Monday, December 28, 2009

Joe's Decade in Review: Genre Cinema All-Out Attack!

Like many others, this decade in cinema has been one of joyous highs and and dreadful lows.   While traditional fare continued on pretty much as it always had, the big-budget spectacle became a beast like no other.  Many of this decade's high-rollers were inexplicably critic-proof; no amount of negative press kept films like Transformers 2 from raking in all the money in the known universe.  Sure, some critical darlings have raked in the big bucks, but more than ever the gulf between the critic and the audience is distressingly wide. 

For better or worse, we soldier on into a new decade of cinematic surprises.  There will be inevitable excesses, as filmmakers like Matthew Vaughn, Quentin Tarantino and Rian Johnson will continue to deconstruct popular genres and blur the line between the sublime and the ridiculous.  There will be bigger and better explosions as the summer blockbuster train rolls on, so long as there's material to adapt and dollars to spend.  And there will be files; terabytes and terabytes of files.  Digital media will continue to change the way we watch movies, though it'll be a slow transition.

I could play Nostradamus from here to Doomsday, so for brevity's sake I'll leave you with these, a pair of lists.  First, my favorite movie from each year; not exactly a top ten.  I made an entire Top 100 list, and the ordering there is quite different (To see my full list, coming soon, visit my other blog here).  Then, five that I just absolutely hated.  Enjoy.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)  -  Joel and Ethan Coen have a knack for making the antiquated and mundane seem fresh and exciting, and their ode to The Odyssey (never read it, my ass) is among their most entertaining.  George Clooney is brilliant, as is the faded color palette and folksy soundtrack.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)  -  Wes Anderson's spent the past eight years trying to recreate the visual poetry of his third film, and for good reason; it's still his best.  The ensemble cast plays beautifully off one another, and the visual design is just a fantastic.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) - The whole thing is great, but if I had to pick one, it'd be The Two Towers.  There's a palpable sense of despair that the other two simply don't have, and even though Aragorn going over a cliff is the single most idiotic turn of the whole trilogy, Jackson makes up for it by having the battle at Helms Deep be one of the greatest things ever put to film.

Big Fish (2003)  -  Tim Burton's fanbase will tear me to shreds, but I don't care.  This is his best movie.  It's an ode to nostalgia, but an even bigger ode to storytelling, to embellishing the truth for the sake of entertainment.  It's probably the best film Terry Gilliam never made.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)  -  For a debut feature, Edgar Wright's zombie film is remarkably nimble in storytelling, and at the same time densely intricate in its construction.   That it's a sly comment on cultural complacency is really what sets it head and shoulders above every zombie film since (even Romero's).

Serenity (2005)  -  Almost five years on, the fanboyish fervor has worn off and I've been able to watch Serenity with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  Yup, it's still the best space opera since The Empire Strikes Back, and every bit as inventive, goofy, and thrilling as you remember.

Stranger than Fiction (2006)  -  Another film about the intricacies of storytelling, this one more obsessed with the telling than what's being told.  Will Ferrell's performance is equal parts pathetic and charming, and it's the best he's ever been. This is one I'm sure won't wind up on many Best-Of lists, largely because most see it as a poor-man's Adaptation.

Ratatouille (2007)  -  Outside of Toy Story, which lives on it's own little pedestal, this is my pick for Pixar's best film.  In typical fashion, Brad Bird pushes his animators to the limit, telling a story that's as rich in plot as it is in beautifully rendered scenery.  Much like Remy's food, this is one to savor one little bit at a time.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2008)  -  Here's another film about obsession over the mundane.  What starts as an examination of competitive video gaming slowly becomes nothing less than the best sports movie of the decade.  Think I'm crazy?  Watch it and see if you aren't cheering for Steve Weibe to kick Billy Mitchell's ass at Donkey Kong.

The Brothers Bloom (2009)  - Most of you never saw this, because it only played in a couple hundred theaters, so when it hits DVD (if it hasn't already), go find it.  Nine times out of ten, I hate caper movies, but Rian Johnson's goes so far out of his way to make this the Ulysses of caper films that it won me over in spite of myself.

And because I can't leave it at just ten: Unbreakable, Snatch, Road to Perdition, Oldboy, The Incredibles, Grizzly Man, Pan's Labyrinth, No Country For Old Men, Iron Man, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Now, five things I hated this decade...

...You know what?  Throw a rock at a horror film or sex comedy and I probably hated it.  Also: remake fever, Star Trek, Will Ferrell (Stranger than Fiction notwithstanding), vampires, Hancock, "____ Movie"s, any Part III that wasn't Star Wars, postmodern fantasy and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Good riddance.


  1. I can't see your full list on the other blog... Did you not post it yet?