Sunday, July 6, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 2010's...So Far: Part IV

70. Frances Ha (2013) - Greta Gerwig has been a hardworking indie film actress for a while now with roles in work such as Greenburg, Damsels in Distress (which I hated, but at the same time understood its quirky appeal), To Rome With Love, and countless others. But in 2013, Greta Gerwig finally got to shine on her own, as the true lead and star, in the hit indie comedy from Noah Baumbach (another indie favorite with films like The Squid and the Whale, Greenburg, and the underrated Margot at the Wedding) Frances Ha, and I
am so happy that the world finally got to see why she is one of the most talented young actresses working in Hollywood today. Frances Ha is not for everyone, and I assume most older individuals who saw it rolled their eyes at Frances' so-called "problems", as they probably role their eyes at most people from my generation. They think we have it easy, they think that modern day "first-world problems" should not be considered that problematic, and maybe their right. But for those of us in that generation that gets knocked down at every possible turn, there is something profoundly deep and effective about Frances' journey. Of course, it takes a perfect combination of sensitive direction, a balanced script, and an engaging lead actress to pull it off, otherwise it would easily dip into a realm of annoyance (king of like Damsels in Distress, sorry, I will get off my soapbox here about that film). Noah Baumbach has had some mixed-reviewed films, and some that have earned him a ton of a praise. The Squid and the Whale even earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. While Frances Ha failed to get much awards attraction, the critics really grabbed on to it, recognizing the indie feat that Baumbach pulled off, from the delicated balance of drama and comedy, to the brilliant decision to shoot in black and white. But it is Gerwig that is the reason to see this film. She got a well-deserved and slightly surprising Golden Globe nomination (usually they go for the bigger star versus the indie actress). Her emotional, her always sunny disposition, and her decision to pursue her dreams no matter the cost are all bundled up in this incredible performance. Make sure you take the journey with Frances at some point, it's worth the trip.

69. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - Let me put out a disclaimer here before ya'll set the hounds on me. I know that this finale of the Dark Knight trilogy paled in comparison to its predecessors. I get it, and fanboys around the world would agree. I also agree that probably the biggest problem with it were the gigantic plot holes, particularly disappointing after The Dark Knight was so tightly wound, with every minute detail perfectly plotted out. So now that I have gotten that out of the way, let me say this: despite its flaws, The Dark Knight Rises was still an excellent film and keeps the quality of Christopher Nolan's vision intact, and
provides some satisfying conclusions for our favorite characters. So, I have already spent way too much time on the flaws of the film, now lets focus on the parts that Nolan and his team got right, the positive parts that far outweigh the negative ones. First and foremost, Nolan knows how to build mighty ensembles, and this time around was no exception. The old favorites like Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman continue to light up the screen, and the new additions including Tom Hardy (yes despite the fact that I could barely here what he was saying), Marion Cotillard (despite the death scene), and particularly Anne Hathaway, who I personally thought was absolutely fantastic, and continues to prove her incredible range as actress (comedy, drama, musical, and action/fantasy, the girl can do it all, and well I might add). Most importantly, despite the aforementioned plot holes, Nolan, with this film and the trilogy as a whole, as finally found a depth for the comic book franchise that was so badly needed. In the end, The Dark Knight Rises is not about the cool affects, the bad-ass villains, or even Batman. Nolan has discovered the heart of the genre, something so few directors have ever even attempted. The Dark Knight trilogy is a brilliant crime saga about the battle between good and evil, the duality and complicated nature of our so-called "heros", and the complexity of human nature. No other films in this genre in recent memory (which is a bunch), have managed to even come close to the greatness of Nolan's work. This finale, and the trilogy as a whole, will be remembered as the best of the genre for years to come.

68. The Grey (2011) - Released in January, by the time the awards season rolled around, Joe Carnahan's The Grey was long forgotten, despite the decent box office and worthy reviews. Sometimes a film is discovered too late, sometimes it becomes a cult classic, or simply a forgotten favorite further down its path. The Grey was one of those movies. It appeared on several top ten lists at the end of 2011, and in recent reviews, articles, and conversations, it has popped up as a film that is almost universally agreed upon as an underrated gem. Only a truly great film can pull off that kind of conversation three years down the line without major box office/awards buzz. That is a true testament to Joe Carnahan and Liam Neeson, a
powerful duo whose final product here is worthy of recognition. The Grey doesn't present itself as a horror film, although makers of most modern horror films could learn a lesson from it. The horror here is nature and the beasts that populate it, as a group of oil rig workers, led by their wolf sniper Neeson, crash in the wilderness when their plane malfunctions. They must fight for their own survival. Carnaham builds a powerful background, with Neeson's character, and the with the surroundings. His bleakness is not overwhelming, but instead provides the perfect backdrop for a survival story, and the technical elements, particularly the cinematography work by Masanobu Takayanagi, and the work of the sound team are simply fantastic. But the real draw here is Liam Neeson. He has done his fair share of action films over the last several years, many of them simply not worth the effort. He has also done his fair share of awards and independent fair proving his acting chops. The Grey is the perfect balance of his two talents. His intensity as an action star brings a certain tension that builds up as the going gets tougher. But his attention to his character, his dramatic chops are on full display as well, and the balance here provides what essentially is the perfect character for him, and the results are more than satisfying. Do what so many others have done over the last several years, revisit The Grey, and discover why so many have regretted missing it the first time.

67. End of Watch (2012) - When we think of great cop dramas, we think mostly of television, shows like The Shield and The Wire that brought an incredibly gritty and realistic look at the every day world of street cops in urban America. The only other film I can think of in recent years that tackles this subject with real success is probably Michael Mann's Heat. Even then, the focus was mostly on the bank robbers, and while it was brilliant it had a slight sheen that took out at least some of the rough and tumble. Most importantly, it is almost twenty years old. End of Watch to me, is the only film that captures the same spirit as its television counterparts in the last decade or so, and while it remains an underrated film, it is no less an important film and an excellent one at that. Starring the extremely underrated Michael Pena (when he was left off the SAG
cast list for Crash back in 2005, there was a deserved outcry from critics and movie lovers who made it clear they had screwed up), and Jake Gyllenhaal, who proves his action chops in the role, End of Watch succeeds mostly because of the chemistry of its two stars. They band together when the going gets tough, using their training, their instincts, and there trust in one another to battle the crime of South Central Los Angeles. It takes a team of talented actors to not only create instant chemistry on screen, but to also tackle the various moments of their lives, the quiet ones, the emotional ones, the funny ones, and the deadly ones. Gyllenhaal and Pena had to go through such a range of emotions, and both proved that there is literally no genre that either cannot tackle with ferocity and successful results. Gyllenhaal and Pena may be the focus on the film, but the supporting cast including Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, and American Ferrera, does fine work as well. The film also succeeds because writer/director David Ayer takes so much care to create believable and deep characters, while creating an gritty and documentary-style background for his actors that provides an incredible sense of authenticity that is so essential to End of Watch's success. An excellent film that deserved a lot more attention than it got.

66. The Artist (2011) - When we look back at this decade of Best Picture winners, many predict that The Artist will be one of the least memorable. Sure, it is a light and frothy romp that gained much attention for its silent gimmick, but I actually think many people are underestimating its legacy. Sure, it will be no 12 Years a Slave, but The Artist is nonetheless an excellent piece of film that plays homage to a lost art form, silent films, the basis for the entire film industry in the 20th Century. It is also an incredible piece of entertainment, and if the people who saw it with me in the theater are any indication, it is a film that absorbs its audience in its
comedy, its aesthetic, and its feel-good vibe. The Artist is the story of a silent film star, played by the charismatic Jean Dujardin, which won him an Oscar, and put him squarely into the American film industry (since then he has appeared in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and George Clooney's The Monuments Men, pretty impressive for an actor that five years ago most Americans had never heard of), who starts to feel the pressures against him with the talkies staring to boom. His story serves as a foil to that of the new young starlet (played by the irresistible Berenice Bejo) who has found that the new format will help her career take off. As his career crumbles and hers takes off, the two continue to connect, especially as she tries to find a way to revive the once great film icon's career and life. It is an endearing story, reminiscent of the old Hollywood classics, that it is impeccably acted by the cast as a whole (including turns from John Goodman, James Cromwell, and of course Uggie the dog, who I must say was snubbed by the Academy!). Yes The Artist is a light, funny romp whose rise from indie underdog to Oscar Best Picture probably has a lot to do with its silent film gimmick (which was really more of a style choice that worked than the negative connotation that gimmick lets forth), and its ode to the film industry. But make no mistake, The Artist is still a great film, and I think its legacy will be better than its critics would like to admit.

65. Midnight in Paris (2011) - Woody Allen is one of those directors that either knocks it out of the park, or crashes and burns. The last four years we have seen him do both with Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris being successes and To Rome With Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger being mostly failures. But when Woody gets it right, he really gets its right, and Midnight in Paris is an excellent showcase of his talents. For the last forty years, Woody Allen has had applied the same basic quirky dark comedy vibe to a variety of different genres, giving each his own signature touch. With Midnight in Paris, he dipped into a fascinating mix of history, romance, and fantasy that swirled together for surprisingly touching results. Owen Wilson stars here, and normally that would be a turnoff for me. I don't necessarily have a problem with Owen Wilson, there is just something about him that I usually don't like watching. But I will admit that Allen
managed to calm him down a bit, and he actually matched the charm of Paris and his supporting cast. Speaking of, it is the supporting cast behind Wilson that is rich and funny, and makes the film really pop. Kathy Bates, Alison Pill, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll, Michael Sheen, the stunning Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hiddleston, just to mention a few of the many, all add so much depth to the film, and provided a rich tapestry of characters that beautifully build up both of Allen's worlds: the Paris fantasy, and the harsher reality. And Allen himself deserves a lot of credit. Sometimes, when he goes off into his genre scripts, the results are decidedly mixed. But I think he brilliantly blends the fantasy, the literary, the historical, and the reality of his different worlds with ease, and his dialogue and characters have rarely been sharper. His work here earned him yet another Oscar, and it was actually well-deserved. At the end of the day, Midnight in Paris most likely won't rank up there with Allen's best including Annie Hall and Manhattan. But that should not diminish the fact that Midnight in Paris is a warm, impeccably acted, fantasy-comedy, that will always be considered a great film.

64. Amour (2012) - I have a little bit of a secret that I guess I should admit. I don't really like Michael Haneke. I know that film buffs around the world will gasp at such a statement, but until 2012's Amour, I hated his work. He has a style and a vision, and in terms of his technical prowess, he is a master. But he is also so damn sadistic, that his films are sometimes just plain un-watchable. I can handle unpleasant, but Haneke (and Lars von Trier for that matter), most of the time just take it too far. But in 2012, Haneke created the only film of his that I have actually enjoyed, so maybe he is softening in his old age. Okay,
enjoyed may be too strong of a word, because even this film has a lot of sadism in it as well, but I finally respected it because even though it was hard to watch, it was brilliantly constructed, and had a vital emotional complex that makes it strike deeper than any of his previous efforts. At its core, Amour is the story of dying, of how we as loved ones fight for them no matter the eventual outcome, and how we grieve for those that we are losing, especially when those lives are leaving us at slow and emotionally devastating pace. Its script is a slow burn, but it never tires or dulls, it keeps us glued to the screen as we see our characters struggle. While Haneke does actually deserve a lot of credit for his tremendous script, and his subtle direction which finally balances out his sadistic side, most of the credit should actually go to its actors. Emmanuelle Riva got most of the praise for the film, and even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and it was tremendously deserved, not only for this carefully constructed role, but for a lifetime of contributions to world cinema. Unfortunately, in the process of honoring Riva, they seemed to have left off her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant, another masterful French legend, who has had his share of fantastic roles and accolades. I mean, I'm glad they at least honored Riva, but Trintignant was also worthy for his role as the husband trying to care for his dying wife. Both are magnificently acted and written characters, and their story, while incredibly sad, is also one of the best screen romances in recent years, because it is also one of the most honest.

63. How to Train Your Dragon (2010) - How to Train Your Dragon 2 is hitting theaters this summer, and I personally loved the second outing almost as much, or maybe even more than the first, and that is saying something because 2010's How to Train Your Dragon was one of the best animated films of the last decade, a rollicking good time, with a plethora of emotional depth, and appeal to kids of all ages. The sequel manages to continue the story line without failing its predecessor nor flat-lining. Dreamworks has always played second fiddle in the animation game to the likes of Disney and Pixar. Even in 2010, How to Train Your Dragon had the unfortunate coincidence of having to compete with Toy Story 3, one of Pixar's finest features to date, so it didn't win too many (or hardly any) of the Animated Feature prizes along the way, it was always second best. But I think with this film, and its already well-received sequel, Dreamworks is
finally starting to fulfill its promise of high quality animation that was set back in 2001 with the release of Shrek and in 2005 with Wallace and Gromit, the two Dreamworks films to actually win the Oscar, and the Dragon franchise could end up being its own version of the Toy Story trilogy. But I promise I will stop comparing Dreamworks films to Pixar/Disney films because it is not fair, and a film as bold and bright as How to Train Your Dragon deserves to stand on its own merits, without constant comparison to other's works. It plays along like a normal kids animated feature, so that it keeps its target audience intact. But it also has a depth of emotion, led by the theme of acceptance and understanding of those that are different (something that needs to be taught over and over again) that ignites the hearts and minds of older audiences. Plus, for both age groups, How to Train Your Dragon is a masterful visual feat, a stunning work of animation that is as much high-octane fun as it is heart string-tugging. Depending on this race shapes up this year, there is a good argument to be made for the sequel to claim another Oscar for Dreamworks, I just hope in the process, people rediscover the magic, fun, and power of the first.

62. Hugo (2011) - It is still hard to believe that Martin Scorsese made a family film. It is hard to believe that he made a film that was only rated PG. Of course, when you look at the subject matter, and original novel of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, re-titled Hugo for the film version, it is not hard to see why Scorsese was so attracted to and so passionate about this film, even though it was really made for kids. Martin Scorsese is not only one of the finest filmmakers of all time, he is not just an Academy-award winning legend whose work on the screen has spanned over five decades. He is first and foremost a lover, scholar, teacher, and fanatic of
film in general. If he were my age right now, he would probably have a film blog himself to talk about his love of the format, of the art itself. At its core, Hugo is about the love of film. It is about the discovery of film's roots, and is a tribute to those pioneers of the techniques and visions that would change the world forever, including George Melies, whose film A Trip to Moon plays particular importance to the plot of Hugo. It is also the story of growing up, of discovery at a young age, of friendship and hardship, and of changing the world no matter where you come from. Hugo's cast ranges from talented child actors Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz, to veteran screen actors such as Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Michael Stuhlbarg, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, and countless others that populate the screen with colorful, meaningful, and fantastic characters. Also on display is the technical mastery of Martin Scorsese, not only as a visionary director with a talented technical team creating worthy visuals to catch your eyes, but as a masterful storyteller with a soft side. Hugo will not rank up at the top of Martin Scorsese's work next to the likes of Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and Goodfellas. And to be honest, I don't think that was his intention. I think he wanted to make a film that would appeal to all audiences, maybe, just maybe, inspire a new generation of film lovers with a tale of its beautiful and wonderful history.

61. Frozen (2013) - Disney Animation is one of the pioneering studios on the forefront of the animation field for almost of century. And when one considers not only the greatest animated films of all time, but the greatest period, almost always there are multiple mentions of some of Disney Animation's finest work. Yet since the inception of the Best Animated Feature category back almost fifteen years ago, Disney Animation has yet to actually win one of those coveted awards. That was until Frozen came along, and by the time the envelope was actually opened, there was no doubt that this was going to be Disney's year. That is a true testament to the popularity, critical support, and outright love that the industry and the world had for Disney's Frozen. A beautifully constructed film, with groundbreaking visuals, and a winter wonderland background that made us all won't to play in the snow, Disney certainly matched its rivals with in terms of animation. But what made Frozen succeed was its story. It had the perfect old-school vibe, a tribute to the Disney animation revival of the 1980's and 1990's, reminding us of some of Disney's best work including The Little Mermaid,
Aladdin, and most importantly, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It was filled with great music, just like its predecessors, and its Oscar-winning tune "Let it Go" sang by the great Idina Menzel (excuse me, I forgot her name was now Adele Dazeem!) is still stuck in our heads, over seventh months later, and probably will be for a long time. It was, like the film itself, an instant classic. But Frozen is not just a tribute to the classic Disney films of yore, in many ways it expanded what the studio was capable of. Not only in its technical prowess, but also in the story itself. By making the central story not about a man and woman falling in love (although there is plenty of that), but about two sisters, whose bond is tested through seemingly impossible hurdles, Disney has finally broken through its stale princess stereotype. Elsa and Anna are strong-willed women, who long for love like any human being, but more importantly, band together to save each other, through the sheer will of their love and bond. It is a great film for kids in terms of that all-important lesson, but let's face it, any kid, aged 1 to 92, can find the same joy, emotion, and learn the same important lessons from the new entry into the incredible Disney Animation canon.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah... um, how do I say this? I am not a fan of Frozen. I still liked it, but far from loved it. It just had too many flaws, was too underwhelming, seemed like it didn't know what it wanted to be (and hence became very un-Disney). While I don't hate it, I make fun of it a lot and am very astonished that it got as much money as it did, and makes me more angry. Tangled was ten times the film Frozen was and no even remembers it that much. But I guess that's just me. If you like it, that's all that matters.