Mr. Beaks Presents His Top 100 Films Of The Decade! Part Three Of Four Penetrating Installments!
Published at: Dec. 10, 2009, 10:57 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
It continues. Sorry for the delay. Part One is here. Part Two is here. Part Three is comin' at ya!
50. BEFORE SUNSET (2004, d. Richard Linklater, w. Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy)
Richard Linklater revisits the final film of his "I Can Do No Wrong" period, and sinks a whole generation into an early midlife funk. From my AICN interview with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (since my review is MIA): "Picking up where they teasingly left off nearly a decade ago at the end of BEFORE SUNRISE, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) go flirting once again in Richard Linklater’s intensely romantic BEFORE SUNSET. Shot in real time and, ergo, bereft of the amiable digressions of the previous installment, this film is less about the promise of youth than avoiding the tragedy of an unhappy adulthood - which is where, as the script slowly, expertly, yet quite organically peels back each layer of detail, both characters find themselves stranded. It’s not that life has been particularly cruel to either – Jesse has a popular novel, while Celine seems purposely committed to her public health advocacy – but, emotionally, they are horribly unsatisfied. Worse, in meeting again, they seem to realize that, by not fulfilling their pledge to meet six months later after their first encounter, they’ve deprived one another of a soul mate that might’ve alleviated their current unsettledness."
Delpy cooing "Baby, you are going to miss that plane" while vamping to Nina Simone in her living room is exactly what we want to hear at the end - even though succumbing to their carnal wants is unquestionably the least healthy thing for either character at that moment in their life. Can't wait to see how much they hate each other in AFTER DAWN.
49. RED LIGHTS (2004, d. Cedric Kahn, w. Kahn and Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa)
From my 2004 AICN Review: "Alternately hilarious and horrifying, Cedric Kahn’s RED LIGHTS is a strange marriage of domestic drama and film noir aesthetic that plays like the humanistic, first-person crime yarn Jim Thompson never wrote. Based on a novel by the massively prolific Georges Simenon (creator of the Inspector Maigret series), it’s a visually mischievous portrait of Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a cowardly, self-absorbed lout who drinks himself into complete oblivion while driving through the rural outskirts of Paris with his increasingly disapproving wife, Helene (Carole Bouquet), to pick up their children from summer camp. Along the way, Antoine makes multiple stops to maintain his buzz, finally barreling into a mean drunkenness that sends the disgusted Helene off sulking for safer transport. Freed from the marital yoke, Antoine begins knocking back the booze with suicidal gusto, and he soon finds himself in the precarious company of an escaped murderer from a nearby prison.
Kahn is clearly having fun tweaking noir conventions, but the film’s greatest strength is in the way its narrative is directly tethered to Antoine’s desperate nocturnal peregrination. It gets so into its protagonist’s booze-addled head that it becomes something bracingly new: a stream-of-consciousness thriller. This boldness sets the stage for a giddily unpredictable third act highlighted by a ridiculously protracted series of telephone calls forestalling an expectedly dire reveal. In Kahn’s hands, however, these expectations are cannily dashed."
48. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004, d. Sam Raimi, w. Alvin Sargent)
Everything you could possibly want out of a superhero movie. Though I (still) seem to like Raimi's first installment better than most, there's no denying he improved on the first film by selecting the right villain (Doc Ock), perfecting the look of the CG Spidey (with John Dykstra and the Sony Imageworks team), and seeking input from a top-notch writer like Michael Chabon before handing off the screenwriting reins the old pro, Alvin Sargent. There's a narrative and thematic clarity to SPIDER-MAN 2 that is lacking in pretty much every superhero movie before or since; it avoids villain overkill and doesn't try to jam in too many well-known story elements to please the fans. It's just a swiftly-paced night out at the movies that satisfies on repeat viewings.
And if Mary Jane's "Go get 'em, Tiger" didn't have you walking out of the theater on air, you weren't a Spider-Man fan to begin with.
47. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009, w. & d. Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino makes a brilliant travesty of history. "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France," a conceited German officer hubristically allowed a young Jewish woman to elude his grasp, thus setting in motion the sudden and quite bloody downfall of the Third Reich. Total wish fulfillment dominated by Christoph Waltz's ferociously analytical Col. Hans Landa. Interestingly, this is the third Tarantino film in a row that opts for an emotionally uplifting/conventional ending, but it doesn't feel like he's getting lazy or safe in his storytelling. If anything, he's even more determined to frustrate audience expectations altogether - which, in the case of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, means he didn't make a "men-on-a-mission" movie despite swearing up and down for the better part of a decade that he was making a "men-on-a-mission" movie. Fine by me. We've enough of those, and too few "Cinema Saves the World" fables.
As with several of the 2009 films on this list, I've a feeling INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS might chart higher in a year or two.
46. MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003, d. Bong Joon-ho, w. Bong Joon-ho, Kim Kwang-rim and Shim Sung Bo)
The police procedural is the modern-day equivalent of the western. Everyone knows the the lingo, the conventions, and the way through to the conclusion - which, depending on your preference, will likely end with the forensics-aided nabbing of a fiendishly clever murderer or the always-invigorating sight of Sam Waterston talking. The recent popularity in these kinds of nuts-and-bolts narratives can probably be traced back to Jonathan Demme's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which explains the preoccupation with serial killers. But this is the wrong model. As anyone who's ever become obsessed with true-crime accounts of serial killers will tell you, the most captivating procedurals - the ones you want to return to again and again - are those in which the monster is never caught.
In David Fincher's ZODIAC, the hunt for a media-savvy psychopath turns into a commentary on obsession - which is wearyingly driven home by the narrative stalling out and restarting late in the film as Jake Gyllenhaal's cartoonist Robert Graysmith picks up where Mark Ruffalo's Inspector Dave Toschi self-destructed. In Bong Joon-ho's superior, MEMORIES OF MURDER, the investigation of a string of brutal murders (targeting women) is set against South Korea's uneasy transition from military rule to full-fledged democracy, and is compounded by all manner of institutional incompetence. As with THE HOST, Bong's ability to tweak convention as he veers from horror to drama to borderline-broad comedy is breathtaking; this is like no other serial killer film you've ever seen (because we've never seen a filmmaker with Bong's peculiar skill set). Song Kang-ho's lead performance as the overmatched local cop who fucks up the investigation may be his best ever (though his Mifune-inspired freak-out in the inexplicably buried THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD provides stiff competition).
The rich character detail, the unpredictability of the narrative (based on a true story), and the lack of precious period recreation (no matter how technically dazzling) combine to elevate MEMORIES OF MURDER above Fincher's impressive ZODIAC as the procedural of the decade.
45. BLACK HAWK DOWN (2002, d. Ridley Scott, w. Ken Nolan)
"They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the man next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."
The greatest pure combat film ever made - and now that it's been made, let's please stop trying to emulate it. Short of being thrust into the middle of an actual war zone (and unless you're trying to make the most chaotic film of all time), there's just no point. Ridley Scott and screenwriter Ken Nolan do right by Mark Bowden's classic account of the clusterfuck in Mogadishu that claimed the lives of nineteen American soldiers and 1,000 Somali militiamen. Viewers looking for reasons to get incensed took issue with Scott's "dehumanizing" portrait of the Somalis, claiming it was "glumly staged racism". Had the film been an all-encompassing look at the UN's Somalian misadventure, they would've had a point. Since it was only about the extraction of trapped U.S. soldiers, this charge is like complaining about the lack of drug use in DO THE RIGHT THING.
BLACK HAWK DOWN leaves you shellshocked, but appreciative of the men and women who put their ass on the line in our name - and more than a little incensed that their bravery is so frequently squandered.
44. AUDITION (1999/2001, d. Takashi Miike, w. Daisuke Tengan)
I considered excluding AUDITION from this list (as a '99 release), but it's been placing highly in other decade round-ups, so here it is. From my 2001 AICN review: "After a tragic prologue, involving the death of a spouse and a father’s inability to inform his son of his mother’s passing, director Takashi Miike treats us to a long shot of the newly motherless pair walking aimlessly down a boulevard, staggering toward a sad, uncertain future. The solemn quietude of this moment is subtly broken by the red-hued credits slicing lengthwise with a surgical precision in the top righthand corner of the screen. Suddenly, there’s a foreboding to go along with the empty sense of loss, a tonal balancing act which Miike will be performing throughout most of AUDITION. And then he will level the audience with one of the most shocking third acts in recent memory."
Kiri, kiri, kiri...
43. JACKASS: THE MOVIE (d. Jeff Tremaine, w. Children)
I've never laughed so hard in a movie theater. That's got to count for something, right? From my 2002 AICN review: "In an interview given nearly a decade ago, Jean-Luc Godard opined that “television manufactures a few memories, but cinema - as it should have been - creates memory, i.e. the possibility of memory”. Though he was probably dodging a question with tenuous relevance to the subject of the boob tube, Godard might very well have been discussing the difference between “Jackass”, the MTV trouble child, and JACKASS: THE MOVIE. For while the former has implanted its share of indelible images, the latter, in all its transgressive, nauseating, gleefully imbecilic glory, has created memory like a motherfucker. It is like idiocy written in lightning."
42. THE INCREDIBLES (2004, w & d. Brad Bird)
Brad Bird's pissed-off paean to excellence. Sure, THE INCREDIBLES is a terrifically entertaining family film powered by a structurally-immaculate narrative decked out with top-of-the-line computer animation. So what? The true achievement of Bird's film is the way it contentiously asserts that litigiousness and political correctness are threatening our safety without devolving into a wild-eyed conservative screed (as if a distaste for either is exclusive to the nutzoid camp).
This was the first all-ages film to directly confront our post-9/11 world, and it doesn't sugarcoat a fucking thing; Elastigirl's stern-faced warning to her children, Violet and Dash, that the bad guys "will kill you if they get the chance" is a bold raising of the stakes that elicited gasps from critics the first time I saw the film. This, Bird believes, is the way it must be. And the only way we'll survive is by aspiring to be better than we are at all times - even if this means leaving other folks in the dust. "If everyone is special, then no one is" may not be as kind-hearted as "You don't have to be a gun", but it's an immensely valuable lesson in its own right - and quite unexpected in this "Everyone gets a medal!" age.
41. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: DIRECTOR'S CUT (d. Ridley Scott, w. William Monahan
If you're judging this film on the theatrical cut, you haven't seen KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. From my 2006 Collider review: "'Triumph' is one way to describe Ridley Scott’s restored cut of Kingdom of Heaven; 'masterpiece' is another. 'Essential', however, nails it best, since the film espouses the importance of conducting oneself in an honorable, practical and compassionate manner that could accurately be described as 'Christian' or 'Muslim', while depicting the misery and destruction that dependably washes up in the wake of fanaticism. [Screenwriter] William Monahan refers to the picture as “good-hearted”, which it is, but this was obscured early in the production by a wildly inaccurate New York Times article that claimed the screenplay depicted Muslims as backwards, bloodthirsty and, generally, evil. Later, upon the film’s theatrical release, a columnist in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon-owned The Washington Times alleged that Kingdom of Heaven was anti-Christian.
Anyone capable of such arriving at such assessments is a fool, and that is why KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is so terribly essential. It is, as Scott says, attempting to heal the wound that tore open when rival Christian and Muslim factions spoiled for war to decide sole ideological possession of Jerusalem – a folly of supreme arrogance that has been the source of so much hatred and bloodshed. Obviously, no one film is ever going to cauterize this wound, but the attempt – which takes historical liberties while remaining true to the spirit of the conflict – could still be shown in schools and churches, and at least inspire a little dialogue, which might eventually lead the way to some kind of rapprochement. Movies of this nature, particularly those developed within the studio system, are in woefully short supply, so when something like as powerful and even-handed as KINGDOM OF HEAVEN comes along, you want to share it with everyone."
40. GHOST WORLD (d. Terry Zwigoff, w. Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes)
A portrait of the misanthrope as a young woman. And maybe that's not fair: plucked from the fertile imagination of comic book artist Daniel Clowes, Thora Birch's Enid has a shot at growing up to become a reasonably tolerable eccentric who views ninety-eight-percent of the world with utter contempt - provided you're in the two-percent camp. And that's one thing I love about Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of Clowes's GHOST WORLD: we all want to think we wouldn't be a total lamer in Enid's withering gaze.
This was Zwigoff's debut as a fiction filmmaker (after dazzling - in the most depressing sense - with the classic documentary CRUMB), and it is a painfully perceptive look into the previously-thought-impenetrable world of above-it-all teenage girls. Enid and her pal Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) judge everything and everyone from afar - largely because (as we can only surmise) they were treated harshly throughout their middle-school years. Now that they're free of the confining, conforming grasp of high school (well, almost; Enid's got a summer art appreciation class to complete), it's time to become free-thinking adults! Except, they're stuck in the same town that bred their misanthropy, so... now, what? The film's final scene is apparently open-ended enough to encourage some critics to view it as faintly upbeat. I see it as Enid escaping into delusion (and a lifetime of profound unhappiness), but what do I know?
39. GOODBYE DRAGON INN (2004, w. & d. Tsai Ming-liang)
From my 2004 AICN review: "Further cementing his status as one of the world’s elite working filmmakers, Tsai Ming-liang’s GOODBYE, DRAGON INN, his follow-up to the brilliant WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?, feels like an in-between picture, but stands on its own as a masterfully controlled requiem for the moviegoing experience (particularly endangered in the director’s bootleg ridden homeland). Decidedly less resonant than his previous picture (owing largely to its subject matter and limited emotional scope), Ming-liang still manages numerous heartbreaking observations on loneliness and growing old (or obsolete), but the general tenor of the piece is surprisingly buoyant. With droll comedic beats suggesting a crossbreeding of Chaplin and Tati, there’s little doubt that this is Ming-liang’s funniest and most entertaining work.
Ming-liang is in such command of his craft that, if this really is the warm up for his next full-blooded effort, it’s scarily impossible to imagine how he’ll top himself. With THE RIVER, THE HOLE, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? and GOODBYE, DRAGON INN, he’s slowly and quietly compiling an artistic winning streak that is currently unrivaled. Not since Coppola split up his GODFATHER saga with THE CONVERSATION has a supposedly minor work been so worthy of major consideration. It’s time for the critical community to stop denying Ming-liang his due just because he’s anathema to most major American foreign distributors, and doesn’t have an ingratiatingly aggressive publicist."
38. CITY OF GOD (d. Frenando Meirelles and Katia Lund, w. Braulio Mantovani)
From my 2003 AICN review: "A visually resplendent piece of pulp filmmaking that is an absolute must-see for anyone who cares about cinema. Spanning three destitute decades in the favela of the title – Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious slum – Fernando Meirelles’s audacious collision of formalist narrative technique and neo-realist aesthetic (making use of primarily non-professional actors) manages the impressive feat of entertainingly depicting a seductive criminal lifestyle without glamorizing it in the least. Nominated as Brazil’s candidate for Best Foreign Film of 2002, the only worry is that CITY OF GOD might be *too* good to win an Oscar. [Beaks note: It was.]
Ultimately, CITY OF GOD is unforgettable precisely because it never allows its high style – split-screens, bullet-cam and all – to overshadow its very real characters, so that we find ourselves despairing and wondering what it will take for one of these kids to make it out of this seedy, sweltering hell. Meirelles and company never once claim to have any substantive answers; they just give us the odds. In one brilliantly executed final shot, Rocket, having witnessed a daylong series of violence, mayhem and atrocities, walks out of the ghetto with a roll full of film that will bring him acclaim and success as a photojournalist, while a group of adolescents pass by, walking cheerfully back into the decrepit urban jungle. Ten to one. Luck."
37. PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006, w. & d. Guillermo del Toro)
Guillermo del Toro crafts a timeless fairy tale out of the misery and violence of the Spanish Civil War. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum astutely compared the film to Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for its evocation of childlike fear; it also plays - aesthetically, at least - like a grand guignol take on Jean Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Anyone familiar with del Toro's previous work will spend most of the film waiting for the tragic ending - which arrives, but not in the way you might expect. There's so much to savor here: the uninhibited storytelling, the lovingly grotesque character design, and the vile Captain Vadim, the sadistic, gash-sewing stepfather of our protagonist, Ofelia. And the wait continues for AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS...
36. UP (2009, d. Pete Docter, w. Docter and Bob Peterson)
Looking more and more miraculous by the day, Pete Docter's UP teams a despondent geriatric with an overweight Wilderness Scout (who's on the verge of crushing unhappiness as he bumbles his way toward young adulthood) and creates a life-affirming experience like none other. How do they do it? Talking dogs. Best goddamn storytellers on the planet.
35. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007, w. & d. Andrew Dominik)
From my Best of 2007 list for CHUD: "Who the hell is Andrew Dominik to think he can follow up the modest, independently produced CHOPPER with a 160-minute western epic? A genius, I guess. Two viewings later, I still can't quantify Dominik's film other than to say that it seems like the work of a artist in complete command of his craft ala Paul Thomas Anderson and BOOGIE NIGHTS - and this is an apt comparison because I'm still not convinced that Anderson's sophomore effort is a masterpiece. That said, it is pure cinema, which is absolutely true of Dominik's film. Roger Deakins cinematography is revelatory, while the Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score is easily the year's best (i.e. it hasn't a chance with the Academy). And then there's the performances. Well, the performance: Casey Affleck. Adjectives fail."
34. KILL BILL (2003/4, w. & d. Quentin Tarantino)
From my 2004 AICN review of VOL. 2: "KILL BILL, VOL. 1 was 111 minutes of frenetically-paced mayhem aimed straight at the pleasure center, and it seemed unlikely that there would be enough time in the concluding chapter to provide the emotional ballast necessary to justify such painstakingly epic effort. For someone who feels that JACKIE BROWN remains the director’s most accomplished work, this was a profound disappointment.
VOL. 2 is all heart; a triumphant march to the Bride’s exacting of “bloody satisfaction” that - because we know she has something to live for after her work is done (i.e. her daughter) - becomes a gallant hymn of liberation. Whereas VOL. 1 is consumed with bottomless, inarticulate fury, VOL. 2 is all stirringly righteous purpose, and it’s got a big ol’ sentimental streak that’s anything but "grindhouse".
VOL. 1 is the shot. VOL. 2 is the chaser. This is a film that will leave you staggering drunk on cinema. Is it a masterpiece? Eh, who the fuck cares. Masterpieces are for pussies."
33. DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY (2005, d. Michel Gondry)
From my 2006 Collider review: “It’s a celebration, bitches." That’s the greeting Dave Chappelle receives upon hitting the rented-out community center serving as the backstage/VIP area for his whimsically assembled block party in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and while he good-naturedly returns the greeting (referring to his infamous portrayal of Rick James on his now-defunct Chappelle’s Show), it’s possible to make out the trace elements of weariness at having given birth to a pop comedic behemoth, the kind that needs to keep being fed with increased frequency until you inevitably get charged with falling the fuck off, at which point the next comedy icon steals away the zeitgeist for his or her year of cross-cultural ubiquity.
... [You] leave the film in a completely euphoric state, feeling not regret for Chappelle’s disappearing act, but hope that this mélange of good music and good times soothes his soul, too. Some artists make their friends and family miserable by selfishly demanding success on their own terms. The best thing about DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY is that it accurately depicts him as a guy sauntering through life in search of spiritual contentment and, if possible, a little social justice. And he’s smart enough to know that, if he can’t live with himself, he won’t come close to finding either.
32. BRICK (2005, w. & d. Rian Johnson)
From my 2006 Collider review: "'Film noir goes to high school' may not be the most auspicious pitch for a movie (conjuring up memories of other grown-up tales recalibrated as post-puberty showcases for teen sex symbols ala CRUEL INTENTIONS), but, somehow, first-time director Rian Johnson combines an affinity for the genre, a solid ear for stylized dialogue, and a born filmmaker’s eye to craft the most deeply affecting exercise in neo-noir since the Coen Brothers’ THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE.
The primary reason Brick is exhilarating from start to finish is that it's original in its application of film noir conventions. True, there may be an element of pandering to Johnson’s selection of genre (cinephiles are suckers for film noir and westerns), but this sucker connects with the rib-cracking force of a flush gut shot. And the high school setting turns out to be his masterstroke: when Philip Marlowe reached the end of a case, he was merely confirming everything he loathed about humanity; the answers Brendan receives in BRICK’s football field denouement come as a shock. Life is shit? Yep. That’ll learn him. That Brendan keeps this disheartening epiphany to himself suggests that he’ll keep fighting regardless. Chandler would be proud."
31. FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009, d. Wes Anderson, w. Anderson and Noah Baumbach)
Wes Anderson retreats to the world of stop-motion animation and emerges with his best film since RUSHMORE. Yes, it's generally the same-old, same-old about aloof fathers and emotionally maladjusted sons, but it's also far more energetic than THE LIFE AQUATIC and THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Anderson has clearly been reinvigorated by this filmmaking process - which, it appears, required him to direct the voice actors while phoning in directions and design adjustments to the animators. I didn't work on the film, so unless the animators did an uncredited pass on Anderson's and Noah Baumbach's script, I don't feel particularly burned that those aren't the director's finger imprints all over Fox and Kylie the opossum. I love this movie all out of proportion. And you wrote a bad song, Petey.
30. GERRY (2002, d. Gus Van Sant, w. Van Sant, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon)
From my 2003 DVD Journal review: "An unexpected masterpiece that was greeted with jeers at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and as a result was barely released (if only the same could be said of former Park City fave Happy, Texas.) That's quite an achievement for a film headlined by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, but after ten minutes it quickly becomes clear why the title sat on the shelf for a year. A tale of two young slacker-like beings named Gerry who get lost in the desert, there is no exposition, little dialogue, and only the quest for water constitutes the "narrative." There is a vague undercurrent of resentment that exists between the two men, but it's never explored to any satisfactory extent; instead, Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides rely on the juxtaposition of the aimless movement of the two characters with the barren, sedentary landscape to draw the viewer's interest.
Thanks to the resourcefulness of Damon and Affleck, there's a vital human gravity that anchors the film and makes it gripping even when it's just the two of them falling in and out of step in a tightly framed two-shot. By not forcing profundity, it actually sneaks up on Van Sant, and turns the film into an unusually thrilling piece of large scale experimentation by an established, commercially-viable director."
29. BAD SANTA - Pasadena Test Screening Cut (2003, d. Terry Zwigoff, w. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra)
From my 2003 AICN review: "It’s a snow globe scene yanked out of the booze-addled imagination of Charles Bukowski; a department store Santa bent over in a back alley by a dumpster, vomiting up an evening’s excessive liquor intake. Thus begins BAD SANTA, a gleefully offensive Christmas film teeming with contempt for the holiday’s crass commercialization and humanity in general.
Solid though Zwigoff and company are, this is really Billy Bob’s show, and his Willie is a perfect mix of misery and fecklessness. It’s a combination we’ve not yet seen from Thornton. I particularly love the way he’s able to subtly alternate his gaze from simply blank and drunken to blank, drunken and dangerously lascivious. Sometimes, before surrendering (far too freely, of course) to his basest carnal desires, he doesn’t even bother to feign interest, like when he’s being hit on by a cute, perky, Santa-obsessed barmaid (Lauren Graham). Apparently, when it falls right into his lap, he can’t be bothered to switch on what limited charm he has (which consists mostly of suffing a $5 winning scratch-off lottery ticket into a stripper’s g-string)."
When Roger Ebert screened Zwigoff's "Director's Cut" of BAD SANTA for his 2007 Overlooked Film Festival, I sent him an email inquiring as to whether this was the cut that tested in Pasadena. Ebert checked with Zwigoff, and he responded that it was probably the closest to his cut that any test audience got to see (which prompted Ebert to print my review in the program for that year's fest). The big difference between Zwigoff's cut and the theatrical cut is that the broad comedy stuff - e.g. the boxing ring scene - has been elided. Zwigoff's initial assemblage was much rougher. And yet I can't help but feel that the "Director's Cut" currently available on DVD still isn't the version I fell in love with back in January of 2003.
28. KISS KISS, BANG BANG (2005, w. & d. Shane Black)
From my Best of 2005 list for Collider: "It doesn’t seem right to label a guy who made millions as one of the highest paid spec screenwriters in Hollywood history “mistreated”, but for Shane Black, this actually was this case artistically. After an interminably long (by this town’s standards) layoff of eight years, Black returned with a new original script that, shock of shocks, didn’t sell for seven figures. The difference is, this time he directed it. And, oh, what a fucking difference.
I was a Black fan prior to this film, but, man, was it hard to make a case for the guy’s talent when all of his scripts were being turned into soulless studio blockbusters by directors emphasizing style over substance (as was the edict of the 1980’s and early 1990’s). Produced by Joel Silver for a scant $15 million, KISS KISS, BANG BANG is obviously the cheapest Shane Black movie ever made, but it’s also a full-blooded ode to film noir that’s self-conscious in a completely disarming manner that’s always eluded Quentin Tarantino. Though Black, via his storytelling surrogate Harry Lockhart (a reinvigorated Robert Downey, Jr.), is constantly addressing the audience, he’s doing it out of a mad desire to entertain. Thankfully, he’s an immensely witty fellow, and, unlike Harry, an ace at narrative. Black’s so good, you forgive him when he cheats by planting a body in a hotel shower practically out of thin air. That’s not the only bit of iffy internal logic, but Chandler drew the same criticisms, and, somehow, he’s endured. Black isn’t on Chandler’s level yet, but now that he’s in full command of his voice as a director – and, by the way, this guy is a born filmmaker – it seems blasphemously possible that Philip Marlowe’s creator may at last have a spiritual successor in L.A. noir."
For the usual reasons (i.e. Hollywood sucks), Black has yet to follow this up.
27. EVERYONE ELSE (2009, w. & d. Maren Ade)
From my 2009 AICN review : Lifetimes are wasted lamenting "What went wrong?" when the cruel, undeniable truth is "You'll never know." And so German writer-director Maren Ade has performed something of a service with her superb second film, EVERYONE ELSE, by presenting in minute, unsparing detail the moments that knock a romance off its axis: this is what it looks like from an objective distance."
Neither a romantic comedy nor a straight-up drama, EVERYONE ELSE plays like the answer to decades of inauthentic examinations of this thing called love. Several critics have compared Ade's film to L'AVVENTURA and VOYAGE TO ITALY (mostly for its fearless flirtations with tedium), but, at least in terms of career restlessness and emotional uncertainty, it actually has more in common with Albert Brooks's MODERN ROMANCE. EVERYONE ELSE meets its characters at a very strange time in their lives. It starts with the first sign of tumult and ends with the kind of nonsensical surrender that allows most relationships to endure beyond that peril-fraught first vacation together. This is the way we connect. This is, stupidly enough, how we survive."
26. WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS (2006, Spike Lee)
From my 2006 review for The DVD Journal: "... [T]he most important American documentary of this horrendously fractious decade - the political jeremiads of Michael Moore and his editorializing ilk, right or left, be forever damned. Beginning with the early warnings of Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 storm — the highest classification possible — while at sea and concluding with an uncertain look forward to the future of the proud city it helped devastate, When the Levees Broke is a phenomenally comprehensive portrait of an event that most Americans are still struggling to understand.
Lee's overall achievement is one of a societal mosaic that particularizes an incomprehensible tragedy while reminding viewers - with an embarrassment of visual and anecdotal evidence - that America is criminally indifferent to the plight of its poorer citizens, and that, in a time of great crisis, it stood idly by as they suffered and died. That it is such a remarkably measured indictment is evidence of Lee's evolving greatness. He is polarizing only because too many of his countrymen don't want to see what's wrong with their country."
Only twenty-five left. I'll get to it soon as I finish bustin' up this here chifforobe.