I want to watch all that often, but when the mood strikes, there's almost nothing that can substitute for it. Except maybe I Heart Huckabees.

7) Super Troopers
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar
Written by: Broken Lizard
Starring: Broken Lizard

Ah, Super Troopers. This movie came out of absolutely nowhere to become one of my favorite comedies of the decade. I saw it in a mall theater in a podunk town in northwestern New Mexico (I was staying there for the summer... long story) and it instantly improved my summer. It has everything -- mustaches, quotability, nudity, Brian Cox, mustaches, maple syrup chugging, Rod Farva, a bearfucker, and mustaches. If none of that makes sense to you, and I cannot stress this enough, SEE THIS MOVIE IMMEDIATELY. Catch up with the rest of the world.

Now, Broken Lizard (Chandasekhar, Kevin Heffernen, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske) has never done anything else even remotely this good. Never saw Puddle Cruiser, Club Dread kinda sucked, and Beerfest was amusing at best. However, there is a sequel in the works, so maybe they can regain some cred. The oft-rumored "PotQuest" sequel to Beerfest would be pretty funny too. But one thing is clear: these guys will never top this film. And, honestly, only a few comedies have this decade.

6) Brotherhood of the Wolf
Directed by: Cristophe Gans
Written by: Cristophe Gans, Stéphane Cabel
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Mark Dacascos, Monica Bellucci

Probably the least-seen movie on this years list, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a gangbang of a genre mashup -- is it a horror movie? Martial arts movie? Period drama? Erotic thriller? The answer is, simply, "Yes." It's all of these things and more. And, obviously, it's in French. Le Bihan plays an adventurer/taxidermist who is tasked with with capturing a "beast" that is terrorizing a countryside town prior to the Revolution. Martial arts veteran Dacascos is his Native American sidekick who somehow knows kung fu (and utilizes it to great effect). Bellucci is a local madame who shows him a good time (and, for good measure, her boobs). Finally, the always awesome Cassel is the son of the local count/all-around creeper. There's also a conspiracy plot, a cool twist, stellar action scenes, and jaw-dropping visuals.

Brotherhood of the Wolf also marks the first important film of a guy who should have went on to become one of my favorite directors, Cristophe Gans. I say "should have" because he's only done one film since then (2006's criminally, nay, FELONIOUSLY under-rated, -appreciated, and misunderstood Silent Hill). His visual style is unmistakable -- moody, brooding, with a certain fantastic flair, which is all the cooler given his propensity to use in-camera effects instead of CGI. I'm eagerly awaiting his next film -- supposedly an adaptation of Capcom's Onimusha samurais-and-zombies video game franchise. Sounds about right.

5) Black Hawk Down
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Ken Nolan
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fitchner

Ridley Scott has got to be up there in the running for best director of the decade. His films in the past ten years haven't always been good (Hannibal, Body of Lies) or important (Matchstick Men, A Good Year), but his films always demand attention. In the case of Black Hawk Down, it doesn't so much demand your attention as punch you in the face and scream at you to pay attention, you maggot. It's easily one of the best war movies of the decade, and Scott brings the same epic feel and visceral tone that he brought to Gladiator the previous year -- you can see every bullet, feel every explosion, and feel every piece of shrapnel. Try watching it on Blu-Ray with surround sound on. You can see why it won the Best Sound Oscar. Well, not see, but... you know. Whatever.

Finally, because it has to be said: I'm an unapologetic Josh Hartnett fan. Watch Lucky Number Slevin once or five times and it's almost impossible not to be. Anyway, he, and the rest of the cast, are stellar. Name me a consistently better supporting actor from the last ten years than Billy Fitch (what the cool kids call William Fitchner). You can't do it. A rare Tom Sizemore sober appearance is always appreciated. Even Ewan McGregor (secretly a really bad actor -- no, really, it's true) does a good job. Throw in great cameos from Jason Isaacs (a personal favorite), Jeremy Piven, Orlando Bloom, et al. and you've got the makings of a great ensemble. And I didn't even mention Eric Bana. I'd watch this cast in anything -- except a sequel to Body of Lies.

4) Mulholland Drive
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Melissa George

I am honestly at a loss as to where to rank this movie. Maybe it's the seventh best movie of this year (where I originally had it ranked). Maybe it's the seventh best movie of the decade -- hell, maybe it's the best movie of the decade. There's certainly evidence out there to support that theory. I don't really have much to refute that point of view -- Mulholland Drive is certainly a memorable film, a neo-classic that is sure to be one of the first films that comes to mind when thinking of this decade. It's a Great Film -- capitals intentional. So what is it doing at #4 of this year? Good question. Since I'm kind of running the show around here, I might as well answer it:  It's because I *enjoy* the three films ahead of it on this list more. Are they intrinsically better films? Possibly, but not necessarily; again, that's not the point of this list, to determine which are the "best" films. It's merely my ten favorite films of the year -- and Mulholland Drive is my fourth favorite film of 2001. I think.

That said, if you haven't seen any of the top four films on this list (what's the rent like under that ROCK of yours?), I would, without hesitation, urge you to see Mulholland Drive first, and I'd immediately want to talk to you about how you interpreted it. What does it all fucking mean, Mr. Lynch? It's a well-known fact that he's not telling anytime soon, but that doesn't mean we can't try to figure it out ourselves. Was it all a dream? A hallucination? A fantasy? Or was it all real? Does it even matter? Is that the point? It's a goddamn clusterfuck of a puzzlebox of a movie, and only Lynch has the blue key. If you don't get the reference, SEE THE FREAKING MOVIE ALREADY.

Finally, I'll leave you with my favorite scene from the movie, the infamous "Winkie's Dream." Just watch:

3) A Knight's Tale
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany

R.I.P. Heath Andrew Ledger, 4-4-1979 to 1-22-2008.

I like to talk about entertainment value -- I think it's a very core, very basic element of movies that often gets lost in the shuffle when critics start talking about movies. I know I've been guilty of this in the past, been caught up in the whole "cinema is art" thing a little too much. But then a movie like A Knight's Tale comes along every so often and reminds me why people watch movies in the first place -- to be entertained. And A Knight's Tale has entertainment value in spades -- 2 through Ace to be precise, every damn one of 'em. I cannot think of a movie that is just plain more *enjoyable* than this one. I just can't. I've seen it at least a dozen times since I first saw it in theaters my senior year of high school and I never get tired of it. The gleeful performances (yes, even Sewell's as one of the better villains of the decade), the hilarious anachronisms (that some people hate, for some reason), the heartfelt writing, Paul Bettany as a nudist Chaucer, Alan "Leaf in the Wind" Tudyk -- everything about the film is just so damn likable. I just LOVE this movie, even more than lamp or carpet. Maybe I'm crazy for saying it's the third best movie of 2001, but I have my principles and I'm sticking to them. Yes, Mr. Crowe, I am entertained! Oh wait, wrong movie... but the principle still applies. Entertainment value matters, dammit!

On a sadder note, this film is also the pièce de résistance of our annual Heath Andrew Ledger Memorial Film Festival, held every January 22nd, replete with Heath films and Fosters big cans. I encourage you to join us for this year's festivities (if you're in the Arizona area). Watch Facebook for an invite -- come pour some out for your boy Keith! (And yes, I realize I said Keith... just roll with it.)

2) Amélie
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Dominique Pinon

My top five directors list looks something like this:
5) Ridley/Tony Scott (hey, the Coens can get away with it)
4) Michael Mann
3) The Coen Brothers
2) Jean-Pierre Jeunet
1) Uwe Boll... kidding!
1) Quentin Tarantino

That's just off the top of my head, but my point is this: Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a world-class badass of cinema. Sure, Amélie is sweet and sometimes cloying, but it's also a visual masterpiece and responsible for an entire generation of male cinephiles falling in love with Audrey Tautou. I mean, Jesse Lacey of Brand New (one of the best bands of this decade... see future music entries) even wrote a song called "Tautou." If you're in your twenties or early thirties and you've even *heard* of Amélie, chances are you're carrying a torch for Ms. Tautou. And you can thank Mr. Jeunet for that, for crafting this whirlwind of whimsy in which to showcase her talent. Jeunet is a master of the fantastical (which would be an awesome line in a freestyle rap), unafraid to be a little weird, a little oddball, whether it be in plot, casting (have you *seen* Dominique Pinon?), or even camera movement. He's always interesting to watch, and I eagerly await the stateside release of his next film.

Incidentally, you should check out his other films if you're uninitiated. Delicatessen is a devilishly stylish dystopian black comedy about cannibalism. City of Lost Children laid the groundwork for The Matrix and features a standout performance by Ron Perlman (and might be Jeunet's best film). Alien Resurrection... well, isn't as bad as people say. Not his finest work, but enjoyable. Amélie, see above. His follow-up, also featuring Tautou, is A Very Long Engagement, and it's almost as good as Amélie. He really is a wizard behind the camera, except he doesn't wear a pointy hat or carry a sweet staff.

1) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom

Speaking of wizards... there was almost no way this wasn't going to be #1. Let's see... a spot-on adaptation of one of my favorite novels of all time with a great cast, groundbreaking visual effects, an amazing score, and a three hour run time? Sign me up! Easily the strongest film of the most epic, iconic film franchise of our time, Fellowship is really the film that the Academy should have awarded, rather than Return of the King. That way, some excellent 2003 films could have gotten their due and we could have avoided the poo-poo platter that was the 74th Academy Awards. Give it Picture, Director, Supporting Actor for McKellan, and heck, give Big Vig (again, what the cool kids call Viggo Mortensen) an Actor statue as well. Come to think of it, the acting as a whole in the Rings franchise was majorly under-appreciated by AMPAS. Are you telling me Viggo Mortensen didn't deserve a single nomination? Sean Astin? Andy Serkis? I mean, eschewing Liv Tyler (the single worst part of the trilogy), Orlando Bloom, and Elijah Wood I can understand, but don't let all the CGI trickery and stiff dialogue fool you -- there was some damn fine acting going on in these movies.

And as far as just sheer epic and iconic scenes goes, Fellowship has plenty. From the establishing shots of the Shire at the beginning of the film to your first glimpse of Mordor at the end, Peter Jackson manages to recreate a world that took author J.R.R. Tolkien four novels and umpteen THOUSANDS of pages of ersatz history and language and maps and myths to create. Sure, it took him over nine hours at the end of the day, but it's a singular accomplishment in film history. Not even Star Wars or Harry Potter can claim a similar achievement. Honestly, Avatar (which I just saw today) is the only thing that comes close, and James Cameron had to INVENT shit to achieve his goal. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is simply one of the most remarkable achievements in cinema history, and Fellowship is your entry point. From the Mines of Moria ("You shall not pass!") to Boromir's death, this movie is filled with the kinds of moments that people go to the movies for. Hence the number one slot on this list. And it wasn't even close.

So there's another basically unedited ramble. Some very stream of consciousness, Faulkner-esque shit. I'm thinking Benji rather then Quentin though, if you catch my drift. Anyway, thanks again for reading and let me know what you think. Music is up next...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2000 playlist

Oh, and if I were to make a playlist of my favorite songs of 2000 that could fit on one of those silly compact disc things, it would probably look like this:

At the Drive-In - "One-Armed Scissor"
Atom & His Package - "Shopping Spree"
The Bloodhound Gang - "The Bad Touch"
Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "God is a Spider"
Clint Mansell - "Lux Aeterna (Winter)"
Deftones - "Change (In the House of Flies)"
Eminem - "The Way I Am"
Eve 6 - "Rescue"
Goldfinger - "San Simeon"
I Voted for Kodos - "Shallow Grave"
Less Than Jake - "Gainesville Rock City"
Linkin Park - "One Step Closer"
Millencolin - "No Cigar"
MXPX - "My Life Story"
New Found Glory - "Hit or Miss"
The Offspring - "Want You Bad"
Papa Roach - "Last Resort"
A Perfect Circle - "3 Libras"
Phoenix - "Too Young"
Queens of the Stone Age - "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret"
Suicide Machines - "Sometimes I Don't Mind"

Top 10 Albums: 2000

In the year of our lord 2000 (the first of this decade, but not, apparently, the first of this century -- and you're damn right, I just cited Wikipedia), I still listened to CDs. You know, actual compact discs. I don't think I've done this regularly in about four years. But back then, I had this enormous 400-CD disc changer. I had all my albums listed on a spreadsheet organized by artist, year, and rating (out of five stars).  In 2000 (read: almost ten years ago), the following were among my most-played (and highest-rated) artists: Good Charlotte, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit. That's right, I was being angsty about girls with the Madden twins, angsty about... hell, I don't even know, with Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, and bumping the slick grooves and smooth rhythms of one Mr. Fred Durst. I still throw on the first Good Charlotte album every once in a while when I feel like reminiscing about high school (I don't think most people do this), and Linkin Park was -- and is -- good to blast when you want something to scream along to and don't want to think about what you're doing. As for the L-I-M-P Bizkit, I really have nothing to say except this: in ten or twelve years, the song "Nookie" WILL come on in a bar and you WILL sing along. Every word. With a half-ironic smile. Trust me on this.

That said, there was also a lot of good -- genuinely good, not ironically good or good for what it was -- music released (most of which I got into after the fact).  Here are my ten favorites:

Honorable mentions: At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command (way better than The Mars Volta), Goldfinger - Stomping Ground (great driving album), Good Charlotte - Good Charlotte (sentimental/nostalgic value), Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory ("Craaaaawling in my skiiiiin....!"), MXPX - The Ever Passing Moment (pop-punk classic).

10) Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Soul Caddy
Produced by: Tony Visconti, Jack Joseph Puig, Steve Perry
Standout tracks: "Swingin' with Tiger Woods," "God is a Spider," "Soul Cadillac"

Remember that band that did "Zoot Suit Riot"?  Yeah, they're not actually a swing band.  They do cut a mean swing track (the aforementioned "Riot," "Swingin' with Tiger Woods"), but they can also do punk ("God is a Spider"), ska ("Soul Cadillac"), and rock ("Irish Whiskey").  In other words, it's too bad these guys got typecast as a swing revival act (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, et al.), because they were actually really good.  They cover a lot of musical ground on this one, and it's well worth the listen -- if you can find it. It's catchy as all hell with some great sing-along jams and verve to spare.

9) The Offspring - Conspiracy of One
Produced by: Brendan O'Brien
Standout tracks: "Come Out Swinging," "Want You Bad," "One Fine Day"

Disclaimer: The first three concerts I ever went to were Offspring shows. One of the first CDs I ever owned was Smash.  The Offspring has been one of my favorite bands since junior high.  That said, I still think this is a pretty kick-ass album ("Original Prankster" aside).  It's full of brazen, balls-out, fun punk-tinged rock songs.  "Come Out Swinging" is one of the best and most-aptly titled album-openers ever; "Want You Bad" is the best Cheap Trick song not actually by Cheap Trick; "Million Miles Away" and "Dammit, I Changed Again" are hidden gems in the bands oeuvre (perhaps the first time this word has been used to describe The Offspring's body of work).  The latter half of the disc delves into a bit more experimental territory: slower, more melodic songs and more complex instrumentation: "Special Delivery" captures the quirk that makes the band more than just a wannabe punk act, and "Vultures" is highly reminiscent of Ignition standout "Dirty Magic."  If you can get past the fact that this is the same band that did "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" (which is awesome in its own right), you might find something to like here.

8) Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R
Produced by: Chris Goss, Josh Homme
Standout tracks: "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," "In the Fade"

Before Queens of the Stone Age became Josh Homme and the Josh Homme Band (a great group in their own right), they were a pretty rockin' stoner rock band with not one, not two, but THREE lead singers: the aforementioned Homme, ex-Dwarves member Nick Oliveri, and Screaming Trees co-founder Mark Lanegan.  What a triumvirate they made (there's a vocab word for ya)! At times rollicking, at times subdued, at times proggy, at times grungy, and at all times a helluva good listen, Rated R captures the interesting group dynamic before egos took over.  The album feels like a midnight drive through the desert on acid -- the chorus of opener "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" sets the tone: "Nicotine, Valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol... c-c-c-c-c-COCAINE!" You know you're along for a trip then. The band trades of lead vocalist duties, but the vibe is the same: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.  You can always count on the Queens (whatever their membership) for that.

7) Less Than Jake - Borders & Boundaries
Produced by: Steve Kravac
Standout tracks: "Gainesville Rock City," "Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You've Got Problems," "Last Hour of the Last Day of Work"

It must be a good year for music when one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands only clocks in at number seven. I definitely went through a huge ska/punk phase in the middle of the decade, and while I still listen to a lot of ska (hey, either you like it or you don't), Less Than Jake is the only ska band that managed to eke its way into the "favorite band" conversation. Granted, the conversation mostly is mostly everyone sitting around and listening to Tom Petty pontificate about his amazingness, but LTJ is one of the bands that speaks up most often (how's that for an extended metaphor?). Why? Aside from all the ska prerequisites (fast, fun, catchy, AMAZING driving music), drummer Vinnie Fiorello is also one of the most underrated lyricists I can think of. He can take on a silly topic like the douchebag friend you had in grade school ("Mr. Chevy Celebrity") or a serious topic like looking back at a wasted life ("Last Hour...") with equal aplomb and without sounding too cheesy or pretentious.  That dichotomy has marked LTJ since their inception and has helped set them apart (in my estimation) from their equally fun but less interesting contemporaries (Reel Big Fish, et al.).  If you think I'm thinking too hard about a ska band, read the lyrics to "Last Hour..." or "Al's War" off of Hello Rockview. "So when ambition turns into competition / I'll never be the better man..."

6) A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
Produced by: Billy Howerdel
Standout tracks: "The Hollow," "Judith," "3 Libras"

A Perfect Circle: The Tool side project that a lot of people like better than Tool.  I used to be one of them, but APC might be the only band that takes more time to create music than Tool.  That, and Tool is just ridiculously good at the whole music thing.  That said, I'm still not sure if they've ever released a song as amazing as "3 Libras."  Although that might be because I'm a sucker for a chick with a violin (here's looking at you, Paz Lenchantin).  Either way, in A Perfect Circle, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan explores a mellower side with former guitar tech (and actual APC mastermind) Billy Howerdel.  The formula is the same -- dynamic structures, religious themes, soaring vocals -- but the melodies are more haunting and the structures less imposing.  This is probably the "best" (read: most aesthetically challenging and artistically interesting) album on this list (SPOILERS: you won't find Kid A on here -- I'm more of a Bends/In Rainbows kind of guy) and one that still resonates to this day.

5) Suicide Machines - Suicide Machines
Produced by: Julian Raymond
Standout tracks: "Sometimes I Don't Mind," "No Sale," "Extraordinary," "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"

This is perhaps the most interesting album on this list.  It's somewhat of an aberration for the band: it has none of the ska/punk sound that defined their early work, and none of the venomous, politically-charged punk edge of the later work they're most known for.  Instead, it has a sort of irreverent earnestness that I can't really say I've ever heard duplicated.  Case in point: the opener "Sometimes I Don't Mind" is a heartfelt love song... about a dog.  It took me about half a dozen listens before I realized this.  But it made me love it all the more because, hey, who doesn't love their dog?  Another example: the sweet, string-backed "Extraordinary" has the lyric, "That day will be etched in my mind as the day I made you mine / That day will live in my head as the biggest mistake of my life / Only kidding cause... / There's an extraordinary thing about you / That I can't put my finger on of figure out, it's funny."  You really have to listen to it, but I really feel like he's being sincere.  I've never heard another record that so balances the sweet and the silly, the sarcastic and the genuine, like this record does.  I bought the record the night before leaving for a trip to the east coast my junior year of high school, and it still brings back memories of the Jersey shore, the fall leaves in New Hampshire, my grandfather's funeral, and a time before I knew that life was as bittersweet as this record portrays it. Yes, I realize that sounds like the shitty intro to an undergrad workshop story, but I'm sticking with it.

4) New Found Glory - New Found Glory
Produced by: Neal Avron
Standout tracks: "Dressed to Kill," "Hit or Miss," "Sincerely Me," "Sucker"

Either you love these guys or you hate them.  Obviously, I love them.  No, make that LOVE them.  They're another one of those bands in the "favorite band" conversation.  They hang out with Less Than Jake and make wisecracks about the Dire Straits while the Offspring plays beer pong in the background.  Ben Folds has a beer with Rivers Cuomo.  You know.  Moving on.  New Found Glory is one of those bands that I will forever associate with a certain time in my life (and certain people).  It was the soundtrack to my first relationship and my first breakup and my first year of college.  It was a great time in my life and NFG is a great band.  Are those two things related?  Probably.  Either way, there's nothing like drunkenly singing New Found Glory songs with my friends at 4:00 a.m.  "Remember the time we wrote our names up on the wall?  Remember the time we realized "Thriller" was our favorite song?"  If you don't think that's one of the defining pop songs of the decade, well, I'll quote Brennan Huff here and say "You're fuckin' high!"  And you're fuckin' high if you don't like this band.

3) Eminiem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Produced by: Dr. Dre, et al.
Standout tracks: "Kill You," "Stan," "The Way I Am," "Drug Ballad"

In a lot of ways, I think that Eminem is one of the geniuses of our generation.  More so than Kanye West anyway (although I do love me some Kanye -- you'll probably see him pop up on here at some point).  He was one of the first -- if not the first -- mega star rapper to rap about stuff other than "big screen TVs, blunts, 40s, and bitches."  Of course, his raps about "homosexuals and vicodin" did catch a lot of flack -- is he a homophobe and misogynist?  Probably.  Does he have issues?  Out the wazoo.  But is he talented?  Undeniably.  He raps about school violence ("The Way I Am"), the ridiculousness of the celebrity culture of which he is inextricably a part ("The Real Slim Shady"), anger issues ("Stan"), and, well, doing a lot of drugs ("Drug Ballad").  Mr. Mathers isn't afraid to wade deep, DEEP into the human consciousness, drag the bottom for the worst of what people think ("Amityville," "Kim") and bring it up for everyone to see.  You know what they say: Someone's gotta do it.  Better him than me, but I'm glad he did.

2) Eve 6 - Horrorscope
Produced by: Don Gilmore
Standout tracks: "Rescue," "On the Roof Again," "Sunset Strip Bitch," "Girl Eyes"

If the only song you've ever heard off this album is "Here's to the Night," you're sorely missing out.  I know, I know, it was the soundtrack to countless proms and after-graduation parties -- believe me, I was there -- but there is so much more to this album than that song.  Just like there's so much more to this band than "Inside Out."  Dismiss them as a one-hit wonder at your own risk -- although the band only released three albums before breaking up (although they supposedly reformed), they are all insightful, clever pop-rock gems, and Horrorscope just might be their best (although their follow-up -- and, as of yet, last album -- It's All in Your Head is fantastic).  On this record, the band started to experiment a bit more with their sound, using a variety of production effects to achieve a unique organic-yet-electronic backdrop for the album -- especially on tracks like "Rescue" and "Sunset Strip Bitch."  Lyrically, this record is outstanding -- full of clever wordplay and tongue-in-cheek quips.  I mentioned Vinne Fiorello earlier, but Max Collins is a *criminally* underrated pop lyricist -- anyone who's heard "Inside Out" knows this.  No, he's not master poet or storyteller, but his lyrics have a way of getting in your head and moving things around. You'll be listening to a song for the hundredth time and go, "Oh, now I get it!"  Touche, Max Collins.  Touche.

1) Millencolin - Pennybridge Pioneers
Produced by: Brett Gurewitz
Standout tracks: "No Cigar," "Penguins & Polarbears," "A-Ten"

I have Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 to thank for discovering this record.  The greatest thing about those games -- aside from, of course, the awesome gameplay (Christ air for the win!) -- is that they always had awesome soundtracks.  The first game introduced me to Goldfinger and the already-mentioned Suicide Machines, THPS3 had "Ace of Spades" and that hilarious Del tha Funkee Homosapien song "If You Must," and 4 had way too much cool stuff to even list (and I kinda stopped playing those games after the fourth one).  But Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 had "No Cigar" on it, which is easily one of the best punk songs of the decade... and this album is just as easily one of the decade's best.With 14 songs and coming in at under 40 minutes, it's short, sweet, and to the point -- the point, of course, being to have fun.  Pennybridge Pioneers is almost infectiously fun, with bouncy hooks, jaunty choruses and other -y adjective/music term combinations (sprightly rhythms? mighty riffs? ...probably).  It's late and I'm running out of adjectives.  Regardless, this is a pretty seminal (love that word, haha) album for me and is still part of my regular rotation -- unlike the Limp Bizkits of the world.

Until next time, keep rollin', rollin', rollin' rollin', what? Keep rollin', rollin', rollin, rollin', come on!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Top 10 Movies: 2000

In many ways, the Best Picture winner for 2000, Gladiator, represents the balance I'm trying to convey in this blog between artistic/aesthetic principles and good old-fashioned entertainment value. Gladiator combines slick, visceral action with (admittedly, somewhat obtuse) social commentary and a liberal helping of drama. Pre-"Fightin' 'Round the World" Russell Crowe's Maximus sums it up best when he asks (and you knew this quote was coming), "Are you not entertained?!" In a word (or more): Hell yes I am! The audience loved it (to the tune of $450 million worldwide), and the critics loved it (to the tune of five Oscars). A lot of the movies (or albums or books) that I list on here will skew more towards one or the other (audience vs. critics), but Gladiator is the rare beast that managed to please both (and Russell Crowe is nothing if not a BEAST in that movie).

But enough about Gladiator. It's not even [SPOILERS] my favorite movie of the decade. And, no, it's no How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the year's domestic box office champ). I'm not that much of a populist. Anyway, here's my top ten, in descending order:

Honorable mentions: Quills (naked Geoffrey Rush is always good); Remember the Titans (loves me some Will Patton); Requiem for a Dream (Shooter McGavin sighting!); Wonder Boys (RDJ FTW).

10) Traffic
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Soderbergh is the new Spielberg in that he is the new master of the "One for you, one for me" school of filmmaking. That is to say, he'll do one for the studios (think the Ocean's movies) and then one for himself (i.e. Che). His drug trafficking ensemble piece Traffic is firmly in the "One for me" category. It is also the first (well, one of the first) of the ensemble cast-social issue kind of film of which Crash (Haggis not Cronenberg) is the most offensive example.

But Crash Traffic is not (yeah, there was probably a better way to say that). The characters are less caricature (with the possible exception of Zeta-Jones' and Topher "Don't Call Me Foreman" Grace's characters), the social issue is less esoteric, and the direction is infinitely more restrained. Oh, and the script is far less contrived. Moving on.

Traffic did well on Oscar night, netting four golden men (including wins for Soderbergh, Gaghan, and Del Toro). All were worthy enough, although the competition wasn't exactly stiff -- I think 2000 was a fairly weak year for Oscar-type pictures (Erin Brockovich? Chocolat? whatever...). Although I guess I'd rather have seen Scott or Lee win for director. Traffic remains enduring to me, almost ten years later, for its elegant cinematography (I happen to love the tonal shifts from storyline to storyline... some do not), solid performances and script, and the fact that we got to watch Eric Foreman smoke heroin.

9) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson

The Coens are another couple of guys who know a thing or two about straddling the line between entertainment and art. The first of a few appearances by them on this blog is O Brother, Where Art Thou? With a heavy assist from both Homer (think ancient Greece, not Springfield) and T-Bone Burnett, the Coens' tale of escaped convicts and bluegrass music collected tons of awards. Unfortunately, most of them were Grammys (the most asinine of all the major awards -- although the music was *fantastic*). At the Oscars, the Coens got their usual screenplay nom and cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins (henceforth referred to as, simply, Deakins) was nominated as well (someone PLEASE tell me how he hasn't won a freaking statue yet).

Aside from kicking off an impressive decade for George "Dreamboat" Clooney, O Brother also featured standout supporting turns by Coen favorite John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson (the "Corruption is why we wiiiiiin!" guy from Syriana -- dunno why, but I always think of that line when I think of TBN), and John Goodman before he became Goodman the Hutt. Overall, O Brother might be the Coens' most enduring comedy (non-Big Lebowski division), combining Clooney's trademark charm/smarm, The Odyssey parallels, T-Bone Burnett's standout music direction, and Deakins' delightful cinematography. And that Roderick Jaynes guy sure can edit a motion picture. Wink.

8) Memento
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Guy Pierce (note: NOT Val Kilmer), Joe Pantoliano

True story: The first time I watched Memento in its entirety, I thought I was watching a Val Kilmer movie. You can see where I'm coming from, right? There's a resemblance. I'm not crazy.

Anyway, Memento marked the arrival of American auteur Christopher Nolan as a major filmmaker (SPOILERS: You will be seeing some of his other films on this blog. Not Insomnia though. Just saying.). The Academy recognized this, awarding the film with noms for Editing and Original Screenplay. It probably should have won the latter -- Gosford ****ing Park (and yes, I had to look that up)? Seriously? I mean, I enjoyed the film, but come on. Yeah yeah, murder mystery, sexual tension, class issues, etc. All you need is some amnesia and it's basically a soap opera.  Oh wait...

But Pierce's amnesia allows for one of the most interesting film structures of all time -- it makes the oft-cited Pulp Fiction seem as easy to parse as a grade school reader. Nolan's film broke free from the rigid structure endorsed by screenwriting professors everywhere (or did it?) by allowing the film to unfold as Pierce tries to piece together what happened to him. Complex, compelling, confounding, and other c-words, Memento established Nolan's cinematic sleight-of-hand approach that he later perfected in The Prestige.

7) Snatch
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by:  Guy Ritchie
Starring: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Denis Farina, Vinnie Jones

First off, you have to love anything with Jason Statham. If you don't, you're just not American (yes, I know he's British, and yes, I have a few non-American friends who might read this). And second... well, that was really my main point. Jason Statham (aka Frank Martin and/or Chev Chelios) is the man. The Man. The sooner you come to accept that, the better.

Moving on... yes, Brad Pitt is in this movie, and yes, he talks funny. It's a great comedic performance, but he's no Statham. He's NO Statham. Got it? Good. The rest of the cast -- from a skittish Stephen Graham to a frenetic Denis Farina to Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones should just legally change his name at this point) -- is top-notch. That's something British people say a lot, right? Top-notch? Regardless, Guy Ritchie is a top-notch director -- a one-trick pony, yes, but it's a pretty good trick (see: Anderson, Wes) -- and this is a top-notch film. One of the better crime films (always a favorite genre) of the decade. Almost as good as RockNRolla. And yes, I'm deadly serious.

6) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, and Kuo Jung Tsai
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi

Who knew a story about a stolen comb could be so awesome? Okay, okay, it's not really about a stolen comb (it's about a stolen sword), but it is indeed awesome. Awesome, as in "inspiring awe." I was 17 when this came out, and definitely watched with mouth agape as Yun-Fat, Yeoh, and Ziyi, et al. jumped all around the screen, all the while fighting with all manner of weapons. This was my first real encounter with martial arts cinema/wire fu (unless you count The Matrix), and I loved it.

Although Zhang Yimou's Hero is probably better, CT, HD fared better, both at the box office and with the critics (and it didn't even have Quentin Tarantino's artificially attached to it!), as it racked up over $200 million worldwide and 10 Oscar noms (winning four but losing out in most of the major categories). At the time, I thought it deserved to win Best Picture over Gladiator... and maybe I still do, just because there are so many deserving foreign movies every year that get shafted by AMPAS. Lee later got his due though -- no, not for the undeservingly-derided Hulk, but for Brokeback Mountain, which just really goes to show that he's up for anything, source material-wise (did anyone actually see Taking Woodstock?). Anyway, this one had it all -- amazing fight scenes, a good love story, incredible set design, and one of the classic WTF? endings of all time.

5) Pitch Black
Directed by: David Twohy
Written by: Jim and Ken Wheat, David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David, Cole Hauser

Perhaps the first curveball on the list, Pitch Black is easily in the running for best sci-fi picture of the decade and (obviously) one of my favorite films of 2000. It's high concept at its best: Flesh-eating creatures only come out at night... world has two suns... OH NO! Solar eclipse! You then get to watch a supremely badass Riddick (Diesel... but you knew that... or should have) and always excellent (and hot) Radha Mitchell scurry around for ninety minutes or so. And did I mention KEITH ****ing DAVID? Seriously, if you don't know who Keith David is, get out now. Literally. Or watch this and come back:

Back? Good. Keith David is probably in a dozen movies you like and has one of the most distinct screen presences of all time. He even manages to out-badass Vin Diesel. And I'm talking about *before* he did The Pacifier.

Anyway, Pitch Black is memorable for its awesome concept and amazing visuals. Tons of lens flares and heat distortion and shadowplay in the first part of the film, and ever-encroaching darkness for the second part. It's all spare and minimalistic; Twohy uses his limited palette masterfully. Netflix it now if you haven't seen it.

4) High Fidelity
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Nick Hornby (novel); D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black

High Fidelity, the answer to the (unasked) Rob Gordon/Fleming trivia question of the previous post, is the rare example of the film being better than the book. Many times, characters' rich and complex interior lives are lost in the book-to-film translation.  Not the case here, as the film uses the controversial Ferris Bueller/Zack Morris "talking directly to the camera" technique to great effect. John Cusack is, for all intents and purposes, a first-person narrator in the movie, and none of Rob's idiosyncrasies are lost in the bargain. A masterstroke by the underrated Stephen Frears.

But this is really Cusack's show (he even has a screenwriting credit on this) -- Lloyd Dobler's all grown up and he's in the middle of an existential (read: girl) crisis. Music is either to blame for it, or is the only panacea -- or is it both? Love the soundtrack, love the random "top five" lists, love Jack Black's coming out party, and I really love Iben Hjejle's (how in god's name do you pronounce that?) performance -- too bad she never really did much else that anyone's seen. A must-see movie (and must-read book) for anyone that's ever been in the dumps about relationships. And who hasn't?

3) In the Mood for Love
Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung

After another couple viewings, this might even move to #1 on this list -- I've still only seen it the once. But I was sufficiently floored and knew I had to include it in the top five. It landed solidly at #3 behind the two movies that anyone talks about when they talk about movies released in 2000 (maybe I am that much of a populist, after all).

The key word here is "mood," and all the major players here (Wong, Leung, Cheung, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle) are masters at setting it. Wong is a subtle eroticist (I think I just invented a word) and a master of the melancholy; Leung and Cheung are two of the finest actors on the planet (they should both have multiple Oscar noms by now... hell, take Julia Roberts' statue for Brockovich away and give it to Cheung); and Doyle manipulates light and shadow to frame the characters and uses a soft palette to heighten the mood. In the Mood for Love is as close to virtuoso filmmaking as anything released this decade. It'd make you stand up and applaud if it wasn't so damn sad. Check out Wong Kar-wei's films if you aren't familiar. Filmmaking at its finest.

2) Gladiator
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen

You knew this was coming, and while it's not a particularly inspired choice, I still think it deserves its ranking. The first (and really, only actually good) collaboration between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe (not the last you'll be seeing of either of them), Gladiator is the little action movie that could. While it's not your typical Hollywood actioner, it still wasn't expected to make the critical impact it did. For that, you can credit its two main players: Scott and Crowe.

How Ridley Scott hasn't won an Oscar yet is beyond me. I'm sure AMPAS already has an honorary statue earmarked for him in 2025. Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven (yep, I said it)... the man will take on anything and will make it epic and poignant. I love epic movies and Ridley Scott does 'em better than anyone. He, more so than any director this side of Spielberg, understands the inherent grandeur of cinema and makes pictures that reflect that.

Say what you will of Russell Crowe a person (just watch out for flying telephones), but you can't deny his abilities as an actor. He has an undeniable presence, and for someone who is usually billed as the macho man, action hero type, he has a surprisingly versatile emotional palette (okay, that's like the third time I've used that word... no more). He just makes what he's in better. Hell, even Proof of Life and A Good Year were decent (Body of Lies though... not so much). I still think his portrayal of Bud White in L.A. Confidential is one of the best acting performances of the last 25 years. And, come on, one more time: "Are you not entertained?!"

1) Almost Famous
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand

I'll just come out and say it: I'm ripping off Bill Simmons (sports writer extraordinaire and one of my writing idols). He wrote a column a few months back espousing Almost Famous as the best movie of the decade. It was already in the running, but the column (and subsequent re-viewing of the film) pushed it over the top. And I think, at the end of the day, any film that somehow manages to get Kate Hudson an Oscar nomination has to be the best of its particular year. I mean, did you see You, Me and Dupree? Then you know what I'm saying.

Cameron Crowe might only be my second-favorite Crowe, but I love his saccharine schtick. I just enjoy watching his movies -- even (or perhaps especially -- and we'll address my Orlando Bloom fetish in future posts) Elizabethtown. (The obvious exception to this is Vanilla Sky. That movie sucks.) That said, Almost Famous is easily his best work -- his least clichéd (and that is a problem with his films), most fulfilling work yet. It's just got so many good, memorable scenes -- the Lester Bangs scene(s), the "Golden God" scene, the "Tiny Dancer" scene, the plane scene -- that still immediately come to mind, almost ten years later.

And then there's the cast -- just brilliant. The underrated (and that's probably how he likes it) Billy Crudup absolutely steals the movie as Russell Hammond, lead guitarist and songwriter of the fictional (actually all the music is by Nancy Wilson and Peter Frampton) band Stillwater. He's jaded and egotistical and supremely talented -- and he's even got a great mustache. Fugit (read: Crowe stand-in) is gangly and awkward and rises to the challenge of acting alongside his more experienced castmates. Hudson is *actually* good as Penny Lane, the self-professed "fucked-up girl" that winds up in the heart of Fugit's character and in the bed of Crudup's. Even better is Frances McDormand (when is she not good?) as Fugit's mettling yet loving mother. Oh, and Zooey Deschanel is his sister, Jason Lee is Stillwater's lead singer and Philip Seymour Hoffman is Bangs, Fugit's rock critic idol. Do I even need to say anything else? Read Simmons' column if you're still not convinced.

Wow. That took a lot longer than I thought it would. Anyway, thanks for reading. Direct any disagreements, omissions, praise, etc. to the comments area. Until next time.

A quick word before we begin...

Subtitled: Wherein I Will Use a Lot of Parentheses

I suppose you could call this a disclaimer. I figure any self-respecting critic (even a recreational one like myself) should at least give a peek into his or her process. Now, I wish there was some John Hollinger-like formula I could give you, something like: (aesthetic merit + entertainment value / times seen) x (Oscars won - Hilary Swank appearances + zombies) / ( MPAA rating + year-end box office rank). But there isn't. Most of those things are taken into account (especially Hilary Swank appearances), but in the end it's simply a matter of what I liked the best. I know, I know -- "How can you compare Bad Boys 2 and Babel? That's like comparing apples and oranges!" Well, I like apples better (and Bad Boys 2). See? It's easy.

The above example is just about movies. Keep in mind that I'll be trying to touch on as many forms of media as possible -- film, music, literature, television, video games, sports, etc. Expect a multitude of Rob Gordon (or Fleming, if you read the book)-like lists, some spanning the entire decade, some spanning a single year therein. Update schedule? There is none -- it's called "Whenever I feel like it," folks. Hope I can finish before the decade ends. Hope you can keep up. And don't be afraid to call me out. Or laud me. I always enjoy a good lauding.

That's it for now. First (actual) post forthcoming.

Disclaimer of the disclaimer: The title of the blog is a freaking pun. I'm pretty sure that means I can get away with anything.