With the first unwieldy chunk of the 2000s drawing to a close, it seems fitting (and trendy) to whip up a tight “Best of the Decade” list, to somehow fit a cap on a very eclectic 10 years of unrelenting filmgoing. It would be simple, perhaps expected, to carelessly mash together sections of various best-of lists from throughout the years, forming a lifeless pile of titles once and forever loved to define a decade now known more for its losses than its gains. However, I wanted to offer something that represents the exceptional features that have retained incredible lasting power -- films that still manage to course through my system through both fond memories and repeated viewings. The normal critical urges are relaxed here, with an eye toward titles that still rock the casbah while everything else has faded ever so quietly into the wall of white noise.
The image of the typical cat lady is a portrait of severe mental disturbance, often used comedically like in “The Simpsons,” where Springfield’s unshowered feline connoisseur leaps into action, using kittens as throwing stars as she clears the room with her garbled ranting. Of course, there’s a dark side to this lifestyle, a portrayal offered a brief but harrowing spotlight in the spellbinding documentary “Cat Ladies.”
Having loathed 1999’s “The Boondock Saints,” I was hoping a decade-long absence from filmmaking would somehow magically inject writer/director Troy Duffy with the needed wisdom of hindsight. A hulking shot of perspective to build a better “Boondock.” Taking an eternity to follow-up his cult curiosity and dorm room staple, whatever was meant to pass for Duffy’s filmmaking intuition appears to have calcified long ago, resulting in a turgid, cut-rate sequel that’s surprisingly unable to best the insufferable original. The Saints have finally returned, but their fearless leader is as confused as ever.
When most directors repeat themselves, it’s typically a sign of artistic exhaustion or perhaps unshakable fixation. In Wes Anderson’s case, his visual repetition has become an irresistible thumbprint, and one of the great moviegoing joys I’ve encountered in recent years is the opportunity to watch this supremely gifted filmmaker use his leather-bound imagination to impart varying stories of eccentric outsiders and their enduring emotional wounds, with each film connected by exotic aesthetic degrees of detail-oriented splendor. Now Anderson takes his cinematic language to the hand-woven field of stop-motion animation for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and, yet again, the filmmaker shapes a breathtaking cinematic marvel; he finds a magnificent home nestled firmly in the luxurious textures of the animation, the dancing vocal performances, and delicious wry tone that makes for stunningly fanciful cinema.
Lest I come across like a curmudgeon who despises all things slapstick, I’ll state that “Old Dogs” is poor slapstick. A spastic, noxious comedy, “Old Dogs” is scattershot and out of control, bludgeoning the audience with all sorts of eye-bulging mugging and dire cliché. It’s insufferable and lazily directed, trusting sheer frontal force will be enough to supply laughs. Shot two years ago, the picture has the feel of a movie that’s been reordered and reworked a few dozen times, shaved down to a pure goof-and-sentiment experience that fails both goals. It’s dreadful, but at least Disney’s been kind enough to suggest as much through their disheartening marketing efforts.
“Ninja Assassin” quickly trips over itself trying to establish something substantial out of a frivolous concept. One of the biggest heartbreakers of 2009, the picture is a confused, tedious merging of absurdly overcooked violence and a drab screenplay, sold unconvincingly by director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”). It’s a ninja story for goodness sake, but McTeigue and his writers are on the prowl for something epic, puncturing the potential of the film by taking it all so very seriously.
“The Road” is a bleak and wholeheartedly downbeat motion picture. As a film critic, it’s a challenge to stay away from those gloomy descriptions, for fear of chasing away moviegoers who only desire optimism from their cinema, but the reality of the picture cannot be sugarcoated. It’s the end of the world. There are no heroes, prospects, or tickles. “The Road” is a crushing dose of negative energy, communicated through the laudable guise of a parental protection story. It’s a searing, sporadically beautiful film, but something to tap your toes to? This feature is perhaps the very opposite of a good time.
Robin Wright Penn (though now she’s capped the Penn) has enjoyed a career of weepy, meditative roles that have made fine use of her expressive face and special way with sorrow. Wright’s always been an excellent actress, but she’s seldom offered characters that make the most out of her range. “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” shakes Wright out of her sullen coma, bestowed a juicy role that magnifies her personality and ability to communicate the slow, dreadful burn of remorse. Wright is the miracle this picture needs, helping the material achieve an emotional tempo it wouldn’t otherwise reach without her stellar contribution.
“Mammoth” marks director Lukas Moodysson’s return to secure dramatic ground. Riding off into a black hole of surrealism and shock value with 2004’s “A Hole in My Heart,” “Mammoth” encourages Moodysson’s human curiosity to come out and play once again, this time exploring the unity of life on Earth. Perhaps too esoteric for its own good, “Mammoth” features sensational moments of reaction and deliberation communicated by a gifted cast, building a few symbolic global bridges, more appreciable for their design than their destination.
I stumbled into the world of Jon and Kate Gosselin a few years ago, reluctantly watching their seemingly grotesque family show at the behest of a loved one. I don’t normally gravitate to such placid reality television, but I must admit, I was immediately sucked into the humane antics of this mammoth clan.
It was only a year ago when “Twilight” entered my life. I had no history with the book, held immense reservations with the cast and crew, and found the hysteria surrounding the release obnoxiously manufactured by a desperate studio. And then I watched the film, finding every last one of my fears confirmed. “Twilight” was a dreadful picture on multiple levels, but most pointedly it was a shoddily produced affair entirely dependent on forgiving teen enthusiasm to provide colossal box office returns. Here we are again one year later with “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” and there have been a few changes to the franchise. Changes for the better.
To the average cynic, “The Blind Side” might appear to be infested with cooties. Following an impressive string of feel-good racial divide entertainment offerings, “Blind Side” carries the burden of immediate derision. It turns out the film isn’t the total embarrassment the Warner Brothers marketing folks would have you believe. Instead, the picture is a friendly, tender audience pleaser working broadly to reach out to a wide audience that wouldn’t dare reject a compassionate tale of the affluent and sassy helping out the underprivileged and borderline mute.
For his 17th film, Pedro Almodovar doesn’t exactly break new ground with “Broken Embraces,” instead fine tuning his gifts and decadent cinematic appetites to a satisfying routine. A spiraling, sensual story of noirish obsession and paranoia, “Embraces” is a riveting sit, due to the filmmaker’s incredible storytelling gifts, and the cast, who articulate a dreamy series of toxic encounters with sniper-like precision, tightening Almodovar’s noose with exceptional skill.
After making his mark on the Hollywood action movie scene in 1993, famed director John Woo returns to his Asian cinema roots with the Chinese war epic, “Red Cliff.” Massive in scale, ridiculous with blood-soaked action, and submitting a user-friendly spectacle of warriors and weapons, “Red Cliff” is a majestic motion picture that returns Woo to the sort of whirlwind screen restlessness he built his legendary name upon.
I suppose after the sugar rush of wonderful family films such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the high was bound to crash at some point. “Planet 51” is the party pooper, looking to pass itself off as a spirited sci-fi romp crammed with slapstick and four-quadrant-friendly pop culture references to best wow the crowds. The picture is actually a poorly conceived comedy spotlighting a collection of anal-centric humor that’s about as appealing as baseball bat to the face. After watching a few creative minds take the animation genre to soaring heights, the dreadful routine and vulgar imagination of “Planet 51” is all the more dispiritingly amplified.
Goodness, has it been a year already? On the eve of the release of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” the producers have lined up a new round of merchandise to cash in on the assured hysteria unleashed Friday in movies theaters everywhere.