Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Greatest Movies of the last 20 Years

Mulholland Drive

I've never been that much of a David Lynch fan. My other favorites of his are the rare (semi) normal fare like The Elephant Man and The Straight Story.  But Mulholland Drive has become at this point, his almost unquestioned masterpiece, even over the likes of Blue Velvet.  It is completely deserved.  

It is one of his weird movies.  Which is actually by far the norm, not the exception.  But it is the weird one that seems to justify all the times he swung and missed on a film.  If this is what he was going for, we can forgive him some of the duds.

Now, I can not tell you what Mulholland Drive is about exactly.  It is one of those films that would probably get 50 different answers from 50 different people.  My answer would be, "Yes, I know exactly what its about.  No, I can't put it into words.  Just watch it."  

Inglorious Basterds

The more time passes, the more I have nearly convinced myself that this is Tarantino's finest film.  Pulp Fiction will always have that distinction, but what if this film had been released first?  It is as uniquely fresh and engaging as anything Tarantino has created.  

Previously harsh critic of Tarantino, David Bordwell was astonished by his love of the film.

There is cinema that asks you to empathize with its characters.  Then there is cinema that aims to thrill you with a cascade of vivid moments.  There is "How Green Was My Valley" (1941) and "Citizen Kane" (1941).  I think that Tarantino's films mostly tilt to the vivid-moment pole, seeking to win us through their immediate verve, the way film noir and the musical and the action movie do.

The emotions Tarantino aims for will arise not from character "identification" but from the overall structure and texture of the work.  We are to be stirred, enraptured, astonished by a procession of splendors big and small.  It's the tradition (again) of Eisenstein, particularly in the "Ivan" films, but also of Leone and, in another register, Greenaway. Formal virtuosity isn't necessarily soulless; it can yield aesthetic rapture.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Bansky is the only street/graffiti artist that is a house hold name or close to it. 

This Bansky directed film, about a friend of his (Mr. Brainwash) who almost immediately became as big as he was, by emulating Bansky's style, is one of two documentaries on my list.  But is it exactly a documentary?  The whole thing, from Mr. Brainwash's comedic antics to the fact we never see Mr. Brainwash actually create anything, is all very likely some sort of hoax or joke put on by the two men.  Which in turn would be a great statement on what people value in art, and why they do.  

One example:  Mr Brainwash was almost a literal overnight sensation.  Madonna had him start designing her album covers.

What Bansky has created is either a deep philosophical look at the art world.  Or just a bunch of fun nonsense.  Most likely, it is both. Certainly, he has achieved a highly entertaining movie. 

The Act of Killing

The second documentary on my list is far more serious, and yet feels no less absurd.  

The Act of Killing documents past perpetrators of heinous war crimes, who now are more than happy to tell the filmmakers what they did.  Even re-enact things for the movie.

We also see them acting loving to their children and grandchildren.  Or going into a "cha cha" dance right after demonstrating how to kill people with as little amounts of blood as possible.  The contrast is striking.  Leading up to one of the best and most profound endings to a film I have seen.  

The Tree of Life

Lost in Translation

I was just talking with a friend about many 80's comedies that are beloved, that neither one of us can really pinpoint as to why.  Ghostbusters. Stripes.  Meatballs.  Caddyshack. Mediocre films at best, that are held in such high regard.

The only thing I can figure is, Bill Murray elevates mediocre movies.  He has been doing it his entire career.  

So when the (all too seldom) occasion arises that a filmmaker wants to give him a movie worth his talent, that can form something truly special.  

Sofia Coppola wrote Lost in Translation specifically for Murray.  And she was not even sure the actor without an agent would show up for filming until the very moment he did. 

What they created was a movie that is just beautiful in its honest emotions.  Murray says it is his favorite film he has ever been in.  The quality of his movies has increased since (thank you Wes Anderson and others).  But the nexus of his entire career was captured in this simple, low budget masterpiece.  

What if one of the most important relationships of your life, lasted only a week?  


Similar in theme to Lost in Translation.  Once is the story of two people finding each other, and how powerful the two right people can be in making each other better.  

Director John Carney recently insulted the acting of his leading lady, Keira Knightley, in his film Begin Again.  In Once, he famously cast two non-actors in the lead roles.  Irish musician and childhood friend Glen Hansard, agreed to write the music.  Then when the lead actor fell through, Carney insisted Hansard play the lead himself.  Hansard suggested Marketa Irglova for the female lead; a young Czech musician whom Hansard had grown fond of through a strong friendship with her father.    

What this wrought for Carney was a chemistry that not even the talents of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly could match in Carney's follow up.  Hansard also just happens to have charisma to spare.  Maybe this is why he went back to non-actors for his latest film.

The result was an Oscar for Hansard and Irglova (Best Original Song) two albums together on top of the soundtrack, a tour and a fairly lengthy real life romantic relationship.  And a Broadway play in which they got musical credits.  For Carney, previously a director of no renown, a career to make any film he wants.  Not a bad gig if you can swing it.   

Oh and it also has a lovely Lost in Translation-esque piece of dialogue, that no one ever talks about.  Shot for nothing with friends as the actors and no real plot.  The result is magic.  If only it always felt so easy.  

The Thin Red Line

A Simple Plan

Director Sam Raimi does not get quite enough credit for his skills, outside of Evil Dead or Spiderman fanboys.  A Simple Plan is his best film.  A morality tale that I see now in moments of tv shows; Bloodline and Breaking Bad.

We'd like to think we would always make the moral decision. 

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia

 Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

I'm still upset Michael Keaton did not get the Oscar for Birdman.  Gary Oldman was equally robbed.  One of our very best actors got his first ever nomination in this smart and expertly made movie. 

The One I Love

Just fun and original.  This is what "sci fi" should be more often. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If I was 14 when this movie came out, I'd probably have seen it about 20 times.  Looking at it now you can see how ridiculous teenagers act about everything.  How important the now seemingly silliest things are.  But at the time when our emotions are at peak levels, these things matter more than anything imaginable.     


The best 80's, Michael Mann directed movie ever made, that was not made in the 80's or directed by Michael Mann.  

 Man Push Cart

Director Ramin Bahrini is from Winsten-Salem, NC and it makes me proud that I live near where he grew up.  Any one of his first three films; Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, or Goodbye Solo, is worthy and a highly impressive run of films.  

Today I'm feeling this one.  The one that started it all.  I prefer the NC set Goodbye Solo, but Bahrini asked Roger Ebert to watch his debut movie (Man Push Cart) when he met him in line one day. Ebert did, gave it a glowing review and a career was born.  One in which every time a new Bahrini film is released, it has the potential to be a masterpiece.  

Ship of Theseus

Film critic Jugu Abraham turned me on to this film and I am very grateful.  It is a monster. Just fantastic movie-making.  

The Hunt

Another fantastic foreign film, that makes you want to search out nothing but foreign films. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal TV Series) is outstanding.  American critics should have found a way to get him an Oscar nomination.  

Sometimes whether a crime actually happened is not what matters.  


Another performance that should have gotten an Oscar nomination was Tom Hardy for Locke. Save the first scene he is the only person we see in the entire movie.  For an hour and a half, inside his car, talking.  A mediocre actor couldn't pull this off.  Hardy proves he is well up to the task.  

Ex Machina

My favorite film of 2015.  The three main actors should have careers for decades.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Easily my favorite film of 2014.  If I was a director I would put Amy Ryan in everything.


Kill Bill

I tried not to include this film, and yet there is nothing I have found that gives me more joy in re-watching, for the sheer fun of it.

I argue its a bit deeper than it gets credit for.  But yeah, its just a lot of fun, really.

The Apostle

Maybe Robert Duvall only has one great film in him as a director.  But wow, what a film.  

No Country For Old Men

A movie that is so perfect in every moment, that somehow that actually turned into a criticism. The Coen Brothers almost always make good movies.  But sometimes they make phenomenal ones.

This was my pick for best film of it's decade, and I still stand by that choice.  

Babe: Pig In The City

Critic Gene Siskel's final top ten list, made shortly before he died, contained two movies on this list. The Thin Red Line as his #2 choice.  And his number one pick of 1998 was Babe:  Pig in the City.

This caused snickering, that a dying man would choose the film as his final "best" movie. I would merely switch his #1 and #2.  Otherwise, the man was spot on.

This has to be one of the most criminally underappreciated family films ever made. Superior to the original in nearly every way, Pig in the City is joyous to watch in its art direction and animal/voice performances.


Hanke's best film I have heard is being remade by Scorsese.  Not even Scorsese can better this movie.  

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The Witch

Buy a goat 


Pan’s Labyrinth

In The Bedroom

The entire film is summed up in this boat scene.

Marisa Tomei proved she is easily an Oscar caliber actress, no matter what anyone
wants to say about her win for My Cousin Vinny 

We Need to Talk About Kevin 



Two films by Lynne Ramsay that prove she is a force of nature.  She needs to get another film out soon.  

The Passion of the Christ

One could make the argument this film was as influential as any made in the last 20 years. Beyond any controversy, one thing gets lost.  Is it any good?

I think it is an outstanding bit of film-making, top to bottom.  I hope one day more people focus on that.       


A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

The new Tarantino?  At least one critic has said so.  If filming a familiar genre in a fresh way is what that means, then Ana Lily Amirpour might qualify.  Of course she also feels like an artist who is uniquely her own.

Hopefully in a few years people will be asking who the next Amirpour might be.  

The Place Beyond The Pines

No actor of Ryan Gosling's current stature enjoys taking more risks than he does.  He scored with Cianfrance's Blue Valentine and again in his The Place Beyond The Pines. Lars and the Real Girl was not exactly conventional, and earned him an Oscar nomination.  He missed badly with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn's follow up, Only God Forgives.  Also his directorial debut (Lost River) was largely panned.  But no one could say he played it safe. 

Up soon will be the next Terrence Malick movie.  These are not the kinds of movies or roles, most fans of The Notebook will rush to see.  

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage and even Johnny Depp were the actors taking these types of risks.  Let us all say a prayer Ryan Gosling keeps up his desire for original films as long as possible.