Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mike's Top Ten Movies of 2009

Welcome to my recap of the ten best films I saw over the last 365 days. In my book 2009 was a fairly decent year for cinema. It didn't quite reach the heights of the much-vaunted 2007, which had a veritable grab bag of cinematic splendor at its disposal, but it was a far better year than 2008 wherein only two of the nine movies I had seen by year's end were worthy of my unequivocal endorsement. This year I managed to see twice as many films and I can safely say that the odds are significantly stronger.

What you will not see on the following list are the big disappointments (Public Enemies, Where the Wild Things Are), the fun but forgettable (Bruno, Coraline) or the super-awesome-yet-regrettably-disqualified-due-to-the-fact-that-they-were-actually-released-somewhere-in-the-world-last-year (Ponyo, Anvil: the Story of Anvil).

With that in mind, read on and get indignant!

#10: Star Trek-

J.J. Abrams' refreshing reboot of the venerable sci-fi franchise was one hell of a fun summer blockbuster. The casting was first-rate, the action scenes bold and distinctive, and the plot, introducing a blackhole-induced alternate timeline, ingenious as a means to allow a new, concurrent storyline to emerge. I didn't love everything about the film, I actually missed the heavy-handed moralizing that permeated the original series as well as the attempts at explaining the outlandish phenomena with cold, hard science. Plus, I wanted more Scotty. But all in all this colorful, optimistic and intelligent approach was exactly what the 40-year-old universe needed.

#9: Whatever Works-

Woody Allen's Whatever Works falls squarely in the middle of the masterpiece I wanted it to be and the trainwreck it most certainly should have been. Casting Larry David as the lead was both a stroke of a genius on Allen's part and a most severe handicap for the film. David is one of the finest comic minds ever (as evidenced by the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm) but he's definitely not an actor (also evidenced by the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm). All in all Larry does a fairly solid job standing in for Zero Mostel for whom the script was originally conceived in the 1970s. The story of a misanthropic scientist who slowly learns to open up and embrace life after taking in a simple Southern runaway is a fine plot for Woody to plaster his jokes onto and for the most part well, it works. I laughed. As usual Allen casts a fantastic group of supporting actors, this time featuring Evan Rachel Wood, Michael McKean and the fabulous Patricia Clarkson.

#8: Adventureland-

Sloppy but sweet. Greg Mottola's coming-of-age tale marks a huge improvement over his last film, the unfunny, incredibly overlong Superbad. Adventureland is the name of a cheap amusement park where James, an intelligent but adrift college graduate played by Jesse Eisenberg, finds employment in the summer of 1987. There he bonds with Joel, an even more overeducated slacker (played perfectly by Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr) and falls for wild child Em (Kristen Stewart). Most every note rings true in this wistful look back to finding one's footing in an uncertain world.

#7: The Princess and the Frog-

What can I say? Despite the heavy corporate hand guiding its every move, The Princess and the Frog won me over. Filled with a strong shot of skepticism during the overly broad first act, I finally succumbed to the film's charms around the time the two nouns in the title became one. A fair share of the credit goes to Randy Newman and his abundance of genre pastiches that pleasantly punctuate the soundtrack. But in all honesty the film cracks my top ten for the jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation alone. One beautiful set piece after another comes hurtling at you, a wash of rich colors and perfect lines. It may not be a perfect film, a masterpiece that ushers in a new renaissance in Disney animation, but The Princess and the Frog is most definitely something to proud of.

#6: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans-

Forget Judd Apatow and Sacha Baron Cohen, for my money the funniest cinematic comedian at present is Werner "Sourpuss" Herzog. His last film, the Antarctica documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, was far and away the funniest film I saw last year, what with its suicidal penguins and goat-riding monkeys. This year Werner significantly upped the ante with a very loose remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 Bad Lieutenant, swapping out Harvey Keitel for Nicolas Cage, and adding a whole lot of hallucinating iguanas. In most every respect the film shouldn't work but time and again Herzog subverts our expectations and takes another left-turn into the increasing madness. The film at times feels like both a mockery of by-the-book crime movies and Herzog's own oeuvre, ominous shots of snakes swimming through rising flood waters are juxtaposed with rants about Swiss cotton underpants. Cage deserves a large share of the credit for committing himself fully to the material as does the supporting cast, particularly Val Kilmer and Brad Dourif. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a gloriously unhinged film, crossing the heretofore uncharted territory between the Wire and Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing Las Vegas.

#5: Up-

After two consecutive years topping my year-end lists, Pixar falls a few notches with their latest, Pete Docter's Up. It is a thankless task following up such contemporary masterpieces as Ratatouille and WALL*E and Up unfortunately cannot escape comparisons to those films. It's not to say that the film is wholly inferior to those works, in fact I think the five-minute wordless "life" sequence at the beginning of the film is the greatest sustained segment in any of Pixar's ten features. Months after seeing the film I catch myself thinking of that section, Michael Giacchino's devastating theme playing in my head, as I see that image of Carl consoling Ellie at the doctor's office and I just start bawling. I'm crying right now as I type this. It is a work of art of the highest order and I enthusiastically applaud Mr. Docter and the folks at Pixar for pulling it off. Unfortunately, like WALL*E did to a lesser degree when the action shifted to the Axiom, the final hour of Up fails to sustain the lofty heights of its first third. I find the journey to South America over too soon, Muntz's reversal unearned, his petty villainy too thin, and the finale of the film to be rushed in its pacing. They're all minor quibbles and in many respects I analyze Pixar films far more than I should, but it's not my fault. They are the ones who raised the bar so incredibly high. Regardless, Up is still the most gorgeous, heartfelt film I saw this year.

#4: Moon-

I can think of very few actors working today who could hold my attention for an hour-and-a-half as they do little more than talk to a themselves and interact with the occasional robot. The great Sam Rockwell is definitely on my shortlist. In Duncan Jones's directorial debut Moon, Mr. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut stranded on our satellite, harvesting energy to be sent back to Earth. Just as his three-year mission is drawing to a close, when he can finally head home to his family and civilization, a whole bunch of crazy shit starts happening. He starts bleeding for no reason, having the occasional blackout, and thinks he sees himself wandering the space station corridors. The film's initial head trip slowly gives way to a moving, thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human. It's a poignant little film with one phenomenal performance at its heart.

#3: A Serious Man-

What do you get when you mix a Yiddish prologue, car crashes, marijuana, death, tornados and the Jefferson Airplane? The answer is A Serious Man, easily the Coen brothers' densest, most idiosyncratic work since 2001's the Man Who Wasn't There. The story of a Jewish physics professor having a crisis of faith in the 1960s manages to be both a bleak, depressing inquiry into the futility of existence and a damn funny film to boot. Michael Stuhlbarg gives one of the year's best performances as Larry Gopnik, a man increasingly aware of the indifference of the world. As usual with Coens, the attention to period detail is flawless, summoning up a Jewish Midwestern home life I swear I had. It is the brothers' most intriguing, beguiling and rewarding film in a decade.

#2: Inglourious Basterds-

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is the cinematic equivalent to Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. Both were long-gestating, much-ballyhooed projects that over their years of speculation and anticipation grew in our collective mind to become almost mythical works. That they both finally saw the light of day in 2009 and succeeded in fulfilling our every expectation is a wonder. Every beat in Basterds is pitch perfect, Tarantino's sense of rhythm has never been sharper. From the taut opening half-hour conversation, to the Mexican stand-off to end all Mexican stand-offs, all the way through to the heartbreaking climax, where three disparate stories come crashing together in a most magnificent fashion, Tarantino is shall I say, on fire here. The game international cast is spectacular, headed by the great Christoph Waltz, whose Hanz Landa is simply one of the most fascinating villains in movie history. I feel sorry for anyone who missed out on seeing this film in the theatre. Home viewing will not suffice for this violent and beautiful beast. Tarantino's love of cinema is far too grand.

#1: The Limits of Control-

Jim Jarmusch's the Limits of Control is ostensibly the story of a reserved hitman on a mission who has a series of conversations over espresso with enigmatic characters. In this regard the film appears to be a reflection on Jarmusch's work over the past decade (hitman = Ghost Dog; mission = Broken Flowers; conversations = Coffee and Cigarettes) but the Limits of Control manages to both delve deeper and go much farther than any of these films. It is less a story of a quiet professional than a chance for Jarmusch to lay his artistic heart bare before us. The film becomes a muted manifesto for the transcendence of art and its uncorrupted, intangible power to move us. Coming from a man most often described as cool and removed, I find the Limits of Control to have a surprising amount of warmth. It feels like a very personal film for the often detached director. Best of all, the disparate pieces at work here all fit together seamlessly. The gentle rhythm of the elliptical vignettes is both hypnotic and stimulating, drawing us into a world of discipline and beauty. Christopher Doyle's sumptuous cinematography is certainly the best of the year and the drone metal score by Japanese band Boris (named after a Melvins song) is gorgeous. And finally, at the center of this wonderful, intelligent film is Isaach De Bankole who cedes most of the dialogue to a stellar supporting cast but never once loses his place at the film's center. His inscrutable face hides a complexity that is teased out ever so slowly to the final frame. No film this year managed to spin so many plates to such an amazing effect. It is a film whose charms one cannot control.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Official Metro Classics Best Movies of the 2000s, Part Two

This is Part Two of our Best of the 2000s list. You can check out Part One here.

36. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, 2006)

Jia's film about a city being demolished in anticipation of its being flooded by the Three Gorges Dam is a study in the dislocating effects of modern capitalism in China (both his protagonists are in town looking for missing loved ones) that nonetheless allows space for magical interruptions in the realism, turning what could be a grim and dull bit of point-making into something romantic and even whimsical.

35. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)

Maddin brings all his silent movie technique and special brand of weirdness to this affectionate documentary portrait of his hometown, a place seemingly weird enough to have produced Guy Maddin. He hires actors to play his family members to recreate scenes from his childhood, and dreams of hockey teams, city hall seances and frozen horses.

34. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom, 2005)

A particularly polarizing film, Michael Winterbottom's mock-adaptation of Laurence Sterne's famously unfilmmable novel was deemed impenetrable and inscrutable by some. I just found it funny as hell. The film stars Steve Coogan at his self-obsessed best and is rounded out with a phenomenal supporting cast including Rob Brydon and Gillian Anderson, the latter who gamely pokes fun at her X-Files stardom.

33. Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, 2008)

A magical mashup of literature, music and animation is this film, in which we learn a fractured version of the Ramayana as told by a hilarious group of shadow puppets who can't agree on how the story goes, cut-outs of traditional images of the main characters, Betty Boop-style images of those characters and vintage 1920s torch songs. Interspersed is squiggle-vision story of the director's own romantic disaster: the film is about how we use and adapt the artifacts of culture to makes sense of and cope with our own lives.

32. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, 2006)

Some of Almodovar's other films this decade garnered more heady critical praise (Talk to Her, Bad Education) but none were as emotionally satisfying as the beautiful Volver. Despite Almodovar's usual heightened and melodramatic soap opera plot, the film resonates on a deeper level, going past the abuse, murder and ghosts to become an exploration on the bonds of family. The film reminds me of my mother. I like that.

31. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2003)

A pathologically shy and obsessive-compulsive librarian with yakuza ties stays at the very messy house of a young Thai girl after each of them has a sibling die in Pen-Ek's dreamily romantic film. There's also a children's book about a gecko.

30. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's sparse short story of two cowboys who, out of desperation and loneliness, turn to one another, was one of the most realistic and heart-breaking love stories of the decade. Heath Ledger gives the best performance of his career as the reticent and conflicted Ennis. This is what he should be remembered for. By the way, remember when fucking Crash beat this out for Best Picture? That is going down in history as one of the biggest mistakes ever committed by the Academy.

29. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2005)

Hou presents three different stories each starring the same two actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen. The first segment is a lush Wong Kar-wai style romance set in the 1960s, the second is set in the 20s and filmed as a silent movie (complete with intertitles, the third is set in the present and is stylistically similar to Hou's own Millennium Mambo. The result is a fascinating look at both the history of Taiwan and of cinematic representations of love. On its own, the first segment may have been the single greatest film of the decade.

28. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Spielberg's most satisfying film of the decade is also his most action-packed and fun. Set in a future where crimes can be foreseen and the perpetrator nabbed before they commit it, the film turns into a huge chase where good guy Tom Cruise runs amok through a fantastically realized world. Spielberg doesn't skimp on the creepy details either, a host of crawling, spider-like droids and a particularly gruesome eyeball surgery coming first to mind. Remember folks, this is also where most of us got our first inkling into the awesomeness of Colin Farrell.

27. House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004)

If Hero was Zhang's version of the martial arts film as moody political allegory, then this is kung fu as full-blown romantic melodrama. The love story even centers on a blind girl! Every bit as lovely as that earlier film, but not as rigidly color-coded, though always more lush and bright and beautiful than anything naturally occurring in the real world, much like stars Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro.

26. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)

The concluding chapter of Wong's trilogy about romance in 1960s Hong Kong follows the aftermath of the love affair that didn't quite happen in In the Mood for Love. We follow the ways Tony Leung's character from that film attempts to get over Maggie Cheung, which in his case involves many other women (an affair with Zhang Ziyi's Golightlyish prostitute-next-door, helping the landlord's daughter (Faye Wong) keep in touch with her Japanese boyfriend, feeling bad for Carina Lau's character from Days of Being Wild) and writing a crazy sci-fi story (complete with dying robots and trippy special effects). His performance here cements Leung's status as the best actor of the decade.

25. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

Barring Tarantino, I can think of no other director whose unabashed love of genre pictures is so immediately at the forefront than Edgar Wright. And nowhere is this affection put to such good use than in his feature debut, the rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. Starring co-writer Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as two hapless slackers trying to find their way in this increasingly-zombie-fied world, they do what they can with what they have, which frankly is very little. The film hits all the right notes, creating believable characters with meaningful relationships who must fight to exist under the most fantastic of situations.

24. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

Ang Lee's lyrical martial arts epic is one of the most gorgeous-looking movies ever committed to film. Lee takes a genre that had become commonplace, transcends its trappings, and in so doing completely subverts our expectations. The film's integration of jaw-dropping action choreography by Yuen Wo Ping is peerless. A stellar cast including Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi carry the film which is basically about a missing sword. Did I happen to mention that it's pretty?

23. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)

Haynes's Bob Dylan biopic is only radical at first glance. Sure, it has six different actors playing six different Dylan surrogates, none of whom exactly match the man himself, and it's told in an ostensibly non-linear manner, jumping from time to time in a seemingly haphazard manner. In fact, the story's extremely straightforward, following the rise and fall plot line familiar from so many other biopics (notably Ray and Walk the Line, which were released around the same time). Haynes's achievement, then, is not a reinvention of the form, but a reinvigoration of it. He puts a shiny coat on a tired genre and makes it watchable again. And there's music, too.

22. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

One of the best romances ever about a couple that never actually becomes a couple. When they realize their spouses are having an affair, neighbors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung resolve to not do the same, despite the fact that they are, like, totally into one another. So instead, they write a kung fu novel. Shot by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bing, it features the best reds of the decade and a killer soundtrack full of Nat King Cole singing in Spanish.

21. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

Timothy Treadwell, the man who spent eleven summers living among the grizzlies in Alaska, was one crazy idiot. Who better to construct a document of his madness and stupidity than Werner Herzog? No one, that's who. Herzog deftly dives into the hours of footage Treadwell filmed over his decade in the wilderness and comes away with a stunning portrait of desperation and delusion punctuated by moments of startling beauty. Treadwell's onscreen optimism could never have been more at war than with the director who, over shots of mountain peaks and verdant valleys, narrates, "I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder."

20. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

Is there a better portrait of 21st Century Man than Punch-Drunk Love? The epitome of underachievement, frustration, anger, miscommunication and confusion are embodied in the shell of a man played superbly by Adam Sandler. He lives a life of relative solitude, selling novelty toilet plungers and calling phone sex lines, until a harmonium and Emily Watson show up, pushing him out of his comfort zone and into the uncertain world of love.

19. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

Another heart-breaking Anderson film misunderstood as a comedy. Though how a film so resolutely about death and loneliness ever came to be seen as something to be measured in LOLs is a bit beyond me. Anderson's attention to detail in the creation of a storybook house in a storybook New York is justly praised, but the emotional depth he's able to wring from the smallest of gestures is remarkable: see an actor generally as vacant as Ben Stiller melt with "I've had a rough year, Dad."

18. King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)

After the overwhelming success that greeted his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was given carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted. He decided to remake 1933's King Kong, one of the most beloved films of all time, incorporating a heavy dose of CGI and Jack Black. He pulled it off like nobody would have expected. This is blockbuster filmmaking of the highest level. Jackson's digital Kong is easily the best CGI character ever created, with a wealth of emotion and expression that comes across in every scene, be it a quiet moment with the perfect Naomi Watts atop a mountain or battling three Tyrannosaurus Rex at once.

17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Charlie Kaufman's dizzyingly dense script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a glorious piece of plate-spinning. It is a non-linear narrative based on a decidedly sci-fi premise full of wit and invention that is married to a deeply personal, honest portrayal of love and loss. Michel Gondry's splendid visual eye meshes perfectly with this fantasy world, while a suitably subdued Jim Carrey and a bubbly Kate Winslet make it all the more real.

16. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)

This story of the IRA and the Irish Civil War is one of the most nuanced, balanced and insightful studies of revolutionary politics ever made. Featuring an outstanding performance by Cillian Murphy (who proves he's much more than just a pair of pretty eyes), Loach's film is also a gripping historical drama about a family, community and nation torn apart by ideas.

15. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2001)

This black-and-white tale of a barber who gets in way over his head after attempting to give his life meaning, is the final masterpiece of the Coen brothers' first renaissance. Billy Bob Thornton is the titular cypher, a reserved man with no visible sign of passion whatsoever. He is Camus's Stranger deposited in Alfred Hitchcock's vision of 1947 Santa Rosa. The events that unfold in the film, which include a get-rich dry cleaning scheme, murder, UFOs and Beethoven piano sonatas, barely make a dent in this man's non-existence. All we are left with is beautiful white light.

14. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

A remake of the solid Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, the Departed was Scorsese's return to crime films after a bout of exploratory epics and his invigorated energy with the material is palpable. The wholly unbelievable tale of double-cross and intrigue amongst Boston cops and criminals is endlessly exhilarating. Stellar performances abound from a scene-stealing Alec Baldwin to Mark Wahlberg's Oscar-nominated turn. One performance that doesn't get the credit that it deserves is that of Jack Nicholson, who was chastised by some for playing mob boss Frank Costello too over-the-top. Malarkey. His performance starts off calm and collected and as the internal tensions ramp up, so does his madness. The juxtaposition of increasing insanity onscreen with the utterly masterful control off, makes the Departed a wonder to behold.

13. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)

My pick for the best film of the decade (though Mike hasn't seen it). Shu Qi plays a young woman drifting through life: she's has a bad boyfriend and a job as a hostess at a bar full of creepy businessmen. It's a kind of slow motion coming of age film, as she gradually takes charge of her life and finds true happiness at a film festival. Hou's camera drifts aimlessly around the scene, but always at the same distance and perpendicular to the action. The effect is mesmerizing, and perfectly matched by the film's techno score.

12. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

Masked as a tale of an international hitman on a mission, Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control is actually a thoughtful treatise on the power and significance of art. Isaach De Bankole's mysterious main character travels across Spain meeting enigmatic individuals who expound on their passions before giving him a clue to further his mission. It is a movie of infinite charms if one can penetrate its cool, detached veneer.

11. Grindhouse/Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, 2007)

Hands down, I have never had more fun at the movies than I did at Grindhouse. In a world of ever-banal "event" movies, this one was truly special, a double feature of lovingly haphazard exploitation films replete with fake trailers and commercials. Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror is fun enough as a ridiculously over-the-top zombie flick, but having zero depth, it doesn't differentiate itself much from the films it emulates. I have no desire to see it again. On the other hand Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof is a goddamn bloody masterpiece. Despite his many detractors who claim that he just steals from other's work, Tarantino is incapable of making anything as faceless as his beloved genre films. His personality and writing prowess are so strong that they cannot help but shift the films into wonderfully new terrain. The stalker story of Stuntman Mike, a perverted killer who murders women with his car, turns into a glorious revenge tale in its second half, where the greatest car chase ever committed to film takes place. When I saw this in the theatre I, along with the rest of the audience, was on the edge of our seats literally screaming at the screen.

10. No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)

It's Tommy Lee Jones's story: he's the old man for whom the case of Moss vs. Chigurh is proof that this is no longer a country for him. It's about violence and stories of violence and how we cope with and try to understand the unfathomable evils in the world. It is not about a guy stealing a bunch of drug money and getting chased by a creepy guy with a comical hair cut.

9. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004)

It starts as a breakneck mashup of action genres (anime, samurai, kung fu, spaghetti western) and ends up somewhere entirely different: a serene meditation on regret, motherhood and mortality. Michael Crowley sees it all as an allegory of Zen enlightenment, and I don't think he's wrong. Even if he is, Tarantino's relentlessly exuberant technique, a powerful performance from Uma Thurman as the bloody revenge-seeking Bride and a pitch perfect score by the RZA are enough to make this one of the very best films of the decade.

8. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

The great thing about Miyazaki's movies is that they're totally weird and crazy but in a completely sincere, honest way. The plots and characters in his films are never forced, they always feel right. I think that's because underneath all of the pig people and alternate realities there is a constant current of human emotion. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the fantasy world little Chihiro finds herself in Spirited Away. Upset that her family is moving to a new town, she enters a place populated with bobble-headed women, dragons and a spirit with no face. Spirited Away is this decade's answer to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Miyazaki follows his own dream logic and we're lucky enough to tag along for the ride.

7. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Tarantino is a cinephile's director (at least a certain generation of cinephile) and no film of his is more in love with cinema than this one, a World War II epic that is essentially nothing more than a half dozen scenes of people sitting at a table being interrogated. And Brad Pitt talking like a mountain man, and Samuel L. Jackson explaining the nature of nitrate film, and Christoph Waltz stealing every scene as a polyglot SS Sherlock Holmes, and Mélanie Laurent as the prettiest movie theatre manager ever seeking her own bloody revenge. Alternately hilarious and thought-provoking, in the end, in Tarantino's world it is film itself that ends up saving us all.

6. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)

Jackson's trilogy is one of the most impressive logistical achievements in film history: a 12 hour epic that faithfully recreates an entire world known and loved by millions of readers that completely failed to spark a geek backlash (despite what they did to Faramir's character, Oh poor Faramir!). And the movies happen to be pretty great on their own merits as well: several fascinating characters, great performances, seamless special effects and brilliant, massive and suspenseful battle sequences. The series is pulp entertainment at its best.

5. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook". But I realize - only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

A wholly uncompromising portrait of ruthless greed, Paul Thomas Anderson's loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's Oil! is one of the most exhilarating films released this decade. A parable of capitalism and evangelism set a century ago, the film mirrors our society today. Its creative strengths are legion, with a phenomenal score, gorgeous cinematography and one hell of a legendary performance at its center, There Will Be Blood boldly demands our attention.

3. WALL*E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

City Lights reborn as a futuristic tale of two robots, set on an abandoned wasteland formerly known as Earth, in a story where almost no dialogue is spoken for the first third?!? There are also unsubtle jabs at consumerism and the infantilizing of society? Oh yeah, and it's animated?!? Are you kidding me? Pixar's WALL*E may be the most audacious, original film made by a major studio ever that actually managed to resonate with the populace at large and make millions of dollars in the process. It's truly a beautiful thing. Did I mention Hello Dolly? Hello Dolly.

2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

Lynch's surreal mode of filmmaking is ideal for a story about Hollywood, the Dream Factory that's founded on people changing their identities. A world run by gangsters and cowboys where everything is recorded and everything is an illusion. Whose dream is it? Naomi Watts is brilliant as both the naive new girl in town who's a shockingly good actress and as a broken down woman, damaged in love are terrorized by nightmare visions of laughing old people. The rest of the cast is great as well, from Ann Miller to Billy Ray Cyrus.

1. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

It's difficult for me to talk or write about the New World. My attempts most often devolve into a string of half-finished sentences punctuated by reverent sighs and frustrated grunts. How does one describe their favorite song? How do you convey that mercurial quality, the intangible sound that never fails to give you goosebumps? You don't for a number of reasons. You would be a fool to try. First of all, any description you try to impart, no matter how enthusiastic, comprehensive or far-reaching, will inevitably come up short. Secondly, you fear that by even trying to analyze that mysterious beauty you will inherently cheapen it, diluting its powerful potency. The New World is that song. Words cannot describe.