On with the many many movies I stupidly missed off the Top 106 Movies list (which could well be a Top 165 by the time I get through with it). I’ve gone on about Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf before, and so won’t waste time doing the same here, but I will confirm — much to my delight — that it still works well even when not seen in IMAX Digital 3D. Most of that is down to the thoughtful script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, which cleverly addresses myth and religion. The visuals still work well in 2D, much better than in Zemeckis’ The Polar Express but not as well as in A Christmas Carol, which veers further away from the not-quite-there realism of Beowulf. This is a good thing: Christmas Carol looks more like a living painting than a flawed rendition of reality, and it’s good to see that the technology has come along enough to add this kind of texture to the imagery. The quality of Zemeckis’ adaptation is one of the most pleasant surprises of this year, as was Beowulf in 2007. Perhaps I should stop assuming he’s going to make bad movies and just learn to look forward to them.
Speaking of Christmas movies, I’ve also missed off Jon Favreau’s Elf. To be honest I’m not sure it belongs on this list: the third act is really underwhelming, and some of the casting is a bit suspect. Nevertheless, it’s become a real favourite here, with our annual rewatch a Christmas tradition (we do the same with Robert Benton’s lovely Nobody’s Fool on Christmas Day). Though Elf falls flat a couple of times, Will Ferrell’s insanely committed performance is essential viewing. For those who avoid him because of his reliance on arrested development characters — and I know there are a lot who feel that way — I’d say that Elf is a lovable enough variation on that stock character to win anyone over. There are countless perfectly timed moments in it, as Ferrell races around New York in a whirl of manic energy. Maybe it doesn’t deserve to crack the Top 106, but it warrants a mention, especially at this time of year.
Actually, I’ll be honest. It should’ve got on the list just for this moment:
And now, fifteen movies that don’t feature Will Ferrell or performance-captured monstah-huntah Ray Winstone.
45. Capturing The Friedmans
Andrew Jarecki’s documentary about a family accused of involvement in child pornography would already be fascinating, but it is Jarecki’s examination of the effect of time on memory and perspective that sets this movie apart. How far are we willing to deceive ourselves and others in order to prevent awful truths from coming to light, and can we ever trust our subjective interpretations?
44. Infernal Affairs
Scorsese’s remake of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s imaginative crime thriller was terrific, and filled with entertaining performances, but the original version is the truly exciting one. Within minutes the tension is ratcheted up, and never flags. Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai have never been better.
43. Lady Vengeance
The final part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy is less flashy than Oldboy, but it may say more about human behavior than its hyper-stylised predecessor. After two relatively low-key acts, Chan-wook unveils the perfect capper — not just for this movie, but for the trilogy as a whole — as vengeance is visited upon a truly terrible person in a tense and intelligent denouement. Praise is also due Lee Young-ae, who is stunning as the haunted Lee Geum-ja.
42. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
In the hands of Julian Schnabel what could have been grueling and bland becomes an immersive visual masterpiece, just by applying intellectual rigour to the problem of how to make a movie from a story so resolutely uncinematic. Devoid of cynicism and dismissive of despair, Diving Bell has the power to recharge even the most empty heart. Essential viewing.
41. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Released in the same year as No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, Andrew Dominick’s re-telling of the Western myth was initially praised then forgotten by year’s end. For giving us such a breathtakingly luminous vision of desperate man trapped by their infamy — and for showing us that Casey Affleck was capable of actual greatness — we hope time will be kind to it.
40. In Bruges
Martin McDonagh’s wonderful debut feature is profane, scatalogical, and surprisingly moving. A superb cast — including a shockingly funny and lovable Colin Farrell — attacks his superbly constructed screenplay with palpable relish, and McDonagh handles the gradual tonal shift like a seasoned pro. The first two acts may have made me laugh, but the final one made my pulse race.
39. Morvern Callar
Lynne Ramsay’s gorgeous adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel showed youthful disaffection and alienation against a backdrop of blistering, unforgettable images, with a never-better Samantha Morton creating a mysterious protagonist whose motives defy easy explanation. Ramsay’s next project (an adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin starring Tilda Swinton) cannot come soon enough.
38. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring
Kim Ki-duk tells a deceptively simple tale of a man whose journey through life takes him from Buddhist training to tragedy to atonement and peace, but every frame vibrates with emotion. The reflective pace and cinematography are hypnotic, the ambitious scope and depiction of spiritual awakening are profoundly moving.
37. Princess Mononoke
Spirited Away might be Hayao Miyazaki’s most celebrated movie, but this was my introduction into the world of Studio Ghibli. Its unfamiliar structure, dismissal of Manichean conflict, and air of infinite possibility were even more appealing at first sight, even considering the terrifying, discordant atmosphere of imminent disaster.
36. Team America: World Police
Trey Parker and Matt Stone may not have hit every target they aimed at (such as celebrity culture, repulsive jingoism, and clueless liberalism), but they hit many of them hard enough to justify a declaration of victory. They also included yet more great songs (“America, Fuck Yeah” might have been obnoxious if it wasn’t so much fun to sing), and filmed the funniest third act character turnaround ever:
35. Black Book
Only Paul Verhoeven could have made a movie as trashy — and classy — as this. Leaving behind the dimishing returns of his Hollywood period, the master of provocation conjured up a morally complicated tale of Nazism, collaboration, and resistance that thrilled and appalled in equal measure. He also introduced us to the magnificent Carice Van Houten, who should be a superstar by now. I’m waiting, Hollywood.
34. Brokeback Mountain
A cultural touchstone, a political statement, a punchline to a million bad jokes. Ang Lee’s love story is also, quite simply, a heartbreaking tale of a man who realises too late that he has wasted his life because of crippling fear. Heath Ledger’s final, devastating scene is burned into my heart, his last promise the best final line of the decade.
33. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The romcom Philip K. Dick would have written were he still alive. Charlie Kaufman supplies the delirious concept, Michel Gondry brings the lo-fi visual wizardry, and Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet bring the soul. A thrilling combination of narrative trickery, philosophical curiosity, and flighty romanticism, and another fascinating exploration of the connection between memory and identity.
32. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tim Burton’s best film since Ed Wood is also the best screen musical of the decade. His thoughtful tweaks to orchestration and plot transform Stephen Sondheim’s original into a Gothic masterpiece. It helps that his cast — not known for their singing voices — give such committed performances and belt out those beautiful songs with such gusto. This might be Johnny Depp’s best performance to date, playing Todd as a force of nature, almost completely irredeemable but still a tragic figure in the devastating final scene.
31. The Descent
The best British movie of the decade was not a period drama or kitchen-sink wallow from lauded, overrated establishment-approved fakes. It was a balls-to-the-wall, technically perfect rollercoaster. It was also the scariest horror movie since Blatty’s Exorcist III, and that’s even before the monsters appear. Director Neil Marshall remembered that for the horror to work, we had to see humanity at its worst, and it is the final act of protagonist Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) that pushes this movie into classic status.
By now, with the end of the list approaching, I’m beginning to second-guess my choices even more. Should Eternal Sunshine have been higher? I’ve only seen it once and loved it, but from this point on I’ve seen most of the movies numerous times, and so they have had a bigger impact on me. Of course, second-guessing means I’ll never get this done. Best to just finish it as soon as I can. Tomorrow, hopefully. Until then…