On the network’s main page there was supposed to be (& may eventually be?) a post where several of us FanSided bloggers each list our top 20 films of the last 17 years. Why 17 you ask? Because the list was put together in honor of something Quentin Tarantino did to promote the release of his newest flick, “Inglourious Basterds.” For the LA Weekly, he picked his 20 fave films created since his first film, “Reservoir Dogs,” came out in 1992. Or in other words, top films that’ve come out since he himself became a filmmaker. From his contemporaries if you will. Or even if you won’t.
For our list on FanSided I wasted spent an inordinate amount of time scanning films from the last 17 years. Finally, after much hemming and hawing and heeing I came up with my 20. Which are on the FanSided page. But looking over my list of all the films I had to cut, it amazed me how many wonderful films have come out during that time. Like many people, who yes, often sound like old fogies, I always feel like there ain’t as many high quality films as there used ta be. Don’t get me wrong, I love me my popcorn films, and personally I think special effects and technological advances have made those better’n ever (see “Matrix, The”). But with the emphasis on those big tent-pole blockbusters, plus the ever-increasing budgets for a Hollywood film, it literally doesn’t make much fiscal sense for LaLa Land to put out interesting, mid-priced intelligent films. Also, how many times in last ten years or so have you seen the list of films nominated for Best Picture and at least a few (if not all) of them you didn’t think were so hot. However, when I looked at my initial list of potential top 20 films, I had nearly 160 of ‘em! So much for my theory of modern-smart-movies-are-rarer-than-talking-kanagroo-movies. That being said, my list does feature many foreign films and indie films, so maybe my concern about the smart Hollywood film is grounded.
Anyway, having wasted spent all that time on creating that list, I figured it was a shame to keep it to myself. Also, when we did the post for FanSided, we weren’t allowed to write why we liked the film, just give The Man a list. Me, I like to write why, to explain, to analyze. And as far as top movies or talking about whether you like a film or not, to me it seems you need to be clear about where you, the critic, is coming from. Like if I read a New York Times review that’s critical about a mindless action film or broad comedy, I know that those types o’ things aren’t as much their cup o’ tea as more “serious” fare. If anything I’m surprised when they actually do like a Will Farrell film. Point being, if I’mna give you a list of interesting movies to check out, I wanna make sure that you know what you’re in for. So if I tell you it’s a great slow, artsy-fartsy movie and you hate slow artsy-fartsy movies, you can skip it. Or if you find dumb comedies to be, well, dumb, then you won’t Netflix some dumb comedy I love and then think, “last time I listen to that loser.”
Since my intro has already proven to be much, much, much, much, much longer than I expected, I’ve decided not to put the whole list here. Also, if people do actually wanna check out some movies on the list, I figure it’ll be less overwhelming to throw ‘em all at you at once. So this’ll be a new semi-regular piece: 20 From The Last 17. Some will be big things everyone knows. Some’ll be indies that if you’re a film fan you’ll know. But hopefully there’ll be at least 1 film each time that even the film geeks haven’t seen yet. Oh, and there’ll be no particular order as to what films are listed what week. Except that for this first installment I’mna have The Top 20. The ones listed in the post. But with my reasons/explanations. Listed alphabetically. …Um, and since this took longer than expected, only the first 10 will be posted today.
American Beauty – I saw an early screening of this before all the hoopla, and I was blown away. Some people hate voice-over, but I love it. Makes me feel like I’m reading a book, but without actually having to read a book. The mixture of darkness, comedy and a genuine look into the stasis of life. The cinematography is amazing, the cast flawless. Every time I watch it I always get choked up by the moment when Wes Bentley, aka Ricky Fitts, who’s seemed so confident and comfortable with his world, gets hit by his father, the brilliant Chris Cooper, and all Ricky does in response is ask his father to please not give up on him.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – I like Charlie Kaufman’s stuff, but sometimes to be honest I feel like he makes weird stuff up just to get a cheap laugh. In being John Malkovich, yeah, the concept of a 7th and a half floor is darn funny, but what’s the significance, what does that mean, what’s the point? Likewise he sometimes gets a bit too into an intellectual idea rather than going for genuine emotional moments (like in “Adaptation” where he’s told that the only way to have a successful film is to have villains and a big chase scene, so in a nod/wink to that, the end of “Adaptation” devolves into the brothers being chased by drug dealers). All of which goes to say, this is his first perfect film. The humorous oddities are all solidly connected in an emotional way to the plot. Jim Carey gives a surprisingly nice low-key performance, while Kate Winslet plays the Jim-Carey-role of the manic who’s all over the place. I fell in love with her six or seven times while watching it, and yeah, you could erase my mind as much as you want but I’d still keep coming back to her too.
Happiness – dark comedy that’s damn funny. If you find dark stuff funny. But it’s also damn bold. It shows a pedophile as a real complicated human with a family. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a pathetic shlub who makes crank sex calls to get himself off, and we’re somehow not only repulsed and amused, but more miraculously, we kinda root for him to find contentment.
Hoop Dreams – When I hear the words 3 ½ hour documentary, I start running. “Hoop Dreams” however is a doc that has more surprise twists and turns than most fictional movies. You don’t need to like basketball or even know anything about it to love this story of 2 teenage basketball prodigies who dream of making it to the NBA. You will however need a watch ‘cuz you won’t believe that 3.5 hours flew by without you realizing that much time passed.
Ice Storm – In one of Tobey Maguire’s earliest appearances, the boy who would be Spidey, actually reads a comic about Marvel superheroes. Alas, it’s the Fantastic Four instead of your Friendly Neighborhood Wed-Slinger, but that’s the only problem with this film. This subtle but wonderful film by the incredibly versatile Ang Lee shows the cracks beneath the surface of 70’s suburbia. Everyone felt they were all free and open, but the truth is the time period was every bit as stifling as the 50s in its own way.
Lone Star – between “American Beauty” and referring to “Adaptation” this will be my third film here featuring Chris Cooper. Do I get kickbacks from him? Do I have a man-crush on him? No, but he may be one of the best underrated actors in Hollywood. Speaking of underrated, most youngsters today don’t know that original indie genius John Sayles. The man pimps out his skills as a writer for mainstream shlock like “Piranha” so that he can then finance his own passion projects. This might be his best (also you sports fans should check out his moving “Eight Men Out” about the 1918 Chicago Black Sox). In this before-he-was-famous role, Matthew McConaghy seemed poised to have a brilliant career. Too bad, huh? For those who don’t like their films too long, talky or slow, this ain’t for you. For the rest of us, “Lone Star” thematically deals with everything: racism, family dynamics, and how we define ourselves. Plus it’s a mystery that jumps back and forth in time.
Matrix – I’m with Tarantino in thinking that the sequels have tainted my feelings towards the original. It was like the “Phantom Menace” came out, ruining the near-perfect legacy of “Star Wars.” Or how we’d view Eddy Murphy as a brilliant Lenny Bruce-level comedian if he’d died after “48 Hrs,” “Trading Places” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” Hard to believe the same guy did “Daddy Day Care” and “Norbert.” Yes, I haven’t really written anything about “The Matrix” here, but c’mon, the whole universe has already seen it.
Memento – Brilliantly executed dark mystery where the non-linear structure wasn’t randomly thrown in just to look cool (see “Fiction, Pulp”) or simply to create suspense (see many things, like say “Star, Lone”). Instead this unique structure enabled you to live life like the lead character. Each day he woke up not remembering what had happened the day before, so this film starts in the present and moves backwards so that we also enter each scene not knowing what’s happened previously either.
Reservoir Dogs – I actually like it more than “Pulp Fiction,” but I’m usually alone in that one. As mentioned above, I felt like the non-linear style of “Pulp” was a bit forced. It had great scenes, but it didn’t all come together for me the way Q’s first film here did. The film basically has one location, but it works, creating almost a ***PRETENTIOUS COMMENT ALERT*** “Waiting For Godot” feel where our main characters are not only stranded here but waiting for some answer from the outside world to come in and solve everything.
Rounders – This movie seriously is responsible for the huge poker craze. Again I love Voiceover, and this one uses it perfectly. Ed Norton and John Malkovich steal their scenes, but the big accomplishment is, c’mon, who would’ve thought a poker movie could be so suspenseful? What’s next, a thriller based on Monopoly? (Sad side note: there actually IS a Monopoly film in development, although I doubt/hope it’s not a thriller. Hell, I hope it never gets made — are we really that creatively bankrupt that we’re making movies after board games? If it succeeds soon we’ll have “Connect Four: The Comedy: Pretty Sneaky Sis”).