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The Best Movies of the Decade (Part I)

December 15th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

Roger Ebert once said, “I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie.” To make a great movie is an even bigger miracle. While the ‘00s may have been the decade of Bush, war and Hollywood remakes, we still have blessings to count. Here are 50 of them.

50. Frailty (year of release: 2001, director: Bill Paxton)

Bill Paxton directed and starred in this harrowing, sick-comic horror movie about an ordinary man who receives a message from God, commanding him to kill demons. Has he snapped, or is he simply doing the Lord’s work? Brent Hanley’s brilliant screenplay kept me guessing until the very end. My only complaint is that the movie should have been called GOD’S HANDS.

49. Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)

As separately sold DVDs, PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF might not be so sweet they make sugar taste just like salt. But back in the spring of ‘07, when they were spliced together in an orgiastic 3-hour theatrical cut (along with a handful of fake exploitation trailers), these two sensationally directed horror movies had more action, gore, hilarity and sex appeal than you could possibly hope for. This was easily the decade’s most entertaining night at the movies.

48. Jimmy and Judy (2006, Randall Rubin & Jon Schroder)

NATURAL BORN KILLERS for the YouTube generation. Two young lovers go on a killing spree, recording their exploits on digital video. We never see anything except the footage they shoot, and the effect has an unsettling, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away-from-the-screen immediacy. Another amazing performance by Edward Furlong, who’s had quite a career when you think about it: TERMINATOR 2, LITTLE ODESSA, PECKER, AMERICAN HISTORY X, DETROIT ROCK CITY, ANIMAL FACTORY and now this.

47. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s lovingly handcrafted family film feels like an instant classic, a twenty-first century “Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Holy cuss, it’s good!

46. Wet Hot American Summer (2001, David Wain)

Funnier than BORAT, ANCHORMAN and BEST IN SHOW combined. Okay, maybe not. But still very, very funny.

45. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

An electrifying mix of sight and sound. Nick Cave’s music, Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Hugh Ross’ narration combined to create a hauntingly evocative Western like no other. In a superb, Oscar-nominated performance, Casey Affleck played an obsessive young fan who figures the best way to get famous is to shoot his hero in the back of the head. The film’s themes are relevant right up to today’s headlines.

44. Across the Universe (2007, Julie Taymor)

Julie Taymor, one of the true geniuses working in the visual arts today, brought 33 Beatles songs to rapturous life in this gorgeous, exhilaratingly iconoclastic ‘60s musical. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” rarely sounded so good… and never sounded so sad.

43. Monsters, Inc. (2001, Lee Unkrich & David Silverman)

For the record, my favorite Pixar movies are (in order of preference): TOY STORY 1 & 2, A BUG’S LIFE, MONSTERS, INC., WALL-E, THE INCREDIBLES and FINDING NEMO. I don’t really care for CARS, RATATOUILLE and UP.

42. Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Found this review online: “Please go out and watch this, It’ll make you a better person!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

41. Little Otik (2000, Jan Švankmajer)

Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer – the surrealist master behind ALICE and FAUST – was in top form with this satirical, frequently hilarious nightmare about an infertile couple caring for a voraciously hungry tree-child.

40. Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud)

Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, this totally punk-rock animated film tells the life story of an Iranian girl who loves Bruce Lee movies and heavy metal music. By filtering out the propaganda, PERSEPOLIS revealed that “the enemy” is just like us.

39. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)

Like every Quentin Tarantino movie, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS displays an intense amount of film-geek love. But this supremely enjoyable WWII epic was the first one to show us how cinema could be a force for good in the world – a force so powerful it could blow up a theater, sending Hitler, Goebbels and all those other Nazi bastards down to hell in a handbasket.

38. Brick (2005, Rian Johnson)

The most astonishing thing about BRICK is the way its film noir trappings – the labyrinthine plotting, hard-boiled dialogue and femme fatales – fit perfectly into the world of a high school movie. A revelatory work by Rian Johnson.

37. The Host (2006, Bong Joon-Ho)

After the American military dumps 100 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, a monster emerges to terrorize a South Korean family. Bong Joon-Ho, the director of MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER and this perfectly awesome monster movie, is one of the guiding lights of the Korean New Wave.

36. Ichi the Killer (2001, Takashi Miike)

I usually watch Takashi Miike movies with my eyes shut (see – or rather don’t see – AUDITION and IMPRINT). But I couldn’t get enough of this dazzling manga movie, about an unstoppable killing machine named Ichi. That’s not to say the film isn’t sickeningly violent; in one scene, a gangster is suspended from a ceiling with metal hooks through his back. It’s just that this is the most violent and stylish live-action cartoon since David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB.

35. Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

The Zodiac Killer was never caught, leaving behind at least five bodies that were discovered in Northern California in the late 1960s. David Fincher’s great 2007 thriller – one of the most meticulously researched true crime movies ever made – focuses less on the victims than on a handful of obsessed men who never stopped trying to catch the Zodiac. The period details are staggering, the performances uniformly excellent – including Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

34. All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green)

David Gordon Green is one of the most exciting filmmakers of his generation. From 2000 to 2007, he directed GEORGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, UNDERTOW, SNOW ANGELS and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. They’re all must-sees, but ALL THE REAL GIRLS remains his best work to date – a story about young love that’s so real it hurts.

33. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)

Unlucky teens get dropped off on an island, where they’re given weapons and told to pick each other off one by one. Rumored to be banned in the United States (it’s not), this audacious Japanese jaw-dropper has to be seen to be believed.

32. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)

This is one brutal Swedish vampire film, almost Bergmanesque in its sense of melancholy, but also surprisingly touching. Oskar and Eli – two outsiders just trying to find a place to hide – cling to each other in a wintry Stockholm suburb. Just don’t expect any vegetarian vampires with bad skin and commitment issues; Eli likes blood. The streets in this movie run red with it.

31. Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog)

Look out man, that’s a goddamn bear behind ya!

30. Death Trilogy (2002-2005, Gus Van Sant)

Three experimental, deliberately distant art films by Gus Van Sant – GERRY, ELEPHANT, and LAST DAYS – each inspired by a true story: the death of David Coughlin at the hands of his best friend, the massacre at Columbine High School, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Van Sant lets his characters set the pace, often following them from behind as they walk away from the camera and toward death.

29. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee)

In the future, when people want to know what it felt like to be an American in the months after 9/11, they’ll watch Spike Lee’s 25TH HOUR. Here was the spirit of America – not exploited or commercialized, just presented with an inestimable amount of pride.

28. The Rules of Attraction (2002, Roger Avary)

I love you, Roger Avary. Now quit tweeting from jail, dumbass.

27. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000, Edward Yang)

The late, great Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s penultimate film achievement.

26. Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky)

Darren Aronofsky’s devastating follow-up to PI gives you the sensation of falling in a dream. Its structure is merciless: the summer, fall and winter seasons pass and the rebirth of spring never comes.

A 2000 comedy-drama is my Number One pick; click here to view my list of the Top 25 Films of the Decade!!

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The Best Movies of the Decade (Part II)

December 15th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

The Top 25! Click here to read Part I…

25. Waking Life (year of release: 2001, director: Richard Linklater)

Richard Linklater’s dreamy ode to intellectual curiosity – wonderfully written, performed and animated.

24. Dogville (2003, Lars von Trier)

In which Tea Party activists and birthers receive their just desserts.

23. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)

Most movies can’t tell a good story from beginning to end. Christopher Nolan told a great one – about a man with short-term memory loss searching for his wife’s killer – from end to beginning. As good as BATMAN BEGINS, THE PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT are, Nolan set the bar pretty high with this one. It may turn out to be his PULP FICTION.

22. Y tu mamá también (2001, Alfonso Cuarón)

Alfonso Cuarón’s groundbreaking teen comedy – sexy, eye-opening and achingly real.

21. City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles)

The GOODFELLAS of Brazilian crime dramas.

20. Mysterious Skin (2005, Gregg Araki)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet were heartbreaking as Neil McCormick and Brian Lackey, two Kansas teenagers who share a terrible secret. Gregg Araki’s fearless adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel felt emotionally authentic the whole way through, from its surreal opening frames to the very end, when “Samskeyti” by Sigur Ros takes over the soundtrack and Neil and Brian magically disappear.

19. Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook)

The best, most popular part of Park Chan-wook’s mind-blowing Vengeance Trilogy – preceded by SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and followed by LADY VENGEANCE.

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

I don’t know what Frodo would have done without his Sam.

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

Only one of the greatest wuxia films of all time.

16. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)

The story of Pocahontas and John Smith gets the Terrence Malick treatment in this impossibly gorgeous romantic epic. I know many people find the film boring; it’s certainly indifferent to the average moviegoer’s attention span. But if you keep an open mind, I promise Malick will hand you a ticket to nirvana.

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

A love story by, for and about people who are complete and utter lunatics.

14. You Can Count on Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan)

“Remember when we were kids? Remember what we used to say to each other?”

13. Kill Bill (2003-2004, Quentin Tarantino)

Dear Quentin,

Any plans to release KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR on DVD? When you do, could you please take out that part where The Bride is talking to the camera before the massacre at Two Pines? That’s the only scene that doesn’t really work for me. Thanks!


12. The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth (2001/2006, Guillermo del Toro)

These two dazzling fantasy/horror films by Guillermo Del Toro form an anti-fascist masterpiece about the Spanish Civil War. If you love PAN’S LABYRINTH, do yourself a favor and watch THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which is different in that it’s a ghost story, but similar in its theme: the triumph of the imagination over evil.

11. Wonder Boys (2000, Curtis Hanson)

Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr. and Katie Holmes were all comic gold in this hilarious adaptation of Michael Chabon’s 1995 novel. Remember how good Katie used to be before she met Tom? (See THE ICE STORM, GO, THE GIFT and PIECES OF APRIL.) WONDER BOYS is my favorite college comedy ever – it captures campus life perfectly.

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

If asked to explain what this visually spectacular film is about, I’d say it’s about three important things: finding someone you love, listening to Nat King Cole, and having good fashion sense.

9. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

There’s a terrific scene in Wes Anderson’s new animated film, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, in which Mrs. Fox tells her sullen son Ash, “You’re different. We all are. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?” That idea never seemed more fantastic than it did in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

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

Charlie Kaufman, the genius behind BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, drew a map of the human heart with this completely original sci-fi/romance. Directed by the incomparable Michel Gondry, the movie is about a cartoonist (Jim Carrey) who gets his heart broken by a free spirit (Kate Winslet) and volunteers to have her scrubbed from his memory. Kaufman and Gondry are perceptive enough to realize that while many of us would elect to do the same thing, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea.

7. Children of Men

Alfonso Cuarón’s bleak vision of the future is the most amazingly shot sci-fi/action movie ever.

6. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

Since 2001, the beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has given us three masterworks: HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA, and this magical film – one of his best – about a little girl who enters a spirit world. Even if you don’t like anime, you’ll like this. It serves up a feast for aesthetes.

5. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)

Stanley Kubrick shelved this sci-fi dream project in the 1990s and then died of a heart attack before he could complete it. Steven Spielberg – a friend of Kubrick’s – picked up the baton, and the result was an emotionally draining magnum opus that combined Spielberg’s childlike awe with Kubrick’s chilly observations about human nature. Divisive, singular, never less than technically stunning, A.I. is going to age beautifully, just like any other Kubrick production.

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

“Now if you had a milkshake… and I had a milkshake… and I had a straw, you see? Watch it. My straw reaches acrooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I. DRINK. YOUR. MILKSHAKE! *makes slurping sound* I DRINK IT UP!!”

3. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)

Richard Kelly’s apocalyptic coming-of-age film – about a time-traveling teen and a giant bunny rabbit named Frank – was the decade’s most cherished cult hit.

2. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

Aaron Keeling of FetusFilmsInc on David Lynch: “I think what inspires us most about him is the fact that he does what he wants, how he wants, and doesn’t seem to mind if others don’t like it or disagree. He is completely original and his films are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. One of our favorite movies is MULHOLLAND DRIVE. We love it. It’s so complex, so confusing, and strange, and beautiful all at once. It’s hard to describe.”

1. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

For my Number One pick, I wanted to single out the movie that makes me feel the best. Cameron Crowe’s cinematic self-portrait – about the days he spent as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling Stone – just makes me feel groovy. If you’ve ever been in love, had a great conversation, or felt like a piece of music was speaking to you and only to you, then you’ll absolutely love this movie. Even if rock ‘n’ roll can’t save the world, maybe ALMOST FAMOUS can.

Honorable mentions:

Brokeback Mountain, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Songs from the Second Floor, Ghost World, Gangs of New York, House of Flying Daggers, Lake of Fire, The Triplets of Belleville, The Proposition, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Unbreakable, The Way of the Gun, I Heart Huckabees, I’m Not There, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Q&A with Andrew Pearce

December 3rd, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Film Production

Andrew Pearce has accomplished a lot in the nearly 10 years since he started making movies. The filmmaker, who is all of 19, has won numerous local and international awards. He grew up on a farm in Australia. His hometown, Kergunyah (situated in the northeastern part of the state of Victoria), has a population of 188. Stuck out in the boonies, Pearce relied on family members to act in his movies. He learned how to write, shoot and edit. He scoured the Web and local art brochures, looking for festivals and competitions that might accept his films. Most of them did.

Falling mostly under the horror genre, Pearce’s films show a rare gift for screen direction and a rhythmic editing style. This is a filmmaker who knows how to create a visceral viewing experience. FilmNet recently spoke with the young virtuoso about his life’s work so far, both as a filmmaker and as an award-winning photographer.

You started shooting at a very young age. What sparked your interest in film?

I always had a fascination with the fact that it was possible to record sounds and images. I bought radios, handheld tape recorders, disposable cameras – practically anything that would record. Then, at the age of 10, I spent all my money on a black-and-white security camera which was wired to the TV. Since that purchase nearly 10 years ago, I have been making films.

What was the first film you ever made?

The first film I ever made was with my security camera. It was a short horror film about a mysterious creature which roamed the neighborhoods, kidnapping people and leaving a potato peeler where they last stood. The film was suitably titled “Peeler”. I often acted in my films, as living on a farm in the country I don’t have many casting options.

Did you have any mentors or people who encouraged you along the way?

There were always people who gave me feedback, and encouraged me to keep at it, but no more so than my parents. They would drive me around to the film locations, to film festivals around the country, and they even acted in numerous films, to their embarrassment.

I assume Ben Pearce and Samantha Pearce – the young actors who appear in some of your films – are your brother and sister. What’s it like working with them on set? Do you have a hard time getting them to take you seriously?

Ben and Samantha are my cousins, who conveniently live two minutes down the road. I have known them since they were born, and see them regularly, so they are pretty much my brother and sister. When I first began working with them, it was difficult, as they were only about 6 and 8 and would forget my directions. So I left it a few years, and gave it another go, and this time they were perfect! They would listen to every direction, and they would take it seriously, and they just happened to have some talent for it! Since then they have been my star cast, and for each film they get to choose a gift off eBay as a reward for their good work.

Let’s talk about Fear at Dusk. What ideas did you want to get across in the screenplay?

With Fear at Dusk, I wanted it to be an emotional rollercoaster in under three minutes. It begins with happiness, followed by mystery, fear, then shock and extreme sadness. This film has been played at various film festivals, and I have seen people scream, jump in their seats and their jaws drop. I basically wanted to get an audience reaction, and I did.

You create a lot of tension with subjective shots and quick cuts, and the music is also very effective. Tell us about the making of the film.

The film began with an idea, which I wrote into a script. I wrote the script around the location, music and cast, so this made the overall production so much smoother. It was filmed over two nights at dusk. I mostly used natural lighting, which was difficult at dusk because it darkens quickly, so the filming was rather fast paced. I edited the film around the cues in the music. The rhythm, melody, and chord changes determined the duration of each shot. If the melody was to swing, then I would use it with the shot when the character swings their head. You can say my editing process is like dancing; I choreograph the film to the music. But this can be dangerous, because if you edit too closely to the music, you can begin to obscure the storyline and people will get confused!! Fear at Dusk is my quickest film to date, taking just over two weeks to complete from first idea to the final product.

All of the movies you’ve uploaded to FilmNet are horror movies. What do you like about this genre?

I like the tension, shock and general eeriness in horror films, as opposed to the blood and gore side of the genre. The great thing about horror is it can evoke reactions from the audience, which is a driving reason for why I make films. I have moved slightly from horror now, and more to an eerie mystery/adventure style.

You’re also an award-winning photographer. I’m very impressed with your perspectives and use of light. Talk about your development as a photographer. I assume nobody starts out that good…

Thank you! My photography interest comes back to my fascination with recording things. Photography stemmed off from my film work, because I have a passion for cinematography. I became more serious about photography in the last three years when I was doing it as a subject in year 11 & 12. I used to do many photo manipulations in Photoshop, but in the last year I’ve been putting more effort into taking the photograph, and using Photoshop as a means of enhancement. Recently I have been successful with competitions and exhibitions, and with the prize money I have purchased a digital SLR camera.

Who are some of your heroes?

Magdalena Wanli, Simon Strong, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Chris Lilley

I know you’re into music. Name some of your favorite bands.

Bertie Blackman, Florence & the Machine, Kate Bush, MGMT, Tori Amos

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on film & photography commission work here and there, but I hope to get a film done for myself on the Christmas holidays. And in the meantime I’m continuously photographing and getting my work out there for the world to see!

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