Mike’s Top Ten of 2006

Love me some 2006. This is a year that sort of falls out near the top of films that I love, but it does feature a return to form of having a lot of lower tier stuff I like a lot. Which is a stark contrast to 2005, which is solid at the top, but has almost nothing near the bottom to speak of. But that’s the beauty of the ebbs and flows of a decade.

This year in particular features three of my all-time absolute favorite films. Past that, it’s all really solid, but the thing that holds it up is those top three.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2006

Casino Royale

Children of Men

The Departed

The Fountain

Inside Man

Little Miss Sunshine

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The Prestige

11-20: Babel, Brick, Clerks II, The Hoax, Find Me Guilty, Game 6, Lucky Number Slevin, Marie Antoinette, A Prairie Home Companion, Thank You for Smoking

Tier two: Apocalypto, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, Crank, Déjà Vu, The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls, For Your Consideration, The Good Shepherd, A Good Year, The Holiday, Idiocracy, Letters from Iwo Jima, Mission: Impossible III, The Queen, Rocky Balboa, Romance & Cigarettes, Snakes on a Plane, Stranger Than Fiction, V for Vendetta, The Wicker Man

Tier three: Blood Diamond, Bobby, Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, The Da Vinci Code, Flags of Our Fathers, The Good German, Hard Candy, Harsh Times, The Illusionist, Little Children, The Lives of Others, Miami Vice, Paris je t’aime, The Pursuit of Happyness, A Scanner Darkly, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, United 93, World Trade Center, X-Men: The Last Stand

Tier four: Accepted, Beerfest, Black Book, Bubble, Cars, Click, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Half Nelson, Happy Feet, The History Boys, Jackass Number Two, Notes on a Scandal, The Notorious Bettie Page, The Science of Sleep, Quinceañera, Scoop, Silent Hill, Tideland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Wordplay

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1. The Departed

“Who let this IRA motherfucker in my bar? … Only kidding. How’s your mother?”
“Oh… I’m afraid she’s on her way out.”
“We all are. Act accordingly.”

We all have this weird dance we do with this one. Everyone loves this movie. I’ve seen this so many times that I can practically quote the whole movie. But also, we’re generally aware that it’s not one of Scorsese’s ‘best’ movies. But that’s also because he’s made so many great ones. Then this is the one he won his Oscars for, which gives a whole added layer of weirdness with dealing with it. Honestly, screw all of that. This movie is amazing, and we all love it. I’m not gonna pretend like this isn’t my favorite movie of this year. It’s just awesome, and sometimes awesome is enough.

I don’t really have much to say about the plot. It’s a remake of Infernal Affairs, and is about the cops and criminals each having a mole in the other’s organization. Nicholson, DiCaprio, Damon, Farmiga, Baldwin, Sheen, Wahlberg, Anderson. The cast is great, the performances are great, and sometimes we have to stop worrying about a movie’s place in the world and just trust our feelings that we just love it.

2. Children of Men

“Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

This movie is a masterpiece. But it’s Alfonso Cuaron. He tends to make masterpieces every time out.

It’s a dystopian movie about a world where children are no longer born. Society is eroding, and there’s little hope. Clive Owen plays a former radical now working an office job who gets roped back into his old ways when his former wife, Julianne Moore shows up to ask him to help lead a pregnant woman (likely the only one in the entire world) to the location where it is said a group of scientists who are working to cure infertility will pick her up.

The beauty of this movie is that it settles you into this wonderful (well, wonderfully realized, not wonderful to exist in) universe immediately and just slowly ratchets up the stakes to the point where you’re not even sure if there’s going to be hope at the end of this journey. It’s a wonderful piece of filmmaking that never quite got its due as it came out (it got some of it, but not what it fully deserved) that people are now properly regarding for what it is, which is one of the single greatest films of the decade.

3. The Fountain

“All these years, all these memories, there was you. You pull me through time.”

I’ll say it — this is my favorite Darren Aronofsky movie. For most people it’s Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream or even The Wrestler. This is mine.

I love the scope and ambition of this movie, and the fact that Aronofsky unabashedly swung for the fences. (The true beauty is that he didn’t even break the bank to do it. When you watch this movie, it looks expensive. They could easily have spent $70-80 million on this. But he spent $35 million. And almost all the special effects were done practically. And that only adds to my love of it.)

It’s a love story told in three different centuries, ostensibly past, present and future. In all three versions the male and female leads are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. In the past, she’s Queen Isabella of Spain and he is her top conquistador, sent on a mission to find the Tree of Life, deep in the jungles of Central America. In the present, he is a scientist whose wife is dying of a brain tumor for which he is desperately trying to find a cure. And in the future, he plays a man traveling in a biosphere through space to a distant star. All three are, in a way, connected, and it’s a story about love, loss, creation and death, and human existence’s way of forcing us to deal with both of those things. It’s truly wonderful.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time at my school’s film series, knowing almost nothing about it or Darren Aronofsky (if I had seen Requiem for a Dream by that point, it wasn’t the reason I saw The Fountain). I’m assuming I saw it because I love Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman. But I remember sitting there, absolutely blown away by the film and immediately finding it permeating the very depths of my soul, from the lush visuals, thought-provoking ideas and Clint Mansell’s incredible score (it’s one of the greatest film scores I’ve ever heard and one of the few I listen to routinely).

This movie isn’t for everyone, but to me, it’s the greatest cinematic achievement of Darren Aronofsky’s career.

4. Casino Royale

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

This might be the most successful reboot within a franchise ever. Because other franchises just sort of stop for a while and then come back with different everything. Here, they just kind of said, “You know, for the next one, we’re just gonna start over,” and it worked. This is the 21st Bond movie and it’s an origin story. Go figure.

As is the case with a lot of Bond films, the key is in the casting. And Daniel Craig, I think we can all agree, has established himself as the second best James Bond after Sean Connery. You an argue that Pierce Brosnan was better-suited to the role, but when you consider the totality of it all (the performance, the films, etc), Craig’s tenure is truly astounding.

They also did everything right with this movie. They brought back Martin Campbell, who directed GoldenEye, the best film of the Brosnan era, and they made a really badass movie that was more down to earth than where the franchise had gone. Die Another Day had an invisible car and a space laser and Bond parasailing in a tsunami. I don’t think this movie has a single gadget. Most scenes are Craig beating the shit out of people or shooting them. It’s more about the character than anything else. The climax of this movie is a poker game. And also, it’s not really the climax. Since there’s a good chunk of time after the poker game happens. The things this film does narratively are pretty impressive.

I remember when I first saw this movie, and I had no expectations for it, given the previous film. And from the opening scene, you realized this was gonna be different. That opening scene, leading into the spectacular opening credits sequence (both Chris Cornell’s song and the animation for the credits are among the best this franchise has ever produced), is one of the tightest and most efficient bits of storytelling you’ll see in a movie. And then you just have amazing moments throughout the entire film, leading to that final scene, which is one of the single most satisfying moments I’ve ever experienced when watching a film.

Even the Bond purists, I think, will rank this among the best the franchise has ever produced. It’s just a great movie all around, and ushered in a new era for the franchise and the character.

5. Little Miss Sunshine

“Everyone, just… pretend to be normal.”

The underdog indie comedy darling of 2006. This was inches away from winning Best Picture this year. People forget just how beloved this was at the time. It’s such a strange premise for a movie. One that just should not work at all. And yet, even now you can put this movie on and be delighted by it.

It’s about a dysfunctional family (dad’s a failing self-help guru, grandpa’s addicted to snorting heroin, the boy has taken a vow of silence and hates everyone around him, uncle just tried to kill himself, and mom’s just trying to keep her and everyone’s shit together) who rally around their daughter’s acceptance into the regional final of a child beauty pageant. Of course, she’s not your typical beauty queen, but it’s literally her dream to compete in this thing, so the family gather into their old VW bus and hit the road to get to this competition. And oh my god, is it wonderful.

The writing of this movie is so top notch. It’ll get you laughing in every corner of the film, and when it decides to get emotional, it works. There’s a moment in this movie that makes me cry every time I watch it. And the performances are spectacular. This broke Steve Carell as a dramatic actor, and you got Abigail Breslin nominated for her role and Alan Arkin even winning for his. Plus Toni Collette, Paul Dano and Greg Kinnear are all excellent as well.

This is one of those movies that everyone likes. It’s impossible not to like this movie. Not everyone may love it, but I guarantee you that if you had no idea what this was and sat down to watch it, you would laugh and you would enjoy it. It’s just that kind of movie.

6. Pan’s Labyrinth

“My mother told me to be wary of fauns.”

The finest moment of Guillermo Del Toro’s career. He won all the awards for Shape of Water, but this remains his finest hour.

His best works are, at their heart, fairy tales, and this is one of the most beautiful tales ever told. It’s beautiful and dark, the way all the best ones were. It’s about a girl living in Francoist Spain in the 40s whose mother (mostly out of self-preservation) married a sadistic army officer. So now she and her mother are going to live with her new stepfather. And, in order to cope with her surroundings, the girl wanders off into a fantasy world with the help of a mystical fawn.

It’s… amazing. It really is. Every filmmaker (every great filmmaker, anyway) has that one film that best defines who they are. And this is Guillermo Del Toro’s.

7. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

“It’s real!”
“You actually were telling the truth.”
“I do that quite a lot. Yet people are always surprised.”

Everyone loves the first one, and then people just sort of overlook the two sequels (and pretty much pretend the others never happened). But, while I won’t completely defend these sequels (though they are easier to defend than, say, the Matrix sequels), I will say… the cinematography and visuals of this second one are absolutely and objectively stunning.

This is a continuation of the franchise, once they realized what a hit they had on their hands. They shot two sequels back to back, and you can tell, because they set up a lot of stuff here in order to pay it off in the third one. Mainly though, what they do, is give Johnny Depp more screen time, since he is the magical element that makes this franchise work. Though I think they did eventually lose that balance of finding a way to have more of him without realizing the strength of the character is that he’s not always the center of attention and is usually playing off of everyone else.

But they do introduce some cool elements in this one. Davy Jones as a character is pretty great and the CGI they used to make him is pretty groundbreaking. Also, there’s a shot in this movie where the camera is over his shoulder as his ship dives beneath the water, and they do it in a single take without a cut, and it’s really one of those shots that makes you gasp because it’s so incredible.

I honestly don’t even really remember the plot of this movie. Orlando Bloom is trying to find his father, who’s on the Flying Dutchman, and then Sparrow is trying to find Davy Jones’s heart because he made a pact with him. I feel like there’s more, but really, it doesn’t matter what the story is. This film is all about the fun and adventure and performances. And, like I said, the things Verbinski does visually with this movie are worth the price of admission alone. I think people forget just how good a movie this is.

8. The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

Between Batman movies, Christopher Nolan made a palate cleanser: a movie about late 19th century magicians. And it’s great.

The beauty of this film is that it is, in itself, a giant magic trick, but even when you remove those elements, it’s a great story about obsession and a rivalry between men that gets out of hand. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as the two magicians. Michael Caine plays their mentor (who used to work with Bale and now works with Jackman). Rebecca Hall (in her first movie) plays Bale’s wife, Scarlett Johansson plays Jackman’s assistant/mistress, and you’ve got David Bowie playing Nikola Tesla. What more could you want?

I think most people have seen this by now. Jackman and Bale give tremendous, tremendous performances. Everyone knows how great Bale usually is, but Jackman was always one of those guys who always seems to get overlooked in the performance department. And this year, he’s got two terrific films with two really commanding performances. And I feel like this tends to get swept aside by Nolan’s Batman movies and his bigger epics, but really, this is one of the finest pieces of filmmaking of his career. I think it’s easy to think about dismissing it because of the fact that it’s basically one giant magic trick. But he never cheats you, and he does make something that holds up upon repeat viewings.

9. Inside Man

This was always a weird movie for me, because this was always the movie that the non-film fans loved, and it felt like they all either had never seen Spike Lee’s other movies or preferred this, which is almost like when you hear that someone’s favorite album by a band is the one where they “sell out” and go mainstream. Not that this is selling out in any way, since it’s clear that Spike wanted to make his version of Dog Day Afternoon. But, as with a lot of movies, people’s reactions to this have hindered my relationship with it.

That said, this movie is awesome. Clive Owen stars as a bank robber who takes a Manhattan bank hostage. Denzel plays the police officer in charge of hostage negotiations. Then there’s Jodie Foster, who is basically Michael Clayton, hired to “fix” the situation by Christopher Plummer the chairman of the bank’s board who has something in its vault that he does not want found. Oh, and you’ve also got Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe and a bunch of other recognizable faces in this.

But really, what make this work is that it’s a smart thriller with a great cast and the kind of ending that makes you feel like the whole thing was worthwhile and makes you want to go back and watch it again, now knowing what you know about it. The key to a great movie is rewatchability, and this unequivocally has that.

10. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

“Good evening, Larmina. You get prettier by the hour. I can’t wait till tomorrow!”
“Inch Allah! Shall I drive?”
“I can’t refuse a dark-eyed brunette.”
“And blue-eyed blondes?”
“In any case, you’re my kind of woman.”
“What if I were a midget with glasses?”
“I wouldn’t let you drive! Preposterous.”

Before The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin made two of the absolute best parody films you’ll ever see.

Essentially a spoof of James Bond (though OSS 117 is a real character in French literature), it completely takes the piss out of the character, making him a bumbling, misogynist buffoon who somehow manages to complete his missions even despite himself.

I don’t even want to get into the things that happen in this movie, because it’s just so funny, down to his overly homoerotic flashback memories of his dead partner. But trust me when I say that this is one of the funniest movies that you’ve never seen. I know most people don’t even know these movies exist, let alone have seen them, so do me a favor and watch these movies as soon as possible. Because you’re in for a real treat.

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Babel — Alejandro Inarritu. That man makes great films. He’d been building up to it, but this was the first of his films where people went, “Whoa.” 21 Grams was very good, but this one took it to another level. It’s an ensemble movie about the lives that are connected by a single event, or rather, a single gun. They involve: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, an American couple on vacation in Morocco trying to save their marriage, Adriana Barraza, the Mexican nanny watching their children while they’re on the vacation who takes the children to Mexico to her son’s wedding, and Rinko Kikuchi, a deaf Japanese teenager dealing with the suicide of her mother. It’s an incredible movie. Each story generally stands on its own, while having only tangential relation to the others. They’re all terrific stories, wonderfully acted and told. This is flat out one of the best movies of this year.

Brick — Rian Johnson’s first film. And it’s just an amazing piece of work. It’s a film noir set in a high school. So imagine all the tropes of a noir, the stylistic dialogue and oppressively bleak atmosphere, and set it in high school, and that’s this movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a student trying to track down the whereabouts of his missing ex-girlfriend. It’s so good. Johnson has gone on to make bigger and better films, but this one still holds up among all of them as one of his best.

Clerks II — I grew up with Clerks and the Kevin Smith films. I’ve always had a real affinity for him and his works. And this one felt like a beautiful culmination of an era of his career. It was 12 years after the first film, and while that one was about being in one’s 20s, that one’s about being in one’s 30s, and it’s a beautiful ode to friendship and maturity that contains all the typical trademark humor of Smith’s films. It’s truly one of his best.

The Hoax — One of the decade’s best hidden gems. This came out in 2007 almost everywhere, but apparently it was released in Italy in late 2006, which is why it’s ending up here. This is a biopic of Clifford Irving, famous in the 70s for purporting to have written the definitive biography of Howard Hughes. Which was a complete fabrication, but he was playing on the fact that the real Hughes would never come forward to deny it because he was so frightful of being in the public eye. Mostly it’s about this guy who is confident and smart enough to con everyone for a long time and almost get away with it. Richard Gere gives one of his best performances as Irving, and the rest of the cast is wonderful as well. Trust me when I say this is one of the best movies you’ve never seen.

Find Me Guilty — One of the great gems of this year and one of the most underrated movies on Sidney Lumet’s filmography. (Oh, did I mention Sidney Lumet directed this? It was his penultimate film, which was overshadowed the year after this by the more-seen Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.) It’s based on a real story (in fact, most of the courtroom dialogue is taken from the actual courtroom dialogue, which, knowing that makes it so much more entertaining to watch) and stars Vin Diesel as a mobster who gets arrested and decides to defend himself in court while on trial with dozens of other mobsters. So imagine like forty defendants, all with their own lawyers, and then this one guy defending himself. It’s… great. It’s really great. This might be the performance of Vin Diesel’s career, and absolutely no one has seen it. But it’s so entertaining. Easily Sidney Lumet’s best film in 20 years, and one of the real hidden gems of this decade.

Game 6 — This is one of those hidden gems that I was all over from the moment it came out. This was largely because of Michael Keaton, one of those actors who was one of ‘my guys’ long before he had that renaissance of sorts with Birdman. The other part was that Robert Downey Jr. was in it, and after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang I wanted to see anything with him as well. This is, speaking of Birdman, a similar movie in a lot of ways. It’s written by Don DeLillo, and stars Keaton as a playwright who burst onto the scene with a big hit play that was based around his childhood. And ever since then, he’s had a string of flops, and really needs this new play to be a hit, or else his career is likely finished. Meanwhile, he hears that Downey, Broadway’s harshest critic (whose reviews are so vile he has to show up in disguise so as not to be attacked in the audience), is going to review his play. So he really needs it to go well. Oh, and this is also the day of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Bill Buckner game). So Keaton, a huge Red Sox fan, decides to focus his energies on his beloved Sox and their quest to win their first World Series in 68 years and tries not to think about the play. And the film is a day in the life of all this going on. I love it. I really do. I think this is one of the great hidden gems of this entire decade.

Lucky Number Slevin — I love this movie. It’s a 2000s version of what would have been a Quentin ripoff in the 90s. Slick, cool dialogue and smart crime writing. One of those movies that’s all twisty, but you always feel like you’re in good hands and you know all the twists are just gonna amuse you even further. It’s set during a mob war between Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley, and involves Josh Hartnett as a random guy caught up in the middle of it through a case of mistaken identity. It’s so much fun. This is one of those movies where — just put it on and enjoy the shit out of it. It’s one where I may have, if I saw it at a certain age, felt like I ‘outgrew’ because it was a relic of my ‘childhood’ days watching movies. But fortunately I had just outgrown that stage when I saw this, so I still love this. This is just wildly entertaining and is still something I can watch and enjoy the hell out of.

Marie Antoinette — This is almost my favorite Sofia Coppola movie. I know Lost in Translation it better and honestly, this is one where it would come down to points on a split decision, that’s how close it is for me. I love this movie. This got a pretty mixed reaction when it came out, probably because she adds modern touches to a story set during the French Revolution and also because it was her followup to Lost in Translation, and people always put their own expectations on someone’s followup to a major success. I went into this with no expectations and had an amazing time with it. It’s just fun. Period pieces are always stuffy and boring. And this one has life. It’s funny. It’s the kind of thing that most people couldn’t even pull off. But she does. Kirsten Dunst is great as Marie in a really thankless kind of a role, and this is one of those movies that is starting to creep up on the lists of, “Oh, maybe we got this one wrong, this might actually be one of the more worthy films of this decade.” Which I am glad for. Because it gives me one less thing I have to be banging the drum for all the time. There’s already been like six of those in this article.

A Prairie Home Companion — Make that seven. Another movie that I love that seems to have no traction among people. It’s Robert Altman’s final film and is about a show that I honestly knew absolutely nothing about before this movie. I still barely know anything about it except that it exists. I went into this purely because it was Robert Altman and because of all the people involved. The story is about the final show of this radio series on the night before it’s going to be cancelled. And we follow all of the acts as they deal with this impending finale in their own ways, all as a mysterious woman is stalking the hallways. It’s… it’s pure Altman. Which is perfect for this kind of a backstage musical. In a way, it’s like a later cousin to Nashville. You follow all these people through the hallways, with the trademark overlapping conversations and multiple lines of action within the same space. And it’s just wonderful. Only Altman could have pulled this movie off. It’s so much fun. I love it, even though this is one where I’m not so sure that everyone who sees it will feel the same way. Some of the others on this list I know people will enjoy if they watch them. This one, I’m mostly confident, because it’s Altman and the cast. But honestly, I’m only here to tell you how much I love it. The rest is up to you.

Thank You for Smoking — Jason Reitman’s first film. This feels almost forgotten now, weirdly. It’s still one of his top three or four movies. Few people forget that amazing run he went on to start his career, with this, Juno and Up in the Air. But anyway, this stars Aaron Eckhart as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry who tries to create a positive spin on cigarettes. It’s so good. It’s a perfect satire that’s still funny. I feel like most people have seen this and do think of it as good, but I’d suggest going back and giving this one a rewatch, because I think we all forget just how good this movie is.

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Tier two:

  • Apocalypto
  • Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!
  • Crank
  • Déjà Vu
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Dreamgirls
  • For Your Consideration
  • The Good Shepherd
  • A Good Year
  • The Holiday
  • Idiocracy
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Mission: Impossible III
  • The Queen
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Romance & Cigarettes
  • Snakes on a Plane
  • Stranger Than Fiction
  • V for Vendetta
  • The Wicker Man

Snakes on a Plane is one of the greatest titles in the history of cinema. It tells you everything about what you’re getting in four words. Between this and Hobo with a Shotgun, the 2000s were the salad days of perfect film titles. The great story about this movie is that Samuel L. Jackson agreed to star in it, and then the studio or producers or someone thought, “Wow, this title is gonna seem so shitty, let’s change it to Pacific Air 121.” And then when Jackson found out, he said, “Oh hell no, change it back. The title is the only reason I agreed to work on the damn thing.” And then also, there’s the other famous story of people finding out this was getting made and having a field day with it (imagine what would have happened if this got made in the age of Twitter) and someone making the joke of Jackson saying, “I have had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane!” And then they went back and RESHOT THE MOVIE TO INCLUDE THAT LINE. One of the greatest lines in movie history, added after the fact because of an internet joke. Anyway, this movie is awesome. Completely campy in every way, and the exact kind of movie you’d want out of something called Snakes on a Plane. The Good Shepherd is a Robert De Niro directed movie about the formation of the CIA through the lens of one character. It’s an epic that doesn’t feel particularly huge, and it’s a really engaging film with an incredible cast. Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, De Niro, Joe Pesci, Keir Dullea, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Lee Pace, Eddie Redmayne, John Turturro. It’s just one of those really solid movies. Awesome I Fuckin’ Shot That is a fantastic concert film from the Beastie Boys for which they gave a bunch of audience members cameras and told them to film the concert. And the entire film is comprised of footage shot by the audience members. It’s a wonderfully interactive way to film a concert that fits perfectly with the Beastie Boys’ style as rappers. I love this movie.

A Good Year is Ridley Scott doing a romantic comedy, which is not really his thing. It’s the only time he’s done a straight up rom com. And I think that people weren’t expecting it from him, coming off war films and epics and things of that sort. So it got bad reviews, flopped and was forgotten about almost immediately. But I’ve always really enjoyed this movie. I don’t know what’s so loathsome about it that people don’t like. Russell Crowe plays a guy who, like most rom com leads, is a workaholic and refuses to take time for himself. But then, his uncle dies and he is bequeathed his vineyard (where he spent his summers growing up). So now he figures, “I can clean this up and sell it.” But of course he’s gonna learn to not be so serious all the time and take a minute to just live, and he’s gonna fall in love with the land again and meet a woman. You know how all that goes. Marion Cotillard plays the love interest, and it’s also got Albert Finney as his uncle, who appears in flashback. I love this movie. I think this is one of those that got unfairly judged at the time and has been left in the dustbin for years, unappreciated. I’m not gonna lie to you — I like this better than Thelma and Louise. So do with that what you will. V for Vendetta is a movie I’ve always had a difficult relationship with. Because it was, during my teen years, one of those movies that was only just solid that all the wrong people were treating like it was a masterpiece. And I hated it, because the movie is good! But it’s not as good as everyone’s making it out to be, and when you’re at that age, you just grow deep hatreds toward movies that aren’t even the movies’ faults. So I need to be up front about my history with this one. It’s based on an Alan Moore graphic novel about a vigilante who fights against a dystopian, 1984-type London wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. And it’s part 1984, part Phantom of the Opera, with Natalie Portman playing the character’s muse of sorts, first being held captive by him but then helping him in his plot. It’s directed by James McTiegue, even though I think we all just sort of accept that it was really directed by the Wachowskis, who wrote it and act as producers. Like I said, it’s a really great movie. I just can’t rave about it the way others can because of my difficult history with it.

Romance & Cigarettes is John Turturro directing one of the craziest jukebox musicals you’ve never seen. And probably never even heard of. Unless you know me, in which case I’ve shown you a scene or two from this one. It’s a musical about regular people. James Gandolfini plays a construction worker who is married to Susan Sarandon and has three daughters. But then he meets Kate Winslet and begins an affair with her and it forces him to decide which life he’d prefer. The conceit here is that all the characters are basically singing along to famous songs. For example: the opening scene has Gandolfini and the garbage men of the neighborhood singing and dancing along to “A Man Without Love.” At one point, Sarandon goes to church and sings with the pastor (Eddie Izzard) to “Piece of My Heart.” The personal highlight of the film for me is Christopher Walken showing up and talking about his ex-wife, set to “Delilah,” which ends up with Walken having a dance/knife fight with the police. So yeah. It’s a weird one. But it’s awesome. The rest of the cast is also insane: Mary Louise Parker, Bobby Cannavale, Steve Buscemi, Aida Turturro (all Gandolfini’s daughters are played by full on adults, even though they’re playing kids varying from under 10 to teens/college age), Mandy Moore, Elaine Stritch, Amy Sedaris. Like I said, it’s a weird movie, but it’s great in that way. I love an oddity like this. Wouldn’t you prefer this to some shitty horror movie the world is gonna forget about in eight months? Mission: Impossible III is the resurrection of the franchise. Not that it was dead, but they didn’t do anything with it for five years after II. And then J.J. Abrams came on board and gave the franchise new life moving it into what it is now — scenes of Tom Cruise running a lot and doing crazy stunts that are all practical and clearly illustrate the fact that he’s doing it himself without a stunt double. This one has Philip Seymour Hoffman as a bad dude who’s gonna kill people and is super menacing and… honestly, the plots of these movies don’t matter. It’s Mission Impossible. Every time you go into one of those movies, you come out being entertained as hell, loving everything about what you watched, and then you forget most of the stuff that happens and can’t remember what stuff was from what movie outside of one or two of the major setpieces. That’s how this franchise works. And it’s one of the few franchises that has been consistently great throughout its entire existence.

The Wicker Man is one of the greatest accidental comedies ever made. It’s a remake of the 1973 movie, which is a horror film. However, this version veers so far into camp that it’s impossible not to laugh at the absurdity of it all, something that its star Nicolas Cage seems to realize, which allows him to dial up his performance to the perfect 13 on a scale of 10 befitting of the material. The plot revolves around a cop who gets a call from his ex-girlfriend who says her daughter has gone missing on this island here she lives. So he goes there and begins investigating the creepy goings on of the island and the seemingly cult-like atmosphere it has. It’s… yeah… I mean, at this point, so much of this movie has become meme. “How’d it get burned?”; the bear suit; the bees. The only way to watch this movie is as a comedy. And trust me, if you do that, and you realize that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it is hilarious. Crank is one of the most batshit insane action movies you’ll see, and that’s its charm. It’s meant to be a campy B movie action piece. Jason Statham plays a guy who is given a lethal cocktail that slows down his heart and prevents adrenaline from pumping. So he’s gotta run around, keeping his adrenaline up by doing wild shit (and man, does he do some wild shit) and figuring out who did this to him. It’s so awesome. Even when they made the sequel, and it got crazier than this, you went, “Good.” Because there’s no such thing as too crazy for this franchise. Rocky Balboa is the Rocky sequel we’d all prefer to remember over V. This one has Rocky, long since retired, his wife dead and his son not wanting to talk to him. After a boxing simulation posits that he would have beaten the current heavyweight champion (wonderfully named Mason “The Line” Dixon) in his prime, the champ, trying to prove his name, offers Rocky a chance to fight him. So of course Rocky has to decide if he’s gonna come out of retirement for “one last fight.” It’s a really solid movie. Rocky has always been a franchise that churns out good content and stories you want to root for, and this is no different. I figured this would be the last of the Rocky movies, and it felt like a fitting end. And then we got the Creed movies, which have been great. There’s something about this character that endures even after all these years.

Idiocracy is Mike Judge’s film that almost immediately became a cult hit upon release. Even as it was coming out, we all sort of knew that this was gonna be something we all looked at as incredibly prescient. Luke Wilson plays a guy who epitomizes the “average joe” who is chosen by the government for a suspended animation project. The project is forgotten about, so he ends up getting left there for 500 years. And — this is where the movie is genius — we find out what happens to the world and its population over those years: the intelligent people, who are “waiting for the right time” to have kids, and are focused on their careers, have less and less children, meanwhile all the regular idiots keep procreating nonstop. So eventually, it creates a population where everyone is dumb as a rock. So that’s when Wilson wakes up and soon finds himself the smartest person in the entire world. The rest of the movie is basically a series of gags (the highest rated show is called ‘Ow My Balls’ and is just montages of people getting hit in the nuts, the president is a professional wrestler, they try to water the fields with Gatorade), but it’s the notion that the country is going to get dumber and the reasons for why that is are what makes this movie stand out. To the point where, even now, just over a decade after it cameo out, people are talking about how accurate it is in its depictions of the future. The movie’s not as good as the lasting notion of ‘Idiocracy was right’, but it does keep eyes on this movie, which is ultimately a good thing. Stranger Than Fiction is one of the great high concept movies of the 2000s, which briefly launched Zach Helm’s career (only for that to go away when he made Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and people just shunned him). It stars Will Ferrell as a regular guy who begins hearing narration in his head. Everything about his life, coming from an omniscient narrator who is telling his story. Which is a good concept in and of itself. But one wrinkle is that the narrator is a real author, Emma Thompson. And even more of a wrinkle, the narrator says Ferrell is going to die. So now, this guy who lives a completely boring, drab life, is literally going on an adventure to find this woman who is seemingly narrating his story in order to potentially stop his own death from happening. It’s a really good movie. Ferrell does great with more dramatic material, and the film is just a great look at this a sort of existential crisis of, “What if you found out your life was being written for you?” It’s very lovely.

The Devil Wears Prada is one of those movies that, even if you don’t want to admit it, you know it’s good and you know you enjoy it. I know people who pretended at the time, “Oh, this is a chick flick,” and yet, they watched it, and they liked it. A good movie’s a good movie. It stars Anne Hathaway who gets a job working for Meryl Streep, who is basically playing Anna Wintour. The idea is that she gets a job working for the biggest fashion icon in the industry and knows or cares nothing about fashion. And of course she has to learn how to be good at her job, and all that stuff, while also melting her boss’s cold, cold heart. Emily Blunt broke from her performance in this movie and Meryl even got nominated for it. It’s just a lovely movie. I’d be surprise if this didn’t rate well on everyone’s ‘best of the year’ lists for this year. The Queen is a movie directed by Stephen Frears and written by Peter Morgan about the events just after Princess Diana’s death and how they affected the royal family. It mainly deals with Queen Elizabeth and her own reaction to the events. Helen Mirren is terrific as Elizabeth and won an Oscar for her performance. The film was nominated up and down for awards as well. It’s a really solid drama with great performances. The Holiday is a rom com I had heard was good but never actually sat down to watch for a good decade after it came out. I dismissed it at the time as a chick flick that would just be okay at best that I was just never gonna like. And then I watched it and thought, “Shit, this is really good.” It’s Nancy Meyers, who generally makes good movies, and it stars Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. The premise is that Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet are both unhappy with their lives and agree to swap houses for the holidays, to give themselves (and each other) a change of pace. So Diaz goes to London and Winslet goes to Los Angeles. And of course, they both end up falling in love and finding happiness and all that good stuff. The secret weapon of this movie is Eli Wallach, who is just wonderful as Diaz’s neighbor who helps Winslet craft her own Hollywood love story. I really like this one.

Déjà Vu is a Tony Scott movie. And, like Spy Game, it’s a movie I missed immediately upon release, yet came back to a few years after the fact and went, “Oh my god, this is great.” It’s got a premise that I wouldn’t think immediately would work, yet Denzel and everyone make it totally compelling all the way. A ferry is bombed and hundreds of people die. Denzel is an ATF agent investigating the incident and ends up working with a new branch of government that allows them to “look back” to past events using surveillance. Not quite time travel, but they can send nonhuman things back. So at one point, Denzel sends himself a note to help his past self solve the case. Not quite sure about all the logic here, but the movie is really entertaining. This is one of those where I never figured it was gonna be good and just loved it when I saw it for the first time. For Your Consideration is Christopher Guest. Which means it’s automatically worthwhile and very funny. Guest made four films between 1996 and 2006, and all four are amazing. This one is about a group of actors working on a film called “Home for Purim,” which they overhear is generating awards buzz. And that’s the film. These people getting excited (or not) about possible awards attention and how it affects them and the film. It’s so good. Catherine O’Hara in this movie… just trust me. You cannot go wrong with a Christopher Guest movie as it is, but this one is so funny. Dreamgirls is a musical based on the stage show that was loosely based around the story of the Supremes. Or rather, it uses the Supremes as the basis for it, while telling a story about the early days of Motown. The group is comprised of Beyonce (the Diana Ross), Jennifer Hudson (the Florence Ballard) and Anika Noni Rose (the Mary Wilson), then there’s Jamie Foxx (the Berry Gordy), Keith Robinson (the Smokey) and Eddie Murphy (who seems to be a composite of a few people). It’s a really strong film. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson were both nominated for their performances. Hudson won (and by most accounts, Murphy should have won too). It’s just a great, watchable movie with incredible songs and performances. The showstopper, of course, will always be “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” but there’s other great stuff in there as well.

Letters from Iwo Jima is Clint Eastwood’s second of two Iwo Jima films this year. Kind of a brilliant conceit, actually. Flags of Our Fathers tells the story from the American point of view, specifically what happened to the soldiers who raised the flag in that iconic moment that has since become one of the most famous photographs ever taken. This one tells the story from the Japanese point of view. And it’s generally regarded as the far superior of the two films. This one got nominated for all the awards, and is just a more engaging movie. Because it’s a straight up war movie. It’s entirely in Japanese, and the American soldiers are not even shown on screen until the very, very end of the film, and even then, none of them have a real spoken word of dialogue. It’s purely the Japanese soldiers trying to defend the island. and It’s great. It’s really great. One of the best war films of this decade. Apocalypto is Mel Gibson’s epic movie about the Mayans, with all dialogue entirely in Mayan. This is his followup to Passion of the Christ, and was always going to suffer based on that. The audience for that movie is not the audience for this movie, and others were always gonna accuse him of doing the same thing of telling a story entirely in the dialect of the time, and all of that. If you get past that, it’s a really thrilling movie with some great cinematography and fantastic sequences. I’ll admit that it’s never gonna be someone’s favorite movie, but it’s a really strong piece of work that shows what a terrific director Mel is. And, also, whatever it is you think of the film, there’s no denying that it’s responsible for one of the greatest set photos of all time:

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Tier three:

  • Blood Diamond
  • Bobby
  • Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • The Good German
  • Hard Candy
  • Harsh Times
  • The Illusionist
  • Little Children
  • The Lives of Others
  • Miami Vice
  • Paris, je t’aime
  • The Pursuit of Happyness
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • This Film Is Not Yet Rated
  • United 93
  • World Trade Center
  • X-Men: The Last Stand

Miami Vice is the epitome of cool. The common refrain you hear about this movie is, “It’s not very good, but man is it cool/awesome.” Which, after a certain point, that becomes good. I think we should just start saying this is a good movie. If we all think something is trashy but entertaining and we all like it, all that really matters is that we all like it. Good is a measure arbitrated by a collective feeling about something. So if we all enjoy this, I think it’s just a good movie. But anyway, Mann was an EP on the original show and was heavily involved in it, so it stands to reason that he’d be the one to turn it into a feature. It stars Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Crockett and Tubbs, and it’s just sleek and cool and is just a movie you can put on and enjoy without having to think too hard. It continues the style Mann was using in Collateral, only here he makes it look sexy. It was, for a long time, a guilty pleasure for me, but at this point it’s just simple a pleasure. The Pursuit of Happyness is, cynically, Will Smith Oscar bait. It is, to put it positively, a really solid family drama that everyone likes. It’s based loosely on a real story about a single father who tries to raise his son despite being homeless. It’s about a guy doing anything to try to make it for the sake of his child. Smith is really good and it’s just a very likable film. You can be cynical about it if you want, but it’s just a movie that makes you feel good. There’s nothing wrong with that. This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about the MPAA and a look into their ratings system and just how arbitrary the whole thing seems to be despite how much influence they actually have on films and their ability to gain or lose an audience. It’s a fascinating documentary that should reveal to everyone that the whole process of rating movies is pure horse shit and is a guideline at best for people getting an idea of how much sex and violence is in stuff, but unfortunately this is so widely underseen and it’s so much harder than you’d think to change public perception about this stuff. Watch the movie. The guy literally has to hire a P.I. in order to figure out just who it is figuring out the ratings for these movies. It’s nuts.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is Dave Chappelle’s first big thing post-Chappelle’s Show. That was clearly a very volatile time in his life, and it seems like he just wanted to get back to basics and make things simple again, so he just threw a free block part for everyone to show up to. And he did comedy, put on sketches and had an incredible set of music for everyone. The performers include Kanye, Mos Def, Tali Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, The Roots, Big Daddy Kane, john Legend and a Fugees reunion. It’s such a dope movie. Watch it for the musical performances alone. Nothing is better tha the feeling of a good block party, and this evokes that, only with amazing people doing the emceeing and music. Little Children is Todd Field’s followup to In the Bedroom. It’s about all the goings-on in the suburbs. The inciting incident is that a registered sex offender (played brilliantly by Jackie Earle Haley) moves into town and everyone is outraged about it. The crux of the film is about a pair of couples, of whom the wife of one begins having an affair with the husband of another. But mostly it’s this ensemble movie about all the drama going on in the suburbs. It’s almost like a hardcore indie drama meets Douglas Sirk. It’s really well done. Kate Winslet was nominated here, as was Haley, and it is, to date, the last film directed by Todd Field, which is a real shame. Because he was 2 for 2. Flags of Our Fathers is the other half of Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films. As I said up there, this one’s about the soldiers who raised the flag, specifically Ira Hayes. It’s okay. Mostly just a drama about the effect of this one iconic event on the lives of the men involved in it. Solid, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that Letters of Iwo Jima does.

Paris, je t’aime is one of the most ingenious concepts ever put to film. They’ve diluted it with all the sequels, which lost sight of what the point of this one was about, but still, this one holds up. It’s a love letter to the city of Paris, told in an anthology of shorts. The plan was to split the 20 arrondissements of Paris into 20 shorts. Only 18 ended up making it into the film after editing, but basically it’s a neighborhood rundown of Paris, with each filmmaker taking a neighborhood and making a short film centered around it in some way. The filmmakers include the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Sylvain Chomet, Olivier Assayas, Richard LaGravanese, Vincenzo Natali, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer and Alexander Payne. And the cast, as you can imagine, is insane. Loads and loads of famous people. The beauty of this film is that it’s 18 shorts over two hours. So you can not care for one and move on after about ten minutes. But most of the shorts here are very good. As I said, they diluted it with the sequels (‘New York’ is just people making short films vaguely set in New York but lack any real cohesion, and then ‘Rio’ and ‘Berlin’ almost feel like actual films, rather than a series of shorts), but this one still holds up as a really fantastic piece of work. The Illusionist is a fun little drama with Edward Norton as a magician at the turn of the century who tries to use his magic to woo a woman who is socially in a class above him. It’s nice. Norton usually picks solid material and this one is worth seeing. It’s the lesser of two magician films from this year, but it’s still worth seeing in its own right and would make for a solid double-billing with The Prestige at that. But also, because The Prestige exists, this is one of those movies that doesn’t fully get its proper due, since it is very much worth seeing.

The Good German is a Steven Soderbergh style exercise. Which is interesting, because this was a major studio release. They didn’t spend too much on it, but it’s got George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire and they released it in prime awards territory. But also, he shot it in black and white and tried to emulate the look and style of a 40s movie. This is not for everyone. Clooney plays a journalist in Berlin during the war who gets involved in a murder plot involving his old flame. It’s really well done. I love a good style exercise, and I love 40s noir. So this is entirely up my alley. Not sure if it’s for everyone, but hey, you have to appreciate when Soderbergh tries things. World Trade Center is Oliver Stone’s movie about 9/11. It’s pretty straightforward. There’s no major political message or anything like that, it’s just a simple survival movie about two first responders who get caught underneath the rubble and the rescue efforts taken to get them (and others) out alive, as well as the toll the ordeal takes on their families. So if anything, it’s a movie about the bravery of first responders. It stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, and it’s just a really solid movie. I doubt this will be anyone’s favorite Oliver Stone movie, but as far as his filmography goes, it’s just a solid entry on it. Hard Candy is one of those ‘whisper’ movies, as I liked to call them. (I’ve never called one that in my entire life, but I didn’t know how else to explain it.) The kind of movie where it just kind of spreads among people like, “Oh man, have you seen that movie?” Because it’s got a certain notoriety that’s beyond the realm of the mainstream. It’s the kind of movie that (and this is only for people my age and older) is in that other section of the video store. (Not that it’s a porno, but you get what I’m going for.) It’s a movie about a teen girl who holds a dude hostage because she suspects him of being a pedophile. And… well yeah. Some fucked up things happen. That’s how this movie got the reputation it did. It’s fucked up, but also really good. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson star, and it’s really solid, if not the easiest movie in the world to watch.

A Scanner Darkly is Richard Linklater’s second film to feature rotoscoping, and this one is better remembered and better liked than Waking Life. This is based on a Philip K. Dick story, and stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson. Keanu plays a cop in the future who goes undercover to find out who is distributing a dangerous new drug, only to slowly lose his mind along the way. It’s really well done. One of those movies that is very, very underrated but also very, very good. It’s one of the best movies of this year and remains criminally underrated. Also another reminder that Richard Linklater is constantly making great movies and so often is going unrecognized for them. X-Men: The Last Stand is the movie that briefly killed the X-Men franchise. After directing the first two films, Bryan Singer left to go make a Superman movie (which you’ll notice is not on this list), and they instead turned the franchise over to Bret Ratner. As an X-Men movie, it’s absolutely terrible. They kill like three major characters and just completely ruin everything they’re built with the actors over the previous two films. To the point where, even though it was mildly amusing at the time to see them reference an internet sensation, they literally threw in a line to reference the “I’m the Juggernaut, Bitch” videos. They based the story around the Dark Phoenix saga (which is funny, that storyline killed/ended two separate X-Men iterations), and honestly, the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s fine. As entertainment, it totally works. It just did completely kill the momentum this franchise had, to the point where they had to spinoff Wolverine to salvage it (which was its own disaster for a while) and then had to reboot with a younger cast (though fortunately people were still keen on these actors and they allowed them a proper sendoff with Days of Future Past). It’s never gonna be thought of with the first two movies, but on its own, as a pure piece of entertainment, I enjoy it.

Harsh Times is David Ayer’s directorial debut. It stars Christian Bale as a former soldier with PTSD who comes back to LA and becomes a criminal in the hopes of getting enough money to settle down  somewhere with his girlfriend. The film is based around his friendship to Freddy Rodriguez. There are shades of Training Day here and shades of End of Watch as well. Mostly, it’s just Ayer. All his LA crime movies have the same general ambiance and character types in them. It’s a really solid movie. He’s one of those guys who by and large makes really solid movies. A few haven’t worked, but mostly he makes really engaging films that all too often end up as hidden gems. And this is one of them. Also one of those underrated and underseen Christian Bale performances that litter the early part of this decade. The Da Vinci Code is one of the most anticipated movies of the decade. The Dan Brown novel was huge. It was a major literary phenomenon, to the point where I think Akiva Goldsman was paid $5 or 6 million to just write the script! Ron Howard came on to direct, and they brought on Tom Hanks to play Robert Langdon, and this was one of those movies that people just knew was coming the entire way through. And the result… wasn’t so great. Brown’s books are written like movies, but they just never fully translated to movies. It’s entertaining, but it’s just not anything more than that. I think National Treasure stole all this movie’s thunder and even did it better than it did. The Lives of Others is the film that won Foreign Language Film this year. It’s about an agent for the East German police who is assigned to surveil a writer and his girlfriend and finds himself starting to care about them and their lives. It’s… wonderful. It’s one of the best movies of this year.

Bobby is Emilio Estevez’s (yes, he directed this. He’s actually directed several movies, some of which are quite solid) movie about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. It’s a big ensemble movie with a lot of characters and a lot of famous faces going through as we follow a bunch of characters on the day leading up to the assassination. It’s a really solid movie and was incredibly well-received this year. Though it never got quite the awards recognition it probably needed to be anything more than an afterthought as a film. No one remembers this one at all. Which is kind of like how The Good Shepherd has fared, but at least that had De Niro at the helm, which makes it easier for people to stumble upon it. This one doesn’t have anything, which is a shame, because it’s a really good movie. Blood Diamond is Ed Zwick’s movie about the African diamond trade. I had a hard time taking this one seriously at the time, mostly because of the incessant trailers featuring Leo’s South African accent and having to hear the phrase, “Over there, it’s bling bling, but here it’s bling bang” over and over and over. But all that aside, it’s a really solid movie about those affected by the trade. Djimon Hounsou plays a fisherman separated from his family and forced to go work looking for diamonds, Leo plays a diamond smuggler and Jennifer Connelly plays a journalist. It’s a really solid movie. It is. Leo was nominated for it (though that’s because he refused to campaign against the other actors in The Departed, so they funneled all his votes to this performance), as was Housnou. And it’s Ed Zwick. Pretty much from 1989 through 2009, you could count on Ed Zwick to make a really solid movie. Outside of those years, it’s more hit and miss. But inside of it, you don’t even need to know anything about them. Put them on and know they’ll be solid.

Borat is probably the comedy of 2006. It’s based on a Sacha Baron Cohen character from his Ali G Show (who features in some of the show’s most famous sketches, like where he visits a ranch in Texas and “Throw the Jew Down the Well“), a reporter from Kazakhstan. The movie is largely the same as in the show — hidden camera moments of Borat interacting with real people, designed to produce comedy from him doing and saying ridiculous things and the other people revealing their own racism or stupidity or whatever in how they react to him. Parts of the movie are staged, but largely it’s those vignettes. And it’s funny. It’s a movie you kind of have to see around people, but what Cohen is able to do with the character is so, so great. He tried this formula in later films to much lesser success, but here is where it tends to work the best, to the point where the film ended up being nominated for Best Screenplay (which is hilarious, since it’s basically improvised and structured around broad scene outlines, kinda like a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode). United 93 is Paul Greengrass’s movie about the hijacked plane on 9/11 that the passengers helped take down before it could reach its destination. He uses almost entirely non-professional/unknown actors to add a sense of authenticity to the whole thing and shoots in his trademark handicam style to add a sense of verité to it as well. It earned him a Best Director nomination and is generally called one of the best films of the year and one of the best films made about 9/11. I’m not as in love with it as others are, but there’s no denying it’s an incredibly well-made film that is quite an experience.

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Tier four:

  • Accepted
  • Beerfest
  • Black Book
  • Bubble
  • Cars
  • Click
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
  • Half Nelson
  • Happy Feet
  • The History Boys
  • Jackass Number Two
  • Notes on a Scandal
  • The Notorious Bettie Page
  • The Science of Sleep
  • Quinceañera
  • Scoop
  • Silent Hill
  • Tideland
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • Wordplay

Wordplay is a documentary about the New York Times crossword puzzle. As a subscriber who is constantly working on a crossword puzzle in my spare time, this documentary is extremely my shit. Accepted is a movie that was a 2000s teen comedy that I feel like may have pushed itself into the realm of ‘great high school movies’. Or maybe that’s a tad much. But I do know that Justin Long’s character name — Bartleby Gaines — is absolutely perfect for the genre. If this movie did nothing else right, that character name is exactly what the character in a Risky Business ripoff would be named. It’s about a bunch of people who get rejected by all the colleges they apply to, so they decide to start their own college… the South Harmon Institute of Technology (yes… S.H.I.T. This is a classy movie, we’re talking about). It’s a fun movie. It fits in with those Revenge of the Nerds type, ‘band of misfits coming together’ movies. There’s shades of a lot of different subgenres going on here. But it’s more importantly just a fun movie. It helped get Jonah Hill noticed, and then he’d break in Superbad the year after this. I didn’t grow up with this one. I saw it very recently. Which is why I’m convinced it’s actually a good movie. Because I could just as easily not cared and assumed it was because I didn’t see it when I was 18. I saw it at almost 30 and enjoyed the hell out of it. That’s gotta count for something. Jackass Number Two is the second Jackass. More stunts, more fun. The History Boys is a wonderful little gem, based on a hit stageplay. It’s sort of a British Dead Poets Society. A group of teen boys are all pushed to excellence by their teachers. It’s quite good. Cars is one of the most disliked of the Pixar movies, mostly because it’s the one that feels less like something that came from the heart than something designed to sell a lot of toys.

Tideland is Terry Gilliam at his absolute weirdest. It’s about a young girl living with heroin addicted parents. Eventually the mom (Jennifer Tilly) OD’s, so the dad (Jeff Bridges) takes her to live somewhere else for fear that he’ll be arrested. He eventually OD’s too, so the girl is now left alone and without parents. So she’s living in this house alone (with her father’s increasingly-decaying corpse sitting in a chair in the living room) and retreating further and further into her own fantasy world. Which is almost like Terry Gilliam’s own personal Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a weird movie, and tends to get overlooked when people look at Gilliam’s filmography. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while watching all his films — they’re all worthwhile. And there’s not a one that I went back and watch where I didn’t go, “Damn, that was so much better than I thought it was gonna be.” I seem to have told myself I wasn’t gonna like any of Gilliam’s movies. So literally — Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, this, Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits… I just assumed they weren’t gonna be for me, and yet, every time I’ve come out going, “I really liked that.” This, though, is admittedly a bit hardcore for most. Might be better to take the easy Gilliam prepper before venturing into this deep end, as good as the movie is. Beerfest is Broken Lizard’s followup to Super Troopers. Okay, so it’s really their followup to Club Dread. But no one remembers that movie. This one is about brothers who go to Germany for Oktoberfest and end up as part of a giant beer-drinking olympics competition. It’s stupid but fun. Like most of their movies. It also features one of my favorite insults I’ve ever heard, which is one character calling his German opponent a “deutchbag.”

Happy Feet is the apex of America’s obsession with penguins. March of the Penguins had just won the Oscar for Documentary the previous year, and then this came out, a movie about penguins who find their mates through song, and one penguin who can’t sing… but can dance! It’s a weird movie. Kind of amazing it had the cultural impact that it did. To the point where this dethroned Pixar in this category, beating Cars (the only time apart from the initial Animated Feature category where Monsters Inc lost to Shrek that a non-Pixar sequel straight up lost the category) for the Oscar. It’s an adorable movie, though it hasn’t particularly held up over time, as very, very few non-Disney/Pixar animated movies have. Also, it was directed by George Miller, which I feel like not enough people know about. The dude who made Fury Road also made this (and Babe!). The Science of Sleep is Michel Gondry’s followup to Eternal Sunshine. It’s about a guy who discovers that he can show his elaborate dreams to the girl he’s started seeing. It’s basically him furthering that ethereal, dreamlike state he created there with more of the practical effects he’s become known for, only (sadly) without the Charlie Kaufman script to back him up. So the result feels like the script is basically an excuse for Gondry to do all sorts of cool visuals rather than a cohesive plot. Which is fine, the movie looks great, but it doesn’t really come together as anything more than a nice series of visuals. Bubble is Steven Soderbergh doing experimental. He tends to make one of these every couple of movies. He made this one with a complete non-professional cast, and this was noted at the time for being one of the first, if not the first day and date movies. He released it in theaters and on some cable/pay-per-view service on the same day, and then the DVD came out like three days after that. He’s always been one to try to mess with the release strategy and this was the first real attempt at doing that.

Half Nelson is a movie that would be forgotten if it weren’t for Ryan Gosling giving a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination. He plays a junior high teacher who just happens to be hooked on heroin. And the film is about his relationship with a student with her own problems who finds out about his addiction. It’s a solid piece of work. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have a history of really solid indie movies (Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind… and okay, Captain Marvel. But the rest of them!). The Wind That Shakes the Barley is Ken Loach. I heard of it because it won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2006, and then in 2007 it played the film series at my school, so I went to see it. And this is before I’d seen any Ken Loach films or even known anything about him or the types of films he made. So that was an interesting experience for me. This is a movie about guerrilla warfare during the war for Irish Independence. It’s a really solid film. Like most Palm D’Or winners of the past 20 years, I’m not sure my reaction to it is as high as theirs is, but it’s still a solid movie that’s worth seeing. Click is an Adam Sandler dramedy (and really the last of his decent movies) about a workaholic guy who, while going to Bed Bath and Beyond, happens upon the “Beyond” section of the store, where Christopher Walken gives him a magic remote that allows him to control reality. And complications ensue. It starts off with the comedy gags you’d expect, but eventually it takes a really serious turn, to the point where it actually starts to get really dark and sad at times. But honestly, that’s what makes it better than just another shitty Adam Sandler movie that we’ve come to expect in the years since this. It’s one of the last decent ones he’s made.

Quinceañera is a wonderful indie movie directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (who made a couple of films together, namely The Last of Robin Hood and Still Alice) that won Sundance. It’s about a girl approaching her 15th birthdya who finds out she’s pregnant. So she goes to live with her uncle and her gay cousin, and they become their own little black sheep family together. It’s a really sweet little film. The right kind of indie that makes you go, “Oh, that was really solid.” Silent Hill is an adaptation of the video game. I was unfamiliar with the game when I saw this. But I do remember being impressed with some of the things they did in this movie, specifically the sound design. The premise of the game and film, as I remember it, is that there’s a mystery going on in this town (which is perennially covered in fog) that has to be solved, only at certain points a giant siren rings and it gets dark, and as soon as it gets dark, all sorts of monsters and creatures come out. I remember thinking that was an interesting idea and that the way they handled the sound really gave it a creepy atmosphere and built terror in a smart way. I honestly don’t care about much of the plot, because it’s another one of those Resident Evil type movies, and it’s based on a video game, which… we all know the objective quality of literally every single one of those that has come out to this point. But being impressed by some of the technical aspects of this movie is enough for me to put it on this list and recommend it. Notes on a Scandal is a dope drama with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. Dench plays an older teacher who befriends younger teacher Blanchett. Dench finds out Blanchett is sleeping with one of her students (who is underage) and basically uses it to blackmail her. Since… well… she kind of wants to be more than friends. It’s a really good movie with fantastic lead performances by both Dench and Blanchett (both of whom were nominated for them).

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a really solid coming-of-age drama. Written and adapted by Dito Montiel from his own book, it’s a story about his childhood, growing up in Queens, around people going on the wrong track and eventually realizing that he’s one of the lucky ones, not ending up dead or in prison. The movie shifts between him as both an adult and teenager, with Robert Downey playing him as an adult and Shia LaBeouf playing him as a teen (with Channing Tatum playing his father, in his breakout role). It’s a fantastic drama and remains Dito’s best film. Scoop is Woody Allen. One of his middle-of-the-road ones that probably would fare in the below-average tier for most fans of his. For me, it probably moves to the above average, ‘kind of enjoyable at times’ level. It stars Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman, and it’s mostly a movie about their romance, with her not being sure if he is or isn’t a murderer. It’s got kind of that Cary Grant in Suspicion thing going on, but also is still very much a Woody Allen movie, as he shows up playing a crappy magician who befriends Johansson. The Notorious Bettie Page is a biopic of Bettie Page, one of the first pin-up icons because of her posing for bondage photos. It’s a sort of People vs. Larry Flynt movie, detailing her investigation by the Senate and her life surrounding the incident. It’s a really solid movie. It never quite got the recognition it deserved, and I feel like they may have basically dumped this on TV too, because I remember HBO showing this a ton right after it came out. Black Book is an underrated Paul Verhoeven movie. After Hollow Man, he went back to the Netherlands and made this movie, which I heard of at the time because people were touting it as a great movie that flew under the radar (because it’s foreign). It’s about a Jewish resistance fighter who infiltrates Nazi command in the Netherlands. It’s pretty awesome.

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