Since there was some interest in my 2011 movie lists (part one, #10-6 and part two, #5-1) I figured I'd go ahead and make this available for everyone to read.
A couple of prefatory points:
- I don't see that many movies. So if you look at these lists and say "Hey, why isn't such-and-such movie on the list?" it may very well be because I never saw it.
- I'm copying-and-pasting the text straight out of the Facebook notes, as written in late 2009 (films 12-5) and early 2010 (films 4-1).
(as originally posted on Facebook December 2009 - April 2010)
"It seems that the movie writers and critics are busy putting together both year-end and decade-end "Best of" lists these days. While I don't see enough movies for my list to represent anything other than the movies I liked best from the ones I saw during the decade, I thought it would be fun to look back over these ten years and try to build my own list.
It was surprisingly difficult, particularly at the bottom of the list when I was having to pick the last movie or two to "make the cut."
And why 12 instead of 10? Well, that should be clear by the end of the list...
First, two "Top Honorable Mention"s for The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd, two musicals that fell just short of the top 12. The opening five minutes of Phantom would probably end up in a list of my 20 or so favorite scenes from movies, period. Sweeney Todd generally stayed very faithful to the source musical and Depp and others not known for their singing acquitted themselves well.
12) Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
The sequels, while they had their moments, don't approach this first Pirates movie for sheer fun. A movie that, by all rights, should have been a howler (A 2+ hour movie based on a five-minute theme park ride? Seriously?) was instead a joy and made pirates cool again.
11) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J. K. Rowling's magic came to life on the screen for the first time in this film, my favorite of the six Harry Potter movies so far released. The first two movies, directed by Chris Columbus, were stiflingly-faithful to the novels leading to films whose energy was sapped by their length. This movie also benefited from some nice visual touches and Harry's triumphant ride on Buckbeak, the hippogriff -- a scene which is very different from the one in the novel.
10) Lost in Translation
What did Bill Murray's character whisper in her ear? We can only wonder, as this movie about two people adrift in an unfamiliar land comes to an end with dialogue for their ears only. Murray and Scarlett Johannson inhabit their characters fully, and the screenplay stays away from easy pathways and outcomes.
9) Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
"History became legend, legend became myth..." and an epic story became a fantastic set of three movies. Peter Jackson's vision of J. R. R. Tolkien's world is immersive, and the introduction to that world in this film is delightful. While some movies strain to hold interest over 120 or 140 minutes, FotR clocked in at just under three hours in theaters, and nearly three and a half in the extended edition. The effects work, both computer and "traditional" is fantastic, and the actors never give reason for an (unitended) laugh at dwarves, wizards, elves, and hobbits.
8) Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
It would be easy to switch this entry and #9 (Fellowship of the Ring), but I gave Two Towers the nod in part because it works so well despite being a "middle chapter" which has to bridge from the introduction of world and characters in the first movie to the climax and resolution of the third movie. Other high points of this installment are the acting and CGI work needed to create Gollum, the introduction of key characters from Rohan like Theoden, and the Battle of Helm's Deep. On a less-positive note, this installment also has one truly awful green-screen effects scene -- Merry and Pippin and being carried by Treebeard and the effects work is jarringly obvious to me.
7) Inglorious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino is certainly capable of going too far, but his work on Inglorious Basterds is nearly pitch-perfect. (Among his wise decisions for this film was not casting himself in a role. While I've at least liked every one of his directorial efforts which I've watched, his "acting" has frequently been an obvious weak spot in movies like Pulp Fiction. Like a player-manager in baseball who knows when not to call himself in as a pinch-hitter, Tarantino was smart to stay off-screen in IB.) Multiple scenes are set up in such a ways that tension builds with every line of dialogue and scenes which could have gone off the rails (such as the baseball bat scene) are handled just right. Christoph Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa is perfectly evil; it should be no surprise if Waltz gives an acceptance speech on Oscar night in 2010. Regarding his own work, Quentin Tarantino would not be unjustified in echoing the last line of dialogue from the movie.
6) Stranger Than Fiction
I'm not a Will Ferrell fan. There's nothing bad that I can say, though, about his work in Stranger Than Fiction. It must be the projects he chooses that have otherwise unimpressed me, and not his acting skills. Even alongside Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, Ferrell holds his own in this story of a man who discovers one day that he is "just" a character in a writer's story. Maggie Gyllenhaal is also very good in this movie. The plot developments give a whole new dimension to caring about what happens to a "character." I'm a bit of a sucker for movies that deal with characters finding out that the world they've thought they are living in isn't real -- this is an especially good one.
5) Slumdog Millionaire
One of only two Best Picture winners on my list, Slumdog Millionaire was not only the Academy's choice for 2008 but also my favorite movie from that year. The film has a great structure, with flashbacks to show how an uneducated chai wallah (tea server) manages to answer the questions on an Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" with an equally important history of the relationship between the main character and a girl/woman he has known for much of his life. There are many scenes of people out to get what they can for themselves by what ever means possible and scenes of other ugliness; there are also scenes of beauty. The closing credits, an homage to Indian (Bollywood)-style dance scenes are a lot of fun.
My favorite non-fantasy of the decade. An ingenious puzzle of a movie which brought Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, etc.) to prominence.
3) Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
All three of the Lord of the Rings movies made my list. This one was my favorite of the three, though it probably had a bit of an inherent "edge" by being the one to resolve the storylines. Many great scenes, one which comes immediately to mind is the lighting of the beacons.
2) Pan's Labyrinth
A grim but fascinating fantasy with vividly realized (and grotesque) creatures. Director Guillermo del Toro is slated to direct the film version of The Hobbit.
1) Spirited Away
If I'd only watched this movie a single time, there's no way it would have made my list. The first time I watched it, the alien-ness of so much of the action took me aback. Maybe that in itself should knock it from my #1 spot -- can the movie that I call my favorite of the decade be one which I found hard to absorb on a first viewing? It's an interesting question. But this is the movie from the 2000s which I have intentionally gone back to re-watch the most frequently.
Honorable Mentions, in No Particular Order
The Phantom of the Opera
The Dark Knight
Let the Right One In
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Star Wars : Revenge of the Sith
And for anyone who's still reading, a special bonus feature to the bonus Tuesday post. My list (as posted on Facebook 1/2/2011) of my 10 favorite films that I watched for the first time in 2010 (originally released in any year):
1) Winter's Bone
2) Toy Story 3
3) An Education
4) Harry Potter 7.1
5) Mid-August Lunch
6) A History of Violence
7) The Hurt Locker
9) M. Hulot's Holiday
10) Crazy Heart