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...