20 Fave Films From Last 17 Years, Part Deux

My mom intelligently asked me what my favorite movies have to do with the Clippers.  I tried to explain that the Clippers used to be in San Diego and were obviously named after those namesake ships which used to be made of “wood.”  And then since Clippers starts with a “C” which rhymes with “G” which is the letter next to “H” which makes me think of “Holly” we clearly get “Hollywood.”  Plus, after all, now the team plays in the shadow (sunlight?) of Hollywood.  So plain as day it’s all clearly connected, right?  No, she didn’t buy it.  She did however tell me that when she was at the U.S. Open the other day, they interviewed Bryan James (that’s mom-speak for “Baron Davis”) and he was excited to play with “that rookie.”  So there ya go, that’s yer Clip snippet for the day.  Now back to the highly relevant second half of my list o’ top 20 films from the last 17 years.  Continuing on, in alphabetical order:

Shallow Grave – Most prefer Danny Boyle’s second film, “Trainspotting,” not me.  I love this debut of his (which introduced Ewan McGregor to America too).  It starts out feeling like a comedy.  Slowly events tumble out of control until we’re trapped in a dark thriller.  Three best friends don’t just no longer trust each other, they’re scared as hell.  Wait, that sounds like a horror film.  It ain’t.  It’s a darn fun thriller that everyone will love.  Even left-handed people.

Six Degrees Of Separation – I loved the play, and the movie’s just as good.  This was the first time Will Smith let the world know that he was more than just the Fresh Prince and actually had some acting chops.  However, the one who really owns the film is Stockard Channing (for you younger viewers, President Bartlett’s wife in “West Wing,” but for us older people she’ll always be Rizzo from “Grease”).  Oh, and Donald Sutherland is great too.  As to be expected for a film adapted from a play, it’s very verbal (although director Fred Schepsi does a great job of visually expanding the play so it moves out into the world).  Oh, and for fans of J.J. Abrahms (creator of “Alias” and the new “Star Trek” amongst many other things), he has a small role as a college kid who rails out his dad for being so embarrassing.

Sixth Sense – The film is so engaging that even without the twist it’d still be a really good film.  The twist though puts it over the top.  I also love how M. Night went against the trend of adding suspense by cutting faster.  Instead he’s confident enough in his abilities to have slow, long lingering shots that build tension better than any of the music video/commercial directors that were becoming feature directors at the time.

Smoke – Another talky one, but if your characters are gonna have as great dialogue as this, then let ‘em go.  Forrest Whittaker is sublime (he chooses such interesting complex roles as an actor — why does he pick such simplistic dreck as a director?).  There are fun cameos by various people, and with nice performances from William Hurt, Harvey Keitel (particularly since at this point he was always playing such sick sadistic guys), and a young teenage Harold Perineau (now perhaps best known as Walt’s dad on “Lost”).  Another film that makes me feel like I’m reading a book ‘cuz it even has chapter headings and is written by the great novelist Paul Auster.  The companion piece, “Blue In The Face,” that Auster, director Wayne Wang, and a slew of actors improvised and threw together with leftover money from this is also pretty impressive.

The Sweet Hereafter – devastatingly quiet subtle film about a town trying to cope after tragedy tears it apart.  A lawyer, avoiding his own problems, comes to town to help the injured create someone to blame, forcing people to confront the awful reality of what’s happened.  Told in a non-linear fashion, this is an onion slowly pulling the layers away as you find out what happened.  Hmm, seeing how many non-linear flicks I’ve got on this list, clearly that must be a way to my heart.  Maybe next time y’all see me or write to me, if you start out with “bye” and end with “hi,” I’ll be putty in yer hands.

12 Monkeys – What a surprise: another non-linear flick.  Director Terry Gilliam has done many brilliant films (like “Brazil” and “Time Bandits”), but sometimes his movies are into funky fantasy visuals for the sake of ‘em.  He can be a bit self-indulgent, resulting in movies that feel slightly long, despite the enjoyable ride.  “12 Monkeys” has none of those faults and runs as smooth as a clock watch.  Yes, Brad Pitt’s performance is a bit too mannered, but after a bit you accept it and move on.  Between this, “Sixth Sense” & “Pulp Fiction” Bruce Willis established that he could be a subtler, thinking man’s hero who was a million miles away from his earlier schticky performances in “Die Hard” (a brilliant flick) and “Hudson Hawk” (a not-so brilliant vanity project).  Everyone from my generation has seen this, but for you young kids who’ve never had a shot, go get it now.  We’ll wait.  It’s fun, cool, sci-fi that can be enjoyed on the surface level, or afterwards you can ruminate on the meaning of fate and destiny.

The Usual Suspects – Again, everyone my generation’s seen this, so this is for the kiddies who’ve missed out on this fun, intelligent… here it comes again… non-linear, masterpiece.  Like with “The Sixth Sense” what makes the twist so exciting is that we don’t even realize what question we should be asking.  We’re so busy wondering if Keaton lied & played Verbal for a fool that we don’t realize we should be wondering about something else.  Most films with twists, like say a murder mystery, just have it turn out to be a different killer than we thought, but we knew there was a killer and we figured there’d be a twist, so no matter how clever it is, we can’t get too amazed.  However twists like in “Usual Suspects” and “Sixth Sense” surprise you like a little kid pimp-slapping you, making you want to re-examine said film (or kid) because you realize there was a whole other level you missed.

What Happened Was… – If you’ve seen this, I’m impressed.  Hell, if you’ve even heard of it, wow.  I don’t think it’s even on DVD, so if you wanna watch it you’ll probably have to get an old VHS off eBay.  Or wait until the IFC or Sundance channel show it.  Why do I like it?  No, it ain’t non-linear.  In fact, it’s about as linear as you can get.  It’s just a first date between two people, from beginning to end, in one location.  This is a fascinating examination of character and power dynamics.  As these two co-workers slowly reveal themselves to each other, we realize that the surfaces they show have nothing to do with the reality of their internal beliefs and strengths.  Yeah, if you don’t like slow indie films, stay away.  For those who do love ‘em, this is catnip.

You Can Count On Me – This is exhibit#43A as proof that Laura Linney is one of the most amazing actors working today.  The film is written and directed by the brilliant playwright Kenneth Lonergan (who also has a cameo in the film as the town priest).  This was one of Mark Ruffalo’s first pics and he’s equally brilliant as Linney’s troubled brother.  Another slow indie film that examines the complexity of relationships, but this time between a brother and a sister.  There ain’t many of those.  And maybe since I’ve got a sister that’s part of the reason I’m a sucker for this film.  These are real people.  Linney may be the practical older sister responsibly bringing up a child on her own (played by one of them Culkin kids), but she’s far from a perfect being.  Likewise, Ruffalo, a selfish screw-up, has a genuine humanity and goodness to him.  And since this isn’t some Hollywood dreck, he thankfully isn’t redeemed in the end.  He doesn’t turn out to have a heart of gold and end up saving everyone from some random calamity.  At the end, if these characters have changed at all, they’ve changed maybe two degrees.  That’s what makes it real.  And quietly heartbreaking.

Your Friends & Neighbors – A nice companion to “Happiness”, this is dark comedy at its best.  Neil LaBute is brilliant at exposing the disgusting side of humanity.  No, I don’t mean there are scenes full of snot and defecation.  We’re talking liars, cheaters, chauvinists.  In other words vile people who are terrifying precisely because they actually exist in the real world.  This is a movie that even though it has no violence and almost no nudity, was originally gonna be rated NC-17, but after an appeal they reduced it to R.  …Um, wait, I did make sure to say it was really funny, right?

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